Three Movies to Catch at MIFF 2015: Les Combattants, Guidance, and Sangue Azul

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The Miami International Film Festival closes Sunday, and you, a typical Miamian, have been too busy fighting traffic to make it to one of the films in the staggering array of international cinema gracing local screens this month. Don't panic! There's still time to catch plenty of mind-blowing films. Here are three worth weaving through rush hour to catch.

See also: Miami International Film Festival 2015 Embraces Local Filmmakers

Sangue Azul (Blue Blood)

This film captivates from its opening scene: a gorgeous series of black-and-white images of a circus traveling to a new location and erecting its massive tent, accompanied by little to no dialogue. Even when Sangue Azul shifts into color, the moment the lead character, Zolah (Daniel de Oliveira), the "human cannonball," is launched from his cannon, the initial beauty is never lost.

Set in Brazil, the film is at its best when it's basking in the familiar yet strange imagery of the circus. Sangue Azul is strikingly straightforward: It presents people as the sexual beings they are, making the relationships that unfold among the main characters all the more interesting to watch. Its aimless nature is, however, its greatest weakness. As weirdly fascinating as it is to watch Zolah go down a rabbit hole of sexual encounters, while occasionally being shot from a cannon, the appeal lasts only so long.

Director Lírio Ferreira could better explore the dichotomy between Zolah's life at home and at the circus, but with little to no narrative to tie it all together (and a lot of repetition), two hours of it becomes tiresome. The rare display of genuine vulnerability certainly helps, but it's a character study that doesn't entirely know what it means to be a character study. Whether de Oliveira's sensitive performance and the film's stunning visuals make Sangue Azul worth the investment is up to the viewer.

6:30 p.m. Friday, March 13, at Cinepolis (3015 Grand Ave., #322, Coconut Grove) and 1 p.m. Saturday, March 14, at O Cinema Miami Beach (500 71st St., Miami Beach).


"Let's just say I exist in the space between caring too much and not giving a fuck," Pat Mills' washed-up actor, David, says when a kid asks him how he got to be so good at what he does.

David is in desperate need of a job, and he's posing as a high-school counselor. It's a perfect description of the kind of character we get in Guidance, Mills' feature directorial debut about a messed-up guy making a living helping equally messed-up kids.

It's the kind of plot that offers Mills plenty of room to have a great time yet explore a character as complicated as David. Though it's a comedy, Guidance is best when it indulges in all the somberness that its protagonist has to offer.

Skin cancer, alcoholism, familial separation, denial of his sexuality, money troubles -- the list goes on and on. But all of this, combined with the fact that David is an immensely likable guy who genuinely wants to help people even though he can't help himself, makes for a weirdly compelling narrative.

The director made the film on a very small budget, an impressive feat considering Guidance looks as good as a typical Hollywood comedy. But thankfully, Mills doesn't have the same sensibilities as the average filmmaker. Sure, there's the same gratuitous use of profanities, and David is as charming and handsome as any lead in a raunchy comedy, but it feels like there's more interest in creating moving characters instead of simply dishing out jokes.

Mills has made a surprisingly sweet, sad, and funny flick that, in less than 90 minutes, turns out to be far more than the light actor-as-counselor narrative it's billed as.

9:30 p.m. Thursday, March 12, at Coral Gables Art Cinema (260 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables).

Love at First Fight (Les Combattants)

In Love at First Fight, Arnaud (Kevin Azaïs) and Madeleine (Adèle Haenel) meet for the first time when they fall into a surprise wrestling match on the beach. He's a sweet boy preparing to deal with family business; she's a tough woman who thinks the apocalypse is near and plans to join the military. So he follows her, and romance blooms.

There isn't much that separates Les Combattants (a much better title for the film than its on-the-nose English one) from any romantic comedy. Aside from the fact that a portion of the film takes place in an unromantic military boot camp, the relationship between the two unfolds as a typical romantic back-and-forth. Though the narrative is relatively predictable, Thomas Cailley's knack for both writing amusing dialogue (with co-writer Claude Le Pape) and creating moments of palpable romantic tension results in an enjoyable feature debut.

The best part of its setting is that Cailley addresses sexism in the military, but the filmmaker hardly does away with any established notions of gender. Presenting viewers with the somewhat-"feminine" Arnaud and the somewhat-"masculine" Madeleine and having them conform to stereotypical gender roles isn't something to praise. In fact, as beautiful as the film is at times, Cailley's depiction of Madeline often -- disappointingly -- succumbs to his male gaze (wet T-shirts and tank tops galore).

It's endlessly enjoyable to watch Haenel fall into her character; Madeleine is a much different role from those in Haenel's earlier career (for example, Céline Sciamma's Water Lilies). The way she delivers every one of Madeleine's nihilistic lines is hysterical. Haenel's screen presence and Azaïs's boyish charm make them a compelling pair in scenes both light and dark, and it's because of them that Les Combattants becomes a more satisfying experience than it has any right to be.

7 p.m. Saturday, March 14, at O Cinema Miami Beach and 4:30 and 8:30 p.m. Sunday, March 15, at Bill Cosford Cinema (5030 Brunson Dr., Coral Gables).

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