The full list of films playing at the 2009 SIFF has been published.  So far I've identified 42 films that I've seen at other film festivals.   My brief festival reviews and ratings of all these films can be found here

I arrived in Seattle on Sunday May 10th after a fortuitously uneventful auto trip up the coast from L.A.  I'm well settled, and today (Monday) was the first day of press screenings for me.

All films rated with **** (masterpiece) being the best.

(L'heure d'été)  (d. Olivier Assayas)
I watched this film at last year's Toronto festival and my enthusiastic journal entry can be found here.   I can only add that the second viewing was even more impressive and moving if that is possible.  What is so amazing about what Assayas has done here is to imbue the very spirit of art and artistry into the story of a family and the passing of generations.  This is a work of startling maturity and an achieved intense realism.  Actually, I have nothing to add from my original review.   If I see a film at this year's SIFF which surpasses this one, I'll be both surprised and delighted. *** 3/4

The polymath artist who goes by his last name, Trimpin, is a German ex-pat currently living in the Seattle area.   He specializes in constructing artistic creations out of found materials (i.e. another man's junk)...mechanical wonders which are complexly engineered to make music in ways never envisioned by mere mortals.   The subject of this documentary is inherently interesting; but as a film it was less so.  First of all, the dialog track was potted too low, making it a strain to hear.   Then vast stretches of the film were paced hypnotically slow; and I found myself occasionally dozing against my will.  However, when Trimpin's musical triumphs were displayed, all those cavils fell by the wayside and one has to appreciate genius when experiencing it.  ** 1/2

STILL WALKING (d. Kore-ea Hirokazu)
The director of Nobody Knows is at the top of his game in this gentle family story.   A retired doctor and his wonderfully perky homemaker wife are hosting a family reunion to commemorate the accidental death of the eldest son several years before.  Present are the second son and his widowed wife and her son; and the younger daughter and her family of boring husband and two adorable children.   Much of the film is made up of cooking and eating...in a way this film has similarities to Ang Lee's Eat, Drink, Man, Woman:  humanistic, subtle, revelatory.  It meanders a bit, just like a real family would.  But the accumulation of details and character development are masterful.  *** 1/2

WE LIVE IN PUBLIC (d. Ondi Timoner)
Some documentaries make their mark based on subject matter, some on technique.  Rarely does one come along which excels at both.  This one does.  It's about a visionary young man named Josh Harris, who in the early '90s as a 17 year old child of the tv age (obsessed with the solipsism of "Gilligan's Island") became convinced that the still nascent internet would one day become a ubiquitous interactive medium where people would expose their thoughts and lives 24/7.  Thus he foresaw developments like "My Space", "Twitter" and "Facebook" well before broadband made them possible.  He made and lost millions in the '90s forming companies of nerds who developed interactive video software and literally built virtual worlds within the New York scene.  Using computer animation and extensive videos from the time, the film covers the life of this fascinating, complex, deeply disturbed man and others he drew into his circle who totally committed themselves to "living in public" on the net.  *** 1/2

I KNOW YOU KNOW (d. Justin Kerrigan)
This is one film which is best watched without spoilers.  Let's just say it is a son's memoir of adventures with his father when the boy was about 11 and living in the late '80s in South Wales.  Apparently the film's writer/director was that boy and he found a marvelous child actor to play the role, young Arron Fuller whose film debut is memorable.   This isn't to downplay the amazing characterization of Robert Carlyle as the father, in the role of his career.  I think the film cheats a little to keep its underlying message hidden for a while; but it is an emotional roller coaster well worth riding.  ***

THE COVE (d. Louie Psihoyos)
Here is an example of a documentary which is 4-stars for message and maybe 2-stars for execution.  But still, it has an important story to tell:  the wholesale slaughter of dolphins herded into a hidden cove in Japan.  The filmmakers used stealth techniques to grab the impressive and stomach churning footage which culminates the film.  Their success marks a significant victory in the ecology wars.  But the film leading up to those moments dragged a bit.  Still, the press screening audience broke a long-standing taboo against applause at the end of the film.  I'm sure the Seattle festival audience will shower it with acclaim.  ** 3/4

THE YES MEN FIX THE WORLD (d. Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonanno, Kurt Engfehr)
In this documentary, Andy and Mike are two itinerant hoaxsters who develop elaborate schemes to expose the machinations of free-market capitalists and the corporations which exploit society and the environment.  The hoaxes they pull off with such panache and bravado are daring and occasionally hysterically funny, even if the two of them come off as slightly mad Don Quixotes tilting at windmills.  This is about as entertaining a documentary as we're likely to see in a while.  *** 1/4

THE EXPLODING GIRL (d. Bradley Rust Gray)
First of all, the girl doesn't explode.  In fact, this small film is the exact opposite of exploding...a lovely, meditative film on what it means to be a young twenty-something girl on a brief vacation home from college, who somehow copes with her budding maturity silently, but expressively.  The girl is played with utter realism by Zoe Kazan, granddaughter of of the late director.  She's a real find:  an actress who uses her body and eyes to convey her inner thoughts.  But for me, the revelation was that Mark Rendall, the child actor who blew out the stops in 2005 SIFF's Childstar ,  has grown up to become a young actor of truly remarkable presence.  Here he plays the girl's longtime friend who realizes that he wants more with her, but is too shy to come out and say it.  Some people will watch this film and be infuriated by the slow pacing and the ostensible lack of action.   But the film has a true feeling for what exists silently between words;  and for me, it was a remarkably successful and beautiful character study.  *** 1/4

