This Week's SIFF Picks

The Case of the Grinning Cat

As lively, engaged, and provocative as ever (not least in his use of digital technology), octogenarian Chris Marker meditates on the state of post-9/11 France. Part personal essay, part city symphony, this hour-long video takes as its premise the mysterious appearance of the enigmatic M. Chat—a wide-eyed, broadly smiling feline mascot who magically appears on Paris rooftops and building walls, as well as at political demonstrations. A minor mystery: The movie is dated 2004. Why has it taken so long to arrive here? (NR) J. HOBERMAN Northwest Film Forum: 7 p.m. Sat., May 27; 9:30 p.m. Wed., May 31.

Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul

True to its title, this fascinating documentary reveals the musical and cultural diversity at the crossroads between East and West, Europe and Asia. Director Fatih Akin (Head-On) and German rocker Alexander Hacke traipse around town recording the city's soundscape. They capture everything from hip-hop to psychedelic rock, street buskers to pop divas, tribal dirges to heavy metal. We see Istanbul as a city of confluence and contradiction, a musical melting pot embracing the West while also maintaining and celebrating its heritage. Akin's camera is gently present, and Hacke is a charismatic musical guide whose excitement is contagious. The recordings are beautifully captured and edited by Andrew Bird (himself an accomplished musician). Bridge is simultaneously a musical celebration and cultural exploration of an amazing, diverse city. Once you see it, and hear it, you'll want to visit. (NR) AARON DUCAT Harvard Exit: 5 p.m. Sat., May 27; 6 p.m. Tues., May 30.

The Giant Buddhas

Get ready to weep again for Afghanistan, where selling plundered national treasure is even more profitable than dealing opium, and 1,500-year-old statues are exploded in the name of Islam. This documentary cobbles together stories relating to the Taliban's destruction of two enormous Buddha statues in the Bamiyan Valley in early 2001. Director Christian Frei interviews Al-Jazeera journalist Taysir Alony, who disguised himself as a Talib to film the unforgettable explosions. Frei later visits an archaeological dig where a third, sleeping Buddha may lie. Another thread follows Afghan journalist-actress Nelofer Pazira—star of Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Kandahar, now living in Toronto—as she travels (post-Taliban) to Kabul and Bamiyan, bearing photos her father had taken of the Buddhas when he was a young man. She stares in horror at the vacant space where the larger statue (125 feet tall) once stood. Oh, the shame. (NR) MOLLY LORI Neptune: 1:30 p.m. Sat., May 27. Lincoln Square: 4:30 p.m. Fri., June 2.

Gitmo: The New Rules of War

A valuable bookend to The Road to Guantánamo, this Swedish documentary (almost entirely in English) actually gains access to our U.S. detention center in Cuba, where military glad-handers stonewall every effort to get close to the inmates. The filmmakers' not-so-innocent tourist shots of the base are telling: female soldiers in bikinis playing volleyball, soldiers eating at McDonald's, and a bearded Special Forces–looking guy exiting the secret chain-link fenced compound—whether headed back to Iraq or Afghanistan, we can only guess. Even with a war going on, it's like there's no war going on. Back on the mainland, the Gitmo crew snags an interview with demoted Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the woman made the scapegoat for Abu Ghraib. A private contractor—again, that's a private contractor interrogating suspected terrorists, not an accountable member of our government or military—says the barking dogs, freezing air-conditioning, and loud rock music (Fleetwood Mac? Matchbox 20?) are "completely ineffective . . . and detrimental to the overall mission." Then you've got a clip of Rummy bragging that forcing inmates to stand for four hours isn't torture, because he routinely spends eight to 10 hours a day on his feet. Then, I'm sure, he goes home for a pleasant evening of hooding, waterboarding, and hooking up electrodes to his genitals. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Broadway Performance Hall: 11 a.m. Sat., May 27. Neptune: 9:15 p.m. Mon., May 29.

