The laughter! The tears! The pathos! The incomprehensible Czech documentaries! Our critics sat through 89 such festival titles to sort out the picks from the pans. Anything else, anything unsigned, gets a simple summary distilled from the blurbmeisters at SIFF. But we'll see more, so visit seattleweekly.com throughout the fest for news and new reviews. See you in line.
Seattle Weekly's critical guide to SIFF 2003. • Movies A-E: From Abouna to The Eye. • Movies F-L: From The Flute Player to The Lover. • Movies M-S: From Madame Sata to The Sea Is Watching. • Movies S-Z: From Seaside to Los Zafiros/The Sapphires: Music From the Edge of Time. • SIFF Events • SIFF Shorts What I Wanna See • Brian Miller recommends. • Tim Appelo recommends. • Sheila Benson recommends.
Chad/France, 2002. Director: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Wed., June 4, 9:30 p.m., Egyptian
Tues., June 10, 4:45 p.m., Broadway Perf. Hall
Their father mysteriously gone, their mother depressed and irritable, two Chadian brothers are herded off to a rural Koranic boarding school. Haunted throughout by its ambiguous opening shot of a man dropping out of the frame, Haroun's follow- up to Bye Bye Africa leavens its archetypal 400 Blows-ish scenario with magic realism dustings, fashioning a rueful meditation on abandonment and rootlessness, both individual and national. Dennis Lim
Alone Against the Sea:
The Dangers of Solo Sailing
U.S.A., 2003. Director: Laszlo Pal
Sun., May 25, 4 p.m., Egyptian
Five solo sailors struggle through the most challenging moments of their careers. A world premiere from local director Pal. Screens with Tribal Journey.
U.S.A., 2002. Directors: Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Judah Friedlander, and James Urbaniak
Wed., June 4, 7 p.m., Egyptian
Mon., June 9, 9:30 p.m., Pacific Place
It wasn't hard for this year's Sundance jury to agree on the Dramatic Competition's one unambiguous high point: this supple, superbly acted Harvey Pekar biopic. The co-directors, whose backgrounds lie exclusively in documentaries, fold in interviews with the real-life Pekars, while Harvey himself grumpily narrates. Paul Giamatti's uncanny impersonation of the Cleveland file clerk, comic-book cult hero, and miserablist chronicler of the everyday dovetails beautifully with Hope Davis balancing astringency and compassion as Joyce Brabner (Mrs. Pekar) and the droll perfection of James Urbaniak's Robert Crumb. Although the deconstructionist toggling between acted and real gets gimmicky fast (and that live-action/comic-strip trick is at least as old as that a-ha video), the deserving Grand Prize winner by and large upholds the comix-cinema standards of Crumb and Ghost World. Dennis Lim
And Now . . . Ladies & Gentlemen
France/Great Britain, 2002 Director: Claude Lelouch
Cast: Jeremy Irons
Wed., June 4, 7 p.m., Egyptian
Mon., June 9, 9:30 p.m., Pacific Place
A British jewel thief (Irons) and a burned-out French jazz singer cross paths in this romantic thriller. From the director of 1966's A Man and a Woman. North American premiere.
