2003 Seattle International Film Festival journal

All film ratings based on **** top (one for the ages).

I've made out my tentative schedule for the first weekend.   Of course, it all depends on whether my feeble body can hold out and whether I'm able to get enough sleep!  I arrived in Seattle on Sunday afternoon and immediately went to get my festival passes.  The lines were pretty long, and for a while only one person was tending it.  Apparently they had just had a computer crash.  Well, we'll see if things get better as the festival continues.  

Monday, May 19, 2003
BURNING IN THE WIND (Italy/Switzerland d. Silvio Soldini  118 min.)
A story about a depressed Eastern European immigrant in France.  He suffers through a tedious job, a past he's running away from (shown in well written flashbacks), empty fleeting relationships.  The acting, especially the lead, Ivan Franek, was first rate.  Nothing flashy here, just a meaty goulash of dormant passions unleashed, presented in a small, intimate film shot in scope for no apparent reason.  Slow and methodical filmmaking (maybe a few too many shots of buses coming and going); but all in all I found the film rewarding for its brutal realism and interesting characterizations.  ***
UNDER ANOTHER SKY (Algeria/France  d. Gaël Morel  78 min.)
Nicolas Cazale is magnetic as a Parisian youth of Algerian ancestry who commits a crime and must flee to his ancestral homeland where he encounters his grandfather and cousins under the brightest, most existential sky this side of Albert Camus.  I must admit that the politics of Algerian terrorism remains a mystery to me; but it must be quite traumatic since every film I see from Algeria is steeped in the terrors.  Gaël Morel (so memorable in Téchiné's Wild Reeds) should stick to acting, in my opinion.  His films have passion; but also an undisciplined, formless mis en scène which constantly undercuts the drama.  Yet, he definitely has a way with actors and the screen loves his lead actor, whose ripped body is photographed with loving attention.  ** 3/4.  

Tuesday, May 20
MARION BRIDGE (Canada  d. Wiebke Von Carolsfeld  90 min.)
Here's another variation on the "three sisters" theme which runs from Chekhov through Winterbottom's Wonderland and Holofcener's Lovely and Amazing.  This time Molly Parker plays the prodigal daughter returned as her mother lay dying to her small-town Nova Scotia roots from a dissolute life in Toronto.   She's been sober and drug free for over two months...but we know it isn't going to last, don't we?  Parker is remarkable in the role of Angela, as are all the actors...especially the one who plays the mother, ravished by time, alcohol and cigarettes, but still Irish feisty.  This very ordinary family has deep secrets and watching them ooze to the surface is good drama.  Maybe a tad predictable; and the director is much better with actors than he is with the camera, it feels more like a play than a film.  Still, I cared about the characters...no small achievement.  ***
WATTSTAX: 2003 SPECIAL EDITION (US d. Mel Stuart  103 min.)
In 1971, a soul concert celebrating the Black experience and the recovery from the Watts riots of 6 years before was held at the L.A. Coliseum.  I vaguely recall it, since I was in L.A. that year; but it really didn't enter my consciousness as an event.  The film which was made from this concert has been remastered for improved sound; but it is a flawed document, in my opinion.  Much of the musical footage is cobbled from other sources (clubs and churches); and a major portion of the film is devoted to Richard Pryor doing shtick expressly for the camera in a small room.  Not that these diversions are uninteresting; but the meat of the film, the 7 hour concert, seems to have been seriously under covered and most of the film feels like filler added after the fact.  I snoozed through some of the endless middle section.  Yet, when they finally got to the good parts of the concert...namely Rufus's and Isaac Hayes's acts, the film came to life for me.  Too late, unfortunately.  **
MY ARCHITECT  (US  d. Nathaniel Kahn  116 min.)
Louis Kahn was a remarkable architect...more for his ideas than his few literal achievements.  After he died in obscurity of a heart attack in a Pennsylvania Station restroom, it was disclosed that he had three families that he juggled in a tangled lifestyle.  His only son, from a long time fitful relationship with one of his mistresses, was 11 when his father died.  25 years later he decided to document his search for his father's life and soul, which he achieves in this moving and informative film.  The cinematography is inspired, and the film benefits greatly from a structure which is especially effective because the subject was such an enigma and the search so ultimately fruitful.  This was one of the better documentaries I've seen...intelligent, emotionally resonant, and visually inventive.  *** 1/2

Wednesday, May 21
MUSA THE WARRIOR (S.Korea  d. Kim Sung-su  157 min.)
An historical epic about a lost delegation of Korean diplomats to the Chinese court in the 14th Century.  Reminiscent of Kurosawa's historical oeuvre, but not as visually stunning.  Still, despite its slightly overlong (probably one or two too many battle scenes) duration, the film coheres nicely and is quite effective.  Despite its large cast, the characters were well defined and I cared about them.  Zhang Ziyi did her patented petulant, kidnapped Chinese princess bit perfectly (though she never showed her martial arts chops in this film).  That can't be said of the major male characters who shed an incredible amount of blood in the unceasing intimate battles which make up the story.   ***

The first day of the festival was about as good as it gets.  Finally a sunny, warm day; big crowds, but respectful, quiet and appreciative ones.  And every film started exactly on time, which is a good sign that the festival organizers are on top of things.  Only Seattle Friday traffic, made worse by detours which are going to make driving to the festival difficult,  marred an otherwise perfect day.  

Friday, May 23, 2003
THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND (US doc.  d. Sam Green  92 min.)
I lived through the era of the Weathermen, though I was a few years older than most of them and not particularly politically active at the time (too busy with career and dropping acid).  This documentary interviews many of the surviving leaders (among them Mark Rudd, Bernadette Dorhn, and notably David Gilbert who is still in prison serving a life sentence for armed robbery with fatalities, though he comes off as a political prisoner after more than 20 years incarcerated.)  The filmmakers managed to structure a pretty darn good snapshot of the era and get some revealing interviews with these intelligent, committed, mostly repentant American terrorists.  It's especially interesting to watch this in the new world which was ushered in after 9/11.  The idea of bomb wielding leftist terrorists, no matter how admirable their original intentions were (in the cold light of history, they were right about the Viet Nam war and the evils of American foreign policy...only their means were screwed up)  resonates with additional power.  Fascinating recent history, good job.  *** 1/4
AUTUMN SPRING (Czechoslovakia d. Vladimir Michátek  97 min.)
The Czechs chose to send the unremarkable Wild Bees to the Academy this year instead of this lovely piece of pure Academy bait which would have enthralled that audience.  I don't know, it was a little too on the mark for me, unconventional old people, life affirming, a true crowd pleaser.  Still, the performances were amazing (I especially liked the understated grace of the leading lady, Stella Zázvorková.)  And what's not to like about such an amiable story?  Well, don't be looking for any adventurous filmmaking style...this is about as straightforward as they come.  ***  
THE BLUES (US d. Various 100 min.)
Martin Scorsese has produced a PBS series about The Blues which will be shown this fall.  He's selected 7 directors, including himself, to make documentary episodes of different aspects of this quintessential American music.  The current film contains roughly 20 minute excerpts from five of these episodes; only Clint Eastwood and Scorsese himself is absent.  It is interesting how each of the five directors has imposed his recognizable style on his resulting piece.  Wim Wenders made an unconventional contribution which featured cleverly reproduced black and white footage of performers like Blind Willy Johnson.  Richard Pearce's more conventional piece featured B.B. King on the road, traveling through Mississippi to Memphis.  Charles Burnett, a director who I find absolutely soporific in his feature work, managed to put me to sleep again with something about prison blues.  The film finally took flight with an amazing piece by Mike Figgis about how the Brits brought the blues back to America.  Wow!  He gathered a great group including Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, John Lennon and the Stones (in concert footage) just for starters; and his direction was a good lesson in how to light and cut this sort of documentary.  Outstanding stuff.  Finally, Marc Levin's episode of how hip-hop is basically an extension of the blues, featuring Public Enemy and especially the enthusiasm of Marshall Chess as modern rap entrepreneur, closed out the film on a satisfactory note.  Over all, I can only rate this ** 3/4; but the last two sequences, especially the Figgis, would rate about *** 1/2.  

Here it is Sunday and I'm sitting in the Pacific Place theater with my notebook computer on my lap writing these reviews for Saturday.   Yes, I overslept (not a bad thing), and had no time to add to this journal.  There's even a wireless web connection available in the theater (though they're trying to charge for the privilege. )  Very cool.

