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 10, 11 and 12: Quality Time, AlphaGo and Easy.
Quality Time Directed by Daan Bakker
8:30 p.m. Friday, November 10, 4:30 p.m. Saturday, November 11, 7 p.m. Sunday, November 12
"This is a bit of a weird one, which is why I'm going to introduce it," Withey says of Quality Time. "It's from the Netherlands, and it tells five different stories that are loosely connected, because they're all about younger- to middle-aged misfit men. But each story is completely different visually — and a couple of them are so strange that I've never seen anything like them."
As an example, Withey points to "one section of the film that's completely filmed with a drone, and there's no dialogue — or at least there's no dialogue that's spoken. You see characters walking around below you and the dialogue is like thought bubbles. The story is really great, but it's weird to watch a whole part of a film that was made that way. I've never experienced anything like it before."
Here's the trailer for Quality Time, which only hints at its eclecticism:
Drone's-eye views aren't the only intriguing perspectives in Quality Time, he stresses. "Another segment is completely animated with just dots. You get that people are speaking, and there are subtitles — but they're just dots."
In addition, "there's another really great story about a guy who goes back in time because he's so miserable in his midlife — and he finds himself as a child and starts to give himself all of these great experiences that are improving his self-esteem. But eventually it starts to backfire, because even though he's feeling really good about himself, he's getting really arrogant."
Don't expect common characters to wander in and out of the assorted narratives. But even without such visual cues, Withey believes viewers will see Quality Time as a unit as opposed to the equivalent of a short-film package: "I don't know why that is or how they did it, but it does feel like one thing. Which is really surprising, but it does. That's one reason why it's so amazing."
AlphaGo Directed by Greg Kohs
6:45 p.m. Friday, November 10, and 1:45 p.m. Saturday, November 11
The subject of the documentary AlphaGo, says Withey, "is the game Go. It's a Chinese board game mostly played in Asia with black and white pieces, and it's taken very, very, very seriously. It's almost a philosophy or a way of life. People who play it don't see it as a mere board game. They believe that it's the most complex board game in the world, ever. There are supposed to be more possible moves from the beginning of the game to the end than there are atoms in the universe."
Just as important, he continues, is the idea that "being a truly good Go player is something you're born with. You play with intuition. You may not be sure why you make a certain move, but somehow you know, if you're really good, that it's the right move."
According to Withey, this viewpoint is knocked for a loop when "the people involved with Google DeepMind make a computer program to play Go. Of course, their goal is to beat the best Go player in the world, like the Deep Blue computer did with Garry Kasparov in chess."
Here's the trailer for AlphaGo:
Over the course of the film, Withey says, "the computer starts getting really good. After it beats the top players in the U.S., the DeepMind people want to go against the world Go master, who was South Korean. There's a challenge to a five-game series that becomes huge news across the world, and about half the documentary is about getting to that point, and the other half is about the series."
Spoiler alert: The Go champ begins to take it on the chin, and he doesn't deal with it well. "His whole life is in tatters," Withey says. "He doesn't understand what's happening. Nobody understands what's happening. This isn't supposed to be possible. Everybody ridiculed the idea that a computer could win at the intuitive, philosophical part of this game. So it breaks this guy: It totally destroys his worldview and the worldview of this community that reveres the game so much. It's just a fascinating look at artificial intelligence versus humanity and the fragility of ego."
Easy Directed by Andrea Magnani
8:45 p.m. Saturday, November 11, and 4 p.m. Sunday, November 12
"I wanted to end on a nice note," Withey reveals. "That's why I picked Easy — which is really fun and charming."
The Italian film focuses on "a guy named Easy, who's probably thirty at the time of the film, but when he was a kid, he was the go-cart champion of his area — the best of the best."
Times have changed, Withey emphasizes: "Now he's an obese sort-of recluse who lives in his mom's basement and doesn't have anything going for him at all. But his older brother's made a really good life for himself. He runs a construction company and is basically the golden child, which doesn't make life any better for Easy."
But then, Withey goes on, "this Ukrainian worker at his brother's construction site falls and dies. His brother wants to get the body back to the Ukraine surreptitiously, because it could be bad for business. So he gets Easy behind the wheel to take the body back to the Ukraine, which isn't something Easy is equipped to handle."
Here's the trailer for Easy:
Easy's mission involves "crossing borders and dealing with checkpoints and police while having a body in the car," Withey says. "But he's proud of being given this task and is going to see it through no matter what."
The ride isn't a smooth one, Withey acknowledges: "The whole thing becomes a comedy of errors. Everything goes wrong from the get-go as he tries to get this body back to the worker's family. But it's really a lovely little film of one man trying to redeem himself. It's part comedy, part touching redemption film."
And a great way to close out the fortieth edition of the Denver Film Festival.
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