Italy, 2002. Director: Roberta Torre
Wed., June 4, 7 p.m., Egyptian
Mon., June 9, 9:30 p.m., Pacific Place
The credit-sequence inscription "based on a true story" can inspire hope, dread, or just downright boredom. Heyif that true story is cinematic and exciting, great, you've got Titanic. If not, then The Story of Louis Pasteur. The tale of an '80s Sicilian shoe-store owner whose shop serves as a front for drug dealing, Angela falls somewhere between those extremes. It's richly atmosphericPalermo's ancient, crooked, claustrophobic alleyways provide perfect cover for Angela's cat-and-mouse games with the carabinieri. And heroine Donatella Finocchiaro smolders effectively as a sexy, ignored wife and mother who falls for a disposable young thug in her husband's too-well-mannered gang. (The sex is scanty, only one guy gets offed, and the trial sequences are a snooze.) Perhaps that's the problem with AngelaI mean, even Scarface was kinda, sorta based on a true story, but it went somewhere, for all its lurid embellishments. Angela doesn't. It may be true, but that's no excuse. Brian Miller
U.S.A./Japan, 2003. Directors: Peter Chung, Andy Jones, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Takeshi Koike, Mahiro Maeda, Kouji Morimoto, and Shinichir�tanabe
Sat., May 31, 9:30 p.m., Egyptian
They say it took Walt Disney 30 years to recoup his investment in Fantasia. In sheer dollar terms, it may take the Warner Bros. studio nearly as long to justify what it spent on the Wachowski boys' animated omnibus companion to the Matrix franchise, but the final outcome is not in doubt. The Wachowskis commissioned seven of these nine short films based on Matrix-related themes and characters from four superstar artists of Japanese animethen handed them budgets these usually TV-bound directors previously only dreamed of. Visually and technically, the results are uniformly stunning. As narratives, as drama, the Animatrix episodes have their ups and downs, but even the downs are admirably ambitious. And the best episodesChung's rendering of a robot's acid trip; Morimoto's exploration of the borderland between mundane and magical in a child's mindare instant masterworks. If this film doesn't bring anime into the world-cinema mainstream, nothing will. Roger Downey
The Archangel's Feather
Venezuela, 2002. Director: Luis Manzo
Sun., May 25, 4 p.m., Broadway Perf. Hall
Mon., May 26, 9:30 p.m., Broadway Perf. Hall
"Perhaps the best Venezuelan film of the last two decades," reads a blurb for Feather, and I have no reason to doubt it. But you see the difficulty: Belgian best sellers, great Supertramp albums, top Venezuelan films, etc. Venezuela has a flourishing television industry, which excels at generating the telenovelas so beloved of Hispanophone viewers. Indeed, the director and most of Feather's cast are veteran telenovelistas. But feature film and 200-episode soap operas are rather different art forms, and the broad-stroke talents required for small-screen studio-bound serials don't work as well putting across a wanly fantastic location-shot tale of a (possibly angelic) stranger come to upset the settled ways of a tiny mountain hamlet. The best that can be said is that, despite its hackneyed magic realism and '30s-melodrama sources, Feather's story develops with refreshing unpredictability. And it's nice and short. R.D.
U.S.A., 2003. Director: Tom Coffman
Fri., May 30, 4 p.m., Broadway Perf. Hall
A timely documentary on 100 years of Korean immigration to the United States.
France/Spain, 2002. Director: C餲ic Klapisch
Cast: Audrey Tautou
Fri., May 23, 6:30 p.m., Pacific Place
Sun., May 25, 1:45 p.m., Pacific Place
Seven students in their early 20s, each from a different European nation, share a flat in Barcelona, serving as a microcosmic allegory for the European Union. See also Klapisch's When the Cat's Away; opens commercially May 30.
Czech Republic, 2001
Director: Vladimir Michᬥk
Fri., May 23, 6:30 p.m., Harvard Exit
Sat., May 24, 11:30 a.m., Harvard Exit
"Old men should be rich and respected," says Fanda (Vlastimil Brodsky) to his best friend Eda (Stanislav Zindulka). These old duffers are neither, so they pretend to be both. Fanda impersonates a moneybags opera conductor, snootily touring vast mansions and scarfing up fine cuisine paid for by eager realtors, while Eda makes a convincingly haughty secretary. They tell pretty girls they're railway inspectors, demanding kisses in return for not busting the babes for cheating on fares. Meanwhile, Fanda's wife spends her days planning their funerals. (Fanda would rather have the fun of faking his, like an octogenarian Tom Sawyer.) The jaunty comedy is forced, and beneath it lies infinite grief: Brodsky, a star since 1966's Closely Watched Trains, killed himself after shooting this film. It's like Il Postino, whose star was slowly dying in agony while playing a man exultant in love: The hero's grin is upstaged by the skull beneath the skin. Tim Appelo
South Korea, 2001. Director: Kim Ki-Duk
Tues., May 27, 9:30 p.m., Egyptian
Fri., May 30, 4 p.m., Pacific Place
When clean-cut teenager Sun-hwa is forcibly kissed in the street one day by gang leader and pimp Han-Ki, the resulting obsessive fascination leads them both into a downward spiral of degradation.
