Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Portland International Film Festival preview day 7: AFTERSHOCK & A FAMILY

I entered into the Whitsell Auditorium for Tuesday's PIFF press screenings expecting to begin the day with a Chinese take on the Hollywood disaster film.  After all, this is certainly what the trailer for Aftershock would lead most people to believe:

In actuality, Xiaogang Feng's film is a dramatic feature that takes place almost entirely after the events of the Tangshan earthquake of 1976, which, according to the film, claimed the lives of over 240,000 people.  We're given entry to this tragedy via a set of fraternal twins and their mother, separated by the disaster.

The first fifteen minutes of the film, in which we meet this family and get to see the natural disaster unfold, shows a lot of promise.  But when the post-earthquake rescue is followed by the first of many narrative leaps into the future, things begin to unravel quickly and the movie loses focus.  From there, the film slowly devolves into one long slog where it becomes increasingly difficult to care much about any one member of the family, due mostly to the director's stubborn resistance to providing the audience with a central protagonist.  Aftershock is almost 2 1/2 hours long (it feels longer).   And it's very apparent where the story is headed almost from the moment the post-quake rescue effort is summed up (at about the 15 minute point).

I should mention that Aftershock is the biggest domestic box office success in the history of Chinese cinema.  Go figure.

Aftershock plays at the Whitsell Auditorium on Feb. 13th at 7pm.  It screens again at the Broadway Theater on Feb. 14th at 7pm and one last time at the Whitsell Auditorium on Feb. 17th at 5:30pm.

Pernille Fischer Christensen's (Soap) newest film, A Family is a well sculpted piece of cinema concerned with the issues of duty, love and, you guessed it, family.  Ditte is the eldest daughter of Rikard, the proprietor of a bakery that's been in the family for three generations.  Rikard, whose health is failing him, needs an heir to the family business and looks to Ditte to assume that role.  Leading up to her father's request, Ditte's been offered an enviable position at a gallery in New York and, along with her boyfriend Peter, has made sacrifices in order to accept the job.

Audience members seeking a reprieve from the realities of life need not apply for a seat at this table, as what at first seems like a light chamber drama develops into a dark and mournful film.  However, the acting alone, especially from Jesper Christensen as Rikard and Lene Maria Christensen as Ditte, is worth enduring the expected Scandinavian heaviness.  Very highly recommended.

A Family plays at the Broadway Theater on Feb. 12th at 3:15pm and 8:45pm and again on Feb. 14th at 9pm.

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