[SIFF weekend three]

+ Small Town Murder Songs is the rare movie that could have stood to be longer by about 15-20 minutes. I would have very much liked to see some of the subthreads teased out just a little bit more, but I understand that that director saw it the other way, wanting to pare it down to the essentials. Which is fair: it’s his movie!

On one level it’s a straightforward crime thriller, with a young woman* being found dead in a small (largely Mennonite) town in Ontario. The strong direction, the intriguing use of chapter titles, the freakin’ awesome soundtrack (must own!), each kick it up a notch.

It also features the final performance of Canadian actress Jackie Burroughs. (I do not like this particular SIFF theme. Perhaps final performances from two actresses does not a trend make?)

+ The Whisperer in Darkness was my first Lovecraft experience and fine, guys, you win. I am intrigued. This was a 1930s-style adaptation, with a lot of elements common with noir, which of course I love. The team also did a short silent film of The Call of Cthulhu, which I will now have to seek out.

+ I had been looking forward to Amador, but then I read a description of it as “mumblecore Almodovar”. I panicked a little. See, I hate mumblecore. But I love Almodovar! Dilemma! Unnecessary, as it turns out, because Amador was neither of those things. But it was quite good.

Marcela (the luminous Magaly Solier) is in rather desperate financial straits, so she takes on the job of caring for Amador (Celso Bugallo), an older, bedridden man. They gradually develop a quiet friendship in spite of themselves, but then he dies while she is still in great need of the money.

It’s a lovely character-driven film, and one of my favorites of the festival.

+ I had been a little nervous about Boy because it is from Taika Waititi, the same writer-director as Eagle vs Shark. And I know a lot of you love that movie, but it was just. so. painful to watch. For me. I couldn’t handle the embarrassment, & I wound up fast forwarding to see how it ended.

To my great relief, Boy was a sweet movie about Boy who lives on a farm in New Zealand with his grandmother & cousins, his goat, and his little brother Rocky, who thinks he has superpowers. Boy believes that when his father comes back he’ll take him to see Michael Jackson in concert. When his father *does* come back things don’t go exactly as Boy expected. Recommended.

+ Secret #3 was one of my favorite kinds of films. Also, it was from a country from which I have never seen a bad movie. In fact, I think I have only seen awesome movies from there. It was not Cars 2. Pixar is not a country.

+ Project Nim is a heartbreaking must-see documentary from James Marsh (director of my beloved Man on Wire. Nim was a chimpanzee stolen from his mother and given to a family in New York City, who taught him ASL & purported to raise him as a human child. That’s just the beginning of the story, which basically ate my brains. You should see it, but only when you’re feeling emotionally stable. And if you haven’t seen Man on Wire, you should see that too.

+ Finally, Detention was billed as The Breakfast Club-meets-Scream. Which made me nervous, to be honest, especially since parody films almost never work for me. But Detention totally did. It rushes at a breakneck pace, cramming in references to those films and more. But don’t look up which ones: it’s much better to be surprised. It’s totally absurd, a ridiculous amount of fun, and never boring. But you have to be a Bad Teen Movie fan willing to go along for the ride. Which I am.

* why is it always a girl? I mean, I know why. I just get tired.

[SIFF week two]

+ Shot on location in Seattle & rural Washington, Late Autumn is a very quiet movie about Anna (the immensely talented Tang Wei), a young woman on two day compassionate leave from prison to attend her mother’s funeral. On the bus to Seattle she meets Hoon, a young escort who borrows $30 from her and rather doggedly pursues a relationship.

Doggedly, I say, because Anna is, for reasons obvious in the film, maddeningly locked into herself. Large swaths of Tang’s performance are silent, where she manages to convey to the audience the unreachable depths her character has plummeted to, while still leaving Hoon persistent & baffled on the outside.

They spend a day together in the city, and it takes the better part of that day before she opens up at all. When she does, it’s in Chinese, which Hoon does not speak. It’s a marvelously touching scene in a film distinguished by excellent performances.

