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‘No Bears,’ ‘Walk Up’ and other movies to see at AFI Fest

Guslagie Malanda in the movie "Saint Omer."
(Neon)
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For the first time since 2019, AFI Fest, presented each November by the American Film Institute, will be an exclusively in-person event, with all screenings held at the TCL Chinese Theatre and Chinese 6 in Hollywood. It won’t be exactly the same kind of festival it was three years ago, of course. Programmers have come and gone, and portions of the lineup have been restructured. The entire Nov. 2-6 program, like last year’s hybrid in-person/virtual edition, will run only five days instead of the usual eight.

Still, after three years of pandemic-affected events (AFI Fest went fully virtual in 2020), the return to even some semblance of festival-going normalcy is encouraging news. That’s especially true of what has become Los Angeles’ flagship film festival, a well-curated and wide-ranging international roundup of some of the year’s strongest movies, held in a city that often takes such events — and the pictures themselves — for granted.

For your safety

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the CDC and local health officials.

Time to shake off that fatigue and dive in. After kicking off Wednesday with the world premiere of “Selena Gomez: My Mind and Me,” Alek Keshishian’s documentary portrait of the Grammy-nominated singer and actor, the festival will also roll out the red carpet for the high-profile likes of “The Fabelmans” and “Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths,” two intimate and expansive memory pieces directed by, respectively, Steven Spielberg and Alejandro G. Iñárritu.

It’ll also mark the first opportunity for L.A. audiences to see “She Said,” Maria Schrader’s coolly gripping drama about the journalistic efforts that brought down Harvey Weinstein, and Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking,” a very different (if not dissimilarly titled) movie about women confronting and defying a culture of sexual violence.

Chances are you’ve read or at least heard a little about those titles already; you might also be planning to catch some of them in theaters (as you should) when they open later this year. Regular readers of these film pages will also have seen my praise for such AFI Fest standouts as “The Eternal Daughter,” Joanna Hogg’s spooky, sneakily moving ghost story featuring Tilda Swinton in a double role, and the French Oscar submission “Saint Omer,” a rigorous and devastating reconsideration of the true-crime melodrama from director Alice Diop.

Here, in alphabetical order, are eight more AFI Fest highlights — hardly a comprehensive list, but hopefully a good starting point:

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An image from "The Corridors of Power."
(National Archives / Showtime)
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“The Corridors of Power”

After burrowing into the Arab-Israeli divide in his earlier documentaries “The Gatekeepers” and “The Human Factor,” Dror Moreh casts a wider geopolitical net with this lucid and devastating consideration of U.S. foreign policy since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Even as some of that policy’s most powerful recent architects — the interviewees include Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta, Anthony Blinken and the late Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright — discuss the perils of American intervention (and silence), it’s the unsparing footage of wartime atrocities, from Srebrenica to Aleppo, that renders some of the movie’s most powerful arguments.

A scene from the documentary "De Humani Corporis Fabrica."
(Grasshopper Film and Gratitude Films)
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“De Humani Corporis Fabrica”

Some of the best movies in this year’s festival transport you to far-flung countries, but this extraordinary new work from directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel (“Leviathan,” “Caniba”) digs deep into the human body and opens up landscapes as otherworldly — and harrowing — as any you’re likely to see. The result is a work of purest corporeal poetry, a surgical body-horror flick to make David Cronenberg’s recent “Crimes of the Future” look like an episode of “Bluey” — and a remarkably unvarnished, sympathetic portrait of doctors and nurses at work.

Alessandro Borghi and Luca Marinelli in the movie "The Eight Mountains."
(Cannes Film Festival)

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“The Eight Mountains”

It’s been quite a year for male friendship movies, as evidenced by films as different as “The Banshees of Inisherin,” “RRR,” “Armageddon Time” and, from this year’s AFI Fest, Belgian Oscar submission “Close.” One of the less heralded examples is “The Eight Mountains,” Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch’s pictorially stunning adaptation of Paolo Cognetti’s bestseller. Go for the magnificent mountain vistas; stay for an emotionally layered portrait of two boys who become men (beautifully played by Luca Marinelli and Alessandro Borghi) and whose bond feels as tender and fragile as it is finally unbreakable.

A scene from the movie "EO."
(Film Forum)
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“EO”

To make an homage to “Au Hasard Balthazar,” Robert Bresson’s 1966 all-timer about the life and death of a donkey, and not embarrass oneself must already count as some kind of achievement. To make an homage as visually startling and emotionally affecting as this latest work from the 84-year-old Polish veteran Jerzy Skolimowski is little short of a miracle. The movie, which shared the jury prize at Cannes with “The Eight Mountains,” will represent Poland in this year’s international feature Oscar race.

Elliott Crosset Hove in the movie "Godland."
(Cannes Film Festival)
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“Godland”

Struggles both elemental and human rock the world of a short-sighted 19th-century Danish priest (Elliott Crosset Hove), who heeds the call to establish a church in Iceland in this majestic and transporting drama from writer-director Hlynur Pálmason (“A White, White Day”). What follows is a crisis of faith on every front, a bitterly funny reminder that awful protagonists can be as compelling as sympathetic ones (perhaps even more so) and a sense of a vanished world so acute that it seems to have been achieved by nothing less than cinematic time travel.

Anna Diop in "Nanny."
(Sundance Film Festival)
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“Nanny”

Nikyatu Jusu’s eerie, beautifully controlled debut feature about a Senegalese immigrant (the excellent Anna Diop) won the grand jury prize for American narrative features earlier this year at the online-only Sundance Film Festival, where it stood out even amid a strong field of movies that weld horror conventions to stories of the unseen and marginalized. But “Nanny” itself has flown under the radar since then, despite a strong run at in-person festivals including this one; see it on the big screen for its well-calibrated jolts and hypnotic images, and for its striking weave of the mythic and the contemporary.

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Jafar Panahi in the movie "No Bears."
(Sideshow and Janus Films)
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“No Bears”

Brilliant Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi is now serving a six-year prison sentence, first imposed in 2010 and enforced just a few months ago after he was arrested for protesting on behalf of fellow dissident artists. It’s something you won’t stop thinking about — along with the astonishing antigovernment protests sweeping across Iran and beyond — as you watch Panahi’s latest, an instantly gripping, formally ingenious drama about religious fundamentalism, small-town myopia and the ways people weaponize fear in order to hide their own.

Kwon Hae-hyo and Park Mi-so in the movie "Walk Up."
(Cinema Guild)
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“Walk Up”

There are three stories, in both senses of the word, in this playful, rueful and wise movie set entirely in a Seoul walk-up and structured around the mysterious, mercurial relationship between a landlady (Lee Hye-young) and a new tenant (Kwon Hae-hyo). As is often the case with the great writer-director Hong Sang-soo (most recently “In Front of Your Face” and “The Novelist’s Film”), the result is a film of gently discombobulating pleasures, constructed with a care and intricacy that never hinders the life, spontaneity and sense of possibility bursting out of every frame.

AFI Fest 2022

Where: TCL Chinese Theater and Chinese 6, 6925 Hollywood Blvd. and 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

When: Nov. 2-6

Tickets: Individual screenings, $13.60-$17; Red Carpet premieres, $20-$25; passes, $80-$100

More info: fest.afi.com

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