Hamptons Film Fest Previews for the Adventurous

The festival will run from Thursday to Monday at various locations
“The Last Pig” by Allison Argo is one of the Compassion, Justice, and Animal Rights selections for this year’s Hamptons International Film Festival.

The 25th Hamptons International Film Festival begins today. By the time it is over on Monday, it will have screened a roster of 65 features and 50 short films, both narrative and documentary. With so much to choose from and many films in competition, a small cross section of reviews and previews follows for those who want to see something more adventurous than the blockbusters-in-waiting on the schedule. 

 

“The Last Pig”
Allison Argo
East Hampton, Sunday, 2 p.m.; Bay Street Theater, Monday, 2 p.m.

“The Last Pig” is Allison Argo’s subtle but moving documentary about a pig farmer’s coming to terms with the emotional toll his vocation has taken on him. The director follows Bob Comis around his picturesque upstate farm through the seasons, often at ground level, from the point of view of his pigs.

His voiceover describes his daily experience with the animals, his early inner conflict, and his dawning realization that “I no longer understand why a pig is food and a dog is part of the family” when the former has the same depth and range of emotions as the latter.

It is clear Mr. Comis has tried to make their lives on his farm as humane and happy as he can. But every week he brings a group of them to the slaughterhouse, and it’s difficult to understand how he was able to do so for a decade. 

The pigs are charming, silly, and heartbreaking. They chomp on grasses and feed, roll in the dirt and mud, nuzzle Mr. Comis’s ­Continued from C1

hands, and take long naps in the sun. It is wonderful to hear the relief in the farmer’s voice as he nears the end of his animal farming, but also sobering to realize that the end means that the remaining pigs still have to go somewhere.

Parts of the film were goosebump-inducing on a warm sunny day. The film festival was wise to schedule the one-hour screenings midday on Sunday and Monday. It’s an affecting film that doesn’t sensationalize its subject; it doesn’t need to.

A panel discussion will follow Sunday’s screeming.  Jennifer Landes

 

“The Dead Nation” 
Radu Jude
East Hampton, tomorrow, 5:45 p.m.,  Monday, 6:15 p.m. 

“The Dead Nation,” a chronicle of the rise of anti-Semitism in Romania in the years leading up to and including World War II, will not be to everyone’s liking, taking the viewer, as it does, down a bleak road with stops at the way stations of nationalism and militarism before we reach “the Jews’ humiliation as new pariahs,” as we hear in the film, and, even worse, their torture, killing, and exile to camps. 

 But this is a film that everyone watching United States national politics unfold in these extraordinary times, incredulous, will be drawn into and, perhaps, should watch as a cautionary tale. The tale of those times is told through a series of rough black-and-white prints, archival images of concerts and picnics that lay an ordinary baseline from which the horror rises. Military anthems, nationalist speeches, and a narrator reading passages from the journal of a Jewish doctor fill in the blanks. 

The story is made all the more hair-raising by its simplicity and its contemporary significance. While not an inviting film, either visually or in its subject matter and tone, it draws the viewer in, quietly layering the events of year after year of a march toward atrocities like lines of a poem or paving stones, making it clear that the first step, or two, can lead to an end not initially foreseen. Then. But now, we have the example of history before us.  

“So much darkness in this hateful century,” the film’s narrator reads from the doctor’s journal. “No wonder destructions will follow.”  Joanne Pilgrim

 

“Disappearance”
Ali Asgari
East Hampton, tomorrow, 10:15 a.m.; Southampton, Saturday, 12:30 p.m.

“Disappearance,” the first feature film of the Iranian director Ali Asgari, whose “The Silence” was named best narrative short at last year’s festival, is a mystery, but not a whodunit. More like a what-is-it and will-they-solve-it?

The film opens at night as a woman emerges from a car and walks along a deserted urban street until she comes to a hospital emergency room. This is Sara, a 19-year-old university student who tells the admitting nurse that she has been raped. She is taken to a female doctor who examines her, sees that she is bleeding, and says she needs to have surgery.

We soon gather the rape story is a lie concocted with her boyfriend, Hamed, to explain her excessive vaginal bleeding, which the film hints is the result of consensual sex. What follows is a very long night of the couple’s unsuccessful efforts to find a doctor in Tehran who will treat Sara without notifying her family. 

Sara and Hamed are helpless in the face of her family’s conservative views about sex and a medical bureaucracy harnessed by rules. The deserted nighttime streets and empty hospital waiting rooms add to the sense of the characters’ isolation from the world around them and from each other. 

