[Outside In]

Already one of my favorites of the year, Outside In is a beautiful film about a man returning home after serving 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and his relationships with those who were or were not there for him when he was behind bars.

My favorite shot comes right at the start, as Chris (Jay Duplass, co-writer) looks around the room of people who have gathered to welcome him home. The camera finds Edie Falco’s Carol holding herself back, hiding behind the family and friends she thinks have more right to him. As she’s pulled neatly into focus, you can see all the joy and fear pouring out of her. She’s my best actress so far this year, and this performance will be hard to top.

Of course Edie Falco is always a joy to watch, but also she’s been given a gift in this role, the bones of which men get all the time: an arc where through the love of a younger person she discovers what she wants and takes control of her life. Big beautiful life changes happen all the time in the world for older women, but so rarely on film.

Also rare on film: the world of Outside In. Granite Falls isn’t where I grew up, but it feels close. It’s north of Seattle, whereas I grew up in South King, & the families are a little poorer, but not much. Which is to say that I know that world, and I don’t see it portrayed often, that world with the peeling linoleum, the bathroom constantly under construction, everything green and beautiful outside, but also there’s a moss-covered truck canopy laying in the yard. It’s lived-in in a distinctly Pacific Northwest way.

I felt a particular connection to the film because I’m only a year or two older than Chris, and his relationship to technology rang true in a way precise to that time. We’re in the Oregon Trail Generation; an age group that grew up analog but was young enough to adapt to digital quickly. But Chris was 18 when he went to prison, so he can type up a resume but is fuzzy on how to print, he’s baffled by texting culture, and among the possessions his brother saves for him is a case of cassettes, with the tapes Saran-wrapped into place. It’s a perfect detail – I remember cases like that mounted on the walls of my cousin’s bedroom – and it brought home to me in a personal, concrete way the number of lives I’ve lived in that 20 years.

Outside In checks these surprising personal boxes, but is also an engaging, moving, emotional film about finding grace, scored by the great Andrew Bird.

One note on race: given the statistics on incarceration, I have to mention that this is the story of guy easy for white liberal art-house audiences to root for. Jay Duplass is charming and his character is innocent. The film tells a story of a guy with privileges – Chris is a white man with an (impoverished, imperfect, but existent) support network – and he’s still set up to fail when he leaves the system. He struggles to find work, and his parole officer is always hovering in the back of his mind.

That’s a story worth telling, but we need to be clear it’s far from the only story.

[SIFF weekend openings]

Opening Friday are three films that made their Seattle debut at SIFF. Hooray!

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I have a difficult relationship with Lynn Shelton. She’s darling of the Pacific Northwest filmmaking community, but the first film I saw of hers was Humpday, and lo, how I hated it and its typically Seattle faux-edginess and its overwhelming straight privilege. I hated it so much. Flames on the sides of my face! But everyone loved it and her, so I hated her too, just to be thorough. But then, to my surprise, I really liked her earlier film We Go Way Back, which showed in NWFF’s 2010 Arboring Film series. So I had no idea which way it would go for Your Sister’s Sister.

Luckily for all of us, it totally charmed me, so much so that I came back & saw it again at Opening Night. Your Sister’s Sister is the latest entry into my new favorite genre: the development of the unconventional family structure. It’s hard to discuss the plot without sounding like a Lifetime movie blurb writer, so suffice it to say that most of the action takes place in and around a waterfront cabin belonging to the family of Iris (Emily Blunt) & Hannah (Rosemary DeWitt). Iris sends her best friend Jack (Mark Duplass) up to the cabin to clear his head after the death of his brother; eventually all three of them wind up there and relationship drama ensues. Obviously.

In a lot of ways the story is ridiculous, but it’s a story driven by such strong character work that I was sold. It’s funny & sad & awkward & true. Just like life.

The film is also a visual love letter to the Pacific Northwest, full of gorgeous postcard shots. It’s so rare to have films set here that are also shot here, so it was a treat to have several in the festival this year.

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I saw The Woman in the Fifth with friends, and at the end of it one of them leaned over and said they wished there had been more mystery to it. Which was amazing to me, because so far as I was concerned the entire movie was mysterious.

Ethan Hawke stars as Tom Ricks, an American writer & professor who comes to Paris & is promptly relieved of his worldly possessions. This was the first of two films I saw at the festival this year where the action began when the main character was robbed of everything after falling asleep on public transportation. Let that be a lesson to us all.

Anyway. Thus freed, Ricks moves into a seedy hotel run by a seedy guy who gives him a seedy job. Along the way he encounters Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas) with whom he has a mysterious affair. In what little spare time he has left he also has a fling with the Polish barmaid and a feud with his neighbor across the hall. The job gets weirder, people die, he’s possibly having flashbacks… It’s very mysterious. I am still full of questions.

That said, it’s beautifully shot, full of rich color, and everyone is excellent in it. I just sort of feel like I need to see it again. Maybe that’s why SIFF brought it back!

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Keyhole is also mysterious, but a mysterious I can handle. A Guy Maddin, hazy black-and-white, soaked-in-symbolism sort of mysterious. Jason Patric is Ulysses Pick, literally battling his way into his home with a crew of gangsters, then struggling past the ghosts of his family’s history in rooms and hallways to find his wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini), all the way at the top of the house, a sort of circumspect Penelope.

It’s not my favorite Maddin (that would be Brand Upon the Brain!) nor his most accessible (which is probably the alleged documentary My Winnipeg) but it is the strangest take on loss & memory & fatherhood & The Odyssey that you’re likely to see any time soon.

