‘This Is Not a Comedy’
A narrative feature by the Mexican comedian Gabriel Nuncio, “This Is Not a Comedy” is a strange and audacious concoction of kooky, funny and sad. Gabriel, playing himself, is a down-and-out stand-up comedian in Mexico City with dreams of producing his first screenplay, about a female astronaut who goes to Mars. The story seems inspired by Gabriel’s girlfriend, the eccentric Leyre (Cassandra Ciangherotti), who talks to plants and believes that aliens will arrive soon to take her away. Her bright-eyed curiosity can’t seem to penetrate the cynical, broke-as-hell Gabriel, who is a repeat victim of Murphy’s law: In a running gag, he keeps forgetting his keys and has to have a locksmith break him into his apartment.
“This Is Not a Comedy” draws its title from Gabriel’s plaintive refrain in the film: His script is a drama, but everyone he narrates it to — including the Mexican actors Cecilia Suárez and Tenoch Huerta, as well as the Armenian-Canadian director Atom Egoyan — expects a comedy. But life, as Gabriel soon realizes, is a little bit of both, with a good measure of tragedy thrown in. This gentle balance of tones elevates Nuncio’s film beyond your usual male-loser-centric cringe comedy to a truly moving portrait of both the richness and hardship of a life in the arts.
In the opening scenes of this mysterious Brazilian thriller by Madiano Marcheti, we briefly glimpse a lithe white figure lying in a vast, windswept field of vivid green soybean plants. It’s the only time we actually see the body of Madalena, the transgender woman whose disappearance forms the wound at the heart of this film, drawing together three swirling, tenuously connected stories. In the first section, we meet Luziane, a spunky young woman who works as a bouncer at a club, and is owed money by Madalena. In the second, Cristiano, the obnoxious son of the owner of the soybean farm, spots the body and starts spiraling with worry that it may hurt his mother’s election campaign. And in the final section, a group of queer women visit Madalena’s home to pick up her things and reminisce about their friend.
We never learn much about Madalena, and even as her death inflects these narratives with eerie menace and melancholy, it never truly anchors them. The film languidly traces the daily lives of the characters, which seem to go on in spite of everything. The strange, sad banality of Madalena’s tragedy attains a political wallop in the film’s postscript, which cites a sobering statistic: Brazil has the highest murder rate for transgender people in the world.
Alternately charming and rousing, “Beans” unfolds a coming-of-age tale against the backdrop of the Oka crisis in Quebec: In 1990, a dispute over the expansion of a golf course into Indigenous burial ground led to a 78-day standoff between the Mohawk community of Oka and the police. Employing archival footage of news broadcasts to evoke the real, incendiary atmosphere of the crisis, the director Tracey Deer crafts a remarkable hybrid of fiction and nonfiction, the personal and the political.
The Mohawk middle-schooler Tekehentahkhwa, a.k.a. Beans, (Kiawentiio) is raring to go to a fancy private school when the crisis brings her innocent little world crashing down. Her father joins the front lines of the protest, while her mother tries to flee town with Beans and her sister, only to be harassed by white locals pelting stones and calling them “savages.” As Beans’s desire for adolescent rebellion combines with newfound righteous rage, she falls in with a group of tough kids, some of whom suffer poverty and abusive parents. Deer weaves together a number of micro and macro narratives of Mohawk life into an engrossing portrait, while Kiawentiio winningly portrays Beans’s transition from naïve to worldly and indignant, capturing the effects of racism on young children.
In its opening scenes, “Nafi’s Father” resembles a straightforward tale of patriarchal oppression: Nafi, the daughter of the imam of a small Senegalese town, wants to marry her first cousin, Tokara, but her father, Tierno, is firmly opposed to the idea. As Mamadou Dia’s feature unfolds, however, it reveals intricate narrative layers that coalesce into a broader tale about radicalization and corruption in rural Senegal.
As it turns out, Tokara’s father and Tierno’s brother, the wealthy Ousmane, is a conservative Muslim with ties to terrorists and ambitions to become the mayor of the town. For him, the marriage is a ploy to gain favor in the community. Tokara and Nafi have their own schemes, too. They hope that marriage will win them independence from their families and the ability to pursue their dreams: Tokara wants to become a dancer; Nafi, a neuroscientist.
Every character — including the saintly, ailing Tierno — is drawn into a complex negotiation where peace and personal freedom can only come at a dear price. Unfolding each plot turn with quiet control and neo-realistic texture, Dia embeds a familial thriller within a humanistic portrait of a pluralistic community struggling to hold on to its values.
“Comets,” directed by the Georgian filmmaker Tamar Shavgulidze, begins with a nighttime shot of two teenage girls seated outdoors on a mat and looking up at a screen. We don’t see the movie they’re watching, only the flickers of light on their faces, as the jangly electronic score evokes science fiction. The gentle magic of this opening lingers over the rest of the film, which consists almost entirely of scenes of conversation in the lush, bucolic courtyard of a middle-aged widow, Nana (Ketevan Gegeshidze). First we see her bantering with her daughter over a bowl of freshly picked blackberries; then, suddenly, a stylish city woman, Irina (Nino Kasradze), arrives in a car. The two older women’s tense dialogue slowly reveals that they were once lovers — the young girls seen earlier — who moved apart when their relationship provoked scandal. Serene and deceptiv
ely modest, the movie cuts between the pair’s long-overdue reunion, flecked with regret and resentment, and twilit scenes from their youth. A gorgeous fantastical coda brings the film’s central ideas into shimmering focus: love as a comet from another world; cinema as the night sky, full of possibility.