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Portland International Film Festival 2014

I’ve put a * for my favorites and a NO on the ones I strongly disliked. Of course, there are others that are in between, actually many very good ones without stars, I’m saving that for the ones I love  🙂 But I have decided to also rate them 1-5, 5 highest (the starred ones)

Since seeing On Horses and Men, I just can’t resist sharing this photo which is not from the film but one I took in Iceland, possibly near where the film was made

horses (Small)

Short opinions of the films I saw:

A World Not Ours (Lebanon) mostly home movies taken in a Palestinian refugee camp/city in Lebanon by first a father and then the son. Fairly amateur movie making but very successful in communicating the pain, anger, longing and hopelessness of the people. 4

Age of Uprising: the Legend of Michael Kohlhaas (France) based on a novel. Just okay. I suppose if one likes the period maybe it’s of interest. 2

Aglaja (Hungary) girl growing up in a circus, first in Communist Hungary, then in the West. I was fascinated. 3

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (Great Britain) I ought to know better. I just don’t get British humor. Most people really liked it. I wasn’t bored exactly but I wasn’t laughing very much either 3

American Dreams in China (Hong Kong) Made for the Chinese market, it’s interesting especially for what Chinese think about America and Americans maybe think about China, but didn’t ring true for me.3

* The Butterfly’s Dream (Turkey) Lovely and moving story of two poets during WW II in Turkey. Anyone who loves words should enjoy this. Musician friend said the movie was ruined for her by the music! I’m good at not noticing. 5

Cairo Drive (Egypt) this trip thru Cairo traffic and driving culture is much more entertaining than one would think. 4

* Child’s Pose (Romania) Beautifully acted and good peek into, I think, Romanian society. 4

Closed Curtain (Iran) At first slow, then mysterious, and finally, towards the end, one realizes what was really going on. Then it made me chuckle (don’t get me wrong, this is not a comedy, the chuckle was just the pleasure of finally getting it and liking what is was saying) and I liked it. Jafar Panahi is banned from making films in Iran but continues to do so and continues to comment on the regime and its consequences for those living under it. 4

Code Black (US) Inside the LA County Hospital emergency room. Inspiring people, some pretty rough gore for us amatuers, and a new wrinkle on what’s wrong with our health care system. 4

Coffee in Berlin or Oh Boy (Germany) set in the 90s, no politics, just youthful angst. Liked it a lot 4

The Congress (Israel) Even though I didn’t get all the cultural references, I enjoyed this partially-animated sci-fi with its contemplation on science, values, modernity and film and culture. Although it’s Israeli, it’s in English 4

Cycling with Moliere ( France)  Amusing and scenic, character-driven story set in an beach resort French island in the off season. 4

The Days of the Crows (France) Nicely animated children’s film, engaging enough for parents but nothing special enough (I was hoping the animation would be gorgeous as the PIFF writeup said) for an adult party. 3

Disciple (Finland) An orphan arrives at a lighthouse to apprentice, dropping into a complicated family situation. Dark but beautifully filmed. Finnish friend told me they were speaking Swedish, not Finnish. 4

The Don Juans (Czech Rep) Opera and lovers. Entertaining 3 1/2

Eat, Sleep, Die (Sweden) A lot of political issues around immigrants and workers. A rather sad story of desperation, survival and friendship. A bit slow. 3.5

Ernest and Celestine (France) Lovely animation and a good story in this unfortunately subtitled kid’s movie. Take your kids if they can handle them. 4

*Finding Vivian Maier (US) Wonderful multifaceted documentary of winning boxes of negatives as a storage space auction, discovering the images are great art, searching for information on the artist and getting the art out. This movie is a find. 5

*Gabrielle (Canada) PIFF a young woman with Williams syndrome falls in love with another disabled adult in her choir. It’s complicated, of course, by disability, family etc. All the possibility for saccharin is there but not realized and it’s quite moving and lovely. 5

 The Galapagos Affair (US) Fascinating story with great characters (real ones, that is) of a fascinating place. Particularly interesting to me because I’ve been to both the islands in the story, but interesting to anyone with a bonus of what it shows about very small, unintentional communities, their dynamics and perils. 4

The German Doctor (Argentina) Mengele hiding in Bariloche in 1960 in a story based on historical misinformation (did a little digging online) but quite engaging and creepy. 4

The Golden Dream (Mexico) Grueling. I believe Mexico made this film to stem the flow of the young to the North by showing them nearly everything that can go wrong for those trying to make the trip illegally. Too much time watching them riding on the top of freight trains but then the actually trip is harder on them. 4

NO The Good Road (India) Slow, people making stupid decisions does not a good plot make. Skip this one. 1

The Great Passage (Japan) Good characters in this interesting to me (and other word people) feature of a group working on a definitive Japanese dictionary. Also some good food scenes. One friend thought it sappy but I enjoyed it. 4.5

A Gun in Each Hand (Spain) fairly entertaining fluff for the most part but funny and enjoyable. A friend said it’s the male version of a chick flick. 3

Horses of God (Morocco) Unconvincing depiction of why slum dwellers become suicide bombers. 3

*Ida (Poland) Wonderful! Gorgeous cinematography too. Novice nun meets her only living relative, finds out she’s Jewish, looks for parents grave. I suppose it is in the 60s. 5

Ilo Ilo (Singapore) A dysfunctional family is made more so by a financial downturn and the arrival of a Filipina maid. Not great but good. 3

It’s All So Quiet (Netherlands) It is so quiet but very telling story of pain, repression and loss. 4

