I'll be in Seattle for the film festival's press screenings starting Tuesday, May 1, 2007.  I'll commence my journal at that time.  Thanks for checking in.

I'm in Seattle now (April 30) getting set to start the festival press screenings tomorrow.  I have already seen the new McCaw Hall SIFF dedicated theater.  I love the stadium seating and the great rake of seating (with a high screen nobody is ever going to be missing any subtitles.)  The seats themselves are only adequate, leg room better than Broadway Performance Hall, but worse than Pacific Place.  It'll be a good venue, I think, especially since I sprang for a parking pass in the lot across the street.  So now, on with the 7 weeks of festival!

All films rated with **** being best.

IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON (d. David Sington)
There have been other documentaries about the NASA space program; but none as focused as this one:  the story of the Apollo moon trips through the testaments of the living astronauts (with the huge exception of the reclusive Neil Armstrong, who is only glimpsed in some of the generous archival footage.)  The film features large head close-up interviews with several astronauts, ranging from amusing anecdotes to spiritual awakenings.  Especially interesting were Michael Collins and Buzz Aldren (two of the three Apollo 11 astronauts) and the amusing David Scott, from Apollo 12.  The film was very well edited; and some of the footage from the moon was new to me.  I lived vicariously through the space program, with more than casual interest at the time.  This film brought back memories, and occasionally was quite moving.  *** 1/4

RUNNING ON EMPTY (Der Lebensversicherer) (d. Akinci Bülent)
This German film is about a traveling insurance salesman who hardly ever leaves the autobahns in his hunt for clients.  The film is hard to categorize, not quite a thriller, more a character driven drama of despair.  The main thing the film has going for it is a fascinating performance by Jens Harzer as the young salesman at the cusp of changing his life.  The film is slow going, seems longer than its 1 3/4 hour running time.  Yet it held my interested throughout, mainly because of the tension of not quite getting what was going on.  ** 3/4

Danny Williams was a Harvard graduate, class of '62, who became a Warhol Factory habitué:  a speed freak, probably one of Andy's lovers, and an extremely talented, if unknown and mostly forgotten, experimental filmmaker and film editor.  One day he disappeared, possibly into the sea - his body was never found.  This film is a documentary by Williams' niece and combines interviews with his family and surviving Warhol luminaries who recall Williams with varied reactions, along with generous examples of Williams' surviving films.  I felt a particular connection to this film, much the way I related to the Cockettes documentary at SIFF a few years ago.  Maybe if I had made it to Harvard in the early '60s instead of M.I.T. this might have been about me.  I, too became a film editor and a prototypical '60s gay druggie; but my life played out very differently from Williams'.  ***

FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO (d. Daniel Karslake)
Maybe it's just preaching to the choir (so to speak); but this almost perfectly wrought documentary about five families of GLBT offspring (including Richard Gephardt family and his lesbian daughter, and Anglican Bishop Gene Robinson and his parents) moved me to tears while it was making an almost foolproof case of the hypocracy of the Religious Reich and their misreading of the Bible.  It is a remarkable film, which probably would be rejected by the very people who need this information if they would even deign to watch.  *** 3/4

Edward Burtynsky travels the world photographing extraordinarily detailed large format pictures of industrial landscapes where man's polluting hand has been especially notable.  This documentary follows Burtynsky through China and Bangladesh.  Rather like Koyaanisqatsi, it documents to an eerily effective technorock score the imbalance that man is imposing on nature.  The film plays rather long, with some endless tracking shots which found my mind wandering.  Still, the cinematography is fine, and Burtynsky's photographs, generously featured throughout the film, are amazing works.  ***

This is a black comedy about an English family where the paterfamilias has died and the extended family and friends have come together for a funeral ceremony which devolves into a well written farce.  It was great to see two of my favorite actors from the British tv series Spooks (aka MI-5 in the U.S.), Matthew Macfadyen and Keeley Hawes, reunited.   Even though many of the plot developments were fairly predictable, I found about 80% of the film laugh-out-loud funny.  A lot of the humor was somewhat tacky, however.  I could have lived without the bathroom humor, for instance.  But mostly this film was great fun.  ***

GUARDIAN'S SON (O Gios tou Fylaka)  (d. Dimitis Koutsiabassakos)
There haven't been all that many Greek films over the years that I've been enthusiastic about.  Often they're too symbolic or difficult going for my tastes.  This film had some strange narrative disconnections (at one point I was sure they either skipped a reel or reversed reels); but all in all I was totally into it.  It's the story of a go-getter young tv journalist who has a "candid camera" type stunt go wrong and must travel to his mother's dying mountain village, which he'd never been to before, to sort it out.  The few villagers who remain are a colorful bunch; and the film plays like a whimsical return to roots dramedy.  I especially liked the main actor, played by Nikolas Aggelis in what seems to be his first role.  ** 3/4

FROZEN CITY (Valkoinen kaupunki) (d. Aku Louhimies)
This is the first of two pretty fair films which were totally not my cup of tea.  The first was a Finnish film about a married taxi driver with three young children whose wayward wife returns from a two month desertion and forces a separation.  His life spirals downward.  It's not pleasant to watch.  But considering the following film, Offscreen, it's pretty tame in comparison. ** 1/4

OFFSCREEN (d. Christopher Boe)
Christoper Boe made two super arty films (Reconstruction and Allegro) which were almost too clever for my tastes.  With this film he goes whole hog into Michael Haneke, Gaspar Noé and Nicolas Rifn territory, only I don't think he learned the right lessons from those filmmakers.  Like Benny's Video this is about a man videoing himself.  Like Irréversible it is occasionally hyperviolent.  Like Pusher 3 it is at times unbelievably bloody.  It does have an incredible performance by Nicolas Bro as the filmmaker within the film, merging reality with fiction in what is ostensibly an obsessive desire to declare his love for his wife by videoing every aspect of their lives.  To say the obvious, it doesn't work for his wife; and the film didn't work for me, at first boring me to somnolence, then shocking the bejesus out of me.  ** 1/4

OUT OF TIME (d. Harald Friedl)
An Austrian documentary about four long established businesses run by elderly Viennese families which are suffering from the Austrian equivalent to the WalMart syndrome:  customers disappearing, businesses becoming outmoded etc.  The storekeepers are sympathetic; but the pacing of the film is rather slow.  Still the photography is excellent, and at times the film is in sync with the human condition, and despite its downer tone it is life affirming.  ** 3/4

BLACK IRISH (d. Brad Gunn) +
When I saw this in Palm Springs, I thought it was an excellent coming of age film, marred only by the familiarity of most of the themes.  Dysfunctional family, good son, bad son, knocked up daughter...essentially clichéd.  However, on second viewing, none of that mattered.  Familiarity allowed me to look beyond the plot and relish the great acting (Michael Angarano, Thomas Guiry and Emily VanCamp are certainly among the best actors of their generation; and this is not to slight the beautifully nuanced job by Melissa Leo and Brendon Gleeson as the troubled Boston Irish parents.)  This is one of those little gems of film which will have trouble finding its audience but deserves to be seen.  *** 1/2

CHILDREN OF WAR (d. Alexandre Fuchs)
This is a documentary about the politics of Central American gangs, centered on the Salvadorian gang, the Mara Salvatrucha (which also is a powerful presence in my home town, Los Angeles.)  Much of the footage is ugly and badly shot.  What bothered me most about the film was its confusing point of view...in some ways it backed the gangs as an inevitable byproduct of Capitalist exploitation.  It certainly made sympathetic the plight of the founders of the gang, now adults with families, who wanted out of the gang warfare, but remained stuck in continuing war with the various governments.  For all the film's passion, I found it hard going and even boring in the sprawling middle section.  ** 1/4

A BATTLE OF WITS (d. Jacob Cheung)
Andy Lau is a true Chinese superstar.  He can carry a film.  Here he plays a Clint Eastwood "man with no name" type character:  a lone warrior, exemplar of peace loving cult who arrives in the small city state of Liang circa 300BC to help its people fight off the siege of the Zhaos, a fierce warlike tribe on the make.  This film is one of those epic historical war stories.  I thought it was pretty darn good, the action well designed, the characterizations just defined enough so that I could follow the plot even though it was difficult to figure out which side was which.  I didn't achieve any level of emotional involvement; but just watching Lau's larger than life performance made the experience worthwhile.  ***

The annual SIFF member's preview night was held in the new SIFF theater last night.  Some of the trailers looked enticing, especially CONFESSIONS OF PAIN, GOYA'S GHOSTS, SUPERBAD, and a hysterical horror takeoff called BLACK SHEEP.   It appears that I've already seen about 33 of the films (preliminary count), which isn't that far out of line with past years.  If the quality of the films I've already seen is any measure, then the programmers have done their customary fine job of picking films.  We'll see; but so far I'm stoked by the prospective schedule. 

