June 16, 2017

Regrets, there are always a few…

…but now they are anticipations.

In case you didn’t think any of the films I chose to write about on my SIFF 2017 page were ones you’d like to see, here are some of the films I would’ve wanted to see at SIFF this year but was unable. You also may want to keep an eye for one or more of them at a theater near you. Or, better yet, demand the chance to see them. I only include those I heard people speak highly of.


Boundaries (Chloé Robichaud, Canada-Québec  2016)

Jury grand prize new-director winner. A “wry, feminist satire,” in which “three women–a political aide, a mediator, and the president of a tiny island nation off the Canadian coast–try to balance their personal lives with the male-dominated world of international politics.”



Sami Blood (Sameblod) (Amanda Kernell, Sweden 2016)

SIFF excells at finding not just promising but astonishing first works new directors (particularly debuts from women, I think). This Swedish example about an indigenous girl facing prejudice in the 1930’s, is a highlight, especially for the acting of its young star.


Searchers (Maliglutit) (Zacharias Kunuk, Canada 2016)

Did you like the classic western, The Searchers? Did you also like the unique The Fast Runner? Then here’s good news: Inuk filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk (Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner) returns with an indigenous update to John Ford’s The Searchers, in which a hunter in the tundra of the Canadian Arctic pursues the marauders who have kidnapped his family.


Step (Amanda Lipitz, USA 2017)

Fresh-made documentary. “An emotional journey through the sisterhood, the struggles, and the heart of three Baltimore high-school students who are planning for college and training for a step-dancing championship, all while social unrest rocks their troubled minority community. Through music and step, their pride for Baltimore is evident throughout the film, sparking a rally of hope and resilience that seems to pour out from the screen.”


Whose Streets? (Sabaah Falayan, USA 20017) Predicted to be the definitive account of the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. And with the continued rate of acquittals of police officers for committing such crimes, this becomes required viewing for people concerned with justice in America.


The Young Karl Marx (Raoul Peck, France 2017) The only reason I did not see this at the festival was the fact that–as the chosen premier for the Closing Gala–it had a bourgeois ticket price while I’m on a proletariat budget. Now that I know the young Haitian-American director can make a fascinating documentary–I Am Not Your Negro–I am eager to see what he can do with an historical feature.




June 12, 2017

There’s Got to Be a Morning After

Yesterday SIFF 2017 came to a close. As proof, here are the major awards with some brief comments. It’s not over for me, though. I still have work to do on my page and will have a couple more reflective posts.


BEST FILM: At the End of the Tunnel, directed by Rodrigo Grande (Spain/Argentina 2016)  [I can understand how this won but it did have some script problems and a minor editing awkwardness.]

First runner-up: King’s Choice, directed by Erik Poppe (Norway 2016) [didn’t see, but wanted to; Trailer looked good for this WWII dramatization of the dilemma the King of Norway faced regarding going to war with Hitler.]

BEST DOCUMENTARY: Dolores, directed by Peter Bratt (USA 2017) [didn’t see, but it I should: Did you know that there never would have been a Cesar Chavez had it not been for Dolores Huerta forging the way?]

Second runner-up: Step, directed by Amanda Lipitz (USA 2017) [didn’t see, but: good buzz, inspirational] Third runner-up: City of Ghosts, directed by Matthew Heineman (USA 2017) [See my comment page]

BEST DIRECTOR: Rodrigo Grande, At the End of the Tunnel (Spain/Argentina 2016)

Third runner-up: Mani Haghighi, A Dragon Arrives! (Iran 2016)

BEST ACTOR: David Johns, I, Daniel Blake (United Kingdom 2016)

First runner-up: Leonardo Sbaraglia, At the End of the Tunnel (Spain/Argentina 2016) Second runner-up: Timothy Spall, The Journey (United Kingdom 2016) Third runner-up: Fares Fares, The Nile Hilton Incident (Sweden 2017)

[I don’t think this has ever happened before that I’ve seen the top 4 vote getters in a category. All worthy performances. But I also liked Turon Aaron Istodor of The Fixer.]

