Miller and Horton Go to SIFF

Much of the pleasure to be found during the four weeks of the Seattle International Film Festival comes not from the knowing reviews and preceding buzz, but from the unheralded and sometimes random discoveries that emerge from this, the nation’s largest film festival. With more than 250 features and docs unspooling tomorrow through June 9, the 39th edition of SIFF boasts more movies than any two critics could possibly see in advance. But we can make our best guesses about the schedule and its most promising titles. So in addition to the first week’s picks and pans, here are our entirely subjective previsionary faves—what we haven’t seen, are dying to see, and hope won’t disappoint us. (For schedule and details, see siff.net .)

HORTON:

She hasn’t had her breakthrough yet, but Spanish director Isabel Coixet has been quietly doing intriguing work for years, including My Life Without Me (2003) and Elegy (2008), penetrating movies not at all designed to make the audience comfortable. Her new one is Yesterday Never Ends, a love-lost story set in a slightly futuristic Barcelona. (SIFF Cinema Uptown: 5:30 p.m. Sat., June 1 & noon Sun., June 2.)

Speaking of My Life Without Me, that film’s star, Sarah Polley, has become a director to reckon with, and her personal documentary Stories We Tell arrives with accolades already draped around its shoulders. Polley looks into her own family history, which sounds tangled and difficult and not something her relatives particularly want to talk about. (Harvard Exit: 4 p.m. Fri., May 17. SIFF Cinema Uptown: 5 p.m. Sun., May 19.)

Two veteran Scandinavian filmmakers offer new titles this year. Octogenarian Jan Troell, who showed himself in splendid form in his 2008 film Everlasting Moments, weaves The Last Sentence around a real-life Swedish journalist who fought fascism during World War II; the excellent Jesper Christensen, whose career includes 007 and Lars von Trier movies alike, stars. (Egyptian: 4 p.m. Thurs., May 23 & 9:30 p.m. Tues., May 28.) And Bille August, the Oscar-winner for Pelle the Conqueror, goes the bio route as well: Marie Krøyer profiles the wife of Danish painter P.S. Krøyer, a marriage that breaks down through illness and disappointment. (Renton Performing Arts Center: 8:30 p.m. Wed., May 29. Egyptian: 4 p.m. Fri., May 31 & 9:30 p.m. Tues., June 4.)

Put the words “Neil Jordan” and “vampire” together, and you’ve got a reasonably good chance that there’ll be something worth looking at onscreen. Throw in Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arteton as bloodsuckers in an English seaside town, and the possibilities for Byzantium begin to expand rather unhealthily. (Harvard Exit: 9:30 p.m. Fri., May 17. Pacific Place: 1 p.m., Sat., May 18.)

Because he’s so prolific, Hong Kong maestro Johnnie To is capable of the occasional dud. But when he’s on, he’s really on, so let’s hold out hopes for the North American premiere of Drug War, an action picture that likely covers the ground suggested by its no-nonsense title. (Egyptian: 7 p.m. Sat., May 25 & 12:30 p.m. Mon., May 27.)

If you have an interest in African cinema (and you should, you should), Finding Hillywood sounds like a useful behind-the-scenes documentary about Rwandan filmmakers and their entry into the international movie landscape. See Sean Axmaker’s interview with local director Leah Warshawski here. (Egyptian: 7 p.m. Wed., May 29 & 4 p.m. Wed., June 5.)

Rwanda offers a narrative film this year, too: The Pardon by Joel Karekezi examines the aftermath of friends separated by the 1990s genocide. (Pacific Place: 6 p.m. Sun., May 26. Renton: 3:30 p.m. Mon., May 27.)

What were you saying again about how difficult it is to make your indie-film project? Try being imprisoned Iranian director Jafar Panahi: His latest act of defiance, Closed Curtain, was somehow completed with the collaboration of co-director Kamboziya Partovi. This docudrama follows Panahi’s extraordinary This Is Not a Film, and perhaps sheds light on how he can keep working despite being under arrest for supposed offenses against Iran’s government. A North American premiere. (SIFF Cinema Uptown: 3:30 p.m. Fri., May 17 & 8:30 p.m. Sun., June 9. Egyptian: 7 p.m. Tues., June 4.)

