Wednesday, March 23, 2011

DE DESTIERROS (UPROOTED): U.S. Premiere tomorrow (3/24) night in PDX

Even though I already posted about this topic last week on the blog's official Facebook page, it's worth mentioning that tomorrow night Portland is playing host to the U.S. premiere of De Destierros (Uprooted).  Directed by NW Film Center student Alvaro Torres, the 30+ minute long film won the documentary award at the 2010 Costa Rican Film Festival, airing on state television since having received that honor.

Thursday's screening will happen in the boardroom of the Multnomah Building at 7:30p.m.  Admission is free.  The Multnomah Building is located at 501 SE Hawthorne Blvd.

More details can be found here.

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A cocksure false prophet leads a band of unfortunates through a dry and desolate wasteland.  A child reads aloud from the Old Testament.  And the one person with the potential to serve as a messianic figure is hogtied and treated to the constant suspicions of his captors.  Welcome to the western as reconceived by Kelly Reichardt, whose previous efforts earned her a seat at the head of A.O. Scott's "neo-neo realists" of American cinema table.

In her latest film, Meek's Cutoff, the director brings her now familiar strategies to bear upon the Oregon trail and the historic failure that was Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood), a trail guide whose bad advice leaves those travelers foolish enough to follow him stranded without water as they move across the desert landscape of eastern Oregon.  Whereas the objectively pitched camerawork in Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy and Old Joy often lent those films a sense that we were intimately accessing the singular consciousness of each film's protagonist, here we're placed at a distance from each member of the group, helplessly watching as the terrible yet oddly muted events transpire.

If there's any one character to hang our sympathies upon, it's Emily (Michelle Williams) who, despite being equally as miserable as her fellow travelers, at least defines herself through a selfless act of humanity, performed at the lowest point in their journey.  Beyond that moment, we're denied insight into these characters, asked instead as an audience to observe and consider our own responses to such circumstances while dwelling upon what behaviors have changed over time and which of those have remained doggedly present in the culture of today.

Whether it's the insanity of groupthink, the tendency to devalue natural resources until they reach the point of scarcity or the assumptions caught up in patriarchal dominance, the problems facing these characters are not unlike the ones we face during our day to day lives.  Which makes total sense, since period pieces are more often than not positioned to speak to contemporary issues, rather than poised purely as a means of reflecting upon the past.  Reichardt has proven herself over the course of just a few films to be a director deeply interested in the undercurrents of her stories, favoring the cultivation of subtext rather than a routine focus on plot points.  Old Joy, for instance, is just as much about the rise of partisanship during the post-9-11 Bush era as it is, on a surface level, about a friendship strained by differing ideologies.

As the characters in Meek's Cutoff move aimlessly through the Oregon wilderness, it's difficult not to view the landscape as a metaphorical space in which a perennial struggle is being reenacted.  And, yes, sometimes a wagon train is just a wagon train.  But, in the case of Meek's Cutoff, I'll hazard a guess that there's something deeper lurking right below the surface of this tale.

Meek's Cutoff opens in mid-April in select cities.  Given it's home-grown heritage, expect it to play locally at that time in PDX.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A day in support of arts funding + MEEK'S CUTOFF

Just a quick run-down of a couple events happening today:

There's a local film community pow-wow going down this afternoon in Salem on the steps of the capitol building.  The Oregon Media Production Association (OMPA) has organized the 4pm event  in support of HB 2167, which, if ratified, would increase film incentives to production companies seeking to make films in Oregon.

Following the afternoon's activities, there's a special pre-release screening of Kelly Reichardt's (Old Joy) newest feature, Meek's Cutoff.  Shot entirely in Oregon, the film reunites Reichardt with Wendy & Lucy star Michelle Williams.  As was the case with Reichardt's last two films, the film was written by Portland author Jon Raymond ("Livability").  The latter event takes place at the Elsinore Theatre in Salem at 7pm and benefit the Oregon Cultural Trust's efforts in statewide arts funding.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

ILLEGAL: Doing Time in Belgium

Having my recent experiences with Belgian films mostly confined to bittersweet comedies like Eldorado, I was somewhat unprepared for the unyielding bleakness of Olivier Masset-Depasse's Illégal, a film more in line with the emotional terrain of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's oeuvre than with the absurd humor of a work like Gustave de Kervern and Benoît Delépine's Aaltra.

