A deep selection of comedies, international cinema and spotlight films combined for a very strong program at Cinequest 2014. My pick for the festival’s best film is the Polish drama Ida. Although not all of the films engaged me, the only bad movie this year was the incoherent Chinese thriller Parallel Maze.
This year, Cinequest programmed 22 comedy features (which seems like an unusually high number), and that paid off with some of the festival’s most popular films. I thought the funniest was the dark, dark Hungarian comedy Heavenly Shift about a rogue ambulance crew. Probably two of the top four most popular movies at Cinequest (along with Ida and the Canadian weeper Down River) were the opening night’s The Grand Seduction and the Israeli caper comedy Hunting Elephants. The American indie satire Friended to Death (which had its world premiere at Cinequest) also broke through – and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it soon in theatrical release.
As I said, my pick for best film at Cinequest was Ida, about a Polish novice nun in 1962 who, just before she takes her vows, learns that she is the child of Jewish Holocaust victims. Also remarkable for its authentic and textured characters was the Slovenian classroom drama Class Enemy. And, of course, Heavenly Shift from Hungary and Hunting Elephants from Israel were festival highlights.
Once again, it’s just impossible to give too much credit to Cinequest’s international programmer Charlie Cockey. Unfortunately, just before the fest, Charlie developed a cough that kept him home in Brno, Czech Republic, so we missed him here in San Jose. Before the fest, I profiled Charlie with Cinequest’s Charlie Cockey: The Man Who Goes to Film Festivals.
Cinequest’s program of spotlight films are the bigger movies that are screened just once, usually at the California Theatre. In the past these have included some celebrity-driven events that have been the weakest links in the fest (only Grand Piano fit this profile in 2014). But, over all, in the 2014 Cinequest, the spotlight films sparkled, especially: The Grand Seduction, Mystery Road, Words and Pictures, Teenage, Unforgiven and Dom Hemingway. Cinequest also gets a lot of cred for having LA Times critic Kenneth Turan introduce last year’s Bay Area masterpiece Fruitvale Station. In 2014’s Cinequest, you could do well just by showing up to the California Theatre every night at 7 PM.
For my comments on over 20 of this year’s Cinequest movies, see my CINEQUEST 2014 page.