BEST ACTRESS: Lene Cecilia Sparrok, Sami Blood (Sameblod) (Sweden 2016) [didn’t see, but: Good Buzz for this film and performance.]

First runner-up: Elina Vaska, Mellow Mud (Latvia 2016) [She was my vote! She had never even thought of acting, she was in almost every scene, she was the same age as her character–rare for teen roles, she revealed a shyness and intelligence in the Q/A session.]



GRAND PRIZE: Sami Blood (Sameblod) (d: Amanda Kernell, Sweden/Norway/Denmark  2016)

SPECIAL JURY MENTION: My Happy Family (d: Nana Ekvtimishvili, Simon Gross, Georgia 2017) Jury Statement: For their deft handling of a large ensemble cast, for their approach to a subversively feminist story within a patriarchal culture, and for their ability to capture emotional chaos with depth, grace, and resonance, we present a Special Jury Mention for Excellence in Direction.

IBERO-AMERICAN GRAND PRIZE: The Winter (El Invierno) (d: Emiliano Torres, Argentina/France 2016) Jury Statement: A complex and multi-layered first feature that bends the Western genre to create a remarkable film that is as much about the relationship between two men, as it is about Man’s relationship to the landscape.

NEW DIRECTORS GRAND PRIZE: Boundaries (Pays) (d: Chloé Robichaud, Canada (Québec) 2016) Jury Statement: For its fully-fleshed portrayal of women and the dilemmas of their public and private lives and its absurdist feel for political process, we award the Grand Jury Prize to the French-Canadian film Boundaries.

SPECIAL MENTION: The Inland Road (d: Jackie Van Beek, New Zealand 2017) Jury Statement: We also single out Gloria Popata for her arresting debut as a troubled native New Zealander. [I liked the story as well as the performance]

NEW AMERICAN CINEMA GRAND JURY PRIZE: Lane 1974 (d: SJ Chiro, USA 2017) Jury Statement: A tough-minded, but tender look at the underside of 1970s counterculture life.

DOCUMENTARY GRAND PRIZE: Becoming Who I Was (d: Chang-Yong Moon, Jin Jeon, South Korea 2016) Jury Statement: We admired the filmmaker’s skill and commitment to capturing the relationship between the two subjects in this artfully crafted documentary. For a film that beautifully tells the story of a truly incredible [?] emotional and spiritual [?] journey. [good film, but I must’ve missed something]

SPECIAL MENTION: What Lies Upstream (d: Cullen Hoback, USA 2017)Jury Statement: For filmmaker Cullen Hoback’s journalistic integrity in revealing the unseemly collusion between public servants and lobbyists that lead to the poisoning of West Virginia’s water supply. [interesting in light of Flint]






June 8, 2017

The filmgoer and the real world

Since I maintain that my festival attendance is not an escape but an effort to better experience and understand the real world, I have a confession to make. I have approached a couple of timely films recently but shied away before committing to a ticket. One was a fictionalized rendition of Marine Le Pen’s rise to power in France, This Is Our Land, showing how a popular community figure can be tempted to take on a populist persona with a “crypto-fascist” hue for political power. The other, Backpack Full of Cash, documents the disastrous effects of the charter school voucher system on public education. No doubt about it, I steered away from these because I felt not inclined to let my emotions get riled up. I do not want to sit thinking for a movie’s length–yet, at any rate–about the nature of Donald Trump’s election nor my consequent fears about Betsy DeVos. So instead, I went to see Kati Kati, an effort from Africa to imagine the afterlife. If you read about that on my siff 2017 page you’ll know that it was really escapist, but still….

