DIFF 2019: Day 3

Her Smell tells the story of an out-of-control rock musician whose career and life is on the decline and is often in manic states caused by drugs and alcohol; the movie is a terrific showcase for the highly talented actress Elisabeth Moss best known for her television work. She plays a rock musician named Becky who is the lead singer of an all-female group and is constantly at odds with her bandmates even though they have been friends since they started the band in the early 90s. The filmmaker makes the effective decision to split the movie up into several chapters that focus on a particular moment in Becky’s life, with the first parts showing her vicious and erratic behavior while the latter part of the movie shows her trying to become sober and be a better mother to her younger daughter. Elisabeth Moss’s performance is the main draw of the film and helps cement her status as one of the best actors working today.

Seadrift is a powerful documentary about a largely forgotten story of a tragedy that took place in the very small Texas coastal town of Seadrift in the 1970s with the influx of Vietnamese refugees from the war in Vietnam. The interviewees, who were alive at the time of the violent incident, talk about the rapidly escalating hostilities between the local white community, including some who were veterans of the Vietnam War, and the newly-arrived Vietnamese refugees resettled by the American government. The largest point of contention was the Vietnamese fishermen who were seen as a threat to the local fishermen’s livelihood and way of life, and things rapidly go out of control after a fight breaks out in which a native white man is fatally shot by a young Vietnamese fisherman. I found it to be a particularly moving documentary because it shows how racial intolerance and xenophobia can practically destroy a small community, but the filmmaker also makes the point of showing that the community has largely reconciled and even the daughter of the white fisherman that was killed has come to terms with her father’s death and the Vietnamese community.

Ms. Purple is a beautifully crafted family drama about a Korean-American sister and brother who have led fairly traumatic lives but come together to help care for their dying father. After their mother left them when they were young kids, the fractured family was never the same and the brother wanted nothing to do with his sister or father until his sister finally convinces him to help out with their father. The sister has always been there for her father, and, to pay for his medical care, she has been working as an escort at a local karaoke bar while the brother has been living on the streets of their Los Angeles neighborhood of Koreatown. Over the course of the film, the relationship between the siblings and the comatose father becomes very tender with moments of levity, including the brother wheeling his father’s bed around the neighborhood; it is a very bittersweet movie about the importance of family even in the face of tragedy.

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