Why, hello there, stranger. You look a mite tuckered out. What's that you say? You're spent from two crazy weeks of Portland International Film Festival viewing? Don't give up now! Did the grumpy dad in A Shine of Rainbows give up when it looked like his adopted son would perish in the seal-strewn ocean? No! Did the horseback mercenaries in The Good, the Bad, the Weird give up when they were gunned down by Japanese bombers? No! Did the sheep in Sweetgrass give up when they were attacked by bears? Some of them did, yes. But you can't quit: PIFF has one more weekend of moviegoing on offer, and once more, we've graded the offerings on a 1-to-100 scale. If you need just a little more motivation, next week WW will release a podcast of our critics debating the best and worst of the festival. If you haven't seen the good stuff, you're just going to feel silly.
Ward No. 6
67 [RUSSIA] Leave it to the chairman of Moscow's Soviet film studio to finagle a happy ending out of Anton Chekhov. Chekhov's original short story was a social morality tale, about a doctor whose lack of commitment to his mental ward led to his being actually committed there. Karen Shakhnazarov has staged this matter-of-fact tragedy, partly like a modern documentary, in an actual psychiatric hospice. It's a much nicer place than what Chekhov described in the 19th century, yet his spiritual crisis endures, and is movingly performed here as television-theater, if not cinema. Shakhnazarov concludes with the hope of a nationalist: Dance! Get married! Make babies! Right now! It's all very romantic. ALISTAIR ROCKOFF. WH, 6 pm Wednesday, Feb. 24. BW, 8:15 pm Thursday, Feb. 25.
45 [ITALY] If this popcorn doc is to be believed, Italy's body politic is a tanned and lipo'ed monster that reeks of cheap perfume and seeks salvation in "the president's TV," a tit parade-cum-propaganda machine largely controlled by model enthusiast Silvio Berlusconi. It's hard to doubt Berlusconi's perfidy—we're talking about a man who owns a remote-controlled volcano here—but director Erik Gandini is himself so enthralled by the president's spectacle that he has come to trust what he sees on TV: a nation of fools. Like the boob tube, Videocracy is a flashy diversion that left me with the sinking feeling that I'd been had. CHRIS STAMM. BW, 6:15 pm Wednesday and 2:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 24 & 27.
Nobody to Watch Over Me
10 [JAPAN] The Japanese media are a bunch of jackals. Jackals, I tell you! And come hell or press scrums, this movie is going to deliver that message, along with the ancillary reminder that police procedurals made in other countries can be just as tawdry as our own. With its tire-burning car chases and scenes of a cynical detective protecting a schoolgirl (whose brother is prime suspect in a murder, and is thus the target of said jackals), Nobody could easily be an '80s throwaway, something Bruce Willis made during his first decline. The cop clichés are so broad you could watch the flick without subtitles, though you'd miss the subtleties of paparazzi questioning an accused criminal: "What was your motive?" "Apologize!" The rest of the movie includes people killing themselves in shame, which seems reasonable. AARON MESH. BW, 8:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 24. C21, 5 pm Saturday, Feb. 27.
60 [MEXICO] As a kid, I hated nothing more than household chores, with their magnificent redundancy: Those cupboards were only going to get dusty again. Boy, was I a spoiled little asshole. For children in Mexico's rustic northern states, daily labor is not only monotonous but backbreaking, and they don't complain to director Eugenio Polgovsky, who cuts from one preteen wielding a pickax on dry soil to another tyke using a very large knife to carve ornate dragons out of soft wood. I spent much of the movie certain one of these tiny people was going to accidentally amputate a limb, but when the dragon-carving kid slices open his finger, he just wraps it in Scotch tape. Watching the movie, filmed in unassailable verite montages, feels like a chore—but I suppose that's nothing compared to living it. AARON MESH. BW, 6 pm Thursday, Feb. 25. WH, 2:45 pm Saturday, Feb. 27.
