SIFF Week 4: 15 New Picks & Pans

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 8 Sevdah for Karim 4:30 p.m., SIFF Cinema Ostensibly the story of a tense love triangle that leads to a tragic fracturing of two ex-soldiers' relationship in post-9/11 Bosnia (where they work clearing old land mines), Sevdah for Karim is a pointless, scattered, atonal mess of a film. The most engaging character—a coke-snorting, womanizing, tight-shirted tough named Juka—only serves to reinforce turbo-trash Eastern European stereotypes. The lone message that can be gleaned here is that Muslims abroad aren't all that crazy about American imperialism. Wow, what a revelation! It's Part Go, part M*A*S*H, and part Inventing the Abbotts (three pictures that should never be mentioned in the same breath), with a rape/torture scene thrown in for good measure. Nice. MIKE SEELY (Also: Pacific Place, 7 p.m. Fri., June 10.) The Catechism Cataclysm 7 p.m., Neptune Seen at Northwest Film Forum four years back, Todd Rohal's The Guatemalan Handshake had a certain wacky panache, taking a gentle if aimless view of a half-dozen Midwestern eccentrics. This time around, shooting in rural Washington state, he confines himself mainly to a canoe duo. Reverend Billy (Steve Little, Eastbound & Down) is an almost idiotically good-natured, incompetent young Catholic priest who convinces his old high-school hero Robbie (Robert Longstreet) to go for an afternoon's paddle. A graying old rocker/writer now working as a roadie for the Ice Capades, Robbie has no recollection of worshipful Billy ("my only fan") from 20 years ago, and their trip is played mainly for laughs. At first it's not a bad idea, like Deliverance-lite, as they bicker and trade life disappointments on the river, Robbie chugging ever more cans of Rainier, wondering what (lost) promise Billy ever saw in him. Their encounter with two Japanese tourist gals fixated on Huckleberry Finn would seem to portend more comedy. But as the pentagram/death-metal opening credits suggest, Rohal has other things in mind. After the trip takes an abrupt, bloody turn, a frightened, confounded Billy prays to God, "I don't know why you're screwing with me!" His faith has been upended in a manner that can't be reduced to a neat Sunday-morning parable. Rohal, too, refuses a tidy story, suggesting that enigmas are more worthy of our belief. BRIAN MILLER (Also: 4:30 p.m. Thurs., June 9.) [PICK] Heading West 7 p.m., Pacific Place Attention, PubliCola readers and message-board denizens of the Cascade Bicycle Club! Have I got a movie for you! The heroine of this Dutch year-in-the-life character study bicycles almost everywhere—sometimes even in Amsterdam's dedicated cycle paths! A single mother, she pedals her young son to school (with no helmets, it must be noted). She even breaks her arm (off-camera) when taking a rolling cell-phone call. And she hooks up with a new boyfriend when he—roguishly or accidentally—locks his bike to hers. Cute! (In a Seattle-set remake, they'd probably meet at a Critical Mass rally.) Looking like a young Geneviève Bujold, Susan Visser plays Claire, age 38 and getting older. Divorced, living in a cheap part of town, teaching special-needs kids, and enduring a meddling mother, Claire deserves a little happiness. And she gets some, plus disappointments, tears, sex, minor triumphs, and minor tragedies. The pace for all this in Nicole van Kilsdonk's film is unhurried, episodic, and very Euro. There is no great catharsis, no prince on horseback, no self-satisfied Julia Roberts moment of serene sublimity. Instead of Eat Pray Love, it's Bike Eat Endure. The one time Claire drives, she gets pulled over for speeding. Trying to talk her way out of a ticket, she protests, "But I recycle everything!" BRIAN MILLER (Also: Egyptian, 4:30 p.m. Sat., June 11.) Sushi: The Global Catch 7 p.m., Admiral When making sushi, a Tokyo chef insists in Mark Hall's eco-documentary, the rice is as important as the fish. But diners worldwide are fixated on the latter, creating a potential environmental crisis, according to the experts who populate this polemic (essentially Food, Inc. at sea). Sushi corrals chefs, wholesalers, scientists, and fish ranchers who bemoan the skyrocketing demand for bluefin tuna—China's bottomless hunger looms like a thundercloud over such discussions—and the corresponding depletion of Atlantic tuna stocks. "No species has fared worse at the hands of humans," says one expert. (Really? Not even whales or Atlantic salmon?) We also meet an Australian entrepreneur who's farm-raising tuna; the doc suggests bluefin abstinence until he's perfected the technique. Oh, and there's even a handy "Seafood