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A screen capture from Synonyms.
A screen capture from Synonyms.

Denver Film Festival 2019 Must-See Picks for November 1 to 3

Matt Campbell, who was named interim artistic director of the Denver Film Festival after the death of his predecessor, Brit Withey, earlier this year, is our guide to the cinematic event's 42nd edition, which continues through November 10. Campbell has chosen a must-see film for each day of the fest. Keep reading to get his takes on selections for November 1 to 3: Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains, Synonyms and The Invisible Life.

Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains
Directed by Gu Xiaogang
Friday, November 1, 6:30 p.m., UA Pavilions
Saturday, November 2, 7 p.m., Sie FilmCenter

"This is a really lovely film," Matt Campbell says of Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains. "It's in our Krzysztof Kieslowski competition for best feature film, it's by a first-time director [Gu Xiaogang], and it's going to be the first of three films in a trilogy."

See a clip from the film here:

Shot over a two year period in China, the film "follows three generations of a large family," Campbell explains. "It starts at the matriarch's birthday party and follows them through the seasons as they deal with different trials and tribulations."

The effect, in his view, is "meditative and transfixing. It really gets you into the time and the place."

The cinematography, meanwhile, recalls the painting with which the movie shares its name, created by artist Huang Gongwang from 1348-1350. According to Campbell, "The mountains and the environment influence the narrative. The plot is kind of intertwined among multiple stories, and there's a lot going on — but there's also a lot of breathing room that leaves you time for contemplation. It's very beautiful."

Synonyms
Directed by Nadav Lapid
Saturday, November 2, 6:45 p.m., UA Pavilions
Saturday, November 9, 4 p.m., UA Pavilions

When Synonyms was in competition at this year's Berlin Film Festival, Campbell points out, "it won the Golden Bear," the award for the event's best film. "And a few months back, IndieWire put out a list of the 100 best films from the past decade, and Synonyms was the only film from this year. Of course, that's IndieWire's opinion — but it's an excellent and really bold film."

The story revolves around "Yoav, a young man [played by Tom Mercier] who has just moved to Paris from Israel. And he not only wants to live in Paris, but he wants to strip himself of his former identity, of his Israeli heritage. He used to be in the Israeli army, but he's totally against that now. He refuses to speak Hebrew to the other Israeli ex-pats; he only wants to speak French. The title refers to him trying to create his identity through language, by using the French language as a way to escape his previous life."

Here's the trailer for Synonyms:

Yoav marks the first major role for Mercier, and Campbell calls it "quite the breakout. It's a really physical performance."

The psychological drama also contains "a bit of a criminal element to it, with Yoav's past life and the actions he's trying to escape. And his father comes and tries to get him to return."

The intensity of the filmmaking may "put some people off," Campbell acknowledges. "It could be divisive, for sure. But if you're on its wavelength, it's really good, and I found it absolutely fascinating."

The Invisible Life
Directed by Karim Aïnouz
Saturday, November 2, 4:45 p.m., UA Pavilions
Sunday, November 3, 4 p.m., UA Pavilions

The Invisible Life is "the anchor to our focus on the national cinema of Brazil this year," Campbell enthuses. "It's a sweeping Brazilian period-peace epic about two sisters."

The action begins in the 1940s, when "one of the sisters is about to be married and the other sister wants to leave Brazil, go to Europe and join a musical conservatory. That's very much against her father's wishes, but she goes anyway. When things don't quite work out with her music, she returns to Brazil and tries to make peace with her father, but he doesn't want to have anything to do with her. She's dead to him."

This is the trailer for The Invisible Life.

The father's antipathy for his prodigal daughter is such that "he doesn't inform her sister that she's back. The sisters are like ships passing in the night, missing each other," says Campbell.

The impact of these fractured relationships made a significant impact on Campbell. "I usually watch between 500 and 600 films a year," he calculates, "and out of the hundreds of films I watched this year, it's the only one I can recall that really got to me emotionally. Now, I'm not the most emotional guy, so when something like that happens, I really pay attention to it in the screening process."

Brazil is having a cinematic moment right now despite an ugly political shift. "The country has a new president [Jair Bolsonaro], and there have been reports in various trades about them defunding the government's arm for film, television and the media. He was quoted as basically saying they shouldn't be making content that goes against the principles of Brazil, specifically talking about an LBGTQ television series. These kinds of things really affect freedom of speech and creativity and storytelling, and we shouldn't take them for granted, because they're more delicate than we can imagine."

In the meantime, The Invisible Life is Brazil's official entry for consideration in the Academy Awards' Best Foreign Film category. "It's just so powerful," Campbell says.

Click to get tickets for these films and to learn more about the 42nd annual Denver Film Festival.

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