POP STAR ON ICE (d. David Barba)
I had never followed the career of ice skating wonderkind Johnny Weir; and now I'm sorry that I missed out.  He won the men's Nationals three years running 2003-2006, but crashed out in the Winter Olympics in 2006.  Anyway, this is a documentary which made me into a fan...Weir is a remarkable personality, and the film does go behind the scenes and present some aspects of the private person which I found fascinating.  Plus, the extensive sequences of him and his skating peers in action were nicely handled.  There's nothing great or innovative about the filmmaking here; but it is a solid examination of a "different" kind of sports idol.  ***

Two very young sisters are left by their out-of-work single mother with an alcoholic aunt while she travels to find her ex-.  She promises to return for them when their piggy bank is full; but time passes and the children become increasingly despondent.  "Children in jeopardy" films are inherently touching and emotional; and this film plays this up for all it is worth by focusing on the children's point of view with long hand-held closeups on their faces.  The digital cinematography was poor and I must admit that I found myself looking at my watch a few times as the film outlasted its premise.  ** 1/2

[500]  DAYS OF SUMMER (d. Mar Webb)
This was a superior romantic comedy about an ill-fated love affair between a kooky woman (the luminous Zooey Deschanel whose eyes have never seemed more expressive) and a neurotic office worker guy played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in his most adult role yet; and also the role that is going to establish him as an authentic romantic leading man.  The script, acting and directing are outstanding...well observed, funny and original.  If there is any justice this film will find an appreciative audience.  *** 1/2

MY DEAR ENEMY (d. Yoon-Ki Lee)
An angry woman tracks down her ex-boyfriend at a gambling parlor in order to make him repay an IOU that was a year overdue.  He's broke; and the film becomes a protracted road flick as the two of them drive around Seoul visiting prospective marks from which the guy can borrow enough to pay her off.  The film is beautifully shot in wide screen with some of the more interesting and complex tracking shots seen in a while.  But after a while it just becomes the same old same old.  Maybe cutting a half hour and sharpening the focus might have helped.  A good film; but by the end I didn't care a whole bunch.  ** 3/4

I'm not a huge fan of ballet...yet it seems like every time I watch a film or documentary on the subject I end up entranced.  Back in 2000 while visiting Cambodia, Anne Bass discovered a talented boy dancing Cambodian style at Angkor Wat.  She moved mountains to get him to the U.S. where he studied classical ballet with tutors and attended school.  Against 1 in a thousand odds the boy turned into rising ballet star Sokvannara "Sy" Sar and this film presents his life, education, triumphs and several thrilling sequences of his dancing including an amazing performance of a Phillip Glass ballet in Vail.  The lady who discovered him directed this film; and even though it is fairly straightforward filmmaking, it is still a totally diverting and interesting portrait of a true artist.  ***

CARMO HIT THE ROAD (d. Murillo Pasta)
Carmo is a Brazilian spitfire, a part time whore who spells trouble.  She hitches a ride with Marco, a Spanish adventurer with a pick-up load of fake Japanese boom boxes that he's trying to deliver when they run into a couple of hijacker/rapists who steal the cargo which leads to a madcap road trip all over the south of Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina.  This is frenetic filmmaking with a plot that makes little sense...but it all somehow works because the two protagonists generate unusual chemistry.   For sure, it's not for everyone's taste.  I suffered through it; and in retrospect, despite the lack of a cohesive plot, I enjoyed it for the director's bravura style and the energy of its fast paced hand-held camera work.  ** 1/4

Like last year's French masterpiece, The Class, this purports to be a year in the life of a school class, only instead of high schoolers, these are very real sixth graders.  The hook is that the teacher (a quite attractive young man) brings a baby pig to class and challenges the class to raise it and then...by the end of the school year and graduation, maybe have it butchered to eat.  It's supposed to be a lesson in the meaning of life, "you are what you eat" and any number of other possibilities.  But the kids name the pig, it becomes a beloved class pet, and...well the film is quite ingratiating in the way it develops.  It's all maybe a tad contrived; but I have to say I was quite entertained by the enthusiasm of the children and the experience of watching a Japanese classroom, so different in manners from an American one.  ***

FOOD INC. (d. Robert Kenner)
By now, is there any doubt that America's food industry is ripe for muckraking?  This documentary makes its case for the harm that the huge industrial farming corporations and fast food industry are doing to the common weal.  I even found myself  pausing for contemplation at a Macdonald's this morning, considering the issue of E-coli and Kevin's Law and the horrendously inhumane way that the animals and their byproducts are treated in the huge packing plants.   But just like the film droning on preaching to the choir, I ended up getting my sausage McMuffin and feeling terrible about it.  I wish the film was more creative in delivering its important message, as I couldn't help snoozing through some of the more horrific exposés.  ** 1/2

LA MISSION (d. Peter Bratt)
Benjamen Bratt, the writer/director's brother, plays a cholo living in the South Mission district of San Francisco, a widower whose son is graduating from high school with honors and accepted at UCLA.  The father is a bus driver who lavishes care on his car which he takes on weekly cruises with his buds.  But his son has a secret life...he's gay and knows that his father is deeply homophobic.  I've already given away too much of the plot, which is moving and touching, not at all preachy, and represents probably quite accurately a way of life similar to another fine film which played at SIFF a few years ago, Quinceañera, only this one seems very Bay Area specific.  *** 1/4

