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February 13th, 2008 AARON MESH | Movie Reviews & Stories
 

Near, Far, Wherever You Are

Our PIFF will go on...and on.

     
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IMAGE: illustration: cari vander yacht

Now it gets complicated. If the first week of the Portland International Film Festival was an immersion into polyglot cinema, the second week is a deluge—47 separate films screen over the next seven days. To make matters even more complex, so many of the movies sound familiar: There are two movies about baffled teens, two movies about stalkers, and no end of movies about dysfunctional families. And this is also the week for local names to hit the marquees: Gus Van Sant, Joanna Priestley, Dale Chihuly. Never fear: Our staff continues to wade through the seemingly unending tide of PIFF, and we’ve emerged with a mouthful of seaweed and a few precious treasures.

Blind Mountain


[CHINA] Five years ago, director Li Yang had an auspicious debut with Blind Shaft , a tense, artfully made thriller rife with social comment on mining conditions in his native country. Fewer things would please me more than to report that his long-awaited follow-up matches or surpasses his previous endeavor. But it isn’t to be. Whereas the earlier film possessed genuine insight as to why miners would kill their co-workers to cash in on insurance money, Mountain is melodramatic trash. A squealing cipher of a woman is kidnapped into being a baby-maker in a remote village from which gun-toting militias won’t let her escape. A convoluted mess of rape and assaults, the movie over-relies on jump cuts, drab horror clichés and a heroine too generic to engage our sympathies. N.P. THOMPSON. BW, 6 pm Wednesday, Feb. 13, 8:45 pm Thursday, Feb. 14, and 1:15 pm Saturday, Feb. 16.

XXY


[ARGENTINA] Ah, the confusion of adolescence. There you are, sitting on the beach, watching the girl you adore…who might actually be the boy you adore and, at any rate, is definitely peeing into the ocean standing up. At its best, Lucía Puenzo’s film about teenage hermaphrodism has a seaside-misery vibe that smacks of Margot at the Wedding , while young actress Inés Efron exudes an entrancing tomboy sensuality in the lead role. But between its blunt, raw revelations, the movie is far too pleased with its own audacity, and its obviously symbolic shots of slimy aquatic appendages (disfigured sea turtles, squirming eels) threaten to reduce XXY ’s subject to a gimmick. AARON MESH. BW, 6:15 pm Wednesday, Feb. 13, 6:15 pm Friday, Feb. 15, and 7:45 pm Sunday, Feb. 17.

The Counterfeiters


[AUSTRIA] In this reimagining of concentration camp movies, writer-director Stefan Ruzowitzky tells the story of master forger Salomon “Sally” Sorowitsch (the long-faced Karl Markovics), an artist whose gift makes him the linchpin for a Nazi operation to flood the Allies’ economies with counterfeit dollars and pounds. N.P. THOMPSON. WH, 6:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 13.

Gates


[UNITED STATES] Christo haters would do well to watch this chronicle of his 25-year effort to install 7,500 orange curtained gates throughout Central Park. SAUNDRA SORENSON. BW, 6:45 pm Wednesday, Feb. 13.

Chop Shop


[UNITED STATES] Director Ramin Bahrani’s slice-of-life look into the slums of Queens is an honest portrait of hard-knock youth and quiet triumph. AP KRYZA. BW, 7 and 9:15 pm Wednesday, Feb. 13.

Forever


[NETHERLANDS] By turns whimsical or quietly devastating, director Heddy Honigmann’s cinematic walking tour of the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris takes us to the graves of Chopin, Proust, Apollinaire, the Iranian novelist Sadegh Hedayat and other luminaries. The movie draws much of its emotional power from shots of inscriptions: “I shall never forget you, my love,” adorns a heart-shaped black tombstone; a marble slab split diagonally reads, “For the brother that I had.” Sometimes the most casual exchanges in Honigmann’s conversations with mourners and tourists yield startling revelations. An elderly Spanish widow announces that the clergy’s aid to Franco’s regime of terror led to her atheism: “Because if a priest can kill, it proves there’s nothing.” In one of the filmmaker’s most inspired juxtapositions, she sets jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani’s improvisations to footage of Georges Méliès (both men are buried at Père-Lachaise) cloning his disembodied head in the 1898 short Un homme de têtes . N.P. THOMPSON. BW, 8:15 pm Wednesday, Feb. 13, and 1:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 16.

A Man’s Job


[FINLAND] An unemployed family man goes to work as a gigolo. Between this and last week’s Irina Palm , 2008 is already the Year of the Unlikely Sex Worker. BW, 8:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 13, and 1:45 pm Sunday, Feb. 17.

