One of the most distinctive things about Debra Granik’s masterful drama Leave No Trace is the degree of empathy she has for all her characters even though they are all grappling with circumstances that may put them in opposition to each other. The film concerns a war veteran with PTSD who is attempting to live off the grid with his 13-year-old daughter. Granik gives so much dignity to the many marginalised characters in this film, and the father/daughter bond is powerful and profound.
Spike Lee is one of the USA’s most important and distinctive filmmakers, and his latest film, BlacKkKlansman, is one of his best films to date. The based-on-a-true story about an African-American cop and a Jewish cop who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan deftly manages the bewildering humour offered by the scenario, the police procedural genre elements, and the rage towards the institutionalised racism at the heart of the story. And true to form, Lee ensures the audience is aware of how this story relates to the present.
The documentary Three Identical Strangers begins as a fun novelty story about a trio of separated-at-birth identical triplets who found each other when they were nineteen, before evolving into something far darker. Often playing out like a mystery film where information is careful withheld then revealed at key moments, and footage is often replayed to be reappraised after new revelations, it becomes a shocking yet undeniably compelling examination of the nature-versus-nurture debate.
The naturalistic Spanish drama Summer 1993 provides a gentle insight into the experience of a 6-year-old girl who after the death of her parents has to adjust to a new life living in the country with her aunt, uncle and younger cousin. Free from melodramatics, the film gradually reveals the stages of grief and coping mechanisms that its young protagonist navigates while trying to make sense of the world, culminating in a final scene that is heartbreakingly brilliant in its understated simplicity.
Filmmaker and animator Mamoru Hosoda once again uses fantasy to explores issues of family and childhood in Mirai, an incredibly sweet animated drama about a 4-year-old coming to terms with the arrival of his baby-sister and the changing dynamics between his parents. The sequences that initially suggest an elaborate make-believe world become increasingly metaphysical as time-travel and different planes of reality come into play resulting in a truly remarkable and unexpectedly moving finale.
Thomas Caldwell, 2018