Saturday, May 24
Of course not a single word to add, except that I enjoyed this film a great deal...very relevant to my life.  But mum's the word.  *** 1/2
THE GIFT (US doc. d. Louise Hogarth)
I was slightly fearful going in, considering that I've had two long-term partners die on me from the consequences of AIDS, that this film might be too tough for me to take.  For anybody who doesn't know, the "gift" of the title is the act of cooperatively giving an HIV- person the AIDS virus.  Yes, some negative people, for whatever reason (guilt, release from worry, pure ignorance) desire to receive this gift; and some positives are very happy to grant them their wish.  I'm aware of the phenomenon.  In fact, as my lover lay dying I even felt the survivor guilt described in the film.  Yet, anybody who has accompanied a person with AIDS through the ravages of the illness ought to be aware that the consequences of the illness are dire beyond comprehension.  This is an important film, and should be required watching for all young people, especially gays.  The young San Francisco man who was centrally featured, who cannot now undo what was done, simply broke my heart.  *** 1/2
CAMP (US  d. Todd Graff)
An amiable film about a group of kids who attend a summer camp in New York state devoted to budding actors and singers.  Every two weeks they take part in a production.  If you've seen Fame or Broadway Damaged or any of the several films of that ilk, you know exactly what to expect:  a potpourri of gay and straight, talented and not so talented, attractive and geeky types who strive and survive.  A film like this lives or dies by the casting, and the film was particularly well served in this regard, I thought.  Maybe the leading "straight" boy, played with a stiff jaw by Daniel Letterle, was a little too square; but I liked him and would hope he makes it in movies.  Robin de Jesus was quite good as the inevitable wispy latino gayboy (this seems to be the convention in every film like this one).  But the original music was pretty darn good; and the ensemble of unknown performers sure beat the hell out of any of the American Idol casts for talent at belting out songs.  I can't say that the filmmaking was special in any way...the hoary plot creaked with familiarity and the direction was straightforward and uninteresting.  Yet, this audience was well pleased...and I liked the film a lot.  ** 1/2 objectively.   Much better if you're in the mood for a film about a campy camp, as I was.
THE EDUCATION OF GORE VIDAL  (US doc.  d. Deborah Dickson)
In summary, this film sounds sort of dry:  the life of Gore Vidal through examinations of his books, old footage of the author's many interactions in the media, and interviews with the man himself, his longtime companion and  a few famous talking heads.   Yet, Vidal himself is intrinsically fascinating...perhaps the principal liberal voice of the American century.  I've also read almost all his novels; so I had a personal stake in the subject matter of the film.  And I found it to be an immensely satisfying view into the man's life and mind, well written and intelligently structured with  just the right emphasis.  Nothing flashy here; but it worked for me.  *** 1/2
CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS  (US doc.  d. Andrew Jarecki)  
A day mostly devoted to documentaries...outstanding ones, and this one was the best of the bunch.  Jarecki literally stumbled onto this story while researching another idea; and he had the skill and guts to go with it and achieve an astoundingly effective and important exposé.  I was left with just the right amount of ambiguous feelings about what transpired in the Friedman child  sexual abuse case from the late '80s in Great Neck, NY, in some ways similar to the McMartin case in my home town.  The filmmaker deftly combined interviews with some of the family and many of the authorities involved in the case, with home footage of this extremely normal appearing family.  The results were a gradually peeling away of a complex family dynamic which led to ultimate disaster for all involved.  A perfect example of a documentarian striking a satisfying balance between objective documentation of an enigmatic event, and the crusading journalistic desire to expose a possible miscarriage of justice.  One can't make a better documentary than this.  Bravo!  ****

Sunday, May 25
ANGELA (Italy  d. Roberta Torre)
A rare example of an Italian woman director bringing a female point of view to the Italian and Sicilian crime family genre.  Based on a true story of a shoe shop owner and his wife who were heavily involved in cocaine distribution; and a complex triangle involving the bosses wife and her affair with a soldier in this mini-Mafia family.  Shot in a slow, dingy, shaky hand-held style which gave the film a look of austere realism, the film ultimately derailed for me as I never got involved with the characters and their actions.  Still, a worthwhile effort.  ** 1/2
L'AUBERGE ESPAGNOLE (France-Spain  d.  )Cedric Klapisch
Entertaining fluff...a romantic comedy about a 20-something Frenchman (the attractive Alain Delon-lite actor Romain Duris) who becomes a student for a year in Barcelona, finds a collective of international "types" to room with, and grows from the experience.  I'm a total sucker for this type of film, which shamelessly flaunts its attractive young cast in situations I can identify with.  Definitely a guilty pleasure; but there is also a very French esprit and a directoral flair which lifts the film out of the realm of pure fluff.  Klapisch is onto something...a bright, modern, youth-oriented film which is also a canny examination of Euro-internationalism and how cultures are melting together in the 2000s.  ***
MAGDALENE SISTERS  (UK  d. Peter Mullan)
No surprise that this bleak and realistic film won a major festival prize (Venice).  It exposes the frankly horrendous treatment of "fallen women" victims of the system in Ireland...women virtually imprisoned for life in nunneries for sins as simple as an orphan being too attractive, or young girls having babies out of wedlock.  Beautifully acted by a cast of mostly unknowns, directed with a sensitivity to the actors by a pretty good actor himself (who has a major cameo role as a cold-hearted father).  The filmmaking was so austere that it actually failed to move me emotionally; but I can respect the writing, acting and direction anyway.  *** 1/4
A SOLDIER'S GIRL  (US  d. Frank Pierson)
A Showtime tv movie, based on a true story, about a soldier in the modern peace-time American army infantry who, while ostensibly straight, nevertheless falls in love with a pre-operative transsexual and has an off-base relationship with her which is known of by his platoon mates.  Troy Garity (is he Jane Fonda's  and Tom Hayden's son?) exhibits true star magnetism in the role of the sexually confused learning deficit disordered soldier.   And Lee Pace is quite good (though his lip-synching drag show numbers were poorly performed, in my opinion) as the transsexual lover who narrates the story.   But it was Shawn Hatosy as the ritalin popping, manipulative roommate who steals the movie with his complex characterization as evil Svengali whose own psychological problems become the fulcrum for the inevitable tragedy.   Nice job by all involved...a good script, well directed.   *** 1/4.  

Monday, May 26
SPRING SUBWAY (China  d. Zhang Yibai)
Sometimes a film can be an artistic success and fail to work (at least for me).  This film is reminiscent of Wong's In the Mood for Love, in that it is enigmatic and beautiful to watch; but narratively opaque.  It's the story of a married couple who have ceased communicating with each other after 7 years.  The husband has been out of work for 3 months and has spent his days aimlessly wondering the Beijing subway system (which is fabulously photographed); however, he has been unable to tell his wife that he lost his job.  The focus of the film is on this attractive couple and their failing marriage; but it is some of the other characters, all connected by their regularly using the subway system at about the same time, which add some substance to the film.  I'd say this was a good film, ravishingly well photographed, which just wasn't my cup of tea.  ** 3/4
VAGABOND (Hungary  d. Gyorgy Szomjas)
This film received a generous round of applause at the end, and apparently pleased quite a few in the audience.  But not me.  I was completely bored and considered it a waste of my time.  It's the story (if there actually is a story) of an aimless and homeless boy wandering the streets of Budapest, occasionally joining other teen-age hoodlums in burglarizing homes.  He wanders into a theater where a group is rehearsing a gypsy folk dancing pageant and the film just stops in its tracks for a series of incessant dancing sequences which I found boring in the extreme.  The main actor had one expression: passive observer.  Maybe if I found the dancing interesting or even the way it was directed interesting, I'd feel better about the film.  But the photography and mis en scène were about as boring and uninspired as the story.  I think I'd gnaw off my arm rather than spend another minute trapped watching this film.  *
JEALOUSY IS MY MIDDLE NAME  (Korea  d.  Park Chan-Ok)
At least finally we have a story, even though I never could figure out exactly what was happening as I must have snoozed through some of the first 30 minutes and missed some crucial exposition.  Although I found the film interesting enough after I came to, I never could figure out quite who was involved with whom.  From what I gather, this 25 year old student working on his dissertation in English lit has been dumped by his girlfriend for an older married man who she is dumped by in return.  Our hero (another passive, inexpressive leading man...though he'd have had to work double time to be as stolid as the lead in Vagabond) decides to go to work for the older man, who is a magazine editor, and the two men get into an interesting co-dependency working relationship, each again falling for the same girl.  I actually enjoyed the film; but I don't think it was very well written...sort of an aimless script.  But I suspect it is a pretty fair look at Korean society as it exists today; and the characters were pretty interesting.  ** 1/2
DOING TIME  (Japan  d.  Sai Yoichi)
This film is a rather fun look at the current day Japanese prison system from the point of view of an older prisoner sentenced to a three year term in a spotlessly clean high-security facility for possession of illegal firearms.  The prison routine is amazingly regimented by American standards, which may give the film a degree of comedy which isn't apparent to a Japanese audience.  There isn't much of a story here; the real star of the piece is the prison itself.  Oh, yes, a great deal of the film is devoted to how good the food is to the sensorially deprived prisoner.  You might never again experience how much rapture a dash of soy sauce in a bowl of rice could evoke.  The film works because of these little truthful touches.  Prison life has never looked so pleasant.  ***
THE LOVER (Russia  d. Valery Todorovsky)
Ah, finally a great script!  This is the spare, but exquisitely minimal story of a teacher, married to a younger woman for 15 years with a teen-age son.  The wife suddenly dies from a massive heart attack; and while the man is still in deep mourning he discovers that his wife has led a double life since their 2 month anniversary...she's been carrying on a long term affair with another man who lives 5 tramway stops away.  The drama is about the consequences of this discovery and the strange relationship that the two men grudgingly embark on.  Well written, acted and directed, the film works on several levels.  But it is mainly a character study of a good man faced with the realization that his whole life has been based on a lie.  That the "lover" is also a good man makes for an additional level of pathos.  *** 1/4

Tuesday, May 27
JULIE WALKING HOME  (Canada/Germany/Poland  d. Agnieszka Holland)
This one is a Canadian tv movie which would fit beautifully on Lifetime Cable's schedule.  Not to say it isn't a darn good film.  Miranda Otto is radiant as a mother whose marriage is in trouble; but even more pressing one of her twin children becomes critically ill.  Circumstances bring her and her young son to a Russian faith healer (another great performance by the remarkable actor Lothaire Bluteau).  I'm having trouble with summarizing the plot without giving too much away.  Let it stand that despite some implausabilities, the film moved me to tears without seeming to be manipulative.  I cared about the characters and their story.  As usual, Agnieszka Holland proves to be an excellent director of actors. *** 1/4
TO BE AND TO HAVE (France  d. Nicolas Philibert)
A documentary about a year of life passing in a one-room elementary school in the rural Auvergne district of France.  The teacher is a wonderful, gentle man on the verge of retirement; and the students are all cute and somehow well defined.   It's the non-fiction, rural version of Tavernier's  Ça Commence Aujourd'hi, although with little conflict.  I was charmed, and a little bored.  Surely life can't be so picture perfect as this?  And has there ever been a child actor with as winning a personality as Jojo...even though he's a real kid?  ***
SUDESTE  (Argentina  d. Sergio Diego Bellotti)
A slice of life picturesque drama about life led in the river world inland from Buenos Aires.  The main character is a young fisherman, and into his pastoral life drops the real world in the form of a bandit who is probably dying from a gunshot wound.  The film has a rhythm roughly equal to the torpid flow of these river backwaters, and the acting is quite amateurish.  Yet it ends up a likable and involving enough story, mostly due to the successful way the river life is incorporated into the story and the decency of the main character.  ** 3/4
MADAME SATA  (Brazil/France  d. Karim Ainouz)
Madame Sata was a real-life, black, Brazilian drag queen...showman, pederast, brothel owner, toast of Rio from the '40s on.  The film takes place in the early '30, and is about the genesis of the young Joao Francisco dos Santos and how he lived as a young man in the wild Lapa district of Brazil and became fabulous.  Shot with a sepia toned palette which makes the setting appear especially authentic, and with a wild soundtrack of samba and drums, the film is edited fast and furiously and filled with steamy, stylized gay sex scenes.  The script and direction makes good use of the period and some powerfully realistic actors, especially Lazaro Ramos as Joao and Felippe Marques as his passionate, white hustler lover.  This one is destined for cult status, I think...and it's a surprisingly good film, to boot.  *** 1/4

