Ah, the Portland International Film Festival. A time to watch midbudget dramas about finding true love in Tunisia (Hedi) or aggressively silly Euro comedies about Jesus reborn as a pain-in-the-ass teenager (The Son of Joseph). A time for documentaries—many, many documentaries.
PIFF is a breath of fresh, artsy air in a poptimist critical climate that gets filmgoers and glib millennial critics more excited about jump-punches and Resident Evil sequels than Korean mumblecore (Yourself & Yours) and Romanian ultrarealism (Graduation). It's a chance to slow down and think about how others think about film, and maybe learn a thing or two about Chinese-American banks (Abacus: Small Enough to Fail). This year in particular, PIFF is a chance to see how people who live in significantly worse predicaments than we do find hope (Fire at Sea).
This Thursday, PIFF XL kicks off with Raoul Peck's masterful I Am Not Your Negro, an impressionistic look at how one of America's greatest public intellectuals conceptualized the problem of racism in America. If you can't get tickets—this one will certainly sell out—there are dozens of excellent new films from around the world screening at theaters across Portland.
WW has your back in finding the best flicks in a dizzying field. We're using PIFF XL to debut our new ratings system, a simple one- to four-star ranking. This is how it works:
* : This movie sucks, don't watch it.
** : This movie is mediocre, but watching it is not a waste of time and money.
*** : This movie is good. You should go and watch it.
**** : This movie is excellent, one of the best of the year.
We've organized this year's films from best to worst so you won't miss out on our top picks. Make sure your goatee is trimmed and polish your one earring, you've got a lot of movies to catch.
After Love (Belgium)
**** What would happen if One Fine Day was set in Brussels? Belgian director Joachim Lafosse's After Love introduces Polish handyman Boris (Cédric Kahn) and wealthy wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo), struggling with the end of their 15-year marriage with two little girls. Boris, hurting financially, must continue living in the house where love and laughter are done being served at the family's dinners. Even with a beautiful flat, plenty of social friends and no absence of the hearty baguettes and fancy, smelly cheese, this film demonstrates that broken families, emotions and heartbreak are all shared human experiences, regardless of language. AMY WOLFE. Empirical at OMSI: 8:30 pm Friday, Feb. 10. Cinema 21: 3 pm Saturday, Feb. 11.
A Dark Song (Ireland/United Kingdom)
**** Writer-director Liam Gavin's debut feature is a study in quiet occult horror, but shot like a luxury-car commercial. Catherine Walker stars as Sophia, a grieving mother who has lost her child and is willing to endure nearly boundless discomfort to make peace with her demons. Set in a gothic manor in Wales, this ritualistic haunter is scary, the mood rarely breaks, and for once we get a horror movie with a functional character arc. Fans of The Witch will appreciate a finale that doesn't sweep away the magic circles like chalk in the wind. NATHAN CARSON. Bagdad: 10:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 12.
I Am Not Your Negro (United States/France/Belgium/Switzerland)
**** Based on unfinished James Baldwin manuscript Remember This House and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, Raoul Peck's new documentary paints a unique, convincing portrait of racism in America. Peck articulates Baldwin's ideas through a swirling succession of voice-overs, film and news clips, speeches and interviews, building to the conclusion that racism is a psychic trauma that ultimately prevents white America from enjoying the privileges that its exploitation of people of color lets it reap. Peck's masterful presentation of Baldwin's ideas lets the audience "see" America through his eyes, making his case intellectually and emotionally. WALKER MACMURDO. Fox Tower: 7 pm Thursday, Feb. 9. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium: 7:15 pm Thursday, Feb. 9.
Obit (United States)
**** One wouldn't assume a documentary about New York Times obituary columnists would be laugh-out-loud funny. This dying art is practiced by an aging bullpen of wry hunters-and-peckers who strive to immortalize striking details in the lives of people who made a quantifiable impact on the world—on deadline. The writers' stories are juxtaposed snugly beside the details of their subjects to create an exceptionally tight, often hilarious film. Morgue archivist Jeff Roth inadvertently turns in a show-stealing performance. NATHAN CARSON. Cinema 21: 6 pm Friday, Feb. 10. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium: 6 pm Tuesday, Feb. 14.
