SIFF Notes

Late breaking news, and notes from the field on all events SIFF.

SIFF Notes week 5

by Sean Axmaker. Posted Friday, 5/28/99.

Guests for the coming week at SIFF (plan your schedules accordingly)

(* = world premiere, ** = American premiere)

Friday, May 28

Santitos: director Alejandro Sringall

The Adventures of Sebastian Cole: director Tod Williams

Saturday, May 29

Rosie: director Patrice Toye

Sunday, May 30

**Iron Heel of Oligarchy: director/writer/star Alexander Bashirov

*Life in a Fog: director/writer Bahman Ghobadi

Coming Soon: director/writer Collette Burson

Book of Stars: director Michael Miner and, believe or not, the following guests will accompany their films at the Drive-In Party at the Valley Drive-In Theaters:

**Pep Squad: director/writer Steve Balderson

Cant Stop Dancing: director/writer Stephen Falick and producer Darryl Silver

* Final Rinse: director Robert Tucker

Monday, May 31

Shores of Twilight: actor Despina Kourti

Tuesday, June 1

**Pep Squad: director/writer Steve Balderson

*Love Happens: director/write Tony Cookson

Wednesday, June 2

*Shadow Boxers: director/writer Katya Bankowsky and star Lucia Rijker

*Dead Dogs: director Clay Eide and stars Jay Underwood and Margot Demeter

*The Basement and the Kitchen: director/star David Fickas

* Final Rinse: director Robert Tucker

**Mensaka: director Salvador Garcia Ruiz

Thursday, June 3

*Freak Talks About Sex: director/writer Paul Todisco, co-writer Michael Galvin and actor Max Casella

**Senso Unico: director Aditya Basu Bhattacharya

*The Last Best Sunday: director Don Most

*Sweet Thing: director Mark David

**The Bed: director Oskar Reif

If you havent heard the announcements yet, Gomez: Heads or Tails has to be canceled. The scheduled May 31 screening has been replaced with Bingo, a documentary by local filmmaker John Jeffcoat making its world premiere (it replays on Saturday, June 5).

Despite the best efforts of SIFF programmers, Emerging Master Francoise Ozon was unable to make it for his spotlight on the third weekend focus, but dont let that stop you from seeing his work, including a repeat of his SIFF 98 short feature See the Sea, an austere, unnerving drama that inexorably, unconventionally transforms into a dark psychological thriller and had audiences split into love-it-or-hate-it camps. I was mesmerized. His latest film, the raucous satire of middle class mores Sitcom, is even more accomplished, drawing from the legacy of Luis Bunuel with a lunatic family presided over by a mom who could be out of Leave it to Beaver attempting to deal with her childrens problems: Her son is turning into a flaming homosexual and her suicidal daughter is a practicing sado-masochist. And all since her platitude-spouting husband brought home a new pet rat Ozon adeptly plays with dream and flashback in a surprising and unshowy way, but his great accomplishment is flirting with bad taste and outrageous twists without losing his affection for the characters, whom he keeps grounded in humanity despite elements of gross (and I do mean gross) caricature. Not for all audiences, but it had the packed preview screening in stitches.

Last week we announced that director Alexei Balabanov would show up to talk about his latest film Of Freaks and Men (last year his acclaimed Brother played to rapt audiencesand if you missed it, fear not, for its on video). Last-minute complications have prevented his visit, but his film should carry his spirit to Seattle. A strange mix of turn-of-the-century porno and power games in pre-Revolutionary Russia, the Sepia-tone images are gorgeous and the performances excellent, but its the deadpan portrayal of the kinky decadence and the dry punctuations of matter-of-fact silent-movie-style title cards that gives the film its unique identity. I found the film lacking in the depth of Brother and missing the crazed sense of satire that could push the offbeat situations into hilarity, but other viewers have had nothing but praise for the film. If it disappoints, perhaps its only because my expectations were built too high. Balabanov wont be here, but countryman Alexander Bashirov, the director/writer/star of Iron Heel of Oligarchy, will be appear with his mad film. History has never seen such events, explains the 24-year-old narrator in this tale of a possibly insane revolutionary who makes passionate speeches for worker solidarity in post-communist St. Petersburg. Shadowed by bumbling government agents, who scribble every utterance of this loose-cannon radical, hes branded a dangerous revolutionary even though no one really listens to him, not even the women he takes to his sardine tin of an apartment for readings of snatches of books, novels, and poetry. There is an edgy, new-wave feel to this low-budget film, and it makes up in energy and offbeat charm what it lacks in narrative drive.

Im Esperanza, the mother of the dead girl. Only shes not dead. So begins the Mexican comedy Santitos a hilarious mix of Mexican Catholicism, icons and saints, wrestling stars, and an odyssey that takes an innocent into the very jaws of sin: Los Angeles! Seeing visions in a grimy oven (which she vows never to wash) of St. Jude, who tells her that her supposedly deceased daughter is actually alive, she confides in her local soap opera-loving priest and follows the admittedly vague clues left by her patron saint through a string of brothels (getting quite an education in the process) where she believes a flesh trader has taken her daughter. Sweet and sly, this comedy skirts farce and satire to play its comedy quite lovingly, staying just this side of lampooning the veneration of saints and heeding the call of questionable visions. Alejandro Springall deftly mixes magic, memory, and storytelling into a colorful and playful romantic comedy.