Wednesday, May 28
SONG FOR A RAGGY BOY (Ireland/US  d. Aisling Walsh)
This is the flip side of the Magdalene Sisters film, in this case about the Irish work-house schools run by the Catholic church for convicted wayward boys.  The institutions were apparently rife with physical and sexual abuse, and were closed in 1984 (the Magdalene institutions for fallen women were closed in 1994).  This story takes place in 1939, and is centered around the first lay teacher this particular borstal has hired:  a Spanish civil war veteran (guess which side...) played with typical sensitivity by Aiden Quinn.  The film is a little reminiscent of last year's Borstal Boy, but much harder hitting.  The sadistic prior, whose attitude was that all these boys are all inhuman monsters, was somewhat overdone for dramatic purposes.  That's just about the only misstep of the film (the Spanish war flashbacks were also a little out of place, I thought).  But I was completely involved, much moreso here than with the Magdalene film, which was possibly a better film formally, at least less obviously manipulative...but didn't have nearly the visceral, emotional effect that this film had for me. *** 1/4
BUFFALO SOLDIERS (US  d. Gregor Jordan)
This may be the best American film never to see the light of day.  It's a pedal to the metal screwball satire about corruption in the American army stationed in Germany in peacetime 1989.  In the post-9/11 American environment, the release of such a scathingly un-politically correct look at the U.S. army simply won't fly.  Too bad.  Some nice performances (especially Joaquin Phoenix as the battalion clerk who runs all the rackets on base, Ed Harris as the naive colonel he consistently bamboozles, and Scott Glenn as his top sergeant nemesis) go to waste.  The satire is pretty broad; but the script and direction were first rate.  My rating of this film may be more indicative of my political leanings than the inherent merit of the film.  But it has been a long time since I've found a Hollywood film to be so satisfying at every level.  *** 1/2
H (S. Korea  d. Lee Jeong-hyuk  107 min.)
If you've seen Kurosawa's Cure, then you've just about seen this film.  It's a stylish policier melodrama about a serial killer and his copycats.  The film features an imprisoned killer who is as creepy in his own way as Hannibal Lector.  In fact, this film should have been called:  The Revenge of the Fetus (an in joke which will become clear when and if you see the film.)  I guessed the denouement much too early, and wasn't surprised enough by the outcome to find this a very satisfactory mystery.  But the filmmaking was quite good, the action gory enough for any masochistic blood-loving audience, the characters all vivid and well acted.  I just felt I'd seen it all before.  ** 3/4
ROBERT CAPA:  IN LOVE AND WAR  (US doc.  d. Anne Makepeace  90 min.)
Capa was probably a fascinating character...certainly he was a special photo-journalist whose work speaks for itself.  But this straightforward telling of his life story through mostly still pictures and a few talking heads was pretty ordinary.  It was diverting enough; and the treatment of Capa's photos was well done (re-shooting documentary photos in motion is what I do for a living, and I had to respect the job of the person who did it in this film...I couldn't have done much better.)  But the standard for documentaries at this festival has been set quite high; and this one was just not special in any way.  ** 1/2
PORN THEATER  (France  d. Jacques Nolot  88 min.)
Jacques Nolot is an actor who occasionally makes interesting gay-themed films as a writer-director.  This film is about a night in a Parisian straight porno theater, the audience of horny men and drag queens eager to service them.  The film actually is borderline gay porn, the sex is surprisingly explicit.  There are a lot of characters in this audience, and each has his turn to shine.  Nolot himself plays one of them, a long-time HIV survivor whose interest in sex has waned, but who writes poetry about the dingy porno theater milieu which he reads to the middle aged ticket taker woman and the attractive straight young projectionist.  There's a lot happening in this film, mostly under the surface, acting by gesture and subtle interplay.  It certainly isn't going to be to everybody's taste; but I found it unique, well observed and something of a turn-on.  *** 1/4

Thursday, May 29
AMERICAN SPLENDOR  (US  d. Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini)
Could you even dream of a better combination than Ghost World with the documentary Crumb?  There you have it.  This is roughly underground comix author Harvey Pekar's life as he led it in the pages of his comic books and novels.  Featuring incredibly good performances from Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis (has she ever been more chameleon like than in this role where I hardly recognized her?), along with accompanying documentary footage of the real people interacting with their filmic doppelgangers.  It starts with perhaps the greatest opening credit sequence of recent years and never lets up in inventiveness and acute observation (much of which can be traced to Pekar's eye and ear for fascinating quotidian life in all its extraordinary ordinariness.  I only wish I had been aware of his comix...though I had stopped reading the underground comic books by the time he started writing.)   A delight...certainly destined to be one of the most acclaimed indies of the year.  *** 3/4
WAR  (Russia  d. Aleksei Balabanov)
I enjoyed this film about as much as any at the festival so far; but I'm aware of its problems.  In a way, it's as much a satire as Buffalo Soldiers, though less obviously so.  The "war" is the Russian-Chechan undeclared police action.  The film is about a ruthless Chechan warlord who has captured for ransom a couple of English actors who were doing Hamlet in Georgia, an injured Russian captain and various others, including a Russian sergeant, Ivan (played magnificently by the magnetic and attractive Alexei Chadov, who I predict will become a major star), who becomes the fulcrum of a revenge and rescue plot.  The characters are pretty black and white:  Chechans evil, Russians corrupt, English naive.  The action becomes more and more unlikely as the film progresses; and plenty of sanitized blood is spilled.  But despite its flaws, the film is a corker of a good adventure, and the production values are incredibly high.  A fix of straight testosterone, and I loved it.  *** 1/4
THREE MARIAS  (Brazil/Italy  d. Aluizio Abranches)
Abranches is a director to watch.  His compositions and the way he handles the camera indicate a huge talent.  Unfortunately this film has a fairy tale like plot of vengeance and destiny thwarted which adds up to little.  Beautiful imagery, though, so worth the trip.  ** 1/2
MINIMAL STORIES  (Argentina  d. Carlos Sorin)
This film is a kind of road picture about ordinary people living ordinary lives in rural Argentina.  Nothing much of consequence happens, though the film is full of interesting and well drawn characters having an extraordinary 36 hours in their own terms.  A warm smile of a film, without much conflict or irony; but effortlessly uplifting, too.  Nothing flashy here, lots of extreme close-ups.  But no doubt about it, this is a skilled filmmaker at work to make something so effortlessly simple so satisfying.  *** 1/4

Friday, May 30
THE EYE  (Thailand  d. Danny & Oxide Pang)
A horror movie which wasn't all that terrifying about a woman, blind from the age of 2, whose sight is restored through a cornea transplant and who starts to "see dead people".   The film was diverting enough, with some interesting special effects.  But the plot development was predictable; and the film lacked  a focal point which interested or involved me.  Don't miss the very beginning of the film, though, where the filmmaker starts to play with the viewer's head.  Too bad the rest of the film wasn't so original.  ** 3/4
ANIMATRIX  (US/JAPAN  d.  Various)
Nine examples of Japanese anime from stories based on the Matrix world.  Mahiro Maeda's "Second Renaissance - Parts 1 and 2" was interesting, mainly because it filled in so much of the back-story of the series.  But the animation was rather ordinary.  The three sequences which were written by the Wachowski brothers were the best, I thought.  "Kid's Story" had the best plot, and "Final Flight of the Osiris" (which was a trailer with the feature Daredevil earlier this year) had some spectacular 3-D character animation by Andy Jones.  But all in all, I guess I'm not a big anime fan as much of this left me cold.  Overall:  ** 3/4
BAD GUY  (S. Korea  d. Kim Ki-duk)
I can't even begin to describe the plot of this film, which was circular and opaque...and may only be possible to understand if the entire film is taken as some sort of supernatural allegory. Certainly it didn't make any sense in a strictly narrative sense.  What we have here is a drama about a petty pimp who falls for a nice, college girl and entraps her in a degrading lifestyle of prostitution and desperation.  Then it really gets weird.  I like my films to have more coherent narratives; but this one had enough atmosphere to sustain my interest, at least.  ** 1/2
DIRT  (US  d. Nancy Savoca)
This was a surprisingly effective drama about an undocumented Salvadoran family, mainly centered on the wife and mother who is a cleaning woman for several posh New York apartment dwellers.  The characters are sympathetic, and this is a true crowd pleaser which had an emotional impact without seeming to be manipulative.  It was projected in digital video (I guess it will be a Showtime movie eventually), which degraded the look of the film. But it is good proof that if the story works, one can overlook technical deficiencies.  ***
YOSSI & JAGGER  (Israel  d. Eytan Fox  65 min.)
Another film which looked dingy, possibly shot on video and transferred to film; but one which worked because of some well defined characters and a good, tight script.   The film is about a gay affair between two officers in the Israeli army on duty in the snowy Golan Heights.  There's some good stuff on what it means to be gay in such a closeted milieu.  The film earned my tears honestly; and Yhuda Levi is really wonderful and quite attractive in the role of Jagger.  *** 1/4