The Son of Joseph (France/Belgium)
**** Picture Jesus living in contemporary Paris and God becoming a philandering publisher and you may envision The Son of Joseph, writer-director Eugène Green's uproarious and touching coming-of-age farce. With equal measures of solemnity and absurdity, the film recasts Christ as misanthropic teenager Vincent (Victor Ezenfis), who plots to murder oily literature connoisseur Oscar (Mathieu Amalric), the father who abandoned him. Yet it's Joseph (Fabrizio Rongione), Oscar's compassionate brother, who emerges as Vincent's defining father figure. Oscar guides him as the film builds to an outrageously funny climax featuring the finest acting by a donkey in cinematic history. If watching that isn't a religious experience, what is? BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Cinema 21: 8:30 pm Friday, Feb. 10. Laurelhurst: 3:45 Saturday, Feb. 18.
The Teacher (Slovakia/Czech Republic)
**** Already sweeping up nominations for the Czech Republic's top film awards, Jan Hrebejk's finely tuned period piece uses a grade-school conflict between parents and teacher to reflect the tense sociopolitical climate of 1980s Slovakia. Mrs. Drazdechová, Communist Party leader and fifth-grade teacher, is bribing her students with good grades in exchange for favors from them and their parents. Comedic parent-teacher meetings are strung together throughout the film, with discussion of Drazdechová's ethics sardonically broken up by scenes of her coldly strong-arming them, testing how far they'll go to prove their patriotism and pride in their children. LAUREN TERRY. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium: 8:45 pm Friday, Feb. 10. Laurelhurst heater: 8:15 pm Monday, Feb. 13.
The Age of Shadows (South Korea)
*** In late 1920's Seoul, Korean-born Japanese policeman Lee Jung-Chool (Kang-ho Song) is charged with the task of stopping a Korean resistance group fighting against Japanese occupation. While attempting to prevent the resistance from bombing Japanese officials in Seoul, Jung-Chool is slowly torn apart from playing both sides until he can no longer ignore his conscience. The Age of Shadows combines Korean historical fiction, thriller action sequences, and noir sensibilities, balancing calculated emotional drama with excitement and suspense. CURTIS COOK. Cinema 21: 8 pm Saturday, Feb. 11. Laurelhurst: 8:15 pm Tuesday, Feb. 14.
All These Sleepless Nights (Poland/United Kingdom)
*** It's really difficult to tell that Michal Marczak's film is a documentary. This is a good thing. All These Sleepless Nights centers on the hedonistic trials of two Polish early-20-somethings, think Kids or Less Than Zero in Warsaw, with a unique edge in all the fuccboi antics. Heartless breakups are muffled by techno electronica dance parties parading in the background, and clever narrations full of unnecessary cigarette-inspired metaphors are not at all improvised. Main character Krzys is too real to be scripted. Ultimately, the flick has enough color and swerve that you stop asking questions. JACK RUSHALL. Empirical at OMSI: 6 pm Sunday, Feb. 12. Laurelhurst: 9:15 pm Saturday, Feb. 18.
Burden (United States/United Kingdom/Belgium/Sweden)
*** A modern art visionary famed for treacherous performance-based exhibitions, Chris Burden won minor '70s celebrity (he was the inspiration for a Bowie track) through hyper-provocative trials of endurance that would leave him crucified atop a VW or bleeding from a gunshot wound. Timothy Marrinan and Richard Dewey's new documentary sifts through the wealth of surrounding footage for a compelling portrait of the artist as young masochist. Though short on personal insights that might explain Burden's late-life shift toward family-friendly tourist fodder, focusing instead on his early installations' conceptual underpinnings, the filmmakers tacitly argue that when life and art so closely intertwine, the works speak for themselves. JAY HORTON. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium: 3 pm Saturday, Feb. 11. Laurelhurst: 8:45 pm Tuesday, Feb. 14.
The Dreamed Ones (Austria/Germany)
*** You'd think watching German-language poets Ingeborg Bachmann (Anja Plaschg) and Paul Celan (Laurence Rupp) read two decades of love letters to each other would get old. Well, you're wrong. Ruth Beckermann's enchanting postwar film delves into a romance that didn't have a chance. But this is no straightforward biopic. Beckermann films the actors in a sound studio, intimately connecting the letter readers to the letter writers, documenting Plaschg and Rupp's smoke breaks and conversation about the lovers' dialogue. The Dreamed Ones is a beautiful demonstration of pure emotion and a history lesson: It's all doomed to repeat. AMY WOLFE. Laurelhurst: 8:45 pm Monday, Feb. 13. Fox Tower: 8:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 22.
