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Six at New/Next 2023

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | August 30th, 2023

Outside Baltimore’s Charles Theatre, home of New/Next Film Fest 2023

This year’s inaugural New/Next Film Fest ran August 18-20 at Baltimore’s Charles Theatre. While at the festival, I watched 6 films I had not yet seen. Below are brief capsule reviews of each. I also wrote two full-length reviews (one for this site and one for Hammer to Nail) of Carpet Cowboys (for which I also did an interview) and Hummingbirds, both of which I caught via screening link before the start of the festival.

Still from THE GRAVITY. Courtesy of New/Next Film Fest

The Gravity (Cédric Ido)

Cédric Ido’s The Gravity offers a harrowing look at intergenerational conflict among the denizens of one of France’s many urban developments populated by underserved immigrant populations. With the teens of today doing their best to clean up messes left by the kids of yesteryear (who are now in their twenties and beyond), there are bound to be territorial skirmishes as the adults refuse to give way. With shades of Lord of the Flies, Ito (Chateau) crafts a compelling thriller pitting the very young against the only somewhat so, everyone squabbling over low stakes. At the center of the drama is Daniel (Max Gomis), a champion sprinter who can’t quite outrun the past, try as he might. With vibrant social commentary mixed with a touch of the fantastic, Ito examines what happens when so-called civilization leaves the vulnerable to fend for themselves.

Still from HARKA. Courtesy of New/Next Film Fest

Harka (Lotfy Nathan)

Director Lotfy Nathan (12 O’Clock Boys) makes his fiction-feature debut with Harka, a film set amongst characters living a hardscrabble existence in Tunisia. Though not all that happens flows smoothly from the central premise, the performances—especially that of Adam Bessa (Extraction), as protagonist Ali—carry the narrative through any uneven passages. Surviving via meager earnings from selling gas on the street, Ali lives apart from his family at the start, yet is brought back into the fold upon the death of his father. Soon he finds himself the primary caretaker for his younger sisters and discovers that the path to greater wages goes through dangerous territory. In a country ruled by an uncaring elite, what can he do? Not much, which leads to a brutal ending. Even if that conclusion does not feel entirely earned by what has come before, the result is still quite poignant.

Still from LIFE BEGINS, LIFE ENDS. Courtesy of New/Next Film Fest

Life Begins, Life Ends (Rafael Palacio Illingworth)

A wild journey through documentary/narrative hybridity, Life Begins, Life Ends, from director Rafael Palacio Illingworth (Between Us), fascinates with every frame, even as we may wonder how it all connects together. Opening with a witty montage of books and quotes about the nature of art, Palacio Illingworth makes his formal intentions clear, though his story ideas remain delightfully abstruse. Lyrically dense and dramatically elliptical, the film follows characters both real (or so it seems) and fictional (I think), the latter played by actors and the former by relatives of the director. The result is a tapestry rich in sumptuous visuals and evocative sound. As we journey from Mexico to Switzerland and back, alternating between different planes of reality, we slowly gather hints of meaning from each scene. Life is strange, and an experimental meditation like this serves it well.

Still from PEAK SEASON. Courtesy of New/Next Film Fest

Peak Season (Steven Kanter/Henry Loevner)

A rom-com that defies the conventions of the genre, Steven Kanter and Henry Loevner’s Peak Seasonstars Derrick Joseph DeBlasis as Loren, a thirtysomething drifter living in his car in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, making ends meet via a variety of gigs. One of those is teaching fly fishing, which is how he meets Amy (Claudia Restrepo), a temporarily unemployed high-end consultant on vacation with her very-much-employed fiancé, Max (Ben Coleman). Max can’t make the fishing lesson, so Amy goes solo, and after a little bit of awkwardness, she and Loren hit it off. When Max goes jetting back to New York to solve a client’s emergency, Loren stays behind. As close as he and Loren become, however, there are many barriers in the way of consummation. The directors, who previously worked with all of the above stars on their 2021 feature, The End of Us, are less interested in easy answers than in complicated questions, their movie also interrogating wealth disparities and how we place value on money and perceived stability. The result is a satisfying, if also sad, voyage to that place where the heart seeks what it needs. My one complaint, as a dog lover, is that if one introduces a canine companion, one should consistently involve her throughout, which is not always the case here (why isn’t she with Amy and Loren as they hike, I beg to ask …).

Still from SOMEWHERE QUIET. Courtesy of New/Next Film Fest

Somewhere Quiet (Olivia West Lloyd)

Olivia West Lloyd’s Somewhere Quiet may not entirely stick its landing, but along the way it delivers many satisfying thrills and chills. Meghan (Jennifer Kim, She Dies Tomorrow) and her husband, Scott (Kentucker Audley, Strawberry Mansion), head off to his family’s cabin in the woods in the aftermath of a horrific experience. That would be Meghan’s kidnapping, details of which we catch in background television news reports. We’ve caught the final scene of that horror in the opening prologue, but the bulk of the action here is a chamber piece between Meghan, Scott, and Scott’s annoyingly intrusive cousin, Madeleine (Marin Ireland, The Empty Man), whose own cabin is nearby. Little by little, this pas-de-trois grows ever more bizarre, hinting at uncomfortable truths about Meghan’s past ordeal. Or so we think. Through oddball editing and sleight-of-hand twists, the director keeps us guessing as to the reality at hand. It’s always engrossing, if sometimes not quite clever enough.

Still from THE TASTE OF MANGO. Courtesy of New/Next Film Fest

The Taste of Mango (Chloe Abrahams)

A powerfully moving examination of sexual trauma and healing, told via the points of view of three generations of women in one Sri Lankan family, The Taste of Mango combines archival footage with present-day interviews and observational clips in a cinematically arresting mix. Director Chloe Abrahams is the youngest of the protagonists; her mother, Rozanna, came to the United Kingdom before she was born; and her mother, Nana, stayed behind in Sri Lanka with the man (her second husband) who had abused Rozanna. The relationship between the first two and the third is complicated, given that Nana refuses to leave her husband despite ongoing accusations of further abuse on underage girls (and his resultant prison spell). Even with this traumatic origin story, much of what we see is the delightful interaction of Chloe and Rozanna, including the latter’s upcoming nuptials and her abiding love of country music. Recurring abstract images of faces, landscapes and, especially, water, punctuate the narrative, Abrahams shifting effortlessly from the raw challenges of everyday living to the beauty of cinematic poetry.


Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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