After Lucia (Mex/Fra) (wiki)
If you want a film to make your heart wrench out of your chest, After Lucia will probably do pretty much the full job for you. Lucia was a wife to Roberto, an affable but bulky man with a well-respected restaurant. She was killed in a car crash, in which their daughter Alejandra may have been learning to drive. She leaves them alone, devastated.
Trying to start anew, Roberto moves them across the country to Mexico, where he attempts to juggle his remote restaurant and support his daughter, who now has to make new friends and a new life at the local school. Initially falling in with some agreeable friends, a wild night turns bad and she becomes the enemy, and kids can be very cruel.
It is difficult to recommend this film if you had a bad time at school. Ale goes through some horrendous treatment by her classmates, who due to a lack of a well-developed empathy gland, seem to feel no remorse for their increasingly bitter actions and even the satellite kids in her class quickly abandon someone that becomes a popularity vacuum, or worse still join in. Be prepared, this is not merely teasing, and as for the teachers, they are absent at the most important times.
But it is an exceptionally powerful study of the cruelty of the teenage social pecking order, and the rules and regulations that evolve around them. It could have quite easily jettisoned the death of the mother aspect as it sometimes feels like an unnecessary reason to add extra emotional baggage to the story, but even so, it is still a harrowing ride to the end. 7.5/10
Nebraska (US) (wiki)
Having recently travelled across parts of the US, I can appreciate the long, featureless and lonely roads between the cities as the miles stack up. Old man Woodrow cares not. All he has to do is walk a thousand miles or so to Lincoln - a mere few states away - where his million dollars sits waiting.
Sons David and Ross know it, and their ageing and not so shy and retiring mother knows it, but Woody is adamant, and will not stop wandering away from the house and down the first highway he sees the first chance he gets. Exhasperated, David agrees to drive him to Lincoln, if only to convince the senile old man that it's a common postal scam. Along the way, they happen upon Woody's old town where they grew up, and some of the crusty fossils that come out of the woodwork once rumour of the money slips out.
Cue another low-budget black and white road movie about a family reconnecting. But there have been plenty of good indie road movies (Blue Bus, Paul, Aaltra, Sawdust City, Ave, Come as you Are...) on the festival circuit before, and again there is so much to enjoy here. All the characters are played perfectly by locals from their sleepy backwater towns, (bristly mother Kate provides some of the funniest scenes). It's far from just comedy; the film gently moves between humour of varying shades, strong character development and the glue of beautifully shot landscapes of the rolling hills and wide open plains of central America, their picturesque hues intensified by the use of black and white film throughout.
I found so much to like about Nebraska, it took me through a whole range of positive movie experiences as it gently wound along it's story. It's beautiful to look at and hear, satisfying to experience and takes up it's two hour running time without ever feeling bloated. 8/10