The Dreamed Path (Germany)
*** Director Angela Schanelec lays out a path that feels more like sad reality than something dreamed. Amid a revolution in 1980s Greece, German beauty Theres (Miriam Jakob) and irritable accented Englishman Kenneth (Thorbjörn Björnsson), are performing in the streets. Thirty years later in Berlin, alcoholic Ariane (Maren Eggert) and deeply depressed David (Phil Hayes) are splitting up. Dramatic closeups of faces, hands, feet and empty liquor bottles connect the couples' heartbreak in every scene. Viewers witness the dwindling of the two relationships in doctor's visits and old books, connected through failed communication and ever-creeping loneliness. AMY WOLFE. Laurelhurst: 6 pm Saturday, Feb. 11; 6 pm Friday, Feb. 17.
Fire at Sea (Italy/France)
*** In this documentary about the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, a major entry point for African immigrants, director Gianfranco Rosi offers an up-close look at their attempts to make their way to Europe by sea. The film alternates between visceral rescue scenes of hundreds of people disembarking a sinking raft and the locals on the island who interact with them, or don't. It's hard to relate the seizure-suffering, dehydrated immigrants to a little Italian boy getting an eye exam, but it's a stirring testament to humanity when the patient voice of the marine patrol addresses the panicked refugees on their boat's radio. The locals feel a sense of duty to help these people, although much like the refugees playing soccer to pass the time while detained, they don't know what will happen next. LAUREN TERRY. Laurelhurst: 11:30 am Sunday, Feb. 12. Fox Tower: 8:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 15.
*** When Anna discovers a French soldier visiting the grave of her fiance, a German soldier killed in the Great War, she politely inquires why the enemy is standing in her territory. She learns the Frenchman was a friend of her fiance's in Paris years earlier, and they soon form a bond. Celebrated director François Ozon (Swimming Pool) spent extra time working on Frantz, perhaps inspired by legendary director Ernst Lubitsch, who worked primarily in black-and-white. Either way, the film is almost velvety in its textured monochrome, and the plot turns like a weathervane in the wind; it's Ozon in top form. ZACH MIDDLETON. Fox Tower: 5:15 pm Saturday, Feb. 11. Empirical at OMSI: 8:30 pm Monday, Feb. 13.
Half Ticket (India)
*** Borrowing story and music from critically acclaimed Tamil comedy Kaaka Muttai (Crow Eggs)—India's 2015 National Film Award winner for Best Children's Film—Marathi-language remake Half Ticket centers on a pair of young coal-gathering, nest-snatching slumdog brothers (non-actors Shubham More and Vinayak Potdar) and their single-minded efforts to somehow afford the impossible expense of a slice from the newly opened pizzeria. Although the bittersweet fable never shies away from the grim realities of an underclass suffocated by endemic poverty and social divisions, Sanjay Memane's buoyant camera work lopes through the Mumbai tenements with a kinetic vibrancy that propels forward the boys' quest with stirring grace and infectious enthusiasm. JAY HORTON. Fox Tower: Noon Sunday, Feb. 12. Laurelhurst: 12:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 18.
Hedi (France/Germany/Tunisia/United Arab Emirates/Qatar)
*** Majd Mastoura gives a masterful performance in Mohamed Ben Attia's commentary on a rapidly changing Tunisia that forces people to choose between family and happiness. On the eve of his wedding to a beautiful woman, Hedi (Mastoura) is miserable. His mother treats him like a child, and he lives in the shadow of his successful older brother. His job that he hates takes him out of town, where Hedi meets Rym a free-spirited, slightly older woman with whom he strikes up a passionate affair. Attia's subtle camera weaves fear of change into winding roads and crashing waves, capturing the anxiety of a culture stuck between modernity and tradition. WALKER MACMURDO. Laurelhurst: 8:30 pm Friday, Feb. 10; 3:45 pm Monday, Feb. 20.
*** How does a country ripping itself to pieces look from inside a tin can? Set entirely in the back of a police van in 2013 Cairo, Clash is an experiment in chaos and hopelessness. Director Mohamed Diab brilliantly employs these confines as a visual device. As the paramilitary paddy wagon fills with argumentative protesters, journalists and bystanders, action sequences are seen only through the truck's head-sized windows. Clash has no theories about how war begins or ends, but offers a unique sensation of its cruelty. The sound of rattling metal will stick in your brain long after the credits roll. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Cinema 21: 6 pm Tuesday, Feb. 14. Valley: 6 pm Saturday, Feb. 18.
