Dispatch from the 46th Cleveland International Film Festival

The 46th Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF) takes place in-person at Playhouse Square from March 30-April 9 and will feature live streaming April 10-17. It’s a smaller festival, perhaps dampened by the pandemic and stay-at-home offers, but there’s still genuine love and excitement for the film from the ever-smiling attendees and volunteers.

This is my first experience at CIFF, and I noticed the same welcoming energy of TIFF, but on a much smaller scale. Most of the time, only twenty-four films are shown. The halls are beautiful theaters that are usually reserved for theatrical productions like musicals and plays. I saw A Radiant Girl, Perfume of Gardenias, The Governor of Youthand Global Lessons. I’ll give an overview of these movies, as well as list some upcoming movies to have on your radar.

A radiant girl

The directorial debut of French actress Sandrine Kiberlain, A radiant girl is set in 1942. Its focus is small, centering on Irene (Rebecca Marder), a nineteen-year-old Jewish girl experiencing so much for the first time. She falls in love, finds her passions and is on the verge of the beginning of her life. Of course, things start to change around her, and the future she thought was big, bright and beautiful is slowly falling apart.

Through no fault of the movie, I was briefly lost as there were issues with the subtitles. We lost a few scenes before the tech team shut down the system to try and fix the issue. While the subtitles were working again, that unexpected stutter in the film’s stream took away some of the impact for the audience.

Marder plays Irene with the same wide-eyed excitement as Audrey Tautou from Amelie. His performance is simply captivating and nuanced. While some may say the ending is abrupt, the final moments are rightly focused on Irene. A close-up shows how small Irene’s world has become. It’s a dark and austere ending that manages to foreshadow the atrocities to come.

Available to stream April 10-17.

Perfume of Gardenias

Written and directed by Macha Colón, Perfume of Gardenias is a “tribute to older actresses”. Partially inspired by Colón’s own experience watching his mother care for Colón’s sick father, the film is about an elderly woman named Isabel (Luz María Rondón), whose husband of over 50 dies. She assembles beautiful funeral decorations that attract the attention of women in the church. They ask her if she would like to be in charge of decorating the church for all the upcoming funerals. Isabel’s designs range from avant-garde to classic, but ultimately showcase the life of the deceased.

Five senior women looking at the camera

The film is described as a dark comedy, and when it fully leaned into that style of writing, it soared. Colón said in a Q&A after the film that she was inspired by her mother, who was always an avid member of the church but had to cut back on duty when her husband fell ill. One day, Colón saw his mother excitedly talking to a neighbor about attending a wake for another neighbor. She was intrigued that this wake was such an important event for her mother and was inspired to create Perfume of Gardenias. Would these older women, so isolated and in search of companionship, be willing to kill to have something to hope for?

While it doesn’t fully function as a dark comedy, Perfume of Gardenias is certainly the tribute to older actresses that Colón set out to create. It’s rare for older women to be the focus of a film. Isabel is in her eighties and is directing the film. The women around him are younger (probably 60s), but they are still much older than the usual leading ladies. It was exciting to see such well-written and interesting mature female characters.

Available to stream April 10-17.

The Governor of Youth

At first glance, The Governor of Youth immediately evokes the 2020s state of the boys. Both focus on the hypercompetitive world of youth government. As the name suggests, state of the boys solely focused on the Texas American Legion Boys state summer program where participants create representative government on their own. The Governor of Youth follows the YMCA-supported Youth & Government program as more than 4,000 high school students gather to vote for a new California Youth Governor.

young woman holding a microphone

Of those 4,000+ students, there are six first-round candidates. The film follows these six kids as they form their teams, solidify their platforms, and begin the arduous task of campaigning. It is heartening to see them taking the program so seriously and engaging in debates on important topics. The six candidates are reduced to three, then to two for the last ballot.

There are so many interesting ideas at play in The governor of the youth, but its 86-minute runtime doesn’t leave enough room for all ideas to be fully considered. The film has the burden of trying to introduce all of the candidates, keeping up with them as the slate dwindles, and responding to controversies that arise during the campaigns. The only black contestant brings up an old video from his past and a faction of neo-Nazis is discovered in the program, but there is hardly any time allocated for it. The Governor of Youth should have received the Applaud Treatment, a comprehensive series that would allow children and the totality of their campaign experiences to be explored.

Available to stream April 10-17.

Global Lessons

In the grand tradition of platonic romantic comedies comes Global Lessons. Produced with a team of six people and shot in forty locations in sixteen days, this is the best of independent cinema. Alan (Colin Froeber) and Jesse (Nicole Rodenburg) are part of a traveling children’s theater troupe. They travel to schools and libraries to perform classic tales that include Robin Hood and A Christmas Carol. Alan takes it all very seriously as he dreams of being an actor, but Jesse joins in with no acting aspirations.

Man and woman holding microphones on stage looking confused

Global Lessons is a classic road trip that’s a love letter to the American Midwest, and more specifically to North Dakota. It’s a complaint of the road-trip film by two people who are not usually at the center of this genre. Alan is an “essentially closeted” homosexual and Jesse is a messy, messy woman. Their banter reminds David and Alexis of Schitt’s Creek, and the bizarre twists and turns through Roadside America are a delight.

Froeber and Rodenburg are the beating hearts of the film, wearing a multitude of different hats. They co-wrote, co-starred and co-produced. Rodenburg also directed and edited the film. The movie exudes love, not just in the grudging love that grows between Alan and Jesse, but in its sincerity and dedication. Without spoiling the context or sharing how they got to that moment, there’s a scene where Alan lip-syncs Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be.” This is the perfect summary of the film. Shamelessly sincere, with a Midwestern heart on her sleeve, Global Lessons is a labor of love.

Available to stream April 10-17.

Upcoming movies to have on your radar

Man and woman look at each other in a doorway

The festival runs until April 9 in person and streaming will be available from April 10-17. I am pleased to Full Out: Inside Ohio Show Choir, which promises to be a documentary version of Joy. Cooper Raiff’s Sundance darling, Cha Cha real smooth, was a last-minute addition to Friday’s lineup. I recently saw (and loved) Shitso Cha Cha real smooth is a must for me. The Tribeca Tube, Poserwill be screened Friday and Saturday.

Check the Cleveland International Film Festival website for in-person and streaming ticket information.

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