MIFFecito: The Highs and Lows of Vara: A Blessing, Raiz, and Life is Good

Vara: A Blessing
Vara: A Blessing
Courtesy of Miami Film Festival International

Vara: A Blessing

Khyentse Norbu's Vara: A Blessing begins strong, introducing audiences to Lila, a young woman who practices the art of bharatanatyam, a classical Indian dance that evokes the art of temple dancers. In its first act, the film proposes a bit of a flip on the typical route for women that involves choosing men over religion, presenting a girl who genuinely has no interest in being married. The film soon leaves reality and indulges in fantasy sequences of Lila falling into romantic situations with God.

Its problems, however, come early in the second act, when Lila's narrative ditches all semblance of character development. This section's depiction of the male gaze is as impressive as it gets, with the leering eyes of the community's landlord resulting in constant quick cuts and closeups of hands, faces, shoulders, and feet. Yet Vara takes pains to present as much of a female perspective in its first act as possible, which makes the mid-film shift and everything that follows so much more disorienting.

See also: MIFFecito: Love Story Paradise Captures Weight Issues without the Clichés

The film's most successful moments can be attributed to its cinematographer, Bradford Young -- one of the best around right now -- who consistently delivers images that make audience question what it's viewing and explore the dichotomy between the Bollywood dancer and the spiritual performer. Vara: A Blessing screens at 7 p.m. Saturday, October 18.

Life Feels Good
Life Feels Good
Courtesy of Miami Film Festival International

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Life Feels Good

Is everybody ready for the feel-good flick of MIFFecito? Because as much of a downer as Life Feels Good might read -- a film that chronicles decades of the life of a young man with cerebral palsy who longs to be understood by those around him -- it actually strives to be an ultra-relatable testament to how anyone can find happiness in life, even in the most dire situation.

The film doesn't deprive the audience of the harshness of living with cerebral palsy, yet it also tries too hard to overwhelm the audience with sentimentality that doesn't come off as genuine.

A fair chunk covers the childhood of Mateusz, but a massive portion takes place in his teens and 20s. Relationships are established and demolished, and Mateusz is forced to live in a sort of nursing home that resembles an asylum.

Though done somewhat clumsily, the film establishes that life inside is surprisingly similar to life outside, no matter how unfortunate it all seems. But even with its issues, Life Feels Good will play well to most audiences, especially for those who wished The Diving Bell and the Butterfly were a bit more light-hearted.

Raiz

To say that Chilean film Raiz is languorously paced is no stretch, and while some might consider that trait a treat when it comes to contemplative cinema, it certainly isn't in this case.

Raiz, also known as Root, tells the story of two individuals who find themselves with little to no family to call their own. Amalia returns home to a bitter mother who, after berating her daughter for not being able to handle her own life, heads off with the son of her live-in maid to find his father.

Raiz is the kind of film that doesn't exactly know when to lay off the heavy-handed themes -- specifically that of family issues and the problematic relationship between mother and child -- and doesn't have a nearly strong enough narrative to support those themes through an entire feature. What it lacks in story and interesting characterization, it attempts to make up for with solid vérité cinematography; the emphasis on the characters' isolation is a rather strong quality in an altogether frustrating film. There's a fair chance Raiz would have found better footing as a short, but at almost an hour and a half, it's a slog to watch. Raiz screens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, October 17, and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, October 18.

MIFFecito runs through Sunday, October 19, at Miami Dade College's Tower Theater. Tickets cost $12 for adults, $11 for seniors, $10 for members, and $7 for students. Call 844-565-6433(MIFF) or visit towertheatermiami.com

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