2 DAYS IN PARIS (d. Julie Delpy)
Inevitably this film will be compared with the two films by Richard Linklater which starred Delpy and Ethan Hawke.  In a way that's unfair, because this film has a very different feeling, even though it is the story of a couple spending a two days visiting Paris.  Let's put it this way:  Adam Goldberg is no Ethan Hawke.  His sour, sarcastic mien makes for a very different kind of romantic comedy.  The current film is talky, occasionally quite funny, often intellectually satisfying; but it does fall short of the Linklater films by a mile (at least for me.)   ***

MUSHISHI (d. Katsuhiro Otomo)
Japanese supernaturalism.  Beautiful to look at, but far out of my range of tastes.  This isn't precisely a horror film, although it features a man who travels around dealing with horrifying bugs (but the bugs themselves are so phantasmagorical as to be weirdly unscary).  I wasn't bored, so in a way this is a successful film.  But I kept feeling that I could walk out at any time with no regrets.  ** 1/2

Some documentaries just don't need to be made, even if they are creative re-edits of acclaimed (but unseen by me) former documentaries.  Yes, this one, based on footage from 1997's Megacities has some interesting original technorock music and experimental editing to match (normally I might get into a film just for this, except that much of the editing was unforgiveably self-indulgent with long, boring takes or amateurish image manipulation).  However, the subject matter:  the most transgressive, disgusting, polluted aspects of several major cities around the world (especially the decaying underbellies of New York, Tokyo, Moscow, Bombay and Mexico City) simply was often too much to bear.  Maybe the fact that the videography was so ugly and grainy helped a little, as it made much of the horrifying imagery (cockfights, animal eviscerations, junkies shooting up, gut wrenching poverty) a lot more abstract than it would have been in high definition.  This is what Manufactured Landscapes or
Koyaanisqatsi might have looked like if made by a crew of cultural terrorists.  * 1/2

EAGLE VS. SHARK (d. Taika Waititi)
This unpretentious, life affirming New Zealand comedy mixes elements of Muriel's Wedding (the ugly duckling girl with a good heart who is transformed by love) and Napoleon Dynamite (amusingly geeky guy just slightly off somehow) with more or less satisfying results.  I was charmed by the actors and some of the clever animated visual metaphors which counterpoint the story.  It's a diverting and feel-good film, made with a wry sensibility; but I don't want to oversell it as some comic masterwork.  ** 3/4

VIE EN ROSE, LA (d. Olivier Dehan)
I wouldn't be at all surprised if Marion Cotillard wins an Oscar for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in this remarkably effective biopic.  The film has a complex back-and-forth-in-time structure, which was quite well designed...a lot more satisfying than many of the run-of-the-mill music biopics we've been subjected to over the years.  The wide screen cinematography and acting throughout were simply stunning.  I did get the feeling that the film played a little fast and loose with the actual facts of Piaf's life for dramatic purposes.  But Cotillard's amazing job of inhabiting her character and making us love her despite some unlovable character flaws, took the film to another level (sort of the way that  Jamie Foxx and his Oscar winning turn elevated Ray, a lot more conventionally made biopic.) *** 1/2

PAPRIKA (d. Satoshi Kon)
I guess now I know why I instinctively steer clear of Japanese anime (well, with the exception of Hayao Miyazai, who seems to have a narrative sensibility closer to one I can understand than most.)  This current film about characters experiencing each other's dreams after a dream machine is stolen was beyond my poor powers of understanding.  However, some of the animation, especially most of the dream sequences using screenfulls of various animated characters on parade, was skillfully and beautifully done.  The story?  Eh...!  **

CRAZY LOVE (d. Dan Klores & Fisher Stevens)
I wasn't at all impressed by the trailer for this film, couldn't understand why the festival programmers were so enthusiastic.  Then I experienced this revelation of human nature at its most bizarre, and all I can say is wow!  I had never really followed the events of this film (a very different sort of love story) as they unfolded in the pop press and such tv junk news as Sally Jessy Raphael, Geraldo Revera and Mike Douglas.  Maybe had I lived in New York during the late '50s on, I probably couldn't have avoided it.  But it made a fascinating documentary, although the filmmaking style is very straighforward (lots of big head close up interviews; but very well integrated with live action from the period).  This is going to be one of the most popular documentaries at this festival.  *** 1/4

THE BET COLLECTOR (d. Jeffrey Jeturian)
I've gotten in trouble in the past for panning Philippine films (after a poor review of a film at TIFF, somebody in Manilla wrote me a threatening e-mail, saying I had no right to criticize the film because I don't understand the culture.)  Oh, well.  I'm not going to criticize this film too harshly, so nobody write me threatening e-mail, ok?  This is a meandering film about a middle age married lady who operates as a bet collector for the illegal numbers game which is apparently a huge business in the Philippines.  It doesn't have a strong narrative, mostly it is a slice of her life as she goes about her business, grieves for her dead son, comforts another grieving grandfather and so on.  By the end I felt wistfully grateful that I could share this lady's life for a while; but a number of people walked out when nothing seemed to happen and the film dragged on.  **

Lisa Gerrard wasn't a familiar name to me.  Yet it turns out that I know a lot of her music, especially her film score work in such films as The Insider, Gladiator and Whale Rider.  Only I had always assumed that her etherial, Celtic or Arab sounding non-verbal vocalizing was done by Enya.  Dumb me.  This music documentary is most successful (for me, at least) when it shows interviews with filmmakers and fellow film composers which delve into the creative process of creating film scores.  Gerrard herself when interviewed spouts a lot of New Age platitudes.  But her music is sublime, and that counts for a lot.  ** 3/4

THE CHAMPAGNE SPY (d. Nadav Schirman)
For some reason (namely the description in the press screening flier), I thought this was a fiction film.  Turns out it is yet another documentary (TOO MANY DOCUMENTARIES IN THESE PRESS SCREENINGS!)  This one is by an Israeli crew, mainly interviewing the son of an Israeli spy who worked in Egypt during the late '50s an early '60s.  The subject matter is inherently interesting; and the filmmaking, especially the editing, held up.  ***

I was supposed to also watch GYPSY CARAVAN as the third film today, yet another documentary.  It was highly recommended by people here who saw it in Vancouver; but I don't seem to be able to abide three documentaries in a row...so I skipped the screening.  I know I'll regret it.

AMERICAN SHOPPER (d. Tamas Bojtor & Sybil Dessau)
What defines a mockumentary; and how does one separate this from a straight-on documentary?  That is a question that this film begs.  And the answer in this case is that it doesn't matter.  What we have here is a superior, original work which defies categorization.  I don't care whether it was written and acted, or whether it is on the level...the film is a pure pleasure.  It's all about a new sport, invented in the wacky town of Columbia, MO.  The sport is "aisling", a creative, timed shopping spree competition.  I would think if fight clubs have caught on after their novel/film invention, that this fun, harmless sport has a chance to make it.  In any case, the film is flawlessly shot and edited.  It's very much in the style of a Christopher Guest mockumentary, only with real people instead of seasoned professional actors.  I've been complaining that the pre-festival press screenings have been too heavy with documentaries; but if they all were as captivating and joyous as this one, then I'd gladly watch documentaries all day.  *** 3/4

SEVERANCE (d. Christopher Smith)
This is a well written and well acted horror-comedy mixture.  It breaks no new ground.  Yet it is quite entertaining.  A group of workers for an English defense corporation think-tank get together in the Hungarian forests for a retreat to build team spirit.  They land in the soup, so to speak.  I could pretty well predict the outcome; but the journey was worth taking.  And Danny Dyer is a fox.  ***

AACHI & SSIPAK (d. Joe Bum-jin)
This Korean anime was completely outside of my sphere of interest.  I was bored out of my skull, didn't get it (something about a future world controlled by excrement used as the sole energy supply); but since nobody else was leaving, I stuck it out to my regret.  Some people were obviously amused.   And I'll admit that the animation had a certain 2-D kinetic energy...only it was all unremitting chase sequences and stupid potty humor.  Even as a midnight movie this was horrible.  1/2*

This Malaysian film is an aimless slice-of-life about two guys: one a middle aged fisherman whose wife has died; the other a teenager subsisting on odd jobs.  The pacing is glacial, dialog (what little there is) halting and uninformative.  It has something of the feeling of Joe's [inside reference] Tropical Malady...but without any of that film's beauty or allegory.  The only saving grace is that I really felt that I was getting a true look at the miserable lives led in the social strata covered in this film, sort of a fictionalized documentary.  However the lack of structure and disconnection between the two stories made for a film which failed to work for me.  * 1/2

KING OF KONG (d. Seth Gordon)
Yet another documentary, only this one works.  It's about the video game Kong and the titanic struggle of a nice guy from Washington state to unseat the evasive former world champion (who established his all time record in 1982), and set an accepted Guinness world record score himself.  It's one little man against an entrenched establishment.  The passions and grandiosity of these video game fans make for an involving and occasionally amusing film.  ***

BIG RIG (d. Doug Pray)
Continuing the spate of mediocre documentaries, this one is about truckers and their endless treks across America.  They're a fairly homogeneous bunch in this film:  mostly southern redneck (or at least with accents that indicate such).  The film has a great soundtrack of classic American songs (lots of Johnny Cash and stuff of that ilk).  There's a lot of fast cut montages of highways and byways across the U.S., too many even.  The photography is quite splendid...the film just goes on far longer than its material warrants.  ** 1/2

THIS IS ENGLAND (d. Shane Meadows)
I got the feeling watching this affecting film that it was the English '80s version of Truffaut's 400 Blows.  Now, I have no reason to believe that Shane Meadows (a director I have admired in the past) is telling the story of his own early teens here; but he is the right age and the film rings incredibly true.  The film is the story of a short period in the life of a 13 year old who recently lost his father in the Falkland war (we're heavily steeped in Thatcher times here).  He gets involved with some skinheads, and he comes of age in their company.  Thomas Turgoose may not be an actor of the future caliber of Jean-Pierre Léaud; but he's really fine here as a troubled youth desperately seeking to belong.  The rest of the cast is equally up to the task of re-creating the time and place.   *** 1/4

Yva Las Vegas is a local Seattle personality, a singer and poet, and not incidentally a lesbian.  Her music might have made this documentary worth spending 80 minutes of my life...but the quality of the sound during her performances was quite poor.  The rest of the film is made up of endless interviews with herself, her friends and fellow musicians.  Unfortunately, even though she is an interesting character, the film just doesn't add up to much of interest.  **

DANS PARIS (d. Christophe Honoré)
Here's a test case for big screen vs. DVD.  I happen to have been given the DVD for this film.  Twice I tried to watch it.  Twice I gave up approximately 15 minutes into the film, distracted by real life and bored by the pretensions of the filmmaker allowing his actor to make pleasantries directly to the camera.  That the actors were the undoubtedly attractive Romain Duris and Louis Garrel (playing brothers that no two sets of parental genes could ever produce) didn't seem to matter.  I just couldn't hack it on video.  The film works a lot better on the big screen where it is easier to flow with the narration and follow the action through the ceaseless, intellectually fatuous dialog.  That the central story is based on the depression of failed hetero love vs. the youthful exuberance of three female conquests in the space of 12 hours matters little.  On the big screen the film almost works for me.  ** 1/2

