Seattle International Film Festival diary June, 2000.

Sunday, day one:  An easy day, since it was mostly travel and Alaska Airlines managed to be 3 hours late getting me to Seattle.  I managed to get my week-pass at the box office 5 minutes before closing time; however, typically for this day they couldn't find my tickets.  Fortunately I was in their computer, and they gave me my one-week full pass.  I'll have to cope with the tickets for the two days after the pass expires later.

LEA LEGUA DE LAS MARIPOSAS ("Butterfly", Spain, director Jose Luis Cuerda), is a pretty film from Spain.  Taking place at the start of the Spanish Civil War, it is the story of a sensitive 8 year old boy's first encounter with school, his growing admiration for his left-leaning teacher (a fine performance from Fernando Fernan Gomez), his awakening to the world around him including the facts of life, and finally the obtrusion of the realities of the Civil War into his idyllic rural community.  The boy has an amazingly expressive face, he's one of those child actors who can carry a picture almost by himself.  The cinematography is notably lush, and the script has freshness and charm.  But on the whole, the film lacked emotional impact.  It's the kind of film which tries too hard to be likable, but ends up blunting its impact with all too familiar clichés.  This was the director's first feature, and he shows enough promise to watch for his future efforts.  ** 1/2

BOKU NO OJISAN ("The Crossing", Japan, director Yoichi Higashi) lost me early on when it slipped out of reality in a particularly arty and annoying fashion.  It is the story of a thirtyish Tokyo art designer who is having a series of life crises:  an abusive boss, his father's death, and the news that his favorite high school age nephew has been arrested for attempted robbery.  He goes back to his rural town for his father's funeral, and faces the memories of his own rebellious youth while coping with his own, and others' current day problems.  We get the title from the central metaphor, an extended reverie into an experience from the hero's youth when he swam across a wide, strongly currented river and entered adulthood, an experience he is trying to aide his troubled nephew to go through.   The film was slow, the narrative confused by dreamy flashbacks and out-of-reality mystical experiences.  Not my cup of tea; but well enough made to be worth sitting through.  **

Monday, day two:  I have a party to go to in the evening, so only two afternoon films today.  So far, from what I’ve seen the festival is being run very well.  Screenings start promptly, theater venues are spread out, but with high quality sound and projection.  Of course, SIFF is 26 days long, with 250 features, so by now in the third week they’ve had plenty of practice.

CHI YU FUNGBO ("Purple Storm", Hong Kong, director Teddy Chen) is a Hong Kong style techno-thriller which managed thrills aplenty for me.  The fast-paced plot was fairly ridiculous; but who cares when the action sequences are so skillfully consummated?   A committed Khmer Rouge terrorist decides to go out with a bang by unleashing a horrendous bacteriological plague into the world.  In the initial operation to capture the bug bomb, his American schooled son is captured...and made a total amnesiac from a blow to the head during the extremely well edited, ultra-violent opening sequence.  The Hong Kong anti-terrorist squad, aided by a psychiatrist (Joan Chen), try to implant false memories into the terrorist to turn him into a traitor to his father and his operation. Daniel Wu makes a very effective young terrorist, turned schizoid by his gradually returning memories and his innate desire to reform and be a good guy.  I'm not a big fan of action fact I'm definitely deficient in my knowledge and experience of the genre; I'm ashamed to admit that I've managed never to see any of the John Woo Hong Kong era films, for instance.  But this film turned me into a fan.  The direction was crisp, the editing outstanding, even the acting  was a step above expectations.  A well deserved ***.

COME TE NESSUNO MAI ("But Forever on my Mind", Italy, director Gabriele Muccino) is an enormously affecting, brilliantly conceived coming of age film by a very talented director using his young brother as the schoolboy at the very point of growing up and losing his virginity.  A group of present-day, left-leaning but ultra-bourgeois high school students, in a fit of '60s envy, decide to take over their school in the interests of resisting "privatization of education and the standardization of the individual".    This event serves as the fulcrum for allowing a large, but well delineated cast of characters to throw over their inhibitions and really confront each other during the anarchy of the next 24 hours.   The central family is particularly well limned:  former radical parents, now totally subsumed into the middle class; older brother jaded by too many failed love affairs; precocious younger sister, sharp of tongue; and our reluctant hero, Silvio, wanting to rebel, but hopelessly under  thrall to his 16-year old  hormones.  The movie is fast paced, but beautifully constructed.   The script is inventive, the actors, mostly unknowns and amateurs, apparently, are uniformly good.  The rhythmic, kinetic score, by Paolo Buonvino, is especially notable.   Silvio Muccino, the director's brother, is very affecting as the horny and confused boy.  The film is reminiscent of IF; but it has an energy and realism which carries it into an even higher realm.  Muccino is a director of such skill and sensitivity that he might restore the Italian cinema to its post-war eminence.   A strong *** 1/2.

Five more films tomorrow, and six on Wednesday.  I'm running out of time every day; so I don’t think I’ll be able to add to this diary for a while (but I'll make notes and try to flesh them out one of these days.)

