So most of you are going to line up for Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot. Because it’s by Gus Van Sant. Because it’s got Joaquin Phoenix. Because it’s the story of an alcoholic who was paralysed in a car crash, learnt to negotiate life on a motorised wheelchair, and found his calling as a controversial cartoonist. But the film is one of the director’s more conventional outings, one of his patented stories about a troubled soul who finds a mentor and sorts his shit out: call this Good Wheel Hunting. Or maybe you want to catch Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman. It’s a riot, all right, but it’s also going to be on a streaming platform at some point – so if the idea is to watch Black cinema, why not watch Likarion Wainaina’s Supa Modo instead? It’s a real crowd-pleaser about a terminally ill nine-year-old who dreams of being a superhero – and it’s not something you’ll find easily outside the festival circuit.
Or even Lav Diaz’s Season of the Devil. Where else will you get a chance to immerse yourself in a nearly four-hour film by the Filipino auteur whose earlier epic, A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery, ran some eight hours? Try watching it at home and you’ll never make it. The undivided attention you bring to a theatrical experience is key. With that in mind, here are ten films that should make it to your watch list – not necessarily because they are the best films, but because they are unique and the kind of films festivals are made for. Happy viewing.
Ash is Purest White (Jia Zhangke)
The saga of a gangster and his girl — Bin (Liao Fan) and Qiao (Zhao Tao) — from 2001 to 2018. As China changes, so does the relationship, which is rooted in the underworld code of Jianghu. This codified way of life can cause untold misery, and the best portion of Ash is the mid-section that resembles a “women’s picture” from 1950s Hollywood. Qiao has been away from Bin, and now she is finding her way back. Her money is stolen. Worse, Bin is with someone else. But he is not a bad man. “Being penniless changes you,” he says. A little later, to the swells of a Vangelis-meets-Tangerine Dream score, Qiao sees… UFOs. Ash has at least five endings, but its ups and downs are as riveting as they are exhausting.