ROCKET SCIENCE (d. Jeffrey Blitz)
Ever since Sundance I've been looking forward with eager anticipation to this film.  It won best director, which is a good sign; and it stars two actors that I've been following in their brief television careers:  Reece Thompson, who had a small, but memorable running role in one of my favorite failed series "Three Moons over Milford"; and Nicholas d'Agosto, who had unforgettable guest-star appearances on "Without a Trace" and "House", which had me noting his name and following his career on the IMdB.  The film didn't disappoint me.  It's the story of a shy high school boy with a pronounced stutter whose infatuation with a girl who would probably best Tracy Flick [movie nerd alert!] in any contest, leads him to join the debate squad, of all things.  Now I was a champion debater when I was in high school, so maybe that has something to do with how much I enjoyed this film.  In any case, the film recalls Say Anything in its take on the angst of teenage love; and its stars (including Anna Kendrick, whom I remember from the film Camp) are going places.  *** 1/4

GOYA'S GHOST (d. Milos Forman)
It's hard to say just a few words about this film.  First of all, Milos Forman is one director who knows his onions about how to make an intimate epic.  The film looks ravishing and re-creates the period of eighteenth century Spain flawlessly.  The acting varies from superb (Stellan Skarsgard, a good natured Goya, and Javier Bardem as a fanatic and charismatic priest) to the merely adequate (Natalie Portman, who hasn't impressed me since she was a pre-teen nymphet seducing Timothy Hutton and Jean Reno in her early films).  The plot relies excessively on some really unlikely coincidences.  Yet it all works somehow.  And the use of Goya's art as counterpoint to the action is very effective.  ***

FEVER OF '57 (d. David Hoffman)
Yet another documentary.  This one is about a period I remember well, since I was a sophomore in high school when Sputnik went up and the world changed.  All of a sudden in was "in" to be a brain.  Hallelujah!   This documentary does a pretty darn good job of showing what went on in those days, how America caught the space bug and how the Cold War escallated.  Oddly enough, President Eisenhower comes off as the hero...something that I was unwilling or unable to see at the time.  Maybe this film is just an example of propaganda...it certainly has a point of view.  For me it was a fascinating look behind the events that I was only dimly aware of at the time.  *** 1/4

SON OF RAMBOW (d. Garth Jennings)
An amusing enough tidbit of a film.  But unfortunately the sound quality in the huge McCaw Hall opera house was horrible.  There was an echo and muddy quality which made most of the dialog unintelligible.  However the visuals were fine on the huge imported wide screen.  For all its visual inventiveness, the film didn't quite work its magic on me.  The audience seemed adequately enthusiastic; but I wonder if the current programmers of SIFF are not taking the opening film seriously enough.  Oh, how I'd hoped for Across the Universe! ***

Now that the festival itself is starting, I'm not sure how much time I'll have to devote to these reviews.  Anyway, I'll try to continue.

GYPSY CARAVAN (d. Jasmine Dellal)
I'd skipped this music documentary at the press screening since Gypsy music doesn't appeal to me all that much.  Yet the reaction of my friends who did see it was so positive that I figured that I ought to catch it at its regular festival screening.  I'm glad I did.  The film is structured around a tour by bus and plane of four groups of Rom (Gypsy) singers and musicians from North India (original home of the Roms, something I learned from this film), Macedonia, Romania and Spain (flamenco originated with the Roms, too...very informative film.)  As the film progresses, we are let into the lives, families and homes of some of the musicians.  These were invariably interesting stories; and even the music turned out to be worthwhile.  I had a little trouble getting into the film, starting to doze at the beginning.  But once the actual stories of the musicians were established, I got involved.   ***

PLEASANT MOMENTS (Hezké chvilky bes záruky) (d. Vera Chytilová)
This is the story of Hanna, a lady psychologist in modern day Prague, who deals with a variety of patients with psychological maladies varying from depressions and mania to marriage problems.  It's also a case of "physician heal thyself", since Hanna has marriage problems herself and a surly, internet obsessed teenage son.  The title is ironic, since very little of Hanna's experiences are pleasant.  The film is shot in a frenetic, hand-held way which adds to its verisimilitude.  And the amazing thing is that it really works.  Partly it was because the leading actress, Jana Janekova, was wonderful.  But mostly it was the script, rich with fascinating characters and always ringing true.  The director is 78 years old; but her film has the energy of the French New Wave.   *** 1/2

THE ISLAND  (Ostrov) (d. Pavel Lounguine)
Several years ago, Pavel Lounguine made my favorite SIFF film of its year, The Wedding .  Ever since then, I've been watching for his films.  He never seems to repeat the same style twice.  And this film is quite different from all of his other films.  It's the story of a man racked with guilt over an act committed in 1942 during the Great Patriotic War.  He is rescued by monks in a deserted island monastery, where he apparently lives a life of toil and repentance for the next 34 years, where the real action of the film picks up in 1976.  The film is strikingly well photographed, the glimpse of the lives of the dedicated Orthodox monks well observed.  If the film comes off as a little too religion  obsessed for my tastes, it is still a case of a fine filmmaker making a film which just doesn't strike my interest all that much.  ***

WAITER (Ober) (d.
Alex van Warmerdam)
Warmerdam in this film is a Jacques Tati type who writes, directs and acts in a kind of strange world physical comedy.  This script is quite reminiscent of the recent film, Stranger Than Fiction, which itself was too reminiscent of the ruminations of Charlie Kaufman.  It's a one joke film about a waiter in a tony restaurant, who is at the mercy of a script writer who is winging his story in the "real world".  The fiction world and the real world interact.  It's clever, but a little tedious after a while since, after all, this really is a one-joke film.  ** 1/2

YOUTH RUN AMOK (short program)
All in all this was a rather dispiriting collection of seven short films about youths ranging from about 9 to 16.  The best of the lot was Warlord: the story of a feral boy who runs away to the forest and starts a tribe of youths.  The film looked good and had something of a point to make.  One other film appealed:  The Saddest Boy in the World.  The title says it all, Timothy is one sad boy whose 9th birthday party is a disaster.  The film looks gorgeous with some of the best set design I've ever seen in a short film.  But the story was unremittingly pessimistic; and the implication seemed to be that the boy was sad because he was going to grow up gay and a misfit.  None of the rest of the films were worth much...and an Irish film, Joyride, was so unpleasant that I zoned out.

KNOCKED UP (d. Judd Apatow)
Apatow is collecting a group of actors (many of them from one of my all-time favorite tv series, "Freaks and Geeks") into a kind of repertory company making increasingly R-rated, sophisticated sex comedies.  Here he's added the breakout star from "Grey's Anatomy", Katherine Heigl (who is fantastic here, surely a future movie star), and Paul Rudd, who is becoming more adept at comedy with every film.  The revelation here, however, is Seth Rogen, a legitimate schlub and the most unlikely choice of leading man in a romantic comedy that one can imagine.  Yet this is the role of a lifetime for him; and he makes the most of it.  There are several cameos by former Apatow finds who have become stars:  fine little turns by James Franco and Steve Carell.  Plus a disasterously badly performed appearance by Ryan Seacrest who shouldn't give up is day job.  This film should be a gigantic hit.  It's clever and funny and wonderfully acted.  I hope it finds its audience.  *** 1/4

My lips are sealed, of course.  ***

ARMIN (d. Ognjen Svilcic)
The best thing about this film was the Romanian short which preceded it (an involving little film about a father and son on a difficult daylong trek to fix the family television).  Not to say that Armin wasn't involving, to some degree.  It was also about a father-son journey...in this case from Bosnia to Croatia for the son to audition for a German film.  The acting was fine...the film just went on a little too long without going much of anyplace.  It did develop the father-son relationship in an interesting way, however.  ** 3/4

TAKVA - A MAN'S FEAR OF GOD (d. Özer Kiziltan)
I believe that the subtitle is a rough translation of the word "Takva".  Like much of this film, a lot of the spiritual stuff went over my head.  Still, this is the sort of film which inspires hours of discussion (and no two people seem to have seen the same film!)  It's the story of a simple, religious man (member of a small, somewhat wealthy Turkish Moslem cult) who is given the responsibility of taking over the tasks of Mammon for the cult by the holy Sheik who manipulates the wealth without soiling his own conscience.  The film features an astoundingly well acted portrayal by actor Erkan Can.  This may be one of the most subtle of indictments of organized religion ever sneaked onto film.  Or it may just be a parable of the power of godless consumerism over righteousness.  Whatever, it's a powerful film.  *** 1/4

MY BEST FRIEND (Mon meilleur ami) (d. Patrice Leconte)
It seems like every other Leconte film is either wonderful or (at least for me) forgettable.  It was the turn for wonderful (his previous film, Intimate Strangers wasn't my cuppa).  And Leconte didn't disappoint.  This delightful comedy is about a self-absorbed man (delightfully well played by Daniel Auteuil) who has no friends, and the taxi driver who despite all befriends him.  Dany Boon is (who plays the taxi driver) is the revelation here.  Inherently sympathetic with his sincere smile and innocent intelligence, he's as likable as Auteuil's character is unlikable.  Together they make a really enjoyable film.  *** 1/2

THEM (Ils) (
d. David Moreau and Xavier Palud)
Normally I give midnight type horror films a pass.  But people who actually saw this one at midnight were so enthusiastic that I decided to change my schedule and watch this.  It's about a French couple in a remote Romanian villa who are terrorized by home invaders.  I'll bet they now wish they had a "panic room".  The digitally shot film looked terrible.  But all in all it was adequately scary...and apparently based on a true story, which makes it all the more creepy, since on the surface the whole plot seems rather unlikely.  ** 3/4

FISH DREAMS (d. Kiril Mikhanovsky)
This Brazilian film (by a Russian director who lives in the U.S.) is a slice of life/coming of age story of a young man who plies his dead father's trade of diving fisherman in a small Northern Brazil fishing port.  The film is just ok, meandering through the boy's life and that of his friends (including his telenovella obsessed girlfriend.)  The story rang true to life, though it isn't a life I would wish to lead.  But at least there was a plot; and even though the open ended resolution wasn't totally satisfying, I was involved with these characters and their problems.  ** 1/2