Dead Slow Ahead (Spain/France)
*** Set aboard a freighter in the middle of the ocean, this almost silent, almost science-fiction film is a lesson in cinematic sensory deprivation. Save a few radio conversations, there is no dialogue, just breathtaking shots of the sublime vastness of water surrounding the ship, and the crew moving mountains of coal and wheat with machines. Director-cinematographer Mauro Herce reveals no destination or obvious terror, but the cold, quiet isolation on the barren deck is alien. All we hear are whirring engines, metallic groans, and soft beeps from the navigation system, removing any sense of time, filling the room with existential dread. LAUREN TERRY. Empirical at OMSI: 6 pm Friday, Feb. 10; 8:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 15.
*** Tzanko Petrov (Stefan Denolyubov) leads a simple life as a railway worker, tending to his rabbits and scraping by on meager earnings from Bulgaria's failing Ministry of Transport. After he nobly reports millions of dollars in abandoned cash he finds along the railway, PR mastermind Julia Staykova (Margita Gosheva) pulls Tzanko into a dishonest bureaucracy that attempts to corrupt an otherwise decent man. Slow-paced and dialogue-heavy, Glory, by directors Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov, uses grim satire to show how money, class, and power can unravel the best of our humanity. CURTIS COOK. Laurelhurst: 2:45 pm Saturday, Feb. 11. Fox Tower: 6 pm Monday, Feb. 13.
Heidi (Germany/Switzerland/South Africa)
*** A sensation across Europe that became Switzerland's highest-grossing international release, this retelling of Johanna Spyri's beloved children's novel won young hearts with its resolutely old-fashioned approach. Parceled off to the remote mountain cabin of her crotchety grandpa (Bruno Ganz), our eponymous 8-year-old orphan (Anuk Steffen) needs only breathe in the rarefied air of the Swiss Alps to embrace a winsome wildness. In most every important respect, Alain Gsponer's adaptation follows precisely the original 19th-cenutry blueprint for Heidi and demonstrates, even in this digital age, the evergreen appeal of picturesque environs, flirty goatherds, and incandescent adorability. JAY HORTON. Laurelhurst: Noon Saturday, Feb. 11. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium: 12:45 pm Monday, Feb. 20.
*** Twins Viola and Daisy are joined at the hip, literally, in Edoardo De Angelis' bizarre modern fairy tale. After turning 18, the girls grow tired of being rented out as a singing novelty act to support their parents' weed and gambling habits. They start toying with the idea of being surgically separated after one falls for a mysterious, yet creepy, millionaire. The internal struggle becomes external as the twins grapple with what living apart would mean for their careers. Although their surroundings are bleak, Indivisible is punctuated with humor, curiosity and hope. CRYSTAL CONTRERAS. Laurelhurst: 6:15 pm Friday, Feb. 10. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium: 8 pm Sunday, Feb. 12.
The Invisible Guest (Spain)
*** Successful CEO Adrian Doria (Mario Casas) has it all: a beautiful wife, a new baby and a hot tech company. He stands to lose it all after he's discovered inside a locked hotel room with the body of his dead mistress (Bárbara Lennie) lying on the floor. Dark and tense, the mystery deepens as a seasoned defense lawyer peels away the layers of a complicated dual murder involving a missing young man and his tortured parents. Although predictable at times, The Invisible Guest has enough twists and turns to keep you captivated until the truth is revealed. CRYSTAL CONTRERAS. Bagdad: 10:30 pm Friday, Feb. 10. Laurelhurst: 8:30 pm Thursday, Feb. 16.
Land of Mine (Denmark/Germany)
*** It's 1945, and Denmark has turned its Nazi occupiers, many of them teenagers, into POW crews forced to clear thousands of landmines from the Danish coastline. Adolescents trying to defuse explosives certainly racks the audience's nerves, as director Martin Pieter Zandvliet unfolds a powerful fable of punishment and mercy between the minesweepers and their Danish commander (Roland Møller). Up for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, this World War II epilogue doesn't break new ground, but its beaches are stunning. So are the bloody lessons it leaves on them. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Cinema 21: 2:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 12. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium: 5:45 pm Saturday, Feb. 18.