Saturday, May 31
All I'll say is that it was a genre comedy which strived for a particular effect and fell short of achieving it.  ** 1/4
A LITTLE MONK (S. Korea  d. Joo Kyung-jun)
The little monk in the title is a cute 8 year old boy whose mother had abandoned him when he was younger in a small Buddhist monastery.  The film looks beautiful, the photography makes fine use of the rural, forested setting.  But I thought the middle section dragged; and the film, despite the effective use of its adorable protagonist, tried too hard to tug at the heartstrings and mostly failed.  ** 1/2
THE DAY A PIG FELL INTO THE WELL  (S. Korea  d. Hong Sang-soo)
I was looking forward to this film, since Hong is a well respected director and I sort of liked The Turning Gate, despite its narrative longeurs and opacity.  However, this film from 1996 was a total waste of time, in my opinion.  I was never able to differentiate the two Korean female characters (admittedly, they really looked alike here; but this is a cultural difficulty that I personally have with many Asian films, that the women especially often look too similar to each other for me to keep them straight.)  I got totally lost in the narrative twists, which seemed so random and weirdly motivated that I thought the reels might be screening out of order.  Apparently this film was about jealousy and failed relationships; and I stayed awake for the entire film and still have no idea what actually transpired.   1/2*
WHALE RIDER (New Zealand/Germany  d. Niki Caro)
A film steeped in Maori legend about a young girl in present day New Zealand who is destined to lead her people despite the cultural sexism which makes it impossible for her grandfather, the tribal chief, to recognize this.  This film got two rounds of huge applause; and its record of winning audience awards at festival after festival speaks volumes about the current state of art films.  Maybe because it is so definitely a girls picture and that's not my particular interest; but I thought the film was pretty obvious and predictable.  Still, it was remarkably well made, shot in beautiful wide screen with a cast of unknowns who deliver fine performances.  I predict it will win the Golden Space Needle here; but it didn't win over my cold, skeptical heart.  ***
GARAGE DAYS  (Australia d. Alex Proyas)
Proyas is a good enough director, and his visual inventiveness acute enough that I actually enjoyed this film, although it wasn't very good.  We've seen this plot a million times, garage band trying to break through to rock stardom.  Only the setting, Sidney in the present day, was different.  But the characters were engaging enough, although each was a predictable type.   The first reel was ruined by a sound system which was unaccountably missing a track and was set at too low a volume.   But once they fixed the technical problem, at least the music was ok.   I'm returning to the theme of "predictable" with my reviews of film after film, which might just be an artifact of the festival setting where too many diverse films are being watched too rapidly.  But it is true, I long for a film with an original and non-predictable story...and this one certainly wasn't it.  ** 1/4

Sunday, June 1
MIRANDA (Great Britain d. Mark Munden)
John Simm is the best thing about this movie.  He plays a schlub clerk who falls for a femme fatale (Christina Ricci, slightly miscast but good anyway) con artist.  Something between a crime caper film and a romantic comedy, it's the kind of movie that I enjoy far more than its meager assets deserve.  I just found Simm's Frank to be such a sympathetic and identifiable character that the absurd story and overacting by Kyle MacLachlan and John Hurt didn't matter to me.  ** 3/4
THE BLESSING BELL  (Japan  d. Sabu)
I think this film would please the formalists and cineasts far more than it did me.  It's a one-day journey in the life of a man who starts out by losing his job in a general plant closure and then wanders off into a series of occurrences which unfold slooooooowly.  Honestly, I snoozed through a portion of the film, and I didn't miss much.  There's hardly any dialog; in fact we never see the main character speak.  But the film is beautifully photographed and interestingly structured.  One of those films which are quite good, but simply not my kind of movie.  ***
TOGETHER  (China/S. Korea  d. Chen Kaije)
An altogether successful film about a young violin prodigy from the countryside, who ventures to Beijing with his father and copes with his talent and the corrupt Chinese artistic scene.  It's a moving story, beautifully photographed and directed.  It's emotionally manipulative, to be sure, yet easy to forgive since it works.  The boy is very convincing (he was chosen more for his talent with the violin rather than his acting prowess...but he's certainly adequate to the role.)  Also a stand-out is the actor who plays his father and the director himself in the role of a stern music teacher.  *** 1/4
PUBLIC ENEMY (S. Korea  d. Kang Woo-suk)
Finally a Korean film winner...a policier about a slovenly, unconventional homicide detective (another amazing performance by Sol Kyung-gu, so outstanding in Oasis.)   He's always on the brink of blowing it...the Internal Affairs people are constantly on his back.  He's set on solving a particularly dastardly set of murders.  No mystery here about who the perp was, a slimy, but clever businessman.  The tale is how he is finally caught.  Well written, nicely paced, I had a good time watching it.  *** 1/4

Monday, June 2
Alan Rudolph has had an interesting career outside of the Hollywood mainstream.  This is another of his intimate character studies, and for my money one of his very best.  It's the story of two dentists who met in college, married, had three adorable little girls, and then find themselves in a relationship crisis before their 10th anniversary.  Campbell Scott is wonderful here as dentist, husband and father, about as far removed from Roger Dodger as a character can be.  And Hope Davis is equally good in a role more suited to her than in American Splendor.  Only  Denis Leary strikes a false note as an obstreperous patient who becomes sort of Greek chorus observer and commentator...Scott's fantasy id.  His role is a narrative device which seems a little forced; but Leary does the best he can with it.  This is a tough movie to watch, one which is unsparing in its examination of modern marriage.  I think the audience reaction was mixed; but it is hard to imagine a better character based drama being produced this year.  *** 3/4
YMCA BASEBALL TEAM  (S. Korea  d. Kim Hyeun-seok)
A pleasant enough trifle about the establishment of baseball in Korea in the early 20th century.  The story of the first and finest Korean team and how it fits in with the history of Korea and its struggle for independence from Japan, was interesting enough.  And this production,  in wide screen and with high production values in its historical recreation, is a fine entertainment in the realm of the Indian film Lagan, which had a similar theme in regards to a Western sport as metaphor for a country's emerging hopes.  But the story here was too predictable, and the pacing too laconic for my tastes.  A solid effort which didn't do it for me.  **  3/4
HARD GOODBYES:  MY FATHER  (Greece/Germany   d. Penny Panayotopoulou)
The story of a young boy who is unable to accept his father's death in an auto accident.  The kid is marvellous, and the story occasionally involving; but it lacked something for me.  Maybe it was because the other characters were sketchily written.  Certainly the director gave it a good effort; some of the imagery was quite fine (a scene where the boy was silhouetted in a tent while his mother reads him a story from outside the tent in full lighting was particularly well composed.)   Maybe it was just my mood.  I wasn't engaged enough, so the film dragged intolerably.  ** 1/4
JAIL BREAKERS  (S. Korea d.  Kim Sang-jin)
A delightful wide screen comedy about a couple of jail breakers who end up trying to break back into prison.  Ultimately it was too broad slapstick for my tastes, and maybe a trifle too long; but this is one director who is a master at handling simultaneous action sequences by inventive cross cutting.  It features another great performance by Sol Kyung-gu, the actor of the festival as far as I'm concerned.  ***

Tuesday, June 3
POWER TRIP  (U.S.  doc.  d. Paul Devlin)
This is a documentary about the former Soviet state of Georgia...how in 1999 the government sold its electrical utility to an American company, and what transpired.  It sounds like an unlikely hook for a fascinating film; but the filmmaker succeeded in bringing the subject to life with his broad coverage and intelligent editing.  We see how ruined the Georgian infrastructure had been left at the end of the Soviet era, how corrupt the present government is, how the very notion of capitalism is a poor fit for a populace brainwashed from birth to believe that private ownership is inherently evil.  The film left me despairing for a country and a people in trouble, and also hopeful that there are American capitalists who do care about doing the right thing by these people, though the task may ultimately be impossible, and chances are they will fail.  *** 1/2
LIFE AFTER WAR  (U.S.  doc.  d. Brian Knappenberger)
To be honest, I walked out of this film after a half-hour when I found my mind wandering.  The documentary followed former NPR correspondent Sarah Chayes as she quit her job and took on another...helping to rebuild a small Afghani village near Kandahar, which had been destroyed by American forces in the final fight against the Al Qaida forces who had barricaded themselves there.  My problem with the film was that it started to look like it was going to be a manufactured propaganda film...sort of the building of a Potemkin village in aid of an agenda that we're actually doing some good in post-Taliban Afghanistan.  Maybe this was an unfair judgment to make so quickly; but I fled the theater and spent the rest of the afternoon on the internet looking for new lodgings for next week (I'm losing my present place to stay here in Seattle prematurely and this extra expense worries me.)  Sorry, Sarah.  W/O
LOVE FORBIDDEN (France  d. Rodolphe Marconi)
This one is hard to review, as it is a dark look at an aspect of life familiar to me...I feel I almost lived this story 40 years ago.  Anyway, the director himself plays a young filmmaker attending a seminar in Rome who becomes fascinated by a mostly straight Italian man and, after a long, slow, frustrating courtship finally sleeps with him...and then stalks him as he gets involved with an American girl who has a fascination for serial killers.  The film is shot mostly in darkness, with long close-ups of the lead actor/director usually observing rather than interacting.  It's all very arty and even occasionally looks like a film made by a pretentious college student (in fact, my college thesis film at the UCLA film school, long lost and hopefully never to be found again, was something like this film!)  Still, I do feel that Marconi is a talented filmmaker and an interesting screen presence, and I'd like to see more of his films.  ***
THE GIRL FROM PARIS  (France  d. Christian Carion) +
I saw this film last year at another festival, and I wouldn't have watched it again if it weren't a replacement for the film Brats, canceled at the last minute due shipping problems.  I remembered it as a wonderful film, and it didn't disappoint the second time.  Mathilde Seigner is luminous as a 30ish Parisianne who forsakes city life and a career as an internet instructor for two years of learning agriculture and then buying an old dairy goat farm in the Rhône-Alps from a grizzled old farmer, played with sly humor by the superb actor Michel Serrault.  It's a lovely film, beautifully photographed, making full use of the spectacular mountain scenery; heartwarming without being obviously manipulative.  Worth an upgrade to *** 1/2.
SOMEWHERE OVER THE DREAMLAND  (Taiwan   d. Cheng Wen-tang)
Another mystery Asian film...I'm not at all sure what it was all about.  It starts out as the story of a Formosan native who recovers a wallet lost when he had a work accident 10 years earlier which cost him a leg.  The wallet contains a picture of him and a woman from his past whom he then searches for.  At that point he disappears and another boy, who works days as a sushi chef in a Japanese restaurant and nights as a gigolo for lonely women takes over the film along with a girl who works as a ticket seller at a carnival carousel.  They are somehow connected as the girl telephones the boy and tells him a story which connects somehow back to the original man.  If this makes no sense, then it's because the movie made no sense to me.  Still, as a mood piece it kept my interest well enough.  ** 3/4

