2004 Seattle International Film Festival Journal

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

It's Monday, May 17th.  I arrived in Seattle on Saturday after a delightful auto trip up the coast from L.A.  Yes, I missed a connection or two; but I had some good meals and not one problem on the drive up (even the truck drivers seem to be more courteous this year.)  The weather in Seattle is terrible...70F and sunny.  If I wanted weather like this I'd have stayed in L.A.  Where's the gloom?  Anyway, I'm all settled in in my B&B on Capital Hill.  The schedule this year really looks great in prospect.  I guess we'll see how I hold up.  Anyway, today was the first day of press screenings for me, at a new venue in my experience, the 7 Gables theater.   Pretty good venue, on a par with the Harvard Exit.  OK sound, though the screen is a little small.  But the seats are comfortable, if short on leg room.  It's a little off the beaten track and the parking situation isn't great, so I'm glad that it isn't a regular festival venue. 

PERFECT STRANGERS (d. Gaylene Preston, New Zealand)
The first SIFF film is a strange one, part Dead Calm (with the director/leading lady playing the Nicole Kidman role), part High Tension without the gore, part "Survivor", part silly romantic thriller.  Sam Neill is good, as usual, though he isn't stretched very far.  Gaylene Preston does a nice job of directing herself, and the film looks good.  But there were enough holes in the plot to sink a ship in; and altogether this is a disappointment.  ** 1/2

THE CORPORATION (d. Mark Achbar & Jennifer Abbott, Canada)
This is a serious documentary about the history and development of the entity called "corporation", relatively recently defined by Supreme Court fiat as a "person", and one with all the characteristics of a psychopath if it really were a person.  The film is overly long at 2 1/2 hours, and perhaps relies too much on talking heads (but some very interesting ones at that, including some major contributions by Michael Moore and a condemnation of Monsanto which should stir things up).  Still, I wasn't bored; and I actually learned a lot...including the longstanding misfeasance of the courts and governments in allowing the corporations to plunder the world.  There's no pretense of even-handedness here...it's all pretty much leftist and green.  Some trimming and this would be as good as documentaries with a strong point of view can get.  In its present form it is overkill, preaching to the converted.  Still, I must admit that I learned a lot...I don't think I'll be buying American agribusiness produced milk products any more.  Very, very scary.  *** 1/2

FEATHERS IN MY HEAD (Des plumes dans la tête)  (d. Thomas de Thier, Belgium)
De Thier has achieved in his first feature a film which combines gorgeous photography of the Belgian countryside through four seasons with a remarkable psychological study of a woman driven to the point of insanity by the mysterious disappearance of her adorable five your old boy.  I'm not sure I bought the authenticity of the psychology.  But the film never failed to be inventive in its development, utilizing subtle symbolism and a fine soundtrack to achieve a feeling of impending dread and keeping the audience guessing what will happen next.  It's slow, and won't be to everyone's taste.  Still, I admired the filmmaking, though at times I just wanted to slap some sense into the parents.  There is a lovely side plot about a lonely, intelligent adolescent boy with a cleft palate which was as compelling as the main story...and when the two plots converged the film really worked.  *** 1/4

BOYS FROM COUNTY CLARE (d. John Irvin, Ireland)
Almost from the first scene of this Irish film I could predict the entire plot.  It's a crowd pleaser trifle, but for me it was a stream of filmic clichés.  It's in the tradition of the little British film, this time a scattered Irish family, brothers whose life from childhood centered on fiddling in a traditional Irish band, and their competing in a band contest in 1966 County Clare.  Colm Meany and Bernard Hill are fine here; and attractive ingenue Shaun Evans shows promise, though he can't really act.  But the script is so predictable.  * 3/4

INTIMATE STRANGERS (Confidences trop intimes)  (d. Patrice Leconte, France)
Effectively a two character drama about a buttened up tax accountant (beautifully and subtlely played by Fabrice Luchini) who gets involved with a sexually frustrated married woman (another fine Sandrine Bonnaire performance) who thinks he is a psychiatrist.  It sounds like a farce, and in truth there are some humorous aspects to the situation.  But this is really a dramatic character study, well constructed but ultimately lacking somehow.  I guess I just got bored by the film, which continues at a constant pace without really going anywhere.  Leconte is so inconsistent...seemingly every other film is either great or a dud.  This one falls on the dud side for me, I'm afraid.  ** 3/4

JAGGED HARMONIES (Mein Name ist Bach -- Bach vs. Frederick II)  (d. Dominique de Rivaz, Germany)
Johann Sebastian Bach visits the court of  Frederick II of Prussia in this historical costume drama.  Slighting the music and emphasizing the people (among them Frederick's younger sister and Bach's two sons Friedemann and Emanuel), the film still managed to be informative and dramatically taut.  There is one extraordinary perfomance here:  Jürgen Vogel as Frederick, playing him as a thwarted musician, gay, tyrannical, slightly crazy.  It's a mesmerizing performance reminiscent of Nigel Hawthorne in The Madness of King George.  The film is uneven, disappointing in a way since I expected more Bach music than the film delivers.  ***
THE NOTEBOOK (d. Nick Cassavetes, USA)
Based on a pop novel by Nicholas Sparks that might have been a Harlequin Romance for all I know, this lush romantic drama worked its non-subtle magic on me as designed.  It is constructed on two time lines, the '40s with Ryan Gosling (a favorite of mine who is finally getting that perfect, solid romantic hero role at which I knew he was going to shine) and Rachel McAdams, who has a perky freshness which lights up the screen.  Their present day characters are portrayed by the ever reliable James Garner and Gena Rowlands.   This is not a film for realism sticklers, cynics, or real men.  Me, I had a good cry and left the theater feeling great.  ***

RAJA (d. Jacques Doillon, France/Morocco)
I had trouble fitting this film into my schedule, so as if by magic a DVD came into my possession and I watched it in my room this afternoon, providently an open time before the start of the initial festival evening.  This is a film about l'amour fou when the money, age and power quotients are extremely out of balance.  Pascal Greggory plays a French expat living in a gorgeous compound in Morocco.  He is attracted to one of the girls working in his garden, a 19 year old orphan who has been exploited throughout her life by those around her.  They go around in circles, not speaking a common language and suffering every sort of misunderstanding.  The film just doesn't seem to go anywhere that I could see.  To my rue, I could easily put myself in the guy's shoes (though I'd change the gender of the object of desire); but I simply could not understand what made the girl and those around her tick at all.   ** 1/4

LA PETITE LILI (d.  Claude Miller, France)
I've always liked Miller as a director; but this film isn't among his best.  It is one of those large cast, upper-class-get-together-in-the-country-and-dally dramas, this time vaguely reminiscent of Chekhov's The Seagull, with an attractive cast including the French super-ingenue of the moment, Ludivine Sagnier as the eponymous Lili (whose nude love scene over the opening titles is the highlight of the film, all downhill from there).  It is also structured as a complex film-within-a-film, with the second half being a replay of the first half being made into a film...the fun being who plays whom in the replay.  I could mention Robinson Stévenin as a young actor to watch, and really beautiful technical credits: cinematography, sets.  For all its nice touches, the film just didn't gel for me.  ** 3/4

RED LIGHTS  (Feux rouges) (d. Cedric Kahn, France)
Boy, this Cedric Kahn fellow really knows how to make a movie!  His L'Ennui of a few years ago was one of my favorite films of the '90s.  Here he is going an entirely different direction, making a road-trip thriller about a couple whose marriage is on the rocks where the husband literally gets his courage up "on the rocks" with loads of alcohol and drives off into a darkly comic adventure.  This has the most menacing feeling of dread on the road since the final scenes of Breillat's Fat Girl.  The movie belongs to Jean-Pierre Darroussin, who is in virtually every scene as the increasingly drunken and belligerent husband and whobrilliantly shades his performance.  I can't quite understand why such a soignée woman as Carole Bouquet's wife would fall for such a schlub; but that's part of the backstory.   What we have here is a dark, suspenseful film which is fun to watch.  *** 1/4

So far I've been getting plenty of sleep.  To my shock, I managed more than 8 hours last night, which makes writing these reviews and getting on the web to send them problematic.  Not enough time in the day!  Hopefully I'll get in the groove - I usually do quite well with 6 hours.  Can't say that the B&B I'm staying at this year is all that quiet...the people in the third floor clomp on my ceiling starting at 6AM or so.  But ear-plugs do wonders.  I haven't splept under 7 hours once since I've been to Seattle.  It showered yesterday, totally gloomy and cool all day and I loved it.  How much do I love you, Seattle?  I'd marry you if you were a person.

