There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
OutdoorsDirected by Asaf Saban
Shrugging at floor tiles may not be the best metaphor for a crumbling marriage, but that’s what we have to work with in Outdoors, writer-director Asaf Saban’s story about a young couple in trouble. Yaara (Noa Koler) and Gili (Udi Razzin) are leaving Tel Aviv along with their young daughter and building their dream home in the countryside, the type of project that anyone will recognize can strain the best of relationships. Indeed, even though the two are clearly in love at the beginning of the build, little disagreements soon turn into big disappointments and questions about their future. (Guys, here’s a hint: Don’t say to your pregnant wife, “Let’s not make decisions based on hormonal changes.”) Koler, last seen in The Wedding Plan, is luminous here, even as her Yaara becomes desperate to engage her husband. Razzin, meanwhile, effectively straddles the line between romantic and jerk. Outdoors is not going blow anyone away with its scenes from a marriage, but its 80 minutes are compelling enough to pass quickly. Call it Bergman-lite. —Tricia Olszewski
Sat., May 5, 12:30 p.m., Landmark Bethesda Row Cinema; Thurs., May 10, 6:20 p.m., Landmark E Street Cinema.
The Last SupperDirected by Florian Frerichs
No one can predict the future. A corollary of that is how we should be gentle toward people who did not see the encroaching darkness before it was too late. The future, cruel and unsparing, hangs over a family of affluent German Jews in The Last Supper like an albatross. Director Florian Frerichs’ drama has a pedagogical purpose—functioning like an after-school special of European history—and yet there is some power in watching his naïve characters delude themselves.
It is 1933, and Hitler was just elected chancellor of Germany. A family gets together for the patriarch’s 80th birthday party, and politics is on everyone’s mind. Every ideology gets representation at the dinner table. There’s the aspiring brownshirt, a Jew who admires Hitler because he fights for the German identity. There’s the bolshevik intellectual, who hates Nazism and the bourgeois trappings of her family. Everyone is polite, even in their disagreements, and the film is a thought experiment about how no one could conceive of what would happen.
The Last Supper is at its best when it puts 1930s Germany into a broader context. Hitler is not even the first source of controversy: A young woman wants to emigrate to Palestine, and her father worries she is being too impulsive. Though Hitler was just elected, he does not yet dominate German politics, and so the family discusses ancillary figures with equal passion.
The trouble with this approach is that everyone is an avatar, rather than flushed out individuals. Frerichs’ purpose is to educate, rather than entertain or provoke, and so he shoehorns dialogue that sounds clunky and awkward. The title cards only hammer home the point: They describe what happens to German Jews in the war and the years ahead. Maybe younger audiences will find value in such a film, yet anyone with a passing knowledge of history will roll their eyes more than once. —Alan Zilberman
Sat., May 5, 4:30 p.m., Landmark E Street Cinema; Sun., May 6, 2:45 p.m., Landmark Bethesda Row Cinema.
The Dead NationDirected by Radu Jude
The Romanian documentary The Dead Nation asks a lot of its audience, and it is a tough sell. A cynic might dismiss the film as a mere slideshow, and yet its refusal to offer the audience easy answers builds toward unique, powerful cinema.
There are no talking heads in The Dead Nation. In fact, there are no moving images whatsoever. Director Radu Jude shows us a series of photographs from 1937 through 1946, some of which are badly damaged. Most of the photos are portraits, and they are all taken in Romania. Sometimes he dwells on an image for 20, even 30 seconds. The soundtrack is someone reading the diary of a Jewish Romanian doctor, the entries cover the same period as the photographs, and he increasingly saw the need to bear witness to one atrocity after another. Sometimes we hear radio broadcasts, or songs meant to function as propaganda.
There is a power in this approach. It is not like what we experience in a museum, or art gallery. Jude forces his audiences to consider each photograph, never explaining whether we see fascists, Jews, or people who will be slaughtered. None of these photos are candid, so nearly every face stares directly into the camera lens. It’s as if these faces stare at us, asking us to remember and empathize with them.
Jude makes some editorial decisions in how he cuts from one photo to another: Some of the changes are abrupt, and are meant to make us feel uncomfortable. The cumulative effect is immersive, and there is a heaviness in the deadpan narration. Even though there are no emotional outbursts and no picture with disturbing content, people may be moved to tears. By stripping away the typical confines of documentary filmmaking, The Dead Nation creates a space where we are free to reflect, think, and mourn. —Alan Zilberman
Wed., May 9, 6:15 p.m., Landmark Bethesda Row Cinema; Sun., May 13, 5:30 p.m., AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.
