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November Movies at Saigon's Alternative Film Venues

As award season approaches, November might be the last chance you have this year to dive into the world of alternative and low-budget films, which is dominated by French and American productions.

November 5 @ 8pm – Saigon Outcast

It Follows (USA, 2014)

Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival last year, the second feature film by David Robert Mitchell is a stylish and beautifully shot horror film.

For viewers that are after the usual jump scares, blood-splattered screens or any other clichés of the genre, It Follows might disappoint (or surprise). In fact, Mitchell’s film breaks the conventional overused tricks: sex does not equal death, the characters can run without repeatedly falling, they have access to guns to fight the villain, they stick together to help each other and the car engines always work.

It Follows's steady and unnerving plot revolves around a female high-school student, who is followed by a zombie-like presence which takes the form of various people and intends to kill her. The only way to get rid of this curse is to pass it on to someone else through consensual sex. What lies underneath the storyline are themes of teenage angst, isolation and, of course, sexual intimacy.

November 11 @ 8pm – deciBel Lounge

Beasts of No Nation (USA, 2015)

Filmmaker Cary Joji Fukunaga continues to surprise with his versatility in the war drama Beasts of No Nation. In addition to his most recent work, the director is responsible for 2009's adventure-drama Sin Nombre, the period piece Jane Eyre and an episode of the TV crime series True Detective. A linear and faithful adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s eponymous book, the story is set in an unidentified West African country that has been ravaged by war. Abu, a boy whose entire family has been killed, is forced to become a child soldier when the ‘Commandant’ of the rebel army (played by a charismatic Idris Elba) captures him. Fukunaga tells it like it is: what is the point of making it more digestible to outsiders? As Abu soon finds out, no outsider can truly understand the impact that war has on both its victims and its perpetrators.

November 12 @ 8pm – Saigon Outcast

Bone Tomahawk (USA, 2015)

Audiences that grew up watching John Carpenter’s films – favorites like The Thing and Escape from New York – will be glad to see Kurt Russell playing a meaty, worthy role in a quirky film. Bone Tomahawk, the debut film of director S. Craig Zahler, stars Russell alongside an ensemble cast including Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox and Richard Jenkins. The original story fuses horror and western genres with a hint of comedy. Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Russell) and three other offbeat frontiersmen set off on a journey to rescue a group of settlers who have been kidnapped by an indigenous tribe, only to find out the tribe in question are cannibals. A film like this could have been a disastrous hybrid if it were not for Zahler’s narrative bravura and a pitch-perfect cast.

November 18 @ 8pm – deciBel Lounge

The Dance of Reality (Chile/France, 2013)

Alejandro Jodorowsky, one of the few true avant-garde filmmakers left, breaks his 23-year hiatus with The Dance of Reality. A surreal, magical and musical autobiography of sorts, the 86- year-old filmmaker sets the story in his native Tocopilla, Chile. The best way to describe a dream-like film such as this is by focusing on the relationship between the children and their parents in a rural Chilean village. It is a coming-of-age tale, however the adults are the ones doing the growing up. Surrealism, mythology and humor are the ingredients that Jodorowsky uses to tell the bizarre tale of his childhood.

November 19 @ 8pm – Saigon Outcast

Everest (USA, 2015)

Mount Everest has never looked more perilous or majestic as in Baltasar Kormákur’s film. Based on the real 1996 Mount Everest disaster, in which eight people died during their descent, Everest starts by introducing the main protagonists and their backstories to the audience: we see them talking to their families, preparing to ascend the mountain and joking about who will make it to the summit. However, the jovial atmosphere quickly dissolves as one of the guides, Rob Hall (played by Zero Dark Thirty'sJason Clarke), reminds his clients (and us) that this is the highest mountain on Earth and men are not meant to be on it. The 1996 disaster sparked a wave of criticism for the commercialization of Mount Everest via guided tours – this is partly due to the article and book written by Outside magazine’s Jon Krakauer, who survived the expedition – but Kormákur’s film does not tap into this controversy, nor does it focus on the action-based Cliffhanger-esque aspect of the story. Instead, it offers a window into the experiences, motivations and fears of the people that dared to undertake such an expedition.

November 25 @ 8pm – deciBel Lounge

Clouds of Sils Maria (France, 2014)

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart shine as independent, punk-intellectual women in Olivier Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria. Binoche is Maria Enders, a middle-aged actress who, despite still having a substantial career, is now asked to play Helena – the older character – in a revival of the theatrical play Maloja Snake. Maria’s career was launched by that very play 20 years before, when she took on the role of the young and captivating Sigrid, a role very close to the spirit of the actress. However this time around, the part is given to celebrity-bait Jo-Ann Ellis (played by Chloë Grace Moretz). Assayas wrote the character of Maria specifically for Binoche, so much so that it is considered a biographical account of the French actress’s artistic persona. The film is a delicate journey into these women’s lives, where the lines between reality and fiction are blurred and the ghosts of the past are very much alive.

November 26 @ 8pm – Saigon Outcast

La Haine (France 1995)

La Haine became an instant cult for its grim and poetic black-and-white cinematography, as well as its realistic depiction of marginalized ethnic minorities in the outskirts of Paris. The film follows the daily lives of three young adults: Vinz (Vincent Cassel), Hubert (Hubert Koundé) and Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui). The three protagonists are of Jewish, Afro-French and Arab descent, and writer-director Mathieu Kassovitz uses them as archetypes to bring out the resentment, isolation and sense of displacement that these ethnic groups face in France. Although fictional, La Haine is shot in a documentary style. Its realism has since attracted both criticism and praise for La Haine's bold and violent portrait of the dysfunctional relationship between France and its multi-ethnic citizens.

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