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Portland International Film Festival

Posted in Uncategorized by sndybeech on February 17, 2011

The festival is over and I now need to catch my breath, get some food in the house, do my dishes, etc.

I plan to flesh out these film reactions and turn them into a page of film recommendations as you’ll have an opportunity to see many of them in theaters. Saturday night the audience awards were announced–see below

I liked most of the films I saw, but some better than others, of course. Less than half a dozen felt like a waste of time. I tell you which below marked with a minus sign. I’ve put *s on my favorites.

Here are the audience awards:

Narrative Features:

1. Incendies (Canada) up for an Academy Award tonight

2. In a Better World (Denmark) the only other nominee at the festival

3. Even the Rain (Spain)

4. A Somewhat Gentle Man (Norway)

5. Barefoot Dream (South Korea)

6. The Whistleblower (Canada)

7. The First Grader (Great Britain)

8. Of Gods and Men (France)

9. Aftershock (China)

10. Hermano (Venezuela)

Documentary Features

1. How to Die in Oregon  (Oregon) you’ll have other chances to see this

2. Louder Than a Bomb (US) unfortunately I missed this

3. Nostalgia for the Light ( Chile)

4. Budrus (US) the country listed is not where the film was made but who produced it. I’m going to try to get this one back so watch for it, perhaps at Cinema 21 or Hollywood or even the Living Room or Fox. Very worth seeing–offers a ray of hope in the Middle East

5. Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (US)

There’s been talk of how dark the movies are this year. Not all, of course, but that does seem to be the prevailing condition. Perhaps a reflection of the world situation. There were also many from the point of view of children. Not sure what that means though I do know that I enjoy writing in the voice of a child and find it easy.

Here’s my very personal film reactions:

Silent souls–I liked it, especially the cultural aspects. Quiet and too slow for some but many found it fascinating.

*Kawasaki’s Rose–one of my favorites, very nuanced, the characters and their moral choices were not black & white. Somewhat inspired by Lives of Others so I probably liked it so much because of the politics too

First Beautiful Thing–Italian soap opera. fun tear jerker. women liked it, not all the men

*Incendies–Lebanese Canadians return to Lebanon on quest. Some pretty difficult war scenes in the flash backs

– His & Hers put me to sleep. Didn’t learn anything. Some people liked it but I think I had the majority opinion.

*Of Gods and Men–wonderful! I feel pretty certain it will be back. Yesterday (2/22) the star (I think) was a guest on Fresh Air. Interesting conversation and that must mean it’s getting a big distribution and will return.

Son of Babylon. I liked it though it was somewhat hard to take–scenes of mass graves etc.

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle–juvenile detention center but it sure looked like prison to me. Very well done, good characters but hard to take as prison movies can be

Certified Copy–puzzling french comedy filmed in Tuscany, so very beautiful and beautiful people. Enjoyable and coming to theaters soon

*A Family–lovely movie, very moving

*Human Resources Manager–Good main character and acting, interesting sometimes very funny story and good scenes in Romania

*Boy–wonderful. Maori boy, very creative little indee film.

Aftershock–Chinese tearjerker soap opera (is that redundant?) with some great earthquake special effects.

– Uncle Boonmee–a mess IMO. Won awards and none of us can figure it out. Now I see WW gave it a 97. Perhaps I’m just too out of it to get it. Most of my fellow silver screeners agree with me however.

* In a Better World–some difficult scenes (violence) and I had way too much adrenalin going, but wonderful story and acting

La Pivellina–I liked this a lot. A little film.

The Whistleblower–not the alternative film I like and quite depressing but well done with Hollywood production values

* The Four Times–I loved this dialog-free film

How to Die in Oregon is very well done and I’m sure you’ll have more opportunities to see it

* Poetry–too slow for some people but amazing acting and a very powerful story. I hope it will be back because it’s getting some major reviews (e. g. The Nation)

My Joy–I missed the screening but others told me “dreadful” and I trust them. pity.

