Saturday, February 12, 2011

Portland International Film Festival preview day 9: LA PIVELLINA and THE WHISTLEBLOWER

Walking into the Whitsell Auditorium on Wednesday, memories of Uncle Boonmee still dancing in my head, I really had no preconceived notions about either La Pivellina or The Whistleblower, other than thinking that the synopsis of the second film resembled Norma Rae or Silkwood meets The Constant Gardener.

Hailing from Austria but set in Italy, Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel's La Pivellina revolves around the discovery of an abandoned child on a playground swing by Patty, an aging woman with a shocking red dye job.  Patty lives in a rundown trailer park with her husband, Walter.  She brings the child home, a decision that distresses Walter, as he believes that their class position will only add to any judgment that might be brought against them if the child were discovered by others.

This is a film that is, despite what I wrote above, absolutely not plot driven.  It meanders along in a way that resembles life, even if the decision made by Patty doesn't necessarily register as something that most folks would find themselves doing. 
The image quality of the digital transfer was problematic during Thursday's screening.  The page for the film claims that the original source material was 16mm.  What I saw at the Whitsell often looked like a consumer grade camcorder image that was falling apart.  Severely underexposed passages with jagged diagonal lines were common, as were moments where objects with strongly vertical or horizontal lines seemed to bounce in and out of the image.  These rough spots were contrasted with incredibly beautiful moments of well-lit cinematography, making it apparent that the theater's equipment wasn't to blame for the marred sections of the film.

Given that very little happens in the movie, it was a shame that these image problems occurred, since it made it difficult to become fully engaged with the meandering flow of the film.  I might have liked it more if there hadn't been so many moments where I was busy being critical about the overall look of it.

La Pivellina plays at Broadway Theater on Feb. 14th at 6:15pm, Feb. 16th at 9:15pm and Feb. 17th at 8:45pm.

Larysa Kondracki's debut feature, The Whistleblower, is based on the true story of Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska police officer who takes on a position as a U.N. peacekeeping officer in post-war Bosnia.  After aiding the first successful prosecution of a domestic abuse case in the country, Kathryn is given the opportunity to work as a gender relations official.  It's not long before she discovers that what appears to be a local prostitution is actually a highly organized human trafficking ring, protected by the very people who are supposed to be aiding the Bosnian people.

The film is extremely heavy-handed in its storytelling.  Every bit of dramatic tension that can be wrung out of the story is exploited beyond its limits.  Each moment in the film seems to boldly exclaim its own significance, begging the audience to be moved by even the most minute of details.  Yes, producers and filmmakers of The Whistleblower we do realize that sex trafficking is bad.  We (and, yeah, I'm kind of speaking for the audience here) also think that a professional police officer from a major city probably would have heard of human trafficking before stumbling upon it.  We also think that Rachel Weisz and David Strathairn deserve better than the thankless roles they struggle to flesh out in this film.

The Whistleblower plays at Cinemagic on Feb. 18th at 6:15pm.  There are additional screenings at the Broadway Theater on Feb. 20th at 12pm and at Cinemagic on Feb. 21st at 5pm.
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