Written by: Mike Caccioppoli, Feature Film Critic
Click HERE to read Mike's introduction to the Seattle International Film Festival
Click HERE to read Part 1 of Mike's breakdown of the films at SIFF.
Click HERE to read Part 2 of Mike's breakdown of the films at SIFF.
Click HERE to read Part 3 of Mike's breakdown of the films at SIFF.
Click HERE to read Part 4 of Mike's breakdown of the films at SIFF.
As the end of this marathon of a film festival draws near, you can begin to see the look on the faces of those who have seen upwards of fifty to a hundred films. The look says “I’m exhausted and I’m glad it’s almost over.” With over four hundred films at the festival it really is a matter of the luck of the draw when it comes to the quality of the films you see. The last week or so has seen its share of duds, but it could also be that at this point you really need to impress me. The one thing I do know is that if I had a film at a festival like this one I wouldn’t want it screened in the final week that’s for sure. We are all worn out and need to see something completely original in order to come out with a positive feeling. Would I enjoy these films more if I hadn’t seen them at the festival? Maybe, but it probably is just plain luck that I caught so many winners in the first few weeks. Since there are so many to cover in this update I will only spend a few lines on each so I can get them all in. Stay tuned because next week I will wrap up this wonderful, exhausting festival and attempt to get back to my “normal” life once and for all.
One to Another dir. Jean-Marc Barr, Pascal Arnold (France)
Bisexuality abounds in this beautifully photographed yet shallow and unmoving portrait of a group of tight knit twenty year olds who sleep with one another and lounge around naked most of time until one of them ends up murdered. The murder mystery is contrived and the emotions that lie beneath the surface of the film are never explored with much depth.
The Violin dir. Francisco Vargas Quevedo (Mexico)
Set during the peasant revolt in Mexico in the 70’s this quiet yet emotionally powerful film shot in gorgeous black and white proves that a “war” film doesn’t have to be loud and ultra- violent to get its message across. The lead performance by 81 year old Don Angel Tavira is one of the best of the fest as his gentle defiance in the face of absolute horrors resonates long after the film is over.
The Art of Crying dir. Peter Schonau Fog (Denmark)
This film about a father who manipulates his family to get what he wants including sex with his daughter takes a sometimes humorous yet also incisive look at how incest can exist amongst a seemingly normal family and how people can manipulate each other into doing the most horrific of acts.
Poltergay dir. Eric Lavaine (France)
The title pretty much tells us what this film is about. A group of gay men are killed when a fog machine blows up in their disco bar and three decades later when a married couple buys the property guess who haunts the hunky husband? An irreverent and often hilarious spoof that most likely would never have been green lighted would it have been an American film.
Alive dir. Alexander Veledinskiy (Russia)
A soldier returning home from the war in Chechnya sees his dead buddies and even has conversations with them. A surreal and well directed film about how survivor’s guilt can haunt the conscience. However the film would have been better without an M. Night Shyamalan like twist at the end which doesn’t come as a surprise at all.
Sharkwater dir. Rob Stewart (Canada)
This documentary totally debunks the notion that Sharks are deadly, man-eating monsters that films such as Jaws make them out to be. It also makes the very somber point that as man has allowed the shark population to drop nearly 90% due to such acts as illegal shark fin trading, the future of our oceans and our survival as a planet has dropped as well. The kind of film that makes you want to get out there and do something about this vitally important issue.
Vitus dir. Fredi M. Murer (Switzerland)
Here is one of the best films of the fest. Young Vitus is a genius in more ways than one but most astonishingly when it comes to playing the piano. However Vitus isn’t just another kid genius film as it goes in unexpected directions that we have never seen before in the genre. Bruno Ganz plays the grandfather of the boy and he brings incredible heart to a film that much like its title character is a complete original that plays by its own rules and makes the point that while god given talent is great, the things that we learn from life and those around us may be even more important.
The Man of My life dir. Zabou Breitman (France/Italy)
Frederic is a happily married man with a beautiful wife but when Hugo enters his life things begin to change. Might Frederic actually be gay? What starts out promisingly enough gets awfully pretentious as director Breitman uses lots of slow motion, blurred out shots, and a pace that would make even the most steadfast admirer of French films go comatose.
Made in China dir. John Helde (U.S.A.)
Moving doc about the directors father who was an American boy growing up in pre- World War II China. While trying to get his father to go back to China to rediscover his roots, director Helde also interviews several other Americans who lived a similar childhood in China. Educational and not all self indulgent, Made in China is at heart a film about a son’s need to connect with his father.
The Paper Will Be Blue dir. Radu Muntean (Romania)
In the week between Nicolae Ceausescu’s abdication on December 17th 1989 and his execution on Christmas Day over a thousand people died due to confusion and personal vendettas. This film is brilliant in the way that it shows the absolute disorder and chaos that ensued during those two weeks and how war is indeed meaningless and a true waste of life. The Paper Will Be Blue marks a resurgence in Romanian film and its director Radu Muntean as a leader in that new voice.