Like Crazy (Italy/France)
*** Beatrice (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) is a grifter who takes great pride in her exaggerated identity as an aristocratic know-it-all. But in reality, she's a patient at the Villa Biondi, a laid-back psychiatric hospital in rural Italy. Donatella (Micaela Ramazzotti) is a shy, quiet newcomer to the facility whose past is shrouded by a dark secret. When the two escape, they set off on a whirlwind journey of self-discovery that pits them against the world, forging a comically unstable friendship. While the tone sometimes veers too zany, Like Crazy provides a fun romp through Tuscany alongside two fascinating, lovable characters. CURTIS COOK. Laurelhurst: 5:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 11. Cinema 21: 5:45 pm Monday, Feb. 13.
Louise by the Shore (France)
*** Just over half a century after his first short won the Annecy Festival grand prix, legendary French animator Jean-François Laguionie returns with this absorbing, eccentric reverie of muted passion told through pale pastels. Louise by the Shore illustrates the seaside adventures of its titular main character, an elderly woman effectively stranded in an otherwise deserted Breton resort town after missing the last bus of summertime. Conveying wistful melancholia though indelible imagery drawn by the artist's hand (and then animated by computer), the measured pace and elegiac tone require and endlessly reward a willing patience. JAY HORTON. Fox Tower: 2:45 pm Sunday, Feb. 12. Laurelhurst: 3:15 pm Saturday, Feb. 18.
My Life as a Zucchini (France/Switzerland)
*** Don't buy a ticket to this stop-motion fable expecting a cheery romp with an anthropomorphic Italian squash. My Life as a Zucchini is an unsparing glimpse into the life of a brutalized boy nicknamed "Zucchini" (Gaspard Schlatter), who is sent to foster care after a horrifying accident kills his drunken mother. At times, the film is tough to take—Zucchini's comrades are victims of abuse ranging from abandonment to rape. Yet, as Zucchini bonds with friends, My Life blossoms into an intensely moving tale of recovery about kids who realize the secret to their survival lies in holding onto the frayed but beautiful friendships they share. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Cinema 21: 12:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 12. Empirical at OMSI: 6 pm Monday, Feb. 13.
Kedi (Turkey/United States)
*** Beyond the ultimate cat-lover movie, this documentary on the street cats of Istanbul follows felines on their daily adventures, their routines revealing the personality of the people and the neighborhoods that collectively tend to them. Director Ceyda Torun keeps the camera low to the ground, chasing her subjects through crowded marketplaces and busy streets to convey the momentum of their lives. The artful shots of Istanbul and moving observations from the locals elevate this cat-lady porn into an intimate portrait of a multicultural metropolis and its take on our relationship with animals. LAUREN TERRY. Cinema 21: 5:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 11.
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki (Finland/Sweden/Germany)
*** Olli Maki's boxing nickname, "The Baker from Kokkola, " tells you everything you need to know: He's a simple, hard-working man from a town no one's heard of. It's natural, then, that he shies away from the spotlight when his greasy manager prematurely thrusts him into a title fight in Helsinki with renowned American champion Davey Moore. But Maki is given hope by his new girlfriend, Raija. Don't expect inspirational training montages. Based on a true story, Juho Kuosmanen's tender, understated love story is more Lost in Translation than Rocky. ZACH MIDDLETON. Cinema 21: 7:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 12.
*** Sara (Julie Lübbert) is a 12-year-old girl just a few weeks away from 13. As her birthday approaches, she's pulled away from her childhood innocence under the mounting pressures of fitting in at school and taking care of her little sister. Her day-to-day struggles as a soon-to-be teenager are compounded by her parents' divorce and the town's fascination with her mother's new, same-sex relationship. Director Pepa San Martín crafts the story so that Sara's family turmoil is never directly explained to the audience. Instead, we see the tension of adult drama through the confused and disillusioned eyes of a young girl coming of age. CURTIS COOK. Fox Tower: 3 pm Saturday, Feb. 11. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium: 3:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 25.
We Are the Flesh (Mexico)
*** Less beautiful than Nicolas Winding Refn and less profound than Lars Von Trier, first-time Mexican director Emiliano Rocha Minter conjures the most transgressive outing of PIFF XL. The setting is a dark modern ruin that transforms into a womblike psychological landscape. On this canvas of refuse, animalistic people devolve into incest and cannibalism in an orgy of blood and brown tape. The dialogue is as poetic as the story is ambiguous, but strong performances and a muted, artful visual style keep this from straying into exploitation territory. Bring a long attention span and a strong stomach. NATHAN CARSON. Bagdad: 10:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 11.
