Sunday, February 6, 2011

Exceptional films from years past

I've spent a lot of time this week writing about the films that are about to play at this year's Portland International Film Fest.  Here's a short list of some of the best films I've caught at the annual fest (mind you, I've only been living in PDX for about 6 years now):

The Bothersome Man dir. Jens Lien from Norway:

Silent Light dir. Carlos Reygadas from Mexico:

Lights in the Dusk dir. Aki Kaurismäki from Finland:

The Edge of Heaven dir. Fatih Akin from Germany:

The Visitor dir. Thomas McCarthy from the United States:

Taxidermia dir. György Pálfi from Hungary:

Shotgun Stories dir. Jeff Nichols from the United States:

Afghan Muscles dir. Andreas Dalsgaard from Denmark:

Red Road dir. Andrea Arnold from England:

Fish Tank dir. Andrea Arnold from England:

Chronicle of an Escape dir. Adrián Caetano from Argentina:

Forever dir. Heddy Honigmann from the Netherlands:

Portland International Film Fest preview day 5: CERTIFIED COPY & IF I WANT TO WHISTLE, I WHISTLE

I'm not even going to bother pretending that Friday's press screenings for PIFF need much vetting, since the festival programmers saved two of the most critically acclaimed films at the fest for the end of the week.  Along with Monday's screening of Silent Souls from Russia, If I Want to Whistle I Whistle and Certified Copy were the finest features of the week.  Whereas viewing the previous day's screenings had felt a bit like doing homework, Friday's films were an absolute joy to watch.

Florin Serban's If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle peers deeply into the world of Silviu, a teenage inmate at a juvenile detention center in the Romanian countryside.  Two weeks before he is to be released from the institution, Silviu is visited by his younger brother, who informs him that their mother has returned and has plans to abscond to Italy in one week with the younger brother in tow.  Being the damaged product of his mother's care, Silviu is shaken by this news and enters into an unsteady campaign to prevent their mother from realizing her intentions.

Romanian films aren't exactly known for their light and airy approaches to narrative and this one doesn't stray at all from that preconception.  Serban's camera places Silviu in an emotionally unforgiving and cold terrain that owes a debt of influence to the films of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Rosetta, La Promesse).  Like those Belgian filmmakers, the director abstains from the use of unnecessary exposition to tell his story, preferring to observe behavior rather than explain it.  It's a strategy that pays off in dividends, as we are placed intimately into the spaces occupied by the young protagonist and forced to grapple with his frustrations and decisions.  If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle is a great film by an emerging talent.

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle plays at the Broadway Theater on Feb. 11th at 7pm, Feb. 12th at 5:15pm and Feb. 15th at 9pm.

Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (Ten, Close-Up) is without debate an established master in the contemporary cinematic canon, celebrated critically and at film festivals the world round.  Which, unfortunately, doesn't translate to most of his films being very accessible to the majority of film goers.  Experimental documentaries and narratives set almost entirely in automobiles apparently don't thrill the masses, regardless of how many film geeks gush at the mere mention of Kiarostami's name.  His new film, Certified Copy, starring French film star Juliette Binoche (who won the best actress award at Cannes for this performance) and the world-renowned opera baritone William Shimell, has more potential to draw in new viewers to Kiarostami's work than any of his films since the much loved 1997 feature, Taste of Cherry.

Which is not to say that Certified Copy is without its own experimental devices, as the film certainly blurs its narrative into an exercise wherein reality takes on the shape of the ideas being debated by the characters.  However, these unorthodox narrative tendencies are made entirely palatable by the sheer loveliness of the performances, the lush look of the film and the tireless wit of the screenplay.  I won't bother with describing the actual story, as it's best encountered freshly and without preformed notions about its plot.

At this point, there's still another two weeks (and twenty films) left in the PIFF press screening schedule.  For now, I declare Certified Copy the one to beat.

Certified Copy plays at the Whitsell Auditorium on Feb. 12th at 3pm and Feb. 14th at 8:45pm.
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