Wednesday, June 4
INFERNAL AFFAIRS  (Hong Kong  d. Andrew Lau, Alan Mak)
A highly touted policier which more or less delivers the goods.  Andy Lau and Tony Leung play Hong Kong cops in a complex story of long-term undercover moles seeking to break up a powerful underworld gang (it's a challenge to figure out who is playing on which team in just one viewing.)  The action never flags, the wide screen cinematography and direction are about as good as it gets for this kind of film.  But really, what takes this film out of the ordinary are the powerful performances of the two lead actors.  Tony Leung, especially, conveys the burnout of his years of duplicity with a subtlety rarely seen on screen.  *** 1/4
THE HOUSEKEEPER  (France d. Claude Berri)
Berri changes gears here, presenting a wry romantic comedy about an older man depressed that his wife (so that's what Catherine Breillat looks like!) has left him for another man, who hires a ripe young housekeeper and falls into an affair with her. Jean-Pierre Bacri delivers another solid mid-life crisis performance; but it is Emile Dequenne, whom I don't believe I've seen before, who lights up the screen here with a fresh and amazingly innocent presence, a character totally lacking in irony...contrasting with Bacri's embittered cuckold whose every breath is ironic detachment.  A mature, fun, sexy film, the kind that only the French make.  ***
EL BONAERENSE  (Argentina/Chile  d.  Pablo Trapero)
El Bonaerense is the nickname of the Buenos Aires police force, apparently famous for its corruption.  This film is the story of Zapa, a naive country bumpkin who almost inadvertently commits a crime and allows his uncle, an ex-Bonaerense bigwig, to recommend him for admission to the force in the big city.  The film is shot in a dingy, high contrast wide screen format, which gives it a unique, ugly look.  But it is the central performance of Jorge Roman, his convincing transition from guileless innocent to knowledgeable insider resisting the corruption around him, which lifts the film out of the ordinary.  **3/4.  
SEASIDE  (France  d. Julie Lopes-Curval)
A multi-character drama about a small resort beach town with a combination of townies and long-term summer vacationers.  Several families are in the throes of various personal crises too numerous to describe here.  Just let's say that I became involved with the well defined characters as they play out a year in their lives in long, static medium shots which make them part of the larger landscape.  Good performances here (an especially subtle one by Jonathan Zaccaï, as a young, stolid townie whose girlfriend, played by lovely Hélène Fillières, yearns to escape the stultifying small town and its metaphorically apropos pebble industry.)  This is one of those films whose rich tapestry of characterizations exist mostly under the surface.  When it is well done, as it is here, it become an especially rewarding experience.  *** 1/4

I may not be able to continue updating this web page every day after the weekend, as I'm going to be moving to a B&B which doesn't have a direct connection to my service provider, attbi.com.  I've been staying with my step-daughter in Kenmore for the past 4 years of SIFF; but she is in the midst of moving back to Los Angeles after her husband was laid off at Boeing.  I did find a reasonably priced place to stay for a week on Capitol Hill near Volunteer Park...one so reasonable that I may consider staying there for next year's festival if things work out.  In any case, I'll continue to write my journal and upload it sporadically when I have access to the web.

I haven't written very much this festival about my personal experiences here.  I'm sorry to have disappointed my vast, silent readership :-) for the lack of amusing incidents this year.  So far I've managed to stay healthy, I've eaten well, and I've organized my time so that I haven't been late to or shut out of a screening yet (knock on wood.)  I've made several good friends among my fellow pass-holders over the years; and even though I miss Howard Wood, who was my best bud for the past couple of festivals (he moved to Brazil with his family, and didn't make it here this year), I've hardly ever dined alone or stood in a pass-holder line without someone to chat with about the films.  What makes this month of the festival especially fun for me is handling the processes of the festival:  scheduling, writing my web notes, immersing myself so deeply in the festival that it becomes a vacation from life.  Some people find it odd that one can watch 4-5 films every day for a full month without burning out; but I revel in the experience.  As long as my health and funds hold out, I think I'll continue to come to SIFF.  I love the city, the festival is very user friendly, the programming simpatico with my interests (though I wish they'd quit this over-emphasis on Asian films and do more Euro-American indie stuff...probably a forlorn hope).   I always consider Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal for future festival going...maybe after I'm fully retired.  But next year I'm thinking SIFF again.

Thursday, June 5
NORTHFORK  (U.S.  d. Michael Polish)
Who keeps giving these guys (the Polish brothers) money to continue making these opaque, boring, inscrutably allegorical films?  Sure, they look great.  I imagine that somebody, somewhere, actually loves their films.  Maybe their mother.  Not I.  Even my fave, Ben Foster, was totally wasted in a non-speaking role.  Three strikes (Twin Falls, Idaho...Jackpot and now this) and you're out!  Ugh.  *
11'9''01  (France doc. d. various)
11 short films from an interesting group of international directors, all with a theme roughly based on 9/11.  The project was organized by the French,  so it is not altogether surprising that there's a faint whiff of anti-Americanism which pervades a few of the films.  I found the quality of the various films to vary greatly.  The Makhmalbaf was, in the Iranian style, mostly about cute kids, and I liked it (***).  The Lelouch was, in the French style, a serious drama with romantic overtones about a deaf French woman in New York that day (***).  Youssef Chahine's Egyptian film was worthless pro-Arab tripe featuring a ludicrously dyed blond Egyptian actor playing an American marine.  Not even visually interesting (1/2*).  I'm sorry to say that I don't remember the Bosnian trifle from Danis Tanovic.  But the contribution from Burkina-Faso by Idrissa Ouedraogo was a light comedy about a couple of children convinced that Bin Laden was in their town and they were going to get the $25 million reward for him (** 1/2).  Ken Loach took the opportunity to make a documentary excoriating America for the September 11th massacre which killed Salvator Alliende in Chile and other war crimes which made it seem that the U.S. people deserved what it got on 9/11.  Now this is not a message that is easy to take, and might be considered inappropriate, or at the very least unsympathetic; but honestly the film was probably the best of the bunch in pure filmic terms (*** 1/4).  Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritú made a pretentiously arty film which mostly featured a black screen with little video snippets of people jumping from the burning towers...along with a sound track of weird massed voices (* 1/2).  Amos Gatai's film contrasted the "live" footage of a car bombing in Jerusalem which occurred the same time as 9/11 in New York.  The idea was that a video crew was on the scene, and even though their footage was riveting, nobody was interested in putting it on the air live when events in New York were so much more newsworthy.  Nicely ironic, and a well-done piece of filmmaking, though the shrill woman announcer at the scene of the car-bombing got on my nerves, as I think she was supposed to.  ***.   Mira Nair's piece from India/Pakistan about a Pakistani woman who lost her son at the World Trade Center, was well made, and emotionally impactful (*** 1/4).  But Sean Penn's American contribution was simply terrible, a one-scene acting tour de force by Ernest Borgnine which was embarrassing to everybody involved (*).  And Shohei Imamura's weirdly metaphorical piece did have a point; but I thought maybe strayed a little too far off topic (**).  Anyway, in total, not a complete waste of time; but certainly something of a waste of celluloid.  ** 1/2.
IN JULY  (Germany  d.  Fairth Akin)
This is a road picture about a feckless school teacher (played with true movie-star magnetism by Moritz Bleibtreu who is certainly on his way to Hollywood and a huge career) who chases his dream woman from Hamburg to Turkey and along the way suffers through some hilarious adventures.  There is nothing special in the way of filmmaking here, though the production values were so high that it might as well have been a high-budget Hollywood film.  It's a true audience pleaser; the script never wavering into the mundane, the actors spectacularly attractive, the direction assured.  ***
THE HARD WORD  (Australia/Great Britain  d. Scott Roberts)
A delightful caper film which, until the end where the scriptwriter seemed to run out of inventiveness, was just about perfect.  Guy Pearce, almost unrecognizably scruffy here, was wonderful as the "smart" brother...one of a trio of skilled bank robbers who even managed to pull off jobs while in prison.   All the characters other than the central three were more or less corrupt, even to the point of ridiculousness.  In reflection the day after, I guess the film doesn't hold together as well as such similar films here as Public Enemy, Jail Breakers or especially Infernal Affairs.  But, maybe only because it was in Australian English and thus easier to follow, I actually enjoyed this film more than any of the others.  ***