WAITING FOR HAPPINESS (d. Abderrahmane Sissako)
I think the title of this film should have been "Waiting for Something To Happen...In Vain".  It's another slice of life film, this time taking place in the desert sands of a little seaside village in French North Africa (possibly Mauritania).  The story is so fragile that I couldn't actually find it.  I suppose it is about a young man who is visiting his mother on his way to emigrating to Europe.  But there are fragments of several other stories of people in the village, with no discernible thread to hold them together.  Frankly I was bored.  I need more narrative structure.  Without it, the film is just a collection of vignettes adding up to nothing.  * 3/4

This was billed as an "experimental" film.  Actually, it's quite a clever script about the writer of a book and his characters who come to life as "real" people and also actor/doppelgangers who are playing the same roles in a film about these people.  It sounds more complex than it actually is.  What I liked about the film was that the characters are winning rogues; and the actors are some of the best examples of young acting talent around:  Eddie Kaye Thomas, Kevin Corrigan, Aaron Ruell, Leo Fitzpatrick.  For once I stuck around for the Q&A with the writer/director (who also plays a role in the film).  He seems like a guy who has his head screwed on straight...somebody who is determined to make real American indie films (not the studio preempted product that passes for such today).  I wish him luck.  ***

CHRISTMAS TREE UPSIDE DOWN (d. Ivan Cherkelov and Vassil Jivkov)
This Bulgarian film is made up of six separate sequences, unstructured slices of life in modern day Bulgaria (with one strange regression to a replay of the death of Socrates).  It looks great:  wide screen, lovely countryside compositions.  It's also gritty and earthy, with one unforgettable scene of the butchering of a calf which was probably too graphic for most Americans.  This film reminded me of Kieslowski's Dekalog...not necessarily because it was made in the style of the great Polish director.  Rather because, just as it was hard to figure out the meaning of the Ten Commandments metaphors in the Kieslowski, I couldn't quite figure out the connective thread of these six sequences, none of which were conventional narratives with beginning, middle and end.  Still, the stories were well acted and directed; and each one was a little gem of lifestyle revelation.  By the end, when the connection is revealed, I was impressed by the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.  ***

STRANGE CULTURE (d. Lynn Hershman Leeson)
If the object of a great documentary is to expose a problem, then this one is truly great.  Unfortunately, the problem is the U.S. government's abandonment of its citizens' Constitutional rights and the abuse of power by the government in the wake of 9/11.  Specifically, this is about the persecution  by the F.B.I.
(for suspected bio-terrorism); and the prosecution (eventually for trumped up wire fraud) by the Department of Justice of a college professor who was preparing an artistic exhibit for the Mass MOCA illustrating the possible dire consequences of genetically modified food.  The documentary mixes fictional recreations utilizing some very fine actors, along with interviews of the real people involved (as much as they can be forthcoming considering that the prosecution is still ongoing.)  The film is powerful, well organized, and frightening.  A real wake-up call to all Americans that our government is out of control.  ****

GRIMM LOVE (d. Martin Weisz)
What to say about this film?  It should have been scheduled as a midnight movie since it is rather hard to take.  It's the story of two gay fetishist men, one who literally needs to be eaten, the other compelled to devour a man.  They met on a German cannibalism web site (yes, this is apparently based on a true story).   The movie uses Keri Russell (of all people) as a narrative device.  She's supposed to be a college grad student writing a paper on this sordid affair (it's a long way from "Felicity"...and no, she wasn't the waitress serving up the delectable meal).  The film is shot in a dark, almost colorless palette, which does go with the subject matter.  It's a lot more graphic than I would have ever thought possible.  My reaction throughout ran from embarrassed titters to horror that the human condition could lead to this.  ** 1/2

EL BENNY (d. Jorge Luis Sanchez)
This was Cuba's entry in the 2006-7 foreign language film competition.  It was the one film I missed; so it was inevitable that I'd eventually catch up with it at a film festival...if only for the sake of compulsive completism.  It's an overlong biopic about a Cuban mambo singer who was famous in Central America during the '50s.  It's nice to look at, the music is listenable; but all in all it is too typical a film of its type (cf. Ray.)  ** 3/4

This fine film is a co-production between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, which is a story in itself.  It's a drama about friendships under pressure:  based around a man who is trying to overcome his fear of breaking into the country & western music scene, and his best friend, who runs a shop which repairs small engines along with his son, who longs to escape from the dead-end life in the small rural Irish community.  The story isn't the thing here; rather it's the involving plight of the characters, much of which is expressed by the original C&W songs which are performed by the main character, a very nice touch.  Iain Glen and Steven Mackintosh are outstanding in the roles of best friends whose friendship is about to be tested.   *** 1/4

IT'S WINTER (d. Rafi Pitts)
Iranian films are often iffy propositions for me.  The title of this one is fairly apropos of its theme: poverty and suffering.  A young woman and her daughter are faced with a hard life after her husband emigrates to find work.  She becomes involved with an itinerant workman who has trouble keeping a job; and her life doesn't get any easier.  The slow pace of the film didn't help.  But its themes held my interest, at least.   **

AGUA (d. Verónica Chen)
This film is about two male swimmers, one in his 30s, a former marathon swimmer champion whose career was halted by a trumped up doping charge.  The other a much younger speed swimmer (played by Nicolás Mateo) with a pregnant wife who is having trouble establishing a career.  The older actor, Rafael Ferro, looks like a real swimmer, long arms, exaggerated physique like Michael Phelps.  Both are quite attractive; and much of the film has them in speedos.  Also, much of the film features incredible underwater footage of the swimmers to a natural soundtrack unique to any film I've seen.  It's startlingly beautiful, and brings the competition swimming experience to the audience like nothing before (almost as if shot for a documentary.)  There isn't much story, just how sports swimming must be an obsessive pastime, and how the two men handle this.  I loved this film, although its lack of a cohesive narrative kept it from being a major success.  ***

DOGHEAD (Cabeza de Perro) (d. Santi Amodeo)
This is another film which hit my sweet spot, probably more than it deserves.  It's the story of Samuel, an 18 year old boy/man reaching to escape from strong apron strings after a childhood plagued by a disabling form of epilepsy.  Samuel is played by the incredibly attractive Juan José Ballesta whose career I've been following ever since he burst onto the scene as the 12 year old abused boy in El Bola.  The film is sort of an off-center coming of age story.  It reminded me a little of Cashback, with the same sort of hero:  reluctant to face reality, but charismatic nevertheless.  I don't quite understand the symbolism of "doghead" (a nickname which becomes a kind of mantra for Samuel).  And the film sort of peters out without a resolution.  But the filmmaking is quite original.  This is a director to watch for.  *** 1/4

STRIKE (Strajk - Die Heldin von Danzig)  (Volker Schlöndorff)
Ever since the late '70s and The Tin Drum, I've admired Schlöndorff as a world-class director.  Here he's working at the top of his game in a historical epic about the strike at the Lenin shipyard in Danzig which led to the formation of Solidarity, and ultimately to the destruction of Communism.  He does this by focusing on a lady central to the movement, Agnieszka Kowalska (played by the German actress Katharina Thalbach, who is amazing, despite some occasionally poor dubbing into Polish).  Kowalska's life, ranging from Worker of the Year to personal heartbreak to becoming the soul of Solidarity (at least according to this film) is certainly worthy of a great film.  And Schlöndorff has produced a near masterpiece.  *** 1/2

DAY WATCH (d. Timur Bekmambetov)
Bekmambetov is some sort of visual genius.  He combines some of the best features of George Lucas, Peter Jackson and the Wachovski brothers.  His grand theme here is that of a huge battle (going back centuries) between good and evil, set in present day Moscow.  His first film Night Watch  eluded my comprehension, although I admired its scope and the imagination of its special effects.  Well, this film just does all that better.  Plus now the story seems to cohere; I begin to get a glimmer of what this is all about.  Perhaps it needs more of a knowledge of Russian legends to really get it.  Still, even if some of the elements seem to be clichés borrowed from previous genre films, Bekmambetov has a way of drawing out convincing performances, and an undeniably original visual sensibility.  One scene in particular, two trucks colliding, represents in miniature all that is awesome about this filmmaker's technique.  One other admirable touch:  the animated subtitles are themselves designed as works of art which express the dialog in a unique fashion.  A lot of care has gone into this film to make it acceptable to American audiences.  This one deserves to be seen.  ***

EXILED (d. Johnny To)
A Hong Kong shoot-em-up...incessant gun battles between two factions of a gang with no civilians or police in sight.  Johnny To is emulating Tarentino here, or visa versa.  And it's visually interesting, his films always have that.  But for me, this one was just a big bore. ** 1/4

A FRIEND OF MINE (Ein Freund von mir) (d. Sebastian Schipper)
This is a fine film about a male friendship which crosses class lines.  Daniel Brühl, one of my favorite actors, plays a young, zipped up insurance executive whose boss tries to unzip him by sending him on a fools errand to temporarily work for a rental car company as a driver.  There he meets Jürgan Vogel, free spirited working class guy...and a strange bond occurs, Vogel's id to Brühl's superego.  The film is fun:  fast cars, shared girlfriend, some real character development.  I really enjoyed this film.  *** 1/4

OUTING RILEY (d. Pete Jones)
This is truly the gay version of The Brothers McMullan, and Pete Jones shows some of the same promise as a hyphenate as Ed Burns, although he's not as accomplished as Burns at this point in their careers.  At least this film proves that he has survived his "Project Greenlight" experience.   Jones plays the closeted, 30-something, gay youngest brother in an Irish-American family of 4 boys and a girl, in straight as an arrow Chicago.  Occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, often illuminating and touching, the film overcomes its dingy, digital look.  And Nathan Fillion, who plays the outgoing, older, bad-boy straight brother, continues to prove he's a legitimate leading man of the future.  ***

It's coming to the time in the festival when I'm probably going to have to curtail the time spent on these reviews.  Somehow, I'm getting enough sleep and eating ok; and even more important I'm staying healthy.  But I still feel rushed this morning.  Part of it is that the French Open tennis tournament is going on, and as I try to write this my guy, Novak Djokovic is in big trouble.  This journal seems trivial in comparison to that.  So, for my vast audience out there (who are quite silent in their admiration), all I can say is:  my apologies.