I’m not shirking current reality completely, of course. That would be impossible at any thorough film festival. On Tuesday I saw the film (mentioned in an earlier post) depicting the friendship-producing encounter between arch foes Ian Paisely and Martin McGuiness. I went curious for clues about confronting the kind of polarization we find in our own country at present. And now I want more. The Journey interprets how the friendship began. I’d like to learn about the fruit of that friendship beyond the St. Andrew Agreement (not to sneeze at that). When they shake hands neither has budged an inch, policy or opinion-wise. The film allows one of the people “who knew him best” to describe Paisely as “filled with hate.” We can see that on his face. It’s still there at the end of the day. But while it had prevented him from ever speaking to the Sinn Fein leader let alone learning anything genuine about him, the confines of their close company lead him, after the major step of facing his direction, to eventually joke, yes, joke with his enemy. I can’t help but believe that the hate soon began to dissipate (the photos of the actual leaders together shown during the credits bolsters that belief). But the first step must have been a humanization of McGuiness just like the film helped humanize Paisely for me. Now, how am I going to humanize Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos?

June 5, 2017

Pentecost Puzzle

Don’t worry, I’m not going force yesterday’s feast day into some thematic relationship with any recent festival films.* Just coincidence and my compulsion for alliterative titles. As much as I enjoy staying downtown in the thick of things (not to mention the general atmosphere of the city) I was grateful to be able to spend some of my time with friends in a more residential part of Seattle. A nice diversion in itself, these friends had an inviting picture puzzle out on their table. Wouldn’t you know, the three films I saw while staying with them, plus the one last night were all puzzles themselves. It doesn’t have to be a “mystery” story in order to be a puzzle. And you always don’t want to be left sitting there in a state of confusion. But in order to interest you a film must at least in part be unclear, must have pieces that you have to put together.

(I won’t identify these stills with their movie. You can figure that out yourself.)




1st puzzle: Not every film at the festival gets three showings. And very, very rarely do any of these sell out all three performances. Iran’s A Dragon Arrives did! The pieces of this puzzle have been shrouded for several decades, some of them having been pulled from the ground on a supernatural desert (not deserted) island. You will be tempted to think that director Mani Haghighi has watched not only his share of David Lynch (or X Files) but also a bit of Wes Anderson. Yet this film could not have come from anywhere but Iran and perhaps a more significant influence is Mohammad Rasoulof’s The White Meadows [siff 2011]. That’s because the backdrop of this puzzle includes not only the dry terrain of the desert island but shifting sand of Iranian history. Among the pieces: persistent sleuths, intriguing offbeat characters, pin point earthquakes, a messenger camel from another dimension, and of course, though only in our imagination, that subterranean dragon. The bright orange chevy is just a nice incidental touch.

2nd puzzle: On the opposite end of the spectrum, with no reason for an exclamation mark in its title, is Gholam, the debut feature of Mitra Tabrizian, an Iranian exile in England like her main character. Every piece of this puzzle concerns the quiet and unassuming cab driver Gholam, who moonlights not only as a mechanic but apparently a vigilante of sorts. What’s he up to? What makes him tick? It’s a mystery lover’s dream in this sense: every bit of explication is something the director lets us piece together on our own. Whether there is enough pay off at the end for all our work is debatable.

3rd puzzle: A fresh one! This Argentina/Spain production hasn’t even played other festivals yet. Many are hoping negotiations with Warner Bros. will work out. As a crime thriller with twists, At the End of the Tunnel certainly kept the large  sold out crowds at both its showings on seat edge. Joachin lives in a part of Buenos Aires where multi-level apartments and business are smack next to each other with no yards between. The apparent auto accident that took his wife and child and left him paraplegic is not as important a mystery as the intention of the won’t-take-no-for-an-answer young woman barging in to rent the top floor rooms. Or her young daughter’s inexplicable muteness. Or, most intriguing: the obvious crime brewing behind to wall in the empty building next door. For our sake in putting all these parts of the puzzle together, it’s fortunate Joachin is a tech whiz at surveillance. But we have to throw all the pieces up in the air again during the fast-paced ending.

