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February 19th, 2003 By Nate Berne, Art Chenoweth, Kim Colton, Brian Libby, Becky Ohlsen, Emilie Raguso, Steffen Silvis, David Walker | Movie Reviews & Stories
 

PIFF, Reel Two

The 26th Annual Portland International Film Festival moves into its second week.

     
Tags:
Go
(Japan, BW, 6:15 pm Wednesday, Feb. 19. WH, 7 pm Monday, Feb. 24)

Directionless, angst-ridden teens are not a phenomenon exclusive to the United States, as evidenced in director Isao Yukisada's tale of one young man's search for an identity. Living in Japan with a North Korean father and Japanese mother, Sugihara is torn between both cultures, never feeling comfortable in either. His feelings of isolation and confusion lead to violent outbursts as the young man struggles to carve a place for himself. Reminiscent of Trainspotting and Quadrophenia, Go is fast-paced and hard-hitting. (DW)

Stevie
(United States, GU, 7:15 pm Wednesday, Feb. 19)

Imagine something akin to an episode of Jerry Springer, only stripped of all the hype and hyperbole, and you begin to get the idea of the ground this documentary treads upon. Director Steve James (Hoop Dreams) has crafted a compelling portrait of his "little brother," Stevie, a man he hasn't seen for nearly a decade. Plagued with a life of crime and violence, Stevie faces charges of child molestation as James attempts to reconcile his conflicting emotions--all the while straddling the line between concerned friend and dispassionate documentarian. Bleak, brutal and honest. (DW)

Grill Point
(Germany, BW, 8:45 pm Wednesday, Feb. 19)

Adultery devastates a friendship between two German couples in Andreas Dresen's comedy-drama. Shot on digital video using natural light and hand-held cameras, Grill Point's coarse visuals are undermined by the commonness of this style in contemporary film--after all, Dogme 95 is now 8 years old. A similar fate besets Grill Point's story, a commendable portrayal of infidelity's roots and consequences that happens to be part of a crowded genre. Somehow this well-made film should feel fresher than it does. (BL)

Hukkle
(Hungary, BW, 6:30 pm Thursday and 6:15 pm Sunday, Feb. 20 and 23)

Although Gyrgy Plfi's little gem is essentially dialogue-free, it's by no means without sound. Hell, this movie is a foley artist's dream. Set in a small Hungarian village, Hukkle observes a variety of people and animals going about their daily lives: dressmakers, farmers, cops, beekeepers. Given equal attention, though, are both the organic and man-made objects around them: crawling ladybugs, creaking doors, even swaying pig testicles. There's a peripheral murder whodunit, but this is essentially a rudderless non-narrative story, and joyously so. Plfi's gem is a celebration of life's infinitesimal details, full of charm and silliness and unassuming profundity. (BL)

The Sea
(Iceland, WH, 7 pm Thursday, 2 pm Saturday, Feb. 20 and 22)

Wrought from a raging family inferno and a cold, gray seascape, this hauntingly hilarious comedy/chiller epitomizes cinematic brilliance. In a remote Icelandic fishing village, affluent boating-boss Thordur feels the strains of globalization and calls his estranged children back home to discuss the future of their company. As the hateful clan grudgingly reassembles, however, dark phantoms of greed, deceit and depravity emerge from the past and eventually explode to a fever pitch around the reunion dinner table. With beautifully unflinching pathos, sardonic insults progress to outright violence as garden rakes, crutches and even forklifts emerge as vehicles of a never-ending cycle of vengeance. (NB)

Laurel Canyon
(United States, GU, 7 pm Thursday, Feb. 20)

The follow-up to her exceptional 1998 directorial debut, High Art, Lisa Cholodenko's Laurel Canyon stars Christian Bale and Kate Beckinsale as prudish medical-student fiancées who move in with Bale's mother (Frances McDormand), an aging but legendary rock record producer. Cholodenko's film, like her previous effort, is about overachievers letting their hair down, for both better and worse. McDormand is craftily charming, and her two co-stars deliver not only captivating performances but also convincing American accents--no small feat for many an English actor. If High Art's poetic desperation is missing here, Laurel Canyon is still a wonderful trip. (BL)

Dragonfly
(Norway, BW, 8:45 pm Thursday, Feb. 20)

From the rowboat slowly pushing through Norwegian fog in Dragonfly's opening, it's apparent that the film's pacing will be deliberate. Acclaimed director Marius Holst's beautifully shot psychological drama revolves around the havoc wreaked on the bucolic domesticity of Maria (Maria Bonnevie) and Eddie (Kim Bodnia) by Kullman's (Mikael Persbrandt) sudden appearance. Eddie owes him a favor and, once he repays it, their lives will never be the same again. Or will they? Lush cinematography, an atmospheric score and strong performances pull the viewer through this tense, partially improvised piece. While some argue that it doesn't equal the early Polanski it emulates, Dragonfly is nonetheless a memorable, poignant picture. (ER)

