Being a kid is tough these days. Whether children are being unfavorably compared to that hilarious little Honey Boo Boo, stripping down to their SpongeBob underwear for a search at elementary school, or being told their summer job has been given to an unemployed middle-aged father of three, the glory of youth is a thing of the past.
Or is it? The Portland International Film Festival reminds us it's always been hard to be young. The 2013 lineup includes kids struggling across time and space: in postwar Germany; under threat of the Cold War in '60s London; against a repressive military junta in Argentina; or among ghosts on a sub-Saharan jungle battlefield. Sometimes, there are triumphs. These are best in the form of soul music, fine Scotch whisky or old-fashioned lovin'. Other times, things don't turn out so well. But some of these wretches will grow old, as other entries in the PIFF program assure us, perhaps becoming adulterous 80-year-olds or animated retirees, or maybe taking sex vacations in Africa.
PIFF is big. You are small. That's why we're providing some guidance: the great, the good and the meh. Go forth and conquer.
Critic's Grade: B [CZECH REPUBLIC] Starkly animated in black-and-white rotoscoping—a method in which live actors' performances are painted over—Tomáš Lunák's Czech oddity Alois Nebel is glorious to look at, with a noirish aesthetic that resembles subdued Frank Miller. The story revolves around the titular train dispatcher, haunted by flashbacks of World War II and frequently visited by an ax-wielding mute with a grudge. It's actually about a lot more than that, although those without a knowledge of Eastern European history will probably be lost during the film's 80-minute running time. But damned if this isn't a gorgeous place to be lost, and while the film may lack clear exposition, it more than makes up for it with a dazzling and original visual style. AP KRYZA. CM, 3:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 9, and 8:30 pm Tuesday, Feb. 12.
Beyond the Hills
Critic's Grade: A- [ROMANIA] A penniless lesbian orphan, struggling to rekindle a faded romance, is confined and subjected to exorcism by female members of a remote monastery. No, Cristian Mungiu's fourth feature (his second, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, won the Palme d'Or in 2007) is not a seedy sexploitation flick à la Chained Heat, and if that synopsis has you hot and bothered, then this movie might feel like a cold shower. Quiet, austere and strikingly shot, Beyond the Hills divided critics at Cannes, with some hailing the film as a masterpiece and others dismissing Mungiu's deliberate style as vacuous or pretentious. With a running time of 155 minutes, Mungiu's mysterious tale of shifting identities will inevitably test the patience of some viewers, but I found it electrifying. A kind of Chekhovian horror story, Beyond the Hills grapples with material that's equal parts tragic and banal, and the result is totally unreal and yet utterly convincing. If that all sounds like a bunch of baloney, then you might be better off renting Cellblock Sisters. MARSHALL WALKER LEE. WH, 8:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 9. LC, 7:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 13.
Caesar Must Die
Critic's Grade: B+ [ITALY] Featuring an all-male cast with enough stubble to carpet the Colosseum, Caesar Must Die is a deeply emotional sausagefest. Brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani follow actual inmates rehearsing a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in Rome's Rebibbia prison—but the film's not a documentary, and if you didn't know any better, you'd assume this band of drug traffickers, gangsters and murderers were professional actors. The passion with which cast members explore their roles, earnestly stumbling upon parallels between the play and their own lives, is raw and startling. Antonio Frasca plays a shattering Marc Antony, performing his eulogy of Caesar from the middle of the prison yard as inmates hang from the bars on their windows, screaming their lines back to him. EMILY JENSEN. CM, 9 pm Friday, Feb. 8, and 6 pm Monday, Feb. 11.
La Camioneta: The Journey of One American School Bus
Critic's Grade: A- [UNITED STATES] The journey of the yellow school bus goes far beyond carting snotty pre-teens five miles to middle school and back. After 10-year tours of duty in the U.S., buses are driven to Central America, where they become camionetas. The story of one such bus, from Midwestern auction to busy Guatemalan route and all the ambitious businessmen in between, is the focus of Mark Kendall's beautifully shot documentary La Camioneta. Meticulously chromed and repainted, equipped with a roof rack and, on special occasions, outfitted with icons of St. Christopher and palm fronds, this camioneta bears little outward resemblance to its forebear. But, as is hinted by banal aphorisms ("Life is a journey!"), these buses foster an international connection, even if American drivers don't have to pay off gangs to continue working. Superb pacing is the key to La Camioneta's success: It keeps on truckin'. MITCH LILLIE. WTC, 6 pm Saturday, Feb. 9, and 7:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 17.