SKIPPED PARTS (director: Tamra Davis)
Wonderfully observed coming of age story about a boy and his irresponsible, alcoholic mother (underplayed, amazingly enough, by Jennifer Jason Leigh.)   The kid, Bug Hall, was especially good in this look back at ‘60s America.  ***

AUDITION (Japan, director: Takashi Miike)
Sadistic story of a psycho woman who likes to behead men.  I guess there’s somebody out there who digs this sort of stuff.  Not me!  *

CHUCK AND BUCK (director: Miguel Arteta)
Well made movie about an embarrassing character who is hung up on his childhood buddy.  ***

 SWIMMING (director: Robert J. Siegel)
A fun, relationship  oriented movie, this time of a girl who may or may not really be a lesbian.  ***

LA FILLE SUR LE PONT (“Girl on the Bridge”, France, director: Patrice Leconte)
Visually stunning, but ultimately unsatisfactory movie about two lost souls.  Daniel Auteuil is, as usual, wonderful; and Vanessa Paradis is another startlingly beautiful French actress.  ** 1/2

TSATSIKI, MORSAN OCH POLISEN (“Tsatsiki, Mum and the Policeman” Sweden, director: Ella Lemhagen) 
Cute kid, single mother.  It works, even though we’ve seen it all before.  ***

GIRLFIGHT (director: Karyn Kusama)
One of the best films of the festival.   Tough latina girl takes up boxing.   Michelle Rogriguez  gives an amazing performance.  As real as movies get.  *** 1/2

NO TRAINS, NO PLANES (Netherlands, director: Jos Stelling)
One set piece, probably originally a play, about some boring characters in a station waiting room restaurant trying to pretend they have lives.  I was bored.   *

WONDERLAND (director:  Michael Winterbottom)
Simply a masterpiece.  Three sisters and their interwoven lives.  HAPPINESS without the irony, but with heart. To say I loved this movie is an understatement.  ****

THE WEEKEND (director: Brian Skeet)
Beautifully made movie about an untraditional family reunion in the country commemorating the one year anniversary of the death from AIDS of the gay brother’s lover.   Gina Rowlands plays a meddlesome neighbor invited to the feast with her daughter, Brooke Shields at her best.  The boys are David Conrad and James Duval (finally! a role for him which shows off his talent…he’s wasted on Gregg Araki movies.)  ***

LOS SIN NOMBRE ("The Nameless", Spain, director: Jaume Balaguero)
Film about a cult of murder-torturers.   Reeks of supressed violence and  sadism.  I just couldn't last through it knowing that the worst was yet to come.  Yccch.  W/O

ZHENG HUN QI SHI(“The Personals”, Taiwan, director: Chen Kuo-fu)
Girl puts ad in Taiwan newspaper for a relationship.  She interviews on camera dozens of prospects, mostly losers.  It's probably going to appeal to some has humor and is well observed.  But I was bored.
** ½

VULCAN JUNCTION (Israel, director: Eran Riklis)
Israeli film taking place on the eve of the Yom Kippur War, centered in a  rock music coffeehouse, about a group of friends.  Not much to it.  I liked the individual characters; but the story was slight.  **

RIEN A FAIRE (France, director: Marion Vernoux)
Fine, well acted movie about two out of work married (to others) people who meet at the supermarket and are irresistably attracted.  No bad people here...just ordinary people caught up in life beyond their control.  Valeria Bruni Tadeschi is a wonderful actress.  ***

PRESTON TYLK (director:  John Jon Bokenkamp)
Somewhat lame thriller about a good guy (Luke Wilson) and the maybe psycho killer of his girlfriend chasing each other to prove something or other.   Oddly enough, it almost works because the leads (Norman Reedus is the other man) are so charming.   ** ½

RUPERT’S LAND (Canada, director: Jonathan Tammuz)
Quirky, wonderful road movie about two estranged half-brothers travelling to their father's funeral in upper British Columbia.  I really liked it, and both actors Sam West and Ian Tracy deserve to be seen again!   ***

MASAEB-E SHIRIN (“Sweet Agony”, Iran, director: Ali-Reza Davudnezhad)
Amateurishly made movie about a young couple who once were betrothed; but now their parents want to split them up even though they're deeply in love.  Hard to follow.  **

UN PONT ENTRE DEUX RIVES (“A Bridge Between Two Shores”, France, directors: Gerard Depardieu and Frederic Auburtin)
Fantastic movie about a '60s married couple (he's a stolid worker played by directer Depardieu, she's a high class lady who married beneath her, played by the magnificent Carole Bouquet.)  She falls for a much higher class man, played by my favorite actor, Charles Berling...nobody to blame.  Her adolescent son is forced to lie to his father about the affair of his mother with the other man.  It's a really touching film, which shows a remarkable understanding of human nature which is not often seen on film.   *** 3/4

GOUTTES D’EAU SUR PIERRES BRULANTES (“Water Drops on Burning Rocks”, France, director: Francois Ozon)
Genius director Francois Ozon works with an unfilmed script from a young (18 year old) Rainer Fassbinder.  It's a one location script which starts out as an unconventional gay trick affair and progresses through a permutation of sexual farces.  Well acted.  *** 1/4

LOST IN THE PERSHING POINT HOTEL  (director: Julia Jay Pierrepont II)
Another gay film, this time taking place in the  '70s Atlanta drug and tranny underworld.  The actor/director/writer lived through it, and in 1999 was too old to play the role.  But the film is definitely worth watching like a fabulous train wreck.
** ½

SHOWER (China, director: Zhang Yang)
Deeply felt movie about an old man who runs a neighborhood Baths and his retarded son who helps out and the normal son who escaped, but was drawn back upon his father's impending death.  Almost a great film; but somehow I just didn't get involved enough to really love it.  ***

FOUR DOGS PLAYING POKER (director: Paul Rachman)
A thriller which fails on almost every level, about a gang of art thieves who get involved with a revenge vendetta.   1/2*

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