Heading South

Having brilliantly explored the subject of work in Time Out and Human Resources, Laurent Cantet now turns to the trickier subject of leisure—sex tourism, in fact. He follows three white women of a certain age to Haiti in the late '70s (i.e., pre-AIDS), where handsome black studs are "a dime a dozen," according to imperious Charlotte Rampling. At 55, her character maintains, only white losers will sleep with her back in Boston; here, she pays for the services she desires. "Welcome to paradise," she tells a late-blossoming newcomer with romantic feelings toward the head boy on the beach. But Cantet follows that boy from the beach and out of his clients' sight, revealing the harsh Duvalier-era social reality they chose to ignore. This handsome kid, practically a teenager, has no other option but to work (there's that Cantet keyword of oppression) as a gigolo for these unwitting, hennish sex colonists. He has a family, friends, and a conscience, but it takes a violent shock for them to finally guess as much. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Pacific Place: 9:30 p.m. Sat., May 27. Egyptian: 11 a.m. Mon., May 29.

The Hidden Blade

Don't be fooled by the title—Blade isn't the sort of Zatoichi variant it suggests. Rather, it's a revisionist and demystifying samurai saga. In 1861, at the end of the Japanese feudal era, the last samurai are clumsily adapting Western artillery and military formations without the assistance of Tom Cruise. Disgraced since his father's hara-kiri, Katagiri (Masatoshi Nagase of Mystery Train) impetuously rescues his former maid (Takako Matsu, last week's Seattle Weekly cover girl) from an abusive marriage, then dutifully abides by the caste system to suppress his affections for her. Meanwhile, he must prove his own innocence by dueling with a school pal accused of treason. Devoid of action until the climactic showdown, Blade is a stately yarn with slow-burn tension and heartwarming romance. But director Yôji Yamada already made the shogun equivalent of Unforgiven with the Oscar-nominated The Twilight Samurai. Though both are adaptations of Shuuhei Fujisawa novels, this follow-up pales slightly in comparison. (R) MARTIN TSAI Pacific Place: 6:30 p.m. Mon., May 29. Lincoln Square: 4 p.m. Thurs., June 1.

A Lion in the House

So you think you're a hardy filmgoer because you survived Schindler's List, United 93, and every Texas Chainsaw Massacre they made? All pale in comparison to watching an 18-year-old undergo cranial surgery for cancerous lesions on his brain, or an 8-year-old girl screaming in pain at the invasive therapy that may be her only chance for life, or a 15-year-old vomit as a feeding tube is stuck up his nose in order to maintain body weight. For almost four hours, you'll watch kids with cancer, learn to love them, and then look on in horror as most of them succumb; it's nothing compared to what the parents go through, but it may be more than you can handle. Bring tissues and have a stiff drink ready afterward—you will need them. Filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert are parent survivors themselves and documented six years of the process as undergone by five other families. No film in recent memory has been more wrenching; cancer is a villain more heinous than any screenwriter can imagine. (NR) LUKE Y. THOMPSON Broadway Performance Hall: 1:15 p.m. Sun., May 28.

My Dad is 100 Years Old

Made with Guy Maddin, Isabella Rossellini's shrewd and tender childlike tribute to Italian neorealism's founding figure visualizes Roberto Rossellini as the big belly against which she once hurled herself. The actress takes pleasure in portraying her father's aesthetic antagonists—Hitchcock, Selznick, Fellini—as well as an angelic Chaplin and her mother, Ingrid Bergman. Maddin, another anti-Rossellini, frames this grave, hilarious psychodrama as an educational film, manfully accepting its implied criticism: "My father would call those camera moves immoral, because they are pretentious and unnecessary." (NOTE: precedes Roberto Rossellini's The Flowers of St. Francis [first] and Rome: Open City on the same evening.) (NR) J. HOBERMAN Harvard Exit: 6:30 and 9 p.m. Thurs., June 1.