Also recommended: Jam from Taiwan is not the fast-paced farce youd expect from the title, but a more subdued character study and dryly humorous look at urban Taiwan, pulling together three overlapping stories in surprising and clever ways. The opening sequence with a stolen car becomes a hilarious running gag. The Russian satire In That Land is an oblique, understated comic drama of life on a collective farm in the frozen north over the course of the year, set in the waning days of communism. Played with good humor, the film tackles alcoholism, corruption, abuse and the desperation of a community isolated in its own self-contained world.

Flashback film for the weekend: Julio Medem, whose opening weekend hit Lovers of the Arctic Circle in now playing in general cinemas, debuted with Vacas, which I havent seen but most certainly will.

Sight unseen, Ive also marked the controversial but highly praised I Stand Alone and Black Cat, White Cat as must sees.

When I mentioned the Seattle connection in the previous SIFF Notes I left out a couple of other notable locals. Amerikan Passport, which won the award for Best Documentary at Slamdance, is directed by Seattle native Reed Paget. Family film The Basket is set and shot in Spokane during WWII. The short Progress, which precedes Bingo, is by Seattle filmmaker Webster Crowell.

The Yugoslavian comedy The Powder Keg has undergone a name change: its now called Cabaret Balkan. Same film, different title, and dont worry: your tickets are still good no matter what title is printed on it.

SIFF Notes week 4

by Sean Axmaker. Posted Wednesday, 5/26/99.

It finally happened: I left the house right on time, found a parking spot in the nick of time, hoofed it five blocks to the Pacific Place and settled into my seat with minutes to spareat the wrong film. It turned out to be no big deal. The film I had planned to see (Too Many Ways to Be #1) plays again, and the film I landed at (the slyly satirical Russian drama In That Land) proved to be well worth seeing (and one I might even have seen in its second screening). But it reminded me of the pleasures of such randomness, simply dropping in on a theater to see what theyve got and walking away with an experience.

It also reminded me of the another underrated pleasure of an international film festival. Of course were all looking for something to wow us, to astound us, to rock our cinematic worlds, but sometimes the simple joys of receiving a concentrated cultural hit can be just as affecting in a different way: the lolling pace of a film like Beshkimpir, the Adopted Son from Krygystan or Dance of Dust from Iran obviously defy the expectation of many filmgoers but can also transport one to not simply another landscape, but an entire lifestyle and a rhythm of life measured not in seconds but in seasons. The stark frames and relentless quiet of Killer from Kazakhstan set an uneasy tone of unrelenting dreadsomethings going to happen. Is it the directors way of translating his vision of a society pitched on the precipice of overwhelming social change and post-Soviet economic collapse? The Soviet films themselves (five in all) mix beauty and brutality to varying degrees, and I look forward to seeing what the balance of the Russian collection brings. The modest delights of modern Japanese cinema seen in the first four of six films of the festival present a curiously consistent understatement and dry, deadpan humor; suddenly the oblique humor of Takeshi Kitanos introspective gangster thrillers dont seem all that unusual (though to be fair, none of the SIFF features to date have exhibited either the grace or the depth of Takeshis amazing work). Its only the halfway mark: Theres still a world of films to sample.

And speaking of unexpected pleasures: Sometimes the vagaries of international distribution coalesce in moments even the director could never have anticipated. In the first scene of Alex van Warmerdams Little Tony from the Netherlands, a couple watches a British film on their telly. The program is subtitled in Dutch and the wife reads them aloud to her illiterate husband as we read the translation back to English in subtitles. By that time the remove was so complete I never even realized I was reading what I was (barely) hearing until the scene was overbut in my defense, the subtitles didnt exactly correspond to spoken English. Like that whispering game I played as a kid, where a phrase is passed through a room full of people and emerges with little relation to the original statement, something gets lost in the translation. In this case, Id say something is gained in the cockeyed chain of words, even if its only the sheer risibility of the whole thing.

Guest of the week was without a doubt Canadian hyphenate Don McKellar, who co-wrote and performed in Francois Girards The Red Violin as well as wrote, directed, and starred in Last Night. After years of appearing in the films of Bruce McDonald (many of which he also wrote), Atom Egoyan, and Patricia Rozema, he seems to have gathered a solid following in this town, and the press kept him busyword has it that he barely had time to eat between screening appearances and interviews, and he was never less than friendly and engaging through the ordeal. Audiences will attest to congenial appearances at both The Red Violin and Last Night.

Wouldnt you know that the best lines of any film to date in SIFF 1999 come from a film 40 years old? My favorite exchange in Some Like It Hot is between millionaire Joe E. Brown, putting the make on musician Jack Lemmon in drag, whose sparring takes on a decidedly flirtatious tease: "What do you play?" "Bull fiddle." "Fascinating. Do you bow it or pluck it?" "Usually it just slap it!" The archival showing had the packed audience in stitches right down to the final punchline. I wonder if Billy Wilders cross-dressing classic of 1959 doesnt work better todayJack Lemmons hysterically conflicted performance has him flip-form revulsion to exuberance as he flirts with dog-faced Joe E. Brown (an aging millionaire with a thing for showgirls) and even secures a proposal, which has him humming like a blushing bride. "Why would a guy want to marry a guy?" asks an incredulous Tony Curtis. Lemmon answers most pragmatically: "Security!"

The Seattle connections: This years SIFF has more than a few, most notably the opening weekend benefit screening of the locally produced Money Buys Happiness and upcoming documentaries Rabbit in the Moon and Bingo (from Seattle director John Jeffcoat, who has honored Seattle with its World Premiere). But who knew that Yonfans Bishonen star Daniel Wu was a UW graduate?

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