Critic's Grade: A [UNITED STATES] Like Deadliest Catch but wish it had less chit-chat and more contemplative existential dread? Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel's essentially wordless documentary about commercial fishing strips the world's most dangerous enterprise of its made-for-TV drama, rendering the profession in the hellish tones of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Shot with a dozen ultra-tiny cameras, including one with a fish-eye lens, the film immerses itself in the muck of life aboard a boat in the North Atlantic, observing the crew's dispassionate drudgery—shucking clams, hacking fins off rays, sweeping guts over the side—from disorienting angles that turn from entrancing to unsettling. In its concluding sequence, a camera tethered to the vessel is given over to the chaos of the sea, creating a nightmarish hallucination of black water and upside-down gulls. By giving us a glimpse of their final moments, the scene pays tribute to the men who've died so we can enjoy Long John Silver's. It's PIFF's best horror movie. MATTHEW SINGER. WH, 3:15 pm Saturday, Feb. 9. CM, 6 pm Wednesday, Feb. 13.
Critic's Grade: B+ [SPAIN] An absorbing pas de deux combining the droll, microcosmic pleasures of My Dinner With Andre and the sexual bathos of a John Updike novel, David Trueba's Madrid, 1987 invigorates the stale May-December sex farce formula by literally locking up its two romantic leads—a cultured, goatish graybeard and a beautiful young student—and throwing away the key. José Sacristán plays Miguel, a celebrated newspaper columnist who spends his days banging out copy in a posh café and his nights banging something else entirely. But when Miguel's planned seduction of a pretty wannabe journalist goes awry, the two end up trapped in a small, drab bathroom. Suddenly, Trueba has trimmed his film down to its most essential elements: two characters, one room, no relief. And, oh yeah, they're naked. Although the film drags in the final act, Sacristán mostly keeps things zipping along, as Miguel and the student exchange stories, quips and insights without ever arriving at an equilibrium. MARSHALL WALKER LEE. CM, 8:45 pm Monday, Feb. 11, and Thursday, Feb. 14. WTC, 8:45 pm Friday, Feb. 22.
Critic's Grade: B+ [BRAZIL] In this next-to-plotless thriller—and no, that's not an oxymoron—director Kleber Mendonça Filho provides an evocative and occasionally surreal investigation of security, paranoia and class tension. Set in an affluent neighborhood in the Brazilian coastal city Recife, Neighboring Sounds gives a cross section of lives: reluctant real-estate agent Joao, stoner housewife Bia, small-time criminal Dinho, the cagey team of security guards that protects residents (or, conversely, stokes their fear). Mendonça's camera follows at a distance, cutting from gleaming shots of a geometric cityscape to glimpses of dirt alleys, and from scenes of Bia getting off with the help of her washing machine to extended takes of smooching teens. The intricate soundscape—barking dogs, car alarms, street soccer, stormy weather—amplifies the sense of slyly menacing apprehension. REBECCA JACOBSON. LC, 8:45 pm Saturday, Feb. 9, and 9:15 pm Friday, Feb. 15. FT, 6 pm Wednesday, Feb. 13.
Critic's Grade: B [FRANCE] Leave it to the French to tie together a human's search for meaning and the nature of prejudice into a sharply rendered animated feature. And God bless director Jean-François Laguionie for not pounding these themes into our heads, instead teasing them out via the figures in the titular artwork: the completed images known as Allduns, the unfinished Halfies and the roughly configured Sketchies. The Painting's themes are as bold and in-your-face as its bright color scheme, but the charming characters and dazzling animation make the bitter pill that much easier to swallow. ROBERT HAM. CM, 8:45 pm Saturday, Feb. 9. WH, 5:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 17.