Noise dir. Matthew Saville ( Australia)
Taut, well-directed film about a young cop who is suffering from tinnitus and is assigned to the night duty in a police van in a shopping strip after a violent multiple murder spree in a subway car devastates a suburban community just days before Christmas. Noise isn’t so much interested in being a policier as it is a character study about how ordinary people deal with an extraordinary situation. While most cops in these kinds of films are cocky and confident, the lead here, played by Brendan Cowell is a regular guy who shakes when he points his gun and wants nothing more than to just get through his shift. We can actually empathize with him and that makes the film all the more intense.
Surveillance dir. Paul Oremland (U.K.)
Disappointing “thriller” about a gay man who gets involved in a conspiracy that goes all the way up to the royal family. Totally contrived and confusing plot that tries to deal with the issue of surveillance cameras and how our privacy continues to be infringed upon. The film plays more like a bad spy movie and never taps into our fears of being watched.
Delirious dir. Tom DiCillo (U.S.A.)
Clever little film about a homeless dude (Michael Pitt) and the celebrity photographer (Steve Buscemi) that takes him in. Delirious pokes fun at celebrity while also taking a lighthearted look at how relationships can change because of such things as money, power, and envy.
Sons dir. Erik Richter Strand (Norway)
This film looks at pedophilia in a way that most American films would never dare. It’s about a little community in Norway and how a local pedophile has affected the lives of many of the boys there. Also about revenge and self discovery it will turn some audiences off because of its moral ambiguity when it comes to the subject of pedophilia however in my mind this makes it a superior film because it forces us to think about what we are seeing instead of telling us how to feel.
I Really Hate My Job dir. Oliver Parker (U.K.)
One of the biggest disappointments of the festival wastes Neve Campbell and several other talented actresses on a story about a London restaurant owner and her employees as they spend a night preparing and serving their guests. The banter is meandering and pointless and the film ends up going nowhere fast. Director Oliver Parker seems to be lost without (like his other films) a script inspired by Shakespeare.
Yella dir. Christian Petzold ( Germany)
Yella has man problems as her ex just drove her off a highway and into a river and now she must try to start her life over. But is she imagining things when he shows up at her hotel and slaps her? Will the new man that she has met be the one save her? Is she dreaming all of this? Wait! Maybe she’s actually dead! No matter though as this mundane and inane psychological “thriller” lulls us to sleep before it reaches its predictable conclusion.
Walk the Talk dir. Matthew Allen (U.S.A./Sweden)
The underrated Cary Elwes stars as a Tony Robbins like character who has made millions telling people how to “Live the Dream.” However when his seventeen year old nephew Roy (Evan Ellingson) enters his life, things begin to change. Walk the Talk works as a satire of Elwes’ lifestyle, as he and his family have “fear confrontations” and do daily “dialoguing” while it also looks beneath the satire and gets to the heart of the Elwes character. He’s a man who may very well believe what he says yet begins to question his motives as Roy makes him reexamine his life. What good is it to “Live the Dream” if you’re living the wrong one?
One of Our Own dir. Abe Levy (U.S.A.)
A trite, dishonest look at a couple who use a surrogate in order to have a child. The film wants to examine the emotional and physical complications with such an agreement yet it imposes so many plot contrivances and coincidences on its characters that there isn’t a moment in it that comes across as genuine or believable. I’ve seen after school specials that are more convincing.
It’s Winter dir. Rafi Pitts (Iran)
Another little gem from Iran this time about the true failings of the “globalization of the economy.” Following two Iranian men who can’t find work and therefore provide for their family, It’s Winter has many images of cold, snowy empty landscapes which further the feelings of desperation that have fallen on a new generation of Iranian workers.
Little Book of Revenge dir. Jean-Francois Pouliot
Bernard hates his job and his suffocating boss and has devised a plan to get back at him with the help of another man who once worked for the same man and harbors similar feelings. Their plan is well devised yet things begin to quickly unravel and Bernard may be left holding the bag. More humorous than dark, more lighthearted than taut, the film is clever enough to be a success yet one wishes it took more of a Mamet like approach to its subject.
The Bet Collector dir. Jeffrey Jeturian (Philippines)
There’s an almost documentary like feel to this film about a woman (Gina Pareno) who lives in a slum in Manila and collects bets for an illegal numbers game called jueteng. We follow her on her daily routine as she chats to her neighbors and collects the numbers and the dough. Pareno has such a strong presence that we could watch her do anything and be enthralled by it. One of the best performances of the fest and a quietly harrowing film about doing what’s necessary to survive.
My Friend and His Wife dir. Shin Dong-il (South Korea)
They say the worst thing that could happen to a parent is to lose one’s child and this film deals with that subject. The tragedy in the film is purely an accident but the film can’t decide whether it wants to be a psychological thriller or a human drama and the result is a meandering, overly long mess that could have been cut by at least a half hour.