Again this year, Denver Film Festival artistic director Brit Withey is offering his must-see picks for each day of the fest — including many flicks that movie lovers might otherwise miss amid the flood of silver-screen goodies. Today he spotlights selections for November 13 (Lamb), November 14 (Mustang) and November 14-15 (The Measure of a Man).
"I love this film," artistic director Brit Withey says of Lamb. "It's from Ethiopia, which is relatively rare — and it's such a sweet little film with a simple but very touching story. It's about a father and his son, who's about ten years old. The boy's mother, the man's wife, dies at the beginning of the film, and the father needs to find work in Addis Ababa — so he takes his young son to live with cousins in a village a little ways off.
"The boy and his pet lamb are dropped off in a much harsher environment than he's known before. For example, he's being asked to work in the fields, which he hasn't had to do. But what's more important is that he realizes in pretty short order that his pet lamb is on the docket for the upcoming feast — and he's not going to have any of that," he continues. "The rest of the film is about the boy doing everything he can to get him and his pet lamb back home, even if it means crossing the mountains. We see his struggle against adversity, against power, against tradition, against everything that's considered normal. It's Ethiopia, so of course you'd eat the lamb, right?
"I saw it at the Cannes Film Festival," Withey notes, "and it's been in other festivals, too. Everywhere it's gone, it's done really well. It's absolutely beautiful on screen — just stunning."
Mustang "is another really unique film, this time from Turkey," Withey says. "It's the story of five sisters ranging from probably about eight or nine to sixteen or so. The film starts with them coming home from school one day, and they engage in sort of playful, light flirting with some boys. It's totally innocent, but word of that reaches the home of their grandmother, who they live with, and she's not okay with that.
"Very quickly, the sisters are removed from the outside world. They're taken out of school and literally shut in the house; there's a fence erected around it. And they're dressed in traditional, very dour long clothing, and over time, the grandmother and her son marry the girls off one by one. And we watch these sisters being ripped away from each other," he continues.
"The film is critical about the tradition of marrying young girls off to older men without them ever meeting or having any kind of relationship with them. But at the same time, it's very celebratory about the relationship between these five girls in a way that reminded me of The Virgin Suicides. Their relationship is so strong and there are moments of complete joy even though they're locked in the upstairs of this house. They engage in fantasy worlds, fun and games — but as each older sister is taken away, it gets that much sadder. So it's a total condemnation of that type of society."
The Measure of a Man
Directed by Stéphane Brizé
2:15 p.m. Saturday, November 14
4:30 p.m. Sunday, November 15
Sie FilmCenter DFF
"The Measure of a Man is a French film," Withey says, and he feels that star Vincent Lindon "gives one of the best acting performances in the entire festival, hands down." Lindon plays "a middle-aged man who gets laid off from his job," Withey continues. "He has a family, a couple of kids and a nice house. They live a relatively comfortable life, but it's not easy to find another job, and he's quickly confronted with the reality that he's going to have to take a much-lower position that he's been used to in life — in this case, a job as a security guard at a supermarket."
At work, Lindon's character "is demeaned by really young bosses who tell him what to do, and he's forced to arrest poor people who shoplift to survive, which is something he can't quite wrap his head around. And the corporation that owns the supermarket also has this drive to spy on its own employees to make sure they're not taking extra breaks or using coupons from the store for their own benefit.
"It's a sad film, but at the same time, it's uplifting, because we see a guy who rises up against all the obstacles that are set before him."
Look below to see a clip from Lamb and trailers for Mustang and The Measure of a Man. To access all the film festival's selections and purchase tickets, click here.
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