Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Portland International Film Festival preview day 15: OF LOVE & OTHER DEMONS & WHEN WE LEAVE

Hailing from Costa Rica, Of Love and Other Demons is the quite promising debut feature by director Hilda Hidalgo.  Working from a text by Gabriel García Márquez, Hidalgo crafts a deliberately paced film that entrances as much as it provokes.  As far as Márquez adaptations go, this one is especially appropriate in its translation of the great Columbian writer's evocative prose to equally fascinating imagery, especially in the haunting dream passages that are revisited several times during the film.

The story concerns Sierva, a young girl born of nobility who is bitten by a dog presumed to be rabid.  Given that it's set in colonial times, this turn of events ends up being tantamount to a prison sentence, as Sierva's condition is read by the local Catholic bishop as a possible case of demon possession.  Accordingly, she's locked up in a convent and put under the observation of a group of nuns and one sympathetic priest.

Simply told and visually stunning, Of Love and Other Demons is a film that absolutely deserves a larger audience.  Being that it's not one of the more hyped films at the festival, it would be easy to miss it in favor of more high profile films.  I'd suggest catching this modest piece now, since it could very well be the only chance to see it on the big screen in Portland.

Of Love and Other Demons plays at the Cinema 21 on Feb. 25th at 9pm and Feb. 26th at 2:30pm.

Sibel Kekilli is quickly emerging as one of the most talented actresses out of Germany.  After making her feature debut in Fatih Akin's Head-On, she was rewarded for her efforts with the best actress award at the German film awards.  With her most recently acclaimed performance in When We Leave, Kekilli has solidified the impression that she's an actress worth following, as well as capturing the best actress award in her native country for a second time.

In Feo Aladag's directorial debut, Kekilli plays Umay, a Turkish-German woman who flees the violence of her husband with her young son in tow.  Arriving at the doorstep of her parents home, all hopes that Umay will find solace in the arms of family are shattered as the strongly patriarchal traditions of her Turkish upbringing trump any concerns over her safety or happiness.

Pitch-perfect performances and Aladag's emphasis on characters over design blend to make When We Leave a completely engrossing piece of cinema, capturing a world that feels entirely lived-in and real.  There's only one moment near the very end of the film that feels even the slightest bit contrived.  But even that slight misstep can easily be forgiven when taking into account the power of the film as a whole.

When We Leave plays at the Whitsell Auditorium on Feb. 23rd at 8:30pm and on Feb. 26th at 8pm.
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