A Quiet Passion (United Kingdom/Belgium)
** Any Emily Dickinson biopic would require patience, and A Quiet Passion demands more than its share. The life story of this great American poet, unknown and unappreciated in her time, is one of despair and disease. Cinematically, it's a tough sell. What's beautiful about the reclusive Dickinson's biography remains inside her head and, despite Cynthia Nixon's earnest portrayal, her verse. Mostly, Terence Davies' film labors to show the battle for the writer's soul. She can't give it to a lover and won't give it to God. She might give it to the audience, but only if it's full of Dickinson superfans. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium: 8 pm Saturday, Feb. 11. Laurelhurst: 8:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 15.
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (United States)
** Acclaimed documentarian Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Prefontaine) sets his sights on Abacus Federal Savings Bank, the only financial institution to be prosecuted for mortgage fraud following the market crash of 2008. Shanghai-born Thomas Sung founded Abacus (now run by his daughters) to serve his fellow Chinese immigrants, welcoming them with bright red and gold decor and fostering trust in the multicultural community. Detailing the bizarre chain of events is overwhelming at times, with too few court sketches to represent a rapid-fire cross-examination. James' sympathetic study of the Sung family nonetheless highlights the irony of a Chinese-American bank being made a scapegoat for a crisis from which it was never invited to profit. LAUREN TERRY. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium: 5:15 pm Saturday, Feb. 11. Laurelhurst: 7:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 12.
All the Cities of the North (Serbia/Bosnia-Herzegovina/Montenegro)
** Two men find themselves living together in an abandoned hotel on the Albanian border of Montenegro. The film would be as at home in an art gallery as a theater, every shot meticulously framed with special attention paid to the dramatic collision of angular, weighty Eastern Bloc architecture and the nature that grows up in and around it. This film plunges you into a sensory world tuned to the flick of a leaf in sunshine and rising bubbles under the surface of a lake. ZACH MIDDLETON. Laurelhurst: 8:30 pm Tuesday, Feb. 14; 8:45 pm Monday, Feb. 20.
** A tourist in a concentration camp is an oxymoron. Yet, it's all we see in Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa's Austerlitz. Loznitsa set up video cameras around different historical sites within the Dachau and Sachsenhausen concentration camps, creating a cut-and-pasted film of frolicking visitors that hop from tour guide to sandwich break during a day excursion that plays out like a disorderly series of surveillance tapes. This modern-art piece leads to a product both deep and extremely disappointing. On one hand, we have the very real philosophical debate over whether it's responsible to trivialize catastrophic historical events for the sake of entertainment. But while Austerlitz explores an important thesis, its method is all but enticing. JACK RUSHALL. Empirical at OMSI: 6 pm Saturday, Feb. 11. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium: 6 pm Monday, Feb. 13.
The Distinguished Citizen (Argentina/Spain)
** After winning a Nobel Prize, author Daniel Mantovina (Oscar Martínez) travels from Spain to his hometown of Salas, Argentina. He's welcomed with open arms and regarded as a hero, but his aloof and pretentious demeanor soon causes the locals to turn against him. As Daniel's trip drags on, it becomes clear that the author's internationally acclaimed literature was directly inspired by the ridiculous characters of his youth. Directed by Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn, The Distinguished Citizen is a purposefully paced comedy, every scene developing the film's absurdity while drawing the viewer further into the madness of Daniel's visit home. CURTIS COOK. Cinema 21: 8:30 pm Tuesday, Feb. 14. Fox Tower: 5:45 pm Thursday, Feb. 16.
Forever Pure (Israel/United Kingdom/Russia/Norway)
Embattled Israeli soccer stars endure a racially charged backlash from their fans in this documentary directed by Maya Zinshstein. Shot chiefly during the 2012-2013 soccer season, the film chronicles the misadventures of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team after its now-former owner, Arcadi Gaydamak, enrages a cluster of Beitar fans by hiring two Muslim players from Chechnya. Zinshtein uses footage of games and intimate moments from Beitar's tour bus, yet her reconstruction of the clash between the team's idealism and fans' maddened racism is frustratingly superficial. Aside from the astonishing revelation that Gaydamak hired the Chechen players specifically to provoke a volatile reaction, Forever Pure offers little more than one-dimensional outrage. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Laurelhurst: 5:15 pm Sunday, Feb. 12. Fox Tower: 6 pm Wednesday, Feb. 15.
