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Best of the Milwaukee Film Festival: Features

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Lore   As the Milwaukee Film Festival comes to a close this Thursday, the Trib picked its favorite scripted films out of the more than 140 world-class movies showed during this year’s impressive run.

LORE

  “Lore” is set at the end of WWII as a young German girl, Lore (Saskia Rosendahl), and her younger siblings find themselves abandoned by their Nazi parents, left to travel to their grandmother’s house across a now divided and dangerous Germany.

   Beautifully filmed in cool and lush colors, “Lore” explores the psyche of a girl raised in the Hitler Youth who comes into her identity and sexuality, just as the Germany she knows falls apart.LoreBP

   As the children travel across American and Soviet lines, they are joined by a young man marked with a David’s Star on his passbook. The mysterious young man follows the family with an intense, yet unknown purpose. It is unclear if he means to be protector or hunter; if he’s there to help their journey, or hurt them along the way.

   More complicated yet is an attraction that exists between the young man and Lore. Though the attraction simmers as they travel together, Lore’s anti-semitism periodically boils to the surface as they face the harsh wilderness.

   Throughout the emotionally gruelling plot, the audience’s empathy is tested by a story made even more gripping by its two stunning young leads, who create a tension that makes it hard to tear away from the theater.

   Heavy and emotionally complex “Lore” is a difficult bildungsroman that does justice to its complex moral dillemna.

For those who missed “Lore” at the festival this year, the film is now also available on Netflix streaming. (Brian Keogh)

THE INEVITABLE DEFEAT OF MISTER & PETE

Director and Milwaukee native George Tillman Jr. has a lot to be commended for in “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete.” The story written by Michael Starrbury, also from Milwaukee, engages the audience with bold dialogue and realistic situations of tough inner-city life. Simple, yet effective cinematography captures powerful moments in an otherwise everyday setting.

The film’s most impressive feat, however, shines through the performances by Skylan Brooks and Ethan Dizon, the young stars who carry the weight of the film like veteran pros.

Ethan-Dioz-and-Skylan-Brooks-in-The-Inevitable-Defeat-of-Mister-and-Pete

   Shortly after school lets out for the summer, Mister (Brooks) finds himself at an all-time low. He has just failed eighth grade, his drug-dealing mother (Jennifer Hudson) is taken away by the cops and he is forced to hide out in the apartment to avoid being taken to the local boys’ home. Now he and his neighbor Pete (Dizon), also dealing with an absent, druggie mother, must rely on each other to survive the scorching summer.

   Brooks comes off like an adult in a kid’s body, with a cynical world view, and a determination to prove his worth by living on his own. Dizon gives a charming, crowd-pleasing performance without coming off as a lowly sidekick.

Others in the talented cast, including “American Idol” winner Jordin Sparks, turn in solid performances, but Brooks and Dizon steal the show with their charisma and confidence. (Claire Nowak)

CLOSED CURTAIN

With a slow but steady pace, thick symbolism and an unconventional use of perspective, Iranian filmmaking can be an acquired cinematic taste. Fortunately, director Jafar Panahi crafts his latest film, “Closed Curtain,” so all moviegoers can be intrigued.

In semi-autobiographical style, Panahi mixes reality and fiction as he describes his current house arrest in Iran, yet the filmmaker himself only enters the film in the final act. The bulk of “Closed Curtain” instead follows Panahi’s personified psyche, a reclusive screenwriter (Kambuzia Partovi) and a suicidal fugitive (Maryam Moqadam) as they hide from the authorities.

closed-curtain   The story becomes more complex once characters leave their imagined world and comment on Panahi’s actual thoughts, making viewers question whether the events on screen are real or in the director’s mind. Yet Panahi eases that confusion just enough for a satisfying, but ambiguous end.

Relatively long shots and illustrative cinematography show Panahi’s knack for catching details that might otherwise go unnoticed. The camera never leaves the inside of Panahi’s beachfront villa (with every window covered by – get this – closed curtains) to match the director’s seclusion from society and leave all outside action to the imagination.

A stark diversion from current films in American theaters, “Closed Curtain” gives viewers a baffling, dreamlike but rewarding cinematic experience. (Claire Nowak)

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