Watch" app for your iPhone. Like so many advocacy docs, Sushi oversimplifies the issues. After establishing sushi's global reach by poking fun at the sweet, saucy rolls sold in Poland by a former pizzeria owner and mocking the rib-eye, cilantro, and jalapeno rolls popular in Texas, the film can't pin all the bluefin blame on new sushi eaters, who are generally eating California rolls packed with fake crab. Another problem: The starkly saturated images of fresh tuna meat are more gorgeous than Hall realizes. As I overheard at the press screening: "Makes you never want to eat sushi again, huh?", a moviegoer was asked. His reply: "Actually, it kind of makes you crave it." HANNA RASKIN (Also: Harvard Exit, 4:30 p.m. Fri., June 10.) Princess 9:30 p.m., Pacific Place Anna is a princess in the British royal family, or so she believes. Diagnosed with schizophrenia and manic depression in a Helsinki mental hospital circa 1945, "Princessa"—as she likes to be called—proclaims the hospital her castle and its staff her servants and/or aristocratic peers. Although doctors initially treat her delusions with insulin injections and electroshock therapy, they soon discover that her eccentric behavior has a positive effect on the mental ward. Princessa's royal mission is to help the poor, so she (Katja Küttner) beneficially engages with her imaginary subjects. Based on a true story, Arto Halonen's Princess entreats the audience to accept Princessa as she is—not as a case to be "cured" by lobotomy. It's an interesting, compassionate movie that grants mental patients a humanity rarely given and seldom filmed. KRISTY HAMILTON (Also: 11 a.m. Fri., June 10 and Kirkland, 1 p.m. Sun., June 12.) THURSDAY, JUNE 9 [PICK] Hot Coffee 7 p.m., Harvard Exit Remember that little-old-lady driver from Albuquerque who sued McDonald's after spilling its coffee in her lap? The one who, after that 1992 mishap, won millions in a lawsuit? Ridiculous, right? Maybe not. Susan Saladoff's HBO documentary reveals how much the public didn't know about the infamous case. For instance: 79-year-old Stella Liebeck (now deceased) wasn't even driving; she was parked and sitting in the passenger seat. Also, ignoring hundreds of previous complaints, McDonald's was brewing its coffee at a temperature (over 180 degrees!) far above its own standards. And Liebeck sustained serious injuries (horrifying photos are shown), requiring millions of dollars' worth of surgery and skin grafts. Liebeck v. McDonald's wasn't as frivolous as the media made out. Made by a former plaintiff's attorney, this fascinating film also explores how the Liebeck case prompted big business' campaign for damage caps and tort reform, which restricts people's rights to go to court. And how George W. Bush became renowned as "The Tort Reformer in Chief." And more recently, why a 19-year-old female Halliburton employee—drugged and brutally raped by her co-workers, imprisoned by her company in a shipping container—was legally unable to sue for damages. One answer is the starling ignorance many of us have about the legal system. When a man-on-the-street interviewee is asked here for a definition of tort reform, he states with confidence, "I think a tort is a piece of bread that looks like a hoagie roll." ERIN K. THOMPSON (Also: 11 a.m. Sat., June 11.) To Be Heard 7 p.m., SIFF Cinema This slam-poetry doc focuses on the plight of three teens in the Bronx caught between dreams of upward mobility and falling prey to the pitfalls of their neighborhood. The high-school students—all members of a poetry class–cum–support group—are at once sympathetic and frustrating. They're painfully aware that they're up against tremendous socioeconomic disadvantages, yet not above playing the victim card. Directed by Edwin Martinez, To Be Heard succeeds in presenting their struggles (both in the neighborhood and within everyday teenage drama), but fails to be more than a fly on the wall. CHRIS KORNELIS (Also: 11 a.m. Sat., June 11.) [PICK] Tabloid 9:30 p.m., SIFF Cinema After veering into politics for his last couple of documentaries (Standard Operating Procedure, The Fog of War), Errol Morris steers back to the peculiar. Very peculiar. Forgotten today, American beauty queen/kidnapper Joyce McKinney briefly became an English tabloid sensation in 1977–78 after she (allegedly) pursued her virginal Utah fiance to the UK, abducted him at gunpoint, chained him to the bed in a rural cottage, then used sex to break his Mormon faith and secure his love. She and a cohort skipped bail, so the facts were never ascertained in court. Indeed, shouting questions off-camera at McKinney and other interviewees, Morris is less interested in facts