Ronit Avni, Julia Bacha / Discovery
Ronit Avni and Julia Bacha’s Encounter Point feels like another one of those good-for-you documentaries about the evergreen issue of Israelis and Palestinians trying to live together in peace. We’ve seen this subject matter tackled before—in a couple of cases, as with the Oscar-nominated 2001 documentary Promises, quite powerfully—and one wonders what Avni and Bacha will bring to the story that’s new. At first, not all that much: Encounter Point depicts a number of unlikely individuals on both sides who have decided to help build grassroots, non-violent dialogue. Most of the people involved are victims as well—many are parents who lost children to terrorists or soldiers, one is a former intifada zealot who spent four years in prison and lost a brother to violence, and so on. Avni and Bacha dutifully film these individuals as they go about their journeys, joining silent protests, attending conferences, arguing with their fellow countrymen, etc. The filmmaking here isn’t exactly revolutionary—much of it is dry, episodic, and undistinguished. But as I watched Encounter Point, I began to sense it working on me in quite a different way. Most documentaries covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even the ones about the peacemakers, are cries of despair, but there’s something extraordinarily upbeat about this film. The idea behind Encounter Point—and it’s a new, bracing one—isn’t that these people are iconoclasts and heroes who have broken the mold, but that they are part of a growing movement of non-violence, and that there are thousands like them. It may not break any new aesthetic ground, but Encounter Point might just be the most optimistic film about this conflict you’ll ever see.—B.E.
Full Grown Men
David Munro / Discovery
David Munro’s Full Grown Men is being pitched as a film about thirtysomething guys who are unable to leave their childhood behind, and one walks into it thinking it’ll be a classic Everyman story—didn’t New York Magazine itself just do a whole cover story on dudes who refuse to grow up? But pretty soon, it becomes clear that this film is about someone much, much more unique and troubled. The film opens as an angry Alby (Matt McGrath) leaves his wife and young child, taking his collection of action figures with him. Dreaming of his glory days as a young boy, he heads back to his mom’s house and reconnects with his old friend Elias (Judah Friedlander), now a special-ed teacher. Together, the two get in a car and head to their favorite place as kids, Diggityland (a sort of Disneyworld-Seaworld combination, presumably renamed so the filmmakers won’t get sued for a hundred billion dollars), reliving their youth along the way.
Sounds pretty basic, but Alby’s nostalgic yearning isn’t just a by-the-numbers Peter Pan complex; it’s a lot more pathological. Curled up on his mom’s couch, watching kung-fu movies and eating Froot Loops, he gives off the distinct impression of someone with a serious mental block. (Tellingly, his invalid mom suffers from an indistinct case of memory loss. She too only remembers the past, but in her case it’s clearly a form of dementia. Similarly, many of the special-ed students Elias deals with are kids who won’t be allowed to become functioning adults.)
Munro’s film, on its surface, is shot in a warm, affectionate style that heightens the nostalgic mood of the piece: At first, everything is blue skies, white clouds, verdant lawns, and playful kids, all set to a cute, twinkly score that lulls us into this inviting, dreamy world. Underneath it all, however, this is a surprisingly intelligent work. Alby’s nostalgic visions are reflected back twisted by the events around them whether it’s in Alan Cumming’s hilarious supporting turn as a former Diggityland worker driven to vigilante madness, or in a brief gag involving an icky lothario trolling the helpless and lovesick residents of a retirement community. Don’t let its brief running time and candy-colored textures fool you. Full Grown Men is a lovely, bewitching film with a lot on its mind.—B.E.
Maquilapolis: City of Factories
Vicky Funari, Sergio De La Torre / International Documentary
Perhaps worried about getting lost in the shuffle of today’s glut of social-issue documentaries, Vicky Funari and Sergio De la Torre created a portrait of the perils of globalization that admirably seeks new forms of expression, but with mixed results. For starters, they gave video cameras to their subjects, workers at the multinational factories along the U.S.-Mexico border, and most of their film is made up of these workers’ video diaries. The lives of these impoverished women, who work under absolutely horrid professional and environmental conditions, often with little legal resource, are a ghastly sight—when focusing on exposing these conditions, Maquilapolis is a stirring work that’ll provoke genuine outrage. But Funari and De la Torre also appear to have taken a page out of Godfrey Reggio’s book and styled up their doc with other expressive devices, such as elaborate montages or interludes in which the film’s s ubjects rotate on a pedestal like some kind of product on display. There’s a bit of a disconnect here for sure, and these moments come off as unnaturally strained. That said, Maquilapolis is often very effective. So effective, in fact, that it only really falters when it seems to try too hard.—B.E.