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Portland International Film Festival 2012

Date above is the date I started this post, not the last date I edited it.

The festival is over but hopefully many of the films will come back–some are already at the Living Room Theatre.

Here are my short takes on the fifty or so films I managed to see…

Almanya — a delightful film about a German-Turkish family in German who take a trip to Turkey together with flashbacks telling the history of the family, their migration and adjustment to Germany.  It’s lovely, loving, funny and everyone at the screening liked it. One man said it occasionally verged on sentimentality but he forgave it and you will too. Buy tickets–a couple of more times have been added for it–check the film center website. Have to add: one of my friends did not like this film,  too romanticized–it is an homage to the filmmaker’s grandfather–so if that irritates you, you might not agree with me that it’s delightful.

Amador–a keeper. Good characters, unpredictable, warm.

Attenberg–odd little film, only one from Greece this year. Very modern, focus on the young, not your Greek steriotype. Fun.

Beyond the Road from Brazil. A fairly typical road movie in remote Uruguay with some great scenery and houses, no revelations

Bonsai–from Chile, unhappy love, strange lies, good movie

Breathing–Austria, this is a YES  a lovely first feature — I advise  you not to read the description in the PIFF schedule. one of the things I liked about this rather minimalist film was the quiet way the information was slowing revealed and the description in the program gives it all to you whammo. I will tell you it’s about a young man in a detention center who is allowed to work off-site i.e. in the real world

Bullhead–Belgium. A very powerful, very dark and intense film. I liked it a lot and was glad I went even though some friends didn’t recommend it.  Violence but not gratuitous. Not for the faint of heart or children.

Cafe de Flore–probably a no for most. It demands close viewer attention as it skips around between characters, times and countries. We were talking about it among us even after the next film, mostly trying to ‘get’ it. If you go, stay for the credits and above all pay attention thruout. Lots of music, very watchable. could have used some cutting. Still talking about it the next day but more people saying they didn’t like it, it was too mystical, I didn’t care about the characters etc. etc. Really not terribly satisfying but some good performances.

Cirkus Columbia–Bosnia. Not really about a circus but a man who had to run away from the Communists in the early 70s and returns because they are gone in ’91. The civil war is about to begin but he and his family are more concerned with their personal lives, at first. Funny and fun. I enjoyed it.

Corpo Celeste–Italy. A 13-year-old girl returns to Calabria with her mother and sister after living most of her life in Switzerland and is immediately put in a confirmation class at the local Catholic church. There are some good moments, she’s an interesting character.

Darwin–documentary about the people living in Darwin, a former mining town in the desert near Death Valley, now reduced to a population of 35. It’s pretty interesting. Not the best of this genre that I’ve seen though.

Declaration of War–France. this film was better than the films the first day but that’s not saying much. There was a lot I liked about it and it was quite touching–seriously ill baby, stress on happy relationship, but not an A

Extraordinary Voyage–France: What fun! Documentary on French filmmaker who invented special effect and made the first ‘flight to the moon’ movie and the restoration of that film. Followed by a screening of the restored 19 minute hilarious movie.

Extraterrestrial, a very funny, very original story from Spain.

Footnote–A+ deserves its Academy Award nomination. A smart script, good acting. The story deals with serious issues of truth, loyalty, family, recognition, competition, fairness, sacrifice…I could go on and on.

Forgiveness of Blood–I always like seeing movies from remote countries I know very little about. That describes Albania! Rural setting. A feud between two families creates a situation which forces a dramatic change in the life of one family, the film focuses on the children chronicling their reactions and coping and not. Slow and not a great film but I’m glad I saw it.

Frontline from South Korea–As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m not in the mood for violence this year, but I liked this war movie, make that anti-war movie, very much. Well made, well acted, good plot, if a bit too dependent on coincidence. Recommended.

Gerhard Richter–very interesting doc about the artist. Lots of time watching him make one of the many types of paintings he make–wish they’d focused a bit broader. But, if you are interested in artists and their methods this will be worth your time.

Goodbye–this movie was nearly as depressing as living in Iran must be. A human rights lawyer has been disbarred, her reporter husband’s paper has been shut down and she says he’s in the south doing construction work. She’s gotten pregnant as part of a scheme to get out of Iran. Facts unfold slowly–I walked out in front of a family and overheard a boy of about 10 say, “You’ll have to tell me what it was about, I didn’t understand a thing,”–one needed to understand this is a repressive country and more to get it. Slow, depressing, well made.