Cambodia/Great Britain, 2002 Director: Tamara Gordon
Sat., May 31, 6:30 p.m., Broadway Perf. Hall
Sun., June 15, 11:30 a.m., Broadway Perf. Hall
This documentary follows the search of an adopted Cambodian girl who leaves her middle-class English home to search for the mother she had always believed gave her up to an American. Strong buzz. North American premiere.
The Best of Times
Taiwan/Japan, 2002. Director: Chang Tso-Chi
Fri., June 6, 9:30 p.m., Harvard Exit
Fri., June 13, 11:30 a.m., Harvard Exit
Seventeen-year-old Wei has a Bruce Lee obsession, a job as doorman at a hostess bar, and a sister dying of leukemia. Lyrical in tone, the film swept the board at this year's Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan.
Big Girls Don't Cry
Germany, 2003. Director: Maria Von Heland
Sat., May 31, 4 p.m., Harvard Exit
Tues., June 10, 7 p.m., Pacific Place
Two best friends from contrasting backgrounds deal with the inevitable adolescent identity crisis in wholly different ways. Maria Von Heland's directorial debut. U.S. premiere.
Bird Man Tale
Indonesia, 2002. Director: Garin Nugroho
Thurs., June 12, 9:30 p.m., Broadway Perf. Hall
Sun., June 15, 4 p.m., Broadway Perf. Hall
A dance instructor and political activist, Bertold is skirting government thugs. Set in Papua New Guinea, this film teems with glorious imagery and a celestial score. North American premiere.
The Blessing Bell
Japan, 2002. Director: Sabu
Sun., June 1, 1:45 p.m., Egyptian
Tues., June 3, 9:30 p.m., Pacific Place
More a structural conceit than a movie, Bell goes one waythen back. Director Sabu plays an idle factory worker who wanders away from his idled factory on a picaresque series of adventures, never once speaking. Such a deadpan approach might work for Buster Keaton or Jacques Tati, but Sabu has a little too much faith in the power of his stony visage. He watches a yakuza die, goes to jail, proves himself a hero in a fire, sees a ghost, wins the lottery, and falls in a hole. Then the sun rises, and he retraces his steps. It's both more and less dramatic than it sounds. Sabu's best vignettes do bring a smile; he's like a forlorn angel of good karma (Clipped Wings of Desire?) who gets no respect for his efforts. The recent Palestinian film Divine Intervention did this kind of thing much better, but Sabu has a strong eye for empty streetscapes and urban absurdities that almost make his unlikely mishaps seem likely. B.R.M.
China/Hong Kong/Germany, 2002. Director: Li Yang
Wed., June 4, 9:30 p.m., Pacific Place
Sat., June 7, 4 p.m., Egyptian
Maybe the best mining-movie title ever. Two men travel the crumbling coal-mining system of China's hinterland to make their own kind of fortuneusing a violent scheme of misdirection and manipulation.
Hong Kong/China, 1973. Director: Zhang Che
Sat., June 7, 11:30 a.m., Harvard Exit
I would've gone wild over this old Hong Kong martial-arts movie when I was 9 years old. In the late-19th-century Qing dynasty, two brothers stand around flipping their pigtails and bragging about their big future as bandits. Along rides a warrior bandit fellow. They threaten to kill and rob him. Tall in the saddle, he challenges them to a dual duel. Impressed, the warrior hires the brothers to join his army. Fortunately, he gets rich and powerful, with peacock feathers in his hair. Unfortunately, the one woman who moves the warrior is the wife of the boorish, drunken, womanizing brother. Events play out with zero suspense but high style. Many rousing fight scenes ensue, set atop hills with inspiring vistas. Nine-year-olds are fated to spend days after seeing Brothers grimacing and pretending to die protractedly in battle, rolling down hills and flailing in slow motion. T.A.