DELIRIOUS (d. Tom Dicillo)
Dicillo showed in Living in Oblivion that he could make a superior comedy about making an indie film.  Here he's working with celebrity the same way.  And it's a delight.  Michael Pitt does his Kurt Cobain thing again, playing a stringy blond, homeless, seemingly naive young guy wandering the streets of New York.  He hooks up with Steve Buscemi, at the top of his game playing a self-absorbed paparazzi.  The story is about this strange friendship, and it works.  ***

THE CLOUD (d. Gregor Schnitzler)
This is a German teen romance under the cloud of a major nuclear plant accident.  The film is well played, the two teenagers are attractive and likable (especially Franz Dinda, whose career I'm going to watch closely).  But the writing leaves a lot to be desired.  I didn't believe that people would act so stupidly (especially the girl and the girl's mother); and the medical stuff seemed to me to be poorly researched.  Still, despite the flaws of the plot, I got involved with the film...mostly because the chemistry of the two leads overcame the bad writing.  ** 3/4

This may well be my last documentary at this festival.  I went because I admire Kieslowski, whom I heard speak at an L.A. screening of his Dekalog a few years ago.  But this film was too dense with talking heads and not very illuminating.  ** 1/4

LIFE ON THE EDGE (d. Ventura Pons)
Here's another director that I'm following, almost always without disappointment.  But this was minor stuff from him.  It's about a friendship between two young men, one a confident, if self-destructive gambler, the other a good looking guy having trouble finding himself and escaping from his overprotective parents.  I often enjoy films about gambling; but here the card games were not handled well...I couldn't follow the gambling logic, so it became just a series of scenes of uninteresting character interplay.  Pons' films are always visually arresting: he has a great eye for the use of color.  I'll continue to watch for films by this Catalan director.  ** 1/2

NO REGRET (d. Leesong Hee-il)
This is a Korean gay film about a prideful orphan released at age 18 from the orphanage, who finally settles in a male sex-shop where he becomes the object of obsessive desire of a young man whose rich parents are determined to marry him off to a suitable girl.  The boy prostitute is played by the almost supernaturally attractive Lee Yeong-Hoon.  The story might have devolved into a kind "Back Street" melodrama; but it does go in a slightly different direction, which was unexpected, and frankly welcome.  ***

THE TEN (d. David Wain)
In the wake of
Kieslowski's Dekalog, it seemed a little cheeky to make film of ten stories tied to the Ten Commandments.  But this is a comedy, with a large cast of familiar American indie performers (but where was Parker Posey?), with Paul Rudd as the introducer who is involved in his own story, told in a black limbo.  As unlikely as it sounds, this is one funny film...broadly acted, for sure; but with an inventive, ribald script which is sure to please its audience if it can find that audience.  One sequence is skillfully animated, another features a ventriloquist dummy with a hard wooden, um, well you get the idea.  *** 1/4

I DON'T WANT TO SLEEP ALONE (d. Tsai Ming-liang)
I've seen every major Tsai film, so I know ahead of time what I'm in for.  As usual there's a crying jag, lots of water, a weird environmental challenge, a hint of sex,  an invisible narrative, and the director's muse Lee Kang-sheng (here playing two mute roles).  I can't say that I actually enjoyed this film; but every Tsai film tantalizes with the hint that there's something illuminating going on just out of my grasp which keeps me focused.  Also, Kuala Lampur, and particularly one flooded ruined building, made for a fascinating location.   ** 1/2

MAN IN THE CHAIR (d. Michael Schroeder)
Christopher Plummer chews the scenery shamelessly; and Michael Angarano (whose doe eyes melt my heart every film he's in) skillfully plays a delinquent teenager in need of a mentor.  The story also is designed to appeal to me:  kid trying to make a high-school film utilizes a bunch of washed up retirees in the Motion Picture Home to help him make his documentary.  So sue me, I loved the film, even though I recognize that it contained every filmmaking cliché in the book.  ***

OUT AT THE WEDDING (d. Lee Friedlander)
Normally I'd steer clear of a lesbian comedy...but this sounded like it might be good.  Well it wasn't.  It started with the script:  a half baked farce of mistaken sexuality and cascading falsehoods which never jelled.  With one exception (the lead actress Andrea Marcellus who seemed like she was in a different movie from everyone else) the acting was horrible, too broad and stereotyped.  Oh, well, I could go on; but I don't like to dwell on the rare total failures at the fest.  Now watch this film waltz away with the Golden Space Needle.  *

My lips are sealed.  *** 1/4

GAGARIN'S GRANDSON (d. Andrey Panin)
There have been several  Russian films featuring a plucky boy (like Vor or last year's The Italian) that I've liked.  This film follows the same blueprint; but it just never involved me.  It's the story of a sickly, semi-successful artist who discovers that he has a much younger half-brother living in an orphanage...only the brother is unmistakably black, and claims that his grandfather was the astronaut Yuri Gagarin during one of his worldwide tour stops in Cameroon.  It never was clear whether this was on the level or some sort of scam.  Maybe that was part of the trouble.  The film is an interesting slice of Russian life today; but that's about the best that can be said for it.  ** 1/2

EMMA'S BLISS (d. Sven Taddicken)
A charming, pastoral, touching film about a female pig farmer and the dying man who literally falls out of the sky on her farm.  It sounds unlikely, and the outcome predictable; but the two actors (Jördis Triebel and Jürgan Vogel, who also impressed in A Friend of Mine) make it work.  *** 1/4

ONCE (d. John Carney)
This Irish film is an extended music video...an off-center romance between a talented folk singing busker and a married Czech girl .  They click musically; and the film has its charms, especially since I really liked the music.  ***

ETERNAL SUMMER (d. Leste Chen and Patrick Mao Huang)
An overwrought melodrama about the friendship of two high school boys, one of whom has a heavy crush on the other.  Both get involved with the same girl; and many tears ensue from all parties.  It sounds like a film I could get into since it parallels my own high school experiences.  The acting wasn't all that bad, the characters well defined and attractive.  But the story was so absurdly coy and contrived that I just felt like laughing at the bathos, although I stifled the temptation since nobody else was laughing.   * 3/4

EXPIRED (d. Cecilia Miniucchi)
A lot of people, especially the women in the audience, hated this film.  For me, it was a fun little satire, sort of a slightly different version of Eagle vs. Shark, which I saw earlier in this festival.  Still, it did get annoying after a while.  It's the story of a meek meter maid (played by Samantha Morton with a perfect American accent) and her budding relationship with a fellow parking enforcer who is a real jerk (effectively portrayed by Jason Patrick).  The characters are too unremittingly stereotyped.  But Morton's character does develop in an interesting way, and the film is not without insight.  ** 1/2

LITTLE BOOK OF REVENGE (Guide de la petite vengeance) (d. Jean-François Pouliot)
This French Canadian black comedy is about an accountant working for a rapacious jeweler, who gets involved in a complex plot of revenge against his bully of a boss.  It's a clever, original concept; but somehow it just missed for me.  ** 3/4

YELLA (d. Christian Petzold)
The first of three German films in a row.  On the surface, this film is an interesting story about a young woman who leaves her failure of a husband to get involved with a slightly crooked traveling financier.  But a lot more is going on under the surface...which I figured out too early in the film.  Still, quite an enjoyable film in a quiet way, even if I never could grasp the business concepts.  ***

GRAVE DECISIONS (Wer früher stribt ist länger tot) (d. Marcus H. Rosenmüller)
This is a comedy about a precocious 11 year old boy's preoccupation with death when his much older brother breaks the news to him that he caused his mother's death in childbirth.  The child actor is cute, but his acting left something to be desired.  The story has some fantasy dream sequences which reminded me a little of Pan's Labyrinth, and this film plays a little like that film, only as farce rather than drama.  It didn't quite work for me.   ** 1/2

HOUNDS (Jagdhunde) (d. Ann-Kristin Reyels)
The film broke twice during this screening.  Both times, the 10 minute break in the action just served as a reminder of how much I was into this story, even though there isn't much of a story being told.  What is going on is a subtle and interesting teen romance between a boy who is caught between his separated parents, and a deaf girl whose father wishes to keep the teens apart.  What mainly distinguished this film were the performances by the two teenage actors, especially the boy (Constantin von Jascheroff) who was so expressively naturalistic.  But it also was a well written, quite affecting story of a dysfunctional family dynamic.  *** 1/4

SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY (d. Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
I should have known better than to try to watch this at 9:45 after 5 other films.  I made it through 25 minutes...and honestly I was enjoying it.  But I was also nodding off, so I'll catch this one elsewhere.

Sorry, but I'm going to fall behind.  Too much French Open tennis (go Nola!) and frivolous personal correspondence to do.  I'll try to catch up with my SIFF journal later today.

