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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

32nd Philadelphia Film Festival Reviews & Recap

I saw so many amazing films shown at the 32nd Philadelphia Film Festival. They immediately captured my complete attention. I will do full reviews of films such as Maestro and Saltburn on my website. To see packed audiences of loyal cinephiles is always a delight that’s never to be taken for granted by me.


This year, the members of the Board of the Philadelphia Film Society truly outdid themselves with their selection of a vast range of complicated and enthralling stories of human complexity. I’m so grateful to all the dedicated and passionate volunteers. Their kindness and hard work are a true jewel to behold. I couldn’t be more proud of my wonderful friend Larry Korman who asked me to represent AKA at the Festival. His faith in me is connected to our sincere shared love of meaningful film and it warms my heart like nothing else. As for these remarkable films, I usually divide them based on which were my favorites but this year, I just don’t think that’s possible. They all impacted me in profound and unexpected ways. Here is a review of a few...


American Fiction


Jeffrey Wright as Monk Ellison has had enough of this loud clap of a comedy that’s destined to be recognized as a new kind of American Classic. Monk is a talented black writer who finds his work continuously rejected by the massively white literary community who only seem to recognize works by black writers that satisfy stereotypical assumptions of African Americans. Under an alias, he crafts a novel full of black stereotypes to prove a point only for his publisher (John Oritz) to educate him. However, much to his surprise, many publishers want to pick it up. As his mother's (Leslie Uggams) dementia worsens, his sister (Tracee Ellis Ross) dies and his closeted brother (Sterling K. Brown) is cut off from his own family, Monk becomes responsible for his whole family, forcing him to anonymously submit his new book to earn some money and therefore profit from the kinds of work he’s passionately protested. American Fiction is a hilarious satire on the ridiculous institutionalized expectations set up for black creativity to flourish. The level of racism is blood-boiling but American Fiction tackles it head-on in a very ingenious way. There’s a real absurdity to it which is why this film works best as a comedy. Better to laugh in the face of idiots when they think no one’s watching. Wright delivers one of his best performances and is an instant Oscar contender. I can’t wait to hear audiences laugh at this one when it hits theaters in December. I will be there to see it many times over again!


All Dirt Roads Taste Of Salt


Raven Jackson’s feature-length directorial debut is an astonishingly graceful portrait of tenderness and grace. Set over several years in Mississippi, various moments are shown of the life of Mack (Charleen McClure, Kaylee Nicole Johnson & Zainab Jah), a woman whose growth, love, and heartbreaks are all connected somehow to the vast sounds and beauties of nature around her. An unplanned discovery she isn’t prepared for drastically changes the life of her loving and loyal sister Josie (The Queen’s Gambit’s Moses Ingram), a discovery that only strengthens their family in the long run. Raven Jackson’s masterpiece is extremely unconventional in its storytelling and is all the better for it. It’s very poetic and quite dreamy. It doesn’t have a whole lot of dialogue and relies mostly on the sounds of nature and the elements to tell the story. I close my eyes and can still hear bath water running, rain falling, fire burning and thunder booming. With the amount of love on display on the screen, all roads just like Mack and Josie’s eventually lead to home.


Fallen Leaves


NO ONE is making films like Fallen Leaves anymore. It’s toasty, warm, humorous, romantic, and mesmerizingly beautiful. Ansa (which means trapped in Finnish) and Holappa (Alma Poysti & Jussi Vatanen) are two lonely strangers in Helsinki who wish to make a connection but don’t quite know how. At 80 minutes, this miraculous tragicomedy follows these two shy people as they break out of their shells and find solace in the possibilities their company offers one another. Holappa is a daily alcoholic and Ansa having lost family to the illness makes it clear she won’t go down that path again. Trips to the cinemas, chats with their only friends from work, and the arrival of an adorable stray dog that looks just like a fox make for a delightful cinematic treat one can enjoy over any rainy afternoon. Don’t be surprised if the sun comes out right when it ends. The period of the film is unclear and it has been said to be set in an alternate reality. The wall calendar shown in the film shows autumn 2024 but the news narrated on the radio takes place in the early moments of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. Tube radios, landline phones, and old-fashioned trainers are used throughout Fallen Leaves making its atmosphere all the more charming as these delightful characters contend with an uncertain future as life near the Russian border carries on for the time being.

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