than simulacra: how McKinney was first represented one way in the English press (notorious female rapist), then another (sympathetic cult deprogrammer), and then still another (disgraced former call girl). Yet McKinney today seems none of these things; she's cheerful, perhaps in denial, yet still vehement about what she calls "a love story" and "a honeymoon." The object of her obsessive ardor wouldn't be interviewed, but a few chuckling Fleet Street veterans concede—after paying for her story—that there's both truth and confabulation to her account. If she couldn't get her man, she found fleeting fame (even meeting John Travolta and the Bee Gees). Three decades before TMZ and Gawker, McKinney was briefly a media princess perched on her pedestal of newspaper clips. Today Morris renders her a pitiable if not quite ridiculous figure—a woman who sought eternal love in a trashy, ephemeral world. BRIAN MILLER (Also: Admiral, 3:45 p.m. Sat., June 11.) FRIDAY, JUNE 10

[PICK] All Your Dead Ones 7 p.m., Harvard Exit What if death squads and mass graves weren't exceptional, but just another fact of peasant life? Like drought or locusts, inconvenient corpses arrive and ruin your day—and maybe your life. Short, cross-eyed Colombian farmer Salvador takes such a pragmatic view when a pile of the disappeared turns up in his field. He tells the authorities, but they don't want to listen. There's a national election going on, and they only want to count live voters, not dead protestors. (No matter who's on the local ticket, real authority lies with faceless Señor Anibal, reduced in synecdoche to his Rolex and Ford F150.) With a wife and child to protect, deadpan Salvador calmly accepts the official scorn and indifference heaped upon him; he's like Buster Keaton in a hurricane, a fireplug who won't be budged. Soon he and his family are hostages of the state police, though the two soldiers guarding the grave site are just as much pawns to power (always expressed through cell-phone calls). But who speaks for the dead? They do, in brief flashes of reanimation. For director Carlos Moreno, these corpses have a stubborn dignity like Salvador's. They're the crop and he the farmer, both powerless to control the cycles of life. BRIAN MILLER (Also: Neptune, 4:15 p.m. Sun., June 12.) Poupoupidou (Nobody Else but You) 9:30 p.m., Egyptian David Rousseau, a famous detective novelist, is passing through the small town of Mouthe, colloquially known as "Little Siberia" for its freezing climate, when inspiration strikes. The body of local celebrity Candice Lecoeur (the cherubic bleached-blonde Sophie Quinton), a cheese spokesmodel and weatherwoman on the news, is found buried in the snow with a bottle of pills in hand, her lifeless face looking as blue and waxy as Twin Peaks' Laura Palmer's. The police rule her death a suicide, but to Rousseau it's an unsolved mystery—and thus ripe for crime-novel treatment. Rousseau, played by the likably dry-witted Jean-Paul Rouve, begins his own side investigation. Aided by a young local cop, he sneaks into the morgue to see the body and tracks down her psychologist—who tells him that Candice believed she was the reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe. But it's only when Rousseau breaks into Candice's apartment and reads her diaries that the seamy underworld of her life is revealed—a jealous, abusive ex-husband, obsessive fans, date-rape drugs, affairs with politicians. The plot and all its intrigues are not entirely original, but Poupoupidou can be thrilling and spooky, particularly with Candice's voiceovers from the grave. "Even cold, I'm still the hottest gal in all Franche-Comté," her ghost sasses. ERIN K. THOMPSON (Also: Neptune, 1:30 p.m. Sun., June 12.) SATURDAY, JUNE 11 The Destiny of Lesser Animals 7 p.m., Harvard Exit A fairly straightforward cop film, told in unfamiliar Ghana, Destiny has its flawed policeman hero trying to recover the costly forged passport just stolen from him. Flashbacks reveal how Inspector Boniface (screenwriter Yao B. Nunoo) was deported from New York, post-9/11, as an illegal immigrant. Now his hopes to leave Africa have been dashed again, unless he can use his detective skills for purely selfish reasons. He lies about the investigation to his superiors and, traveling to the port city of Accra, to kindly Chief Inspector Oscar. The procedural unfolds like Ghana C.S.I. as Boniface interviews hotel prostitutes, petty criminals, and a silent street-urchin girl (a symbolic figure plucked from Dickens or Spielberg). American director Deron Albright has effectively grafted a standard stolen-gun plot (see Kurosawa's Stray Dog) onto the bigger canvas of Third World