Critic pleasers: Six films you don’t want to miss

Cannes Film Festival darling Love at First Fight screens at the Downtown Regal theater on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Virginia Film Festival. Cannes Film Festival darling Love at First Fight screens at the Downtown Regal theater on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Virginia Film Festival.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Though immensely quotable and every bit as gut-bustingly funny as the day it landed in theaters 50 years ago, one surprising fact about Dr. Strangelove is that it did not begin its life as a comedy. The film is based in part on Peter George’s straight-faced novel Red Alert, and the more director Stanley Kubrick peeled back the layers of political intrigue, game theory, and human cost of a potential nuclear war, the more hilarious the theory of M.A.D.—mutually assured destruction—as a respectable deterrent became. Talk about chutzpah.

Fishing Without Nets

Vice Films makes its bold yet logical first foray into fiction with Fishing Without Nets, which sees writer-director Cutter Hodierne expanding on his breakthrough 2012 short film of the same name. Ostensibly a tale of Somali piracy from the point of view of the pirates themselves, Fishing is as much thriller and meditation on fate, greed, and circumstance as social realist docudrama. We’d call Fishing the anti-Captain Phillips if doing so didn’t detract from its own qualities, as there is genuine value in the way the film equates piracy with supposedly respectable for-profit businesses that commoditize human worth.

Love at First Fight (Les Combattants)

After an award-winning debut at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Frenchman Thomas Cailley’s Love at First Fight comes to VFF poised to win the hearts and minds of American audiences. Like a French romantic comedy version of The Hunger Games, Love at First Fight follows the story of easygoing Arnaud and apocalypse-minded Madeleine. Becoming infatuated with a loner as brusque as Madeleine is never easy, and Arnaud goes to lengths no one expected or requested of him, leaving his calm life to enlist in the same survivalist camp. Cute with a hard edge, Love at First Fight is a fine entry point to modern, mainstream French cinema.

In Country

Behind the many political comparisons between American military interventions in Iraq and Vietnam is the very real, immediate, and lasting effect the conflicts have had on our men and women in uniform. In Country examines a group of Vietnam War reenactors in Oregon that includes veterans of both conflicts, a former member of the South Vietnamese Army, a high school student on his way to join the Marines, and others. For those involved this is no simple pastime, but a bonding experience between brothers who understand the effects of war on a level that their friends and family never can.

Red Army

Though many Russian ice hockey players have since made the transition from their native league to the North American NHL, the USSR’s loss of legendary defenseman Viacheslav Alexandrovich “Slava” Fetisov to the New Jersey Devils in 1989 was particularly significant for his value as a political tool. Gabe Polsky’s documentary Red Army goes behind the scenes to examine one of the Soviet Union’s most visible propaganda tactics largely from Slava’s perspective. And given his multi-decade career that includes the 1980 “Miracle on Ice,” it’s a perspective worth noting.

Level Five

The difficulty in categorizing the work of French film essayist Chris Marker has become something of a hobby among critics. Level Five is certainly as uncategorized as any of his films: part documentary on the tragic and underreported Battle of Okinawa in World War II, part psychodrama into the mind of a video game designer trying to understand the nature of the conflict in order to build a strategy game around it, with no shortage of ruminations on the nature of cyberspace and human communication in the online age. Counterintuitively, the complex structure of Level Five does not make it less accessible; the less you think about how it’s made, the more you focus on what it’s trying to say.

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