A GOOD LAWYER’S WIFE (Im Sang-soo, Korea)
This is a powerful, sexually explicit drama about a married couple whose marriage is being corroded by the effects of infidelity and pressures in their lives.  Moon So-ri (so wonderful as a cerebral palsy victim in Oasis) is just as good here as the bored housewife and mother who dallies with a randy teen-age neighbor to get back at her philandering lawyer husband.  Dire consequences ensue; but I think more's the point the film is a condemnation of conformist Korean society where people feel the need to live dangerously to spice up their lives.  The film goes on a bit too long; but it parcels out its surprises well, and one especially elicited a real gasp from the audience, showing how involving the film really is.  ***

ROBERTO SUCCO (d. Cedric Kahn, France)
I've now seen three Kahn films, and I'm convinced he's a world-class director.  None of the films resembled any of the others; but all had one thing in common, a central male character who is obsessed in some way to his own detriment.  Here it is an Italian man who is literally insane, a sociopath escapee from an Italian mental institution who sneaks into France in the mid '80s and becomes a random serial killer, carjacker, impotent rapist and subject of a nationwide manhunt.  Based on a real story, it is a riveting film, though diffuse in the way that real life stories often are.  Stefano Cassetti gives a great performance as the wild eyed maniac who is also attractive and magnetic enough to charm his way to a love affair (à la Badlands), though the girl is willfully innocent.  It's another sweetly strong performance by Isild Le Besco as the 16 year old girl.  Mention must be made of the fabulous use of a Marianne Faithful song to counterpoint the action.  Perfection.  *** 1/4

SAVED!  (d.  Brian Dannelly,  U.S.)
The first of four "anniversary galas", Saved! is a crowd pleaser (at least with some carefully selected socially liberal audiences) about some students at a Christian high school who need to stray from the path of righteousness.  It's a teen film with a message of tolerance.  The actors (especially the leads, Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin and Eva Amurri) are fine, though Patrick Fugit once again is an attractive presence, but too blank an actor for my tastes.  Actually, the script and direction are pretty pedestrian, which is a shame as there is plenty to like about what the film stands for.  ** 1/2

DIG  (d. Ondi Timoner  U.S. doc.)
This is a documentary presented on large screen video about two rock bands of the '90s which are part of a '60s revival.  I'm not particularly into recent music; but this film stands on its own as a fascinating character study, aided immensely by the amazing footage that the director culled from at least 7 exhaustive and exhausting years of shooting the bands in various venues and cities all over the world.  One band is apparently a fairly successful one, the Portland based The Dandy Warhols (I'm totally ignorant of their existence).  Their lead singer, Courtney Taylor narrates the film; and he's an interesting character in his own right.  But the main focus is on Anton Newcombe, mad genius, self destructive creator behind the other, uncompromising and apparently failed band: The Brian Jonestown Massacre.   The film is extremely well edited in a straightforward chronology.  And the videography is over-all astoundingly good for such a chaotic project.  *** 1/2

No hints.  A very moving major international 2004 film of which the North American premier is promised elsewhere.  *** 1/2

  (d. Jim McKay  U.S.)
A multi-character drama centered around a Brooklyn deli...a Jewish institution in a now African American neighborhood slated for urban renewal.  The people are well portrayed by relatively unfamiliar actors, none of which stand out (making it a successful ensemble).  This is a quality tv movie from HBO, which plays well on the big screen.  But for all its interesting narrative flow and skilled acting, there's nothing special here.  I wasn't particularly involved in anybody's situation; but the film held my interest anyway.  ** 3/4

OFF THE MAP (d. Campbell Scott,  U.S.)
Scott has made a little film of immense impact, beautiful to look at, filled with memorable characters, emotionally resonant...just a gem of a film.  Essentially it is a coming of age story of a smart, amazingly self-sufficient young girl in a quite eccentric, but centered family in rural New Mexico.  Joan Allen, in one of her best ever performances, plays her mother as 1/2 Navajo earth mother, solid, stable.  Sam Elliot plays her father, wracked by deep depression.  Into their lives comes a IRS auditor, who ends up sticking around...a remarkable performance by Jim True-Frost, who was so good in the 2nd The Wire series on HBO.  Gotta mention another solid performance by J.K. Simmons as the father's dim witted best friend.  All in all the acting is superb.  Scott directs with a sure hand, with long takes and slow pans which emphasize the size and grandeur of the New Mexico countryside.  Apparently this was originally a play; but there is no staginess here other than the finely honed dialog.  I was so involved in the film that I literally didn't want it to end.  *** 1/2

THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS (De Fem Benspaend)  (d. Jorgen Leth & Lars von Trier,  Denmark)
Honestly, this film just about went over my head.  I had never seen the seminal Danish short film "The Perfect Human" by Leth, but enough of it was shown in this film to get the general idea that it was a somewhat abstract film about what comprises a person...made in the '60s with the actors against a stark white background.  Somehow von Trier got Leth involved in remaking his film five times (well, 4 actually, with the 5th being von Trier's own version) with various impediments put up by a comically tyrannical von Trier.  The only version that I found interesting at all was #4, an animated short in the style of Linklater's Waking Life.  Otherwise, I guess this is something of a theoretical deconstruction of the filmmaking process through the always revolutionary mind of von Trier.  I find him and his attitudes so annoyingly supercilious.  Anyway, I fought sleep during parts 2 and 3.  I'm just not sure what the point of all this was, except that it did introduce the remarkably sensible and excellent filmmaker Jorgen Leth to me.   Apparently he just can't shoot a bad frame despite all of the obstructions put in his path.  ** 1/2

GO FURTHER (d. Ron MannU.S.)
This documentary continues one of this year's festival's major themes, namely the irresponsibility of corporations like Monsanto ("milk is blood and pus due to Bovine growth hormone developed by Monsanto") and the paper manufacturers who clear cut, despoiling the environment and making products which are destroying the earth and the human race.  Woody Harrelson is the main spokesman for a 2001 version of the Merry Pranksters bus ride...this time a bus and bike trip from Seattle to Santa Barbara lecturing to colleges and making the point of living organically.  Quite entertaining, if mostly preaching to the converted.  The star of the documentary turns out to be one of the crew, a junk food addict named Steve, who kicking and screaming goes along with the raw food diet of the bus ride.  He provides the real spark of the trip.  Otherwise the film wouldn't have worked.  ** 3/4

REMEMBER ME, MY LOVE (d. Gabriele Muccino, Italy)
Muccino is one of my favorite directors.  His high school drama, But Forever on my Mind, was the highlight of the 2000 SIFF for me.  It also starred the director's younger brother, Silvio, who is one of my favorite actors.  However in this film Silvio has a relatively minor role.  This is the incredibly dense and fast paced story of a troubled family:  husband unhappy with his marriage and career who meets up with a former flame (the wonderful Monica Bellucci) in full mid-life crisis mode; insecure wife, a schoolteacher who wants to return to acting, played by the lovely Laura Moranti; teenage daughter determined to forge a career as a tv dancer no matter what it takes; and feckless teenage son trying to find a place in the world.  The script is very complex, cross cutting smartly between the interlocked family stories.  There's enough here for two movies...but the director's energy and fine ear and eye never waver.  This is a big, pop film, worthy of Hollywood but much smarter than anything likely to come from there.  Bravo!  Gabriele.  I'm looking forward to your next films.  *** 1/4

OPEN WATER (d. Chris Kentis, U.S.)
Yikes!  This is a very inexpensive film, shot on video (and looks it).  The story is simple:  a happily married young couple on a Caribbean vacation take a scuba diving cruise and are carelessly left behind in the open sea.  Perhaps because of how it was shot, I got intimately involved with the couple's plight...the film pressed almost all of my neurotic fear buttons at once.  Rarely do I feel such visceral fear watching a movie.  That's the good part.  But the film does look amateurish and does show its low budget.  The acting isn't great...but it is adequate and effective.  I can't see how this film will get released; but it is quite an experience!  ** 3/4

BEREFT (d. Tim Daly, Clark Mathis, U.S.)
This was shot in HD 24P and presented with video projection which was actually quite nice and very sharp...though the colors were occasionally off.  I'm not going to dwell much on the story.  I didn't like the film very much.  It's all about a young woman from a Waspy Vermont family driven to the brink of insanity by the grief of her husband's death in an automobile accident.  There is one really interesting performance here, by Tim Blake Nelson.  But the rest of the acting is only serviceable and sometimes downright disappointing as with the usually reliable Edward Herrmann.  I think this is a Showtime tv movie.  ** 1/4

EL ALAMEIN  (d. Enzo Monteleone, Italy)
A wide-screen war movie about an Italian platoon trying to hold the southern flank in the long-term battle that took place in Northern Africa in October, 1942.  The British enemy is faceless, and the scope of the film is limited to a small group of soldiers and what it is like to be on the losing side of a savage month long trench-war battle of attrition.  The film is narrated by the central character, an at first naive volunteer college boy who arrives among hardened veterans as the battle is winding down and almost certainly already lost.  Good acting, quite good verisimilitude of the effects of war...the film is grueling and realistic.  One scene of the platoon pinned down by an incredibly artillery barrage is quite realistic and terrifying.   The film isn't all that original...there have been a spate of realistic war films recently.  But it is an admirable effort to show what happens to the losing side in a battle.  ***

SNOW WALKER (d. Charles Martin Smith, Canada)
I almost didn't go to this film, since it sounded lame and I'd heard some equivocating buzz.  But I'm glad I did, as it turns out to be a quite well made survival epic.  Berry Pepper is the star here, as a former WWII pilot, sort of a charming rogue, love-em-and-leave-em type.  It is 1952 and Pepper is flying the Northwest Territories tundra for a commercial outfit headed by James Cromwell (always such a fine actor.)  He's transporting a sick Inuit girl when the plane goes down.  There are some occurrences which stretch credulity; but overall the film is quite involving. The Inuit novice actress, Annabella Piugattuk was a perfect choice to play the role.  No irony here, this is a straightforward adventure story shot on the real location and looks great.  ***

I must be getting old, since I'm finding it almost impossible to watch more than 5 films in a day, even when I mostly like all the films.  Last night I quit before the 9:30PM slot (since the film broke at the 7:15 film, it was so late in starting that there would have been no time to get to the next theater anyway.)  This year they are staggering the starting times by up to an hour within each time slot, which isn't working very well for people who must somehow change venues in time for the next feature.  On the other hand, this year the festival intro film at every screening is very short and to the point.  All festivals should do this; long promos get aggressively boring after too many repetitions.   Anyway, today I am going to try to watch 6 films.  Wish me luck.