Late Autumn documents Seattle in a very precise moment, as the film includes as a key set piece the dismantling of the Fun Forest amusement park at the Seattle Center. Visually, other films set & filmed in Seattle have a lot they can learn from it. I’m looking at you, “The Killing”.

It did feel as though it couldn’t quite figure out where to end. But perhaps that was just me.

+ Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame was just a ridiculous amount of fun. It’s a Hong Kong “historical” action film starring Andy Lau, which should be enough reason for you to see it right there.

It also introduced me to Chao Deng who, as Pei (Dee’s albino sidekick), reminded me of no one so much as a Chinese Rupert Grint. Seriously, so great. Also Bingbing Li, as the asskicking lady Jinger. Good times!

+ SIFF had paired it with Karate-Robo Zaborgar for a double feature of pure awesome that we were powerless to resist. Inspired by a 1974 live-action mecha series, this follow-up from the director of RoboGeisha was even more entertaining than I could have hoped.

Where RoboGeisha was about the sisters trying to reconnect, Karate-Robo Zaborgar is about brothers and about children and parents. No, really. Even if one of the brothers is a robot that transforms into a motorcycle. I would probably like my brother a lot better if he turned into a motorcycle & obeyed commands I delivered through a microphone attached to a helmet.

Obviously it is a goofy, low-budget movie with a ridiculous script, and either you’re up for that or you’re not. I was up for it, clearly.

+ The Clink of Ice was a very French film about an alcoholic novelist (OSS-117‘s Jean Dujardin) who is visited by the incarnation of his cancer (Albert Dupontel). Not for everyone, I suppose, but I enjoyed it. I particularly liked the conceit that your cancer can only be seen by those who truly love you. What an instant cause of tension *that* is!

[SIFF weekend two]

+ Black Bread was this year’s big Goya winner, a film tackling the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War through the experiences of children. In contrast to the frightful fantasy of Pan’s Labyrinth, Black Bread remains largely realistic. The child actors are all marvelous.

+ Secret #2… I would have enjoyed more in Hecklevision. And possibly with alcohol. I was surprised to recognize ____ from ____ in the scene where ____ ____. But of course they were ____ years younger there.

+ I added Above Us Only Sky to my schedule solely because of Sandra Hüller, whom I had admired in Requiem (though I did not particularly like that film.) Here she is magnificent in another difficult-to-pin-down role as Martha, whose husband commits suicide and leaves behind the mystery of his life.

It was beautifully shot & acted, but I found the narrative somewhat unsatisfying. It tried to tell two stories: the story of the mystery of her husband, and then that of the new romance that followed, but at the end I wished for a bit more conclusion. It was the rare film that was just a bit too short. All the same, it was a portrait of grief well worth watching.

+ La Dolce Vita played to a packed house at 10 in the morning, which is just awesome. You should be proud of yourself, Seattle! It was a gorgeous new 35mm print, and if it travels anywhere near you you should see it. Like I said on Twitter, it doesn’t feel like three hours until you try to stand up at the end of it.

+ Saigon Electric is a totally cute teen movie from Vietnam, focused on a ribbon dancer from the country who moves to the city to try to get into a dance academy. She meets up with a hip hop dance crew and becomes friends with the best b girl in Vietnam. There are ladies being awesome! There is cool dancing, both traditional and street! There is a little social commentary and community organizing! There is *~romance~*! All kinds of things are lifted from American teen movies, and I don’t even mind!

The writer-director was in attendance, and said his next script was a soccer film. I sincerely hope it is also about ladies. Also, his 2007 film Owl and the Sparrow looks very worth the watching. Have any of you seen it?

[SIFF week one]

+ I didn’t realize until I got there that The Darkest Matter was actually a student project. It was a feature put together by middle school students in a film camp, and if I had known that ahead of time I might not have gone. But I didn’t so I did, and I didn’t feel my time was wasted.