4th puzzle: I got to slow down again for Soul on a String and trade the confines of an apartment and tunnel for the very wide open spaces of Tibet. The spellbinding terrain almost dictates that the mystery here will be of a more spiritual nature. Our central character Tabei, a convict, gets a second chance at life in order to embark on a sacred quest. In turn he gets joined by a woman who wants to bear his child and by a mystical orphan boy with a lute.  But there are others on quests venturing into this desert. Two brothers are out for revenge (did Tabie’s father kill their father?). Another pair are thieves have Tabei in their sights for purely lucrative reasons. And then a couple others have more mysterious aims. But I don’t need to tell you even this much to sell you. You can watch the amazing trailer on youtube. No! Not on your phone. Don’t you dare. Rather, on the largest screen you can, and with the volume turned up!

*OK, one minor connection with Acts chapter 2. A character in A Dragon Arrives! twice finds himself amongst people speaking in languages foreign to him, first German, then Urdu. And he is mysteriously able to understand them.

May 31, 2017

On the journey of hope in a divisive world

I’ll keep this post short for I want to call your attention first to the fact that I’ve finally started the 2017 page of synopses and comments. Next, I’ll call your attention to an extrremely rewarding movie you will find alphabetically at the bottom of that list but is uppermost in my mind at present.

Last night I went to see a film whose trailer did not impress me much. I chose to see White Sun anyway partially because I’m very much interested in Nepal’s fledgling film industry [cf The Black Hen, siff 2016] from which I’m gaining most my knowledge of that country’s recent history. But mostly because of this sentence in the SIFF catalogue: “White Sun reminds us of the profound impact reconciliation can have, not just in our personal lives, but for the world.”

Whoever wrote that blurb knew how to push my theological buttons. And the Nepalese context assured me that this would not be ‘reconciliation lite.’ Not just families but national identity, the cultural fabric of Nepal has been ripped apart in recent decades. But I feared that the movie itself might be a bit ‘lite.’ I am happy to report that I was wrong. It is a remarkably well written and made film and the more I reflect back on it, the more inspiration I find. So from today on I will look forward to seeing it again and pray that you have the opportunity as well (that is if you also like small films that are anything but ‘lite,’ that take you to parts of the world you’ve never been, and that, even if modestly, put forth the hope of reconciliation).

Next week I will again seek for lessons in reconciliation when I view The Journey, a documentary about the historic meeting and relationship built between two sworn foes: Ulster’s ultra-right preacher Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness, leader of Sinn Féin.


May 29, 2017

Through eyes and ears to Hearts and Minds

When director Matthew Heineman, in his answer to my question about ISIS, said, “Winning the battle is not a matter of body counts, but hearts and minds,” my own mind could not help but flashback to the first documentary I remember seeing. It pertained the Vietnam War, bore the title “Hearts and Minds,” and profoundly impacted me as a college student. To this day, it affects the way I view the world. I learned, for example, that the news media, in bits and pieces cannot usually give us the whole story. I learned that people in places of power tend to prefer that truth remain unreported.

I think I have cause to believe, at least good company in believing, that careful, bold, and effective documentaries have never been more critically needed than they are today. Hearts and minds are capable of being won by arguments with little relationship to truth. People seem freer to invent or alter facts to serve their belief.

I’m sometimes tempted think there ought to be separate festivals for narrative feature films and documentary films, so different are their aims. On the other hand, there are ways to describe documentary aims–such as Heineman’s “putting a human face on relevant issues”–that rather dissolve the distinction between these uses of cinema.

Heineman, Oscar-nominated for Cartel Land, now seeks to put a human face on the brave journalists losing their lives in their struggle against ISIS in their hometown of Raqqa, Syria, in City of Ghosts. Usually when a film is followed by a Q&A with a director, only ¾ of the audience at best is able to stay. After City of Ghosts, I only saw 2 or 3 people out of several hundred get up from their seats. It was one of those experiences that make the trip to SIFF worthwhile in itself.