Potiche–the opener, won’t play again at the festival but it will be back. The acting is good and it’s quite funny but, except for some feminist politics, is so light it nearly floated away

The First Grader is a nice feel-good movie with some very violent flashbacks. It’s sold out but will come back I’m sure. My friend Mary made me realize I was way too simple in talking about this film. It’s very much about struggle and, of course, in every struggle there are sides and often complex reasons why things happen. She reminded me of this and how ‘feel-good’ is not really accurate and that the violence is not only in the flashbacks.

Heartbeat–twentysomethings heartaches. I liked this a lot

Peepli Live. A great send up of the media, government and politicians. I liked it a lot.

– Good Morning to the World was awful IMO. Perhaps I just can’t relate to these depressed adolescents

Behind Blue Skies–a good film but more an American sensibility than what we expect from the Scandinavians.

Armadillo–an important documentary of soldiers on duty in Afghanistan but I nearly lost my lunch when the real dead bodies were being hauled out of a ditch

* White Meadows–Iranian. Very unusual, beautiful and powerful, but also horrifying. Just got an email saying the director is in prison for propaganda against the state. Read more at  http://www.worldfilmfest.net/help-free-jafar-panahi-mohammad-rasoulof/2/

Circo–interesting but not too compelling and quite boring at times.

Steam of Life–funny at times and quite moving at others.

*Black Bread–with the caveat that I’m a pushover for films about the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath, this one is a favorite. A disturbing plot.

Passione: A Musical Adventure–a musical love letter to Naples made by John Turturro. His grandparents must have been Neapolitans. If you like music and singing you’ll enjoy this. Also nice shots of Naples and some wonderful vintage clips including the Americans liberating the city.

*Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow–that star is for anyone interested in art or architecture although others who fit that description didn’t like it, felt it was too repetitive. One viewer told me he didn’t get it and wondered if I was an artist or architect that I liked it. I found it mesmerizing. Bulletin: A piece of the artist’s work is now hanging in the Portland Art Museum just down the hall from the Whitsell in that passageway into the other building. It’s quite wonderful and is similar to a painting he works on in the film plus has some images that appear in the film as well. Be sure and see it if you see the movie!

*Even the Rain–I think everyone liked this. A film crew goes to Bolivia to make a film about a priest who stood up for the native people and the native struggle against oppression and slavery in the 16th century while the contemporary struggle over water rights is just heating up.

– The Last Circus–I heard a couple of twentysomethings say they liked this but most people were in my camp of strongest dislike. One called it a cross between Tarantino and Fellini. Not enough Fellini. Violence was its main theme and attribute. I guess the genre is Slasher, though I’ve never seen one so I’m not sure. S&M I am sure about.

Of Love & Other Demons based on a Gabriel Garcia novel, slow, beautiful, depressing when not anger producing. General opinion was no with some exceptions

*When We Leave – another dark one, very well done, good acting.

*Illegal – powerful. In addition to the acting and the tribulations of the characters, the relationships between the women is beautifully portrayed. It made me think about a book I read after last year’s festival, also set in a Belgium holding center, Problemski Hotel by  Dimitri Verhulst (available at the county library) though in the book it’s an open one and this one is closed. One of my favorite films last year, The Misfortunates, was based on a novel by Verhulst and PH is one of his few translated books.

The Light Thief – worth seeing, though the ending is unsatisfying. This allegory of “post-Soviet realities” is engaging, has good characters and is set in rural Kyrgyzstan.  I always love to see a place so different and far from my experience.

The Arbor – What I found most interesting about this film was the form. Using taped interviews with people in the subject’s life (after her death) actors lip-synced, very successfully. It also made use of historic videos. While it purports to be about the late playwright Andrea Dunbar, it was as much about her oldest daughter. A very sad story.

Pink Saris – I wanted to like this, expected to, but I’m not sure I did. It was fascinating but I need to think about it and the woman profiled and talk about it with others who saw it. I already knew being born in India is not a good thing, especially in the countryside, but I guess it’s good to see or experience or read something that makes you understand it more deeply. This do that!

Russian Lessons – 2 Russian try to expose the truth of their country’s wars with Georgia in 1993 and 2008. I don’t know if it was my lack of knowledge of Georgia and this history or the movie’s shortcomings but I had a hard time following much of it. The fact that all the maps were in Cyrillic didn’t help matters. I suspect the organization of the film was another problem. But I did get that the filmmakers were making a case that the Russians lied about who started the war and about who committed at least some of the atrocities. Some very difficult images.