Princess Raccoon

The Japanese studio system banished him for a decade for making such delirium-addled B-movie classics as Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill, but 82-year-old Seijun Suzuki is still as bizarre and irreverent as ever. Raccoon is the seemingly timeless star-crossed romance between a royal raccoon (Ziyi Zhang) and a human prince (Jô Odagiri of Bright Future), exiled for fear that he would supplant his father as the fairest of them all. With Suzuki at the wheel, it's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg with kimonos and psychedelia. The film is a pastiche of Japanese opera, Greek tragedy, and French new wave. Like a continuity editor's worst nightmare, its mise-en-scène alternates inexplicably between theatrical stage, naturalistic exterior, and scroll-painting-superimposed blue screen—sometimes all within the same scene! The musical repertoire likewise covers as many genres as a season of American Idol. Ultimately, Raccoon demands and rewards the total suspension of disbelief. Its incongruous storytelling style takes some getting used to, but beneath lies a mischievously droll and sweet fable that'll leave you with a beaming smile. (NR) MARTIN TSAI Neptune: 1:30 p.m. Mon., May 29. Pacific Place: 9:15 p.m. Thurs., June 1.

The Proposition

Written by goth-punk rocker Nick Cave in the spirit of Sam Peckinpah, The Proposition is a revisionist Western of the nihilist variety. Set in the Australian outback of the 1880s, the film draws its title from a burned-out lawman's pathetic offer to an outlaw (Guy Pearce): Kill your older brother, and I'll spare your younger one. Distinguishing these two killers in terms of each one's right to live isn't something that The Proposition worries much about. Like his characters, director John Hillcoat shoots first and asks questions later, if at all. In a haunting performance as Capt. Stanley, Ray Winstone uses his fleshy face in ironic counterpoint to Pearce's gaunt one: The captain is well-fed but hollowed out—his mouth slightly agape, his eyes always a little moist. What actor wouldn't have killed to be in this movie? John Hurt turns up as a soused bounty hunter who seems to prepare Pearce's character for the showdown with his wayward kin by drunkenly invoking Darwin. (R) ROB NELSON Neptune: 9:30 p.m. Fri., May 26; 1:30 p.m. Sun., May 28.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

When is a blow job not like any other blow job? For the mysterious members of the Motion Picture Association of America, when those are male lips around a male member. Or when "asshole" is merely a useful epithet before an action hero plugs a villain full of lead—as opposed to a carnal point of entry between two characters of the same sex. Kirby Dick's hidden-camera documentary makes great sport of ridiculing these and other double standards about what's deemed PG-13, R, NC-17, or NR—if you've ever wondered why those acronyms clutter these pages—by a cabal of boring showbiz leeches purporting to protect children from movie indecency. Though he skimps on the history of the MPAA (cue Jack Valenti, defensive and sour), Dick gets down to business by hiring a team of private investigators to bust its secret band of censors. The movie gives us the somewhat shamefully delicious sense of being among the stalkarazzi—following cars, scribbling down license plates, snapping photos, and hacking phone trees. Maria Bello, John Waters, Kevin Smith, and Matt Stone are interviewed. And the outtakes from Team America are pure hilarious filth. (NC-17) BRIAN MILLER Egyptian: 9:30 p.m. Sat., May 27.

Zozo

For a film whose principal message is that life sucks for children no matter where they live, Zozo is surprisingly enjoyable and not nearly as depressing as one anticipates. Aged about 10, poor young Zozo (Imad Creidi) must leave his native Beirut after his family is killed in the Lebanese civil war. (The film is set in 1987.) He ventures to Sweden to stay with his grandparents, only to discover a new set of challenges as an immigrant. Sound familiar? It certainly is for director Josef Fares (Jalla! Jalla!), who treats this partly autobiographical story with such care that it prevents the plot from becoming syrupy or the ending implausibly sunny. Creidi gives a remarkable, natural performance. His magnetic presence makes the film's potentially cloying fantasy sequences palatable. The moment he begins speaking to a baby chick, and it talks back, we immediately accept it as the fractured reality of a boy who's just looking for a safe and secure home. (NR) FRANK PAIVA Pacific Place: 9:15 p.m. Sun., May 28. Lincoln Square: 4:30 p.m. Sat., June 3. E

Seattle International Film Festival Multiple venues. For full schedule and details, visit www.seattlefilm.com or call 206-324-9996 (tickets) and 206-324-9997 (information). $5–$10 (most shows). Thurs., May 25–Sun., June 18.

 
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