** This human drama begins with a stranger digging a pit. It's a perfect metaphor for our protagonist, Dr. Romeo Aldea, slowly trapping himself in a lie. His daughter Eliza is assaulted days before finishing school, and still he tries desperately to send her to college in England by what the film portrays as Romania's chief social custom: corruption. Down the stretch, Graduation withholds action, its ultra-realism so stark that it forgoes a soundtrack. The acting is glumly flawless and the camera work as intimate as Michael Haneke's, but Graduation is two hours of waiting for a second shoe that never drops. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium: 5:45 pm Friday, Feb. 10. Laurelhurst: 5:45 pm Monday, Feb. 13.
The King's Choice (Norway)
** Norway's Oscar nom for Best Foreign Language Film follows the travails of the country's ceremonial, democratically elected King Haakon VII as he stands up to Adolf Hitler's invading army. An epic drama, the film sometimes lags around extended procedural scenes which might confound those who can't imagine why a nation would democratically elect a ceremonial king. But if you are never one to miss a royal wedding, expect the pacing, cinematography, and dialogue of an extended episode of Masterpiece Theater, with only a few battle scenes to tolerate. ZACH MIDDLETON. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium: 2 pm Sunday, Feb. 12. Valley: 3 pm Saturday, Feb. 18.
The Land of the Enlightened (Belgium/Ireland/Netherlands)
** Filmed over the course of seven years, director Pieter-Jan De Pue's feature debut blends documentary and fiction to juxtapose the real-life withdrawal of U.S. military troops from Afghanistan with a fantastical glimpse into what it might look like if the Little Rascals inhabited an active war zone. Organized groups of young children live alone in the desert. They survive by trading bullet shells, lapis lazuli, opium and undetonated explosives for supplies. We observe their lifestyle, but never really get to know who they are. This is a visually stunning film that raises questions about what's next for Afghanistan, but the lack of a cohesive narrative makes it hard to care. CURTIS COOK. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium: 8:30 pm Tuesday, Feb. 14. Fox Tower: Noon Saturday, Feb. 18.
** Named the Best Film of last year's Geneva International Film Festival, Iranian neorealist drama Life+1Day peers deep within the roiling entanglements of a south Tehran family ravaged by drug addiction and desperate poverty in the weeks before their youngest daughter's wedding to a wealthy Afghan. One brother arranged the marriage in hopes of funding his falafel business, another demands his sister maintain their home to ease his dealing practice, while Somayeh (Parinaz Izadyar) must weigh the promise of a new life against her burdensome familial obligations. Weaving timeless themes within a disparate cultural context, first-time writer-director Saeed Roustari injects this bleak urban landscape with nuance, empathy and dark humor. JAY HORTON. Laurelhurst: 5:45 pm Friday, Feb. 10. Cinema 21: 8:30 pm Thursday, Feb. 16.
Lost in Paris (France/Belgium)
** Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon's new film is about as close as a live-action romcom can get to being a cartoon. Fiona (Fiona Gordon) relocates from Canada to Paris in order to take care of her bittersweet Aunt Martha (Emmanuelle Riva). But when Fiona arrives, Martha is MIA. Lost in Paris resurrects some Amélie wit, although it might just be Parisian charm and wonky indie movie ethos rubbing off. But this film is too scatterbrained: None of the relationships develops realistically or tenderly, even for a quirky indie. Perhaps that's why Lost in Paris seems more like an animated children's flick rather than a true, heartfelt clash of cultures, à la Lost in Translation. JACK RUSHALL. Laurelhurst: 9 pm Friday, Feb. 10. Cinema 21: 5 pm Sunday, Feb. 12.
My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea (United States)
** Conflating teen angst with the titular disaster, indie graphic novelist Dash Shaw's debut animated feature follows three awkward Tides High newspaper reporters as they discover administrative neglect of earthquake safety standards just before their institution drops into the sea. While the school-wreck scenario invites self-aware satire echoing scenes from Titanic to The Poseidon Adventure, the emotional trauma of adolescence receives more thoughtful treatment thanks in large part to the distinct timbre of vocal talents, including Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham, Reggie Watts and, as sage Lunch Lady Lorraine, Susan Sarandon. The true star, however, remains Shaw's technique—a dizzying mixed-media mélange of bravura squiggles and winking broad strokes capturing the essence of kids in over their heads. JAY HORTON. Cinema 21: 12:45 pm Saturday, Feb. 11. Laurelhurst: 6:15 pm Monday, Feb. 13.
