Monday, February 14, 2011

Portland International Film Festival preview day 10: THE FOUR TIMES & THE HOUSEMAID

Every year 'round festival time, I tend to encounter at least one feature that I end up considering my little secret.  It's usually something that didn't get a lot of advance press and/or awards gathered from Cannes or Sundance.  A couple of years ago, my "secret" was Jens Lien's The Bothersome Man.  This time around, it's Michelangelo Frammartino's The Four Times from Italy.

Frammartino's second movie is an entirely dialogue-free investigation of the transforming nature of existence, featuring an almost completely unexpected and very original shift in both the narrative and subject about a quarter of the way into the film.  It's a picture that successfully captures the most mundane aspects of rural life in ways that I've never seen depicted on celluloid.  Imagine a movie that gives equal billing to an elderly gentleman, a goat, a tree and a pile of charcoal.  Can't quite picture it?  Well, that's why you should catch The Four Times, which along with Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Certified Copy is one of my favorites playing at PIFF this year.

The Four Times plays at the Whitsell Auditorium on Feb. 19th at 8:30pm.  An additional screening is scheduled at the Broadway Theater on Feb. 20th at 2:45pm.

Hailing from South Korea, The Housemaid is a melodrama featuring more than a small dollop of the extreme situations that cinema fans have come to expect of films from the region.  Psychosexual tension based around issues of class?  Check.  Spooky older backstabbing ladies?  Yes, indeed-y.  Ridiculously over the top endings that still kind of work due to their sheer audacity?  You betcha.

There are moments in Sang-soo Im's (The President's Last Bang) film that don't work.  Many of the salacious sex scenes have a straight from late night cable feel that reduce the impact of the impeccable design on display in much of the film.  And the meddling mother-in-law poised as an Iago-esque adviser pushes the tone of the melodrama past the breaking point at times.  But, all in all, you could do a lot worse than to include The Housemaid as part of your PIFF experience.

The Housemaid plays at the Broadway Theater on Feb. 18th at 8:15pm.  An additional screening is scheduled at Cinemagic on Feb. 19th at 8:45pm.
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