Every year, Newport Beach Film Festival's (NBFF) theme changes course, films are bolder, and quirky new attractions are added to reflect the innovations of cinema technology (hellooo, virtual reality). But one constant remains: Its selection of global cinema is notably among my favorites.
If you're a world traveler, perhaps you can see these cinematic exports while abroad. But for the rest of us, it's festivals such as these that connect us to the stories we wouldn't be able to experience otherwise—mayyyybe on Netflix or Amazon, if we're lucky. Here now are some of the more brilliant global films to immerse yourself in, some with an adjoining spotlight fiesta.
The Korean spotlight films are always standouts, and this year's The Queen of Crime is no exception. This zany comedy stars Park Ji-Young (previously seen in the stellar The Housemaid) and Jo Bok-rae as an overzealous mother named Mi-Kyung and her grown son, Ilk-Soo. When she finds out her son has been sent a thousand-dollar water bill for his apartment, Mi-Kyung makes it his mission to get to the bottom of why, unwittingly stumbling into a series of unsavory characters along the way.
Cook Up a Storm revolves around a Cantonese chef raised on the wrong side of town, competing against a French-trained, Michelin-starred chef. While prepping for the main event, both realize they have more in common than they initially thought. This film really needs some sort of 3D release for its epic shots of food being tossed up, sliced and diced—it's definitely not your run-of-the-mill episode of Iron Chef.
The Diary of Fireflies is the entry for the fest's first Vietnamese Spotlight. A young man's depression from losing his mother to cancer wavers when he meets a young woman with a terminal illness focused on living her life to the fullest. This romantic tearjerker will likely not find its way back to the States again (except maybe on DVD at Asia Garden Mall), but the pop soundtrack is already readily available on YouTube.
Ears is the Italian answer to Dude, Where's My Car?—only with more mystery and existentialism. A young man wakes up with a horrible ringing in his ears to find a note on his fridge: "Your friend Luigi is dead. P.S. I took your car." Only thing is he has no idea who Luigi is, and thus he embarks on a day of following clues and running into questionable characters.
NBFF has always had a deep affinity for Irish cinema and this year offers three Irish spotlight flicks. Tomato Red, directed by Juanita Wilson and adapted from Daniel Woodrell's novel, captures the American Ozark mountains in picturesque beauty to tell the story of a full-time drifter, part-time philosopher. Sammy's life is changed forever when he meets the beautiful, red-haired Jamalee and her free-spirited brother and mother, who teach him a thing or two about family and belonging.
A Date for Mad Mary follows a young female ex-con released just in time for her friend's wedding. When the bride-to-be assumes Mary can't find a date, she sets out to prove her wrong and comes across all manner of awkward, mismatched suitors hoping for her attention.
In The Secret Scripture, an Irish mental asylum is set to be shut down, and an elderly woman confined for killing her newborn child years ago prepares to be transferred. While being evaluated, she mentally time-warps to her past to understand the series of events that led her to the tragic event. The film features notable stars Rooney Mara and Vanessa Redgrave.
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Directors Alicia Scherson and Cristián Jiménez, two of Chilean cinema's finest, come together for the film Family Life (Vida de Familia). A fortysomething man named Martin (Jorge Becker) maintains his cousin and wife's house while they're away. To offset his loneliness and depression, he imagines being the owner and shapes a false narrative while courting a young single mother named Pachi (Gabriela Arancibia). As their relationship develops, Martin's lies about who he really is rise to the surface, and soon the idyllic family life he, Pachi and her daughter have created for themselves is at risk of dissolution upon the real homeowners' return. Lighthearted, honest and sexy, it's a telling look at contemporary relationships and urban family life—and among the best of its genre.
For more info—including screening times and tickets—visit www.newportbeachfilmfest.com.