Mr. Asgari’s understated stylistic approach adds to the tension and sense of alienation. Long scenes take place in real time and include two-shots of the principals with very little dialogue or emotion and long tracking shots following them down empty corridors and sidewalks. Often when one character takes some action, such as talking to a doctor, the camera stays with the other, who might be sitting motionless in a car or waiting room.

“Disappearance” is an edgy shaggy dog story, one that maintains a constant level of tension by focusing not on what the problem is, but on the characters’ inability to solve it and the world’s indifference.  Mark Segal

 

“En el Septimo Dia”
Jim McKay
East Hampton, Sunday, 12:45 p.m
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Let’s get something straight: This movie is about football, okay? Football, or, in this case, futbol; just don’t call it soccer. Because the central characters in “En el Septimo Dia” (“On the Seventh Day”) are from Mexico and the film’s director, Jim McKay, scores a point for authenticity by not having the word “soccer” appear in the subtitles. 

Marking the director’s return to feature filmmaking after eloquent indies such as “Girls Town” and “Our Song” made over a decade ago, this empathetic Brooklyn-set drama offers a timely, compassionate, and sometimes humorous look at life in New York as an undocumented Mexican immigrant — especially pertinent material for viewing in the Hamptons. Mr. McKay even chose nonprofessionals for the roles of the dozen or so immigrant characters, found during open auditions around Sunset Park. The main character, Jose (Fernando Cardona, recruited while running in the park), delivers a captivatingly soulful performance, with layers of complexity slowly unfolding through the story. 

Jose works long hours Monday through Saturday doing bicycle deliveries for a hipster Caroll Gardens restaurant (La Fontera, or “the frontier,” a name that cannot be coincidental) then spends his day off playing futbol in Sunset Park. When the movie opens, his team, named after their home state of Puebla, has clinched a spot in the championship game the following Sunday. But on Monday, Jose’s boss announces that he needs him to work on exactly that day to help with a swanky private party. As the team’s star player, Jose spends the week quietly wrestling with the classic conundrum: duty or pleasure? Or, as he puts it when he finally confides in his fellow Poblanos, “Either we get slaughtered or I get fired.” 

Charles Libin, the cinematographer, offers a documentary directness that goes bone-deep to capture the everyday struggles and camaraderie between these men who work as laborers, dishwashers, and street vendors. “En el Septimo Dia” is ultimately a story of human dignity, beautifully told through an unhurried and uncomplicated lens, much like the game of futbol.  

Incidentally, several of the cast members lost their jobs during the making of the film for taking too many days off.  Judy D'Mello

 

Hondros
Greg Campbell
East Hampton, tomorrow, 1:30 p.m., panel immediately following

It is a rare film that leaves a viewer feeling privileged to have seen it, but “Hondros,” winner of the 2017 Brizzolara Family Foundation Award, is such a film. 

Chris Hondros was one of the most esteemed conflict photographers of his generation, having covered over a 12-year period wars in Kosovo, Liberia, Nigeria, Angola, Sierra Leone, Iraq, Egypt, and Libya, where he was killed in a mortar attack during the Battle of Misrata in 2011.

The documentary opens with Hondros in the midst of street fighting in Liberia in 2003. The cinéma vérité images of rebels and government troops fighting for control of a bridge are intercut with Hondros’s remarkable still photographs of the battle. 

One image from that firefight captured a shirtless young government commander leaping in celebration after having fired a rocket-propelled grenade at rebel positions. The photograph was published worldwide. Hondros’s dedication to getting the story is expressed by his comment on that particular battle: “You had to be on the bridge, not 50 feet away.”

While the film is a powerful, nuanced portrait of Hondros, directed by his longtime friend Greg Campbell, it opens a wide window onto the world of international combat photographers, many of whom worked with Hondros and talk about his commitment, courage, and generosity.

Jonathan Klein, the cofounder of Getty Images, for whom Hondros worked, summed up his approach: “For Chris, the story was always about the people being impacted by the disaster or conflict, as opposed to the disaster itself.” Years after taking the iconic photograph on the bridge in Liberia, Hondros returned to that country, found the former soldier, Joseph Duo, and arranged for him to go to school by paying for the fees, books, and uniforms. Mr. Duo eventually became a police officer.

The subject of this often shattering but inspirational documentary encapsulated his career and the world he lived in with the words, “So much devastation, so much humanity at its best.”  Mark Segal

 

“Larger Than Life: 
The Kevyn Aucoin Story”

Tiffany Bartok
East Hampton, Saturday, 6 p.m.; South­ampton, Sunday, 5:15 p.m.