Friday, June 6
MISS ENTEBBE  (Israel  d. Omri Levy)
This film seemed to stir up some unwarranted antagonism among the audience at the press screening.  It's the story of three young Israeli kids who run wild during the Entebbe air hijacking of June, 1976.  I saw it as an above average, rather edgy afterschool tv special, with a lesson for all about tolerance and  the unexpected effects that large outworld events have on kids.  The acting, especially by the children, was well above average.  Not a great film; but certainly a worthwhile effort which had an emotional impact on me. ***
THE BUTTERFLY  (France  d. Philippe Muyl)
This film, on the other hand, was 'way too cutsey for my tastes.  It's a Kolya type of heart-warming drama about an older man (Michel Serrault, doing the same character as in The Girl From Paris, only more urbane) who becomes surrogate grandfather to a little nine-year old latchkey girl who is cuter than any little girl could possibly be in the real world.  Somehow they both go on a butterfly hunt in the lovely Rhône-Alps (the best thing about the film is the incredible scenery) and the girl learns valuable life lessons from the man and visa versa.  I'll admit that this is an audience film, and probably even a very good film for kids to see.  But for me it was just annoying, although reasonably diverting.  ** 1/4
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE MIDLANDS  (Great Britain  d. Shane Meadows)
A rather ugly film, a kind of British lower middle-class romantic comedy done much better by other filmmakers like Mike Leigh and Danny Boyle.  Robert Carlyle is particularly grungy here, with a Scottish accent so marked that I could only decipher every third word or so.  Only Rhys Ifans, in a departure for him as romantic hero, comes out ahead here.  And what was with all that Morricone type music which reminded me of Once Upon a Time in the West?  If this was supposed to be a spaghetti western homage, I couldn't see it.  (written later)  I think I now see the analogy to the western.  The strong bad guy returns to town and the weaker good guy has raise himself a level to protect his turf and his woman...an essential western plot.  **
DUMMY  (U.S.  d. Greg Pritikin)
Some films are so unexpectedly wonderful, so resonant and well honed, that it takes the entire film festival experience to another level.  You can tell by the rapt tingle as you watch and the roar of approval that the audience lets out at the end.  This was such a film:  a little miracle, untouted but destined to be the hit of the festival, I think.  Adrien Brody, who completed this film just before he left for Europe to do his Oscar winning turn for Polanski, is nothing short of breathtakingly good as a young schlubb Jewish guy, still living with his eccentric family, approaching 30, who decides to throw off the traces and chase his dream to become a ventriloquist, letting his dummy become the assertive character which leads to his growth.  Everybody involved here has a career best.  Milla Jovovich is great as a hyperactive punk wannabe who takes up kletzmer music.  Illeana Douglas is less annoying than ever as Brody's sarcastic and repressed sister.  And even Jared Harris does fine work as Douglas's psycho ex-boyfriend.  This is one romantic comedy which is truly funny, laugh-out-loud funny based on good characters saying and doing witty things.  Kudos to Greg Pritikin for a fine script, executed as well as possible under the budget constraints he worked with, and especially to the casting director who gathered such an outstanding cast.  *** 1/2
I also need to give kudos to the short playing with Dummy, WHAT ARE YOU HAVING, directed by Benjamin Meyers.  It's a well observed, high-gloss, wide screen comic snippet about a shy boy and girl dining across from each other at a busy restaurant, who have mutual sparks and this one chance to possibly meet before their lives diverge.  The actors were quite attractive and the writing inventive.  Simply a satisfying, wry short film.   *** 1/4

Saturday,  June 7
I'm not going to give any clues; but this was a pay tv movie which was better than average with a good cast. ** 3/4
THE LAST GREAT WILDERNESS (Great Britain  d. David Mackenzie)
A film which shamelessly mixes genres and delivers them in a murky digital film transfer.  It starts out like a road movie through Scotland, with two mis-matched guys...one heading towards revenge, the other running away from something.  They run out of gas, and are invited to stay in one of those houses straight out of Rocky Horror Show, even with a soupçon of transvestitism.  Alistaire Mackenzie is an attractive, if bland, actor; and the film does develop fairly interestingly.  But all in all, not a very satisfying film.  ** 1/4
23  (Germany  d.  Hans-Christian Schmid)
August Diehl, so memorable in last year's AFI festival hits Love the Hard Way and Tattoo, gives a haunting performance as a young "Illuminati" obsessed hacker/coke addict in this true-story thriller from 1998.  It's basically a German version of The Falcon and the Snowman, where two young, naive computer pioneers get involved in spying for the Russians.  The stranger than fiction plot gets rather complex, and the film is too talky, and like life itself has a terrible payoff.  But along the way, it's an enjoyable enough film.  ***
I CAPTURE THE CASTLE  (United Kingdom  d. Tim Fywell)
Let's just say I'm a sucker for this sort of high class British period weeper romance.  In this case, I thought the script was very good...inventive and not entirely predictable.  The characters were interesting and the acting fine all around.  Shot in lush wide screen, it recalls the best of Merchant/Ivory, with an authentic period (1930's) feel and a psychological realism which was just right for viewing old fashioned romance through a modern lens.  Ramola Garai was especially captivating as the younger daughter torn between love and loyalty; and Bill Nighy was equally interesting as her talented, but terminally blocked author father.  And special mention must be made of Henry Cavill in the role of the faithful, brotherly ward, Stephen, who is a preternaturally beautiful actor whom I'd like to see more of.  *** 1/4

Sunday, June 8
DISTANT LIGHTS  (Germany  d. Hans-Christian Schmidt)
A slice of life film about 24 hours in the lives of many people, including a group of desperate refugees from the Ukraine trying to get to Germany (the distant lights) after getting ripped off and deserted by crooked smugglers near a bustling Polish border town.  Other major characters:  a German businessman who is on the ropes financially (getting to Germany is not all it is cracked up to be); a Polish taxi driver desperate to get money for his daughter's first communion dress; a group of corrupt architects who are providing Polish prostitutes to their prospective clients; a kindly Russian/German translator woman who feels compassion for the refugees; a group of kids involved in a cigarette smuggling ring.  All have their stories which are intricately intercut and shot in a hand-held jumpy style which simulates a documentary look.  It's hard to figure out how these stories all connect...and some of them don't.  But all are about the way that a rich country/poor country border tends to corrupt the people and processes.  Schmidt sure knows how to pick good looking men for his casts.  A director to watch for.  *** 1/4
TRILOGY:  ON THE RUN  (France/Belgium  d. Lucas Belvaux)
Belvaux has pulled off an amazing coup, at least from the sample of these two film (I'll watch the third film Wednesday).  This first film is a complex and supercharged thriller noir about an escaped prisoner, apparently a terrorist bomber from a Bader-Minhoff type 80's leftist terrorist cell, played with Bogart like anti-hero magnetism by the director.  He's smart, competent, well financed and supported.  The prison escape, a mad ride through city and countryside, breaking through roadblocks, is a tour de force which starts the film off with a bang.  For my money it never lets up from there.  It's as if Jean-Pierre Melville had directed Humphrey Bogart in High Sierra.  Truly violent and shocking, this isn't a film for the squeemish.  But I ate it up.  *** 1/2
TRILOGY:  AN AMAZING COUPLE  (France/Belgium   d. Lucas Belvaux  100)
Number two of the trilogy is taking place simultaneously to the first in the same town (Grenoble, a beautiful place to shoot a film).  Some of the characters from the first are featured in their own story, which hardly crosses with the action stuff of the first film (but little snippets start to explain some of the mysterious goings on of the first film).  This is a romantic comedy in the French farce style about a middle age couple...he's a successful lawyer, she's one of the town socialites...and their idée fixe that the other is having an affair.  It's really a lot more complex than that, and sometimes the story threatens to go off the rail into ridiculousness.  Although enjoyable, it wasn't nearly the film that the first one was, at least for me.  ***
GAY AS A GOOSE  (Shorts.  d. various)
None of these six films were outstanding.  One of the most interesting, a comedy short called Gaydar (**), was outrageously overacted camp.  The one drama, called Quintessence (**), was a well acted, but pretentious story of two people involved in the care of a final-stage AIDS patient who has disappeared.   Seventy (** 3/4) had an interesting concept, and I suppose was the best executed of the bunch; but I found its one-gag story to be somewhat offensive (my own hang-ups, I guess).  Straight, No Chaser (**) was poorly directed and wasted Bronson Pinchot in the lead role.  Burl's (* 3/4) was an unsettling story played for comedy about a family where the only child is a pretty boy with gender problems starting to establish themselves.   One Fine Morning (** 3/4)  actually was a pretty good film about an 80's high-school Goth boy who has a strong crush on his good looking buddy.  The director added some interesting computer generated special effects which indicated actual potential talent in that field.  But, like all of the other five, the film lacked something to raise it out of the ordinary.  A disappointing group, all considered.  

Monday, June 9
WESTENDER (U.S.  d. Bruce Morse)
This has to be one of the strangest films of the festival.  It is a shot-on-DV serious effort to do an unironic mideval quest movie entirely in Oregon and on a limited budget.  In some ways it ends up looking like a wildly overblown filmschool effort...cleverly designed, but cheap looking costumes, bad make-up, plodding and predictable script, terrible acting for the most part.  As if Lord of the Rings had been made for $1.50.  Yet the digital video transfered to film looked very classy...the scenery was lushly photographed and the exteriors, especially, were beautifully composed (the director must have spent a lot of effort waiting for the exact moment when the sun or moon was in the right place to make many of his artfully composed shots.)  There's a germ of a good film here; only in the present form it just comes off as a ludicrously over-ambitious effort.  * 3/4
LIMELIGHT  (U.S.  d. Terry Lukemire)
This is what happens when a mocumentary goes wrong.  It's a film in the style of Christopher Guest (i.e. This is Spinal Tap, or A Mighty Wind) about a group of weirdos whose thing is competitive karaoke.  Unfortunately, the early episodes of American Idol, have recently pre-empted this subject...where they mainly feature horrendously bad singers auditioning without a clue as to how bad they are.  The cast of Limelight, is entirely made up of these losers...and the result is sort of like shooting ducks in a barrel, the joke wears out very quickly and we're left with a boring, obvious, uninventive, unfunny mess.  Guest would probably have done it with better actors and a lighter touch, and it still would have been an iffy proposition.  This group didn't have a chance in hell of making a good film.  *
I MURDER SERIOUSLY  (Mex.  d. Antonio Urrutia)
After the previous two films, I had temporarily lowered my threashhold for bad films.  I vowed that if I wasn't engaged by this film I'd walk out and go read my e-mail at an internet café.  I gave this satirical serial killer policier a half hour of my life and didn't feel at all engaged, so I split.  Maybe that wasn't entirely fair, as it did seem like a credible midnight sort of movie, about an inventive serial killer who murders prostitutes by making their intense female orgasms deadly.  But to say the least, it wasn't my cup of tea.  W/O
THE MUDGE BOY  (U.S.  d. Michael Burke  94 min.)
On the other hand, this film was exactly the tonic I needed to restore my interest in the festival, one which affected me emotionally, and even was a little bit of a turn-on for me.  Duncan Mudge (nicely, if stolidly, played by Emile Hirsch) is a sexually confused teenager, coping with the recent death of his mother, an attraction to a hunky neighborhood boy, and a general weirdness which included an obsession with his pet chicken and wearing his mother's clothes.  Thomas Guiry played the hunky straight boy with just the right touch of animal magnitism, kindness, concern and cruelty.  And Richard Jenkins is also fine as Duncan's concerned, if inept, father, emotionally confused himself by the death of his wife.  The film has a slow, quiet, menacing tone which contrasts well with the pastoral Vermont farm country.  Certainly not to everyone's tastes, but a rewarding film.  ***
CHINESE ODYSSEY: 2002  (Hong Kong  d. Jeff Lau)
Jeff Lau has performed the difficult task of making a spot on satire of a Chinese martial arts, Emperor's court film (cf. Crouching Tiger or Hero) shamelessly mixing modern film conventions, a Molière style romantic farce, and outlandish martial arts effects together in a delightful and frothy soufflé.  It's all done in good fun, and due to its flawless cast and clever writing it all works like a charm.  *** 1/4

