Again this year, Denver Film Festival artistic director Matt Campbell is offering his must-see picks for each day of the event, which is largely virtual and continues through November 8. Keep reading to get his takes on selections for October 30 to November 1, including a Halloween two-fer: The Killing of Two Lovers, Becky, Night of the Kings and Gunda.
The Killing of Two Lovers
Directed by Robert Machoian
Limited Screening: Accessible 6:15 to 10:15 p.m. October 30 and 6:15 to 10:15 p.m. November 6
Don't let the title The Killing of Two Lovers fool you. "It's a good Friday night film," says Matt Campbell, "but it's not quite a horror film, and it's not super-intense."
Lovers is the solo directing debut of Robert Machoian, who was previously best known for working in partnership with Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck on pictures such as 2018's Mother, Mother. Campbell notes that they have been considered practitioners of "slow cinema," a style that tends to emphasize naturalism over narrative. In his view, the latest feature "is a leap forward for Robert, with more of a tightly constructed plot. But it still has those slow-cinema elements — that vibe of a naturally unfolding, atmospheric setting, but with a heightened tension and drama."
Campbell thumbnails the story as "an intense family drama about a couple that have separated. The father has moved out of the house, but he's just down the street, living with his own father in a very remote small town in Utah. And he's trying to get his family back. He has three sons and a teenage daughter with his wife, who's just started a new relationship." Campbell doesn't want to say more for fear of venturing into spoiler territory, but he feels the results offer "a gateway into Machoian's previous work."
Directed by Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott
Limited screening: Accessible 7:15 to 11:45 p.m. October 31
Night of the Kings
Directed by Philippe Lacôte
Limited screening: Accessible 6:15 to 10:15 p.m. October 31 and 6:15 p.m.-10:15 p.m. November 2
For Halloween, Campbell presents a pair of options that offer Denver Film Festival viewers very different experiences.
Those looking for straight-up scares should check out Becky, which he characterizes as "an over-the-top slasher-style horror film that's super-bloody. It's kind of a home-invasion story involving this team of neo-Nazis led by Kevin James," who's best known as the star of the long-running sitcom The King of Queens.
"He's actually pretty convincing as a neo-Nazi," Campbell says of James. The title role, meanwhile, is played by Lulu Wilson, and he stresses that the goons "obviously picked the wrong fourteen-year-old girl to mess with."
Viewers hoping for something a little different have a great choice, too: Night of the Kings, which Campbell says "has really been tearing it up on the festival circuit this fall. It was in Venice and Toronto and New York, and it will be in Chicago."
The movie is "set in this very infamous prison called La Maca on the Ivory Coast," he goes on, "and there's a kind of folklore within the prison community that says on a certain night when the moon is red, someone is designated by the leader to tell stories to the prisoners all night long — and if it's not a good story, there are severe consequences for the storyteller."
A new inmate gets chosen for this duty, and Campbell reveals that the tale he tells "is about his friend and the reason he got into prison — but then it goes into African folklore and even supernatural, magical-realism territory, with epic battles and stuff like that. I think it's a great international film in the sense that it will really satisfy people looking for African cinema but will also appeal to a wider audience because of the fantasy elements."
Directed by Victor Kossakovsky
Limited screening: Accessible 4:15 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. November 1
A film about animals that shares commonalities with avant-garde cinema? That's Gunda, which Campbell calls "a very unique documentary. It's in black and white, and there are no people in it — no human protagonist and just a natural setting and natural sound. But there is a structured plot: a clear beginning, middle and end."
The protagonist, Gunda, "is a mama pig at a farm in Norway who has a lot of piglets feeding off of her and following her around. Two cows and a one-legged chicken are the complementary cast — and it's very beautiful. It really made me meditate on trying to experience the world not through such a human-centric lens."
Executive-produced by Joaquin Phoenix, the film "has a very artful way of getting into the mindset of farm animals — and I think it's for everyone. A lot of times, something like this would fall into the camp of experimental cinema, but it's more accessible than that."
Click for ticket information and more details about the 43rd Denver Film Festival, including how to access selections online.
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