It’s a Free World…


[GREAT BRITAIN] A single mom on the make, Angie (Kierston Wareing) starts by founding an employment agency behind the local pub but soon graduates to using illegal Polish workers for sex and kicking helpless families out of their trailers. AARON MESH. WH, 9 pm Wednesday, Feb. 13.

Breath


[SOUTH KOREA] Director Kim-Ki-duk (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring ) returns with the friendship of a cuckolded artist and a suicidal Death Row inmate. Misery loves solitary confinement. BW, 9 pm Wednesday, Feb. 13, and 9 pm Saturday, Feb. 16.

Romulus, My Father


[AUSTRALIA] This impeccably photographed saga of a violently dysfunctional family succeeds only in creating a vivid sense of place: The dusty fields and jagged cliffs of early 1960s back-country Victoria breathe more believably than either the strong, silent, dumb-as-a-stump Yugoslavian émigré dad (Eric Bana) or the initially vivacious blond mum (Franka Potente) whose nervous smiles mask major instability. The delicate-featured Kodi Smit-McPhee gives a decent, likable performance as their little boy who bears witness to endless rounds of threats and beatings. It’s the kind of bad movie wherein the sound designer tweaks the volume on realistic thuds and thwacks, yet the screenwriter neglects to make this mismatched farm couple (or her brutish lover) interesting. As the veil of madness descends over all, I’d long since ceased to care. N. P. THOMPSON. BW, 6 pm Thursday, Feb. 14, 8:45 pm Friday, Feb. 15, and 5:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 16.

Family Ties


[SOUTH KOREA] Three tales of love under pressure. None of them involve Alex P. Keaton, sadly. BW, 6:15 pm Thursday, Feb. 14, and 8:15 pm Friday, Feb. 15.

Jar City


[ICELAND] Landing somewhere between Davids Caruso and Fincher, Jar City tells the story of a middle-aged detective (Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson) trying to solve the murder of a reclusive pederast. AP KRYZA. WH, 6:30 pm Thursday, Feb. 14.

The Trap


[SERBIA] A couple is forced into a horrible choice: kill a man or lose their son. Not a ton of good options there. BW, 6:45 pm Thursday, Feb. 14, 8:45 pm Saturday, Feb. 16 and 2 pm Monday, Feb. 18.

Saviour’s Square


[POLAND] Money troubles rip a family apart. The title is probably ironic. BW, 7 pm Thursday, Feb. 14, 7 pm Sunday, Feb. 17 and 7:45 pm Monday, Feb. 18.

The Duchess of Langeais


[FRANCE] Honoré de Balzac may have been known for his keen observation of Parisian society’s ills, but in Jacques Rivette’s adaptation of his novel, the lady in the tower just comes across as a playa. SAUNDRA SORENSON. BW, 8:30 pm Thursday, Feb. 14.

Mister Foe


[GREAT BRITAIN] Evoking a grown-up—and supremely disturbed—version of Hobbes’ comic-strip pal Calvin, Hallam Foe (Jamie Bell) is a truly unique creation. Obsessed with his mother’s death, Hallam spends his days in a treehouse, spying on neighbors. But at the prodding of his wicked stepmother, Hallam heads to Edinburgh in a bid to grow up—only to all but stalk a hottie who bears a resemblance to mum. Voyeuristic and oedipal, David Mackenzie’s oddball film is also lighthearted and surprisingly romantic, with Bell giving a charismatic turn as the troubled man-boy. AP KRYZA. WH, 8:45 pm Thursday, Feb. 14. BW, 3:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 16.

Not by Chance


[BRAZIL] The good news about this maudlin ensemble piece—about a pretty girl who gets hit by a van—is that it holds true to its title and doesn’t use the central accident as the pretext for a series of coincidences. The bad news is, it doesn’t use it for much else, either. AARON MESH. BW, 9 pm Thursday, Feb. 14.

La Antena


[ARGENTINA] A silent, animated Argentinian science-fiction movie. We’re still mad this wasn’t screened for press; it sounds really cool. BW, 9:15 pm Thursday, Feb. 14, 6:45 pm Friday, Feb. 15, and 6:15 pm Saturday, Feb. 16.

Empties


[CZECH REPUBLIC] A drama about recycling beer bottles. Not sponsored by Fred Meyer, though it ought to be. BW, 6 pm Friday, Feb. 15, and 1 pm Sunday, Feb. 17.