Austria, 2002. Director: Andrea Maria Dusl
Tues., May 27, 7 p.m., Harvard Exit
Thurs., May 29, 4:45 p.m., Harvard Exit
Any film with twins should not be described in detail. And having said that, I've probably said too much. But, even if Moon's Eastern European road-movie spirit peters out in its final kilometers, it's still a journey worth taking. A schlumpy Austrian guy gets tangled up with a Ukrainian hooker in Slovakia; then there's a moocher from the former East Germany who leeches on to the Austrian; then the Austrian goes looking for the hooker again. Though Moon is basically a romantic comedy, it is pervaded with a morose sense that everyone in the former Soviet bloc has been made into whores and thieves. "Nobody comes here. There's nothing here," says a suspiciously familiar-looking Ukrainian woman who helps the Austrian on his quest. With some cool techno music in its score, Moon's like a cynical, seedier updating of a Hope-and-Crosby road movie. One guy even uses a doll's head to steal a carI call that free enterprise. B.R.M.
U.S.A., 2002. Directors: Charles Burnett, Mike Figgis, Marc Levin, Richard Pearce, and Wim Wenders
Fri., May 23, 9:30 p.m., Egyptian
Mon., May 26, 4 p.m., Broadway Perf. Hall
What Ken Burns did for jazz, Paul Allen now tries to do for the blues: He put up the money for this seven-film series, which will air on PBS in September, in which seven directors, including Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas) and Wim Wenders, were invited to "riff" on various aspects of blues culture and history. Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese also participated, but their segments won't be ready for SIFF. Instead we previewed "Godfathers and Sons" by Marc Levin (Slam), which does not raise high hopes. It's a lame mishmash, mostly given over to a "behind the scenes" promotional video for a Chess recording session that featured Chuck D. with some old blues players. (The musical result provides a rather strong counterargument to the platitudes being mouthed about deep links between rap and the blues.) Brief footage of Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters playing together apparently has never been seen before. Mark D. Fefer
Canada, 2002. Director: Deepa Mehta
Thurs., May 29, 4:45 p.m., Pacific Place
Sun., June 1, 6:30 p.m., Pacific Place
A cross-cultural comedy from the director of Earth, this faux-Bollywood romantic musical employs all the conventions of the genre. Possibly even better than The Guru, since it lacks Heather Graham.
Argentina, 2002. Director: Pablo Trapero
Wed., June 4, 7 p.m., Pacific Place
Tues., June 10, 1 p.m., Pacific Place
Zapa gets himself into trouble in his hometown. His uncle gets him into "el Bonaerense," the infamous Buenos Aires police force. From the director of Crane World (SIFF '00).
Tunisia/France, 2002. Director: Nawfel Saheb-Ettaba
Sun., May 25, 4 p.m., Harvard Exit
Wed., May 28, 7 p.m., Harvard Exit
On a street corner in Tunis, where past and present, poor and well-off, Arab and French heritages meet, stands the shabby-genteel building that lends its name to ad-and- documentary director Saheb-Ettaba's first feature. It's an auspicious debut. Don't be put off by the title: The bookshop in question merely existslike a sitcom kitchen or a soap's staff dayroomto bring diverse characters into plausible propinquity. They include: Martine Gafsi as a loveless widow; Yadh Beji as her Europeanized (i.e., old-fashioned) son; Hend Sabri as the young wife stifled among stacks of musty books; and Ahmed el Haffiene as the drifter bringing a whiff of change. All their seemingly preprogrammed encounters evolve in fascinating and unexpected directions. All the performances are moving and memorable, but Sabri's is something special: tough, funny, and powerfully sexy. If there's any justice in film heaven, we'll see much more of her. Roger Downey
Czech Republic, 2002. Director: Zdenek Tyc
Tues., June 3, 7 p.m., Harvard Exit
Wed., June 4, 2 p.m., Broadway Perf. Hall
Required viewing for parents and future parents (especially if you plan to adopt), Brats immerses itself in the humdrum yet heroic business of childrearing. A Prague yuppie couple moves to the countryside to shield their two adopted Gypsy (Romany) boys from racist taunting and to relieve the asthma of their natural-born son (the youngest). The air is better, of course, but the villagers are a different matter. Eight-year-old middle son Frantasek is accused of vandalism by a cranky old racist, but the subsequent confrontations don't lead where you expect. Brats is more interested in the unhurried daily patterns of family lifesome of them, be warned, are downright boringand boys-will-be-boys misbehavior. Still wanna have kids? There's a great bedtime moment when the two older boys start a "Shut up! No, you shut up!" contest that you think could go on for the rest of the movie. I'll bet some parents have seen that scene plenty of times before. B.R.M.