Winner of the Prix SACD at the 2010 Director's Fortnight at Cannes, Illégal highlights the plight of Tania (Anne Coesens), a woman who has fled Russia with her adolescent son in tow, seeking a better life in Belgium.  Their actual experience in this newly adopted homeland is far from ideal, as an overwhelming paranoia about discovery and deportation by the authorities becomes a part of their daily lives.  Early on, when the plot takes the expected turn and Tania is caught, she's separated from her son and thrown into a detainment center that resembles nothing less than a prison.

Massat-Depasse makes use of the fictional scenario as an opportunity to frankly discuss the real life treatment of illegal immigrants in contemporary Belgian society.  Tania and her fellow inmates undergo extreme physical and mental abuse both within the walls of the holding station and, especially, when forced to participate in repeated "deportation rituals" designed to shake loose a confession from those inmates withholding the basic information required by the government to enact a legal deportation process.

The film's grim story is well supported by the omnipresent gray tones mixed into the color palette of its cinematography.  The overall look of the film is a bit washed out but that, along with the use of hand held cameras throughout, helps forward the notion that we're peering into a reality lived by the dispossessed around the world, since the narrative is easily transposed to multiple nations whose actions surrounding illegal immigration are dubious at best.

As much as this sounds like an intellectual exercise on the part of the filmmakers, Coesens' powerfully nuanced performance as Tania is what keeps the movie from flying off the tracks and devolving into a formulaic message piece.  Watching as Tania agonizingly yearns for a reunion with her son, despite full knowledge of all the obstacles conspiring to keep that from occurring, is to witness a performance so grounded in character and realistic motivation that it actually inspires a belief in the viewer that, if sheer will were enough, Tania just might overcome her circumstances.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Rain Falls Down on Portlandtown: Now More Facebook-y Than Ever

Hey folks, we here at The Rain Falls Down on Portlandtown just figured out that a lot of people are excited about this thing called Facebook.  We're not positive but we think it might be a bar located deep in cyberspace.  At any rate, the blog now has its own Facebook page, located here.  Drop on by anytime for updates on postings, ridiculous conversations, etc.

Here's a quick rundown of some film related events going down this weekend in PDX:
--day four of POWFest is happening right now at the Hollywood Theatre.  Our brief coverage of the Portland Oregon Women's Film Festival can be accessed right here.

 --the NW Film Center continues with its The Films of Charlie Chaplin and Classic French Crime Films series.  This evening's features at the Whitsell Auditorium include Chaplin's City Lights (1931) at 7pm and The Sicilian Clan (1969) with Jean Gabin and Alain Delon.

--PSU's student run 5th Avenue Cinema is featuring the Czech New Wave classic Daisies (1966) for another two days.

--The Clinton Street Theater is hosting Orgasm Inc., a new documentary about the pharmaceutical companies' push to create a female-centric version of Viagra.

Those are but a few of the options available for adventurous cinema geeks in Portland this weekend.  Remember to find us on Facebook and to keep a lookout for future updates.  Bye for now...

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

POWFest kicks off tomorrow!

The 2011 edition of the Portland Oregon Women's Film Festival begins its five-day run on the big screen at the historic Hollywood Theatre tomorrow night (3/9).  At which time, things will get off to a fine start with the Portland debut of Rolla Selbak's new drama Three Veils.  Selbak will be in attendance for the screening, which will be followed by a Q&A.

Thursday night's feature is the documentary Ed Hardy: Tattoo the World by Emiko Omori, best known for her 2007 work, Passion & Power: The Technology of Orgasm.