Budapest NoirDirected by Éva Gárdos
Set in the fascist Hungary of 1936, this crime drama, based on a best-selling novel, follows Zsigmond (Krisztián Kolovratnik), a cynical reporter who has seen it all. But when a Jewish prostitute turns up murdered, Zsigmond learns the hard way that someone doesn’t want the murder solved. Can he navigate a seedy underworld of boudoir photographers and secret Communist meetings? Hungarian-born director Éva Gárdos worked in Hollywood as an editor and casting director, and her sprawling C.V. includes Apocalypse Now and Valley Girl. Her stylish, loving homage to film noir features an evocative score that echoes Jerry Goldsmith’s theme for Chinatown. But the movie hews too closely to such familiar genre tropes—like deadpan narration, uncooperative officials, and tough dames—that any resonance with the historical setting gets lost in what starts to feel like hard-boiled karaoke night. It’s a lost opportunity, since Budapest, with its cobblestone streets, baroque architecture, and volatile history, would seem like the perfect location for a good neo-noir. It’s that gorgeous, frustrating city that makes the movie watchable, but just barely; it all ends on a groan-inducing mic drop that’s not quite “Forget it Jake, it’s Budapest,” but it might as well be. —Pat Padua
Sat., May 5, 4:15 p.m., Landmark Bethesda Row; Sat., May 12; 6:45 p.m. at the AFI Silver and Cultural Center.
Shalom Bollywood: The Untold History of Indian CinemaDirected by Danny Ben-Moshe
Mumbai’s multi-billion-dollar film factory puts other entertainment capitals to shame; in 2016, it released a staggering 1,903 films, compared to the meager 789 that stumbled out of American studios. But there’s a curious twist in the history of India’s vibrant cinema. Because Hindu and Muslim women were long forbidden from performing onscreen, the evolving industry had to look elsewhere for its first leading women—to the 2,000 year-old Jewish-Indian community. Shalom Bollywood tells the story of four female superstars whose stage names disguised their heritage: Sulochana (born Ruby Meyers), Pramila (Esther Abraham), her cousin Miss Rose (Rose Ezra), and Nadira (Florence Ezekiel). Director Danny Ben-Moshe has assembled a vivid collage that blends classic film footage with production stills, memorabilia, and modern-day animation, as well as interviews with these pioneering women’s descendants—who often have their own surprising story to tell. For instance, actor-playwright Haider Ali, who began his own Bollywood career as a teenage rock ’n’ roll singer in the 1950s, is the son of Pramila and a Muslim husband, an unlikely union that demonstrates a multicultural receptiveness within the industry that was often at odds with the tenor of the nation at large. —Pat Padua
Mon., May 7, 8:30 p.m., Edlavitch DCJCC; Sat., May 12, 12:15 p.m., AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.
ScaffoldingDirected by Matan Yair
Asher (Asher Lax) is at a crossroads. The 17-year-old works with his gruff father Milo (Yaacov Cohen) in his scaffolding business, but he is also getting ready for his high school matriculation exams with the help of literature teacher Rami (Ami Smolartchik). The hot-tempered student ends up in the principal’s office far too often, but even though Asher acts up in Rami’s class too, sometimes it’s just because he’s impatient to find out what happens at the end of that Greek tragedy. Israeli writer/director Matan Yair uses a naturalistic touch on this classroom drama, so much so that the movie’s central metaphor and on-the-nose literary references feel absolutely organic. That’s thanks to a uniformly strong cast and an especially sensitive performance from Lax, who was one of Yair’s students and in fact inspired the movie. The young actor comes across as a feral James Franco; volatile, impressionable, and finally heartbreaking in his struggle to communicate with his emotionally distant father—and to be receptive to an education that may open up a very different vocation. While many of the area’s film festivals promise far-flung stories but simply deliver the usual crowd-pleasers, Scaffolding is the kind of breakout drama that should find life outside the festival circuit. —Pat Padua
Sun., May 6, 5:15 p.m., Landmark Bethesda Row; Wed., May 9, 8:30 p.m., Landmark E Street Cinema.