JOSHUA (d. George Ratliff)
We have a winner.  No, it won't be to everybody's taste.  It also is going to have an upward slog at the box office, since it doesn't fall into a convenient genre niche.  It's a psychological thriller which will probably be sold as a horror film, which it manifestly isn't.  It's the story of a New York yuppie family and the precocious 9 year old boy who has problems adjusting to the birth of his baby sister.   The acting is superb, career bests or near bests for Sam Rockwell, Vera Farmiga, Dallas Roberts (who impressed in Home at the End of the World) and newcomer kid actor Jacob Kogan, who manages to menace with total lack of expression.  No, this isn't The Omen.  Rather something a lot more realistic and interesting.  I found myself tied up in knots of tension, which lasted through the entire film and led to much discussion and food for thought.  *** 1/2

SONS (Sonner) (d. Erik Richter Strand)
 This Norwegian film is the story of a pedophile who preys for years on boys in a small town...and the attempt at revenge by some of his "victims".  It sounds like an easy way to win points for political correctness, except that the film plays in a gray zone where everybody is culpable.  Even the pedophile has his sympathetic moments, which couldn't happen in an American film.  Tense, well played, the film develops in unpredictable ways.  *** 1/4

BAD FAITH (Mauvaise foi) (d. Roschdy Zem)
This Belgian film is a social comedy about a relationship between an Arab man (played by the director, who has become quite familiar in French films playing Arab-French roles) and a Jewish woman (the premiere gamine of the day, Cécile de France) in present day Belgium.  Each has been keeping the relationship secret from their respective families for four years until the woman becomes pregnant, when the film becomes a sort updated version of Guess Who's Coming For Dinner.  The film handles the religious aspect very realistically.  Nice script, well directed, ultimately too "feel good" for its own good.  ***

SUMMER RAIN (El Camino de los ingleses)  (d. Antonio Bandaras)
Bandaras is trying to emulate Almodovar; but he makes a muddle of the story (from an obviously arty novel about Spanish youths out of control).  What I liked about the film was Bandaras's off center compositional sense, which made the film look great.  It also comes off as  super pretentious.  The fault isn't with the actors, however.  I especially liked the lead actor, Alberto Amarilla.  Alas, he's not a young Bandaras, too lightweight a presence for that.  ** 3/4

A PARTING SHOT (d. Pas douce) (d. Jeanne Waltz)
The title in English is a complete mistranslation (in French the title means "Not Tender", a quote from the film); but it's probably a more apropos description of the film, which is yet another psychological thriller.  Isild le Besco is one of the more interesting young French actresses.  She isn't particularly pretty; but she has a unique persona...mixing wildness and strength.  I like her.  Here she is playing a nurse in a French-Swiss border town hospital.  For a reason I won't disclose, she becomes involved with one of her patients, a troubled teenage boy (played with enormous magnetism by newcomer Steven de Almeida).  I was completely involved in this film.  It might not be great art; but it is a tight, original script which got to me.  *** 1/4

ALMOST ADULT (d. Yousaf Ali Khan)
Just an o.k. film, about a 17 year old girl from Camaroon who is trying to emigrate to Britain after a hard life and horrendous (but untold in the film) journey.  She befriends another, younger refugee girl.  The film plays like a docudrama; but it never rises above its expectations. ** 1/2

DASEPO NAUGHTY GIRLS (Dasepo Sonyo) (d. E J-yong)
I know I'm getting old when a film about high school which seems to be popular with audiences just totally eludes me, puts me to sleep, even angers me with its vapid script and silly attempts at being a hip musical.  It has some visual pleasures, which lift it from the realm of total time waster, but only by a silly millimeter.  A guy behind me laughed like a hyena throughout the film; but I hardly ever even cracked a smile.  I have the feeling that the director watched High School Musical and learned all the wrong lessons.  He tried to get some of the same feeling of youthful high jinx as that film, only from a Korean society point of view.  It didn't work for me.  *

THE SILENCE  (d. Cate Shortland)
This Australian policier/thriller is a kind of impressionistic James Ellroy story.  I think I got the gist of what was going on in the complex "cold case" plot, even if the motivations remain obscure.  But the accents were thick, and often the dialog so muddy that I missed crucial lines which might have made the whole thing clearer.  The film is shot in a claustophobic way, with lots of close ups and studies of crime scene photographs which reminded me of Antonioni's Blowup in the way the plot is advanced by gradual understanding of the implications of the photographs.  This is the kind of film which demands discussion afterwards.  Too bad none of my usual filmgoing buds were at this screening.  ** 3/4

TO GET TO HEAVEN YOU FIRST HAVE TO DIE (Bihisht Faqat Baroi Murdagon) (d. Djamshed Usmonov)
The story (what there is of it) is about a 20 year old married guy in modern day Tajikistan, who at the start of the film is visiting a doctor to try to figure out why he can't seem to get it up with his wife.  The film becomes a travelogue, as he wanders about stalking women (in an innocent way) trying to establish his virility.  What I liked about this film was the innocence of its main character, played with almost total passivity by Khurshed Golibekov.  It won't be enough for most viewers; but just watching the gradual budding of his libido was enough to keep my interest in the film from flagging.  Oh, yeah, there is some action at the end of the film if you wait it out.  ***

RED WITHOUT BLUE (d. Brooke Sebold, Todd & Benita Sills)
I've watched too many documentaries at this festival; but this one was a must-see.  It's a film about identical boy twins from Montana, and their difficult, but differently handled,  adjustments to sexual identity from adolescence on.  It's a fascinating tale; but the execution stopped just short of outstanding...the editing was jumpy and sometimes muddled.  Still, it's a very honest and illuminating look into a very different sort of family life.  *** 1/4

ALIVE (Zhivoy) (d. Alexander Veledinsky)
This is a Russian existential ghost story about one of the survivors of a platoon of soldiers fighting in Chechnya, and his aimless travels after his release from the hospital accompanied by the ghosts of his dead comrades.  Andrei Chadov commands the screen in a charismatic portrayal of the soldier who survives after losing a leg.  But the film is a mishmash plotwise.  One interesting point:  I thought that the actor playing the priest at the end of the film might have been played by the same actor as the lead, even though they were on screen together.  Turns out that the two actors are brothers in real life. ** 3/4

SWAY (Yureru) (d. Miwa Nishikawa)
This is an excellent Japanese courtroom drama about two brothers, one of whom may or may not have pushed a woman they both were involved with from a bridge.  Well acted and directed.  The only flaw is that the film plays with subjective reality.  I'm still not sure what actually happened.  *** 1/2

I REALLY HATE MY JOB (d. Oliver Parker)
Five women run a tony London restaurant when the chef takes a day off.  The film has all of the flaws of a one-act play transposed to film, especially incessant, overly written dialog, and claustrophobic set design.  I found the film extremely annoying, like fingernails on a chalkboard.  Some good (if inconsistent) acting was wasted in this lame effort.   * 3/4

LA LEÓN (d. Santiago Otheguy)
Nothing much happens in this film of thwarted passions taking place in some remote Argentinian jungle delta.  It looks gorgeous, however, in beautifully realized black and white by a master cinematographer who knows his color filters.  There's a brief, chaste gay sex scene...oh, yeah, the lead character is a masculine gay guy, sort of a fish out of water in this macho, backwater society.  But mostly is gloriously photographed boredom.  * 1/2

LOVESICKNESS (Maldeamores) (d. Carlitos Ruíz Ruíz & Mariem Pérez)
Three (or maybe four) disconnected, but intercut stories of ruined love affairs at various stages, played mostly for comedy.  It all takes place in Puerto Rico and has one familiar face in the cast, Luis Guzman.  The credits all around are first rate, good script, effective acting and direction.  It looks great, the art direction is especially effective in the use of color and interesting locations.  But I didn't particularly connect with any of the stories, and found myself dozing through the middle section.  Still, an interesting, audience pleasing film.  ** 3/4

LIKE MINDS (d. Gregory J. Read)
Imagine Donna Tartt's "Secret History" combined with The Da Vinci Code and you sort of get where this dark, Gothic, psychological thriller is coming from.  Secret societies, Knights Templar, murders in a remote English boarding school, police, forensic psychologist, gorgeous boys run amok in a Leopold and Loeb kind of relationship...the film is a mess, but an always fascinating mess.  Eddie Redmayne (who played Matt Damon's son in The Good Shepherd) is outstanding here as the schoolboy caught up in murders and mysterious conspiracies.  Toni Collette is the forensic psychologist who is supposed to untangle the mess.  The film is quite vague as to time and place...it's an Australian film, but it takes place in a bleak snow-covered British limbo.  I loved this film, despite all its flaws.  Not that I have a clue what it was all about.   *** 1/4

BEAUTY IN TROUBLE (Kraska V Nesnazich) (d. Jan Hrebejk)
Hrebejk has been one of my favorite directors for years.  Recently he's been making warm, multi-character, family oriented romantic dramadies which examine life in post-Communist Czech Republic.  Marcela (the luminous Ana Geislerová) is married to a lunk who runs a stolen car chop shop.  She has two cute kids, and some peculiar parents and in-laws, all of whom are well limned, novel characterizations.  The story also is concerned with the son of émigrés to Tuscany in '56; and there are some really lovely shots of the Tuscan countryside.  A really pleasant, humanistic film.  *** 1/4

LOVE & DANCE (Sipur Hatzi Russi) (d. Eitan Anner)
This film is billed as the Israeli Billy Elliott; but it's more like a kid's eye version of Shall We Dance? .  It's also a comedy about the way cultured Russians are having trouble integrating into the nyekulturny Israeli society.   It's too bad that they couldn't have found a kid actor who was a better actor or dancer.  Still, this was an audience friendly film with a can't miss, involving plot. 
** 3/4

MAX HAVELAAR (d. Fons Rademakers)
SIFF has brought back this 1976 Dutch epic which savages the colonial practices in the Dutch East Indies during the mid-19th Century.  It's a beautiful print, marred only by a noisy, static filled soundtrack.  I thought the film was a little too obvious in its politics.  It's long, with an intermission.  The first half takes its time establishing the milieu and ends with a much too long speech by the Max Havelaar character (a principled, but naive, colonial official).  But the second half really catches fire, as corruption and custom overwhelm Havelaar.  Especially notable is Jan de Bont's cinematography, which captures the jungle panoramas about as well as its ever been done.  ***

THE MEMORY THIEF (d. Gil Kofman)
This is yet another example of why I go to film festivals.  I had no preconceived feelings about this film one way or another, no scuttlebutt.  But the film simply blew me away.  It features an astounding performance by Mark Webber (who has always been a favorite of mine),  reminiscent of Ryan Gosling in The Believers  (but portraying the polar opposite character).  It's the story of a rootless young man who becomes so obsessed with the Holocaust and the testimony of survivors that he goes over the edge.  It's a totally novel take on the Holocaust film; plus an impassioned examination of what it means to be a Jew.  I hope this film finds an audience.  *** 3/4

This year they are apparently checking blogs, so once again my lips are sealed. ** 3/4

I hate it when films are given different titles at different festivals.  Last year's Nouvelle Chance was retitled Oh La La! here, and I fell for it.  After a minute I was sure I'd already seen the film, and after two I was certain.  So I walked and managed to catch the delightful Mr. Brooks playing at the same multiplex in the space reserved for Oh La La!