In a collection of short films I also saw a short depressing documentary about Syrian refugees stranded in tattered tents Greece with bleak prospects there but no prospects of getting anywhere else. In an appeal to our compassion, I suppose, it focussed its attention on the children and infants. The title, Unwanted, says it all.

Another related I saw the other day tried to blur the formal genre distinction that marks documentaries. Investigating Paradise interviews people on Algerian streets, key figures in Algerian academia and art, and certain religious leaders about the afterlife. Specifically, “What about these 72 virgins that are supposed to welcome martyrs?” A loose narrative has been scripted to embellish the process and responses of the interviewer and cameraman. I did not find it all that compelling (for a more elaborate and gripping effort in a similar direction–one where the narrative has dominance–check out Red Rose, siff 2015 ). But my comments on the 2017 page will prove that Investigating Paradise does inform and provoke thought rather than waste time. I mean, which of us is ever going to go out on Alerian streets ourselves asking people about the 72 virgins?

If including some documentaries to one’s festival experience is a good idea, there are, of course more than significant forays into current events. Human interest stories, whether about the life of a well-known figure or an unknown, are one of the treasures of cinema. Especially when they also promise things like religious insight and great landscape. Remembering last years story of a Tibetan pilgrimage, Paths of the Soul, I ventured into the theater for Becoming Who I Was, a major winner earlier this year at the Berlin Film Festival. In a northern India monastery, a 4-year-old boy is revealed to be a Rinpoche, that is, the reincarnation of a Lama. A Korean film team spends the next few years visiting and documenting the efforts of an elderly monk to guide the boy, eventually making a hard journey with him to the border, getting as close as possible to the young Rinpoche’s former monastery in Tibet. As co-director Jin Jeon explained when asked about her own beliefs regarding reincarnation, our own belief or skepticism is irrelevant to the power and significance of the story. Indeed, neither the film itself nor any of the characters make any effort to encourage belief. Even my objective efforts to understand reincarnation better, or learn much about the boy himself, yielded no fruit. I will, though, be making some comments about what we learn from the elderly monk’s devotion.

And then I saw The Fixer which is not a documentary but plunges into issues continually coming up for documentarians. What is the proper level of interraction between journalist and subject?* An aggressive young broadcast journalist in Romania confronts professional ethics in a dramatically personal way when he enlists to help some French journalist friends of his pursue an interview with a fourteen year old girl who’d been trafficked into Paris prostitution, then caught and deported back to Romania. Important, informative on several levels, and well made.

*(I address this issue in regard to last year’s Sonita.)

May 26, 2017

I am off and running on my crime spree

That is, my unplanned immersion in the abundance of crime/detective thrillers in Seattle’s Festival this year. The Nile Hilton Incident plunges you into a captivating caper in Cairo on the cusp of the 2011 uprising which ousted Mubarek. Goldstone extends the career of a very unorthodox Australian cop who was first introduced to the world in 2014’s Mystery Road. A missing person report now sends him into the outback where he encounters not only the shenanigans of a corrupt mining corporation, but also the small aborigial community from which his unknown father came from.

Not being a crime film aficionado, one of the first things I’ve been reminded of is how my fascination with other cultures can help me explore the nature of a film genre. The principle at play is the way something familiar (or a known) gives you bearings in the discovery of something unfamiliar. And in terms of this type of movie the principle works the other way around as well. If you are a crime story aficionado, let your interest lead you into the fascination of foreign cultures. You may have encountered police corruption in L.A. Confidential, for example, but wait till you experience the precinct that includes Tahrir Square! Or, maybe you are just bored with the formulas U.S. movies (and especially television) can fall into when it comes to crime. A foreign context or nuance can be quite restorative. I first noticed this with the wonderfully noirish In the Shadows from the Czech Republic [cf the siff 2013 page].


