Two of the highlights of this year’s SFIFF were the LGBTQ coming-of-ager Bad Hair and Kelly Reichardt’s environmental terrorism thriller, Night Moves.
Bad Hair ***
The award for most terrible on-screen-parent-of-the-year goes to Marta (Samantha Castillo) for Bad Hair. She is a woman so threatened by her 10-year-old son Junior’s (Samuel Lange) desire to straighten his curly locks that she makes life miserable for him. She thinks this means he’s gay — it might, but that’s not definitively concluded in the film — which she can’t accept. His paternal grandmother, however, is more willing to indulge him, sparking conflict between the two maternal figures; she even tries to strike a deal with Marta to get custody of Junior in exchange for money, and we wonder if he might have a better life with her.
What nobody talks about is that part of Junior’s discomfit with his “bad hair” may have to do with the fact that he’s a mixed-race boy who inherited his curly locks, so different from his mother’s hair, from his dead black father. Venezuelan filmmaker Mariana Rondòn deftly explores gender roles and how poverty can amplify the prejudices against defying them: it’s also ironic that his mother defies gender roles by working as a security guard, yet is so adamant about making sure her son doesn’t. And in order to get the job, she’s forced to make use of her feminine charms in a scene that’s squeamishly uncomfortable for more than one reason.
Night Moves ***
Kelly Reichardt’s tense, tense, thriller, Night Moves, plays its cards close to its chest, doling out information slowly, keeping us as much in suspense about what is motivating the action we’re watching, including how the characters are connected, as what it’s leading to. At its centre is a gripping and enigmatic performance from Jesse Eisenberg, as Josh, who says little, but whose ever-darting eyes suggest a mind constantly at work. He’s plotting with his friends, Dena (Dakota Fanning) and ex-marine Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), to blow up a nearby dam to make a statement about the ecological destruction its wreaking.
The first half of the film follows them methodically and calmly carrying out the plan, and the second finds them panicking with paranoia about the fall-out. Reichardt carefully composes each frame, often hanging on her actors for minutes as their panic increases. The film can be a bit one-note at times, a cautionary tale about how ill-advised and poorly thought out eco-terrorism can be, but watching the characters live in and respond to the trouble they’ve caused for themselves is half the fun.