SIFF Guide: Robert Horton’s Festival Preview

Should you utter the title The Babadook out loud, you may be in danger of summoning an Australian bogeyman from its hiding place—and woe betide those who doubt its existence. Film Comment calls this first-time effort from director Jennifer Kent “the real deal” in horror, so expect to lose some sleep. (Egyptian: 11:55 p.m. Fri., June 6. SIFF Cinema Uptown: 9:30 p.m. Sat., June 7.)

In Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, a young woman (Babel Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi) becomes convinced that Fargo is real, and journeys to the movie’s setting to find money buried in the snow. Well, Fargo did claim to be based on a true story, even if that turned out to be a Coen brothers jape. This film is from another set of filmmaking siblings, David and Nathan Zellner, and comes with warm notices from other festivals. (Egyptian: 7 p.m. Sun., June 1 & 4 p.m. Mon., June 2.)

In going from Wendy & Lucy to Meek’s Cutoff, Portland’s Kelly Reichardt blithely established the kind of range that most indie filmmakers can only dream about. Therefore her new one, Night Moves, automatically becomes a must-see. It’s about a group of Oregon environmental activists; Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning lead the cast. (Lincoln Square: 7 p.m. Fri., May 23. SIFF Cinema Uptown: noon Mon., May 26.)

One of the most important and distinctive members of the Taiwanese moviemaking world, Tsai Ming-liang, returns with this study of people in the lower depths of a crumbling Taipei. Stray Dogs has divided reviewers (though it copped at prize at the Venice fest last fall), with its unblinking long-take style a source of either rapture or exasperation. (SIFF Cinema Uptown: 9 p.m. Weds., May 21 & 2 p.m. Mon., June 26.)

Shawn Telford is a Seattle actor (and UW drama alum) whose new film BFE marks his debut as a feature director. The movie looks at a small town—it was shot in northern Idaho with a Seattle crew—and the desperate ways a few different generations of residents are trying to get out. (Harvard Exit: 9 p.m. Mon., June 2 & 4 p.m. Tues., June 3.)

Although he remains at the top of the list of living practitioners of expressive cinematic art, Roman Polanski has frequently been drawn to stage adaptations (lately including Carnage). Maybe all the cramped spaces appeal to a director whose mastery of paranoia is unquestioned. Venus in Fur is another of those, an adaptation of a play by David Ives that looks at an actress (Emmanuelle Seigner, Polanski’s wife) and director (Mathieu Amalric) preparing a version of the notorious Sacher-Masoch novel. (Harvard Exit: 4 p.m. Fri., May 16. SIFF Cinema Uptown: 6:30 p.m. Sat., May 17.)

South Korea’s prolific Hong Sang-soo has been on a roll lately, with his languid style making In Another Country and The Day He Arrives as pleasurable as they are sometimes puzzling. Our Sunhi is described as a sunny look at a film student and the three men who buzz around her as she embarks on her future. (SIFF Cinema Uptown: 4:30 p.m. Tues., May 27 & 9:30 p.m. Mon., June 2.)

Although he has been associated with British cinema and features such as the dreamy-drowsy My Summer of Love (the 2005 SIFF screening of which led to Emily Blunt fixing my broken tape recorder during an interview—but that’s another story), Pawel Pawlikowski accesses his Polish roots in his acclaimed new film Ida. It’s about a convent girl in 1960s Poland who discovers she is actually Jewish, and a journey that brings the shadow of the Holocaust across her life. (SIFF Cinema Uptown: 3:30 p.m. Fri., May 16. Harvard Exit: 7 p.m. Wed., May 21.)

Haven’t actually heard much about this one, but The Two Faces of January is based on a novel by the author of Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith, which makes it intriguing enough to take a flyer on. Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst play a couple traveling in Greece; their guide (Oscar Isaac, from Inside Llewyn Davis) leads them into mystery. (Egyptian: 6:30 p.m. Fri., May 23 & 1:30 p.m. Sat., May 24.)

Advance word suggests that the final film by Russian director Alexei German, Hard to Be a God, will separate hard-core cinephiles from casual festivalgoers (and probably separate a few spectators from their seats during its 170 minutes—I recall waves of walkouts at German’s mind-altering Khrustalyov, My Car! when it showed at SIFF in 2000). German died just before he completed final editing on this epic with sci-fi overtones, so it will serve as his final statement. (SIFF Cinema Uptown: 8:30 p.m. Fri., May 16 & 2 p.m. Sat., May 17. Lincoln Square: 1 p.m. Sat., May 24.)

What Is Cinema? is the latest documentary by Oscar winner Chuck Workman; it gathers a batch of notable talkers and some judiciously chosen clips to answer the title question. Among the testifiers: David Lynch, Mike Leigh, Kelly Reichardt, Chantal Akerman, and vintage musings from the likes of Hitchcock and Bresson. (SIFF Cinema Uptown: 2 p.m. Sun., June 1. Harvard Exit: 6:30 p.m., Wed., June 4.)

SIFF’s “archival” section (couldn’t they give this a snappier title?) is thankfully upgraded from last year. Among the goodies: a restored print of Last Year at Marienbad, offered in tribute to the late master Alain Resnais; Abel Gance’s 1919 epic J’accuse ; and a collection of Charlie Chaplin shorts. In these overwhelmingly digital days, it’s a novelty when a title returns on actual 35 mm film, which is why The Lusty Men should be an absolute got-to-see for this fest. Never one of the more famous of Nicholas Ray’s movies, this 1952 gem features Robert Mitchum in glorious form as a busted-up rodeo rider; Susan Hayward and Arthur Kennedy co-star. (SIFF Cinema Uptown: 5:30 p.m. Sun., May 18.)

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