CAVEDWELLER (d. Lisa Cholodenko, U.S.)
I've never liked Kyra Sedgwick as an actress; but in this film she grated less than usual.  Actually, I enjoyed the film a lot more than it possibly deserved.  Sedgwick plays a woman raised in a small Georgia town who deserted her two small children and her abusive husband (Aidan Quinn playing against type and doing a fine job) to run away with a rock band and its charismatic lead singer (Kevin Bacon in a brief cameo).  When Bacon's character is killed at the start of the film, Sedgwick returns home with her third daughter to a judgmental town and a difficult period of adjustment.  Actually, the narrative and acting are all quite good here; but the film isn't quite as affecting as it might have been.  And what is it with the title?  It had nothing at all to do with anything that I could discern.  ** 3/4

DEAR FRANKIE (d. Shona Aurbach, Scotland)
This is a splendidly acted and directed little film about a mother, and her 10 year old deaf son.  I'm not going to elaborate about the clever set-up, except that the boy is writing to his missing seafaring father who is scheduled to return to Edinburgh...but in reality the boy's mother has developed an elaborate ruse about the existence of this father.  It's a film of rare sensibility which tugs at the heart without making a single misstep into bathos.  Emily Mortimer is wonderful; but it is the kid, played beautifully by Jack McElhone, who steals this movie.  *** 1/4

DANDELION (d. Mark Milgard, U.S.)
Sometimes I like a film 'way more than it deserves on the surface.  This is one of those films where my judgment is compromised by my admiration for the lead, in this case the amazing Vincent Kartheiser, who plays a passive, tender "good" boy whose life is falling apart.  The film has several good actors (Arliss Howard as the father who commits a horrible act of betrayal, Mare Winningham as the weak, alcoholic mother, and especially Taryn Manning as the wild girlfriend), and the cinematography of the Eastern Washington countryside is stunning.  The film is perhaps too slow paced, and the main character too passive and internalized for it to totally work.  But I really liked this film.  ** 3/4

HANGING OFFENSE (Cette femme-là) (d. Guillame Nicloux, France)
It's been a while since a film at SIFF has engendered so much conversation.  Nobody seems to really understand it, although practically everybody liked it.  It's a darkly atmospheric policier thriller, with the main character being a middle aged female captain played with dark intensity by Josiane Balasko.  A woman is found hanged in a forest, an apparent suicide.  But our captain has suspicions that it is murder, and a complex game of cat and mouse ensues.  She is suffering from insomnia, and often dozes off and dreams, which is confusing since it is almost impossible to differentiate between the captain's dream states and reality.  The film was intentionally too complexly tied up in dream logic for my tastes.  Anyway, Eric Caravaca, whom I like as an actor (so good in Son frère) is quite good here as Balasko's detective partner.  The film could definitely use a second viewing to clear up a lot of loose ends and puzzling occurrences.  ***

THE MOTHER (d. Roger Michell, U.K.)
Anne Reed is superlative in this wonderfully observed, beautifully directed film.  She plays a 60-something woman whose older husband dies, and who isn't close to her two children...unhappily married, businessman son; insecure daughter.  Her grandchildren hardly know her.  But she moves in with her children despite their estrangement and blossoms and comes alive gradually...even commencing a sex life, especially with a much younger man dynamically played by sexy Daniel Craig.  This is a beautifully written original script by Hanif Kureishi, who explores class, gender and race dynamics better than practically any other writer.  None of Roger Mitchell's previous films (Changing Lanes and Notting Hill, for instance) prepared me for the inventiveness, sense of composition to set mood, and skill with actors that he demonstrates here.  This is a remarkable character study which is a highlight of the festival so far.  *** 3/4

MOI CÉSAR  (d. Richard Berry, France)
César Petit is 10 1/2 years old and 4'6" tall.  That's almost all you really need to know about this film, it's mentioned several times.  He's also chubby and feels inferior.  The film is mostly an unlikely adventure where César and his best friend and the cutest girl in their class go on an extended excursion.  There are some laughs here...the film isn't entirely a kids flick.  But the film really doesn't amount to much.  ** 1/4

CAPTIVE (d. Gastón Biraben, Argentina)
Christina is a well adjusted teenager attending religious school in Argentina in 1994 when her life is turned topsy turvy by the allegation that the parents she has always known had stolen her as a baby from a "disappeared" couple during the junta dictatorship in the late '70s.  Her natural grandparents had been searching for her for 15 years, and a court order restored her to her real family.  Only she was perfectly content with her adopted parents.  This is a beautifully made film with a superb, moving performance by the teenage girl lead actress.  The script is good enough that the political backstory is clear even to a foreigner.  Good job.  *** 1/4

THE TESSERACT (d. Oxide Pang, Thailand)
Oxide Pang is a flashy director, maybe even too flashy.  This is a thriller centered around smuggling a concentrated brick of opium.  Jonathan Rhys-Meyers plays a dissipated English businessman, very much a Graham Green character, who is in Bangkok on business, staying at a rundown hotel.  At the same hotel are a lady psychologist doing a study of Thai kids in an effort to replace her own dead child, a mysterious female assassin, and the bell-boy, a cute, petty thief Thai kid who is the fulcrum for all the action.   There are several story threads running simultaneously, and the editing mixes and matches scenes and time-lines shamelessly.  Still, the story is mostly coherent by the end, although it took a while before it made any sense at all.  Definitely style over substance. ***

MARIA FULL OF GRACE (d. Joshua Marston, U.S.)
I'd heard good things about this film from people who saw it at Sundance.  It's a well made little film about a young Columbian girl who finding herself pregnant decides to become a drug mule for the money.  The story is fairly predictable; but the central performance is strong enough to carry the film.  Funny thing, the same day the two latina actresses in Captive and this film both give similarly solid performances - strong young women whose outward stillness conceals inward emotional depths.  This is a definite audience pleaser.  ***

ANATOMY OF HELL  (d. Catherine Breillat, France)
Breillat is at her most philosophical and confrontational in this film which richly earns its NC-17 (actually triple-X) rating, if it even gets distributed uncut in this country.  I found the dialog and narration to be impossibly pretentious and opaque...something about the immutability of men brutalizing women.  The story, what there is of it, is of a woman who is saved from suicide in a gay club by a gay man whom she offers to pay to watch her sexualize herself for four consecutive nights.  The man was played by a well endowed Italian porn actor...and I found it impossible to believe that he was gay at all since he contributed to the heterosexual degradations so enthusiastically (if that is the right word for such unemotive acting).  This is the Last Year at Marianbad of porn flicks, endless shots and droning narration, with scenes which push every boundary of sexual depravity ever shown on screen to a sold out ordinary audience.  I thought there would be some walkouts, or at least protests...but the audience stayed put, although there was lots of nervous laughter, mainly from the women in the audience.  As a gay man I was totally squicked out by some of the scenes.  Yet, Brillat is undoubtedly a brilliant filmmaker in that she brings an amazing eye for intriguing compositions to the most squalid of situations.  I've given this film anything from a ** to a *** rating so far, depending on my mood.

BEFORE SUNSET (d.Richard Linklater, U.S.)
Linklater's nine year old Before Sunrise was one of favorite films of the '90s, a talky but extremely romantic story of a one night stand between two smart and attractive people walking around Vienna.  This film has the pleasant conceit of picking up 9 years later as the two protagonists meet again in Paris.  Julie Delpy's Celine has changed narry a whit in the meantime; however Ethan Hawke's Jesse has become more gaunt as he's grown up.  Anyway, what makes this film so resonant and satisfying is precisely the continuum of the feelings from the first film, the way the characters pick up where they left off, slowly disclosing their past and present situations and reestablishing their emotional bond.  The present film frankly isn't as good as the first, too talky and contrived (though no director in the world does tracking shot dialog as well as Linklater).  Still, in the fondly remembered glow of the first film, this was a very satisfying experience.  ***

ZATOICHI (d. Takeshi Kitano, Japan)
I once liked Kitano's films a lot.  But after this and his previous Japanese Opera based Dolls, I'm dismayed that he is becoming too enamored of arty setpieces at the expense of his undoubted expertise at depicting violence.  This time he devotes  too much of the film to "Riverdance" rhythmic dancing and weird side trips, though they are sometimes amusing.  Anyway, the central story is about a blind swordsman who wanders into a small town which is under the thumb of two cruel samurai gangs which are exploiting the common folk.  He passively gets involved in setting things straight.  There's plenty of rapid fire swordplay here, though everthing seems too fast...wham, bam, blood spurts and dead bodies.  There's a particularly interesting youngish ronan bodyguard who provides counterpoint to the eponymous, elderly, blind masseur.  Their conflict is epic and amost makes up for the perfunctory nature of the rest of the film. ** 3/4

TALE OF TWO SISTERS (d. Kim Ji-woon, Korea)
This film is one of those atmospheric Asian ghost stories complete with personality transformations and so many red herrings that one becomes dizzy trying to follow it all.  That is if one isn't bored out of ones gourd as I was.  I couldn't separate the characters: two sisters and their wicked stepmother who all looked identical to me.  The film has a few jolts of surprise and horror, and looks admirably creepy.  But I hated just about every minute of it and wanted to exit the theater.  * 1/4

EVERGREEN (d. Edid Zentelis, U.S.)
A made in Seattle film which will never see the light of day, most likely.  It's a shot on video, projected in video (though it looked very good on the big Egyptian screen) low budget film with some fine character actors fleshing out a good cast.  Bascially it is a story of a lower class girl ashamed of her family who gets involved with the good looking son of a dot.com wealthy (but neurotic) family.  Mary Kaye Place is great as the rich boy's agoraphobic mother, and Noah Fleiss is all grown up and looks good as the boy.  I've always thought he was one of the better kid actors and it's good to see he has a chance for a fine adult career.  The girl was played by impressive newcomer Addie Land who has an interesting look, innocent and naughty at once.  I also liked Gary Farmer as her mother's poker dealer boyfriend.  Cara Seymour and Bruce Davison round out the impressive cast.  But the story was fairly predictable and only occasionally well written...and the direction was downright uninspired.  Still, a pretty good film for what it was.  ** 1/4

TOUCH OF PINK  (d. Ian Iqbal Rachid, Canada)
This is a gay coming out comedy in the vein of A Wedding Banquet, only without Ang Lee's directoral genius.  Still, the script was well honed and inventive; and the film looked great.  Alim is a Canadian Moslem living in Britain and lovers with an attractive British economist. He has an imaginary friend, Cary Grant (a hilariously good imitation by Kyle MacLachlan) stemming from his lifelong interest in old movies.  His Indian mother visits from Canada and Alim and his lover Giles are forced back into the closet to try to fool her.  Great fun, imaginative writing, good visuals, can't ask for much more than that in a gay comedy.  ***