Critic's Grade: A- [SOUTH KOREA] In the first 10 minutes of the latest feature from internationally renowned director Kim Ki-duk, a man in a wheelchair hangs himself, another loudly humps a pillow on his bed, and a third is crippled by a large drill. A startling beginning to any film, but for a strange parable about the state of the world economy, it fits perfectly. The rest of Pieta follows a nihilistic loan-shark enforcer whose life is upended by a mysterious woman claiming to be his mother. What happens from there vacillates between terrifying, disturbing, charming and unusually moving. You might not be able to watch it at times, but what you do see will stick with you. ROBERT HAM. CM, 6 pm Saturday, Feb. 9. LC, 6:30 pm Monday, Feb. 11.
Critic's Grade: B+ [AUSTRALIA] According to crusty Irish boozer Dave—played with impeccable comic charm by Chris O'Dowd, Kristen Wiig's cop boyfriend in Bridesmaids—country-western and soul music are both rooted in loss. The difference, Dave says, is that while country-western stars whine about it, soul singers fight desperately for redemption. That exuberant sense of resilience takes center stage in first-time filmmaker Wayne Blair's massively entertaining tale about an Australian Aboriginal girl band that travels to Vietnam to entertain American troops in 1968. Loosely based on a true story (Blair's mother was a member of the original group), The Sapphires butts up against serious issues, most prominently racial tension and the trauma of war. But between the spirited songs, big-hearted story line and hypersaturated cinematography, this is a film that unapologetically encourages finger-snapping rather than head-scratching—and bless its spangled heart for that. REBECCA JACOBSON. WH, 6 pm Friday, Feb. 8. CM, 5 pm Sunday, Feb. 10.
A Simple Life
Critic's Grade: A- [HONG KONG] A Simple Life is a rarity in a Chinese cinema replete with sweeping epics and multigenerational melodramas: It is a small and lovely film, attentive to the individual and the telling detail. Flowing gently as a backwoods stream, it tells the tale of a woman who has worked as a servant to a family for four generations before herself falling victim to a stroke. And so the caretaker becomes the one in need of care. Though it stars the often larger-than-life Andy Lau as the middle-aged man now caring for his onetime nanny, Ann Hui's film almost feels unscripted. It seems more the document of a very real affection between two people who've known each other for a very long time. And even if the film is clunky, perhaps a bit plodding, it doesn't matter: Life seems more beautiful, and even more possible, after two hours spent with it. Not because we've been cheered, but because we've been shown something true. MATTHEW KORFHAGE. LC, 9:15 pm Friday, Feb. 8, and 2:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 10.
Critic's Grade: B+ [PORTUGAL] Expect the debate after Miguel Gomes' Tabu to center on the necessity of its first half, a slow expository hour that explores the fraught yet tender friendship between Pilar, a middle-aged divorcée, and her elderly neighbor, Aurora. But that hour provides the necessary counterpoint to the emotional second act, told in the form of a flashback as a former lover of Aurora's recounts their doomed affair in an unnamed African country in the late '60s. If it is difficult to reconcile the two halves, revel instead in the sumptuous black-and-white cinematography and the fine performances by Ana Moreira and Laura Soveral as the young and old Aurora, respectively. ROBERT HAM. LC, 5:45 pm Friday, Feb. 8, and 7:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 10.
Critic's Grade: B [CANADA] Shocking and heartbreaking but never exploitative, Canadian director Kim Nguyen's War Witch examines violence (in this case, in an unnamed sub-Saharan region) by focusing on two lost children bonding. The narrative is framed by Komona (Rachel Mwanza) as she tells her unborn child about being torn from her village by rebels and forced to kill at age 12, and her eventual status as a tortured "war witch" who can see the ghosts of the fallen on the jungle battlefield. It's a heavy subject, and kudos to Nguyen for bringing such horrors to the screen without cheapening them for shock value. But it's the emergent romance, tragedy and melancholy that set War Witch above the typical Third World war film. It takes on the bleakest of subjects, ghosts and all, but somehow manages to bring hope to the front lines. AP KRYZA. LC, 8:30 pm Friday, Feb. 8. WH, 4:30 pm Monday, Feb. 18.
Eh, Why Not?