I've moved into a pleasant enough B&B (without the second B, actually, which makes it quite reasonably priced) in an old Victorian house on Capitol Hill.  Unfortunately, the only thing I lack is access to uploading my web page; but I do have an internet friend who has attbi.com broadband...so here I am finally updating this page before my Wednesday moviegoing starts.  I'll try to make it here every second morning from now on to add to this page.  I sometimes wonder if anybody is actually reading this stuff, since I don't really get much feedback.  Oh, well; I'm basically writing it for myself as an exercise in self-discipline.  A festival of this length could become one big blur if I didn't keep the films in mind at least for a day and do the kind of cursory analysis I practice here.  Anyway, for a change, a bunch of interesting films on Tuesday.  My only regret is that in 5 days I'll have to get back to the real (as opposed to the reel) world.  I wish this festival were year-round!

Tuesday, June 10
CRUDE (Turkey  d. Paxton Winters)
A cheaply made digital video travelogue style road picture about two American young guys on the make in Turkey.  They hook up with a young Istanbul scion of a wealthy family who has too much time on his hands, and the three set off in search of terrorists in Southeast Turkey and the fame and fortune to be made by making a film about them. Paul Schneider (an attractive actor reprising his personable but emotionally removed characterizations from the David Gordon Green films he's previously been known for like All the Real Girls) and David Connolly (also attractive, with weirdly green eyes and an assured future in dumb-and-dumber type films) play the footloose Americans as they stumble through their misadventures.  The film was not well received by many in this audience; but I thought it was good fun; and the documentary style of the director/photographer worked for me.  ** 3/4
MILWAUKEE, MINNESOTA  (U.S.  d. Allan Mandel)
Troy Garity, who was truly outstanding in Soldier's Girl earlier in the festival, gives an equally mesmerizing performance here as a mildly retarded guy who is a world champion ice-fisherman and makes big bucks in contests throughout Wisconsin.  He's under his mother's thumb, though; and when his mother is murdered in a plotted auto accident a collection of weirdos and grifters gather to try to separate Garity's character from his money.  Excellent actors as diverse as Bruce Dern, Randy Quaid, Debra Monk and the boy who played Pumpkin in last year's eponymous film lend their experience and talent to the film.  It's one of those small, intimate, quirky mood films like the Coen brothers make.  Quite well photographed in high-def video, and with a last scene as memorably and uniquely visual in its own way as the last scene in Respiro.  I really loved this little gem of a film.  *** 1/4
KING OF THE ANTS  (U.S.  d. Stuart Gordon)
This one is not easy to describe without giving away too much.  It's a gruesome midnight-movie style noir about a young man (Chris McKenna, a young actor with much presence) who gets involved in a murder-for-hire and then, after being tortured in a stomach turning scene, turns into a revenge killer.  Several  interesting character actors, including a great turn by George Wendt going against type as a bad guy; and a gross, jowly Daniel Baldwin overacting as the boss bad guy.  Great make-up, by the way.  Very over-the-top, with some pretty realistic and gory murders shot for maximum shock value.  I'm not sure why this all works so much better than some other ridiculously overdone schlocky shock films I've watched in the past (such as the all time low for films of this type:  The Dark Backward); but this one has just the right tone of mayhem done with a humorous touch that it works.  ***
LAST SCENE (Japan/S. Korea  d. Hideo Nakata)
A slow, nostalgic look at a '50s Japanese romantic film star whose career hits the skids when his costar retires, his wife dies, and he hits the bottle.  35 years later he has a chance to return to the same studio to do one last role as an old, dying man.  It's a realistic elegy to the film industry and the people who make movies.  But the middle section literally put me to sleep; and I just wasn't interested enough in the main character to enjoy the emotional carthasis that the film was attempting to provide.  ** 1/2
DEMONLOVER  (France  d. Olivier Assayas)
A hypnotic, wide screen cyber-epic of industrial skullduggery among the rich and ambitious international net-set.  I'm not even sure what transpires in this complex plot.  I fear that even a 2nd viewing might leave me mystified.  It's all a wild trip through a bunch of double and triple crosses as we're gradually let in on the realistic internet torture sites which are the point of all the industrial espionage.  It is filmically inventive with lots of huge close-ups, quick cuts and whip pans which are effective in disorienting the viewer.  Some fine actors (Charles Berling, Chloe Sevigny and especially Connie Nielsen) give cold hearted, intense performances.  Assayas proves once again that he is a master of the medium...his films have a unique visual panache.  *** 1/4

Wednesday, June 11
THE EVENT  (Canada  d. Thom Fitzgerald)
It's difficult for me to be objective about this film since it hits close to my life and I found the film to be emotionally shattering.  Parker Posey plays an cold-hearted assistant D.A. in New York in 2001 who is investigating an AIDS hospice/support facility for a series of suspicious deaths which may be assisted suicides.  Her case focuses on the Shapiro family:  mother played by Olympia Dukakis in an above average for her compassionate portrait, ill son played with extraordinary modulation and sympathy by Don McKellar (who, unfortunately, looks too robust for the role though he's up to the task as an actor), younger sister played by Sarah Polley, who has one big scene, an hysterically funny t.v. commercial (which in context has true pathos).  The film develops along familiar lines...an AIDS drama tradition stretching from Parting Glances through It's My Party.  Yet, for me this film surpasses all those in sheer emotional impact...and despite its digital look and its slow pace, becomes an important and moving document of our times.  Even 9/11 is handled with extraordinary feeling and subtlety here.  I know that not everyone will react as strongly as I did...after all, not everyone has been the primary care giver to a person dying of AIDS over a long period of time as I have.  I've lived through the issues in this film, and couldn't ask for them to be presented better.  I'm giving the film a *** 3/4; but that's probably overdoing it from personal bias.  
NATE DOGG (U.S.  d. Thomas Farone)
One of those cheap and dirty digital films which are only played at festivals.  In this case, Nate Dogg is Nathan Hale, a 10th grade high-school dropout, trailer trash, and victim of severe ADHD.  He's a potentially fine comic artist, but his life is screwed up by the learning disability which prevents him from progressing.  He gets involved with a bad bunch of violent coke dealers.  It's a bleak slice of life film, shot in shaky hand-held video.   The eponymous lead is actually played by Hale himself, which makes this a sort of fictionalized documentary...though the story could not possibly be entirely from his real-life experiences.   I was not edified in any way by this film, and in fact wished I had never seen it.  Yet, there is some talented filmmaking here, though too raw and hyper-violent for my tastes.  **
TRILOGY:  AFTER LIFE  (France/Belgium  d. Lucas Belvaux)
The third film in Belvaux's trilogy is a pure melodrama which follows another group of characters in a story paralleling, and occasionally intersecting and explicating the action of the previous two films.  This time we're involved with one of the policemen trying to find the terrorist, and his morphine addicted wife (an extraordinary, chillingly realistic performance by Dominique Blanc).   For me, it wasn't quite as involving a story as the first film...but better than the middle film, which was too trifling for my tastes.  But this work has to be judged by its entirety, as it is the unique structure of the three parallel films, the bravura achievement of telling one story in three different modes of the French film tradition, which is the overarching factor here.  As a stand-alone film I'd give this one a *** 1/4.  The trilogy as a whole deserves **** as the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.  
BLUE MOON (Austria   d. Andrea Maria Dusi)
This is a light hearted road picture about an Austrian man who encounters a Ukranian prostitute in a mysterious fashion and then loses her.  He spends the rest of the film finding her, losing her, finding her again.  It's an amiable enough film, with interesting characters and a satisfying story arc.  But after the depths of the Belvaux, it was just too trifling to care about.  ** 1/2