MAN OF THE YEAR (O Homem do Ano) (d. José Henrique Fonseca, Brazil)
At the last minute I changed my schedule to watch this Brazilian film which I'd heard good things about, and I'm glad that I did.  Murilo Benício is sensational as an ordinary guy who on impulse has his hair peroxided blond by his girl-friend to be, which apparently changes his life as he gradually becomes a hardened killer.  For the most part he rubs out bad people; and in the lawless Rio society he is lionized.  He's really a unique character, the perfect anti-hero:  tender to his pet pig, callous to the women in his life, strangely sympathetic despite the terrible things he does.  Part comedy, part thriller, much more urbane than City of God, for instance, and a lot more entertaining.   *** 1/4

B-HAPPY (d. Gonzalo Justiniano, Chile)
One of the major themes of this year's festival is the plight of latina teenagers.  Here it is a 14 year old girl living in poverty on the rural Chilean coast.  Katty's father is in prison, her mother is being exploited by the grocery store owner where she works, her older brother is using sexual favors with a musician to escape town.  Yet through all this miserablism, she keeps her chin up...as her teacher says..."be happy".  Not that it is easy, as life throws the kitchen sink at her.  The film doesn't look great; but it has soul.  ***

DOWN TO THE BONE (d. Debra Granik, U.S.)
Speaking of miserablism!  This is a shot and projected in video (and looks it, ugh) low budget film about a woman coke addict who must make the choice of living for her two kids, or letting the drugs sink her even deeper into misery.  I've admired the actress Vera Farmiga in the cable series Touching Evil, and she is superb here.  Also interesting is the Canadian actor Hugh Dillon, who played the abusive father in my favorite Canadian tv series, Degrassi High: Next Generation.  Here he is sympathetic and simply pathetic as a male nurse closet heroin addict that Farmiga falls for.  A couple sitting in front of me brought their two teenage sons to see the film, and as the woman hits bottom and bares her breasts, they left.  NOT a film for teenagers, I guess; whatever possessed them to bring their kids to this film?   Actually, it's a hard film for anybody to watch.  But very truthful and well played.  ***

WONDROUS OBLIVION (d.  Paul Morrison, U.K.)
This is a fun film running in the "films for families" section, though its themes are probably too big for young children.  Sam Smith plays a dreamy 11 year old kid, son of Polish Jewish immigrants in South London in the late '50s, who is obsessed with cricket, although the coach at his posh private school accuses him of "wondrous oblivion" when it comes to his talent on the field of play.  One day a cricket-mad black Jamacan family move into the flat next door, and the neighborhood of intolerant Brits have a new target for their prejudices.  Delroy Lindo is outstanding as the colorful father of the raucus Jamacan family.  I have no interest in or knowledge of cricket; but that really wasn't an impediment to enjoying this film.  Maybe the message of tolerance for religious and racial differences is hit a little too hard.  Still, this well written and acted film works.  ***

MINOR MISHAPS (d. Annette Olesen, Denmark)
Boy.  I wasn't engaged by this talky comedy about an eccentric extended family, despite some good writing.  I found myself dozing and lost track of the plot.  About half way through I decided that I wasn't getting anything from the film and walked.  Others didn't have the same problem.  W/O

SEX IS COMEDY (d. Catherine Breillat, France)
Anne Parillaud is annoying as the talky, overly intellectualizing director of a sexy French film-within-a-film in this otherwise quite amusing film, very different from the other Breillats that I've seen.  Her leading man, a brooding narcissist fitted with a huge erect dildo for the climactic scene of Parillaud's film, is wonderfuly portrayed by Grégoire Colin, who was one of my favorite actors as a youthful leading man and has become a very hot adult actor.  The leading lady, as played by the young beauty from Breillat's Fat Girl, Roxane Mesquida, is a pouty young thing who loathes the leading man.  Comparisons must be made between this film and Day for Night, another film about the making of a film from the conflicted director's point of view.  The current film is just as good at realistically nailing the filmmaking process.  I didn't expect to enjoy this film as much as I did.  ***

Debates will rage all over the land as to whether Kelly has improved this wonderful film with his recut.  I was a huge fan of the film when it came out, watching it four times in its initial run and rating it as the best American film of 2001, though I haven't watched the film since on DVD.  However, I never really understood it.  The current film, by adding some explanatory material in the visible form of the contents of the book on time travel which was on the film's web site, is made more comprehensible.  But right from the start some changes in the music and especially in the re-editing of the wondrous "Head Over Heels" montage near the start of the film, cast some doubts in my mind about this recut.  Still, the basic film remains a near masterpiece and I had almost forgotten how great Jake Gyllenhaal was in this film.  The Q&A with the director afterward was not particularly illuminating, though one question:  what are the most egregiously bad theories about the film that have been made on the internet? elicited some great examples (I wish I had recorded the answer).  *** 1/2

STRAYED (Les égarés) (d. André Téchiné, France)
A great evening of film was only enhanced by Téchiné's lovely and totally absorbing period romantic drama.  Taking place at the same time as the recent Bon Voyage, the period in 1940 when the Germans were advancing on Paris and the populace was in panic mode fleeing from the advancing army, the film follows a woman refugee on the road South with her two children.  Emmanuelle Béart is lovely as ever and amazing as the woman whose husband is dead and whose world is falling apart.  Téchiné, as usual, gets wonderful performances from the kids...especially newcomer Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet as her 13 year old son.  But it is Gaspard Ulliel who steals the film.  He plays an illiterate, but survival smart 17 year old on the run who merges with Béart's family with unexpected consequences.  This is a near great film, which isn't ruined by its abrupt and poorly conceived ending.  The film apparently didn't have the same affect on the audience, which didn't applaud at the end, as it did on me.  *** 1/2

The Secret Festival is not fully subscribed this year.  My theory is that the past couple of years have been a disappointment of poor programming.  So far the festival has made up for it this year in spades.  The second film is an extraordinary American indie, another film that I've been awaiting with bated breath after its festival responses.  *** 1/2

WHO KILLED BAMBI (Qui a tué Bambi?) (d. Gilles Marchand, France)
Marchand has constructed an effective, if slow building, thriller.  Laurent Lucas plays a steely eyed sexual predator surgeon who drugs and molests some female patients in one of the most antiseptically stark hospitals ever filmed.  His nemesis, shot usually in tight close-ups which makes her an especially intimate heroine, is a student nurse who herself becomes a patient of the doctor.  This is one creepy film, where everything comes together quite nicely due to the fine direction and production design.  The hospital, so modern and mechanized, becomes a major element in the accumulated menace that the audience feels.  ***

9 SOULS (d.Toshiaki Toyota, Japan)
Maybe I'm getting old; but I just don't seem to be able to stick it out through films which aren't engaging me on any level anymore.  This is a comedy about nine disparate men who escape from prison and go on a supposedly amusing rampage.  I wasn't finding it amusing, and when I started dozing off from boredom I decided to walk and have a leisurely lunch instead of wasting my time.  W/O

BONJOUR MONSIEUR SHLOMI (Ha'kohavim Shel Shlomi) (d. Shemi Zarhin, Israel)
I loved this absorbing disfunctional family comedy.  I guess I'm just a sucker for this kind of film.  Oshri Cohen is nothing short of breathtakingly good as Shlomi, handsome 16 year old boy and youngest son, who has devoted his energies to salving the discords of his raucus parents and siblings by cooking wonderful food.  He's failing in school because of dyslexia; and nobody has noticed that he's actually a polymath genius who has effectively hidden his talents for the sake of his family.  Filled with lovely observations and details, blessed with a fine cast and a script which provided intense identification on my part, this film was a total winner.  *** 3/4

SINCE OTAR LEFT (Depuis qu'Otar est parti) (d. Julie Bertucelli,  France, Georgia)
This is another heartwarming affirmation of the human spirit type film, only I found it slightly overlong for its slender plot.  Once again, it is an amazingly effective central performance which makes the film:  in this case Grandma Eka, played by the remarkable, stooped old lady actress, Esther Gorintin whom I had recently seen and fondly remembered in a minor, but memorable, role in Carnage.  Here she plays the mother and grandmother of a French speaking Georgian family whose eldest son has emmigrated illegally to Paris to make a living.  The family decides, probably unwisely, to keep the accidental death of her son from the old lady, and the plot develops from that central lie.  Once again it is the accumulation of telling details which makes the film work.  No flashy filmmaking, just some solid performances (Dinara Ddroukarova is also quite good as the bilingual granddaughter who yearns for a life of her own).  *** 1/4

LEARNING TO LIE (d. Hendrik Handloegten, Germany)
Fabian Busch is an ingratiating actor, a Seth Green lookalike who projects a sympathetic character even when he's acting like a heel.  Here he is convincing as he ages from age 18 through sixteen years of affairs with several women.  The only woman he stays committed to is his first love, a political leftist, president of the student body in his high school, who leaves for America and disappears from his life.  Good script, well cast, I was totally absorbed by the character Helmut's commitmentphobic life story.  ***

DRIFTERS (d. Wang Xiaoshuai, China)
This film was so slow to get going that it almost lost me; but I'm sort of glad I stuck around.  It's the story of a Chinese guy who had made the dangerous journey abroad, smuggled himself into the U.S., had a little boy, then was turned in as an illegal by his in-laws and deported back to China.  He's depressed, hardly talks, on the outs with his family as the film starts.  When his 2 year old son is brought back to China by his in-laws for a visit he is denied visitation and complications arise.  The pace of this film is occasionally excruciatingly slow, with long pauses and periods of nothing happening on screen.  Still, this is a story of love and family, and more or less works on an emotional level.  ** 1/4

PATER FAMILIAS (d. Francisco Patierno, Italy)
In contrast to Drifters, this is a fast paced, complex story of a group of Neapolitan young men, all of whom come from poor, working class families.  Their family situations (each has a conflict with his father) and the general milieu of gang violence leads to a series of events with dire consequences for all.  The director, apparently new to film from a career in tv and commercials, uses many film tricks:  high contrast flashbacks, out of focus, jump cuts.  The film is structured on two or more time lines and is hard to follow and keep all the characters straight.  But after the film I had a chance to discuss the plot with several people, and the story finally came into focus.  It is one of those films that are hard to watch at the time, but which prove to be much more satisfying in the afterglow.  ***

