It's the home stretch of the Portland International Film Festival, and judging by the final crop of movies, it's going to be a cruel push to the finish line. That's not to say there's nothing good this week—on the contrary. But we've still got trauma in the ER, mass suicide bombings, broken hearts and beatings by brick, as well as plenty of characters feeling generally addled or lost.
After several weeks of international cinema, we're feeling a little at sea ourselves. In an attempt to find some method to the madness, we accumulated heaps of data to break down just what happened at PIFF this year. Find that illuminating (and highly unscientific) data on the next page.
Critic's Grade: B [UNITED STATES] Code Black at first glance appears a fairly pedestrian documentary. Directed by Ryan McGarry, himself a physician, it centers on emergency medical students at L.A. County General, banking on the inherent drama of the ER upon which so many TV shows have capitalized. But look again and Code Black is a portrait of the facility itself, chronicling changes in its ER culture following the building's relocation and modernization. New regulations have rendered the department a far cry from the old site's C-Booth, mythologized here as a Wild West of trauma bays where, in the fight to save lives, anything went. But with a last-act turn toward ER waiting lines and straightforward comments from doctors—"the emergency department has become the only access point for many in this country," says one—the film finally emerges as a critical, on-the-ground indictment of America's disastrously flawed health-care system. KRISTI MITSUDA. OMSI, 6 pm Wednesday, Feb. 19. WTC, 7 pm Friday, Feb. 21.
Eat Sleep Die
Critic's Grade: B [SWEDEN] The title of Gabriela Pichler's film suggests a portrait of mundanity, of the routine drudgery of a life that runs like clockwork. And in many ways, that's the existence Raša (Nermina Lukac) knows as a blue-collar worker in rural Sweden—until she's laid off. As a Muslim immigrant from Bosnia, Raša's search for a new job proves particularly tough, and she faces inequity and self-doubt in the struggle to support herself and her ailing father. The beauty of this family drama lies in the moments peppering the daily banality: jovial banter between family members, an impromptu sing-along during work and, above all, the deeply affectionate relationship between Raša and her father (Milan Dragišić). Lukac is endlessly endearing as a wry, hard-nosed lioness who loves just as surely as she will eat, sleep and die. GRACE STAINBACK. WH, 8:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 19, and 9:30 pm Friday, Feb. 21.
Horses of God
Critic's Grade: C [MOROCCO] In creating a fictionalized look at the lives of the men who perpetrated a mass suicide bombing in Morocco in 2003, director Nabil Ayouch takes on the difficult task of humanizing terrorists. Yet Horses of God shifts its tone so quickly that it feels like two films stapled together. For the electric first half, it focuses on adolescent boys in the slums of Casablanca who make their living scavenging in landfills and selling drugs while wrestling with their identities. It plays out like a more tranquil version of City of God. Then, suddenly, the boys are coaxed into a mosque by a charismatic relative, and immediately their personalities go blank. That might be the point, but for a film examining the seductive power of jihadism, it offers no insight into how seemingly atheistic youth could be duped into violence without reason. AP KRYZA. WH, 2:15 pm Saturday, Feb. 22.
Critic's Grade: C+ [UNITED STATES] When a film begins with a pregnant woman being struck in the head and belly with a brick, it's a pretty good guess that the following 115 minutes won't include any rousing musical numbers or cheerful epiphanies. Director Zack Parker's twisted story has little room for anything except the unsettling, and in telling the tale of the attack's aftermath, he's created an effectually gross but often frustrating psychological horror film. Spelling out any of the turns would ruin the fun of Proxy—if you can call anything here "fun." Let it suffice to say it focuses on psychosis both violent and sexual, the relationships forged in support groups, loss and love, all the while spraying around a whole lot of stage blood. Those with strong stomachs will find much to love about Parker's fucked-up freak-out, but eventually it becomes shocking simply for the sake of being shocking. AP KRYZA. C21, midnight Friday, Feb. 21.
The Snow on the Pines
Critic's Grade: A- [IRAN] It's useful for American audiences to be reminded that day-to-day life in Iran is not colored solely by the latest idiotic dispatch from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or newest round of Western sanctions. Iranians have the time to be unhappy, to get their hearts broken, to give piano lessons and shop for lettuce and learn to drive. This debut film from Peyman Moaadi, best known for his starring role in A Separation, is stark and beautiful (and black-and-white) proof that the personal is not always political. Not for Roya, anyway, who discovers her husband of 15 years is having an affair with one of her piano students. There's some commentary here on the difficulty women encounter trying to shape their own lives, but nothing is heavy-handed, and Moaadi's directorial touch is as gentle and refreshing as the snow on, well, you know. DEBORAH KENNEDY. CM, 6 pm Thursday, Feb. 20.
Village at the End of the World
Critic's Grade: A [GREAT BRITAIN] If you felt alone and misunderstood as a teenager, spare a thought for 16-year-old Lars. He is the only teenager among the 56 people living in the village of Niaqornat in coastal Greenland. Work prospects are slim. Dating prospects are even slimmer. His dad has never spoken a word to him—which is pretty awkward, since he lives next door. Not that Lars seems to mind all that much—the affable, happy-go-lucky star of this documentary makes the most of his quiet life in this winter wonderland. But with the town's population and economy ever dwindling, life in Niaqornat must change to survive. And Lars, who is curious to see the rest of the world, must too. British filmmaker Sarah Gavron does an impressive job capturing the serene beauty and slow pace of life in this remote wilderness without ever letting her film feel plodding or dull. By the time it's over, you will understand why Lars is reluctant to leave, too. RUTH BROWN. CM, 8:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 19. OMSI, 6 pm Thursday, Feb. 20.
WW critics were unable to screen three of the films, but here's a bit about each:
[UNITED STATES] Friends throw a dinner party as a strange comet passes by Earth, causing crazy shit to go down. C21, midnight Saturday, Feb. 22.
The Day of the Crows
[FRANCE] An animated family film about a boy who ventures into the forest and meets lots of animal spirits. CM, 6 pm Wednesday, Feb. 19. WH, noon Saturday, Feb. 22.
The Don Juans
[CZECH REPUBLIC] A sex farce about a small-town opera company trying to mount Mozart's Don Giovanni. FT, 6 pm Wednesday, Feb. 19. CM, 8:30 pm Thursday, Feb. 20.