*Budrus – this won’t be showing again but I think it will probably make an appearance at the Hollywood or another theater that shows foreign film. It documents a successful struggle of a Palestinian village to save their land nonviolently (for the most part).

*Last Report on Anna – as you’ve probably guessed by now, I like the political ones. This one was very well done and an engaging story. Hungarian. 1973 and a scholar is asked to do some work for the secret service–get Anna, a Social Democrat, former member of the government, living in exile, to come back to Hungary.

*A Somewhat Gentle Man – from the description in the program I almost skipped this one. What a pleasure it was to walk out of a film smiling. A comedy! and a damn good one. I love the Scandinavian sense of humor. R for sexual content though.

*The Man Who Will Come – the title is not a good one but the film is; however, very dark at the end. The acting, setting, characters, and seeing the experience of Italian farmers during the German occupation all grade A.

– Eastern Plays – I guess 3 hits in a row today was too much to expect. Skip this one unless you like watching depressed, directionless men drink.

Cameraman – an interesting film in that the subject of this hagoliogy, Jack Cardiff, was a major force in the movies filming for decades (silents to the 90s), a brilliant cameraman and even a director. I enjoyed the clips but it was really mediocre as a film and seemed more like something that should have been a PBS special. Nothing about his private life and no criticisms of him!

Caracho – from Argentina. The film starts with some alarming statistics about traffic deaths in Argentina then focuses in on an emergency doctor who rides with an ambulance and a lawyer who tries to get accident victims signed up for damage suits and then takes quite an interesting turn. I liked it despite quite a bit of violence. Someone else I talked to said he didn’t like the characters from the beginning and couldn’t care about them. The title means vulture which refers to the lawyer. Acting is good.

Martha – this is a  quiet film about an older woman laid off due to technology. it’s good but not outstanding

Chicogrande – Quality Mexican Western. I’m not usually a Western fan but this was very well done and I could get into the goal of the hero: getting a doctor to save Pancho Villa. The portrayal of the American commander is extreme, to say the least, but the parallel with our recent invasions is noteworthy.

* Lope – period drama of the young years of Lope de Vega as he builds a career as a playwright and lover. Lots of sword fights and other conflict.

A War in Hollywood – not a perfect movie, it shows that this is a first for the director BUT worth seeing for some history of the Spanish Civil War, progressive America’s response to it and the clips of Hollywood films related to it in various ways. Perhaps my favorite moment was the change Franco Spain made in the dialog of Casablanca. My major irritation with it was its failure to inform that Americans who supported the Spanish Republic in its fight to repel Franco and his fascist cohorts either by going there or working here were later persecuted with the term “premature anti-fascists.”

* My Life with Carlos – Documentary made by a man whose father was assassinated by the Pinochet regime in Chile. Well made, emotionally rich and beautifully filmed.

* Colors of the Mountains – powerful film of realities of peasant life thru the eyes of a child in Columbia’s armed struggle, how the peasants are caught in the middle between government paramilitaries and guerrillas.

Nostalgia for the Light – this was a favorite of many people but, despite some amazing images, put me to sleep. I think it was a combination of 6 hours of sleep and a droning voiced narrator (so probably not the movie’s fault; Judith Barrington once banned me from the front row of readings at Flight of the Mind because seeing a sleeper in the audience can be demoralizing for a reader). I did enjoy much of what I did see but found My Life with Carlos a better vehicle IMO for telling the story of the disappeared in Chile.

* Hermano – I did not expect to like a movie about soccer — a sports fan I am not! — but this movie really held me (though I could have used shorter takes of the games). This is much more than a sports film plus the acting was very good and the plot compelling. I also like seeing the barrios of Caracas since when I was there I was only able to view them from afar.

* Brother and Sister – another film that surprised me by being very entertaining. Great music too. I had not heard good things about it from others and only went because I had run out of alternatives.

* Honey – my last film, from Turkey, and I loved it. Takes place in the countryside, from a child’s point of view (again) . One cultural highlight is a wander thru some festival/country market

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