PRIMER (d. Shane Carruth, U.S.)
Speaking of films that are difficult to understand, this one is a doozy.  Probably not since my first experience of watching Donnie Darko, have I been so mystified, and at the same time so completely entertained, by a movie.  Carruth has constructed a super low-budget ($7,000 before the 35mm blow up) mind-bending science fiction film without special effects about four guys working on the side in a garage who inadvertently develop a machine that can send people back a few hours into the past.  The plot is complex, and I defy anybody to get it on one viewing.  But I think that maybe it does hold together as a thriller through all the paradoxes of its plot machinations.  In any case, Carruth is some kind of filmmaker.  He wrote, produced and starred in this film, apparently without knowing much about any of these tasks before starting the film.  It's the kind of film which excites one's jaded sense of wonder.  *** 1/4

A PROBLEM WITH FEAR (d. Gary Burns, Canada)
Burns has constructed an amiable futuristic comedy which is also a trenchent satire of our media inspired obsession with the dangers of modern life.  Paulo Constanzo, heavily made up with stylish lipstick and giving a great, dead-pan, humorously phobic performance, and Emily Hampshire, playing a loopy fashion victim at full tilt, work together in a mall in downtown Calgary.  They're caught in the midst of a "fear storm" when seemingly benign things like elevators, escalators and revolving doors go crazy and the entire city is affected.  Photographed in the same ghastly green flourescent patina as the director's previous waydowntown, the film looks authentically futuristic without a great deal of special effects.  Urban angst has seldom been more amusingly portrayed.  *** 1/4

STRAIGHT-JACKET (d. Richard Day, U.S.)
Briefly (because this is simply a bad movie) this is a comedy about a Rock Hudson type gay movie star in the '50s.  It attempts to be stylish and retro, but in comparison to a similar period film, the gloriously designed Down With Love, or even the ridiculously uneven Die, Mommy, Die! this film comes up sadly short.  Bad acting, a cliché ridden script, leaden dialog, cheesy sets, I could go on and on.  The only thing it has going for it is that it is blythly gay and despite all its flaws is not boring.  *

BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS (d. Stephen Fry,  U.K.)
Fry's film, on the other hand, is full up to the brim with lively repartée, glorious sets, good acting, and a witty literate script based on an Evelyn Waugh novel.  It's a social satire of the antics of vapid upper class Brits just before the breaking out of war in 1939.  The leads, Emily Mortimer and Stephen Campbell Moore, are amiable but somewhat boring impoverished social climbers.  It's the great supporting cast which shines here.  I've become a huge fan of James McAvoy from the BBC series State of Play, and here he has a small, but vital role as a young lord who is also a cruel gossip columnist for press lord Dan Aykroyd's muckraking newspaper.  This film falls short of similar classics of the type, for instance Brideshead Revisited.  Still, it's a lot of fun to watch.  ***

BRIGHT FUTURE (d. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan)
One of these days I'm going to give up going to Kurosawa films, since I just don't get them.  Actually, this is one of his more approachable films, a mostly coherent narrative about a couple of slacker 20-somethings and a horrible crime that one of them commits.  A poisonous red jellyfish is the central metaphor here, the best piscine cameo since the tropical fish that stole Tsai's The River.  But ultimately this is a pretty slow and (for me) pointless film.  ** 1/4

DONAU, DUNA, DUNAJ, DUNAV, DUNAREA (d. Goren Rebic  89 min.)
This film is a valentine to the Danube river, and also a moving story of a group of lost souls who travel its length from Vienna to the Black Sea on a small excursion boat.  The main characters are the elderly ship's captain and a 19 year-old boy that may or may not be his son by his long estranged ex-wife, a famed former Rumanian Olympics swimming champion, now dead.  There are several other characters on the boat, each with his own story of loss and loneliness.  Beautifully shot, the film moves with the rhythms of the river and I found it emotionally satisfying.  A note that Robert Stadlober, who was so good in another SIFF film a few years ago, Hans-Christian Schmid's Crazy, is a young German actor to watch for.  ***

GARDEN STATE (d. Zach Braff, U.S.)
I've always liked Braff, even before his superb sitcom Scrubs (for instance, the completely overlooked 1999 film Getting to Know You).  Here he's the hyphenate auteur of a wonderfully inventive, if somewhat self-indulgent, American indie.  Andrew (played in his typical deadpan, slightly sarcastic style by Braff himself) has returned to his New Jersey roots from his low-level soap opera acting gig in L.A. for his mother's funeral.  The fim is essentially about his Odyssey of self-discovery.  Nice supporting cast, especially Peter Sarsgaard as his old best buddy and Natalie Portman (returning to the form of Beautiful Girls as the ideal girl next door type).  The story is familiar; but Braff brings a light touch and fresh attitude which lifts the film out of the ordinary.  ***

THE PYTHON (d. Laila Pakalnina, Latvia)
Some films seem so pointless that they just must be a metaphor that I'm not catching on to.  This one fits that bill to a tee.  It takes place in a school in Latvia, and is about one weird day when a beaver, a monkey and a python all escape within the school and chaos ensues.  I suppose in an alternate universe this is funny stuff.  But for me it was a snooze fest.  * 1/4

CAPONE (d. Jean Marc Brandolo, France)
There must be something in the air, since I also dozed through the center portion of this much better French buddy cum roadtrip film.  Capone is a race horse, a splendid pacer who may or may not be of championship calibre.  Its owner (though he's scamming several people) hires a taxi driver to drive him and the horse from Paris to Lappland where the horse is to race in a major race, all this while being chased by a couple of tough guys that think they now own the horse.  Good acting, some nice scenery.  But all in all nothing great here.  ** 1/2

TURN LEFT, TURN RIGHT (d. Johnny To, Wai Ka-fai, Taiwan)
Claud Lelouch's And Now My Love, is one of my all-time favorite films...which tells a lot about my sentimental romantic streak.  This film, a huge departure from Johnny To's usual thriller genre films, is very similar to that French film:  a story of how fate keeps apart two people who are supposed to be together.  The two characters are sympathetic and well played by the attractive Japanese actor Takeshi Kanashiro and cute Gigi Leung.  The story for me was an enchanting fairy tale...probably too stretched out for credibility; but I gladly submitted to its charms.  Especially admirable editing and a fine director's eye for composition.  *** 1/4

TRIPLE AGENT (d. Eric Rohmer, France)
This film is another departure for the octogenarian Rohmer, a talky and detail filled thriller about a low-level White Russian expatriot in Paris in the late 1930's and his lovely Greek wife, who was an accomplished, though unknown painter.  Some of my friends were turned off by the accumulation of minutia about the political realities of that era; but I found it all quite interesting.  I didn't get emotionally invested in the characters, to be sure.  But I don't think that was what Rohmer had in mind here.  Anyway, my intellect was piqued and I found the film intriguing:  this could easily have been the basis of a good Alan Furst spy thriller.  ***

STANDER (d. Bronwen Hughes, South Africa)
No secret that Thomas Jane is one of my favorite American actors.  Here he attempts an unlikely South African boer accent, playing a police captain in Johannesburg.  Forced to kill a black man face to face in a 70's era Soweto riot, he has an epiphany of conscience and out of the blue becomes a bank robber.  The film is vaguely reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde, without the Bonnie.  Jane's character is a stalwart anti-hero...one roots for him despite all.  It's a dark film; but it worked for me as a straightforward action film.  ** 3/4

WALK ON WATER (d. Eytan Fox, Israel)
I really liked Fox's Yossi & Jagger, but that film didn't prepare me for the control and power of this immaculately made drama.  This is a huge progression, and Fox must now be ranked as a world class filmmaker.  Lior Ashkenazi (so great as the attractive, neurotic protagonist in Late Marriage) here plays a Mossad assassin whose next target is an aging Nazi war criminal who may be returning to Germany.  Ashkenazi is set up to work for the ex-Nazi's grandchildren as a driver during the gay brother's visit to his sister who is living in a kabutz.  This is an emotionally devastating drama of personal redemption which affected me deeply.  *** 3/4

CONTROL ROOM (d. Jehane Noujaim  Egypt/U.S.)
The control room refers to Al-Jazeera, the Arab television station, and this is a documentary of how they covered the 2nd Iraqi War in 2003.  Lots of interviews with the insiders of the station along with other journalists and American forces spokesmen.  We see some pointed examples of Al-Jazeera's coverage, which apparently isn't as one-sidedly anti-American as I'd thought.  But in retrospect it does point out the folly and utter cluelessness of the American leaders such as Bush and Rumsfield.  I thought the film wasn't edited quite tightly enough; but it did make its points and my interest never flagged.  ** 3/4

THE LAST TRAIN (d. Alexei A German, Russia)
This is an amazingly bleak and brutal (and for me quite boring) black & white wide-screen film about a German doctor stuck behind the lines of the Russian front during the horrendous winter of retreat.  Lots of trudging through blizzardy white-scapes.  Lots of despairing soldiers and Russian civilians.  Everybody is sick and racked with coughing spasms.  It's almost unwatchably horrifying.  Except that the sheer boredom engendered by the endless tracking shots and slow pans kept me from becoming involved in any way.  ** 1/4

FESTIVAL EXPRESS (d. Bob Smeaton, Canada)
I almost didn't go to this film, having planned on another; but the chance watching a fun rock and roll documentary after all the sturm und drang of the previous films was too good to miss.  And I'm really glad that I did.  This is a film about a 1970 rock concert trip by train through Canada by some of the top acts of the period.  The film features some of the best footage ever put on film of Janis Joplin plus great stuff by The Band and the Grateful Dead and other groups.  But it is the Joplin material (she is in great voice and seemed to be very much on one of her up phases) which is the real attraction here.  There are also a number of impromptu jam sessions by the musicians on the train, which apparently was a wonderful experience for all even though the concert tour itself was a financial disaster.  This film is very much in the Woodstock or Monterey Pop vein of rock film, without the heavy special f/x of the former and with a lot of the feeling of exhilaration of the latter.  Wow!  Worth the wait.  *** 1/2

Only 2 films today.  One film failed to arrive at the festival in time and was replaced by The Last Train, which I wouldn't watch again for all the tea in Russia.  Then the excellent film Facing Window started late and had a Q&A afterwords with the great director Ferzan Ozpetek which I stayed around for.  By then it was too late to make it to any other film.  The staggered starting times of films which was initiated this year is often not very good for making it to films in far away venues.  It's one of the few things about this year's festival which isn't running extremely well.  Most screenings are starting promptly and even with several sell-outs I haven't had a problem getting into any films yet (I just knocked on wood!)  Also, for the most part, the projection this year has been fine.  No out-of-sequence reels, out-of-focus or uncentered screenings.  A few bad reel changes, though.  Still, way above average for the festivals I've been to. 