Just a Sigh (France)  Just a really little movie. Not sure why they made it–actress on train going to an audition is attracted to a stranger, they both mistake passion for love. Skip it. 2

The Last of the Unjust (France) Rather remarkable interview with Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein, the man who oversaw the renovation of Theresienstadt concentration camp prior to the Red Cross visits in which he argues he did the best he could and shouldn’t be condemned as a collaborator. 4

The Last Step (Iran) Great film which demands a lot of the viewer. I want to see it again and get more of it. 4 1/2

Le Week-End (Great Britain) Terrible sound made a well-acted film with an interesting story something to wait for on DVD so you can turn on the captioning. Pity because it probably had great writing (Hanif Kureishi) but I missed 50-75% of the dialog. Easy to follow the story though. 3

Levitated Mass (US) I liked the beginning and the last part but the middle (the moving of the boulder along the road) way too long and repetitious. One said she loved every minute; an artist walked out. 3

The Lunchbox (India) Very watchable and engaging. 4

Metro Manila (Philippines) Moving story of the result of the price of rice dropping by 80%, family leaves farm in beautiful area (looked like my rural spot on Bali) to find jobs and disaster in Manila. Violence. 4

Nobody’s Daughter (South Korea) nothing special. Young modern middle class sexual politics in South Korea. 3

* Of Horses and Men (Iceland) and women. Great film. Humor and tragedy; window into Icelandic horse and people culture. Hope it returns. 5

* Omar (Palestine) deserves its Oscar nomination finalist status. Powerful and depressing with engaging characters. Violence. 5

Particle Fever (US) Quite interesting story documenting the last few years of work on the Super Collider. As a non-scientist, physics ignoramus, it didn’t hold me as much as I think it did those with more knowledge, but the half dozen physicists they focused on were interesting, there were some wonderful visuals (even animations) and it did help me understand this huge project. 3 (I’m sure the science folks gave it higher)

People in Places (Spain) very entertaining, often humourous, collection of vignettes, some of which relate to each other 4

The Priest’s Children (Croatia) This one is really fun and funny and it’s got some politics as well. 4

The Rocket (Australia) a dam is about to flood a Laotian traditional village so the village is forced to move. Movie follows one family. Sentimental and predictable ending but good acting, cinematography, politics and look at what is going on in Laos (and other developing countries). 3

The Search for Emak Bakia (Spain) If you like Quirky, arty films, you’ll probably like this one. Intercut with footage from Man Ray’s films (sometimes side-by-side with contemporary footage), I was grabbed by the subtle humor, great characters and story. 4

Snow on Pines (Iran) modern, middle class, secular, married Iranian woman dealing with betrayal and discovery. Good but not great. 4

* Stray Dogs (Taiwan) Don’t try this one if you like action. Multiple long (once ten minutes) shots with minimal action and no dialog will either mesmerize you or drive you crazy, but if you get into it, it’s quite wonderful though puzzling. The first half, though slow, tells a straight forward story, then, in the second, a new story takes over which can be quite befuddling. Only for those who appreciate the experimental and avant-garde. 5

The Strange Little Cat (Germany) Described as Tati to Gondry, I didn’t find much funny, mostly fairly boring and nothing much happening except watching unhappy people, a bit like being at a party you’d like to leave, though a couple of artists loved it. 2

NO Television (Bangladesh) A lot of weeping a wailing in this silly waste of time. 1

* Those Happy Years (Italy) loved this one based on a summer in the film maker’s life when he got his first camera and his parents’ marriage ended. 5

*  Thy Womb (Philippines) A beautiful film full of cultural interest since it takes place in the far south islands, still traditional and the only portion of the Philippines that is Muslim. The main female character is one of the country’s stars and a marvelous actress and the story is compelling 5

The Tough Guys (Norway) Lots of humor and good characters in this Middle School film with an anti-bullying message. I’d love to hear from kids if it worked for them. 3

 Transit (The Philippines) Filipinos in Israel live in fear of deportation and most especially of a new regulation applied to children under 5. Interesting but not particularly good film. 3

2 Autumns, 3 Winters (France) Delightful Parisian romance. 4

* Two Lives (Germany) mostly filmed in beautiful Norway. Very well done and a piece of history I knew nothing at all about, the terrible things done to women (and their babies) who partnered with German soldiers during the occupation of Norway.  4

Village at the End of the World (Great Britain) Documentary. Village in NW Greenland has 59 residents, one teenager, a closed fish factory and a man who picks up the sewage everyday. Filmed over at least two years, the villagers make positive changes. One of my favorite scenes was the first-ever visit of a cruise ship. 4

Wajma (An Afghan Love Story) (Afghanistan) powerful. Another movie making an American woman grateful she doesn’t live there but some of it not so different from the America of my youth. 4

Walesa: Man of Hope (Poland) Feature of the rise of Lech Walesa as a leader and of the founding, struggle and ultimate victory of Solidarity. Politicos especially should enjoy. I found the archival footage of the mass demonstrations–the thousands and thousands–inspiring; the people win if they are truly mobilized! 4

What is Cinema? (US) Documentary for film nuts (in a positive way), great clips (usually identified) and interesting interviews. 3

The Wishful Thinkers (Spain) twenty-something film makers make an homage movie. Probably much more interesting for film makers than the rest of us. 2

NO Young and Beautiful (France) painful to watch this movie with, IMO, dubious politics with regard to women and sexuality, but others disagree so maybe my ‘NO’ should be taken with a degree of salt. 2

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