SIFF Week 4: Picks, Pans, and the Monorail!


Future Lasts Forever/4 p.m., Pacific Place

Turkish writer/director Özcan Alper places a modern young woman squarely at the center of his slow little history film. Sumru (Gaye Gürsel) is a grad student collecting the sounds and songs of rural Anatolia. She carries a pistol-shaped microphone—recording and observing the culture. Absent much drama, this is essentially what the movie asks of us, too. Of particular interest to Sumru are the elegies sung by Kurdish women for the victims of political violence. Visiting a memorial archive, she’s confronted by a wall with hundreds of small black-and-white photos—the faces of the disappeared. She has a fling with a guy (Durukan Ordu), a movie lover who does a shy De Niro impersonation, who helps with her project. In the crumbling city of Diyarbakir, an old Armenian tells her, “Their bones are lying under this ground. How can I leave?” With its lovely wide-screen landscapes and very gradual pacing (which recall Abbas Kiarostami), Future Lasts Forever amounts to a symbolic exhumation of those remains, a remembering. (In the press notes, the director says there have been 17,500 “political murders” over the past 30 years.) At the end of her somber mission, Sumru’s reason for visiting a remote rural village is revealed. It’s not much of a resolution—more an enigmatic cloud of allegory and lingering grief. BRIAN MILLER

[PICK] Innocence/6:30 p.m., Harvard Exit

Lurid allegations of child sexual abuse are irresistible to filmmakers. (Already at SIFF, we’ve seen Guilty, Polisse, and Coming Home, and Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt just wowed them at Cannes.) Jan Hrebejk’s Innocence takes a sneaky, indirect approach to the accused party: Tomás (Ondrej Vetchý), a respected orthopedic surgeon with a complicated family life. In his household are an elderly parent, a teen daughter, his wife, her mentally disabled son from a prior marriage, and a sister-in-law. And his wife’s ex is a cop who investigates sex crimes. Tomás, handsome and prosperous, has it all; the cop, an old friend whose wife Tomás stole, has nothing but his miserable case files. Of course he’s assigned to investigate when 14-year-old patient Olinka (Anna Linhartová) says she had consensual sex with her doctor (the Czech age of consent is 15). But we know Olinka has been sending him obsessive e-mails. And though we see him rebuff her, she insists that “Tomás loves me and I love him.” In outline, after the doctor’s arrest, Innocence is a wrong-man thriller, and it’s very good at that level. But where it’s truly superior is in the slow dissection of Dr. Kotva’s household—like a detective story written by Chekhov. No spoilers, but Anna Geislerová is excellent as the frustrated sister-in-law Lída, a children’s clown at the hospital with nothing but sadness in her heart. BRIAN MILLER (Also 4 p.m. Fri., June 8.)

My Dad Is Baryshnikov/7:30 p.m., Majestic Bay

Perestroika is in the air in Gorbachev’s Soviet Union—except at the rigidly traditionalist Bolshoi Ballet School, where a class in handling rifles and gas masks is still part of the Cold War curriculum. Boris (Dmitry Vyskubenko) is the school’s scrawniest and nerdiest student, and his attempts to fit in lead him to concoct the titular fib. (Hey, it could be true; his mother is the town tart, and his middle name does happen to be Mikhailovich.) This earns Boris a measure of respect and boosts his confidence onstage, but doesn’t keep him out of trouble. Co-directors Mark Drugoi and Dmitry Povolotski’s dramedy is charming enough, but it just ambles along, with no particular sense of urgency. And since the dancers are all students, there aren’t even any inspiring ballet sequences to fall back on. GAVIN BORCHERT (Also Egyptian, 6:30 p.m. Thurs., June 7 and 1:30 p.m. Sat., June 9.)


The Atomic States of America/3:30 p.m., Harvard Exit

What do you expect of a movie called The Atomic States of America? A cautionary tale about the dangers of nuclear energy, perhaps? That hard-working, unsuspecting people get really sick from nuclear contamination? Exactly! So what’s the point of making a documentary like this? Well, when President Obama took office, he unveiled a plan to recommit to nuclear energy in a big way, referring to it as “clean,” while ultimately pulling the plug on Yucca Mountain as a much-needed place to store a whole lot of nuclear waste. Oh, the Audacity of Centrism! But if you want a more nuanced analysis of America’s energy crisis, here’s one: Unless Americans seriously re-evaluate their energy-consumption habits, or pay a premium for truly clean energy sources like solar and wind, dirty energies like coal, oil, and nuclear are going to be necessary to keep us from reverting to the Stone Age. So all the victims in Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce’s film, who nonetheless deserve a measure of sympathy, need to look in the fucking mirror as well. MIKE SEELY (Also 6 p.m. Fri., June 8.)