UNTOLD SCANDAL  (d. E J-yong, Korea)
I've now seen the Dangerous Liason story done at least three times, and this is every bit as good as any other version.  Actually, the story translates very well into a Korean film of nobility and manners in the 18th century.  This film has unbelievably wonderful costumes, makeup, hair, sets.  Every visual aspect was under total control and seemed authentic.  The acting was above average.  Maybe it is just a cultural thing, but the only problem with this film was that I failed to connect emotionally with the characters, even the good lady who was seduced and destroyed.  Still, the best looking film of the festival so far.  ***

FACING WINDOW (La Finestra di fronte)  (d. Ferzan Ozpetek, Italy)
Ozpatek is a fine director.  Every one of his movies has been of high interest; but maybe it was something in the air since I didn't connect emotionally with either of the films I saw today.  This is the story of a married couple who despite a couple of wonderful children find themselves at a point in their relationship where they aren't going anyplace. As the director said in Q&A they are running at different speeds, the husband a few steps slower than the wife.  They get involved with an old man, a Holocaust survivor who may be suffering from Alzheimer's; and the wife gets involved with the handsome neighbor whom she has been watching across the way through her kitchen window.  Events occur, people evolve; but I never got fully engaged despite the undoubted skill of the director and actors.  There's even a stalking aspect to this film which I found unsettling in such a romantic melodrama.  Still, Ozpatek can't help but make a diverting film.  ***

INFERNAL AFFAIRS #1  (d. Andrew Lau, Hong Kong)
High production value policier about long-term moles infiltrating both an evil gang and the Honk Kong police.  I'd seen the film at last year's SIFF; but I knew that another viewing could only help to explain some of the things I was confused about during the first viewing.  I'm not sure that things were any clearer this time around; but the film is so fast-paced and entertaining that it hardly matters that I still was confused by the characters and their motivations.  For more discussion click on the title link to my first viewing.  *** 1/4

INFERNAL AFFAIRS #2  (d. Andrew Lau, Hong Kong)
The second part of the trilogy is a prequel to the first, which further confuses the issue by going deeper into the twisted relationship of the various mole's bosses as they set up their long term moles into each other's organizations.  Once again, I got lost in the myriad plot twists and mysterious character transformations.  But it didn't seem to matter.  Things move along briskly, the characters are interesting and attractive.  I kept getting tantalizingly close to figuring out what was going on.   The puzzle itself is the main satisfaction here.  ** 3/4

INFERNAL AFFAIRS #3  (d. Andrew Lau, Hong Kong)
In part 3 an attempt is made to close things out by presenting the action of Part 1 again from a slightly different point of view and combining it with a simultaneous, separate time frame plot taking place a year later about the consequences of the action in Part 1.  An entirely new character, possibly the super mole, is presented; and the story seems to go off the rails into a false reality based on the insanity of one of the characters.  Honestly, I'm only guessing.  The story gets so overly complex in part 3 that it calls into doubt what I had thought I had understood in the first two films.  I still found the whole to be an entertaining crime saga, but it did seem to lose its edge as it went along.  ** 1/2

HARRY & MAX (d. Christopher Munch, U.S.)
Brutally honest, well written story of 2 boy-band brothers with incest overtones. Bryce Johnson, who plays the alcoholic older brother, is a major find!  I liked it even better the second time around when the shock of seeing such taboo subject matter so sympathetically portrayed in a movie had worn off.  For a more comprehensive review, click on the title link to my first viewing of the film.  *** 1/2

Supposedly the first public screening of this film by a major filmmaker.  As far as I was concerned this was an inept failure.   *

BEST OF YOUTH #1 & #2 (La Meglio Gioventù)  (Marco Tullio Giordana, Italy)
I'm treating this sprawling 6 hour family saga as one film.  It was originally beautifully shot, probably on HD 24p video, though only occasionally does it look like anything other than gorgeous 35 mm.  Also, it apparently was conceived as a television series; but the political atmosphere in Italy changed, and the film was never shown on the state supported network.  It does show its television provenance by an emphasis on intimate close-ups and its melodramatic framework.  That being said, this film is still one of the great achievements of modern Italian cinema.  What makes this film special is its novelistic script, which examines several characters in depth through its almost 40 year span.  Also, the acting from top to bottom is superb.  Especially notable is the actor who is at the center of the piece, Luigi Lo Cascio, who convincingly ages (one of the only weaknesses of the film is how the women, played by the same actresses throughout, don't show the passage of time effectively).  For me, one of the important factors that made the film such an emotional catharsis was the use of familiar incidental music throughout:  the score from Jules and Jim by George Delarue, so beautiful and so right here.  This is one film which builds as it goes along.  The 2nd part is especially effective at weaving its spell.  By the climactic scenes, I was an emotional wreck.  *** for part one  **** for part two.

VODKA LEMON (d. Hiner Saleem, Armenia)
This film was Armenia's entry for the foreign film Oscar and was the only film that I missed during that competition.  I figured I had to see it, even though I was somewhat movied out from the previous 8 1/2 hours of films on this Sunday.  Vodka Lemon refers to the local vodka, which actually is almond flavored...a metaphor for Armenia, supposedly.  Anyway, this is a typical Eastern European black comedy, a story of a wretchedly poor village and its inhabitents, mostly old people who didn't have the gumption or wherewithall to escape to greener pastures.  It takes place in winter, and the snowscapes are breathtakingly beautiful.  But the story never really engaged me.  ** 1/4

It's my feeling that mocumentaries work best when there's just enough realism in the execution that one can willingly suspend one's disbelief and go with it as a straight documentary.  I was able to do that here, due to a script which was so convoluted as to be Charlie Kaufmanesque (I can't imagine that director Penn and colaborator Werner Herzog weren't influenced in some ways by Kaufman's Adaptation).  Anyway, I found this film to be quite entertaining and amusing.  ***

BLOOM (d. Sean Walsh, Ireland)
I've never been tempted to read James Joyce's Ulysses, knowing full well that it is too difficult a book for my sensibility.  I imagine that this is a fine job of adapting that unadaptable book to the screen, though I found myself bored and confused.  The acting is fine here, especially Stephen Rea as Leopold Bloom.  Most of the film is done with narration playing the form of interior dialog, while the visuals are mostly close ups of the actors' faces showing their emotions and thoughts through their eyes.  But the sense of place, production design etc. were all just about perfect for its daylong journey through 1903 Dublin.  It was all tastefully frank, sexually explicit, beautiful, smart; but just not my cup of tea at all.  ** 1/4

LA VIE PROMESSE (d. Olivier Dahan, France)
Isabelle Hupert does her usual fine acting job in this French road trip.  She plays a streetwalker in Nice, mother of two though she has run away from her family years before.  Circumstances make her and her teenage daughter flee on a journey of lost souls, where they connect with Pascal Greggory (more attractive here than in Raja) an escaped convict on the lam.  Quite picturesque, even occasionally moving.  But the film felt pretentious and ponderous; and I was underwhelmed. ** 1/2

PLAYTIME (d. Jacques Tati)
I've never been much into Tati.  Actually, I'm not a particular aficionado of the entire genre of visual slapstick comedy.  But the opportunity to watch this acknowledged masterpiece in a perfect 70mm print on the huge Cinerama screen was too good to pass up.  I'm glad I did, even though it was touch and go whether I'd even make it into the theater since the film was a total sellout and I was forced by my schedule to arrive only 10 minutes before the start.  This film has some touches of Chaplin (especially Modern Times), some René Claire (especially A nous la liberté), even a touch of the visual magic of Andersson's Songs from the Second Floor.  The screen is constantly filled with Tati's inventive shtick, every scene topping the ones before, sometimes so full that it's hard to grasp it all.  I'm still not a fan of this sort of nearly silent visual comedy on screen; but I can recognize genius when I see it.  *** 3/4

METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER (d. Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky)
Berlinger and Sinofsky were hired by the heavy metal supergroup Metallica to chronical their comeback from a fallow creative period aided by a group dynamics psychologist.  What was captured on film was a fascinating story of some creative and rich rock stars hitting bottom and struggling to keep it together enough to continue as a band.  The film was extremely well shot and edited, the subject matter fascinating.  Altogether a classic of the rock film genre even for someone like me who has never heard a Metallica song or was interested particularly in their music at all.  *** 1/2

25 DEGREES IN WINTER (d. Stéphane Vuillet, Belgium)
This is a screwball, romantic comedy about a somewhat befuddled Spaniard living with his young daughter in Brussels after his wife deserted them, who hooks up with a pretty Ukranian refugee who has arrived illegally in Belgium searching for her missing husband.  Carmen Maura is wonderful as usual as the Spaniard's busybody mother.  The film is fun to watch; but it's all pretty pat and predictable.  ** 3/4

SLIM SUSIE (d. Ulf Malmros, Sweden)
Speaking of screwball, this film is that in spades.  It's the story of a young guy who returns to his small Swedish town searching for his missing younger sister.  The film is inhabited by a  sorry group of greedy weirdos and misfits; and the plot, centered around the search for a dead old lady's money, is sufficiently convoluted to keep it interesting.  There is a certain school of crazed, manic Scandinavian filmmaking of which this is a good, if minor, example.  ** 3/4