The biggest event of this year's fest occurs on Friday night when POWFest's "Guest of Honor" Gillian Armstrong rolls into town.  The award-winning Australian director of My Brilliant Career and Oscar and Lucinda brings with her a new documentary, Love, Lust & Lies, the fifth film in a series chronologically observing the lives of three women.  And, yes, Armstrong will be around to participate in a post-screening Q&A.

Saturday is by far the most packed day on the schedule, featuring three separate short film programs, a couple of short-form documentaries and Briar March's documentary about the effects of global warming on the Pacific island of Takuu, There Once Was an Island.

Everything wraps up on Sunday with an afternoon program of shorts, followed by Made in India, Rebecca Haimowitz and Vaishali Sinha's exploration of India's fast emerging surrogacy export market and, finally, another chance to catch Tonje Hessen Schei's locally produced doc, Play Again.

That's an awful lot of content to choose from over a relatively short period of time, so those looking to sort it out further should immediately take a dip into the official POWFest website for info on show times, ticket prices, workshops and more!

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Saturday, March 5, 2011

NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT: Luminously Sifting Through the Past

With his latest film, Nostalgia for the Light, Chilean director Patricio Guzmán (The Battle of Chile) achieves a near-impossible feat in documentary film.  He's produced a philosophically rich work that makes palpable connections between the Earth and sky alongside the historical and the theoretical, spanning both time and emotional space.  

Opening with a focus on the Atacama Desert's uniquely immaculate conditions for astronomical observation, it's not long before Guzmán is able to weave between this scientific discipline's engagement with the past (as in light seen from the Earth long after it's emanated from the cosmos) and the personal and political turmoil that still lingers long after the brutal reign of Augusto Pinochet.

To this end, Guzmán juxtaposes his interviews with astronomers against conversations with women who still comb the desert in search of their disappeared men, lost to the assassinations of the Pinochet era.  The comparison works well since, in addition to the established temporal concerns of these speakers, the complete lack of humidity in the Atacama Desert--preserving the bodies of the dead while simultaneously providing a prime opportunity to gaze upon celestial bodies--is the common thread that enables both quests.



The entire film boils down to a single provocative statement made by one of Guzmán's subjects: there is no present.  And for the people being documented here, it's a truth that hard to deny.  Like all of us, they are wrapped up in an ongoing evaluation of moments that have already drifted past our constantly unfolding futures.

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Revolución in Portland

This feature-length collection of shorts by some of the best and emerging talents of the contemporary Mexican film scene is unified in a couple of ways.  One of its directors, Amat Escalante (Los Bastardos), who was on-hand for a Q&A at the Saturday afternoon PIFF screening, divulged that each person invited to make a short was asked by the producers to reflect upon the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution via a piece set in modern times.  Beyond that slight imposition, there's also a notable thematic harmony brandished within several of the individual works that questions what lasting progress exists as a result of the revolution, as evidenced through the many nods to globalization and marketing in both public spaces and private lives.

For instance, Escalante's haunting piece, The Hanging Priest, concludes its action in a McDonald's restaurant.  While Rodrigo García's (Mother and Child) 7th and Alvarado places Pancho Villa and his men in downtown Los Angeles, surrounded by a dense modern environment packed with commercial signifiers.  And Mariana Chenillo's (Nora's Will) The Estate Store, inspired by an article she read in a local newspaper, exhibits the abuses visited upon common workers trapped in a type of wage slavery common in pre-revolutionary times.

Other shorts, like Carlos Reygadas' (Silent Light) This is My Kingdom and Gerardo Narango's (I'm Gonna Explode) R-100 go so far as to create revolution respectively via a juxtaposition of class and character situations based in desperation.  (Note: the clip below contains Reygadas' film in its entirety.)

All in all, like many short film collections based in shared concepts, Revolución is somewhat of a mixed bag.  Reygadas', Garcia's and Escalante's contributions come to mind as being the strongest of the ten films.  But even the weakest of the bunch have elements worth recommending.

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