THE HEADLESS WOMAN (La mujer sin cabeza) (d. Lucrecia Martel)
An Argentinian professional woman may or may not have had a serious automobile hit-and-run accident...she's too much in shock to actually know for sure.  That's the set-up for this "little ado about nothing" film.  Sure, it's stylish and beautifully shot in wide screen with impeccably composed close ups and a fine, subtle performance by Maria Onetto.  But the film is so ambiguous plotwise that it engendered never ending debate among all the usual suspects at the screening...debate which led nowhere since I'm not sure that even the filmmaker wants the audience to know what really happened.  All I can say is that for me, despite the obvious artfulness,  it was too long, too hyperbolic, too symbolic, too class conscious, just plain too too.  ** 1/2

Kunstler, of course, was an infamous, even legendary leftist attorney whose life and times were inherently interesting, especially in the tumultuous '60s and '70s.  This documentary was made by the two daughters of his second marriage, who grew up long past their father's famous period; but still were marked by his former fame and fear of the effects of his efforts later in life to defend indefensible criminals, terrorists and assassins.  This film is an attempt by his children to understand their father's life; and even though it marks no new grounds as a documentary, it is quite competent at making a case for Kunstler's brilliance as an advocate and his legacy as a crusader for good causes.  ***

EL GENERAL (d. Natalia Almada)
The filmmaker's grandmother was the daughter of Plutarco Elias Calles,  the President of Mexico in the 1920's, a powerful revolutionary general who exerted power behind the scenes until he was exiled to the U.S. in the late '30s.  The grandmother left reminiscences of her father in tapes before she died in 1989.  We hear these tapes (which are interesting historical documents); but the images which go with them meander through an unimaginative use of films of modern day Mexico City mixed with interviews of mostly elderly random street people, plus a few old photos.   Also, the narration by the filmmaker tended to drone on, putting me in an almost hypnotic state where it was difficult to stay focused and awake.  This is an example of a documentary where the director's vision is compromised by a lack of relevant images and no structured, cohesive narrative thread.  * 3/4

ART AND COPY (d. Doug Pray)
This documentary is an occasionally fascinating history of the advertising industry, focusing on the great innovators through interviews and examples of their work.  In essence it is one huge advertisement for advertising, although there's a hint of a cautionary tale here when the screen flashes statistics about the power and money behind the industry.  What the film does do well is go behind the scenes and explain the creative process behind such advertising masterpieces as "1984",  "Morning in America" and the VW "Think Little" campaigns, to mention just a few...how the genius of the individual creative types usually defeated the committee oriented timidity of the corporate clients.  This is an example of a documentary which entertains as well as educates.  ***

IN THE LOOP (d. Armando Iannucci)
This year's festival opener is an almost surreal comedy about government functionaries in Britain and the U.S. who most likely bumble into a war through bureaucratic infighting and incompetence (the Peter Principle in action).  It has a fine cast, witty dialog,  and some genuinely funny moments.  Especially notable are Tom Hollander as a British cabinet minister with a penchant for gaffes, Peter Cipaldi as an obscenity spouting bigwig at 10 Downing St., and James Gandalfini as a hammy Pentagon general.   Good fun, but sort of minor for an opening film.  ***

STELLA (d. Sylvie Verheyde)
This is a coming-of-age story about an 11-year old girl's first year of French secondary school.  Stella is from a lower class family of bar keepers, and initially lost and uninterested in school until she makes a BFF of the smartest girl in her class.  Léora Barbara is exceptionally luminous in the role (initially I thought this might be the older version of the wonderful little girl from Ponette), which is a necessity because most of the time she is simply an observer and all we know about her is from her narration in the soundtrack.  This film wasn't exactly my cuppa, I have trouble relating to the problems of a young girl's difficult adolescence.  But certainly I can recognize well observed film making when I watch it.  ***

HOOKED (d. Adrian Sitaru)
An adulterous couple are driving on a picnic tryst to the country when they apparently run over a young woman prostitute on a deserted country road.  She recovers, but comes along on the picnic and manages to seduce everybody in sight.  I initially found this film to be inscrutable...and on a "reality" level, it doesn't make much sense.  But it's one of those films which caused much discussion among my film buds here in Seattle; and the general consensus that this may be a Romanian ghost story (yes, a spoiler of sorts...but it might help others to enjoy the film more) made me understand and appreciate the film in retrospect.  Still, it was hard slogging while it was unfolding.  ** 1/4

THE HIGHER FORCE (d. Olaf de Fleur Johannesson)
Yikes!  I have no idea what this film was about.  Ostensibly it was an Icelandic black comedy about a bunch of inept, would-be gangsters, and one in particular who concocts a misbegotten scheme to better himself in the gang hierarchy.  But even with the presence of American actor Michael Imperioli as the ultimate boss, it was a confusing mishmash.   It was well photographed,  however; and I suppose it would have been diverting if I had cared even a little bit about any of the characters.  * 3/4

NURSE. FIGHTER. BOY (d. Charles Officer)
The title says it all.  This is a story focused on three people:  Jude, nurse and ill with a fatal genetic disease; her son, Ciel, 12-years old and terrified with insecurity; and Silence, an aging, solitary street boxer primed to relate to the woman and her son.  It's a super low-budget film, shot in gritty, and color enhanced hand-held digital, which somehow increases its real-life feeling.  The filmmaker is a talent to be reckoned with.  This is everything that last year's critical darling Ballast was supposed to be, but wasn't (for me, at least.)  ***