Nagasaki: Memories of My Son (Japan)
** Opening on the morning of Aug. 9, 1945, we see pilots of the plane carrying the atomic bomb peering through the cloud cover. In the hills just outside Nagasaki, Nobuko (Sayuri Yoshinaga) is getting her son, Koji (Kazunari Ninomiya), off to medical school on time. Three years later, just as Nobuko stops searching and accepts that Koji died that day in August, his ghost suddenly appears beside her. They reminisce about his childhood, their memories of pre-war Nagasaki beautifully costumed and filmed. Director Yoji Yamada spends a long time on memory lane, spelling out the mourning process for a solid two hours. LAUREN TERRY. Fox Tower: 5:45 pm Friday, Feb. 10. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium: 5 pm Sunday, Feb. 12.
** Kostis (Makis Papadimitriou) arrives at his new job as a doctor on a small Greek island, settling into the routine of elderly checkups and chronic bad backs. When summer brings in tides of tourists, a sprained ankle introduces him to 21-year-old Anna (Elli Tringou). His life is illuminated with her fleeting, vibrant presence. Enamored with her and his new key to the carefree world of 20-somethings, Kostis joins her globetrotting tribe, clubbing all night and pining for Anna at the nude beach by day. It's cliché down to the montages of dreamy Vespa rides, but director Helmer Argyris Papadimitropoulos' tale of sun-kissed midlife crisis gets a lot darker than tan lines. LAUREN TERRY. Fox Tower: 8 pm Saturday, Feb. 11. Cinema 21: 5:45 pm Wednesday, Feb. 15.
The Death of Louis XIV (France/Portugal/Spain)
* Watching The Death of Louis XIV may be like watching oil paint dry, but at least this series of perfectly framed, locked-camera scenes look like paintings thanks to sumptuous lighting and velvety red and gold textures. Albert Serra's new film is a two-hour close-up view of the gangrenous death of Europe's longest-reigning king. Aside from Louis' demise, little happens aside from the fretting of charlatan doctors and hand-wringing of courtly devotees. Jean-Pierre Léaud's star performance is masterful, but cannot breathe life into this exquisite corpse. NATHAN CARSON. Fox Tower: 5 pm Sunday, Feb. 12. Laurelhurst: 8:30 pm Friday, Feb. 17.
Eldorado XXI (Portugal/France)
You might need some stamina to make it through the first act of Eldorado XXI, Portuguese documentarian Salome Lamas' bleak look at the dangers and monotony of life in La Rinconada, Peru, a remote mountain town where some of the country's poorest residents flock to work in the nearby gold mine. Workers from the mine provide the narration for the film, and although their stories are interesting, they're laid over a single, continuous shot of employees filing into the mine, a scene which lasts for nearly an hour. CRYSTAL CONTRERAS. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium: 8:30 pm Monday, Feb. 13. Laurelhurst: 5:45 pm Thursday, Feb. 16.
The Ornithologist (Portugal/France/Brazil)
* You'll have a sizable advantage with interpreting João Pedro Rodrigues' The Ornithologist if you're an English major. Based on the spiritual transcendence of St. Anthony, ornithologist Fernando (Paul Hamy) is busy bird watching along a canal in northern Portugal when his kayak gets swept away by a current. As a consequence, he ominously encounters a plethora of strangers who test him existentially and sexually. Even the most well-read moviegoer might have difficulty sympathizing with the plot holes and general turtlelike pace of the film, which drowns Fernando's odyssey long before his misfortune along the river. JACK RUSHALL. Fox Tower: 5:45 pm Tuesday, Feb. 14. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium: 5 pm Sunday, Feb. 19.
Yourself and Yours (South Korea)
* Why is Minjung drinking so goddamn much? Hong Sangsoo's quiet relationship drama revolves around a young Korean woman, her alcohol consumption and a procession of men who believe they have met her before. Yourself and Yours falls into the familiar mumblecore pitfall of not quite profound mundanity, exemplified by characters staring at a power meter outside of their apartment building, wondering why it's still charging for electricity though no one is inside. Although Lee Yoo-young's subdued performance as the film's lead is compelling, even Joe Swanberg completionists will struggle to find insights here. WALKER MACMURDO. Fox Tower: 7:45 pm Sunday, Feb. 12. Laurelhurst: 6 pm Tuesday, Feb 14.