THE TULSE LUPER SUITCASES 1 (Peter Greenaway, Planet Earth)
Greenaway has started an ambitious multi-media project about...well, I'm not sure what it's about actually.  Nor do I care much.  The first film is a visual pastiche of multi-images centered around this guy Tulse Luper who lived through most of the twentieth century and apparently collected things in suitcases.  I got through three of the hundred or so suitcases:  containing respectively coal, toys, and...hmmm, the fact that I can't remember is why I walked.  I loved the obsessive and obviously brilliant Greenaway's first few films; but starting with Prospero's Books he left me behind.  W/O

MONSIEUR N (d. Antoine de Caunes, France)
Reel three of this movie was wound backward, and it took over a half hour to fix the problem.  I was fascinated by the film before that improptu intermission; but it took some time for me to get back into the narrative, and I think the film suffered for it.  A lot of the audience left; but I'm glad I stuck it out.  This is a bleak and beautiful wide screen epic about Napoleon's last years in exile on the island of St. Helena.  It is narrated and centered on a British lieutenant who was charged with shadowing Napoleon, who was still emperor in his own mind and lived high  among his court of greedy and sometimes treacherous courtiers.  The film is weirdly reminiscent of another starkly beautiful film about soldiers in a remote place, Laconte's Widow of St. Pierre.  It also has a story similar to the Ian Holms version from the same era, The Emperor's New Clothes.  Philippe Torreton is a very convincing Napoleon, and Richard E. Grant gives a delicious performance as the obsessed military governer of the island.  But it is newcomer Jay Rodin as the fresh faced lieutenant who lights up the screen.  ***

THE GRAFFITI ARTIST (d. James Bolton, U.S.)
Bolton was the director of the interesting and controversial, if rudimentary, Eban & Charley.  This time he has made an ugly looking video even more rudimentary, a two character film about a couple of young taggers who are really talented street artists.  One of them is gay and lives an aimless street life in Portland and Seattle, when he meets and befriends a fellow artist, who at least has some monetary support from his mother, though he too is wandering the streets.  The film is reminiscent of van Sant's Mala Noche in its structure and feeling.  It also resonates with the recent Mexican film A Thousand Clouds of Peace, in that its wandering camera finds strange beauty amidst the urban squalor.   It is slow and reflective; and some will certainly find it pointless.  For me it worked despite everything, mainly because the main character played with doe like, blank-eyed simplicity by the attractive Ruben Bansie-Snellman was quite compelling.  ***

THE COLDEST DAY (d. Xie Dong,  China)
Like last year's take on failed relationships, Zhang Yibai's Spring Subway, this is a stark tale of infidelity among what passes for the middle class in today's China.  The passive lawyer at the heart of the narrative is undergoing a seven year's itch.  His wife is having an affair with a younger traditional dancer, and he himself is attracted to the wife of a client drug dealer whom he is attempting to get out of prison.  Blah blah blah.  Boring stuff.  But it is shot artistically, a lot of the action shown in weird reflections (for instance one typical scene is played reflected off of a fishbowl.)  I had trouble staying awake; but the film does show a visual flair hard to ignore.  ** 1/4

CRIMINAL (d. Gregory Jacobs, U.S.)
This is a reasonably entertaining American remake of the pretty good Argentinian sting film, Nine Queens.  I liked the original enough to have watched it twice, and the current film is frankly not as good as the original, even though Diego Luna gives an impressively charismatic performance.  Anybody who has seen the original will not find anything new here to make it worth forking over real money.   ** 1/2

BORED IN BRNO (d. Vladimir Moravek, Czech Republic)
According to this film, there are supposedly 150,000 people making love every night in Brno, Czech Republic.  This is the zany, bawdy comedy representation of some of these people during one madcap night.  I could sense that the audience was enjoying the film; but I found it tedious and visually flat.  ** 1/4

LITTLE MEN (d. Nariman Turebayev, Kazakhstan)
Sometimes I'm not certain why I find some ostensibly similar films tedious and others compulsively watchable.  This film is about two ex-army buddies who are working the streets of a Kazakhstan city selling inferior merchandise to gullible pedestrians.  Max is a great salesman, but Beck is totally unsuited to the job.  Frankly, not much happens:  they meet girls, they do some work, they wander through their lives, they argue and make up.  But somehow I was drawn into these characters' barren lives and lived it with them, feeling edified and entertained by...well, not much.  As I said before, it's a mystery why this film worked as well as it did.  Perfect casting and good, nuanced direction is my best guess.  ***

It's time for an overview of this year's festival.  I have a feeling that my average ratings will show that the films weren't quite as good as those of the past two years, especially during the last week.  That being said; I still liked well over a majority of the films.  Also, the death of film has been greatly exaggerated.  Certainly there were a few digital video films, some of which looked great, others terrible.  But the vast majority of the foreign films here were not only shot on film, but most of them were shot in super 35mm and shown in wide screen scope format here.   There were a number of projection snafus this year, more than usual.  On the other hand, just about all the films showed up and there were remarkably few screenings that didn't start within a minute or so of their scheduled time.  That made it possible for me to see most of films I had scheduled, even when the timing was tight and the distances between theaters great.  I drove to most of the screenings and had little trouble parking for the first 3 weeks.  However, I did receive my first parking ticket ever at this festival, for parking within a crosswalk...$38.  Not bad for 5 straight years of driving in a city which has a tremendous parking problem.  The B&B that I have stayed at this year was very convenient, only 5 minutes from the free internet cafe and three of the five film venues.  But it won't be available next year, as the owners are selling out.  I've had two possible offers for free lodging next year; so I guess I'll be doing SIFF again next May!  I love Seattle and this festival.  I wish it could continue year round.  The new director, Helen Loverage, and programmer, Carl Spence,  have done a great job of keeping the festival efficient and innovative, while maintaining the high user friendly standard. 

TROLLYWOOD (d. Madeleine Farley, U.K.)
This documentary, which was partially shot in my own neighborhood in L.A., is an attempt to show the plight of the homeless street people who seem to be everywhere in Los Angeles.  The supermarket trolley, stolen and used as a mobile home by many of these people, was the central metaphor used by the filmmaker.  The film does make its point with some good interviews and subjects.  But the photography and editing were so poor as to rob the film of much of its effectiveness.  Add to that the annoying presence of the British director, who is no Nick Broomfield when it comes to directoral insertion, and this film just didn't work.  * 3/4

Jack and Meg White are an amazing 2-person rock group, The White Stripes.  Jack plays a guitar somewhat reminiscent of Hendrix and Clapton, a dense bluesy, rock sound.  Meg is an interesting drummer who seems to have a nack of using appropriate silence to counterpoint her huge sound.  This documentary/concert film shows the band performing at a small New York club, The Bowery, and also follows them backstage where chaos reigns.  The film was shot and presented in relatively poor B&W video, somehow processed so that the action is constantly smearing, I suppose by increasing the time per frame and decreasing the sampling.  The sound was terrible, the audio virtually impossible to hear in the backstage material; and the sound mix of the performance was also really bad...the vocals were muddy and almost lost.  All that said, the film still is a valuable document of the club playing days of a great band.  It isn't quite Don't Look Back, but it has the same feeling of vitality and future importance.  ** 1/2

PATERNAL INSTINCT (d. Murray Nossei, U.S.)
Now here is a video documentary that really hits it out of the park.  Mark and Erik are a NYC gay couple, together 10 years, who decide after much deliberation to hire a surrogate mother to bear two children, with each of them siring one.  They were lucky in their choice of mother in finding Wen, a self-described witch who lives in Maine with her husband and teenage son; and who somehow had developed a mission to provide children for a gay couple.  God couldn't have written a better script than what befell these real people.  The filmmakers managed to stay completely removed from the story, the characters were all wonderfully articulate.  Things worked out with just the right amount of drama and angst. The finished video looked and sounded great, a tribute to some remarkable videography.   You've got to be lucky as well as skilled to make a documentary like this.  *** 1/2

PROTEUS (d. John Greyson, Canada/South Africa)
Greyson has made a low budget digital video about the plight of two gay prisoners, one white, one black, in 18th century South Africa.  It isn't very good...the acting is mediocre, the direction surprisingly flat. No particular effort was made to make the film authentically 18th century...there were some strange anachronisms.  Still, the script was good enough to hold my interest.  ** 1/4

THE MIDDLE OF THE WORLD (O Caminho Das Nuvens) (d. Vicente Amorim, Brazil)
This Brazilian film was based on a true story about a family:  family, mother, 5 kids ranging from mid-teen to baby, who somehow bicycle 2,000 miles through Brazil from the rural north to Rio de Janero.  It is beautifully shot; but the acting is only average and the story failed to engage me completely.  ** 3/4

RUNNING ON KARMA (d. Johnny To, Wai Ka-fai, Hong Kong)
This is a policier/thriller with more than a little of a supernatural bent (including flying kung fu, or whatever), which was a little too far out for me.  Andy Lau inhabits an amazingly realistic muscle suit as he plays an ex-Buddhist monk turned boxer/Chippendale dancer who can sense people's karma.  He gets involved with the female CID cop who arrests him for indecent exposure, and all sorts of bloody karmic mayhem follows.  Ultimately the film lost me, though it was fun enough on the way as to be not a total waste of time.  This isn't as visually interesting as the usual Johnny To film; but it does have his humorous touch of the absurd.  ** 1/2

DEATH AND TEXAS (d. Kevin DiNovis, U.S.)
I wasn't planning on seeing this film, since I had heard rumors that it wasn't very good; but the rumors were wrong as they often are.  This is a satiric mockumentary about a famous football tight end who is about to die on Texas's death row; but who is released under heavy guard the day before his scheduled execution to play for Austin's football team in the MegaBowl.  The film plays a heavy anti-death penalty card deftly and even subtly.  Presented in digital video, it was shot in 24p HD, so it looked good.  It had a really good cast including Charles Durning and Mary Kaye Place which belied its under $200,000 budget.  Diverting, well written and executed, this is a model of the format.  *** 1/4