QUIET CHAOS (d. Antonello Grimaldi)
Nanni Moretti is amazing here, playing a 40ish man with a 10-year old daughter who suddenly loses his wife in a freak accident.  He's a high powered executive in a company on the verge of a huge merger; but he's unmoored by his wife's death and focuses obsessively on his daughter, ignoring his career and spending all day in front of her school gradually making contact with the people of the neighborhood.  This is a moving, beautifully made, humanistic film which culminated an otherwise uninspiring day of festival films.  *** 1/2

FIG TREES (d. John Greyson)
Greyson is an uncompromising Canadian artist who lately seems to focus on AIDS activism and making documentaries which are rich in formal invention.  Here he has made an atonal filmed opera, using notes found (for instance) in the placement of faces in a panoramic photo,  or sequences from a 1930's opera by Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thompson which resonates with the film's message .  He combines it with the story of two AIDS activists and their respective roles: Tom McCaskell, long time Canadian AIDS survivor; and Zackie Achmat, South African artist famous for a hunger strike against the drug companies.   Add some animation, a little porn, some clever word play with palindromes etc. and the result is a beautiful, important and difficult film.  ***

WILD FIELD (d. Mikhail Kalatozishvili)
Lately there have been a spate of fine films made in the sparse and craggy steppes of Kazakhstan.  This one is one of the best of the breed.  It's about a young Russian medical doctor who lives alone in an isolated compound dealing with the serious injuries of the locals who arrive by cart, tractors or on foot.  He's played by the enormously attractive actor Oleg Dolin, who brings a likability and sense of purpose to the role which literally raises the level of audience identification to the highest level.  Everything works here:  the outstanding cinematography features the limitless barren terrain, the script subtley and almost wordlessly conveys the doctor's life in a series of powerful scenes.  And there is also the ever present backstory of the social order of today's former Soviet Union falling apart.  A simply terrific film.  *** 3/4

SPRING BREAKDOWN (d. Ryan Shiraki)
At the last moment I decided to attend, despite my misgivings, this overblown American indie comedy about three 30-something women losers who go on a collegian spring break to relive their dismal college years among the tanned and fit beachgoers of today's generation.  The women are played by three would-be queens of American comedy:  Parker Posey, Amy Poehler and Rachel Dratch.  I think the idea was for these women to make the kind of raunchy, sexy teen comedy usually led by guys, films like American Pie.  In any case, this film fails dismally to be either funny or in any way relevant.  Even Jane Lynch, who seems to be in everything these days, can't make headway against a dead-in-the-water script.  This was a total waste of a festival space.  * 1/4

PAPER HEART (d. Nicholas Jasenovec)
Comedian and performance artist Charlyne Yi is a little pixie of a girl who ostensibly is making a documentary about the meaning of "love", an emotion that she thinks she is incapable of sharing or even comprehending.  The result is an often hilarious and enchanting mockumentary of her travels with her fictional director (played by Jake Johnson who is utterly convincing...I had no idea until the end credits that he wasn't the actual director) looking for the definition of "love" by interviewing people who claim to have experienced it; and, remarkably, her budding love-affair-which-isn't with actor Michael Cera who, lets face it, is the epitome of the post-modern nerd as romantic leading man.  The scenes of romantic tension between Cera and Yi are especially well played (or well lived, it's hard to tell what is real and what is possibly scripted, these actors are that good.)  *** 1/4

BRONSON (d. Nicolas Winding Refn)
Michael Peterson is a raging sociopath who has served 34 years as Britain's most notorious prisoner.  He goes by the name Charles Bronson; and this biopic imaginatively retells his story in a fashion unmistakably modeled on the Australian film Chopper, which made a star out of its lead Eric Bana.  Here it is British actor Tom Hardy who carries the burden of portraying the madman...complete with scenes out of Bronson's imagination where he is ranting in greasepaint to an imaginary audience.  The director Refn proved in his hyper-violent trilogy
Pusher that he is a master of filmic sadism.  He doesn't disappoint here...some scenes are nearly unwatchably gory.  If the film fails to be as viscerally affecting as Chopper, it certainly isn't Hardy's fault...he is mesmerizing in his portrayal of pure evil with a grinning visage.  ***

CAN GO THROUGH SKIN (d. Esther Rots)
A woman has apparently gone through a difficult break-up and is at loose ends.  Then she's a victim of an attack by an intruder which pushes her over the edge into a paranoid neurosis.  She buys a dilapidated country house and sublimates her loneliness to an extent by fixing it up.  This is only the setup for this psychological...well, thriller would be too strong a word.  In any case, I felt distanced from the film because I disliked both the main character and the elliptical style of hand-held, jump-cut filmmaking.  Sometimes you just want to take a character by the shoulders, shake her firmly, and tell her to get it together!  Unfortunately one can't quite manage that in a dark theater.  ** 1/2

SHRINK (d. Jonas Pate)
Kevin Spacey plays a dissipated shrink, famous for his book on "achieving happiness" whose wife's suicide has completely unmoored him.  He's part of a tapestry of characters roughly connected by being his friends or patients.  The film has the look and feel of an Altman film, especially Short Cuts.  But even more telling, it's another L.A. film about dysfunctional people reminiscent of Crash.  This can be the kiss of death for a film if its tone isn't exactly right.  For me, it was.  I cared about the characters and was sucked into the film's absolutely spot on depiction of Los Angeles (many scenes were shot within blocks of my apartment.)  I have the feeling that others will not be so charitable about the film's predictable plot lines.  Oh, yes, any film with Mark Webber in it is a treat...for a young actor he's able to convey so much by stillness.  And I also loved watching Dallas Roberts chew the scenery as a neurotic super-agent in a very different role for him.  My kinda film.  *** 1/4

