⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Not rated: In subtitled Turkish.
Theater: St. Anthony Main.
This documentary, which won multiple awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is first and foremost a graceful evocation of interspecies coexistence, of lives lived in delicate balance with the natural world.
At times embracing the stirring quality of an ancient folk tale or myth, directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov follow a middle-aged beekeeper named Hatidze Muratova. Her ecologically sound methods — “Take half, leave half,” she repeats as she harvests the honey — are rooted in traditions that seem as old and durable as the majestically photographed Macedonian landscape.
She shares some of her artisanal secrets with Hussein Sam, who decides to try his hand at beekeeping. The results are, to say the least, disastrous. This is hardly the first documentary to sound the apicultural alarm (2009’s excellent “Colony” comes to mind). But few have offered such an intimately infuriating, methodically detailed allegory of the Earth’s wonders being ravaged by the consequences of human greed.
The movie doesn’t demonize Hussein for his eagerness to make a quick buck; the desperation of his family’s circumstances is plain enough to see. But if the filmmakers reject the convenience of easy villainy, it is no great leap to see Hatidze as quietly heroic.
Justin chang, Los Angeles Times
Tel Aviv on Fire
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Not rated: In subtitled Arabic and Hebrew.
Can anyone make a sweet and silly comedy out of a subject as grim and intractable as the Israeli-Palestinian situation? For writer/director Sameh Zoabi, the answer to the question is another question. What else is there?
Salam (Kais Nashif) is a sad-eyed underachiever who lives in Jerusalem. His Uncle Bassam (Nadim Sawalha), a television producer, has hired his hapless nephew to help out on a bilingual potboiler also called “Tel Aviv on Fire.” Because Salam is fluent in Hebrew, Bassam thinks he might be able to check the scripts for mistakes. Salam either fails spectacularly, or succeeds beyond anyone’s wildest dreams — it’s a matter of perspective, like nearly everything else in this sharp-eyed, good-natured film.
Neither the show nor the movie is as incendiary as the title makes it sound. The soap-operatic TV version concerns a Palestinian spy who seduces an Israeli general in the service of her people’s cause. Salam has his own fraught, duplicitous relationship with an Israeli military officer. Stopped at a checkpoint after his first day at work, he allows Assi, the officer in charge (Yaniv Biton), to believe he’s actually a writer of the TV show. Assi, abusing his power in a relatively benign way, turns himself into Salam’s secret writing partner.
The plot risks being overwhelmed along with its protagonist — pulled apart by too many competing arcs. On the other hand, too neat a movie might risk inauthenticity. Messiness may be Zoabi’s moral as well as his method.
A.O. SCOTT, New York Times
Them That Follow
⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: R for violence.
Set in an insular Pentecostal community where believers speak in tongues and handle venomous snakes, this impressive debut is so convincing in its creation of mood and place that it enables us to buy into a richly melodramatic plot about a taboo romance.
Written and directed by Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage, “Follow” has an impeccable cast, including Oscar winner Olivia Colman, Walton Goggins and a dramatic role for comedian Jim Gaffigan. This film attempts to do a lot. It deals with questions of faith and the consequences of belief (or lack of it) as well as taking on a story of young love and considering what happens when that belief and love collide.
The film — which debuted in competition at Sundance — pulls you into a self-contained, almost besieged world. Danger feels bred in the bone and people keep to themselves, worshiping behind closed doors because outsiders don’t understand. “Why don’t you shoot where you’re aiming,” one character says to another, and that is advice this straight-shooting film takes to heart.
Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Unrated: but includes obscenity, violence, drugs, nudity and sexuality. In Italian, subtitled.
Thanks to the death threats that greeted the 2006 publication of Roberto Saviano’s first book, “Gomorrah,” a deeply reported exposé of organized crime in Naples that became an excellent film and subsequently a TV series, the Italian writer now lives under constant armed guard.
His 2016 book “The Piranhas,” a more traditional novel (though still inspired by true crime), has not changed any of that. See this film, and you’ll understand why.
“Piranhas” is about Neapolitan mobsters not yet out of their teens. Centering on Nicola, a charismatic 15-year-old gang leader based loosely on a real teenage mobster, “Piranhas” plays out with a deadpan style that is deeply unsettling. An amoral charmer, Nicola (Francesco Di Napoli) and his pimply faced pals quickly ingratiate themselves with the criminal establishment of Naples by selling drugs on the street.
When several older Mafiosi are arrested during a wedding, Nicola and his crew step into the resulting power vacuum, shooting up whatever rivals remain, and boasting about their exploits on social media. They are kings of the world, for a minute, until it comes crashing down.
Director Claudio Giovannesi elicits powerfully believable and naturalistic performances from his young cast of mostly nonactors, telling a story that is brisk and unfussy, yet polished. It glamorizes nothing and will almost certainly irritate the people who have inspired its rogues gallery of opportunistic young strivers.
MICHAEL O’SULLIVAN, Washington Post