DIFF 2019: Day 8

The Day I Lost My Shadow is a powerful and unique Middle Eastern drama that follows a Syrian woman living during the still ongoing brutal Syrian Civil War who finds herself deep in a disputed territory ravaged by violence after trying to find gas for cooking. The beginning of the film shows her caring relationship with her young son and her desire for him to have a semblance of a normal life despite living in an active war zone in which gunfire and shelling is a daily occurrence; with the constant power outages and lack of basic necessities, she ends up with a brother and sister who, like her, are looking to fill their gas cylinders. To vividly illustrate the horrors felt by the Syrian civilians and thereby their loss of humanity, the filmmaker uses the brilliant metaphor of people most affected by the war literally losing their shadows, and eventually the protagonist slowly loses her own after witnessing so much death and the possibility of never seeing her son again. I found it to be a very fascinating and heart-wrenching movie that uses cinematography and creative imagery to give greater insight into the human toll that the horrific Syrian War has had on innocents simply trying to survive.

Jump Shot is a terrific documentary about the inventor of the modern basketball technique of the jump shot and surprisingly tell us a much more inspiring story that goes beyond sports and should be known by both lovers and non-lovers of basketball. Through an impressive amount of archival footage and contemporary interviews with the main subject as well as famous basketball stars from today, the filmmaker exposes the audience to the humble Kenny Sailors who developed the commonly used jump shot while he was a college basketball star at the University of Wyoming in the 1940s, leading them to a remarkable championship season. Although he did not see himself particularly important in the interviews just taken a few years ago when he was in his nineties, his unique skill in the early days of basketball revolutionized the sport but sadly has never been fully recognized to this day, evident by the fact he still has not been inducted into the prestigious Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. This engrossing film, even for those who do not like sports, is an important human interest story that is both a basketball documentary as well as a bittersweet glimpse into a remarkable human being epitomizing the human spirit.

The Fall of the American Empire is a wonderfully entertaining French Canadian crime caper comedy about a philosophy-loving delivery man in Montreal who finds himself in the mix with major Canadian crime bosses after unwittingly ending up with millions of Canadian dollars in cash. As he is investigated by a duo of zealous police detectives, he unexpectedly befriends a beautiful escort and a former leader of a biker gang just released from prison, both of whom help him in his elaborate plan to evade taxes and protect his identity from some dangerous criminals. The Oscar-winning French Canadian filmmaker Denys Arcand crafts a Hollywood-caliber movie that has its moments of hilarity as a result of the absurdity that the main characters find themselves in a seemingly straightforward heist that quickly develops into something over-their-heads. The film’s quick pace and brilliant script elevate it into a highly rewarding and entertaining cinematic experience that rivals the big budget Hollywood blockbuster comedies.

Them That Follow is a melodramatic and sometimes very intense drama that takes a rather straightforward story and is made infinitely more fascinating by having the film set in the notorious snake-handling Pentecostal movement in Appalachia. Packed with an all-star cast, including recent Oscar winner Olivia Colman, comedian Jim Gaffigan, and character actor Walton Goggins, the story revolves around a young woman, the daughter of the extremely religious pastor of the cult-like rural church, who is keeping a potentially disastrous secret right before she is to get married off to her father’s protégé. Against the bleak and depressing backdrop of an impoverished religious community living off the back roads of North Carolina, the tight-knit group are shown in some rather tense sequences of testing their fanatical religious faith by allowing extremely poisonous snakes to slither across their bodies, with one episode ending horrifically for the true love interest of the main female protagonist. I found the movie to be especially enthralling with its use of snake-handling churches, which are based on real ones that still exist, to help elevate a rather typical story of forbidden young love.

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