Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Portland International Film Festival preview day 11: HOW TO DIE IN OREGON & POETRY

Peter D. Richardson's second feature-length documentary, How to Die in Oregon, is the hot ticket at the 34th annual Portland International Film Festival.  Setting his sights on showing the real life beneficiaries of Oregon's "death with dignity" law, Richardson isn't as much interested in seriously debating the political aspects of that landmark voter approved legislation as he is in exploring the comfort that its options bring some of the terminally ill subjects of his film.  As many of those individuals express for themselves, their choice to partake in physician-assisted suicide represents a final reclamation of control in the face of illnesses that have denied them that ability in every other aspect of their lives.

Winner of this year's Grand Jury prize for the best U.S. documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, How to Die in Oregon is not an easy film to watch.  At the fore of the film, we're placed in a room with a terminal cancer patient as he ingests a prescription cocktail that will bring his life to a close.  At its center, the film tells the story of Cody Curtis, a woman in her mid-fifties whose recurrent liver cancer has brought her to embrace the idea of ending life on her own terms.  Cody's story is by far the most harrowing and persuasive in a film filled with difficult themes and heart rending moments.  As she and her family openly struggle with end of life issues, the film blooms into one of the finest documentaries I've seen in many years.

How to Die in Oregon plays at the Whitsell Auditorium on Feb. 19th at 5:30pm.  Additional screenings are programmed at the Broadway Theater on Feb. 20th at 9:30am and Feb. 21st at 7:30pm.  
Advanced tickets for all three shows are sold out, so anyone looking to get in should arrive at least 1/2 hour early to take advantage of any rush tickets that may be sold.

Poetry, the newest film from South Korean director Lee Chang-Dong, is a slow-moving character piece built around a late in life awakening to beauty that is marred by a cruel and irresolvable tragedy.  The film follows Mija, an aging woman who enrolls in a poetry seminar.  Mija and her classmates are given the task of writing a single poem by the time the final session comes to a close.  Her instructor's advice for writing poetry involves opening up to one's surroundings, noticing the ordinary as if encountering it for the first time.  To this end, Chang-Dong places Mija into moments of discovery that resemble visual poetry--the first drops of a rainstorm scattering over a sheet of notebook paper, for instance--while simultaneously forcing his protagonist into a terrible awakening about the nature of her grandson, Wook, and his friends.

I really enjoyed Poetry even while acknowledging my impatience with its very deliberate pacing.  Chang-Dong's slow-movement through the plot of the film gives the viewer the opportunity to crawl into the skin of Mija, feeling the horror of the truths she must face, as well as the euphoria offered up in her embrace of the poetic.

Poetry plays at the Whitsell Auditorium on Feb. 19th at 2:30pm.  An additional screening is scheduled at the Broadway Theater on Feb. 21st at 6:30pm.

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