I’ve seen a couple of zombie walks in person, and a variety of thoughts arise at such occasions. One such thought is brrraaaaiiinnns. Another is: Somebody better be making a documentary about these people. So here’s Dead Meat Walking: A Zombie Walk Documentary, which will explain everything about those who choose to stalk. (Egyptian: midnight, Fri., May 24. Renton: 8:30 p.m. Sat., May 25.)

Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton is a profile of the experimental filmmaker whose life led him from the heat of the San Francisco literary scene to the quiet harbor of Port Townsend, where he died in 1999. (SIFF Cinema Uptown: 6 p.m. Fri., May 31. Pacific Place: 1:30 p.m. Sat., June 1.)

Experimental artist Abigail Child shot A Shape of Error on 16 mm film, the better to create a “home movie” shot by Percy and Mary Shelley, played here by nonprofessional actors. I know nothing more about this film, which has no IMDb listing yet, but I’m pretty sure I need to see this. (SIFF Cinema Uptown: 8:30 p.m. Sun., May 19 & 8:30 p.m. Wed., May 22.)

On the one hand, The Bling Ring sounds like it might feed into the weaker aspects of Sofia Coppola’s talents. On the other hand, it’s about teenagers who track the comings and goings of celebrities, the better to rob them of their goodies. Hmm, I guess those are the same hand. Still, the cast is promising (Emma Watson gets a chance to get out of Potter-world, and Taissa Farmiga—young sis of Vera—proved an intriguing presence in Higher Ground ), and this sounds like a chance for Coppola to turn up the oomph factor from her previous work. (Cinerama: 6:30 p.m. Sun., June 9. Opens June 21.)

MILLER:

I’ve had a crush on Naomi Watts ever since I interviewed her for Mulholland Drive back in 2001. In Two Mothers, based on a Doris Lessing story, she and Robin Wright Penn (House of Cards), each hook up with the other’s son. So is this a case of creepy, predatory MILFs? French director Anne Fontaine (My Worst Nightmare) has often been interested in pushing women into awkward or extreme situations, and Watts is an actress at home in that rocky terrain. (Egyptian: 9:30 p.m. Fri., May 17 & 3 p.m. Sat., May 18.)

Last year at SIFF, Lynn Shelton enjoyed a hometown triumph by opening the fest with Your Sister’s Sister. She was already shooting Touchy Feely at the time, which had its premiere at Sundance this January. Back from Sister is Rosemarie DeWitt, this time a massage therapist who suddenly finds herself squeamish about touching her clients. Shelton is slowly gaining more traction in Hollywood, lately directing episodes of New Girl, and she’s attracting more out-of-town talent to her Northwest indies. Allison Janney, Ron Livingston, Scoot McNairy, and Ellen Page join the ensemble for this feature. (Renton Performing Arts Center: 7 p.m. Thurs., May 23. Egyptian: 1:30 p.m. Sat., May 25.)

The Act of Killing has drawn gasps and incredulous laughter at all its festival screenings. It’s a documentary about Indonesia’s civil war of the ’60s, when military death squads routinely executed leftists and suspected Communist sympathizers. Four decades later, director Joshua Oppenheimer has some of these now-aged killers re-enact their crimes. In effect, he makes them the stars of surreal little murder vignettes, where atrocities are transformed into giggling entertainment. Naturally Werner Herzog loves it. (Harvard Exit: 4 p.m. Thurs., May 18 & 9:30 p.m. Wed., May 22.)