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies


[FRANCE] With the charm of Austin Powers, the looks of James Bond and the aloofness of Inspector Clouseau, Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath (a.k.a. Special Agent OSS 117), is a bravado, tall, tan, hairy-chested, racist, imperialist, womanizing, homophobic spy who’ll kill a Nazi and screw a head of state’s busty niece in the same breath. So naturally the French government decides he’s the perfect candidate to venture to Cairo in the ‘50s, with the small task of “making the Middle East safe.” His misadventures with pyramids, medinas and Muslim femmes fatales never veer far from being flat-out dumb (one of the film’s main action sequences involves Agent OSS 117 and a man in a djellaba viciously throwing chickens at each other). But director Michel Hazanavicius’ spy-genre spoof is actually pretty giggle-worthy, and somehow also manages to lay into the dated French post-colonial attitudes toward the Muslim world. LANCE KRAMER. WH, 6:30 pm Friday, Feb. 15. BW, 2:45 pm Saturday, Feb. 16.

Alice’s House


[BRAZIL] In a suburban São Paulo apartment, Alice (Carla Ribas) lives with her philandering taxi-driver husband and three grown (or nearly grown) sons, dispensing homemade love potions on the sly and working as a manicurist during the day. Her long-suffering mother acts as housekeeper and keeps her head down when confronted with her grandson’s hustling and her son-in-law’s nudie photos of teenage girls. In this quick-moving insight into secrets and lies in working-class Brazil, devastating revelations are quickly stonewalled in the name of keeping up the monotony of daily life. Redemption—offered in the form of extramarital affairs—is questionable and fleeting. Ribas’ upbeat performance—allowing Alice to find joy in the occasional stolen hour with an ill-advised drink—rescues the film from gritty family drama territory. SAUNDRA SORENSON. BW, 7 pm Friday, Feb. 15, and 5:45 and 8 pm Saturday, Feb. 16.

My Brother Is an Only Child


[ITALY] Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli, who co-wrote the sublime The Best of Youth , return to the theme of two brothers pursuing radically dissimilar political paths during the turbulent ’60s and early ’70s. This time, working with director Daniele Luchetti, the family squabbles are comically staged. Luchetti’s constantly shifting camera set-ups evoke the rhythms and patterns of petty bickering elevated to an art form. Vittorio Emanuele Propizio, who plays Accio as a child, has some of the androgynous, old-soul grace of Giulietta Masina; he proves a tough act to follow for the adult Accio (Elio Germano), a man with scant identity beyond his right-wing leanings. Although the movie’s ambitions fly apart at the seams in the final half-hour, it remains well worth seeing for several brilliantly funny passages, including a student orchestra performing a “de-fascistized” version of Beethoven’s Ninth—the “Ode to Joy” becomes a paean to Chairman Mao. N.P. THOMPSON. WH, 8:45 pm Friday, Feb. 15, and 4:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 17.

Taxidermia


[HUNGARY] A taxidermist finds his dark side. Look for AP Kryza’s review on wweek.com. BW, 9 pm Friday, Feb. 15, 8 pm Monday, Feb. 18, and 9 pm Tuesday, Feb. 19.

The Art of Negative Thinking


[NORWAY] A paralyzed pessimist wrecks havoc on group therapy. It’s a comedy. BW, 9:15 pm Friday, Feb. 15, and 7:15 pm Sunday, Feb. 17. WH, 4:15 pm Monday, Feb. 18.

Off the Grid: Life on the Mesa


[UNITED STATES] Documentary-making brothers find an oasis of free-thinking in New Mexico. (Maybe they can find the final Democratic primary numbers while they’re at it.) WH, 12 noon Saturday, Feb. 16. BW, 5 pm Monday, Feb. 18, and 9:30 pm Tuesday, Feb. 19.

Import/Export


[AUSTRIA] A nurse and a security guard struggle to find new jobs in a pitiless Europe. Perhaps they could become Unlikely Sex Workers! BW, 2 pm Saturday, Feb. 16.

Short Cuts IV: Made in Oregon


[PORTLAND] A parade of Oregon short-filmmakers demonstrate that less is indeed more. Chel White encapsulates the sadness of the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots in the seven seconds of footage he samples in Harrowdown Hill far better than anything in the feature film Chicago 10 . I’m not as fond of the entries from Joanna Priestley and Warren Pereira, but their middling quality is more than offset by the satirical brilliance of By Modern Measure , a Nehalem-filmed parody of the French New Wave starring the children of the perpetual war and Mountain Dew. AARON MESH. WH, 2 pm Saturday, Feb. 16.

