GEMS 2022 Mini-Festival Dispatch

Miami Film Festival’s GEMS 2022 has just wrapped at Miami’s Tower Theater. The fall mini-festival is a one-week precursor to the Miami Film Festival (MIFF) that takes place in March. The festival started in 2014 as MIFFecito, but rebranded the following year as GEMS Film Festival. GEMS is advertised as presenting “the jewels of the fall season” with the “biggest awards contenders of the year” according to the director of programming at GEMS, Lauren Cohen. This year, the Tower Theater’s contract with the city has been terminated so although the festival’s future is uncertain the people there seem hopeful that it will not be the last. FIU Film Studies interns Kevin de los Cuetos and Tatiana Nunez were lucky enough to watch a few of the films played at GEMS this past week. Here are the highlights of what they saw:

Decision to Leave –
Park Chan-Wook’s welcome return to feature films follows Detective Jang (Park Hae-Il), who finds himself falling for the prime suspect in a man’s death – the man’s wife, played by Tang Wei (Lust, Caution; Blackhat). The neo-noir follows the familiar story beats that we’ve seen before in the likes of Basic Instinct and Vertigo. But Park has no interest in simply retreading familiar ground.
The second half of the film is also one of the more bizarre segments of 2022 – not because anything particularly outrageous happens, but because the characters go on to make increasingly ridiculous decisions only justified and explained by the inherent eroticism and chemistry between the two leads. Through them, the deceptively familiar/simple plot opens itself to ideas of repression, intimacy, and the illusion of boundaries. It’s the director at his most restrained, but it also might be quietly his most passionate film. It settles itself deep in your mind long after the credits have rolled – and reveals itself the more you think about it.

The Whale –
In Darren Aronofsky’s first film since Mother! and first starring Brendan Frasier, The Whale is just as upsetting as you’d expect from the director, in a good way. The film and its subject have been kept under tight wraps, where the trailer and poster for the film was revealed only weeks before its release. It makes sense to keep it from the internet which might mistake the protagonist as an “untasteful” characterization. The film follows Charlie (Brendan Frasier) as he navigates his life as a 600-pound man incapable of leaving his house and the people that come to visit him like his daughter (Sadie Sink) or nurse friend (Hong Chau). The audience observes this man slowly killing himself and all we can do is watch. This disturbing film asks some thought-provoking questions regarding enabling bad habits and religious trauma, but handles them with care. Still, one can’t help but feel like it’s an early 2000s SNL skit (with different music) due to the single set and the circumstances the protagonist experiences. Either way, Brendan Frasier delivers the performance of a lifetime and disappears into his character without making it feel like he is mocking overweight people. And the supporting cast is one of the best this year with a stand-out performance from Hong Chau. The film ended up winning the audience award at GEMS, beating out almost 30 contenders.

The Fabelmans –
Steven Spielberg’s memoir movie The Fabelmans is the first time he’s stepped back into the writing chair in over 20 years, which he did as a pandemic lockdown project. The movie follows the Fabelmans, a Jewish family living in 50s-60s America. Sammy (Gabriel Labelle) is a kid that learns he loves making movies while his father (Paul Dano) brushes it off as a hobby and his whimsical mother (Michelle Williams) embraces his talent, butting heads with each other throughout. The film is extremely personal to him as it’s about his childhood and how he found his passion for movies. Seth Rogan, who plays the character ‘Benny,’ said that Spielberg would constantly cry between takes and it shows that he put his heart into this movie. Scenes of Sammy learning how to edit or the family listening to the mother play piano makes the audience nostalgic for a time they may not have ever experienced. The family watching The Greatest Show on Earth really helps us see how this kid, mouth agape, falls in love with the art of film. The film also plays with the idea of “passion vs. family.” Sammy’s great uncle (Judd Hirsch) spouts that it’s one or the other, but throughout the film we see it’s not so black and white. Fabelmans also has several hilarious moments, but Seth Rogan in particular was surprisingly good in his more dramatic scenes. The performances all around were amazing though, from Dano to Williams as the Fabelman parents and Labelle as well. And an honorable mention to Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord who plays Sammy as a 5-year-old, whose comedic timing and sense of wonder were impeccable.

Kevin de los Cuetos is a senior at Florida International University, pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in English – Creative Writing, along with a certificate in Film Studies.