In the early 1980s in the lobby of Vogue, Kevyn Aucoin made himself as much of a fixture as a floor lamp, and similarly shaped, given his height and rail-thin frame. He was friendly, with a Southerner’s manners. He had a portfolio of his makeup work, so someone gave him a break and took a look, and then another break — an actual assignment — and the result, in that glittery era of huge hair and bright colors and heavy eye shadow and prominent blush, was a revelation: It was spare and natural, “nude,” as they say, and improbably it changed the course of the industry.

“Larger Than Life” makes wonderful use of home movies — Super 8 and videotape in the decades before the ease and ubiquity of the iPhone — as well as Aucoin’s own scrapbooks and Polaroids, meticulously kept as if to establish the reality of his life’s pinch-me unreality. He went from growing up gay in northwest Louisiana in the 1960s — he was regularly beaten up, and a teacher would pull his pants down and spank him in front of the class for the crime of effeminacy — to the height of the fashion industry, its first superstar makeup artist. In the telling, we are treated to ample interviews, from lovers to awed colleagues to the likes of a disarmingly funny Paulina Porizkova and a brutally honest and self-critical Tori Amos. 

Aucoin had a personality to match his size, and a perfectionist’s knack for taking over any photo shoot he was involved in and even TV crews’ lighting when he was being interviewed. So let’s let him have the floor, as at the Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards, which honored him as no makeup artist had been before: “You see, in the context of my life, this award means that I not only survived my past, but that I succeeded.”  Baylis Greene

 

“Mountain”
Jennifer Peedom
East Hampton, tomorrow, 10:45 a.m.; Southampton, 3 p.m.

An orchestra tunes up, Willem Dafoe says a few words from a sound booth, the instruments begin playing. Then, a jagged mountain peak looms across the screen. So begins “Mountain,” an Australian film by Jennifer Peedom that celebrates the world’s greatest summits and the people who interact with them.

The Austrailian Chamber Orchestra and its guest musicians provide a nonstop soundtrack of inspirational and apt interludes by Beethoven, Grieg, Vivaldi, and original compositions from Richard Tognetti as the camera captures ranges from all seven continents including countries such as Argentina, South Africa, Canada, Austria, Nepal, India, Greenland, Pakistan, and Scotland.

Not only a celebration of the terrain, the film is more of an examination of human interaction with the peaks, including the legends and lore inspired by them and the radical extremes that adventurers go to in order to scale them, ski down them, or survive them.

Obviously, as large as home television screens are currently, the film would be at its best projected in a theater. In choosing her subject and the multiple angles or sources of photography employed to portray the holy men in a mountaintop temple or the adventurers wearing suits that make them look like mechanical flying squirrels, Ms. Peedom displays understanding and love of film that seems to underlie the endeavor. 

It was a film hard to watch at home; there was always the sense that a good portion of its impact remained untapped. In this way, Ms. Peedom commands the audience to go to the theater, as “Mountain” will not come to them, at least not in the way she envisioned it.  Jennifer Landes

 

“Wanderland”
Josh Klausner
East Hampton, tomorrow, 8 p.m.; Bay Street Theater, Saturday, 3:45 p.m.

What can you say about a movie that starts and ends with garden gnomes? The main character in “Wanderland” comes to the East End for a weekend in a borrowed house and finds himself launched into a nightlong series of unlikely occurrences and calamities, as in a Grimm’s tale or an acid trip, but the series of kooky circumstances and bizarre encounters felt mostly, to this viewer, contrived and foolish rather than fanciful. 

While it was fun to see familiar places and faces, at times I couldn’t decide if I could cotton to this as a romp-like, magical realism-tinged Odyssey or if I was just annoyed by juvenile jokes and strange turns of fate that seemed inserted just for the sake of being strange. 

The fairy-tale allusions and archetypes came through clearly among the absurdities, and the directors used some clever parallels in telling this story of a Hamptons weekend gone warped. At its best moments this film was poignant and sweet, and interestingly shot, with some beautiful photography. 

After a dusk-to-dawn sojourn looking for the broken-down rental car that has been towed from a beach parking lot for lack of a resident’s sticker, locating the house where he is staying, and seeking the Master of the Wind at a beach party in Amagansett, who can provide him the answers, in the happy, welcome ending, our seeker ultimately finds what he is really looking for: love and healing. 
Joanne Pilgrim

Chris Hondros’s image of this Liberian commander leaping in celebration of his successful rocket-propelled grenade launch is featured in “Hondros,” a film about his life as a conflict photographer.
“Disappearance” is an edgy shaggy dog story with a constant level of tension.