RETRIBUTION (Sakebi) (d. Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
Kurosawa was a SIFF "emerging master" in 2001, and this film is in the same realm of policier/ghost story as Cure, which played in that festival.  Once again we're faced with serial murders by different perpetrators.  Once again Kôji Yakusho plays a harried policeman, this time haunted by a ghost from his past.  Kurosawa's films are always visually interesting, and he's a master of the creepy soundtrack.  But his complex, Japanese Gothic plots usually mystify me and leave me cold.  ** 3/4

BROKEN ENGLISH (d. Zoe Cassavetes)
John, Nick, now Zoe...the Cassavetes clan runneth over with talent.  And this film may just be my favorite of the lot.  It's Parker Posey's film, and this girl is hitting her stride, carrying this film with a plucky, sensitive, warm performance as a modern girl who is too needy to find the right guy.  When she does (and that guy happens to be Melvil Poupaud, my favorite French actor since he was 12 and played Jack Hawkins in the French Treasure Island) she almost blows it.  Simply put, I loved this entertaining romantic comedy.  *** 1/2

NOISE (d. Matthew Saville)
Things must be pretty dire in Australia.  They're sending us right and left all these tough policiers with multiple gun shot victims.  This one is pretty darn good, featuring a horrendous mass murder on a subway train and a cop with tinnitus who stumbles into the middle of it all.  Saville has an eye for filling the wide screen frame interestingly, sort of an Aussy Johnny To.  He also simulates the hearing effects of tinnitus quite effectively.  The story develops a little too predictably, I thought.  But this was a solid thriller.  ***

EVENING (d. Lajos Koltai)
 A gorgeous film with an impeccable international cast, all of whom had perfect American accents.  Also a convoluted plot which ultimately shattered me emotionally.  But to my surprise a lot of people were critical, calling it overlong, confusing, even pretentious.  It's an American "film of quality", which is a difficult feat to pull off.  But like The Hours, which it resembles in structure (not surprising since Michael Cunningham wrote the script in both cases) great acting and direction make for a fascinating couple of hours.  *** 1/2

WALK THE TALK (d. Matthew Allen)
This is another film which I liked a lot more than most of the people I talked to.  It's the story of a more or less sincere, but certainly financially successful, self-help guru, and how his ostensibly squeaky clean (but hypocritically so) family is affected by the introduction of their "bad boy" young cousin into the family.  I was impressed by Cary Elwes, who pulls off the difficult task of self-help guru about as well as Tom Cruise did in Magnolia.  The story rang true to me, although it probably was too neat and predictable for most.  ** 3/4

FRESH AIR (Friss levegö) (d. Agnes Kocis and Andrea Roberti)
  A mother and daughter square off in present day Hungary.  The mother is a washroom attendant, obsessed with fighting odors with air freshener.  Her teenage daughter is obsessed with fresh air, constantly opening every window that her mother has closed, which is symbolic of their relationship.  It's a slice of life film, slow to develop, but ultimately satisfying as a peek into a strata of modern life that isn't well represented in films.  ***

SHELTER ME (Riparo) (d. Marco Simon Puccioni)
Two lesbians on a trip to Morocco unwittingly smuggle an Arab teenage boy into Italy.  It's an unpromising premise, at least to prejudiced me; but the film works.  It's an examination of class and sexuality, and it develops in unpredictable ways, with no compromises for easy political correctness.  I would probably never watch this film anywhere else but at SIFF.  Certainly, if it played at OUTFEST in Los Angeles, where there is an absolute separation between the audiences for gay and lesbian films, I wouldn't go.  But Seattle and SIFF is a much more ecumenical milieu.  I'm glad I was able to watch this well written and acted Italian film.  *** 1/4

THE PAPER WILL BE BLUE (Hirtia va fi Albastra) (d. Radu Muntean)
A dark, but occasionally wryly humorous, film about a bumbling squad of militia men in Bucharest the night before the coup that unseated the Ceausescus.  It's all about the fog of war, how in a period of civil upheaval it's hard to distinguish sides, or even what is transpiring in the big picture.  I can't say I loved the film; but it certainly does succeed in its mandate.  ***

SURVEILLANCE (d. Paul Oremland)
Like Red Road, this is a film about the ubiquity of surveillance cameras in today's Britain.  It's also a creepy, overly complex film about the unfettered power of the "establishment" to do anything to cover up a gay scandal in the Royal family.  The problem is that it isn't very well acted and confusingly edited, although the gay protagonist who is the focus of the massive cover-up, is pretty good.  This is more a bad tv movie than a feature film.   ** 1/4

KYLE (d. John Bradburn)
Here's a couple of things I'd rather have done than watch this film:  have a tooth extracted without Novocaine.  Stare at the green EXIT sign to the right of the screen for 90 minutes (which is what I mostly did).  It starts out with an out of focus fly on the lens and goes down hill from there.  It wouldn't be so bad, even though almost nothing happens the entire film, except for the incredibly shaky hand held camera (it gave me motion sickness during several scenes); and terrible, artier than thou compositions (e.g. a five minute monolog scene shot out of focus with just a little girl's nostril in focus in tight closeup on the right edge of the screen).  This was an insufferable film and whoever programmed it for SIFF should be shot.  1/2* (and I'm being generous because at least there was an image on screen at all times.)

MY FRIEND AND HIS WIFE (Naeui Chingu, geneui anae) (d. Shin Dong-il)
It took a while; but when this powerful relationship drama took hold, it packed a wallop.  It's the story of a young Korean married couple who (in an unprecedentedly graphic birth scene) have a child.  The groom's best friend is a self-involved investment broker...and when a terrible tragedy ensues, caused by the best friend but covered up by the husband out of misguided friendship, the melodrama gets messy.  It's an affecting film, and rang quite true to life for me, even though I wanted to reach into the screen and throttle everyone involved.  ***

DOL (d. Hiner Saleem)
The Kurds are a truly smitten people.  Only in the new Iraq are they able to live in some semblance of freedom.  They are ruthlessly downtrodden in Turkey and Iran; and this is a story about several Kurds who are searching for stability in a dangerous world.  The cinematography and scenery are spectacular:  bleak hilly vistas, rocky gorges, picturesque villages.  There are several fragmented stories of various freedom fighters and refugees in the film.  The characterizations are sketchy; but the film does make its dramatic points quite effectively.   ** 3/4

STEALTH (Comme des voleurs:  À l'est) (d. Lionel Baier)
Baier wrote, directed and starred in this film, playing a gay Swiss guy searching for his Polish roots, and in the process discovering the roots of his own gay sexuality.  His previous film, Stupid Boy, gave no indication that Baier was such a talented all around filmmaker and inspired poet.   In essence, this is very similar to Everything Is Illuminated, which was also a road trip film about a boy searching for his roots in Poland.  However, Baier's film is more grounded in reality, and, frankly, a superior effort.  This is apparently the first film of a planned tetrology (East, North, South & West).  I think Baier may just have the right stuff to pull it off.  *** 1/4

SEX AND DEATH 101 (d. Daniel Waters)
Nobody comes off very well in this romantic comedy which is short on both romance and comedy.  The director is primarily known as a writer (he wrote Heathers); but this film is overwritten to a fault with precious, pretentious dialog that no actor should ever be forced to deliver.  Even Simon Baker, an attractive actor with great presence, is defeated here.  And let's not even mention the train wreck of a performance that  Winona Ryder delivers.  Baker plays a rake who is fated to bed 101 conquests from a list created by some mysterious computer oracle which contacts him by e-mail.  This is a straight male wish-fulfillment fantasy; and admittedly some guys are going to find its slick, Playboy centerfold world an easy turn-on.  However, the film is fundamentally misogynistic.  It looks great, though.  **

NU. (d. Jan-Willem van Ewijk)
This film reminds me a little of last year's Old Joy .  It's basically a road trip from Holland to Belgium by two thirty-something unfulfilled guys who sort of find themselves over the course of the trip, which includes a humorous nude romp through country and city.  The film is notable for its polyglot soundtrack.  The director, who plays one of the two guys, is fluent in Dutch and perfect American English.  Another characters is  a woman in a coma who is dreaming in French while being talked to in Russian by her mother.  It's that kind of film.  Oddly enough, I found the mood of the film sort of enchanting.  The two guys are not at all likable; but the film as a whole is quietly charming.  ** 3/4

CONFESSIONS OF PAIN (d. Andrew Lau & Alan Mak)
Like the original Infernal Affairs , which was also directed by this pair, this is a complex Hong Kong policier which I couldn't process entirely in one viewing.  This time the two contrasting cops are played by Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro, who are both excellent, as usual.  This is a visual feast, the wide screen  cinematography is outstanding, the direction assured.  I'm not even going to try to parse the plot here.  It's just a pleasure to experience a genre film of such consummate professionalism.  *** 1/4

THE BOSS OF IT ALL (d. Lars von Trier)
Usually comedies don't travel well from culture to culture.  And the thought of a von Trier comedy is in itself an oxymoron.  But by gosh this weird office satire worked.  It's funny, trenchant, relevant.  And for once, von Trier isn't bashing the U.S.  Instead he's poking fun at the business cultures of Iceland and Denmark.  It's a pleasant diversion.  ***

HOW IS YOUR FISH TODAY?  (Jin tian de yu zen me yang?)  (d. Xiaolu Guo)
I'm not sure how to describe this film.  It's sort of an impressionistic documentary about a fictional version of the director playing a screenwriter traveling to the northernmost, bleakest point of China, the icebound village of Mohe.  This screenwriter is also writing a script about a character who is also traveling through China to the same place, which plays as a film within the film.  It sounds more complex than it actually turns out to be.  And the film is not without beauty and oddball charm.  ** 3/4

7 YEARS  (d. Jean-Pascal Hattu)
Leave it to the French to come up with a novel variation on the ménage à trois.  In this case it's a man in prison for seven years, his sexy wife, and the prison guard charged with watching the prisoner.  It's a terrific film...I was reminded by the prison stuff of the fine Spanish film Darkbluealmostblack.  However, this is a pretty straightforward relationship drama with some excellent performances.  I'm adding Jean-Pascal Hattu to my list of first time directors to watch for.  Ditto the attractive actor who played the prison guard, Cyril Troley.  *** 1/4