SKIN (d. Anthony Fabian)
This South African film portrays the insanity of Apartheid by telling the true (to some extent) story of a colored girl, daughter of two completely white parents whose genes combined to produce her "throwback" skin.   Sophie Okonedo is fine as the girl, as are the always dependable Sam Neill and Alice Krige as her parents.  I felt somewhat manipulated by the all-too-obvious story development...but the reality of the girl's situation is an important historical statement in itself.  The film looks great:  wide screen, beautifully shot, with a fine score laced with tribal music.   However, for me it just failed to effect the emotional payoff it attempted.  ** 3/4

THE ANARCHIST'S WIFE (d. Marie Noelle, Peter Sehr)
This is a love story set in the tumult of the Spanish Civil War and the subsequent Franco years of fascist repression.   Juan Diego Botto plays a charismatic Republican leader who is sentenced to death in absentia by the Spanish government after his side loses the war.  Maria Valverde is pretty and somewhat frivolous as his wife, who endures with pluck the long separation from her husband caused by his activism and imprisonment by the Germans.  This is a "big" film, which attempts a large canvas and a long time frame (though Valverde never seems to age a day).   Botto is outstanding, however, portraying revolutionary fervor overcoming huge odds.  I was swept up in the epic nature of the film.  Although it isn't quite Gone With The Wind (though it seems to last almost as long in subjective time),  at least the film has some of  the scope and emotional affect of a national epic.  ***

THE ANSWER MAN  (d. John Hindman)
For an American indie film, this film has a fine pedigree:  good cast, nice production values, a literate script.  It's the story of a famous, if reclusive author (modeled after Salinger, one supposes) who claimed to have conversed with God and wrote a huge best seller giving the Word.  Yet it isn't particularly preachy...rather it's an oddball romantic comedy.  Jeff Daniels plays the author, and this is his meatiest role in years.  Also notable in the cast are Lou Taylor Pucci as a questioning young alcoholic bookseller, and Lauren Graham as the chiropractor who pulls Daniels out of his isolation.  Nothing spectacular here, just an entertaining movie which doesn't pander to the lowest common denominator.  ***

LAILA'S BIRTHDAY (d. Rashid Masharawi)
The setting is Ramallah, Palestine where an elegantly dressed former judge is forced by bureaucratic stupidity and economic necessity to drive his brother-in-law's cab for a living.  The film is a comic drama of a day in the life of this taxi driver, a day which also happens to be his young daughter's birthday.  It's an audience pleaser, to be sure, with no real plot...just a series of incidents and a clever resolution.  For me it dragged a bit; but I did feel that I got an interesting look at daily life in today's Palestine.  ** 1/2

A dissipated one-hit French crooner, washed up since the 1970s,  is invited by a Lebanese millionaire to sing at his wife's birthday party.  That's the set-up for this mediocre, if occasionally touching, comedy/farce.  It's all rather silly; but the soulful singing of French actor Patrick Chesnais almost made up for the clichéd script.  **

WARLORDS (d. Peter Chen, Wai Man Yip)
This is a Hong Kong produced Chinese historical epic about three warlord generals who, over the course of a decade long campaign in the mid-nineteenth century conquer Nanking.  It's a huge production with eight, count them, eight screenwriters; but unlike many films of its ilk the narrative is clearly drawn and the battle scenes are amazingly well designed...I could actually follow and appreciate the strategy which didn't depend on magical realism or impossible feats of martial arts.  The three main actors, Jet Li, Andy Lau and Takshi Kaneshiro are all ultra-familiar Asian film stars and are especially fine here.   This isn't a film genre that I'm a particular fan of; however I was totally involved in the story and impressed by the filmmaking.  *** 1/4

Jerry McDaniels plays a 40-something carpenter with a wife, two small sons, an underwater Oakland, CA. house mortgage and a couple of dysfunctional drinking buddies.  The film is a slice of his life as he just about sleepwalks through it (his depressed narration is almost unhearably low keyed.)  This ultra-spare American indie divided the audience.  Some hated its lack of traditional plot and slow presentation of detail.  I, on the other hand, loved it for its insights into the modern American working class life, the utter realism of the acting, and the way it subtly opens up of the inner life of its characters (reminiscent of the films of Kelly Reichardt.)   ***

THE FIRM LAND (d. Chapour Haghighat)
This is an Indian film about six village elders who journey to Mumbai to get help for their plague (AIDS?) struck seaside community.  There they encounter an impossibly opaque bureaucracy and a doddery old Brahman lady living above her means.  It sounds a lot better than it is.  I think it was supposed to be a comedy cum social commentary.  But for me it was a complete snooze-fest.   * 1/4

BLACK DOG BARKING (d. Mehmet Bahadir Er & Maryna Gorbach)
Two budding young Turkish entrepreneurs try to buck an entrenched Security firm to establish a business.   To say the least, they encounter difficulties.  The film is a gritty look at the "Mean Streets" of Istanbul; but for the second film in a row I just couldn't get involved with the plot or characters.  * 1/2

MOON (d. Duncan Jones)
This is a high-gloss sci-fi film about an astronaut  (a really great performance by the always reliable Sam Rockwell) inhabiting a helium mine on the far side of the moon.  His only companion is a genial computer/robot who communicates with Kevin Spacey's voice and a series of "happy faces".  The film looks great and has an interesting and original plot;  but it also suffers from a plethora of scientific gaffes to the point that it was almost impossible to take seriously (lunar gravity?...never heard of it!)  ** 3/4

