Now that the Oscars are over, serious movie fans can explore film without the hype of awards ceremonies. Miami Dade College’s 33rd Miami International Film Festival (MIFF) will be a haven for those cinephiles, says Jaie Laplante, the festival’s director of programming for the past six years. Speaking via phone, he recommended five lesser-known films he thinks will speak to discerning festivalgoers.
5. The King of Havana
Friday, March 11, and Sunday, March 13, at Regal South Beach
The King of Havana explores the dark side of destitution in Cuba in the mid-'90s and was so controversial it could not be shot in its home country. Instead, director Agustí Villaronga filmed it in the Dominican Republic with Cuban and Dominican actors. The movie's title alludes to its lead character's grand endowment — and it's not money. The festival's program book also makes a rare effort to warn viewers that the film is “recommended for mature audiences only.”
“It’s a tough, tough movie," Laplante says. "It’s gonna be a film that’s gonna be hard for some people to watch, I think. It’s set in Cuba’s 'Special Period,' in 1993-94. It’s just really about how people survive during periods of extreme poverty and extreme lack of support, when a society is breaking down all around them. It also shows how ugly human behavior can get.”
4. I Promise You Anarchy
Tuesday, March 8, at Regal South Beach and Sunday, March 13, at Cinépolis
A little more on the cheery side is the Mexican film I Promise You Anarchy, featuring two skateboarder protagonists who fall in love. Despite some stark subject matter, like the fact the skaters sell blood on Mexico City's black market, Laplante says the film has amazing visuals. “It flows like a comic book,” he says. “It makes so much use of the street art that you see in Mexico City because they’re always skateboarding past these great graphics, and then the cinematography and the framing is outstanding. It’s just sharp and really intelligent.”
Friday, March 11, at O Cinema Miami Beach and Saturday, March 12, at Regal South Beach
Speaking of intelligent moviemaking, Laplante calls Weiner, a documentary about disgraced U.S. representative from New York Anthony Weiner, a revealing examination of what’s wrong with today’s political system. The subject may be about a married politician who lost his job on Capitol Hill because he was busted for sexting, but Laplante says it has a wider point.
“It’s a film really about media circuses and what our political life is turning into,” he reveals. “If you watch this movie, you’ll understand why Donald Trump is doing so well at the moment. It’s because politics have descended into celebrity entertainment, and Donald Trump is nothing if not a TV star... In my mind, Weiner serves as an important document as to what is the state of our political culture in our country, which is frightening.”
2. Gold Coast
Sunday, March 6, at Coral Gables Art Cinema, and Sunday, March 12, at Cinépolis
Beyond delving into the Zeitgeist, the festival also screens films that examine the past. Laplante says he is particularly proud of Gold Coast, a Danish coproduction with Ghana that offers a distinctive look at a long period of slavery in colonial times.
“It’s a story about Denmark in 1792,” he says. “It was the first country to outlaw the practice of slavery... but in their African colony that’s now Ghana, the king sent some emissaries there a few years later and found the Danes were not compliant, so the story Gold Coast is about a real-life person who went there to fight the governor of the colony.
"Besides being a very powerful subject, it’s coproduced by Ghana itself, so it’s not necessarily a white-privilege point of view.”
Saturday, March 5, at O Cinema Miami Beach, and Sunday, March 13, at Regal South Beach
One last film he recommends attendees check out is Dheepan, winner of the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and directed by Jacques Audiard, who in 2009 gave the world the Oscar-nominated A Prophet. Laplante thinks France dropped the ball by not submitting Audiard's latest for Hollywood’s top prize. “I love the film,” he says. “I think it’s incredibly powerful. I’m a fan of all of Jacques Audiard’s movies, and this is right up there with A Prophet in terms of his best film. And the coolest part about it is that the images have this incredibly operatic texture.
"He’s working with a new cinematographer in Dheepan, a very young woman — her name is Éponine Momenceau. I think she was only 29 when she shot the movie with him.” Momenceau will be at MIFF as part of fest's new Google initiative that explores women in technology roles in the film industry. “This is an extraordinary opportunity to talk to a cinematographer," Laplante says, "which is not a usual occurrence at film festivals. It’s usually actors or directors or writers.”
Miami International Film Festival
Friday, March 4, through Sunday, March 13 at various venues across Miami-Dade County. For tickets, visit miamifilmfestival.com.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter: @HansMorgenstern.