It’s now November, which means we’re officially in Oscar season. While the weather grows colder, expect some hot cinematic releases to continue hitting theaters and streaming services this winter in the likes of “Belfast,” “King Richard,” “Spencer” and more. Yet, a seemingly limitless wave of new films emerges in the midst of these high-profile releases, and film beat reporters Dominic Marziali and Joy Diamond are here to catch you up on four of them.
“Prayers for the Stolen”
The most unnerving part of writer-director Tatiana Huezo’s first narrative feature is its observational style. There’s a clear documentary tilt — Huezo has a background in documentary — that lends the narrative its keen attention to detail. It starts out with child Ana (Ana Cristina Ordóñez González), and as she grows up (later, an adolescent Marya Membreño) she finds her Jalisco home changed by cartels and an often corrupt police force.
The film is shot from Ana’s perspective, and for that reason, it’s a quiet movie that catches her doing chores as much as playing with her friends. The drip of a slow leak can pace a scene; other times, Ana and her mother, Rita (Mayra Batalla) listen to the Jalisco countryside. They listen for the sound of vehicles, not crickets. When the cartel shows up, Ana hides in a pit she and Rita dug early in the film. Rita will do anything so her daughter doesn’t end up among the more than 60,000 disappearances in Mexico’s war on drugs. “Prayers for the Stolen” unites their and their community’s struggle to survive, fusing a coming-of-age story, a mother-daughter relationship and a town’s livelihood.
— Dominic Marziali
One of the most heartwarming yet wrenching films of the month, “The Humans” may feel as though it took place in your own living room. The film — based on the eponymous 2016 Tony Award-winning play, and written and directed by original playwright Stephen Karam — takes place entirely in the timely, familiar setting of Thanksgiving dinner.
Although audiences may not have experienced a Thanksgiving conversation exactly like the one the Blakes have that evening, it will be extraordinarily difficult not to relate to the characters and their struggles in some capacity. “The Humans” touches on the more subtle intricacies of a complex family dynamic, such as tensions between parents and moved-out adult children, religion and aging. A more jarringly devastating reality for the family is grandmother Momo’s (June Squibb) experience with Alzheimer’s disease — a tragic fact of life that challenges the family members and brings them together.
The entire cast shines, as every performance feels deeply real and personal, but Squibb’s acting is particularly impressive. She executes a difficult role thoughtfully and evokes poignant emotion. Another notable element to the film is Karam’s direction; the film feels very playlike, and he isn’t afraid to make audiences wait and stare for as long as his characters would. The film is brilliant in its realism and unapologetically forces viewers to feel the passing of time — “The Humans” is beautifully haunting.
— Joy Diamond
“A Cop Movie”
There’s a scene in the documentary “A Cop Movie” where Montoya starts flipping a knife, seated on a couch next to Teresa, his wife. They’re both Mexico City police officers, sharing the story of how, on the beat, they became the “love patrol.” Except these two aren’t Montoya and Teresa — which explains the extravagance of the knife-flipping. They are, in fact, two actors (Raúl Briones and Mónica Del Carmen) playing the pair.
Over the course of “A Cop Movie,” Briones and Del Carmen will share stories from the real-life couple’s beat, indulge in their lamentations about what they see as the public’s failure to respect the police and then later explain the system of kickbacks that keeps the Mexico City police (barely) running. The documentary is shot smoothly and overlays its shots of life on the beat with their commentary.
The film’s cinematography sets out straight-laced, but as the film goes on, stylized elements slip in: Teresa narrating reenactments, Montoya’s experience at a pride parade. Soon, the film switches gears and gives the gig up. Briones and Del Carmen had been immersed in the police academy to prepare for their roles, and director Alonso Ruizpalacios lets us in on the actors’ logs. The shift shows Ruizpalacios is largely interested in the difficulty of portraying the nuances of debates surrounding police work, but from an officer’s perspective. He doesn’t quite get there.
— Dominic Marziali
“Procession” is a difficult watch, but it’s important to keep watching it anyway. The tragic but necessary documentary directed by Robert Greene tells the story of six men who suffered sexual abuse by Catholic priests when they were young, and one can only imagine how the discomfort, anger and sorrow felt by viewers of the film pales in comparison to that of the survivors.
The film details the survivors’ attempt to heal through the use of drama therapy, which aims to help them process their trauma through fictionalized reenactments. Their vulnerability and bravery are truly commendable. Every moment of the documentary is immensely intimate, offering an unfiltered, thorns-and-all glimpse of hurt and healing.
Every breath taken during “Procession” — by subjects, crew and audiences — is a quivering but courageous one. The true stories told in the documentary are incredibly hard to hear and to swallow, but amidst the pain and torment shines resounding human resilience. “Procession” is a necessary watch not only because it unveils some dirty truths in the world, but because it reminds viewers that happiness, healing and growth are always possible.
— Joy Diamond