And just because not everybody gets into unravelling crime, even once and awhile, let me bring up another category well represented at SIFF this year: food. Most of these directly concern food itself and its preparation–a wonderful sign of hope for the world–but the film I want to call your attention to represents that small but significant genre that let’s important things happen over the table. I missed my chance to see Beatriz at Dinner but this will certainly be available in theaters. And the buzz around here has been considerable and positive. I suspect the actual food here is inconsequential (like My Dinner with Andre and unlike, say, Babette’s Feast and Big Night) but the conversation will certainly be intense. On the evening of a wealthy couple’s dinner party, which includes the husband’s very wealthy boss, a friend/employee of the couple who happens to be an immigrant is stranded by a car breakdown. They invite her to spend the night and deal with it in the morning. She, Beatriz, is not shy during the meal. The main interaction involves her with the very wealthy boss. Here’s what is exciting: the two roles are acted by Selma Hayek and John Lithgow. I’ve long lamented that Hayek seldom finds roles that demand (like Frida did) her great skills. This one may. And Lithgow has the ability not to overblow his character with cliche.

May 24, 2017

SIFF 2117 with Oscar and Anjelica

Can’t help thinking of this year’s Oscar films as I arrive at SIFF 2117.

One of the ways to access the Seattle Center (near the SIFF office where I picked up my vouchers) is via the short ‘August Wilson Way.’ A monument to the playwright stands at the entrance of the passageway in the form of an oversized door. As I walked through the door, I pictured Sean Penn in Tree of Life, but tipped my hat to Denzel Washington for bringing August Wilson’s Fences to the screen. Nobody anticipated the film to get further than its nomination, but then again Denzel’s choice to stick to the script–creating a hybrid that’s not exactly a movie, not exactly a play–was a huge risk in itself.

Speaking of Fences, the other Oscar film influenced by Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman was Best Foreign Language winner, The Salesman by Asghar Farhadi. You may recall that Farhadi chose not to attend in honor of all his co-artist friends who are now excluded from US travel. This year, SIFF is having to resort to Skype for post film interviews due to so many directors affected by the travel ban. (Need I remind you that the cross-cultural bridges created by the arts, especially from Islamic countries, is one of our greatest actual weapons against terrorism).

Speaking of The Salesman, while its director is not represented in the Festival this year, its award-winning actor, Shahab Hosseini, stars in a timely UK production, Gholam, as an Iranian immigrant cab driver whose quiet life is about to be interrupted at an intersection  of terrorism and fascism. I hope to see this timely film by new Iranian director, Mitra Tabrizian.

One Oscar nominated director who is represented with a new film here is Haitian Raoul Peck whose fascinatingly non-traditional documentary I Am Not Your Negro connected us with the relevance of James Baldwin. Now he uses the genre of bio pic to suggest the relevance of another writer from the past in The Young Karl Marx.

Speaking of relevance, if you liked the song and dance of La La Land but recognized that it was a bit shallower and more escapist than the other Oscar films, like the actual Best Picture, Moonlight, you might keep your eyes open for Footnotes (Sur Quel Pied Danser) in which musical fantasy “blends seemlessly” with social realism. With the chief setting a shoe factory instead of nightclubs, it is billed as working-class song and dance. Oh, right, it comes from France which just elected a president who, while not exactly working class, was at least not their, well, you-know-who-like candidate.

Speaking of Oscar winner Moonlight and social realism, I succumbed last night to my Iceland compulsion and saw Heartstone even though there were indications that the beautiful landscape would be contrasted with ugly societal realities, an apparent–and painful–recent trend (see my Iceland posts from previous Festivals.) It focussed on teenage angst, particularly in two male friends amid their relationships with four girls, raising, a little more directly, some of the same questions that get stirred by Chiron and Kevin’s friendship. I’ve got more thinking to do before I write about it on my page of synopses/responses, but at least I can tell you that while the film’s length left us in the limbo of teen angst a bit too long, it was definitely easier to sit through Heartstone than my Icelandic fix of last year.