Bend It Like Beckham
(Britain, BW, 7 pm Friday, Feb. 21. GU, 4:45 pm Sunday, Feb. 23)

Gut-churningly cute and 100 percent predictable, director Gurinder Chadha's romantic comedy is about as entertaining as a marathon of Three's Company episodes. The by-the-numbers story finds a young woman of Indian descent living with her traditional family in London while pursuing her dreams of playing soccer. Cut from the same fluffy cloth as films like Billy Elliot, the film is not without its fun moments, but it overstays its welcome by degenerating into a twisted heap of clichés. (DW)

Morvern Callar
(Britain, GU, 7 pm Friday, Feb. 21)

Scottish writer-director Lynn Ramsey's follow-up to her astonishing 1999 debut, Ratcatcher, is an equally meditative, engrossing portrait. The title character is a supermarket shelf-stocker (Samantha Morton) who, after her boyfriend commits suicide, submits his unpublished novel under her own name and hightails it for the Spanish coast. Based on Alan Warner's novel and enhanced by a superb soundtrack, Morvern Callar is by turns morbid and comical--and compelling all the while. Ramsey's direction is restrained and tranquil, her camera in perfect symbiosis with Morton's muted yet expressive performance: a tone poem for disaffected youth. (BL)

House of Fools
(Russia, WH, 7 pm Friday, Feb. 21. GU 3:15 pm Saturday, Feb. 22)

Totally messed-up and vaguely irritating Russian movie by Andrei Konchalovsky (Uncle Vanya). It's 1996, and war is about to descend on a bedraggled asylum full of charmingly eccentric loons, the kind you only ever see in movies. A troupe of Chechen rebels storms in, the doctor bails, and the inmates go (more) nuts. Every so often, soft yellow light wells up and Bryan Adams saunters through the film singing "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?" (Seriously.) But if it's crazy in the asylum, we discover, the world beyond is just as mad. (BO)

New Suit
(United States, BW, 8 pm Friday, Feb. 21)

In this cynical and darkly comedic tale, director Franois Velle deftly rakes the film industry over the coals of its own lies and superficiality. Frustrated with the people who surround him knowing nothing about film while pretending they do, a failed screenwriter tells his colleagues he's read the next "hot" property--but it's a script that's never been written, by a writer who doesn't exist. Soon, everyone is claiming they've also read the script and know the writer, as the entire film industry gets caught in a lie that can't be stopped. (DW)

Supplement
(Poland, GU, 9:30 pm Friday, Feb. 21. BW, 6 pm Monday, Feb. 24)

Krzysztof Zanussi's title is apt, as this film is supplementary to his 2000 film Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease. It's possible to see Supplement without the knowledge of Life, but some scenes will be confusing. The film explores a very long night of the soul of a young man caught between devoting his life to the church or surrendering to passion with his long-suffering girlfriend. Shot in what looks like some old Mosfilm color stock, the film has two great performances by Pawel Okraska as the young man and Zbigniew Zapasiewicz as his mentor. (SS)

At the First Breath of Wind
(Italy, GU, 1 pm Saturday and 8:15 pm Wednesday, Feb. 22 and 26)

Director Franco Piavoli's film is a virtually plotless collage of both interior and exterior worlds. It is a meditation on light, nature and loneliness, with roughly 10 lines of dialogue throughout the entire piece. The film covers the space of a family's day in the Italian countryside, with glimpses into the life of each member. Characters range in age from the youngest daughter to her ailing grandfather. This lovingly shot film is primarily composed of long, pensive looks and beautiful nature shots that are more akin to a silent slide show than a film. (ER)

Respiro
(Italy, GU, 6 pm Saturday, 7:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 22-23)

More pretentious tedium, this time from Italy, meant to test the endurance of the audience. Set within a small Italian fishing village, the film is full of cinematographer Fabio Zamarion's beautiful images, but director Emanuele Crialese is determined to negate craggy seaside splendor with a tale of a mentally unbalanced woman and her family. With no characters to really like, Respiro becomes an uncomfortable peek into the Italian equivalent of a trailer park. PG-13 (DW)

The Wild Bees
(Czech, WH, 7 pm Saturday, Feb. 22)

Entrenched in countryside philosophy, an isolated rural village endures post-Communist prosperity riddled with disorder and disillusionment. A cast of grungy but cuddly characters meanders about amid adultery, inebriety and general backwoods melancholy in this sensitive and affectionate treatment of the evolving Czech Republic. (NB)

Spellbound
(United States, BW, 7 pm Saturday, 1 pm Sunday, Feb. 22-23)

It is hard--no, make that impossible--to come away from director Jeff Blitz's documentary about the National Spelling Bee without a renewed hope in the American Dream. Even the most cynically unpatriotic grouch will find it difficult not to have even the briefest, fleeting belief that the great melting-pot ideal may one day be attainable after all. Blitz's film follows eight contestants in the 1999 Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.--arguably the most intense and brutal form of organized competition in modern history. (DW)

Divine Intervention
(Palestine/Morocco, GU, 8:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 22)

An irreverent exploration of the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis, and the effects of continued conflict.