BLACK WHITE + GRAY (d. James Crump)
I must admit that I, too, had never heard of Sam Wagstaff before.  Sure, I knew that Robert Mappelthorpe (I have a 1st degree of separation with him, by the way) had an older lover, sugar daddy who was instrumental in his career.  But I didn't know that Wagstaff was also an incredibly astute collector of photos of all types, but especially important late 19th, early 20th century anonymous art photos of all types.  This is a way above averagely interesting documentary, featuring pithy interviews with such friends as Patti Smith and Dominick Dunne.  And the montages of the photographs that Wagstaff collected are dynamite...he certainly had an eye which is in sync with my own tastes.  I'd kill for some of those photographs.  *** 1/4

VACATION (d. Thomas Arslan)
A slow German film about a large, fractured family who all come together at the family's large country house.  Not much transpires except for the gradual peeling away of the family's fissures.  It's all very naturalistic, with lots of cuts to wind blown sycamores to show the passage of days.  The acting was uniformely realistic to a fault, in this case not a bad thing because I believed these people.  In its own good time, the film moved me; although I can't say I loved it.  ** 3/4

ISKA'S JOURNEY (Iszka Utazása) (d. Csaba Bollók)
Iska is a Hungarian teenage girl who lives hand to mouth supporting her drunken, abusive parents and sickly younger sister by scavenging in a junkyard.  It's an affecting little story; but it didn't have anything to hook my emotional response to.  Iska was just too passive and complicit in her own fate for me to be totally on her side.  An exercise in miserablism.  ** 1/2

FRENCH FOR BEGINNERS (Französisch für Anfänger) (d. Christian Ditter)
A PG-13 teenage romantic comedy which is both tender and just a little wild.  Also the actors are gorgeous, especially the lead, a young Christian Bale look-alike, François Göske.  He plays a shy German boy who is flunking French class; but he has a crush on a girl who is in a group of Francophiles about to leave on an exchange student expedition to France.  He joins the group and eventually comes of age.  This isn't exactly American Pie;  it's a lot more innocent.   It's also a guilty pleasure since it certainly is a piece of filmic fluff, this year's Sommersturm without the gay element; but I enjoyed it immensely.  ***

HOW TO COOK YOUR LIFE (d. Dorris Dörrie)
Due to traffic on the bridges coming back to Seattle from Bellevue (the equivalent of the trip from Oakland to S.F.), I had to change my plans and watch this documentary about a Zen priest/chef named Edward Brown, who is apparently famous for writing cookbooks which integrate Zen principles into his food preparation.  Unexpectedly, I loved this film.  Too bad I watched it hungry, because all the food looked so delicious.  But it was Brown's personality and philosophy which really shined here.  His passion for life and food was really infectious. *** 1/2

ONE DAY LIKE RAIN (d. Paul Todisco)
The director of this horrendous, pretentious, monumentally awful film learned all the wrong lessons from Donnie Darko (which I think he's trying to emulate).  I actually don't have a clue what it's all about, some weird suburban Valley girl and her friends involved with the end of the world.  The dialog was so poorly written that it made every actor look extremely amateurish  (with the exception of Jesse Eisenberg who was scandalously wasted in his small role).  I'd have paid a fortune to buy back the hour and a half I wasted on this film.  But the short that played with it, "The Job", was a small masterpiece.  0*

It turns out that people are actually reading this blog...I've gotten lots of positive feedback during some of the recent screenings.  Thanks for reading, people!  Anyway, for my vast audience ;-) I'm sorry to say that after staying up until after 3AM doing data entry for the Fool Serious Awards (Emma's Bliss, most liked film; Kyle least liked film YAY!;The Man of My Life, best director YAY!; Christian Bale and Marion Cotillard best actors YAY!) I'm falling behind in my write-ups.  I will catch up, plus write a final wrap-up of the festival as soon as I can.

TRAINWRECK: MY LIFE AS AN IDOIT (d. Todd Harrison Williams)
Jeff Nichols is a real person, portrayed with unexpected sensitivity by Seann William Scott in what has to be his first adult, serious role.  The film is based on Nichols' unpublished (as of yet) memoir; and according to the writer, who was at the screening, the script has been tweaked for comic effect, characters combined, events condensed.   Nichols has ADD, Tourettes, dyslexia (thus the "idoit" for "idiot" in the title), alcoholism, balance disorder, and god only knows what else.  But he has worked through a lot of it, and has become a rather successful stand up comedian telling funny stories from his life.  Hence the film, which turns out to be both funny and touching.  And Gretchen Mol adds to her collection of quirky roles in American indies with a fine portrayal as Nichols' girl friend.  ***

DRAMA/MEX (d. Gerardo Naranjo)
This was one of the major surprises of the festival for me.  It's an interlacing of two separate (but cleverly connected) stories among the amoral teenagers of modern day Acapulco.  The script is clever (and hard to summarize without giving away too much); but let's just say it is  sort of an Y Tu Mama Tambien  that mid-career Antonioni might have made.  The hand held camera work was superb, the acting (by unfamiliar actors who apparently were not professionals) and direction assured.  I loved this film.  *** 1/2

EUPHORIA (Ejfroija) (d. Ivan Vyrypaev)
Passions taken to extremes on the treeless Russian steppes in this almost wordless, austere, beautifully photographed, but ultimately overcooked romantic drama.  Imagine Inge's Picnic with almost no dialog combined with The Postman Always Rings Twice...and you get the idea.  ** 1/2

No clue from these tightly closed lips; but this film ranked in the top three of films I was hoping to see at SIFF before the slate was announced.  Nice job, Carl!  Now maybe next year I'll do the Secret Festival again, even though on the average the film choices were somewhat disappointing for the third year in a row.  *** 3/4

The Dwights are a colorful, kooky Australian family.  Mom (Brenda Blethyn in her best scene-chewing mode, although nowhere near as over-the-top as in Little Voice) and two sons (one a high-functioning "spastic" in his mother's own words, the other a normal 20-something needing  desperately to cut the apron strings.)  The film is occasionally funny and touching; but this story has been told better in Mike Leigh films.  ***

GETTING HOME (Luo ye gui gen) (d. Zhang Yang)
There are at least three films playing at this years SIFF about traveling through China, and I've seen two or three other films with this concept also this year.  China is "in" right now.  This one at least has a clever and amusing rationale for the travel, one that I'm not going to give away because its novelty is just about all there is unique to this film.  It's a diverting black comedy road picture with an extraordinary central performance by Benshan Zhou.  *** 1/4

IT DOESN'T HURT (Mne ne bolno) (d. Alexey Balabanov)
My festival ended with a thud with this Russian yuppie romantic comedy, which was far too talky and unfocused.  It had one interesting performance, the nebbish leading guy played by Aleksandr Yatsenko.  However, the lead girl (Renata Litvenova) was quite good looking; but I found her incessant, self-involved chatter annoying in the extreme.  **

Already seen:
12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST (d. Cornelia Porumboiu) **
THE ART OF CRYING (d. Peter Fog) *** 1/4
THE BANQUET (d. Feng Xiaogang) ** 1/4
BLACK IRISH (d. Brad Gunn) *** 1/4
BORN AND BRED (d. Pablo Trapero) ** 1/2
THE BOTHERSOME MAN (d. Jens Lien) *** 1/4
THE BUBBLE (d. Eytan Fox) *** 1/4
CASHBACK (d. Sean Ellis) ***
CHILDREN (d. Ragnar Bragason) *** 1/2
CONGORAMA (d. Philippe Felardeau) ** 3/4
DARKBLUEALMOSTBLACK (d. Daniel Sanchez Arévalo) *** 1/2
FAIR PLAY (d. Lionel Bailliu) *** 1/4
FALKENBERG FAREWELL (d. Jesper Ganslandt) **
FOUR MINUTES (d. Chris Kraus) *** 1/4
GHOSTS OF THE CITÉ SOLEIL (d. Asger Leth) Violent, confusing docu; a Haitian City of God. Rappers in the slums get screwed. ***
GLUE (d. Alexis dos Santos) ** 1/2
GOLDEN DOOR (d. Enanuele Crialise) ***
HULA GIRLS (d. Lee Sang-il) **
THE MAN OF MY LIFE (d. Zabou Breitman) *** 3/4 (My favorite film at the Toronto Film Fest)
THE MISSING STAR (d. Gianni Amelio) ***
MONKEY WARFARE (d. Reginald Harkema) * 3/4
NEVER AGAIN AS BEFORE (d. Giacomo Campiotti) *** 1/4
ONE TO ANOTHER (d. Jean-Marc Barr & Pascal Arnold) *** 1/4
OH LA LA! (d. Anne Fontaine)
OUTSOURCED (d. John Jeffcoat) **
PARIS, JE T'AIME (d. Various) *** 1/4
PRAGUE (d. Ole Christian Madsen)  *** 1/2
RED ROAD (d. Andrea Arnold) Moral ambiguity abounds in this well made, subtle thriller. *** 1/4
REMAINS OF THE DAY (d. James Ivory) High quality film about a butler's loyalty.  *** 1/2

REPRISE (d. Joachim Trier) *** 1/2
RESCUE DAWN (D. Warner Herzog) *** 3/4
SALTY AIR (d. Alessandro Angelini) *** 1/2
SALVADOR (d. Manuel Huerga) ***
THE SINGER (d. Xavier Giannoli) ** 1/4
SUMMER '04 (d. Stefan Krohmer) *** 1/4
SWEET MUD (d. Dror Shaul) *** 1/2
TELL NO ONE (d. Guillaume Canet) *** 1/4
TEN CANOES (d. Rolf de Heer, Peter Djigirr) ** 1/2
TOMORROW MORNING (d. Oleg Novkovic) * 3/4
VITUS (d. Fredi M. Murer) *** 3/4
WHITE PALMS (d. Szabolcs Hadju) *** 1/4
THE YACOUBIAN BUILDING (d. Marwan Hamed) ** 3/4
THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY (d. Peter Weir) Groundbreaking 1982 film.  *** 1/2
YOSSI & JAGGER (d. Eytan Fox) *** 1/4

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