PROVINCETOWN – Natalie Morales has received Provincetown International Film Festival’s 2021 Next Wave Award, and she deserves it.
Check out her directorial debut, “Language Lessons” (91 minutes), available for streaming through the festival, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s essentially a two-character film (with a couple of characters heard in the background), in which she plays an online Spanish teacher, Carino, who befriends a student, Adam (Mark Duplass), who has recently lost his husband. Morales and Duplass also co-wrote the screenplay.
The film depicts only what appears on each other’s computer screen, limiting our view to what they see of each other. Also, Carino is giving Adam immersive lessons, meaning they are supposed to speak only in Spanish to each other, and there are no subtitles to give us a break. Or so I thought! When I watched the film, it didn’t occur to me to hit the subtitles button (that’s right, I’m a dunce), and I assumed this was just a bold choice on the part of Morales. It’s a tribute to the film that, with my limited knowledge of Spanish, I still loved the film. (And, yes, I’ll be watching it again, with subtitles!)
What still came through, even without the subtitles, are the feelings that develop between the two characters as these strangers, despite very limited knowledge of each other, become close. Morales presents this with great heart and humanity. You quickly become invested in both characters, as if they’ve become our friends, too. Much of this has to do with the lovely, heartfelt performances of Morales and Duplass as they reveal their characters’ vulnerability and strength, their defenses and their kindness.
“Language Lessons” feels like a gift to the moviegoer; I’m so pleased that the film fest is repaying Morales, in a sense, with her award. A conversation between Morales and musician Holly Miranda also is available for streaming through the festival. I haven’t seen it yet, but after seeing “Language Lessons,” I don’t want to miss it. ***½ (out of four)
Another early highlight of the festival involves the 15-year-old boy who played an elderly man’s ideal of beauty in Luchino Visconti’s 1971 art-house classic “Death in Venice” (based on the novella by Thomas Mann). That boy, Bjorn Andresen, and the frail man in his mid-60s he has become, is the subject of “The Most Beautiful Boy in the World”(93 minutes).
The title of the film is taken from Italian director Visconti’s description of young Bjorn when they attended the Cannes Film Festival to promote “Death in Venice.” It’s a label that stuck with Andresen, arguably as a curse. The documentary, directed by Kristina Lindstrom and Kristian Petri, covers Andreson’s life, then and now, to tell a sad story, with its share of harrowing personal tragedies, while also showing how beauty and youthful innocence can be exploited with devastating results. It’s compelling, disturbing, thought-provoking, and strangely beautiful.
Like “Language Lessons,” “The Most Beautiful Boy in the World” is available for streaming through the festival. ***½
Festival information and tickets are available at provincetownfilm.org/festival.
For my earlier column on the festival, including mini-reviews of “In the Heights” and “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It,” go to: https://capecodwave.com/play-it-again-tim-provincetown-film-festival-opens-with-a-winner/.
Also, for more immediate festival coverage, you can follow me on Twitter (see info below).
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Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film
Critics. He and Tony Raine host “Tim ’n’ Tony’s Rock ’n’ Pop Show” from midnight to 3 a.m. Sunday nights/Monday mornings on WOMR (92.1-FM), WFMR (91.3-FM) and womr.org (archived shows at https://womr.org/schedule/broadcast-archive/). He also teaches film at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.