Goodbye First Love (in French: Young Love or maybe Lovers) nice cinematography and some lovely scenery–no wonder people rave about the Loire Valley–but the story was no great shakes and you wanted to shake the lead. I would not put this at the top of your list!

Grandma, a Thousand Times from Lebanon is a sweet, short little film of a grandson’s visit home to get married taping his grandmother, memories and now, talking to a few others too. Home movie. Show with a short I had seen at the first short collection showing, 19 minutes and very good: I Could Be Your Grandmother about a lawyer who makes signs for street people, based on a true story.

Habemus Papam–filmed inside the Vatican, anyone who’s wondered what it’s really like there will enjoy seeing. The Pope is dead, long live the Pope, except the man chosen doesn’t want to do it. Some very funny moments. I loved the costumes 🙂 As with many films (and books) these days, it could have benefited from some editing.

Hello! How Are You? from Romania. Pardon me while I mourn the ‘old’ Eastern Europe of secret police and black markets. Now they’re just like us. That said, this is a good comedy with fun characters and lots of laughs.

How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster? Amazing photography of amazing buildings. This film is a feast for the eyes and made me want to fly into Bejing again so I could see the airport and definitely need to go to Berlin and see how he restored/rebuilt the Reichstag.

Identity Card. This may be my favorite film of the festival. Set in Prague starting in 1974, we follow 4 friends, long-haired boys who have trouble making the compromises demanded to survive under the Communist regime from when they are 15 until they get to draft age. It’s a comedy with serious moments.

Jean Gentil from Dominican Republic tells a very sad story of an educated Haitian who can’t find work, becomes homeless and ends up in the countryside. Depressing and quiet.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi–very enjoyable, well-made documentary. If you like sushi or just to eat, if you enjoy watching great knife work, you will love this. A US  film but in Japanese with subtitles

Jose y Pilar–documentary from Portugal about Portugal’s Nobel Laureate Jose Saramago and his wife Pilar. A serious film about serious people, very much in love with each other. I don’t think you have to be  a writer to enjoy it but it was fun watching him write and her translate nearly at the same time. Lots of travel, a great scene arguing about Obama or Hilary. Recommended. One more showing on 2/19

Kiss Me–only lesbian film in the festival as far as I know and a good one. Fairly predictable though.

Las Acacias from Argentina–VERY slow. A woman and baby get a ride from Paraguay to Buenos Aires with a truck driver. The story is sweet but SLOW. Not really worth your time IMO

Man Without a Cell Phone, a joint Palestinian Israeli project, from the point of view of Palestinian citizens of Israel, was disappointing to me at first.  Pleasant enough to watch with a good idea or two but my first reaction was that it wasn’t well realized. Then I talked to someone else who made me look at it a little differently and I’m not being so critical of it. I wasn’t sorry I saw it at all. Not an A for me but seems to have been for others. Characters are good and the main young man is beautiful.

Monsieur Lazhar–a teacher kills herself and freaks her class out, an Algerian refugee steps in. Lovely film. I was with it all times. the students were wonderful.  Recommended.

Mr Tree–China. Weird film and confusing–when was he dreaming and when was it real? Still it’s an interesting picture of a Chinese small town and its entrepreneurs and also a couple of weddings. Only if this is all that fits your schedule.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia from Turkey. Very slow start but gets better. Story unfolds with some mystery, some things not really explained and a shock at the end. I very much enjoyed an interlude in a small village–the Turkey tourists don’t see. It’s long, over 2 hours, so only for the patient but I found it rewarding.

Patagonia–flips back and forth between two stories–a couple from Wales goes to Argentina and a grandmother and grandson (or was he?) travel from Patagonia to Wales. The scenery is beautiful, the stories pretty good. worth seeing but not fabulous. I’m saying that about too many!

Pink Ribbons, Inc.–this documentary about the breast cancer pink ribbon industry probably would have been more shocking for most of us had it come out before the Komen/Planned Parenthood incident, but there’s still plenty to learn. It tries to cover too much ground so short changes some aspects, but it’s still very worth seeing. Interviews with some articulate women with great politics including Barbara Ehrenreich and some women who will probably creep you out, like the CEO of Komen who looks like she’s wearing a plastic mask (botox? plastic surgery? both?)