Short Cuts V: Resilient Structures
65 One of these days I'm going to make a bumper sticker: "I don't do drugs. I do experimental films instead." I'm sure drugs are way more fun, but for me and other timid explorers who fear their own brains, an omnibus like Resilient Structures is sufficiently trippy. Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis is a Brakhage-style light show of strobing foliage that approximates my 12-year-old self's vision of what doing acid would be like—it's a hippie disco, basically. Shiho Kano pursues a similar nature theme with Shinonome Omogo Ishizuchi, a study of the palimpsestic wonder of the cross-dissolve. And yes, I'm well aware of the fact that the phrase "palimpsestic wonder of the cross-dissolve" will probably not excite anyone who's ever taken psychedelics. To those folks, I would say this: plaid mayonnaise hat. CHRIS STAMM. WH, 6 pm Thursday, Feb. 25.
Looking for Eric
76 [GREAT BRITAIN] Ken Loach, a reigning sovereign of English hardscrabble, takes a stab at the flexible, unemphasized, enthralled catching of happiness. This is not a condition much experienced by the protagonist, a defeated mailman named Eric Bishop (Steve Evets) whose only recent memories of pleasure come from the exploits of Manchester United footballer Eric Cantona. And who should appear in our hero's bedroom but Cantona himself, thick and bearded; the two Erics share some grass and motivating conversation in muddy accents. The movie, a clear update of Woody Allen's Play It Again, Sam, is a realist bauble, a helium balloon tethered to lead shoes. It gains great poignancy from the casting of Everts, a black-eyed-sadness artist in the mold of Harry Dean Stanton. AARON MESH. WH, 6 pm Friday, Feb. 26. BW, 7:45 pm Saturday, Feb. 27.
6 [IRELAND/NETHERLANDS] As Beethoven once wrote, "Duh-duh-duh-duuuuuh!" Polish filmmaker Urszula Antoniak starts off in Amsterdam, with the first of many clichés: the Damaged Divorcée Leaving Her Past Behind. Any more detail would require cultural understanding, so our nameless lady hitchhikes into Ireland and establishes her distrust of other people. But what's this? A charming cottage! And inside? A lonely widower, with impeccable taste in cooking and compact discs! Enjoy timeless classics like the Two-Note Musical Score, the Time-Lapse Sunset and, most amusingly, the Helpful Title Cards ("THE BEGINNING OF A RELATIONSHIP"). As Seinfeld once said, "'Tis a beautiful country, though. Lush, rolling hills, and the peat! Ah, the peat!" ALISTAIR ROCKOFF. C21, 6:45 pm Friday and noon Saturday, Feb. 26-27.
45 [CZECH REPUBLIC] Characters enduring midlife crises typically maintain shades of the men we originally rooted for. Hell, even Kevin Spacey's To Catch a Predator tendencies in American Beauty didn't completely destroy his charisma. Shameless misses that point. TV weatherman Oskar is a dick from the get-go. The comedy misfire sees Oskar ditch his sweet wife because her nose is too big, then neglect his toddler in order to have freaky pee-on-you sex with his nanny and anyone else willing. Were Oskar a complex character, we might identify. Instead, Shameless giggles at an increasingly debauched man-child without seeing a larger portrait of male immaturity. It's bloody shameful. AP KRYZA. WH, 8:45 pm Friday, Feb. 26. BW, 5:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 27.
70 [BELGIUM] Any mildly irresponsible young person quakes at the prospect of turning into the kind of parent portrayed in The Misfortunates—the kind who picks up his newborn from the hospital and immediately wheels Junior to the pub. Oh, but you'll never be as bad as the Strobbe brothers: Chummy, destructive crudes, the four Flemish boys are colorful alcoholics in the rainbow hues found in a puddle of vomit. They're natural material for a coming-of-age novel, and for a movie that seems to be driving under heavy influence of that novel. In its best moments, however, Felix van Groeningen's film has the elegy-for-addiction vibe of Jesus' Son: It captures the bleary companionship of the late-afternoon drinking that follows the early-afternoon drinking and precedes the all-night drinking. AARON MESH. C21, 9 pm Friday, Feb. 26. BW, noon Saturday, Feb. 27.