LOVE ME IF YOU DARE (Jeux d'enfants) (d. Yann Samuell, France)
I don't even know where to start in critiquing this deleriously romantic but very black comedy.  First of all, I often wonder where they get the title mis-translations on some of these foreign films.  The original French, which means "Children's Games" is much more fitting, since the film is about two strange kids who go through childhood, adolescence and well into adulthood playing an obnoxious and destructive game:  something like dare or do.  The film is extraordinarily well directed, sort of a dark Amélie on crack.  But it certainly isn't likable, although its two lead actors, Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard have a wonderful chemistry.  ***

RIDING GIANTS (d. Stacy Peralta, U.S.)
Stacy Peralta proved in Dogtown and Z Boys that he respects the history and understands the addiction to the fast and dangerous board sports.  Here he examines big wave ocean surfing, and has beautifully structured  a rigorous historical document which is also a dynamite surfing extravanza.  Interesting, informative (he interviews many of the now superannuated surfers who literally invented the sport as they went along), thrilling.  Kudos especially to the film editor...I've been there in my past, edited surfing footage; and I know full well how hard it is to give structure to this sort of material.  Ultimately not quite as satisfying as Peralta's skateboard epic; but nicely done.  *** 1/4

MEMORIES OF MURDER (d. Bong Joon-ho, Korea)
The Korean cinema has excelled recently in making policiers.  This film is about a serial killer who is raping women and tying them up in a ritualistic way somewhere in the sticks of rural Korea.  The police are sympathetic bumblers, and the film has its comic overtones which takes away from its edge.  It's enjoyable, for all that, though somewhat overlong at over two hours, especially since it really is pretty straighforward visually and doesn't have all that much original to say.  ** 1/2

WILD SIDE (d. Sébastien Lifshitz, France/Belgium)
I wasn't a fan of Lifshitz's depressing gay drama Presque Rien, so my expectations were low.  However this film is definitely a step upward in developing an artistic gay cinema.  Stephanie, née Pierre, is an attractive pre-op transsexual, a street putain who is involved in a 3-way releationship with a Russian drifter and a young Arab-French male hustler. In typical French fashion, the film presents a slice of life with lots of talk and not much plot.  Still, I found it somehow beautiful to watch and ultimately a satisfying film, almost at the level of the Dardenne brothers in its rigor.  *** 1/4

MIX (d. Steven Lovy,  U.S./Hungary)
Mix is a coming of age story about an American young man whose Hungarian immigrant father wants to be a classical pianist; but he would prefer being a disk mixer for raves.  He's also a horny young man who surfs the internet's porn websites.  When his grandfather back in Hungary dies, father and son fly to Budapest and the film is a wild and wacky adventure through modern Hungary.  Alex Weed is astonishingly good as the boy, his attractive naivite reminded me of Elija Wood.  He even shows a remarkable talent for Tibetan throat singing.  And the film features an extraordinary soundtrack, mixing all sorts of musical genres.  I was exhillerated by this film, and left the theater floating.  I'm glad that it was the last film of the day for me.  *** 1/4

An American indie film, another prominent festival success.  Good film; but I felt I'd seen films too similar.  ***

MAX RULES (d. Robert Burke)
Sigh.  I guess I'm too old for such a silly kid's film.  It was very much like Spy Kids, only it didn't have anything like the great special effects or Rodriguez's directoral brilliance.  In fact the whole enterprise seemed like amateurville to me.  But the SIFF audience seemed to eat it up.  * 1/4

YOUR NEXT LIFE (d. Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón, Spain)
This year's breakthrough actor has been the Spaniard, Luis Tosar.  However, this isn't his best film of the festival.  The film is set among the isolated farmers of a remote valley high in Spain's Cantrabrian mountains.  Two elderly dairy farmers are feuding amidst governmentally imposed changes in their way of life.  It's up to their children to attempt to resolve the mess.  It's sort of a Romeo & Juliet story as Tosar's eldest son of one of the feuding landholders falls for Marta Etura's eldest daughter of the other.  The film really belongs to Juan Diego as the girl's resolute father.  The sheer physical beauty of the locale and some fine acting make up for some soapish melodramatics.  ** 3/4

FEAR AND TREMBLING (d. Alain Corneau, France, Japan)
Sylvie Testud is remarkable in this memorable office comedy, sort of a Franco/Japanese version of Mike Judge's Office Space.  Testud plays a young Belgian woman, born in Japan, but forced to leave against her will when her family returns to Europe when she was five.  Still, Japanese culture had made an imprint on her, and she returns after university speaking perfect Japanese and accepted on a one year contract to work for a big Tokyo company.  The film goes a long way in explaining the inscrutable sociology of Japanese office culture.  It's funny and pointed and unsparing.  *** 1/4

Films already seen (clink on active link for a longer review):

Talky but philosophic (and wonderful) road picture with splendid performances by Hawke and Depuis.  *** 1/2
BUDDY Young guy turns his & 2 eccentric roommates lives into a commercially successful video journal.  Touching, fun comedy.  ***
CARANDIRU A Brazilian prison worse than Oz, from doctor's pov. Involving, occasionally wrenching, well acted, nicely put together.  *** 1/4
DEEP BREATH Iran's AFF is a road picture about disaffected college students, amazingly secular for an official submission.  ** 1/2
EAGER BODIES  Love Story with a particularly French twist.  Great acting. *** 1/2
GIRL ON THE BRIDGE  Overwrought but pretty to look at love story of magician and his fascination with a suicidal girl.  ** 3/4
GOODBYE DRAGON INN Weirdly paced allegory? ghost story? shaggy dog story? Tsai's most formal exercise in boredom as style.  ***
THE GREEN BUTCHERS (d. Anders Jensen)  Dutch black comedy about a couple of losers who make a macabre go of a new butcher shop.  ** 3/4
HIGH TENSION  Vividly graphic and gory mass-murder horror thriller, well made, but based on a cheat which compromises it.  ***
HEIR TO AN EXECUTION  Doc. Rosenberg's grandaughter searches for the truths of family's past. Moving, well made, informative. ***1/2
HERO China AFF.  Huge marshall arts epic in Crouching Tiger vein.  Gorgeous & well made; but cold.  ***
I ALWAYS WANTED TO BE A SAINT Luxembourg AFF (though Belgian), about disfunctional family from the pov of the daughter. ***
INHERITANCE  Heavy, well made drama about the scion of a steel factory owning family and his choice between business and happiness.  *** 1/4
THE KITE Lebanese AFF, bettersweet comedy about girl coming of age on Israel-Lebanon border.  ** 3/4
LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE A superb, absurdist film about a suicidal, obsessive Japanese Yukasa guy who meets a messy Thai B-girl.  *** 1/2
LOS DEBUTANTES Strong, multi-POV, sexy drama about 2 naive brothers who become involved with a porn boss and his mistress. ***
  Atmospheric thriller with great performances from Johnny Hallyday and Jean Rochefort.  *** 1/4
THE MIRACLE OF BERNE Crowd pleaser about Germany's world cup victory in 1954. Made soccer interesting even to me.  ** 3/4
NATHALIE  Very French adult drama about a wife's strategy for a finagling husband.  Overlong and left me cold. ** 1/2
NICOTINA Black comedy noir about the misadventures of a gang of cyberthieves.  Diego Luna fine; but Lucas Crespi stands out as a future latino star. ***
NINA'S TRAGEDIES Involving coming of age story of 14 year old boy and his crush on his pretty aunt (and weird family dynamic).  ***
NOVEMBER Mockumentary about a revolutionary street theater troup in late '90s Madrid. Gorgeous wide screen & fine job all around.  *** 1/2
RECONSTRUCTION Danish wide screen experimental drama about writer manipulating a man in a love affair.  ** 3/4
RIDICULE  Charles Berling is wonderful as a French courtier in the 18th Century.  *** 1/2
ROSENSTRASSE A somehow uninspiring, if earnest Holocaust drama about the Aryan wives of German Jewish men who were taken in 1943.   ** 1/2
RUBY AND QUENTIN (Tais Toi!) Depardieu 100 lbs. lighter & on his game has true chemistry with Jean Reno in this fast paced buddy/chase comedy.  ***
THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD Demented visual master's '30s retro fabulosity.  *** 1/4
SEXUAL DEPENDENCY Sexual adventures of youths in Bolivia & U.S. done in split screen. Wildlly uneven, but also a turn-on.  ***
(I know I saw it; but I can't remember it at all!)
SPARE PARTS Slovenian version of Lichter, a bleak drama about smugglers who profit from driving 3rd world refugees into Europe.  ** 1/2
STEAM  Italian man visits Turkey and finds himself as a bisexual.  *** 1/2
TAKE MY EYES Excellent womans picture about a wife dealing with an abusive husband. Fabulous acting by Laia Marull and Luis Tosar!  *** 1/2
A THOUSAND CLOUDS OF PEACE  Visually pretty gay film, slow, Van Sant's Mala Noche from the Chicken's point of view.  ** 3/4
TORREMOLINOS 73 Fun satire about an ordinary couple making home pornos for the Scandinavian market. Candela Peña a standout!  ***
THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI A masterpiece set in same era as Last Samurai.  Intimate, truthful and emotionally fulfilling.  ****
TWIN SISTERS 20th cent, epic of 2 twins separated at 6 yr., one German, one Dutch. Beautifully made in every department.  ****
TWIST A very bleak, but truthful digital variant on Oliver Twist characters as Toronto street hustlers.  Great acting, but unremitting.  ** 3/4
THE WEAKNESS OF THE BOLCHEVIKS  Luis Tosar shines again as conflicted man who gets involved with teenage girl. ** 3/4
THE WIDOW OF ST. PIERRE Georgeous scenery, bleak story of execution in colonial Canada.  ***
THE STORY OF THE WEEPING CAMEL Realistic & involving saga of Mongolian herder family & the little camel rejected by its mom.  ***
WITNESSES  Croatia's Academy sub:  Intimate, complex, big-screen enigma/horrors of war drama. Slow accretion of detail adds up.  ***

To return to Ken's home page, please click here.