Broadway: The Golden Age,
by the Legends Who Were There
U.S.A., 2003. Director: Rick Mckay
Cast: Bea Arthur, Alec Baldwin, Carol Burnett, Alan Cumming, Jeremy Irons, Angela Lansbury, Shirley MacLaine, Rick McKay, Jerry Orbach, Chita Rivera, Eva Marie Saint, Elaine Stritch, and Tommy Tune
Fri., May 30, 6:30 p.m., Broadway Perf. Hall
Sun., June 1, 4 p.m., Broadway Perf. Hall
The golden age of the Great White Way is brought to the screen in a documentary featuring interviews with more than 100 Broadway stars, composers, writers, and notables.
Brothers . . . on Holy Ground
U.S.A., 2002. Director: Mike Lennon
Tues., May 27, 7 p.m., Broadway Perf. Hall
Shortly after noon on Sept. 11, 2001, independent filmmaker Lennon arrived at the site of the World Trade Center. After two weeks of digging, he began interviewing firefighters and their families.
U.S.A., 2002. Director: Don Coscarelli
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis
Sat., May 24, midnight, Egyptian
The story of what really became of Elvis Presley. Now living in a Texas rest home, Elvis teams up with Jack, a fellow resident who thinks he is John F. Kennedy. Antics ensue.
U.S.A., 2001. Director: Gregor Jordon
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, and Anna Paquin
Sat., June 7, 9:30 p.m., Egyptian
Sun., June 8, 4 p.m., Egyptian
This cynical rendering of life on a U.S. Army base in Germany prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall has provoked controversy. Based on the novel by Robert O'Connor.
Bukowski: Born Into This
U.S.A., 2002. Director: John Dullaghan
Wed., May 28, 9:30 p.m., Broadway Perf. Hall
Fri., June 6, 4 p.m., Egyptian
An overview of the life of the literary bad boy, with rare footage of his public readings and interviews.
Burning in the Wind
Italy/Switzerland, 2001. Director: Silvio Soldini
Fri., May 23, 9:30 p.m., Harvard Exit
Sat., May 24, 1:45 p.m., Harvard Exit
Factory drone Tobias searches for fantasy girls. When he actually meets one and falls in love, it turns out there's a family connection. North American premiere.
France, 2002. Director: Philippe Muyl
Sat., June 7, 11:30 a.m., Pacific Place
An ornery, retired Parisian sets off on an expedition to find a rare mountain butterfly. A huge hit in France, of course. U.S. premiere.
U.S.A., 2002. Director: Eli Roth
Sat., May 31, midnight, Egyptian
Tues., June 10, 9:30 p.m., Harvard Exit
College kids wonder, "Dude, who brought the flesh-eating zombie virus to our kegger?"
Director: Uli Edel
Cast: Christopher Walken, Chris Noth, Valerio Golino, and Richard Harris
Thurs., June 12, 6:30 p.m., Egyptian
This historical epic enlists a cast of thousands to recount the rise and fall of Rome's golden warrior. Harris fills a supporting role filmed shortly before his death. U.S. premiere.
6:30 p.m. Fri., May 23 at Egyptian 4 p.m. Sat., May 24 at Egyptian
A bunch of young outcasts (i.e., gay boys and plump girls who worship Stephen Sondheim) get to commiserate in their otherness at a summer theater camp for kids. Writer/debut director Todd Graff and his drowsy editor Myron Kerstein muck up what is intended to be a socko openingjuxtaposing the performance of a soaring spiritual from The Gospel at Colonus with a young drag queen's beating at the hands of his high-school peersand it's all downhill from there. Graf gets a few happy, hearty laughs out of these kids' fearless earnestness (i.e., an ambitious teenage girl with a mi