The Angels' Share
Critic's Grade: B- [GREAT BRITAIN] Though the Scottish slang is slightly more comprehensible than that in Trainspotting, this heartwarming yarn of a thug-turned-good might still make viewers yearn for subtitles. Fortunately, though, the goofy heist plot is simple enough that you'll be fine with a 30-percent grasp of the dialogue: Four young Glaswegians sentenced to community service after minor offenses hatch a scheme to pilfer some very pricey Scotch whisky. Headed up by new father Robbie (real-life ex-con Paul Brannigan, a wiry and endearing presence with a short fuse), the clumsy quartet dons some tartan and tromps to the misty Scottish Highlands, along the way hitchhiking with nuns, developing their whisky noses and unleashing plenty of potty humor. The film is genial enough, with its lighthearted jokes and sugary soundtrack tempered by director Ken Loach's periodic injections of leftist social commentary. REBECCA JACOBSON. LC, 6 pm Saturday, Feb. 9. WH, 8:45 pm Friday, Feb. 15.
Critic's Grade: B [ARGENTINA] Cultures clash, communication falters, and a cow falls out of the sky in this low-key black comedy. Ricardo Darin (from 2010's superb The Secret in Their Eyes) stars as Roberto, a surly and solitary hardware store owner who reluctantly takes in Jun (Ignacio Huang), a Chinese immigrant who speaks no Spanish. Jun is the trembling kitten to Roberto's snarling Doberman, making for some fine comic moments as the two attempt to locate Jun's uncle. This quest is interrupted by occasional surrealistic flights: Roberto collects newspaper clippings of absurd stories, and writer-director Sebastián Borensztein dramatizes several of these bizarre tales—in one, Roberto imagines himself a barber, enacting Sweeney Todd-esque revenge against a frugal customer. REBECCA JACOBSON. WTC, 2:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 10, and 3 pm Sunday, Feb. 16.
Criticâs Grade: C+ [ARGENTINA] Based on director Benjamin Ãvilaâs own youth, Clandestine Childhood is an oddly mild-mannered coming-of-age tale about a tween boy caught up in his parents' failed revolution, set in the "dirty civil war" of '70s Argentina. Much of the film is spent in soft light, moving fragmentarily through a medium of deep affection and memory: a mother's smile, a father's indulgence. It's as if the director were attempting to capture the feeling of finding an old photo album. We find fragments in the half-light, brief and pregnant encounters. The fabric is rent violently, of course—this is the way of revolutions in police states—but in the end the feeling is that the young, lovelorn Juan began adrift and ended much the same way. It wasn't ever quite his fight, nor quite anyone's movie. MATTHEW KORFHAGE. CM, 7:30 pm Sunday, Feb 10. LC, 9:15 pm Monday, Feb. 11, and 6:30 pm Thursday, Feb. 14.
Coming of Age
Critic's Grade: B [AUSTRIA] It's a meet-cute made in PIFF heaven: An 80-year-old woman, riddled with cancer, stands outside the apartment building from which she's just been evicted and happens upon an elderly gentleman on his way to bury a dead cat. He takes pity on her and helps her get set up in a hotel, where he steals a kiss. He's married, but the relationship went stale long ago. And so they commence an affair, bonded by feelings of abandonment. And, they figure, if society is going treat them as if they are invisible, they might as well become invisible to society. It's like Yasujirō Ozu, except his subtle ruminations on family and aging are replaced by characters saying things like, "No one wants to believe old people still feel." There's also scene of old people smoking weed, which all but guarantees the film an audience award. MATTHEW SINGER. LC, 3:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 9, and 6:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 13.
The End of Time
Critic's Grade: B+ [CANADA] Canadian filmmaker Peter Mettler is obsessed with filming the unfilmable. For his 2002 documentary, Gambling, Gods and LSD, that meant abstractly capturing the human desire for happiness. In 2012's The End of Time, he examines time, from wonky scientists at Switzerland's CERN particle accelerator to Bodhi tree pilgrimages in India to beautiful, slightly slowed shots of volcanic rock slides. Musically, with bass-bell chimes and faint glitchy sounds, The End of Time is closest to perfection. But dude, the film totally gets, like, way trippy, with nearly 20 continuous minutes filled with sappy computer animations. The stunning meditative tone throughout the rest of the film, though, turns it from stoner-mentary into intoxicating exploration. MITCH LILLIE. WTC. 3:15 pm Saturday, Feb. 9, and 6 pm Saturday, Feb. 16.
