By Kirsten Coachman

The Mill Valley Film Festival coverage continues on! This year’s festival featured quite a few films that I imagine over the next couple of months will be dubbed as “awards-worthy.” This next batch of films is sure to fall into that category.

Sound of Metal (2019) | Directed by Darius Marder

While on tour with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke), punk-metal drummer and recovering addict Ruben (Riz Ahmed) begins to experience intermittent hearing loss. He’s advised by a doctor to eliminate any loud noise in order to retain what little of his hearing he has left. Later, in the middle of their gig, Ruben confesses to Lou that he can’t hear. Concerned about his lack of hearing and that he may relapse, Lou convinces Ruben, albeit reluctantly, to check himself into a sober living house for the deaf, where one of his first assignments is to “learn how to be deaf.” Sound of Metal follows Ruben as he begins an unexpected phase of his life–moving through the world without sound.

Ahmed puts forth an absolutely tremendous performance as his character navigates his new reality. The range of emotions that Ruben goes through in a relatively short amount of time–panic, fear, rage–are palpable through the screen.

Director Darius Marder and Sound Designer Nicolas Becker crafted a sonic experience for audiences to take in and hear both sides of this story, from the muffled sounds and piercing ringing in Ruben’s ears to the silence. It’s a masterful and immersive use of sound that is worthy of accolades.

Ammonite (2020) | Directed by Francis Lee

Screened at the Drive-In Cinema on Oct. 11 was Ammonite, writer/director Francis Lee’s follow-up feature to 2017’s God’s Own Country. The film is centered around acclaimed paleontologist Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) who lives a sullen existence with her widowed mother (Gemma Jones) in the 1840s. After tourist and appreciator of her work Roderick Murchison (James McArdle) makes a request to allow his bereft wife Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan) to accompany Mary on her daily trips to the Southern English coastline of Lyme Regis, the relationship between the women evolves unexpectedly.

No surprise here, Winslet turns in yet another strong performance in Ammonite. She continues to be able to disappear into her characters and bring out the emotion within. It’s quite something to watch her trudge along the rough coastline in search of fossils among the rocks. 

The missing piece to the film is a genuine connection between Mary and Charlotte. Their interest in one another comes across rather a bit forced and muddied. And while it’s an event to see celebrated actors such as Winslet and Ronan share the screen, the lack of onscreen development between their characters ultimately makes the intimacy between the two feel abrupt and unearned.

The Father (2020) | Directed by Florian Zeller

Keep tissues on hand for the Florian Zeller-helmed The Father, starring Academy Award-winning actors Sir Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman. Adapted from the French playwright’s original play for the screen, the film is a heartbreaking story between a father, Anthony, and his daughter, Anne, coping with the change of dynamics in their relationship. It’s a stunning feature debut from Zeller who captures Anthony’s deterioration caused by dementia in a manner that is empathetic yet wraps audiences up in Anthony’s cloud of confusion. The brilliant editing of Yorgos Lamprinos, as well as the detailed production design by Peter Francis, is sure to keep audiences on their toes throughout the course of the film. 

Across the board, the performances in The Father are top-notch—Colman is superb as Anne deals with the emotional toll of witnessing her father’s mental state unravel as the days pass, however, it’s Hopkins’ devastating final scene that lingers long after watching the film. For those that are in the midst of or have previously experienced caring for a loved one with dementia, The Father may prove to be a challenging watch. Overall, the powerful drama is delivered with care by Zeller and his talented cast.

Ammonite and The Father reviews were first published by ArtUNews.com.

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