It was described more or less as Lord of the Flies in spaaaaace, which is accurate enough as it goes. It’s an impressive feat of imagination when you realize that the entire film was shot against a green screen. Kids have amazing brains; I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to conceptualize the entire set, let alone interact at all convincingly in it.

Story-wise I thought the ending was ridiculous, but I loved how the film played out in regards to gender. This might be just an effect of the script being written in broad strokes, but it worked out that both of the leaders were girls, and their gender was never an issue. Hooray!

+ Ex was a cute romantic comedy from Hong Kong, something I need to see more of in general. For reasons that don’t need exploring at this juncture, Zhou Yi winds up having to crash at the apartment of her ex & his new ladyfriend. In well-orchestrated flashbacks we see why they broke up in the first place, and the film doesn’t necessarily take the expected road for where they might end up next. Now I need to seek out the prior film from the writer, Love in a Puff, a romcom where the potential couple meets on smoke breaks.

+ Trigger is a difficult movie for me to talk about. It was by far my most anticipated SIFF film, and immediately after I saw it I posted to Twitter that I couldn’t be rational about it. This is still true.

Written by Daniel MacIvor & directed by Bruce McDonald, the film was created as a last project for Tracy Wright, a fantastic actress who died of pancreatic cancer during post-production. Trigger stars her and Molly Parker (also worth seeing in anything) as a pair of rock musicians who are reunited after ten years and spend the evening together hashing out everything from the tangled threads of their relationship to their own mortality and future.

It slays me that it was such a light house for this screening, because Tracy Wright is *the* best actress of this festival. She has a monologue in the conservatory that broke me into tiny pieces. Such a loss.

+ Thanks to a Starbucks voucher, I took a risk and checked out You Are Here just because it featured one more performance by Wright. It’s a difficult film to categorize, a series of odd narratives twisting in and out of each other until we arrive at her character, the Archivist*, who is attempting to discover the order and meaning for the documents. Did I understand it? Probably not. But it was tremendously entertaining all the same.

+ Speaking of entertaining, The Thief of Bagdad is one of the great treats of the festival. This presentation was a transformative work, obsessively scored by Shadoe Stevens with the music of the Electric Light Orchestra. No, seriously. Come back.

The music works freakishly well, but of course the movie itself would be awesome either way, starring Douglas Fairbanks in truly astonishing trousers and with more than his fair share of swashes buckled.

I particularly enjoyed seeing it so soon after The Adventures of Prince Achmed, which is another 1920s take on basically the same set of characters. We’re spoiled for silent film in Seattle.

* “Hooray for archivists!” cheers the girl still paying off her MLIS.

[Submarine]

Submarine was a charming coming of age story and a great start to the festival. I’ve only seen Craig Roberts be rather evil before (he was a vampire on “Being Human” & John Reed in the most recent Jane Eyre) but here as unreliable narrator 15 year old Oliver Tate he’s big-eyed and awkward, like Harold in a duffle coat.

The object of his affection is slightly more age-appropriate: his classmate, the far-from-perfect Jordana. She’s played beautifully by Yasmin Paige, who I last saw rocking the Sarah Jane Adventures. As Jordana she’s nearly as uncomfortable as Oliver, hiding inside a coat herself, and never quite sure where to put her arms.

Oliver’s home life is, of course, unsatisfying. His parents’ marriage is on the rocks if only his father (Noah Taylor) could stop watching fish or the television long enough to notice. His mother (Sally Hawkins, who I adore) is testing the waters with an old flame who has moved in next door (Paddy Considine, with truly amazing hair).

Overall Submarine is clever and touching, with clear influence from around the cinematic spectrum (Woody Allen & Wes Anderson being the most obvious, with a dash of Godard (seriously)), but it maintains a strong voice of its own.

Director Richard Ayoade was in attendance for our screening, which was a treat. He’s exactly as fantastic in person as you would imagine, dry and self-deprecating, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.