Jap-n
(Mexico, BW, 9 pm Saturday and 9:30 Friday, Feb. 22 and 28)

The sort of foreign film that gives all foreign films a bad name, director Carlos Reygadas' film is a mind-numbingly tedious and all-around pretentious exercise in mental torture. The film chronicles a man who arrives at a remote village with plans to kill himself but finds reason to live when he gets involved in the life of an elderly woman. Reygadas keeps the film moving at a crippled turtle's pace, and only the brilliant closing shot offers any merit. (DW)

Bemani
(Iran, WH, 9 pm Saturday, Feb. 22; BW, 4:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 23)

Veteran director Dariush Mehrjui crafts a compelling and tragic portrait of three young Iranian women, each struggling within the confines of a patriarchal world that offers them few options. Delaram is convicted by relatives of prostitution, then beheaded. Nasim attempts suicide by self-immolation after her father publicly humiliates her when he discovers her medical study. The third young woman, Bemani, is married off against her will to a rich old landlord. This picture is a striking exploration of humanity, at times a documentary and at times almost a fairy tale. A beautiful, moving film that is definitely worth viewing. (ER)

The Invisible Children
(Columbia, WH, 2 pm Sunday, Feb. 23. BW, 2 pm Saturday, March 1)

Like a Colombian Stand by Me, this film is a charming and inspired retelling of childhood mischief, friendship and first love. The Invisible Children recounts the story of a group of young boys who, during their summer break, decide to take up black magic and become invisible. Directed by Lisandro Duque Naranjo, this comic tale succeeds despite an unfocused and disjointed political subplot that vaguely attempts to foreshadow the country's impending corruption, and perhaps the children's inevitable loss of innocence. (KC)

Russian Ark
(Russia, WH, 7:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 23)

This is a great experiment gone wrong. Filmed in one continuous, 90-minute Steadicam shot, Russian Ark follows a modern-day Russian filmmaker and a 19th-century French diplomat through the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia's Hermitage--once a palace, now a museum. Each room they enter captures a different time period, with Catherine the Great segueing into contemporary tourists. Tragically, though, the two mumbling leads never articulate the history or identify the people they see, rendering this extraordinary feat of choreography, staging and cinematography a confusing if not altogether mind-numbing disappointment. (BL)

A House with a View of the Sea
(Venezuela, BW, 7:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 23. WH, 6:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 26)

In this bittersweet parable, a gentle widower in the foothills of the Andes struggles to be a good father to his dreamy-eyed son, despite the emasculation he suffers at the hands of an oppressive landowner. It's heavy stuff--a father's remorse at disappointing his son, the son's sudden realization that Papa isn't God, awful sacrifices made for honor. But the superb actors handle the melodrama and avoid most of the schmaltz. And it looks gorgeous; both the landscape and the extraordinary faces of the cast are visual treats. (BO)

Bolivia
(Argentina, GU, 6:30 pm Monday, Feb. 24. BW, 4:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 26)

In search of a job and forced to leave his family, homesick illegal immigrant Freddy accepts work at an Argentinian diner for 15 pesos a day. Things are tough all over, though, as repressed, xenophobic taxi drivers with money issues of their own begin to badger, goad and threaten the hapless Bolivian. A grimly downtrodden look at destitute stagnation delivered with dead-on, deadpan realism, Adrin Israel Caetano's too-short, too-tragic cheapo makes excellent use of small sets and urban emptiness. A thoughtful smorgasbord of communal estrangement. (NB)

The Deserted Station
(Iran, BW, 6:30 pm Tuesday, 8:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 25-26)

Alireza Raisian's tale of a childless couple stuck in a remote desert village resonates with a dreamlike quality. When their car breaks down, a couple en route to the holy city of Mashad must make do. The husband goes off with the town mechanic, the village's sole male resident, who also happens to be the teacher. While the men work on the car, the wife stays behind to tend to the small class and, in doing so, rekindles the maternal instinct she has tried to suppress. A visual delight, beautifully shot and wonderfully acted. (DW)