FEAR ME NOT  (d. Kristian Levring)
The fine Danish actor Ulrich Thomsen is a businessman on leave of absence from his company who takes part in a clinical trial of a new anti-depressant drug.  The drug has some strange side-effects...and this psychological thriller develops in some unexpected ways.  For me, this was a thriller which didn't quite thrill, although the acting and direction were first-rate.  ** 3/4

DON'T LET ME DROWN (d. Cruz Angeles)
There has definitely been a trend lately for well made American indie films which illuminate life in the New York Latino community, for example Chop Shop.   This film definitely belongs in that company:  a kind of Romeo & Juliet story set in the aftermath of 9/11, about a young Mexican-American boy in love with a Dominican girl despite the opposition of the girl's father.  The young actors here are  fine, especially tv soap star E. J. Bonilla, whom I hope to see more of in feature films.  ***

AT WEST OF PLUTO (d. Myriam Verreault & Henry Bernadet)
This is a slice-of-life story which follows a group of French Canadian high-school students through a wild night of partying...almost the same story as the American teen comedy Superbad, only darker, and with a distinctive Quebecois twist.  The festival program compares this film to those of Gus Van Sant, and it does have some of the feeling of Paranoid Park, for example; but its characters are closer in tone to those in director Larry Clark's films.  Either way, this is an exceptionally well observed story of modern teen-age life.  ***

COLD SOULS (d. Sophie Barthes)
Paul Giamatti is the only reason to watch this strange film, which is a riff on the Being John Malkovich plot in that Giamatti is playing himself having his mind manipulated by a murky Russian mafia controlled technological company.  It's a clever set up, a mildly effective social satire; and it does give Giamatti an opportunity to chew the scenery doing Chekhov and travel to chilly St. Petersburg.   But the screenwriter is nowhere near as inventive as Charlie Kaufman;  and I'm just not sure what the point of the whole film was.  ** 1/2

ABOUT ELLY (d. Asghar Farhadi)
Three couples and their families in modern day Iran head for a 3-day vacation at the beach and bring along the attractive and single teacher Elly as a possible romantic match-up for their single guy friend who has just returned to Iran from Germany and a bad break-up with his German wife.   The trip turns into a L'Avventura type of mystery when Elly disappears.  The film at this screening was presented out of order, reels 3-2-1 and then 4 continued to the conclusion.  It still was totally followable; and maybe should have been presented in flashbacks to begin with.  This certainly isn't a typical Iranian film...it definitely resonates with the modern day dilemmas of adult relationships.  Nicely acted, too.  ***

LOVELY LONELINESS (d. Victoria Galardi & Martin Carranza)
Ines Efron, who played the hermaphrodite girl in the film XXY a couple of years ago, is front and center here playing a commitment-phobic and hypochondriacal young Argentinian woman who has a hard time recognizing or accepting contentment when it comes her way.   Her character is an interesting, if maddening, invention; one of those high upkeep neurotics that I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole.  But since this is primarily a character study, and she's also an appealingly pretty and pixieish character, the film is bound to find an appreciative audience.  Just not me.  ** 3/4

TAHAAN - A BOY WITH A GRENADE (d. Santosh Sivan)
This one takes place in mountainous, war torn Kashmir and is the story of a young boy and his stolen pet donkey, and the perils the kid goes through to get him back.  I thought the kid was intolerably cute, and his shrill voice got on my nerves to the point I slept through half the film.   * 3/4

Reading the synopsis, I was pretty sure that this was an iffy proposition for me:  a Canadian mockumentary about the rocky relationships of three pairs of mothers and daughters - or in one case surrogate daughter.  However, much to my surprise, the film really got to me on an emotional level.  First of all, it wasn't really a mockumentary.  Rather it was a well observed and beautifully played dramatic film about these six women who are taking part in a documentary by an unseen director who is interviewing them.   That's an interesting, if possibly unnecessary narrative device...but it really doesn't affect the poignancy of each individual story.   First rate acting, stories that hit an identifiable chord,  even though I've never been a "mother" or a "daughter".  *** 1/4

DEADGIRL (d. Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel)
This is a horror film which is ostensibly about a group of high school boys who find a live "dead" woman shackled up in the basement of an abandoned mental hospital and graphically use her in every degrading way possible.   Except that one of the boys (played by Shiloh Fernandez, a dead ringer for a young Joaquin Phoenix)  has a smidgen of conscience, which provides the conflict.  The film is obviously designed as an over-the-top provocation which takes its misogynistic theme to a ridiculous extreme.  As such it works, especially as a midnight movie.  But some films don't need to be made.  ** 1/2

HANSEL AND GRETEL (d. Yim Phil-sung)
I should know better by now that Korean supernatural horror films are just not my cup of tea.  This is a slick, visually inventive variant of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale about "Hansel and Gretel".  A young guy flips over his automobile and wanders into the forest until he finds the modern day equivalent of the gingerbread house...where he's trapped along with several other people.  The film had one major shock trope:  sudden loud noises.  An hour in, when I realized that I was just awakened by a loud bang, I knew that this film wasn't working for me.   It wasn't a bad film for sure; but I just wasn't into it, so I walked out.  W/O (** 1/4)

