I've gotten a bit behind on reviewing, but here are a couple more of my favorites so far, both by very talented first-time filmmakers.
KAUWBOY (8.5), from the Netherlands, brings you into the world of Jojo, a 10-year-old boy who lives alone with his security guard father, an alternately taciturn and volatile man who seems utterly without the emotional resources to support his son. Jojo seems a resilient sort, but also lonely and obviously missing his mother, who reportedly is a musician touring in the U.S. One day while out walking he discovers a baby jackdaw who has apparently been ejected from the nest; he adopts the bird as a pet and hides it from his disapproving dad. This is the type of plot that would make me suspicious in a Hollywood movie, because I'd expect emotional manipulation--but this moving film feels very genuine and plainspoken in its depiction of a child's resourcefulness in dealing with grief. All the tears it evokes (for me, many) are well-earned. It plays again on February 16.
ONE NIGHT (8.5) is a fascinating and vibrant window into Havana street life. It depicts the lives of three restless teenagers, whose longings and limited options move them toward increasingly desperate acts, eventually landing them in a raft headed for Miami. The film effectively conveys the sense of a small land-mass, frozen in time and largely cut-off from the outside world, a feeling of caged energy that pervades the streets,and especially the recklessness of youth. It features three fine performances from the teens; they behave like teenagers rather than the beautiful adults who pass for teenagers in Hollywood fare, and the film's well-crafted story keeps you hooked and anxious about where their impetuous choices will lead them. It plays at the festival on February 20 and 21.