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Indie Focus: Finding a purpose in 'The Rider,' 'Where Is Kyra?' and 'Borg vs. McEnroe'

Hello! I'm Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

Luis Buñuel's 1968 landmark of intellectualized eroticism, "Belle de Jour," starring Catherine Deneuve, is celebrating its 50th anniversary at the Nuart in Los Angeles in a new 4K restoration. The L.A. Times recently republished Charles Champlin's original review of the film.

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Now seen as a classic, Champlin at the time called the film "interesting and provocative" before adding that "Buñuel's handling of color is gorgeous. And the acting is impeccable. Miss Deneuve has a rare, cool elegance which suggests far more fire than it reveals. … Pervading the film, usefully enough, are not the enticements of sensuality but the sadnesses of a society in which love and sensuality are seen too seldom as a unity and too frequently as a mutually destructive tangle."

We have already booked some exciting titles and guests for screenings and Q&As over the next few weeks and months. For info and updates on future events, go to events.latimes.com.

Brady Jandreau is Brady Blackburn in "The Rider."
Brady Jandreau is Brady Blackburn in "The Rider." (Sony Pictures Classics)

'The Rider'

Directed by Chloé Zhao, "The Rider" is a truly special film, one that blends fiction with an authenticity that is all too rare. In the film, Brady Jandreau stars as a fictionalized version of himself, a South Dakota rodeo rider who is injured and forced to find a new purpose in life. The film recently was nominated for four Spirit Awards, and Zhao won the inaugural Bonnie Award for midcareer female filmmakers.

In his review for The Times, Justin Chang wrote, "From a simple story of personal struggle, Zhao coaxes forth a stirring ode to a little-seen, hardscrabble way of life and a sobering portrait of masculinity in crisis. But her movie is also a full-fledged contemporary western, a hymn to the beauty of wide-open plains, majestic sunsets and strapping young men on horseback."

We had Zhao and Jandreau for a Q&A after a recent screening of the film. As to why she works in this space that combines reality and fiction, Zhao said, "I like to be able to tell you a story inspired by real life. … It's going to be inspired by something that happens in the world. But there is factual truth but there is also emotional truth. I really want to show you that emotional truth, and sometimes that takes a lot of manipulation, music, montage. That just makes more sense to me."

At the New York Times, A.O. Scott grappled with the ways in which the movie intersects with more traditional storytelling by saying, " 'The Rider' isn't really a western, but the genre is part of the air it breathes. … Mr. Jandreau may not have much acting experience, but he has more than a touch of movie-star charisma, that mysterious, unteachable power to hold the screen and galvanize the viewer's attention."

After calling the film "intoxicating and enveloping," Lindsey Bahr for the Associated Press went on to say that it is "a story of death and rebirth and cements Zhao as one of the most promising and humane filmmakers to come on the scene in some time. Like Sean Baker, she takes her camera to parts of the country that many of us rarely see and even more rarely take the time to consider. Zhao and 'The Rider' are the real deal."

Writing at Slate, Inkoo Kang noted, "The film makes its primary case eloquently and elegiacally: The only thing more lonesome than a cowboy, surveying a land where no one understands him, is that same cowboy without a horse."

Michelle Pfeiffer appears in a scene from "Where is Kyra?"
Michelle Pfeiffer appears in a scene from "Where is Kyra?" (Paladin)

"Where is Kyra?"

Directed by Andrew Dosunmu, the harrowing "Where Is Kyra?" is powered by a riveting performance by Michelle Pfeiffer as a woman struggling to care for her ailing mother and also find a way to reverse the long tailspin that has become her life.

In his review for The Times, Justin Chang wrote, "In the context of an industry not known for its kindness to women over 35, there is something strangely right about one of our most criminally underemployed actors taking on the role of a woman who time forgot. Pfeiffer disappears into Kyra, and Kyra disappears into the movie. … This woman may be lost to the world, but in Dosunmu's quietly shattering vision, she is also unexpectedly, triumphantly found."

For the New York Times, Glenn Kenny noted the stylized cinematography by the talented Bradford Young by saying, "Much of this movie is literally hard to see, and deliberately so. Remember 'dirty realism' the label some critics applied in the 1980s to the work of writers like Richard Ford and Jayne Anne Phillips? 'Where Is Kyra?' operates in the realm of begrimed realism — its dark depths are purgatorial, if not outright hellish."

At Rolling Stone, David Fear put the performance within the context of Pfeiffer's career, saying, "Watching this extraordinary, rigorous, cryptic character study now, it simply registers as arguably the strongest thing she's ever done and inarguably one of the best movies of the year. … Watching the way she lets you ride shotgun while this character scrambles for stability, you'll find that it's impossible to understate what Pfeiffer brings to this story. She's the light in the darkness, sometimes literally. She's the human behind the headline."

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From left, John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf) and Bjorn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) appear in Janus Metz's "Borg vs. McEnroe."
From left, John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf) and Bjorn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) appear in Janus Metz's "Borg vs. McEnroe." (Julie Vrabelova / NEON)

'Borg vs. McEnroe'

Part sports movie, part character study, "Borg vs. McEnroe" is directed by Danish filmmaker Janus Metz and focuses on the 1980 Wimbledon tennis tournament and the showdown between Björn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) and John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf), players of distinctly different styles and temperaments.

In his review for The Times, Kenneth Turan noted, "Though American sports dramas find it hard to avoid heartwarming elements, this is a decidedly more even-keeled film, its European nature allowing it to focus on the drama of character as well as what happened on the court."

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For the Tribune News Service, Katie Walsh singled out LaBeouf's performance as "thoughtful and lived-in" before saying of the film, "This character study of the two men links them together in their battle, working with and against each other, and becoming forever bonded in the process. 'Borg vs. McEnroe' becomes an indelible portrait of these men and their unlikely, ineffable and ultimately, deeply emotional bond."

Email me if you have questions, comments or suggestions, and follow me on Twitter @IndieFocus

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