Thursday, June 12
LOVE AT 7-11  (Taiwan  d. Teng Yung-shing)
A slow reverie on the nature of love, I suppose.  The story, what there is of it:  a filmmaker who is making a documentary (which we see scenes from as he edits it on his computer) about a geisha, spends some time every day at the neighborhood 7-11 where he purchases the same item from a salesgirl there and carries on a silent, unacted upon affair with her.  Another character is a student who has a gentle affair with a Japanese woman who is teaching him that language.  The film presents most of its scenes unspoken, in distancing long shots; but this director is no Edward Yang, filling the frame in levels.  For me, there was nothing interesting enough about what transpires to carry a film.  Nor was the film visually inventive enough to support its thin plot.  **
OVERNIGHT  (U.S. doc.  d.  Mark Brian Smith)
This is one of the best documentaries about making it and losing it in Hollywood that I've ever seen.  Troy Duffy was an overnight sensation:  a bartender and struggling rock band singer who wrote a hot movie script and became a legendary success when he sold the script to Miramax in a multi-million dollar deal.  The film is an in-depth look at Duffy's triumph, and then his problems getting the film made, his fights with the off-screen Harvey Weinstein, struggles with his band members and hangers-on.  Duffy comes off as a megalomaniac and as the film progresses, even the process of the making of the documentary (by a couple of guys who were Duffy's friends and part of of his support group from the start of the roller coaster ride) becomes part of the documentary in a particularly ironic bit of meta.  The film was expertly culled from 350 hours of digiBeta shot over several years and doesn't shirk from showing the inside skinny, burning all bridges.  It cried out for a Q&A, which there wasn't time for.  Fascinating stuff.  *** 1/2
YES NURSE, NO NURSE  (Netherlands  d. Pieter Kramer)
Apparently there's a world-wide revival of the movie musical going on.  This Dutch confection is a zany, campy musical vaguely in the style of Singing in the Rain as conceived by Busby Berkeley.  The story is pretty thin, about a rest-home whose inhabitants are annoying the wicked, closeted gay landlord.  Oh, there's lots more to it actually; but the story is mere pretext for the musical numbers which are pretty wonderful...visual bon bons intricately shot on a big sound stage.  The production design and choreography are first class here, the stars of the show.  It's all very audience pleasing; but pretty thin storywise.  ***
AND NOW...LADIES AND GENTLEMEN  (France  d. Claude Lelouch)  
Lelouch knows how to make movies.  This is a lush, wide screen romantic film about a clever jewel thief (Jeremy Irons' in his best role in years) who is suffering blackouts and dreaming about returning all the loot to his victims.  There is a parallel story of a jazz singer (played by the French chanteuse Patricia Kaas who really delivers in the singing department) who also is suffering from blackouts, phasing out and wandering off in the midst of songs.  The film brings them together in Morocco, where they play an off-center, bittersweet romance to a great Michel Legrande score.  It's not a classic weepie like previous Lelouch films (his And Now My Love is easily one of my all-time favorite films).  It sort of reminded me of The English Patient thematically and visually.  And people who hated that film will probably hate this one.  Myself, I love films like this far more than I should.  ***

Friday, June 13
DIRTY PRETTY THINGS  (Great Britain  d. Stephen Frears)
Frears, who for my money is one of the most reliable contemporary directors, has made a fine film about this year's number one recurrent theme:  the plight of international refugees and/or illegal immigrants.  Chiwetal Ejiofor is a major find, an actor of rare sensitivity and presence in the Denzel Washington mode.  He plays a Nigerian doctor, a political refugee on the run in London.  Audrey Tautou, who is fast establishing herself as an international star, plays a Turkish illegal who is struggling to live despite being hounded by the immigration police and not allowed to work under their rules.  And Sergi Lopez is an especially slimy villain, a hotel head concierge who exploits illegals in a particularly horrifying way in return for providing high quality fake passports to them.  Good cast; propulsive, well written script...sort of a romantic thriller with comic touches and trenchent social commentary.  This one has it all.  *** 1/4
THE HEART OF ME  (Great Britain/Germany   d. Thaddeus O'Sullivan)
A high tone romantic film about an upper class family: two very different sisters and haughty mother (Eleanor Bron: doyenne of haut), in England between the wars.  The eldest sister (played with ice queen strength by Olivia Williams) is married to handsome, successful, but weak at the core Paul Bettany (he should become a big star one of these days...a fine actor and he looks great here) who is having a passionate affair with the younger sister played with her accustomed wild insouciance by Helena Bonham Carter.  It's all vedy vedy restrained and civilized, and the film tries hard to become an old fashioned weeper...someone called it a smaltzy woman's picture; but I guess I'm a woman at heart, because this kind of film just eats me up.  The production values, the acting all were first rate.  And the story had just enough originality that I cared a great deal about what was going to happen.  Of course, I realize that many others will find this passé, oversentimentalized clap-trap.  ***
THE NAKED PROOF  (U.S.  d. Jamie Hook)
People here are constantly putting down the "made in Seattle" films which appear here.  And from my experience they're usually right.  This was an amaterville production about a blocked PhD (in phliosophy, no less) candidate, who has a memorable two weeks to finish his dissertation or...out.  The sole redeeming quality of the film was getting to see some of the character actors who play off-the-wall secondary roles (Peter Prinz was one I particularly noted as a zoned out desk clerk; but whoever played the faculty advisor was also wonderful).  And the film had a particularly original and haunting musical score by Amy Denio.   But August Wilson was a complete waste as an on-screen narrator/commentator, a bad idea poorly executed.  Actually, for all the bad filmmaking, I still got moderately involved with the characters and the story...which just goes to show that I have no taste at all.  * 3/4
IN THIS WORLD  (U.S.  d. Michael Winterbottom)
Another world-class filmmaker, Winterbottom has made some of my favorite films...but this one, though a novel idea well done, wasn't one of them.  The film is a fictionalized documentary about a couple of Afghanistani refugees in Pakistan making the arduous trip over land and sea to London...the promised land.  It's all done in quick, seemingly stolen shots on digital video (which looks pretty good blown up to wide screen on the huge Cinerama screen).  This is bravura filmmaking on an important subject; but I never felt that I got to know or relate with the two main characters, who were amateur actors who simply didn't project their personalities on film.  So, at the core it was uninvolving.  Yet it was a great concept, and there are scenes of incredible subtlety and affect.  I've never appreciated my American passport more than from watching films like this at this festival.  ** 3/4.
P.T.U.  (Hong Kong  d.  Johnny To)
This one is a highly stylized policier/comedy about a memorable night in Hong Kong where all the various police forces (the CID, the constabulary, and the Police Tactical Unit:  a para-military street force) are in action as a big heist has occured and a gang-war is on the brink of breaking out.  Gorgeously photographed in wide screen by a director who really knows how to compose for that medium, the film is a real hoot.  I almost missed it, since I was feeling movied out by this time; but I'm glad that I didn't.  ***

Saturday, June 14
No hints; but for my money the best written and acted film of the entire festival.  It's scheduled for Telluride and its official North American debut at Toronto...and should be pretty well anticipated there, I think.  I left the theater emotionally devastated and almost decided to skip the rest of the days films rather than break the spell cast by this film.  In retrospect I probably should have.   *** 3/4
I'M THE FATHER  (Germany  d. Dani Levi)
Comparisons to Kramer vs. Kramer are inevitable with this film about a married couple with a six year old son.  He's a work obsessed architect on the make, she's feeling ignored, and the kid is sickly (probably in response to his parents troubles.)  She leaves him and things get messy in the bitter divorce stuff which follows.  Sebastian Blomberg and Maria Schrader (from Aimée and Jaguar) are quite good here.  This is on the whole a pretty somber and slow paced film; but somehow by the end quite a satisfactory one.  I must be very emotionally fragile these days, because two films in a row brought me to honest tears.  ***
SECRET THINGS  (France   d. Jean-Claude Brisseau)
Well, that mood was quickly broken by this horrifying waste of celluloid.  I wanted to leave the theater after 10 minutes, and I should have.  Brisseau has made a gorgeous piece of soft-core lesbo-porno trash, like a turd set in diamonds.  That said, I'm sure the film will have its admirers, since it is designed to titillate straight men, I think.  It's the story of two ambitious, attractive women who use sex (and are used by sex) to rise in a corporate environment where the boss's son (played by the too handsome Fabrice Deville) is a libertine of colossal proportions.  It's all pretty absurd and over-the-top.  Yet there are set pieces here which are vaguely Kubrickian (in Eyes Wide Shut ritual sex mode); but more like Gore Vidal's decades old, butchered Caligula  in execution.  In a discussion with fellow pass holders in line for the next film, some guy who obviously admired the film told me I would have liked it if I were 20 years younger.  That has to be one of the most offensive thing ever said to me...but I must laugh.  *
THEY'VE GOT KNUT  (Germany  d. Stefan Krohmer)
An overlong, tedious film about a group of leftist German activists vacationing in a ski chateau in the Austrian Tyrol in the early '80s.  Too many characters who never completely differentiated themselves as they mixed and matched couples, sort of a boring version of Lukas Moodysson's Tillsammans.  At least the film was coherent enough to keep me awake; and some of the characters were interesting.   **
I NOT STUPID  (Singapore  d. Jack Neo)
An amiable trifle about three boys, junior-high age students who were placed in a school class for slow learners in Singapore.  They come from a variety of ethnic and class groups; and the story is also about the conflicts and troubles of the parents, and a social commentary about the Singapore people's inherently obedient nature.  This confection comes wrapped in bittersweet comedy guise.  It's hard not to like the kids, who come off as real boys.  But maybe its a cultural thing, the film just seemed a little silly to me.  One minor character, an advertising executive, was a dead ringer for a cineaste acquaintance of mine, Muse Malade (inside joke).   ** 1/2

I'm finally updating my web page this Sunday morning, thanks to my soc.motss bud Daddy Doug and his attbi.com internet connection; but I probably won't have another chance to do so until I get back to L.A. in a few days.  I'll miss Seattle, let me say.  Where else could I plop down at a fine restaurant at midnight and have a great meal while accessing the internet from a wireless node at the free internet café next door?  Seattle has to be one of the most urbane and fun cities I've ever visited.   And the people here are real movie aficionados.  Another great festival!   And I managed to stay healthy, get plenty of rest, eat well...just a perfect escape from real life, which alas, now ends after tonight.  I'll finish this journal when I get back to L.A. on Wednesday.

Sunday, June 15
THE WILD DOGS (Canade  d. Thom Fitzgerald)
BLACK ICE  (Russia  d. Mikhail Brashinsky)
MY RUSSIA  (Austria   d. Barbara Gräftner)
JET LAG  (France  d. Daniele Thompson)

FILMS ALREADY SEEN (with links to mini-reviews if I did one):

BUBBA HO-TEP  ** 3/4
CHAOS  ** 1/2
CHICAGO  *** 1/2
DEVDAS  * 3/4
EDI  ***
HUKKLE  ** 3/4
I'M TARANA, 15   ***
OASIS  *** 3/4
RESPIRO  *** 1/4
THE SEA  *** 1/2
SWEET 16   *** 1/2
 *** 1/2

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