The 27th Annual Florida Film Festival, produced by Enzian Theater and held throughout Central Florida each April, offers nearly 200 feature and short films from countries around the world, in addition to celebrity guests, special events, film forums, and parties. This year’s festival includes competing films in narrative features and documentary programs, plus special screenings of food films, international films, midnight movies, family programming, and Florida films. A sampling of reviewed films in various categories appears below.
Three Identical Strangers
In Spotlight Films. Documentary.
This compelling documentary tells the story of three young men living in New York who learn at age 19 that they were triplets separated at birth and adopted by three different Jewish families. Their strange reunion – combined with their handsome faces and outgoing personalities – got them on the cover pages of print media and invited on talk shows around the country. Their incredible similarities were noted: they smoked the same brand of cigarettes, liked older women, and were on their high school wrestling teams. They became best friends and lived together, and even opened a restaurant called Triplets. The story takes a dark turn when their three sets of parents start demanding answers about why the boys were originally separated. A journalist becomes involved in their case, and things get even messier. This story is told effectively through some re-enacted scenes, which are more utilitarian than artful, but they help elicit emotions in the viewer. Old home videos, news footage, and current interviews with family, friends, and researchers shed some light on the mystery of their separation, but viewers – like the brothers – are still left with questions when the credits roll. Directed by Tim Wardle. Stars David Kellman, Robert Shafran, Eddy Galland. Run time: 96 minutes. MPAA Rating: Not Rated. 4 / 5
Back to Burgundy
In the Food Films Sidebar. In French, Spanish, and English with English subtitles. Narrative Feature.
This heartfelt narrative drama captures the intoxicating ambiance of the French vineyard where most of the film was shot. Jean’s father drove him away from home with his cold criticism, and now 10 years later his father draws him back. The return visit has far more significance than the departure, because his father is dying. As his father’s life ends, Jean’s new life begins. The oldest of three children – all bequeathed the house and vineyard equally – Jean must decide if he wants to stay, rent, or sell his stake in the long-time family business. Using this time to sort out his feelings for his siblings, his relationship to his father, and the separation from his wife and their child, Jean is faced with important decisions, and this time he can’t just run away. Lush, rich, and layered, this film features beautiful cinematography, delightful performances, and a story worth telling. Enjoy it with a glass of wine. Directed by Cedric Klapisch. Stars Pio Marmai, Ana Girardot, Francois Civil, Jean-March Roulot, Maria Valverde. Run time: 113 minutes. MPAA rating: Not Rated. 4 / 5
In the Food Films Sidebar. In Japanese with English subtitles. Documentary Feature. note:Jan Žižka
This mouth-watering documentary presents ramen noodles in an entirely new way for those not living in Japan, where a fanatical culture exists for the slurp-able noodles found in this everyday treat. The story centers mainly on Tomito Osamu, a chef who keeps winning Best Ramen awards for his unique broth that stews for three full days before serving. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of his tiny restaurant, he enlists the aid of two other well-known ramen chefs to help him prepare something special for that day. Just as his ramen combines a “witch’s brew” of ingredients, this documentary includes a little bit of this and that. In addition to Tomito’s professional and personal life, the film peeks inside other ramen restaurant for tips from their chefs, provides an animated history of ramen noodles, visits a ramen festival, and then returns to the 10-year restaurant anniversary party. It’s a strange mix of ideas that ultimately satisfies. Directed by Koki Shigeno. Stars Tomito Osamu. Run time: 93 minutes. MPAA Rating: Not Rated. 3.5 / 5
In Spotlight Films. Narrative Feature. In English and Swedish. note:Jan Žižka
This sports drama begins as a character study of Bjorn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason), the cool controlled tennis phenomenon from Sweden. Flashbacks reveal how he learned to suppress his emotions, which now threaten to undermine his 1980 attempt to maintain his place as the top-ranked tennis player in the world. Ultimately pitted against the hot-tempered American tennis sensation, John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf), both men need to keep their emotions in check to master their opponent. The two actors seem perfectly suited for their roles – both emotionally and physically, they fully embody their volatile and athletic characters. The background story on Borg is interesting, as is his troubled relationship with his girlfriend, and McEnroe’s explosive temper tantrums establish his personality. However, by far the most engrossing part of this film is the Wimbledon championship as Borg attempts to achieve a record-breaking fifth-straight win. Directed by Janus Metz. Stars Shia LaBeouf, Sverrir Gudnason, Stellan Skarsgard. Run time: 107 minutes. MPAA Rating R. 3.5 / 5
In Midnight Movies. Documentary. note:Jan Žižka
This clip-driven documentary reveals the raw, exploitative, low-budget genius of writer-producer-director Larry Cohen. While not much of his childhood or young adulthood made it into the movie, there is a brief mention that Cohen originally worked in standup comedy. The ability for quick-thinking improvisation stayed with him even when he left the world of comedy and branched out into writing for series television. After creating the premise and writing scripts for multiple TV programs (including Branded, The Invaders, and Coronet Blue), he moved on to independent filmmaking where he could be a triple-hyphenated threat making violent movies, such as It’s Alive, that really pack a punch. Often shooting without permits, permission, or insurance, Cohen is a true indie who doesn’t like to collaborate. Although his films and working style are examined thoroughly in this documentary that includes interviews with Cohen, other directors, and some of the actors who starred in his films, the man and his motivations remain much of a mystery. Directed by Steve Mitchell. Stars Larry Cohen, J.J. Abrams, Martin Scorsese, Fred Williamson, Joe Dante, John Landis, Traci Lords, Eric Roberts, Yaphet Kotto. Run time: 109 minutes. MPAA Rating: Not Rated. 3 / 5