With Ariel Castro and his Cleveland sex slaves in the news, everyone’s up in arms about child kidnapping and sexual abuse. From milk-carton kids to Amber Alerts, we Americans seem to believe—want to believe?—that there are monsters lurking behind every lamppost, waiting to snatch our beloved children. It’s almost folkloric. But Danish director Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration) complicates those notions with his acclaimed new thriller The Hunt, starring Mads Mikkelsen as a children’s day care worker accused of being a predator. In a flash, the community turns against him. Now in your living room thanks to TV’s Hannibal, Mikkelsen is an actor who deserves more attention in the U.S. (Harvard Exit: 7 p.m. Tues., June 4. SIFF Cinema Uptown: 4 p.m. Thurs., June 6.)

Seattle is full of climbers who read about the 2008 icefall on K2 with grim fascination. From Liberty Ridge to the West Butt of McKinley, we all know how conditions can suddenly change, how the objective hazards of mountaineering can prove so suddenly fatal. Nick Ryan’s documentary The Summit examines how and why 11 climbers died on that Karakoram peak, considered one of the most dangerous and difficult among the world’s coveted 8,000-ers. Like Touching the Void, this doc uses interviews and re-enactments, with some of the new footage shot on K2 itself. (SIFF Cinema Uptown: 6:30 p.m. Thurs., May 30. Harvard Exit: 1 p.m. Sat., June 1.)

Prince Avalanche doesn’t sound great in outline: Two guys on a road crew in the ’80s bicker and quarrel as they literally paint lines on the highway. Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch star, with the ever-unpredictable David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, George Washington) directing the comedy. But my interest is piqued because Prince Avalanche is a remake of Either Way, an Icelandic film seen at SIFF last year, which had a lot of deadpan charm to it. Shot in rural Texas by Green’s preferred cinematographer, Tim Orr, the film emphatically contrasts the power of landscape against these two guys’ personal problems, as did the original by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson. Here’s a rare case where I’m ready for the remake. (SIFF Cinema Uptown: 9 p.m. Sat., June 1 & 4:30 p.m. Tues., June 4.)

With Kim Ki-duk, you know to expect surprising bursts of sex and violence. From 3-Iron to Samaritan Girl, he has exhibited a talent for producing shocks from slow-brewing, almost languorous drama. In his new Pieta, the brutal henchman for a loan shark is startled by the arrival of a woman who claims to be the mother who gave him up for adoption. Gang-do doesn’t believe her, so he tests her with some of the sadistic methods he uses on the deadbeats—who also come back looking for revenge. Is Mi-seon really his mother? This thug begins to soften a little at her pseudo-maternal influence. Pieta is certainly allegorical, perhaps implausible, and it sounds like another one of Kim’s signature head-scratchers. (SIFF Cinema Uptown: 10 p.m. Fri., May 17. Pacific Place: 9 p.m. Sun., May 19.)

Income inequality is at record levels in the U.S., thanks to tax cuts for the rich, globalization, union busting, and other causes Robert Reich explains in the advocacy doc Inequality for All. Former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, the UC Berkeley prof is basically given a platform to attack the FOX News gospel of free markets and “limited government,” and that’s what he does. Jacob Kornbluth directs, and among the subjects he and Reich interview is Seattle philanthropist Nick Hanauer. (Egyptian: 6:30 p.m. Sun., June 1 & 4:30 p.m. Mon., June 3.)

Hermione turns evil. Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring stars Emma Watson as the ringleader of a teen gang of celebrity-obsessed robbers. It’s like a pack of delinquents crashing Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, the vapid imitating the shallow—the only difference between the two being money and fame. And that hollow, glamorous world of discontent is Coppola’s specialty (Lost in Translation, Somewhere). She knows how to convey female longing and frustration, which should bring a new weight to Watson, now 23, who became a star playing the Harry Potter wizard who could have anything she wanted (well, almost). This true-crime story, covered by Vanity Fair, E!, and others, is something of a departure for Coppola, whose work can have a gilded, hermetic quality. I’m hoping The Bling Ring breaks her, and Watson, out of their privileged bubble. The film debuts at Cannes this week, and is SIFF’s festival-ending gala presentation, so buy your ticket early.

film@seattleweekly.com

 
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