THE BEAT | Some quick takes from the Garden State and Santa Barbara film festivals

Last Updated: April 9, 2021By Tags: ,

Festival season is in full swing, even with fests either going hybrid or one-hundred percent virtual as the pandemic continues. Here are some films I was able to catch at this year’s Garden State Film Festival, Santa Barbara Film Festival, as well as another interesting film that will be available on demand soon—hopefully along with these other ones.

“The Knot” (SBIFF)

An intriguing work from filmmaker Ashish Pant, “The Knot” is an unusual work that can’t precisely be described as a thriller, even though it applies many of that genre’s familiar beats. Early on, we see middle-class Indians Shirish (Vikas Kumar) and Geeta (Saloni Batra), who accidentally hit a rickshaw driver with their car one evening. Shirish, wanting to do the right thing but not wanting to get involved, puts some money in the man’s hand and leaves him at the emergency department.

A more conventional film would then turn into a revenge story, as the injured man, or someone close to him, would gradually make Shirish and Geeta’s life unravel. But Pant has something else up his sleeve: Shortly after the accident, another man named Manoj (Nehpal Gautam) shows up at the door. He says he is the injured man’s brother, and he requires much more money to tend to his injuries.

Geeta, perhaps not just fearful for her own karma but for the unborn child within her, comes up with a scheme to hire Manoj as her driver, but not tell Shirish who Manoj really is. This way she can legitimately funnel money to the injured man for his medical care—and Shirish need never know.

It’s these anti-thriller twists that make “The Knot” so fascinating. The film is slow but not lugubrious, relying not on scares and jumps but on allowing us to watch how each decision weighs on the protagonists.

Really interesting stuff from Ashish Pant that not only gives us a unique plot, but also explores India’s unique—and often crushing—caste system.

“Rebooted” (Garden State Film Festival)

This whimsical short from Michael Shanks mixes stop-motion animation and human actors to weave a unique vision that is equal parts humor and nostalgia. In brief, our hero is a stop-motion skeleton who was gainfully employed in the Hollywood films of yore, which required simple beasts like him to menace old-world heroes of the sword-and-sandals brand. But the movie business has moved on to the computer era, and the skeletor can’t “find work” as a special effort as easily as he used to. This leads to painfully funny audition scenes and aftermath of the skeleton drinking away his woes—with of course the liquid immediately spilling out of his ribcage.

Inventive and genuinely touching, “Rebooted” is a creative little gem from Michael Shanks.

“Reefa” (VOD April 16)

Based on the true story of Israel “Reefa” Hernandez Jr., “Reefa” shows the young Colombian immigrant to Florida (played by Tyler Dean Flores) finding expression in skateboarding with his friends and in creating street graffiti art. His father (José Zúñiga), fearful of deportation, advises his son to be careful, and find a way to bring money into the family instead of following his passion. But that’s the thing about art: Once it has you, it never lets go. Along the way, Reefa meets an aspiring model (Clara McGregor) who can unlock more of the young man’s creativity than he might dare have imagined.

But all is far from well, as a Cuban immigrant cop with a chip on his shoulder (Ricardo Chavira) claims Miami is “his town,” and he will enforce such a code on the young people of the streets—with horrifying consequences.

Earnest and heartfelt, “Reefa” is beautiful yet painful, and a fine effort from writer-director Jessica Kavana Dornbusch.

Featured image is a still from “The Knot”

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