Austin Film Festival returns to Austin for 29th run

The Austin Film Festival returned last week with its 29th celebration. Filmmakers and cinema enthusiasts alike traveled across the globe to showcase and enjoy anything from feature-length dramas to comedic shorts. As the credits roll on another festival, The Daily Texan compiled a spoiler-free list of standout films from this year’s AFF screen.

“The Whale” written by Samuel D. Hunter and directed by Darren Aronofsky

Based on a play of the same name written by Hunter 13 years ago, “The Whale” is based on the emotional journey Hunter experienced in his 20s as both a teacher and playwright. Invoking elements of drama, “The Whale” tugs heartstrings while delivering an incredibly heartbreaking narrative.Aronofsky’s style remains clear in “The Whale.” The film’s incredibly simplified and low-budget storytelling constrains Aronofsky and forces him to hone his craft in forming a quick yet precise story experience, setting it apart from prior projects.

“Women Talking” written and directed by Sarah Polley

“Women Talking” follows a group of women who, after a long history of sexual abuse, must decide if they want to stay in their secluded religious colony or leave. 

The film opts for a desaturated color scheme, which results in a cold and isolating feeling, an appropriate choice considering the despondent nature of the film. Despite the film’s heavy themes, audiences will enjoy a well-crafted story and an impressive variety of performances.

“The Inspection” written and directed by Elegance Bratton

A24’s “The Inspection” showcases Elegance Bratton’s feature film directorial debut. Based largely on Bratton’s own life, the film follows Ellis French (Jeremy Pope), a Black gay man who joins the Marines in 2005 after his mother, Inez French (Gabrielle Union), rejects him. 

The film subverts problematic Hollywood tropes that often push Black LGBTQ+ characters to the background. Confronting narratives around the military and investigating the complexities of masculinity, “The Inspection” ​creates an intimate and deeply personal story. Bratton’s storytelling and the cast’s performances brings hope and humanity to a story full of pain and hard-to-watch moments. 

“Aftersun” written and directed by Charlotte Wells

“Aftersun” chronicles a somewhat-autobiographical story inspired by the director’s memories from a summer vacation once shared with her estranged father. The film follows single father Calum (Paul Mescal) and preteen daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio) as they navigate their distant relationship. 

The film takes place in a vibrant 1990s seaside resort, leaning on a bright color scheme and hazy cinematography to capture the nostalgia Wells brings to this story. Presenting a collage of camcorder footage, heartfelt poolside scenes and even more surreal depictions of Sophie’s memories as an adult, the movie delivers an emotional tale of how one woman pieces together a bittersweet memory from her youth.

“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” written and directed by Rian Johnson

Rian Johnson’s “Glass Onion” continues the tales of “Knives Out” detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). With a new murder to solve, the film features freshly diced twist and turns and a star-studded cast, including ​​Janelle Monáe, Leslie Odom Jr., Kathryn Hahn and Kate Hudson. 

Rian Johnson manages to replicate the magic of 2019’s “Knives Out” on a grander scale. While not reaching the excellency of the original ensemble, the cast’s chemistry remains a standout for the duration of “Glass Onion.” Johnson proves his dedication to the art of mystery crafting and fans will be satisfied with the direction this sequel took.