Play from Sweden is trying to deal with the difficulties a homogenous country has with immigration but I think it misses the film boat. The main episode made me so nervous, watching these young boys be stupid, I could barely wait for it to end. I think you can find better things on this subject

Qarantina–Iraq, story of one family: father, mother, daughter, son and a man who is staying in the house they live in, though the house is owned by ‘the Boss.’ Not clear why the family gets to live in this house, but all have their troubles.  The film is not as troubling as the description in the PIFF schedule sounds. Not a great film but, if you are like me and enjoy seeing more of these countries that are so different from ours, worth seeing.

Restoration–the ‘other’ film from Israel. Again, no politics but an interesting story though not terrific. Not sorry I spent the nearly 2 hours there. Another one of issues between father and son with different complications than Footnote.

Salt of Life–Italy, by the director who made last year’s beloved Mid-August Lunch so expectations were high. Not met. Same lead actor and same mother (she’s a great character) but the story was fairly lame. Forgettable.

Snows of Kilimanjaro–nothing to do with Hemingway–main characters are a working class couple at 50, he with a history of union activism and socialism, forced to rethink their assumptions. Set in Marseille. Worth seeing!

Snowtown–I haven’t been in the mood for violence but this Australian film won the Jury prize at Cannes so I gave it a chance, unfortunately. It wins the prize at PIFF screening for the most people to walk out early-20%? 30? Maybe if it had had subtitles I could have had something good to say. A sociopath lures his dying girlfriend’s son into a gang of serial killers. True story. Don’t waste your time unless you can understand thick working class Australian accents. I’ve been to Australia and did just fine but not with this. OY.

Somewhere Between–talk about titles that don’t tell you what it is–this is a documentary about adoption of Chinese girls by Americans. It follows several who are now teenagers and is quite good for what it is and will be of special interest for anyone who has adopted or is an adoptee, especially Chinese, of course, but also interracial adoptions and those that were not open.

Tales of the Night is animated fables/fairy tales. Your kids will probably like it if they can deal with subtitles. The characters were all silhouettes with eyes, rather strange, but the backgrounds were pretty. Even though it was only 84 minutes,  I found it too long.

This is Not a Film. A filmmaker not allowed to make films films himself at home. Better than that sounds. This is Iran.

The Fairy–Jacques Tati meets Monty Python, silly  fantasy, fun, LOL. Kids will like it. Not great, nothing you can’t miss, but laughing is good for you.

The Island President document the president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed’s fight for a climate change agreement at Copenhagen. He is very impressive and the film is good. Life’s little ironies: Nasheed was ousted earlier this month in a coup

The Kid with a Bike–I recommend this film. Unpredictable and heart tugging with a good performance from the prepubescent lead.

The Orator–called New Zealand but actually made in Somoa, that country’s first film. Worth seeing if for no other reason, but also worth seeing for a lot of local customs and life, interesting characters, a genuine plot. Recommended.

Toll Booth from Turkey.  Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be the person sitting there in the toll booth? Boring. Yes. So is the movie though it does follow the toll booth attendant out to the booth. My first reaction is don’t bother but there were some others who liked it. It does have some relationships developed. My God, do any sons and fathers have good relationships? Not at PIFF

Turn Me On, Dammit! from Norway. The PIFF schedule makes this sound so raunchy, I was not planning on seeing it but other told me it wasn’t that at all so I gave it an hour and a bit. It’s fun. Just the story of puberty and longing and missteps. Teenagers will enjoy especially but there is a bit of sex and one sees a penis up close, so be warned if you are prudish.

Unfinished Spaces–If you are interested in architecture you will love this film chronicling the building and not building of the Schools of Art in Havana. Lots of footage of the marvelous buildings, interviews with the architects and some great archival footage from 1959 and a bit later including Fidel and Che playing golf. fascinating how it chronicles changes in Cuba over decades

Volcano. I’ll start right off saying that I’m soft on Iceland. I love the country and love seeing it. Wish this movie had showed more of it but it’s okay. The story was good and also touching.

Where Do We Go Now?–the women of a small and isolated Lebanese village use ingenuity and  creativity to stop sectarian violence between their men–Christian and Muslim.  Laughs and tears. Worth seeing

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