A Fierce Green Fire
Critic's Grade: C+ [UNITED STATES] Like two lugubrious semesters of earth science, Mark Kitchell's A Fierce Green Fire will leave you feeling hopeless, enraged, skeptical and bored in roughly equal measure. Subtitled The Battle for a Living Planet, Fire details the rise of the environmental movement from the 1950s to the present. The film, which clocks in at just a shade under two hours, describes a parabolic arc of panic: We're killing the planet; we're really killing the planet; OK, we've killed the planet, happy now?! Buried within this sprawling classroom-ready doc is a fiercer, more focused film about the creation of Earth Day and the violent, revolutionary politics of Greenpeace co-founder Paul Watson, but those tasty morsels are ultimately lost in Fire's flavorless vegetal broth. MARSHALL WALKER LEE. WTC, 6 pm Friday, Feb. 8 and 15. C21, 8:45 pm Friday, Feb. 22.
Ginger & Rosa
Critic's Grade: B [GREAT BRITAIN] It's customary enough for British actors to have to perfect their American accents to break into Hollywood, but it's rare for an English-made, English-directed film to contain almost no British actors. (In this film, only the estimable Timothy Spall carries the right passport.) Poor Christina Hendricks—Joan from Mad Men—wins the prize for most distracting accent. The young Elle Fanning (the titular Ginger), on the other hand, is a wonder on every front. At heart, Ginger & Rosa is a deeply melodramatic '60s coming-of-age girl-buddy flick with a hamfisted nuclear-bomb metaphor and a sociopathic Lothario dad. But the delicacy Fanning brings to her role just plain breaks your heart, even as the lines she's sometimes asked to deliver do the same. Wonderful to watch an actress discover such hidden depths in often-thin material. MATTHEW KORFHAGE. WH, 6 pm Saturday, Feb. 9. LC, 8:15 pm Tuesday, Feb. 12.
A Letter to Momo
Critic's Grade: B [JAPAN] Hiroyuki Okiura's 2011 animated feature plays like a more grown-up version of the Studio Ghibli classic My Neighbor Totoro. Instead of cuddly, bearlike creatures, A Letter to Momo features three nasty-looking goblins brought into being by Momo, a young teen reeling from the untimely death of her father. The trio of spooks attempts to look after Momo and her mother as they seek a new life on a remote Japanese island, but ends up causing all manner of adorable chaos. The darker elements and mature themes at play may be tough for younger viewers to swallow, but for others, this mystical coming-of-age story provides plenty of thrilling and moving moments amid the surreality. ROBERT HAM. WTC, noon Sunday, Feb. 10. LC, 6 pm Tuesday, Feb. 12.
Critic's Grade: B- [AUSTRALIA] Cate Shortland's Lore fancies itself an atypical World War II movie. Insofar as it's told from the perspective of a 14-year-old German daughter of SS parents, it lives up to that distinction. Fleeing but not necessarily repentant, Lore (Saskia Rosendahl, excellent in her debut) and her four younger siblings trek through the Black Forest and struggle to reconcile who they know themselves to be with the way the postwar tide is turning. A constant stream of saturated colors and soft focus make Lore a gorgeous visual experience, but the story line isn't always as powerful as the premise suggests it could be. Though Shortland has yet to realize her considerable potential fully, she and her second film are both worth watching. MICHAEL NORDINE. WH, 7:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 10. LC, 5:45 pm Monday, Feb. 11.
Critic's Grade: B- [ISRAEL] Shaul (Gur Bentvich), an Israeli inventor of crappy, unpatented devices who lives in a storage space and wears unbuttoned Hawaiian shirts, receives a visit from his 13-year-old daughter, Libi (Elya Inbar), just as missiles start falling during the Second Lebanon War. Together they putter around in a car borrowed from Shaul's shriveled ladyfriend, telling "off-white lies," which are actually big fat lies, in order to find places to sleep. Maya Kenig's directorial debut is one of those quirky, dark comedies in which we learn people can care for one another in even the grimiest of circumstances—a stale formula but worth revisiting if only for the sweeter moments between father and daughter, and the compelling performance by Inbar. EMILY JENSEN. LC, 1:45 pm Sunday, Feb. 10, and 2 pm Sunday, Feb. 17. FT, 8:30 pm Monday, Feb. 11.