Duck Beach to Eternity/6 p.m., Harvard Exit

This first-time documentary by a trio of sympathetic filmmakers begins with a brisk montage, cute animation, and an irresistible premise: Hundreds of horny young people gather for the weekend at a North Carolina beach to hook up. The only catch: no drinking, no drugs, no sex. They’re all Mormons, all white, and mostly in their 20s. Marriage is their goal, and nothing racier than dancing and kissing is permitted. So we meet a Brooklyn dork, a divorced Washington, D.C., attorney, and a couple of good-looking visitors from Utah. Candid interviews are intercut with volleyball games, scenes back home, and Duck Beach house parties—it’s The Real World meets eHarmony, interesting for the first 45 minutes, at which point you realize there will be no sex or apostasy. The four Mormons profiled are nice, sometimes funny and self-aware, but none dare confess to the camera any doubts—if they have them—about the church and its bizarrely restrictive marriage scheme. Virgins until marriage? Marriage until death . . . and beyond? (Animation explains how married couples end up ruling planets for eternity.) The only notable voice here belongs to a skeptical Mormon social worker—and he was too smart, evidently, to visit the beach or be profiled himself. Without any dissenters or sinners, Duck Beach lacks drama. It simply documents polite, unquestioning people who’ll get exactly what they deserve in life. And if they’re lucky, a divorce. BRIAN MILLER (Also Egyptian, 11 a.m. Sat., June 9.)

I Am Not a Hipster/9:30 p.m., SIFF Cinema Uptown

At its best, Destin Cretton’s San Diego indie-rock dramedy is evocative of Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming. There’s fizzled romance and death, which feed the angst of singer Brook (Dominic Bogart), yet we’re spared seeing the particulars. This leaves the film to rely on spot-on hipster caricatures and the spritely energy of Brook’s three sisters (Tammy Minoff, Lauren Coleman, and Kandis Erickson) as well as his most loyal friend, a mixed-media artist and bicycling enthusiast (Alvaro Orlando). These four supporting players are so affable that you don’t want them to leave when the closing credits roll. Bogart’s character? Not so much, and Cretton’s failure to articulate the issues between Brook and his father cheapens that performance. MIKE SEELY (Also 3 p.m. Fri., June 8.)


Five Star Existence/11 a.m., Pacific Place

This ambivalent documentary by Finland’s Sonja Lindén is so slickly shot and assembled that, if you stripped the (mostly) anti-technology sentiments from the audio track, it could be repurposed as a Microsoft Bing ad. The images look like stock footage, and narrator Lindén is herself a very photogenic mother and tech skeptic. Should she limit her kids’ screen time? Are they—and all of us—estranged from nature and our fellow man? “I have the world at my fingertips,” says Lindén. “Why is it then that I don’t feel free?” She sets out to interview a variety of experts, from futurist to New Age tree-hugger, and film eerie scenes of our wired world. Robots milk cows, a solitary logger operates a tree harvester that looks like NASA equipment, a stroke victim miraculously sends e-mails, and our electronic trash ends up being harvested in giant bales of copper and plastic. By surveying so many opinions, Lindén never develops a fundamental argument to convince us (or not) to turn off our PCs and smartphones. All the random musings made me think of Terrence Malick wandering the aisles of Best Buy; Five Star Existence has more than its share of stale, commonplace complaints about our always-on society. Still, it’s undeniably topical, pushing some of the same buttons that Mike Daisey’s The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs and Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff did. BRIAN MILLER (Also Kirkland, 1 p.m. Sun., June 10.)

Hello I Must Be Going/6 p.m., Pacific Place

Kate Winslet we know, but whatever happened to Melanie Lynskey, her co-star in Peter Jackson’s 1994 Heavenly Creatures? The New Zealand–born actress has actually been working steadily in Hollywood, mostly in TV, and she gets a nice leading role in this indie divorce-com from writer Sarah Koskoff and director Todd Louiso. Amy, 35, has refused alimony and is now broke and despondent back in the waterfront Connecticut home of her affluent boomer parents (Blythe Danner and John Rubinstein, both fine). Her father, an attorney, is entertaining clients at home; they bring along their college-age son, Jeremy (Christopher Abbott), an actor, whom all presume to be gay. He’s not. Amy embarks on an impulsive summertime romance that’s equal parts liberating, comical, and shameful. Doors burst open at inconvenient times, there are several bouts of vomiting, and Amy is treated to a particularly humiliating upside-down POV of her horrified parents. Danner and Lynskey, with their mother/daughter sparring, are the best things about the film. Koskoff, a former actress, has an acute feeling for their “I let you down”/”I told you so” dynamic of disappointment and recrimination. Jeremy, whose age isn’t revealed until late, is more of a prop—and Abbott suitably bland—in Amy’s gradual recovery from the wreckage of her life. You could build a sitcom around Amy and her parents, and I mean that as a compliment. BRIAN MILLER (Also Harvard Exit, 3 p.m. Sat., June 9.)