In the City of Sylvia


[SPAIN/FRANCE] A young man (Xavier Lafitte) spends three days sitting in cafes, staring at women and searching for a lost love. For 84 long minutes, we sit in the cafes with him, eavesdropping on barely audible conversations. Sometimes, we follow people through the streets. And, well, that’s pretty much it. Director José Luis Guerin’s verite snoozer—a pretentious byproduct of the decades-old New Wave—is the cinematic equivalent of sitting and listening to strangers’ conversations. Except in real life, at least, there’s beer. AP KRYZA. BW, 3:45 and 8:15 pm Saturday, Feb. 16, and 4:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 17.

Afghan Muscles


[DENMARK] Bodybuilders compete for the title of Mr. Asia. It’s a much more coveted title than Mr. American Occupation. WH, 4:15 pm Saturday, Feb. 16. BW, 2:30 pm Monday, Feb. 18.

Yella


[GERMANY] Poor Yella (Nina Hoss). Not only is she being stalked by her husband. Not only did her new job fall through. But the woman is also trapped in a narrative involving patent negotiations. What’s a frumpy East German girl to do? For director Christian Petzold, the answer is, “Not a whole lot.” It’s easy to forgive a smart thriller for sagging in parts. But Yella, borrowing from a number of other films, only seems content to feign smarts. The result is filmic Wonder Bread—bland, innutritious and puffed up with air. AP KRYZA. WH, 6:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 16. BW, 5:15 Sunday, Feb. 17.

Duska


[NETHERLANDS] An aging film critic falls hopelessly in love with the popcorn girl. It’s a comedy. BW, 6:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 16, 1:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 17, and 6 pm Tuesday, Feb. 19.

Beaufort


[ISRAEL] Troops attempt to withdraw from southern Lebanon. We’re guessing it doesn’t go well. WH, 8:45 pm Saturday, Feb. 16. BW, 1:30 pm Monday, Feb. 18.

Short Cuts III: International Ties


The indisputable highlight of this collection of short films is I Met the Walrus , a five-minute head trip that combines a teenager’s hotel-room interview with John Lennon with ornate animations literalizing everything the Beatle says. There’s even some pretty little policemen in a row. AARON MESH. WH, 12 noon Sunday, Feb. 17.

Persian Carpet


[IRAN] An omnibus of films from Iranian directors, including Jafar Panahi and Abbas Kiarostami. All your favorite Iranian directors, basically. BW, 12:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 17 and 1:15 pm Monday, Feb. 18.

Chihuly in the Hotshop


[WASHINGTON, DIRECTOR ATTENDING] One-eyed master glassblower Dale Chihuly and his favorite collaborators put on a weeklong clinic of “baskets” and “seaforms” in front of an auditorium at his Museum of Glass in Tacoma. That’s the documentary—all 90 minutes of it. (The sole cinematic addition is a soundtrack of horrible, brain-deadening Tom Tom Club music.) The entire project puts me in mind of a Hannah Montana concert: I can almost understand why someone might pay big money to see it live, but I can’t imagine why anybody would put down a cent to watch it onscreen. Director Peter West apparently disagrees; this is his third Chihuly movie in eight years. AARON MESH. 2:15 pm Sunday, Feb. 17.

California Dreamin’


[ROMANIA] Last year, Israeli director Eran Kolirin and his Romanian counterpart Cristian Nemescu were both completing comedies about military platoons marooned in the skeptical hospitality of a foreign land. Last week, Kolirin grabbed a bass guitar to play a drunken tune after a warm reception for The Band’s Visit at PIFF; Nemescu was dead at 27 in a car accident. If Nemescu had made it to the editing room, it’s possible his movie could have matched the subtlety and grace of The Band’s Visit —but then it’s just as plausible that, in telling the story of a NATO convoy halted by an embittered station agent (Razvan Vasilescu), Nemescu would have kept his acid vision of double-dealing and jagged misunderstandings. Dreamin’ lasts more than two and a half hours, and a majority of that time is literally lost in translation, as the few bilingual residents of a Carpathian basin town foul up communication—Marine captain Armand Assante’s hometown is mangled as “Bent, Oregon.” AARON MESH. BW, 3:45 pm Sunday, Feb. 17, and 7:15 pm Monday, Feb. 18.