Shun Li and the Poet
Critic's Grade: B [ITALY] From nativist agitation in the streets of Dublin and Madrid to the French government's failed attempts to ban the hijab, questions of pluralism and diversity are at the center of the European Union's fragile politics of inclusion. Enter cinema. Right on cue, a clutch of younger European filmmakers, working in the tradition of Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul and Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne's Lorna's Silence, have arrived on the festival circuit bearing tidy, wistful features focused on the troubles of disenfranchised, Eastern-born immigrants. Andre Segre, an Italian documentarian, social activist and professor, whose previous films skewed heavily didactic (one choice title: The Extermination of the Gypsy People), is just about the last director you'd expect to rise above the fray, delivering a sexy, pretty, light-as-air story about fishing, friendship and the beauty of the fog-choked upper Adriatic. As Shun Li, a Chinese immigrant laborer abruptly transferred to a quiet seaside village south of Venice, Zhao Tao manages to inject life and breath into this subdued story of a star-crossed, oddball friendship. MARSHALL WALKER LEE. WTC, 8:45 pm Saturday, Feb. 9, and 5 pm Sunday, Feb. 10.
Starry Starry Night
Critic's Grade: B [TAIWAN] Whimsy and despair commingle in Tom Lin's Starry Starry Night, which tells the story of children Mei and Jay as they encounter life's more difficult aspects—death, fragmenting families, grade school. With the death of her grandfather and decline of her parents' marriage, Mei clings to artistic outsider Jay, and the two make origami animals, fight school bullies and search the forest for Mei's grandfather's home. Mei loves her puzzle of Van Gogh's Starry Night, and as her world falls apart, puzzle pieces literally rain down on her. From the first CGI snowflake, the film takes on the visual quality of a Monet painting. Human shadows become dragons, trains lift off their tracks to fly through oil-painted skies, and origami rabbits come to life. But these sweet moments of childlike joy quickly spin into grief, as Mei's dance with her mother ends in parental breakdown and disillusionment: It is the painful experience of growing up. Starry Starry Night may have the fantasy of childhood, but this is no children's film. ENID SPITZ. LC, 5:15 pm Sunday, Feb. 10, and 6 pm Friday, Feb. 15.
For the Completist Only
Critic's Grade: C [COLOMBIA] The title of William Vega's film refers to a creaking, crumbling guesthouse located on a lake somewhere in the Colombian mountains. The wind is wet, gray and always howling. No drops of sunshine or color make it to this hopefully fictional locale. A young woman named Alicia (Joghis Seudyn Arias) is left alone when her village is razed and family killed by a faction in a war. Her aging uncle Oscar takes her in, and the two work together to prepare the guesthouse for tourists. Then they wait. And wait. Though the civil war is a driving plot force—Alicia and Oscar are constantly warned that war is on its way—no violence is shown onscreen. A romance barely bubbles between Alicia and a neighbor named Mirichis. Visually, La Sirga is interesting in its monochrome palette, but the geologic pacing will leave most viewers looking for a guesthouse of their own. MITCH LILLIE. WTC, 8:45 pm Friday, Feb. 8, and 7:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 10. CM, 2:30 pm Monday, Feb 18.
Critic's Grade: C- [AUSTRIA] Teresa (Margarethe Tiesel), an overweight Austrian woman on a beach vacation in Kenya, hires a local man named Mungu (Peter Kuzungu) for sex. But the exploitation is reversed when Mungu starts fleecing Teresa for financial gain. Though the premise is outwardly shocking, Ulrich Seidl's directorial hand is colder than his fellow countryman Michael Haneke's, resulting in a film devoid of character development or psychological depth. From our initial introduction to a woman with a vile way of speaking about her attraction to Africans' unique odor, to Teresa's exhaustingly repetitive string of humiliating dalliances with local men (alert: explicit nude dance scenes), Paradise: Love seems set on numbing viewers rather than engaging them. It's marginally redeemed by the occasional retina-singeing shot, some of which verge on portraiture, but ultimately fails to elicit either curiosity or concern. REBECCA JACOBSON. CM, 6 pm Friday, Feb. 8, and 8:45 pm Friday, Feb. 15.
