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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

Philadelphia Film Festival 2020

Film reviews and my overall summary from the 29th Philadelphia Film Festival

My experience at the Philadelphia Film Festival last year was magical to say the least. Each film was like a new home I was tasked with decorating however I saw fit. The world has changed so much since then. The world of cinema has changed. The drive of cinema has come down to a screeching halt and it is being kept alive in a busy highway of traffic. I can't even remember how many films I saw at the festival last year.

This year, I only saw four. I planned to see more but many were not available as everything is done virtually, the schedule is specific and not all films were available in my region. Please note that I realize that pulling off the Philly Film Festival was quite a feat and I am completely grateful for all the effort made by the entire team of the Philadelphia Film Society.

The clock of cinemas survival is ticking and I’d like to thank Larry Korman and the entire Philadelphia Film Society for their constant undivided attention to that tick. I’d also like to thank Mr. Korman for having me back again to review the films I managed to see. These four films deliver stories with love, evil, intensity, complexity, depth and beauty. I look forward to sharing my thoughts on them with you all.

White Lie

White Lie is a film so psychologically shocking, it may take quite a while for you to realize your mouth is hanging open. The very essence of evil is the continuation of it: Knocking the opportunity to come clean to the ground and walking over it without hesitation. Somewhere in Canada, university student Katie Arneson (Kacey Rohl) has been faking cancer for some time. Katie’s backstory is brought up once or twice but nothing serious enough to justify her actions ever surface. The attention and campus donations keep her going on a road with no end in sight. She soon learns that a university bursary she’s been trying to get is in jeopardy unless she can provide medical records by the end of the week. White Lie follows Katie over the course of a few days as she tries to maintain her lie and cover up any loose ends. Martin Donovan is only in one scene as her emotionally exhausted, estranged father. The scene says a lot about where both of them are in their lives and just how impossible it is for them to find common ground. Amber Anderson is the heart of White Lie as Katie’s loyal and unsuspecting girlfriend, Jennifer Ellis. Exposure of Katie’s lies sends Katie into a downward spiral leaving Jennifer to deal with the betrayal and social media fallout on her own. White Lie ends leaving you starving for more. It would've made a great series with the film being a 96 minute pilot and who knows what could've happened from there. It's been almost a week since I saw the film and I'm still thinking about it. White Lie is a brilliantly structured study of the antihero. These are the kinds of people that will haunt you more than anything else. They are like phantoms, they're always lingering in the shadows around us.

Spring Blossom

Spring Blossom is a lovely and tender coming of age drama set in Paris. Suzanne Lindon wrote, directed and starred as herself in her version of the events that transpired. She's in her early 20s now, the film is set when she's 16. She finds herself disinterested with her immature peer group and develops a relationship with Raphael (Arnaud Valois), an older actor she meets outside his theater. It's not clear whether their relationship becomes sexual but the emotional attachment is very much alive. Both performances are portrayed with raw honesty and youthful longing. Spring Blossom is a very nonjudgmental film. There's no right or wrong. It's simply a study of how we observe other people from the outside and the melodies that exist from within.


Charter is a drama about the idea of escape: Escape is about much more than destination, it's about fully leaving your troubles behind which for many just isn't possible, especially when there are children involved. Somewhere in Norway, Alice (Ane Dahl Torp) is in the middle of an excruciating custody battle with her ex husband. With the court's verdict only a week away (and not looking good for Alice) she decides to take her children for a week and flees with them to the Canary Islands where she hopes to get them to open up about where they're at emotionally. Dahl Torp delivers an incredible portrait of a mother struggling to keep her head above water while her children wobble on the tightrope between two different futures. Audiences will find Charter to be a familiar film about the stress and trauma that comes from the burden of having people in our lives we can't get rid of. It's never them, it's what they bring to our tables and their inability to bring forward anything else.


Ema is an artful story about dangerously intoxicating beauty that lives inside the heart of insanity. In Chile, Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo) is a modern dancer who with her choreographer husband Gaston (Gael Garcia Bernal) struggle to move forward after giving back the son they adopted and were unable to raise. Ema is a dreamlike film with an atmosphere you usually see in Terrence Malick films. The way the dialogue is delivered, the cinematography, the music and everything that surrounds it is extraordinarily beautiful but also very sensual. Ema is a very erotic film but portrayed in a very artful manner. It's not every day films like this are made and I look forward to seeing it again upon its release a year from now. I have a feeling this is one film audiences who don't usually rewatch films will see again.

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