Speaking of last year and disappointments, I finally did catch Captain Fantastic (an Oscar film only by virtue of Viggo Mortensen’s performance) in a Grand Rapids theater and felt mostly but not entirely let down. It’s premier showing was a hit here in Seattle last year not only by virtue of Mortensen’s presence as the Festival’s special guest, but because it was filmed in rural WA. Interestingly, CF–about an autocratic single dad raising kids counter culturally–has been replaced in this year’s line up with Lane, a film about an autocratic single mom raising kids counter culturally. Lane is the name of the main character, a 13 year old girl growing up on a Northern California commune. Her mother’s name (I could tell you wanted to know) is Hallelujah.

And finally, speaking of special guests, this year it’s Anjelica Huston who pays a visit and her current film which will premier here on the 7th has nothing to do with off-grid single parents. Trouble is about aging siblings (Bill Pullman plays her brother) who “love each other but certainly don’t like each other much.” The feud seems to be over inherited land. Who isn’t an Anjelica Huston fan?

June 28, 2016

In the end it’s back to girls and boys

I’ve left Seattle, so I really should be wrapping this blog up for another year. Unfortunately, I still have some research to do. You can now find my response to my final film Girl Asleep on the siff 2016 page. Another welcome comedy, and about as close to Wes Anderson as anybody else has ever gotten.

Did I tell you that I did get to that documentary about the Afghan refugee girl who really, really, really wants to be a hip hop star against really, really, really stiff odds? Check out Sonita. But don’t ask me if after these, I understand adolescent girls any better. (Though I leave SIFF not sure anymore that I really understand adolescent males either.)

Yet another comedy I wish I could’ve caught in the SIFF reprise week is called Hunt for the Wilderpeople from New Zealand. It’s about an overweight 10/11 year old boy of indigenous ancestry who is on the lam from social services. I believe I can get away with describing him as such without accusation of bias since the film itself makes much of his size as a part of his charm. He is joined in the outback by a grandfather-type played by Sam  Neil and the relationship is choice material for the screen. But don’t take my word for it, look for the trailer at SIFF.net or some other film source.

So I’ll be adding this to Captain Fantastic (and a couple of others I’ll write about later) as something to keep my eye out for. It was a good year at SIFF!



June 22, 2016

It’s OK to step back from the edge once and a while

After a week away from Seattle recuperating from screenitis, I am back to catch a couple of festival hits that SIFF was able to get reprise-showing permits.

I can now cross off one of the films that would’ve been on my I Didn’t See It but Heard Enough Good Things about It that You Might Want to Keep an Eye Out for It list. I saw A Man Called Ove, a Swedish blockbuster based on a popular Swedish novel. And I can now put it on my You Really Ought to See This list. As you might detect from the boring title, there is not really anything unusual about this film. In fact, you have to call this a “formula film” (defined by the realization: I’ve seen this type of story many times before). In this case, the formula is a comic look at a cantankerous character who you begin to like with the help of flashbacks explaining how he got to where he is and with the help of a patiently sympathetically character who guides him to some kind of breakthrough which enhances his sociability and leaves us feeling: “maybe we can just all get along after all.”  And (as long as the emotional ploys aren’t too cheap) I’ll argue that that is a nobler formula than “the underdog wins the day,” or a “handful of give-em-hell fighters outwit a massive army of cold, beastly aliens,” or “the faster the car chase and bigger the pile up, the better” formulas. It’s reassuring that a movie without sex or violence can not only be a hit in Scandinavia but can pack a theater in edgy Seattle. And I was particularly grateful for the chance to see Ove not just to witness the Best Actor winner but because I knew I hadn’t laughed enough this festival; last night I could really let loose! Tomorrow night I give another director a chance to help me understand adolescent girls.

Let me know if you want to argue with any of the presumptions made above. Check the SIFF 2016 page if you want to learn more about A Man Called Ove.