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    doc talk | By Peter Keough

    A biker, a birthday, a mystery, a harvest, a campaign

    A scene from “Faces Places,” the last film by Agnès Varda.
    Courtesy of Cohen Media Group
    A scene from “Faces Places,” the last film by Agnès Varda.

    He appears just briefly in Debra Granik’s acclaimed 2010 feature, “Winter’s Bone,” yet Ron Hall’s violent, patriarchal presence pervades this gothic tale of criminality and family values in the backwoods of the Ozarks. However, as seen in Granik’s debut documentary, “Stray Dog” (2014), Hall — Vietnam vet, biker, good Samaritan — is not only a pussycat in real life; he plays with kittens, too. Demonstrating the subtle, observational detailing and nuanced characterization that distinguishes her fictional features, Granik follows Hall as he tends his trailer park, helps out needy neighbors, and enjoys domestic tranquility with his Mexican-born wife, despite PTSD nightmares of the war. 

    “Winter’s Bone” screens at the Brattle June 1 at 7 p.m. with a discussion with the director following the film. “Stray Dog” screens there June 2 at 4:30 p.m. Both are part of the program “A Salute to Debra Granik” (May 31-June 2), co-presented by the Boston Society of Film Critics.

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    Bon anniversaire, Agnès!

    Agnès Varda, who died on March 29, would have been 91 on May 30. To celebrate her birthday the Coolidge Corner Theatre will be screening her last film, the blithe, brimming documentary “Faces Places” (2017). Teamed up with the whimsical French artist JR, Varda drives in a van that looks like a giant camera through parts of France that are not in any travel guide. Along the way, the pair take pictures of the inhabitants — eccentrics, workers, and other ordinary folks — which are then made into huge black-and-white portraits that they apply as murals on village walls and other structures. So the faces become places, which is just one of the wry ironies, paradoxes, and profundities that Varda and her young accomplice chat about in this delightful, collage-like précis of a career spanning six decades. 


    “Faces Places” screens on May 30 at 7 p.m.

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    A window on Iran

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    Since we could be at war with Iran at any minute, it might be a good time to take a look at some of the worst and the best that that country offers. On the plus side, Iranian cinema has generated some of the world’s greatest directors, including Jafar Panahi, whose features include “The White Balloon” (1995) and “Crimson Gold” (2003). On the negative side, in 2010 the theocratic regime there convicted Panahi of bogus sedition charges for speaking up for political reform, sentencing him to six years in prison and imposing a 20-year ban on his making movies. Also on the plus side, the perhaps-lax enforcement of that sentence (his imprisonment seems more like house arrest) has allowed Panahi to make four films that he’s smuggled out of the country, the latest being the docu-drama “3 Faces” (2018). 

    In this film, Panahi and an actress friend are distressed when they receive a video of a teenage girl who, after declaring her desperation about not being allowed to pursue a film career, apparently commits suicide. The two travel to the girl’s remote village to investigate the case and find a population that is misogynistic, disdainful of art, yet also in thrall to celebrity. The resulting film is a peripatetic detective story, a profile of rural Iranian society, a critique of traditional patriarchal culture, and a reflective look at the ethics of filmmaking itself.  

    “3 Faces” can be seen at the Museum of Fine Arts, May 22-31.

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    Bitter harvest

    Bernardo Ruiz’s documentary “Harvest Season” shows how a version of the American Dream has been fulfilled but is now endangered by current policies about and attitudes toward immigration. From pruning to harvest, the film follows a season in the lives of undocumented immigrants, naturalized citizens, and second-generation Latinos all involved in the wine industry in the Sonoma and Napa valleys. They include a father who has left his family in Mexico for several months to work in the vineyards, an entrepreneurial daughter and her immigrant mother who own a small vineyard, and a Mexican-born vintner who crafts his product with obsessive care. 


    Like the growing season itself, the film develops slowly into a bountiful harvest — but in this case, it is bittersweet. The vintage is gathered and stored, but in the end the sky burns red from the wildfires that ravaged the area in 2017, and a new administration takes office promising to build a wall. In one poignant scene, the elderly manager of a residential development for temporary migrant workers — who long ago, as a migrant himself, had to sleep in the open — listens in sad resignation to a televised speech by our current president. 

    “Harvest Season” is available for online streaming at until May 27.

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    Betting on Beto

    His campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination might be off to a slow start, but last year then US Representative Beto O’Rourke was giving Texas Senator Ted Cruz the heebie-jeebies with his run to unseat the incumbent. Filmmaker David Modigliani followed the candidate from the DIY origins of his campaign to its tearful but undaunted denouement, and his “Running With Beto” is one of a growing number of outstanding documentaries that have come out of the past three election cycles. It’s kind of like Rachel Lear’s “Knock Down the House” (2019) — about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s successful 2018 congressional campaign — but with the anticlimactic ending of Reed Lindsay’s “Charlie vs Goliath” — about Democrat Charlie Hardy’s quixotic run in the 2014 Wyoming Senate race.

    “Running with Beto” premieres on HBO on May 28 at 8 p.m. It will also be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO On Demand and partners’ streaming platforms.

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    Peter Keough can be reached at