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Indie Focus: Enjoying the journey with Isabelle Huppert and ‘Frankie’

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

There’s a lot coming up in L.A. From Wednesday, Oct. 30, to Saturday, Nov. 2, the American Cinematheque will present a retrospective of the films of Bong Joon Ho with a series appropriately titled “Genre of One.” All seven of Bong’s feature films will play, with “Barking Dogs Never Bite,” “Memories of Murder,” “The Host,” “Mother,” “Snowpiercer,” “Okja” and his recent sensation, “Parasite.” Bong is scheduled to appear in person at a number of screenings.

The second annual ReelAbilities Film Festival: Los Angeles, running Oct. 25-27, bills itself as “the largest festival in the United States dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with disabilities.” The festival opens on Friday night with Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz’s “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” which won the audience award when it premiered at SXSW before becoming a box office hit, and will conclude with Aaron Schimberg’s “Chained for Life,” starring Jess Weixler and Adam Pearson. The festival also will feature a screening of Tod Browning’s 1932 classic “Freaks,” co-presented by Vidiots.

On Sunday, Oct. 27, Vidiots will co-present, along with Projections and the Bootleg Theater, the Los Angeles premiere of Marianne Rosenbaum’s 1983 “Peppermint Peace,” featuring Peter Fonda. Christoph and Wolfgang Lauenstein’s 1989 animated film “Balance” is part of the program as well.

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And this week on our podcast The Reel, I talk to Tom Perrotta, novelist and creator of the new HBO limited series “Mrs. Fletcher,” the story of a middle-aged woman’s coming of age, starring Kathryn Hahn, with episodes directed by Nicole Holofcener, Liesl Tommy, Carrie Brownstein and Gillian Robespierre.

The L.A. Times’ Envelope Screening Series continues with a screening of the documentary “Maiden” plus a Q&A with subject Tracy Edwards and a screening of “Pain and Glory” followed by a Q&A with actor Antonio Banderas and filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar. For more information, go to events.latimes.com.

Marisa Tomei and Isabelle Huppert in a scene from “Frankie.”
Marisa Tomei, left, and Isabelle Huppert in Ira Sachs’ “Frankie.”
(Guy Ferrandis / SBS Productions/Sony Pictures Classics)

‘Frankie’

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Directed and co-written by Ira Sachs, “Frankie” takes place in the picturesque Portuguese town of Sintra. An actress, played by Isabelle Huppert, is facing a terminal illness and gathers her family and a few friends for a farewell holiday. With a cast that includes Marisa Tomei, Brendan Gleeson, Greg Kinnear and Jérémie Renier, this is a group of performers it is a pleasure to spend time with, regardless of what brings them together.

Reviewing for The Times, Gary Goldstein wrote, “If there is such a thing as a breezy drama, director Ira Sachs’ lovely and pensive new film ‘Frankie’ fills that niche. Although it may initially seem like a fairly wispy story of family dynamics and romantic uncertainty, there’s a subtle depth to the proceedings that creeps up on you in resonant ways.”

For Vulture, Alison Willmore called the director “a master of small domestic scenes that accumulate almost imperceptibly into something momentous. … Sachs is less interested in dramatic confrontations than in the encounters that might lead up to or follow them — and in ‘Frankie,’ those impulses are followed to an end point, in which there’s no sense of build at all, and in which the various story lines don’t resolve themselves so much as they dissolve in the sunlight. It’s an obstinate sort of anti-drama.”

For the Tribune News Service, Katie Walsh said, “‘Frankie’ invites the audience along, and the unique experience of time is somewhat intoxicating, the mere invitation to coexist with them. The plot of ‘Frankie,’ like so many of the characters, meanders, aimlessly at times, but like an expensive vacation, it’s utterly lovely to experience and surprising when it’s over.”

Melvil Poupaud, Denis Ménochet and Éric Caravaca in the movie “By the Grace of God.”
Melvil Poupaud, left, Denis Ménochet and Éric Caravaca in the movie “By the Grace of God.”
(Music Box Films)

‘By the Grace of God’

The prolific French filmmaker François Ozon returns with something different with “By the Grace of God,” an earnest drama about a real-life ongoing sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church in France. The film tells the story of a group of men (played by, among others, Melvil Poupaud) as they attempt to reconcile their own emotional traumas with the struggle to bring their abuser to justice.

In his review for The Times, Justin Chang called the film “a brilliantly nuanced, coolly devastating account” and said it “understands that the pain is always there, which is not to say that it’s everything. The business of life, of healing and renewal, forges ahead in the present tense — which is another way of saying that it is never truly finished.”

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In the New York Times, Glenn Kenny wrote, “Ozon exerts his command of cinematic language throughout, in ways that are less immediately obvious. He crafts a film that is engrossing from the start, while building to something greater and more emotionally encompassing. … ‘By the Grace of God’ is a rarity: an important film that’s also utterly inspired.”

For The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw said the film is “somber, restrained and painful” before adding, “Ozon has made a decent and valuable film, though it often seems like the drama part of a docudrama: Some of the scenes feel like respectful reenactments that could have gone into a documentary. … But like ‘Spotlight,’ Ozon’s film indirectly raises a chilling question: How long has this abuse been going on? Decades? Centuries? Millennia?”

Bruce Springsteen in “Western Stars.”
Bruce Springsteen in “Western Stars.”
(Rob DeMartin / Warner Bros. Pictures)

‘Western Stars’

Co-directed by Bruce Springsteen and Thom Zimny, “Western Stars” marks the first directing credit for the music superstar. The movie features Springsteen, a backing band and orchestra performing songs from his recent album “Western Stars” along with moody interstitial material.

For The Times, Robert Abele wrote, “Having forged a richly poetic career out of anxious down-and-outers itching to escape their lives — if they even know what they want — Springsteen’s new tunes take the notion of the West as a freedom seeker’s destination and explore what happens when there’s nowhere left to go but backward, to relive old pains and regrets as a way of finding a mindful peace. … By the end, you almost want every recording artist with Springsteen’s compassion and lyricism to introduce their newest material the way he does in ‘Western Stars,’ like a docent of everyone’s damaged soul, pointing to the parts that make not just the music but the musician, too.”

For The Wrap, Steve Pond called the film “essential viewing for Springsteen fans.” He also wrote, “Borrowing from the imagery of his recent album of the same name, it’s both an intimate concert film and a series of musings on solitude and community in song and story.”

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


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