Indie Focus: Spirits renewed in ‘The Mustang’

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

It was a busy week at the South by Southwest Film Festival. I spoke to Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke, stars of Jordan Peele’s “Us,” about the film. One of the challenges in talking about the movie is trying not to spoil its many surprises. As Nyong’o said, there is still something essential about the film they hope to convey, saying, “We’ve all been very deliberate about trying to prepare an audience with something that is not ‘Get Out’ … This is not that.”

One of the biggest events of the festival turned out to be the premiere of the Charlize Theron-Seth Rogen romantic comedy “Long Shot,” in which Theron plays the Secretary of State and Rogen her speechwriter. After the movie, the group Boyz II Men came out to perform two songs, to a riotous response.

I spoke to Shia LaBeouf and his costar in “The Peanut Butter Falcon” Zach Gottsagen. LaBeouf was arrested during production and was candid and emotional in talking about it. “I got out of jail, walked onto a film set,” he said. “It was just nuts.”


I also spoke to Chris Morris about his provocative comedy “The Day Shall Come,” in which the FBI instigates a terror plot in order to stop it. He spoke about his extensive research and how that leads to a comedic story, “So long as you’re not throwing it away, it almost inevitably commits you to head into something serious or real because a joke won’t work unless it seems to come from a real place. It has to touch some level of truth.”

And for our entertainment podcast The Reel, while in Austin, I spoke to actor Marc Maron and director and co-writer Lynn Shelton about their movie “Sword of Trust,” which had its world premiere at the festival, along with documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney about “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley,” about disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes.

We’ll have more events coming up soon. For info and updates, go to

French actress Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre directed and co-wrote "The Mustang."
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

‘The Mustang’

Directed and co-written by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, “The Mustang” stars Matthias Schoenaerts as a convict in the Nevada prison system who participates in a rehabilitation program to train wild horses, his spirit changing as well. The film also features Connie Britton, Jason Mitchell, Gideon Adlon and Bruce Dern, but it is Schoenaerts’ deeply felt performance that powers the movie.

In his review for The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, of the movie and Schoenaerts, “A combination of strange, dark moments with unapologetic sentimental ones, ‘The Mustang’ is impossible to imagine without the actor’s startling work. You might see more polished films in 2019, but you won’t see a better performance.”

The Times’ Michael Ordoña spoke to De Clermont-Tonnerre, who said of Schoenaerts, “He [took] this character for very deep personal reasons. His mother was teaching meditation in prisons; he knew a lot about anger and how to tame anger. He’s always on the verge of an emotion. He’s very unpredictable. He’s kind of like a horse. He’s my wild horse.”


At the New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote, “It shouldn’t work — none of it — not the metaphor, not the wild horse, not what it all means for the wild man at the center. It does… ‘The Mustang’ is direct and almost perilously familiar — it draws from both westerns and prison movies — yet it is also attractively filigreed with surprising faces, unusual genre notes and luminous, evanescent beauty.”

For the AP, Lindsey Bahr noted, “Clermont-Tonnerre has established herself as a filmmaker to watch with ‘The Mustang,’ and has also made the most compelling case yet that Schoenaerts can not only handle an American accent, but excel with it too.”

Zhao Tao and Fan Liao in a still from Jia Zhangke's "Ash is Purest White."
(Cohen Media Group)

‘Ash is Purest White’


With “Ash is Purest White,” Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke, considered by many on the international festival circuit to be among the top directors in the world today, creates a story that is both sweeping in scope and intimate in its character detail. In something of an underworld drama, a woman (Zhao Tao) looks to restart her life after getting out of prison.

In his review for The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “Despite its elegiac tone and stark social realism, its loose three-act structure and leisurely narrative flow, ‘Ash Is Purest White’ has some of the grit, energy and emotional generosity of a 1940s Hollywood melodrama. You are pulled in almost immediately by the beauty of the characterizations, the specificity of the milieu and the depth of feeling that courses beneath every exchange.”

At the New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote about the on-screen relationship between Jia and Zhao, who is both the filmmaker’s frequent collaborator and real-life wife, noting, “At once delicate and indomitable, down to earth and otherworldly, she has come to figure in his filmography as both an Everywoman and a quasi-mythic being, a woman whose heroism resides in her refusal to disappear. From film to film, playing a variety of characters, she moves through industrial wastes and high-rise developments, night life and factory work, love and crime, wielding her individuality as a shield and a weapon.”

For Film Comment, Amy Taubin interviewed both Jia and Zhao last year at Cannes.


Vincent Lacoste, left, and Pierre Deladonchamps in a scene from the movie "Sorry Angel."
(Jean-Louis Fernandez / Strand Releasing)

‘Sorry Angel’

Aside from being a writer and director of movies, Christoph Honoré is also a playwright, theater director and novelist. Considering his busy schedule, it is exciting whenever he creates a new film. His latest, “Sorry Angel,” is set in the early 1990s and follows a writer, Jacques (Pierre Deladonchamps), living with AIDS, as he embarks on a romance with a younger man, Arthur (Vincent Lacoste).

In his review for The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “coexistence, whether it means straddling generational differences or holding conflicting feelings side-by-side, is, in many ways, the grand theme of ‘Sorry Angel.’ The movie is premised on its own surprising contradictions: It’s urgent but digressive, romantic yet pragmatic, and its finest moments feel both sculpted and improvised. It’s as if love were a calculation of fate and something happily, casually stumbled upon — and fully appreciated, perhaps, only with the knowledge that it’s about to be wrested away.”


For The Playlist, Kimber Myers wrote, “Equal parts ‘Weekend’ and ‘120 BPM’ – while still being a pure product of writer-director Christophe Honoré — ‘Sorry Angel’ is a tender, tentative romance, simultaneously full of both life and death.”

At Vanity Fair, Richard Lawson called the film, “a rich and thoughtful romantic drama that is less about politics than it is about matters of the heart and body. A chewy, handsomely staged novel of a movie, ‘Sorry Angel’ (whose much better French title translates to ‘Pleasure, Love, and Run Fast’) contains moments of piercing intelligence and heartbreaking beauty.”

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