Originally I hadn't programmed this film; but it received such a good write-up in the local press that I decided to give it a try.  It's an American indie comedy about two grown brothers, obviously lifetime rivals, who attend a family Christmas and discover that much of their past has been a lie.  They set off on a road trip to discover the truth...and the journey becomes a skillfully written and played farce.  The concept is original enough; and the film is often laugh-out-loud funny which is a tribute to the deadpan comic timing of the "bad" brother played by Mark Reeb (although kudos also go to Nathan Harlan in the less flashy "good" brother role tailor made for Jason Bateman).  I'd rate the film even higher, except that the payoff is somewhat disappointing...as if the screenwriter ran out of money or ideas before the story was finished.  Still, it's a major victory to leave the audience wanting more.  ***

This year it seems like every other film features an automobile accident (mild spoiler ahead)...but the one which opens this Hong Kong action policier takes the cake.  According to the festival catalog, just the spectacular multi-car accident here cost $200,000 to produce, and I believe it.  The accident serves as the central causal event in  a complex tale of a policeman's obsession, a child kidnapping, obstruction of justice, and a half-blind homicidal villain with a soft streak.  The non-stop action actually holds together pretty well (although there seemed to be a couple of blatant cheats in logical continuity).  What is basically a child-in-jeopardy plot works here; mainly because the young girl is so plucky and the cop (nice turn by Nicholas Tse, an actor to watch for) and villain are well matched.  ***

This is a documentary about the difficulty of being gay in modern day Palestine/Israel.  It's centered on a gay bar in Jerusalem, beset by rabid opposition from Orthodox fundamentalists.   It features the balding Israeli bar owner, a Lesbian couple (one a Jewish-Israeli doctor, the other a Palestinian-Israeli),  a troubled Palestinian youth, and an activist Israeli gay couple.  I found the film both informative and at times even  touching.  What was especially interesting was the revelation of how gays and Palestinians are both stigmatized in Israel...and how those who are both are given a double whammy of prejudice.  The subject was intrinsically interesting, even if the documentary was in no way groundbreaking in terms of filmmaking.  ***

THE MERRY GENTLEMEN (d. Michael Keaton)
Keaton is here directing himself in the role of a taciturn contract assassin in an American anytown.  He gets involved with a sympathetic, troubled woman (beautiful Kelly Macdonald and her lilting Scottish accent) who is a partial witness to one of Keaton's "jobs".  The film is slow to develop, and I'm not sure that all the steps which lead up to the conclusion are logically valid.  But the acting is splendid (Bobby Carnivale is especially vivid in a small role); and it is a creditable, if noncommercial, bit of filmmaking for its star's first directorial effort.   ** 3/4

COCK COLLEGE (short films)
The gay short film collection this year was mostly disappointing.   There were some highlights, however.  Jenni Olson's "575 Castro Street" featured the actual Harvey Milk tape he recorded just before his assassination with still-life visuals from the realistic set from the film Milk.   In the context of having seen the biopic, this was particularly moving.  Kathleen Chalfant was outstanding playing a wise-cracking, Orthodox  Jewish grandmother whose grandson has just outed himself to her in Bob Giraldi's "Second Guessing Grandma".   There was some well written, pointed dialog between two attractive straight men who had just had wild, great sex together in Brandon Blinn's "Thirteen or so Minutes."  And Greg Ivan Smith's "The Back Room" offered a touching meeting between mismatched Florentine art lovers in the back room art section of a book store.   But Brazilian art-film "Atlantico" was a turgid, opaque waste of time; Dutch documentary "Yuri" was about an elderly dancer/collagist which failed to interest me; and Sam McConnell's "Twoyoungmen, UT." wasted a couple of good performances in a go-nowhere story of a gay and straight boy's encounter in a gay bar and subsequent road trip.

TELSTAR (d. Nick Moran)
This is the frenetic, super-manic biopic of the almost unknown, frenetic and super-manic British record producer Joe Meek who made records in a home studio in the 1960's.  He's mainly known for the rock instrumental "Telstar" which actually was the first #1 single of the upcoming British Invasion.  But his life as a gay, paranoid, borderline psychotic record producer seemingly rivaled Phil Spector's for unconventionality - until his violent death in 1967.  Con O'Neill gives a tour de force performance in a difficult role...and Kevin Spacey (who seems to be in every other film at this festival) has a flawless English accent as Meek's money manager.  But other actors also shine, particularly J.J. Feild as peroxide haired Heinz...mostly untalented singer who was Meek's lover; and Sid Mitchell who plays Meek's meekly sycophantic assistant.   This is a wild ride of a film...but often the various British accents were so thick that I couldn't understand much of the dialog.  ***

THE MAID (La Nana) (d. Sebastian Silva)
Raquel is a dedicated live-in maid for an upper-middle class Chilean family.  She's worked for them for over 20 years and raised the four kids; and even though there is a definite class divide, she has become a fixture in the family.  But there are fissures in her relationship to the family which fester as the children grow up and Raquel's role in the family starts to erode.  When a second young maid is hired to help out, Raquel starts acting out her frustrations.  This is an interesting character study which rang true (I grew up in a similar family situation; and maybe this film hit a little too closely to home for my comfort).  In any case, I have to give Catalina Saavedra credit for creating a unique and even lovable character out of what must have been on paper a sullen, passive aggressive witch.  ***

