[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?

[Two from Stewart Stern]

The final week before the film festival, SIFF Cinema ran a series of films written by Stewart Stern, best known for writing Rebel Without a Cause. He’s definitely a Seattle treasure. Just as with book readings, special guests at films can go either way, but Stern is a fantastic storyteller.

Of course, it helps that he has marvelous stories to tell, like about traveling in East Asia with Marlon Brando, or how John F Kennedy was directly responsible for The Ugly American being made, or about how terrified Paul Newman was of shooting his first film. He’s a charmer, though, for sure, and it was a treat to hear him interviewed at length by fellow screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie before The Ugly American, and also a shorter introduction a few days later before Rachel, Rachel.

The experience of seeing The Ugly American was much more satisfying coming off of the introduction. It gave context for the politics of the situation, and brought home the bravery of the film, in particular its powerful ending.

The film, starring Marlon Brando, is a critique of American interference in southeast Asia. It’s set in the fictional country of Sarkan, but there’s never any doubt that this is a solid (though simplified) story about American cultural incompetency on a grand scale.

Rachel Rachel had a strong effect on me emotionally. Joanne Woodward is fantastic as a spinster schoolteacher, trapped by small town expectations in general and her mother in particular.  It’s a powerful adaptation of what I understand was an extremely internal novel.

I was also impressed with it as Paul Newman’s directorial debut. There’s one scene in particular that I loved: in one of the flashbacks to Rachel’s childhood we see her father embracing her in a moment that defines love for her in her adulthood, and much later in the movie we learn what happened just before the embrace, which casts an entirely different perspective on everything we’ve seen before.

It is also notable for the inclusion of a sympathetic queer character, Rachel’s teacher friend Calla. Though her advances are refused, the friendship is not destroyed, and she is neither punished nor portrayed as deserving of punishment, which is notable only a few years after The Children’s Hour.

[Extra! Bonus! Films!]

Films I missed the first ten minutes of since they were during a volunteer shift (I almost never choose to go into movies on shift for this reason):

* Secrets of the Tribe, which I would like to seek out at some point to see properly. It’s a documentary on the various studies of the Yanomami Indian tribe, though the title really refers to the tribe of academics who studied them, full of their own secrets, customs, and loyalties. It’s flat-out horrifying to be honest; research of indigenous people is an arena fraught with obvious complications as it is, but these teams almost seemed to go out of their way to do everything wrong, from your basic stupid white person trick of influencing a society through well-intentioned gifts, to the far extreme of disease introduction and of course, sexual abuse.

* Mother Joan of the Angels, which somehow managed to make demonic possession of nuns… boring. Amazing, right? It was so tedious, that I seriously considered not seeing the film after it, a noir by the same director that I had an actual ticket for. I just read that it was banned by the Catholic Church, which figures.

This is also probably the best entry in which to note that this day was one of the weirdest in general at the festival so far. First, about 15 minutes into the documentary, the alarm went off and we had to evacuate the theater. Apparently someone burned something in a kitchen somewhere else in McCaw. Second, the last two films of the night, the Polish double feature as it were, had been scheduled as digital restorations, but when the package arrived meant to contain the hard drive, it was found to contain… strawberry jam. So they had to screen DVDs instead. See? Weird.

[The Men Who Stare at True Grit]

I had not been in a hurry to see The Men Who Stare at Goats, because I had heard such mixed buzz, but after a pretty difficult day at work we decided that Ewan MacGregor and George Clooney being goofy was just what we needed. And we were right.

They have great chemistry, the story is bizarre enough (and convoluted a bit with flashback) that I didn’t know where it was going, and it was exactly what we needed: a ridiculous movie about the New Earth Army, claiming that more of it is true than we’d think.

::

The last movie I saw in the 69 Series, True Grit, was also pretty darn entertaining. Kim Darby is a 14 year old girl who hires (a drunken, eye-patched) John Wayne to hunt down the killer of her father. One of the original reviews described Darby’s performance thus: “the supposedly 14-year old heroine delivers her campy archaic lines with all the aplomb of an elephant playing hopscotch”. How great an image is that? All the more so because it’s true.

Also tagging along is Glen Campbell, who wants to bring the killer back to Texas. Robert Duvall is the killer in question. Great fun, though the ending was a bit overlong.

I am astonished that it was rated G, though. You can kill heaps of people and it’s appropriate for general audiences? Film ratings are total crap, with pretty much zero consistency.

[No one likes a fella with a social disease]

The Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival was last month, but. Here’s the thing. I find it pretty hard to get excited about it because there is so much crap queer film. Plus, a huge part of the program is comprised of shorts, and there are many, many more crap short films than there are short films worth seeing. Add to that the fact that the majority of American queer film is terrible, so you can also cross off a whole bunch of features.

Since I’m a member of SIFF, though, I got some free ticket offers, and I went to two of them. First up was the awkwardly-titled The Man Who Loved Yngve, a sweet Norwegian coming-of-age film (high school kids in a rock band!) that just happened to include a gay love story. It wasn’t a perfect film, but it was exactly what I look for in a queer movie, namely, a movie with characters who happen to be queer. Just like life. It won the juried award for Best Feature, so I guess it was a good one to opt for!

The second film was the sing-a-long West Side Story, which was fantastic of course. It’s one of the musicals I was obsessed with when I was a kid; I wore out the soundtrack & I owned a book that contained the script for it and Romeo and Juliet, so it was just neat to see it on the big screen, and neater still to see it with a largely queer audience.