Nine Good Teeth
(United States, BW, 6:45 pm Tuesday, Feb. 25. WH, 2 pm Saturday, March 1)

Filmmaker Alex Halpern turns the camera on his grandmother Mary "Nana" Mirabito, an Italian-American closing in on 100 years. Halpern uses a wealth of old home movies, photographs and interviews to tell the tale of his family, but it is Nana herself who makes this film come alive. Nine Good Teeth stands as a reminder that the best stories are those about the lives that have been truly lived. (DW)

Safe Conduct
(France, GU, 7:30 pm Tuesday, Feb. 25. BW, 7 pm Wednesday, Feb. 26)

Amid the bombings and persecution in Nazi-occupied France, its film industry struggled mightily to carry on, and actually flourished to an extent (unless one was Jewish, of course) under such directors as Maurice Tourneur and Henri-Georges Clouzot. In Bertrand Tavernier's Safe Conduct, an assistant director and a screenwriter both are working for a German production company, a compromise of principles dictated by the need to survive. Tavernier personally knew many of the figures his film chronicles, and the personal connection shows, as he gets both the minute details and the larger philosophical questions note-perfect. (BL)

I'm the Father
(Germany, BW, 8:45 pm Tuesday and 9 pm Friday, Feb. 25 and 28)

Life begins to take dramatic turns when a German couple begins to realize that their marriage is no longer working.

Manito
(United States, WH, 8:45 pm Tuesday, Feb. 25. BW, 6 pm Thursday, Feb. 27)

Writer-director Eric Eason explores Manhattan's Washington Heights, a colorful community where Spanish and English mix indiscriminately. Junior, an ex-convict, runs a haphazard painting business. His younger brother, Manny, graduates with honors from high school and is saluted by their extended family at a raucous party. As Manny escorts a girl home, two ruffians hassle them. The confrontation plunges Manny into deep trouble. Seeking money to rescue Manny, Junior only exacerbates the misery. Eason artfully builds tension as he evolves his camerawork from jerky hand-held to surreal set shots. His background melding of music with documentary-type sound winds the pressure tight. (AC)

Octavia
(Spain, BW, 9 pm Tuesday, Feb. 25. WH, 9 pm Wednesday, Feb. 26)

A former guerrilla returns to his childhood home to confront the ghosts of his past and the family he left behind.


BW-Broadway Metroplex, 1000 SW Broadway.

GU-Guild Theatre, 829 SW 9th Ave.

WH-Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Ave.

Times and titles subject to change. Call 221-1156 or visit www.nwfilm.org to confirm. $7 general admission, $200 festival pass.

Unless otherwise noted, films are not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.

ALSO PLAYING:
Hejar (Turkey, BW, 6 pm Wednesday, Feb. 19)
Soft Shell Man (Canada, WH, 7 pm Wednesday, Feb. 19)
Maids (Brazil, BW, 8:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 19)
The Reunion (Sweden, WH, 9 pm Wednesday, Feb. 19)
The War (Russia, BW, 6 pm Thursday, Feb. 20)
Bnk Bn (Hungary, BW, 8:30 pm Thursday, Feb. 20)
Edi (Poland, GU, 9:15 pm Thursday, Feb. 20)
The Only Journey of His Life (Greece, BW, 5:45 pm Friday and 6:30 Monday, Feb. 21 and 24)
Neapolitan Heart (Italy, WH, 9:15 pm Friday, Feb. 21. BW, 4 pm Saturday, Feb. 22)
Blissfully Yours (Thailand, BW, 9:30 pm Friday and 8:30 pm Monday, Feb. 21 and 24)
Minoes (Netherlands, BW, 1 pm Saturday-Sunday, Feb. 22-23)
This Is Not a Love Song (Britain, WH, 4:45 pm Saturday, Feb. 22. BW, 8:15 pm Monday, Feb. 24)
Open Hearts (Denmark, BW, 6:30 pm Saturday, 3:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 22-23)
Mondays in the Sun (Spain, WH, 4:45 pm Sunday and 6:45 pm Friday, Feb. 23 and 28)
Monrak Transistor (Thailand, WH, 8:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 23)
Loco Fever (Chile, WH, 6:30 pm Tuesday, Feb. 25. BW, 1 pm Saturday, March 1)
Shorts II (GU, 2 pm Sunday, Feb. 23)
Short Cuts III (GU, 8:30 pm Monday, Feb. 24)

Digital Days (BW, Saturday, Feb. 22): Teen Filmmakers (9 am), NASA Technology (10 am Saturday), HD Nature Showcase (11:30 am), Digital Realities Panel (2 pm), Camera Shootout (4 pm), Best of RESFEST: Digital Music Video (9:30 pm)

 
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