Critic's Grade: C- [FINLAND] The title is apt: It's what you'll want to do during much of Antti Jokinen's film. It's also the fundamental arc of the movie, a grotesquely violent and sickening binge followed by a reckoning. In its depictions of rape and psychological punishments—in one case, 1940s Soviet Russians brutalizing and gang-raping young Estonian women; in another, 1990s Russian Mafiosi brutalizing and gang-raping young Estonian women (notice a theme?)—the film manages to be both disturbingly graphic and as far from pornography as it gets. But it's unintelligently unrelenting. The film seems to want nothing but to inflict pain on its audience until they succumb, numbed, to a vision of the world as a place of demonic foreign men who exist only to inflict sexual torture on women who, brutalized, become themselves also brutal. It's not a film; it's a bludgeoning. MATTHEW KORFHAGE. LC, 5:15 pm Saturday, Feb. 9, and 5:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 16. WH, 8:30 pm Tuesday, Feb. 12.
Critic's Grade: C- [ITALY] Everybody knows there's nothing real about reality TV. But that doesn't stop an otherwise lucid Neapolitan fishmonger from upending his life and ruining his marriage in an attempt to get on Grande Fratello, the Italian version of Big Brother. If you don't know what Big Brother is, then you should skip this movie. If you do know what Big Brother is, then you should skip this movie. If you thoroughly enjoy Big Brother, or if you yourself have been a participant on Big Brother, then shame on you, and you too should skip this movie. According to director Matteo Garrone, whose previous film, Gomorrah, was selected to represent Italy for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Reality is based on a true story, but that doesn't excuse the film for being overlong, unfocused and ultimately cruel to its hapless hero. MARSHALL WALKER LEE. FT, 7:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 10. LC, 5:45 pm Thursday, Feb. 14.
Critic's Grade: D+ [SPAIN] Animation is a tool that often brings the fantastical to life, or at least adds some panache to an already engaging narrative. What it doesn't do is make the story of two elderly dudes in a nursing home all that interesting. Such is Ignacio Ferreras' Wrinkles, a bland-as-cafeteria-food drama that uses broad-stroke animation to make broad-stroke observations about aging. The animation adds nothing to the story of an elderly Lothario and a banker with early Alzheimer's who stand around blank-faced, talking aimlessly. It's about as interesting as visiting somebody else's grandparents in an old-folks' home, and as equally engaging to look at. AP KRYZA. LC, 6:30 pm Friday, Feb. 8, and 1:45 pm Sunday, Feb. 17.
WW critics were unable to screen 15 of the films, but here's a bit about each:
[URUGUAY] A documentary about the national soccer team's quest to reach the 2010 World Cup semifinals in South Africa.
[POLAND] A dark comedy about a 1981 bank heist just before martial law was proclaimed.
[INDIA] A next-to-wordless tale about a man who cannot hear or speak searching for love.
[SPAIN] PIFF's opening-night film is a flamenco-inflected retelling of "Snow White."
[NORTH KOREA] A female coal miner harbors dreams of becoming a trapeze artist.
[CZECH REPUBLIC] A jewelry-heist noir set in 1950s Prague.
[NETHERLANDS] A lonely boy makes friends with a bird.
[SOUTH KOREA] In this
-esque tale set in 17th-century Korea, a jester becomes king.
[IRAN] A mysterious couple travels through the mountains, distributing cash to locals.
[KENYA] A 19-year-old village boy is sucked into crime and violence in nation's capital.
[FRANCE] An aging Renoir finds his final muse in a 15-year-old model.
[GERMANY] A documentary about skateboarding in 1980s East Germany.
[TAIWAN] A cross-sectional examination of several families living on the same street in modern-day Taipei.
[GREAT BRITAIN] A heist thriller set in a gritty northern English city.
[SPAIN] Three Catalan teens struggle to carve out their identities.