aspiration and Western indifference. Does New York need another African cab driver, or does Africa need more patriotic, honest cops? Rich in texture, respectable in action, Destiny does become rather predictable and sentimental. But the charismatic Nunoo is convincing as the lawman who realizes of his ID-thieving doppelgänger, "I am just like him." BRIAN MILLER (Also: Admiral, 3:30 p.m. Sun., June 12.) Hayfever 7 p.m., Pacific Place Vomit has never tasted so sweet. This Italian rom-com boasts assembly-line clichés, recycled life lessons, naive characters who fail to see the perfect love matches around them, and every other TV-movie stereotype. It also features a beautiful girl who's inexplicably overlooked by the world, a sibling with Down syndrome (for comic relief/wisdom), and a hipster hero whose only fault is falling for the wrong girl. Does that sound like a random list of complaints? It's also the plot of Laura Luchetti's Hayfever, which is perceived through the eyes and told through the finger-in-mouth narration of Camilla (Diane Fleri), a worldly girl who happens to be in the right place at the right time. She gets a job at a vintage boutique specializing in goodies from the '60s and '70s, where she falls for Matteo (Andrea Bosca). He happens to have fallen back in love with his ex—an on-again/off-again lesbian craving a baby. With each conveniently plot-advancing phone call and unexpected character entrance come lines like "The tiniest gust of wind can change our lives" or "It takes more than a romantic hobby to be a special person." No, really? Yet all these dysfunctional, disorganized souls are enlightened by the whimsical sincerity of Camilla. I've seen deeper episodes of Friends. JOE WILLIAMS (Also: 11 a.m. Sun., June 12.) Illegal 9:30 p.m., Pacific Place As a strict portrait of the purgatory illegal immigrants experience when facing deportation to a native country they abandoned everything to escape, Olivier Masset-Depasse's Illegal is an extraordinarily intense, powerful drama. French actress Anne Coesens learned Russian to play the lead role of Tania, a single mother who's incarcerated after her pleas for asylum are denied by the Belgian government. Coesens appears in virtually every frame of the film, and her work is superlative. Her character's struggle to develop relationships with her fellow detainees rings absolutely authentic, as does her desperate commitment to look out for her teenaged son's well-being from within guarded walls. But Illegal is a flawed film, in that it expects the viewer to take for granted that the plights of Tania and her fellow refugees have been sufficiently horrifying to merit lawbreaking. This mirrors a fundamental problem with the immigration-reform movement at large: In order to sway those skeptical of sharing their hometowns with foreigners, foreshadowing is critical to fostering empathy. MIKE SEELY (Also: 7 p.m. Sun., June 12.) SUNDAY, JUNE 12 Life in a Day 6 p.m., Cinerama Ah, the YouTube movie. Backed by that company (owned by Google), consumer-electronics goliath LG, and the market-savvy Ridley and Tony Scott, Life in a Day is a crowd-sourced, user-generated diary of the planet, all filmed last summer on July 24. That editor Joe Walker and director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, Touching the Void) distilled 80,000 video submissions to a 90-minute highlight reel is something of a miracle. (Were Google's supercomputers involved?) And some moments of the film are miracles of random beauty and happenstance. Two Asian girls swing in a chair above a stream. Floating lanterns ascend into a night sky. Soap bubbles bounce on a still lake surface. A girl swirls her hula hoop in the desert while solving a Rubik's cube. Presented in pure montage, such images depict the world in pointillist form. We're all just dots—but yearning dots—on Planet Google. As one woman declares in a memorable dashboard soliloquy, "I want people to know that I'm here. I don't want to cease to exist." Or, from another voice: "Life is so frickin' short." But is that really the function of YouTube testimonials (and this movie)—to provide the false permanence and reassurance of video? In its fascinating, globalist buffet of images, Life in a Day lands somewhere among Chatroulette, America's Funniest Home Videos, and Koyaanisqatsi. It's less successful, more like a Benetton ad or a U2 video, in its one-world minidramas: cancer mom, shoeshine boy, globe-circling Korean cyclist, etc. Yet some bits get stuck in your head (as the Russian goatherds did mine), and you wish they'd gotten their own documentary. BRIAN MILLER

 
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