Recalled/9 p.m., SIFF Cinema Uptown

Expanding his MFA student short, Michael Connors draws upon his own prior experience in the Army and National Guard. Recalled is a one-day barracks drama, set in 2004, in which Lt. Sefton (Seth Gabel) has to decide whether or not to help a medic (the rapper Bow Wow) go AWOL to avoid deployment to Iraq. The medic has a sick son at home, which immediately raises the Melodrama Alert Warning to orange. Sefton begins the movie estranged from his platoon, since he’s already obtained a transfer (and hence won’t deploy) thanks to political connections. So he needs redemption, the medic needs to see his son, and en route will be predictable barriers, chases through the woods, and speeches. Unfortunately, those speeches aren’t of the Aaron Sorkin/A Few Good Men variety. And the film is fundamentally, misleadingly titled. Guardsmen being forcibly recalled to serve in repeat deployments has been a major problem for the military, but Recalled is never a persuasive encapsulation of those broader issues. Its perspective is confined to base, with no sense of the soldiers’ home lives; the writing and acting are equally pedestrian. (Look for Aidan Quinn as a gruff colonel whose approach to military justice is easily guessed.) Connors did serve in the regular Army as an infantry lieutenant; maybe next time he’ll make a better movie about that. BRIAN MILLER (Also 2:30 p.m. Sat., June 9.)

[PICK] Lipstikka/9:30 p.m., SIFF Cinema Uptown

Two friends, raised in the West Bank, now living in London, reunite after some years when Inam (Nataly Attiya) shows up at the door of Lara (Clara Khoury). The latter has a lovely home and the husband and child she always wanted, but still uses booze as a crutch; Inam’s recent past is shadowier. (Her crutch is sex.) Jonathan Sagall’s film slowly unveils two mysteries: what Inam means by popping up now; and, through extensive flashbacks, the complications of their shared history. (A third mini-mystery is whose memories are closer to the actual truth.) That’s all I can tell you; Sagall lets his tale unspool so elegantly (stealing savory tidbits from Fatal Attraction and The Usual Suspects with very British sangfroid), and Khoury and Attiya play their push/pull relationship so subtly and absorbingly, it would be a shame to spoil it by revealing more. GAVIN BORCHERT (Also Pacific Place, 4 p.m. Sun., June 10.)


[PICK] Welcome to Pine Hill/8:30 p.m., SIFF Cinema Uptown

Shannon Harper plays a hulking former New York City drug dealer (also named Shannon Harper) gone straight in Keith Miller’s tortoise-slow, hyper-realistic drama. Minutes pass without a single line of dialogue, and the details of Harper’s sordid past are mostly left to the viewer’s imagination. A health crisis compels him to take a solitary bus ride upstate, but it’s his oft-awkward interactions with African-American acquaintances and white strangers in the Catskills that infuse this film with credibility. Movies about characters such as Harper’s almost never get made, and when they are, they’re typically played for cheap tears. Not so Miller’s film, emotionally honest and shrewdly restrained. MIKE SEELY (Also 1:30 p.m. Sun., June 10.)


[PICK] Grassroots/6 p.m., SIFF CInema Uptown

Another movie spawned from the pages (sort of) of The Stranger! So naturally Seattle Weekly must hate it! Not so. Phil Campbell wrote a book (Zioncheck for President) about his getting booted from The Stranger and subsequently running the insurgent city-council campaign of monorail fanatic Grant Cogswell way back in 2001. His opponent was incumbent Richard McIver (played by Cedric the Entertainer with affronted dignity), though other elements of the story have been embellished for the screen. In the Don Quixote role of Cogswell, Joel David Moore keeps a well-balanced lid on his character’s mania and altruism. The monorail was a stupid idea (in 1962, 2001, and today), but Cogswell’s despair about this city’s poisonous traffic is heartfelt; he’s ridiculous and admirable at the same time. As the Sancho Panza straight man, Jason Biggs is surprisingly effective—a washout in one career, uncertain about the next, with an impatient girlfriend (Lauren Ambrose) waiting at home. In a way, Seattle is the worst market for this comedy by Stephen Gyllenhaal (Jake and Maggie’s dad, a TV veteran), since we all know the political outcome. But Gyllenhaal makes the monorail’s lost cause such spunky fun that you’re glad to buy the ticket. Then, when the movie’s over, we’ll get back in our cars and be stuck in traffic again. Down in Mexico City, where he’s now running a bookstore, Cogswell should be having a good laugh at that. BRIAN MILLER