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Your Sister’s Sister opens Friday at the Egyptian.
The Woman in the Fifth opens Friday at SIFF at the Uptown.
Keyhole opens Friday at SIFF at the Film Center.

[Arboring Film at Northwest Film Forum]

As a part of their 15th anniversary celebration, last week the Northwest Film Forum ran the Arboring Film series. For $15 I could buy a pass for a week of films that had their roots, as it were, in support provided by the Film Forum. I only made it to six of the fifteen features, but it was very much worth my time.

* Off Your Rocker was described as “rough around the edges” in the series program guide, and here’s the thing. If the Film Forum is describing it that way, it must be *seriously* rough. And it was. A pseudo documentary about an underground club serving as a sort of Make-a-Wish organization for the elderly, it was a fantastic concept limited by a lot of elements in its execution. I’d love to see someone with more resources have a go at a remake, but all the same, the senior stunts that actually appeared in the film — the high speed chase & the go-cart racing — made it worth my time.

* It was followed by Naked Proof, which I enjoyed a lot. It’s an unconventional little story about a PhD candidate with an overdue dissertation and a sudden and strange responsibility for an unknown pregnant woman. The narrator is played by writer August Wilson, in what is probably his only film appearance, and appearances by locals Matt Smith & Charles Mudede make this a clearly Seattle production. Also, scenes in the Lemieux library made me desperately miss some aspects of undergrad. Who knew?

* I’m a sucker for any documentary about a subculture, and though it’s a common subgenre now, Bingo was one of the first. It’s directed by the writer/director behind Outsourced (which is now apparently a sitcom, because the world is very strange), is fun to watch, and does exactly what it says on the tin.

* First Aid for Choking is a feature set in Moscow, Idaho, following the lead’s attempts to either get out of town or at least put her past behind her, neither of which is a simple task with small town ties reeling you back in.

* Brand Upon the Brain is the main reason I bought a pass in the first place. Guy Maddin on the big screen is a must-see, and if you’re going to pay for one film, you might as well get a pass & stretch yourself a bit. That’s my thinking, anyway. It turned out to be one of Maddin’s more accessible features, and of course another mythic story of his childhood. This time, his parents ran a “mom and pop orphanage” in a lighthouse on an island. Like you do. There’s a mystery! Teen detectives! Mad scientists! Lots and lots of references to Twelfth Night, which I am a sucker for. Good times! Someday I’ll actually see a Maddin film with Maddin narrating. And then I will just keel over, dead of awesome. Also, it’s notable that it was a Seattle film, because most (all?) of Maddin’s other work happens in Winnipeg.

* We Go Way Back was the final film of the series. I was a little unsure of it going in, as I am the only person in Seattle who hated Humpday, but I was pleasantly surprised. I think it’s IMDb rating is really unfair. It’s a gentle story of a 23 year old taking a closer look at where her life is going, and what her 13 year old self would have thought of it. At 23 she’s an actress, and the film is set against a production of Hedda Gabler, perfect in local theater awfulness.

The only film I missed that I really wanted to see was Police Beat, but it was showing the same night & time as The Apartment over at the Metro Classics series, and I am only human. Still, it’s most awesome to live in a town where a difficult decision like that even has to be made.

[SIFFtastic]

I was doing so well, and then I was very sick for a week, which threw off both my filmgoing and my posting. So now you get the entire second half of SIFF all at once. Lucky you!

* Mothers & Daughters wasn’t a perfect film, but it featured some stunning performances. It follows three vaguely interconnected mother-daughter pairs, and I would have been happy to see entire films on all of them, but particularly Gabrielle Rose & Tantoo Cardinal. It spawned a conversation at the bus stop afterward, even, including a gentleman who found the whole thing too intense and had to leave.

* The second Secret movie was a crazy, colorful flick I wouldn’t have sought out on my own.

* I picked The Missing Person largely because I was interested to see a performance from Michael Shannon, who was apparently *the* reason to see Revolutionary Road. The film is a modern noir, reworking tropes as appropriate. I liked it very much, and would like to see it again since I had a coughing fit & had to miss half of the ending. Apologies to everyone sitting around me; I am much better now!

* The third Secret movie benefited particularly from the Secret set-up, because not knowing the synopsis going in, I wasn’t waiting for the ‘hook’.

* I took one for the team and saw Humpday. It’s mind-blowingly popular in Seattle, partly because it’s from Seattle director Lynn Shelton, and partly because Seattle apparently loves its mumblecore. I have no idea why. The film is funny enough and Mark Duplass is exceptionally charming, but it isn’t nearly as revolutionary as it thinks it is. Trading on straight white male privilege is not art, kids, and it’s certainly not shocking.

* The Dark Harbor is a Japanese film about a lonely fisherman who discovers a woman and young boy have moved into his closet. He chooses to let them stay, and the result is a sweet and tender film. Outstanding, actually, since I just saw that this is a first feature from the writer/director. Confidential to the guy who sat behind me: we get that you think it’s funny. You do not need to guffaw and stomp your feet. Also, don’t crow “oh, I know what’s going to happen!” Guess what. You didn’t. So shut up.

* Don’t Let Me Drown was a high school love story, set in post 9/11 New York. It’s a simple story, well told.

* I picked Lovely Loneliness because it starred Inés Efron, who was marvelous in last year’s XXY. This film was a romantic comedy of sorts, with Efron as the neurotic lead. Well-acted, visually beautiful (I *want* her apartment!), and quirky (in a good way).

* Never one to pass up a revival film if I can possibly help it, I got to see a Once Upon a Time in the West. Fantastic, obviously.

* The final Secret movie I guessed based on clues the programmer gave the week before. Does this make me a gigantic nerd? Yes, probably. But I was glad to see it.