Silent Light


[MEXICO] A Mexican Mennonite falls in love with a woman who isn’t his wife. Oops. Looks for N.P. Thompson’s review on wweek.com. WH, 7 pm Sunday, Feb. 17. BW, 8:30 pm Tuesday, Feb. 19.

Eduart


[GREECE] An Albanian refugee “ends up living as a thief and prostitute until the day he kills a man.” It’s not a comedy. BW, 8 pm Sunday, Feb. 17, and 4:30 pm Monday, Feb. 18.

Up the Yangtze


[CANADA] One of the better and more creative documentaries to chronicle China’s monumental and extremely controversial Three Gorges Dam project, offering a look into the effects of the dam’s massive human exodus. Director Yung Chang follows the lives of several Chinese teenagers who work and live aboard a tourist cruise traveling along the Yangtze, a ship designed to present wealthy Westerners one last glimpse of traditional “Gorge life” before the dam floods out the area’s hundreds of thousands of inhabitants. Up the Yangtze portrays the desperation of the Chinese farmer, the hypocrisies of modern Chinese socialism and the idiocracies of the clueless pasty tourist, all in an insightful, beautiful package. Bravo. LANCE KRAMER. WH, 2 pm Monday, Feb. 18. BW, 6:45 pm Tuesday, Feb. 19.

A Gentle Breeze in the Village


[JAPAN] Long, slow, uneventful—this 121-minute children’s movie creeps along with no plot, no believable characters, and no discernible point of view about anything. The movie’s based on a manga, which may account for its disjointedness; screenwriter Aya Watanabe trudges from panel to panel without unifying a story. Her insipid dialogue reaches its zenith when a mother ponders, “Dad? Having an affair? I wish he would—and let me rest.” The film’s humor stems from a pinch-faced, bowl-cut tyke who’s plagued by a frequent urge to urinate. After we’ve endured this, the movie tries to extract pathos from this same little girl’s development of a bladder infection when the older kids make her hold it in. Yuck! N.P. THOMPSON. BW, 4:15 pm Monday, Feb. 18.

Home Song Stories


[AUSTRALIA] A Chinese nightclub singer gets married and confronts racism Down Under. And here we thought Australians were only racist toward New Zealanders. BW, 5:15 pm Monday, Feb. 18.

Paranoid Park


[PORTLAND, GUS VAN SANT ATTENDING] Frittering around with Blake Nelson’s young-adult novel, Gus Van Sant has transcended his own pretty pictures of teenage boys and finally evoked what it feels like to be a teenager: detached, drifting, and unsure which events in your own life are going to matter. (Young, dumb and full of numb, basically.) Assembling and jumbling the story of skateboarder Alex (doe-eyed Gabe Nevins) and his half-remembered, fatal encounter with a security guard, Van Sant mixes the languid, Bela Tarr-inspired long takes that have become his calling card with energetic digital montages: The shots of skater kids being harassed by cops on the Bus Mall could be right out of a Spike Jonze video. Yes, the Portland Bus Mall—not since Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho has a movie so tenderly detailed the derelict corners of this city. AARON MESH. WH, 6:30 pm Monday, Feb. 18.

Getting Home


[HONG KONG] A man tries to get his buddy’s corpse back to its hometown. It’s a comedy. WH, 6:15 pm Tuesday, Feb. 19.

The Year of the Nail


[MEXICO] Fourteen-year-old boy meets visiting American college girl. Fourteen-year-old boy loses American college girl. BW, 6:15 pm Tuesday, Feb. 19.

In the Heliopolis Flat


[EGYPT] A young man meets the ghost of love. We don’t know what this means, really, but it’s probably profound. BW, 7 pm Tuesday, Feb. 19.

Still Life


[CHINA] Another gorgeous look at the last days of the Three Gorges. BW, 9 pm Tuesday, Feb. 19.

The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun


[DENMARK] Jørgen Laursen Vig once made a keen real-estate investment that landed him a small castle in the Danish countryside. In his 80s, solitary and studious, Vig hobbles through this documentary, making repairs to his property and preparing for the arrival of a small group of Russian Orthodox nuns. Without the benefit of voiceover, the endearing Vig toils the land and rips out floorboards while reflecting on the fact that he’s never been in love and doesn’t entirely like people, although establishing a monastery in his home has always seemed inevitable. The domineering Russian nun Sister Ambrosija proves to be a combative late-in-life companion to Vig as they bicker eloquently in English, their lingua franca , in director Pernille Rose Grønkjær’s solid and evenly crafted study of isolation and hospitality. SAUNDRA SORENSON. WH, 9 pm Tuesday, Feb. 19.
 
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