A WOMAN'S WAY (Strella) (d. Panos H. Koutras)
Yiorgas is a 40ish man whom we meet as he's been released from serving 15 years in prison.  He's obviously had a relationship with his younger cell-mate; and the first thing that happens to him out of prison is that he meets and falls for a young pre-op transsexual who looks and sings something like Maria Callas.  It doesn't sound likely...but this is the set-up for a classical Greek drama which has everything going for it:  a shocking, but ultimately uplifting story of forbidden love (no more spoilers here) aided by fine acting and artful direction.   The film reminded me of Ferzan Ozpetek's best films in the way it humanizes unconventional family groups and gay relationships.  *** 1/2

THE WEDDING SONG (Le Chant des Mariées) (d. Karen Albou)
The setting is 1942 Tunisia, occupied by the Nazis, where two best friends, young Jewish Myriam and Muslim Nour are preparing for marriage in different ways.  Of course politics and the anti-Semitism of the times come between the two girls.  I usually respond well to films about the Holocaust...but this one just didn't involve me at all.  It had many elements of a good film; but somehow missed.  ** 1/4

BEAUTIES AT WAR (La Guerre des miss) (d. Patrice Leconte)
Oh, Patrice Leconte, where have you disappeared to?  The director has made several wonderful dramas; but this blatant attempt to duplicate the massive success of the hick comedy Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis is simply misbegotten.  It's the story of two rival neighboring towns which every year throw a beauty contest that only one of the towns ever wins.  But the loser town is determined to win this year by any means possible.  It's a silly, totally predictable comedy which I couldn't wait to end.  **

KRABAT (d. Marco Kreuzpaintner)
Kreuzpaintner may be the best unheralded director making films today.  I expect that to change sooner or later, his talent is so gigantic.  He reminds me of another German visionary wunderkind, Tom Tykwer, whose breakthrough film Lola Rennt, came in his early 30's.  This film is apparently adapted from an epic German saga for young adults.  It's a tale of a 17th century sorcerer who teaches black arts to 12 boy apprentices during the Thirty Years War.  As Kreuzpaintner imagines it, the film takes on much of the grand design of the Lord of the Rings series (though on a much smaller, intimate scale) mixed with the youthful affect of the Harry Potter series.   On a much lower budget, and with only one star (Daniel Brühl) and promising young actor David Kross (so fine in The Reader) in the title role, the director has created an amazingly effective  special effects world similar to and as strange and convincing as the ones that Tim Burton creates.  Only a rather sappy and predictable love story which fails to spark detracts from the film's triumph.  I hate to say this...but to reach its deserved North American audience this film needs to be skillfully dubbed into English and given a real release.  It could be a monster hit.  *** 1/2

WONDERFUL WORLD (d. Joshua Goldin)
Matthew Broderick is the draw here, playing a pot smoking, depressed ex-folk singer with a diabetic Senegalese roommate (a welcome appearance by Michael K. Williams who played Omar on "The Wire").  Things happen and the characters progress in predictable ways spouting overwritten dialog that real people probably would never speak.  This is one of those typically sappy American indies which are watchable and attempt to be ultimately uplifting; but for me, just empty calories.   ** 1/4

RAGING SUN, RAGING SKY (d. Julián Hernández)
This one is hard to rate, since frankly I was unable to follow its plot for just about any of its 3 hour plus length...yet I found its imagery so mesmerizingly fabulous that I was never bored.  I've seen previous films by this Mexican artist; so I knew basically what to expect.  Hernández, it seems to me, is a direct descendant of the Alejandro Jodorowski school of mythic mystical realism, only with an ultra-gay sensibility.  The plot involves three attractive men (nude half of the time) and one mysterious woman who cruise, screw, descend into a cave, struggle, die and screw some more.  Or something like that.  The sun and water play a role in the myth...but how and why
 me.  I've never been good at decoding this kind of allegorical film.  But who am I to deny its amazing artistry?  *** 1/2

MARCELLO MARCELLO (d. Denis Rabaglia)
This is a romantic comedy in the form of a fable, set in a small picturesque town on a fictitious island in Southern Italy in the 1950s.  The eponymous Marcello (Francesco Mistichelli, an ingratiating young actor who is the spitting image of a young Alain Delon) is a poor fisherman's son who is in love with the mayor's daughter.  The town has a peculiar local pairing up custom that wrecks havoc with the young people of the town; and Marcello, clever kid that he is, sets out to subvert the custom.  This is a beautiful gem of a film, lusciously photographed...a true audience film which even on second viewing rewarded with its clever premise and fine cast.  *** 1/2

BOY (d. Aureaus Solito)
Philippine gay films have been a mixed bag lately; but I really enjoyed this one.  It's the story of a middle class youth, a student and poet, who falls for an attractive 18 year old macho dancer and brings him home for New Years with mom.  They make tender love, all shot through the poet's fishtanks (symbolism?  in any case the best use of fishtanks since Tsai Ming-liang's "The River").   It's basically the story of two different worlds interacting in a gay context...and the poetry that this engenders.   For me, this was a major step upwards for the filmmaker who made the over-the-top Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros. ***

BREATHLESS (d. Yang Ik-june)
The film opens with an extensive scene shot mostly in tight hand-held close-ups of a savage beating.  The rest of the film is more of the same, being the story of a bag-man gangster whose trade is beating up the losers who owe money to his gang.  He is also charged with teaching apprentice gangsters who mostly are from abusive homes the trade of beating up people.  It could be a total waste of time; but truthfully the film is artfully made and has an important message:  that violence begets violence.   It's not for the squeamish, however. ** 1/4

AGAINST THE CURRENT (d. Peter Callahan)
Joseph Fiennes demonstrates his perfect American accent portraying a man still grieving five years after the death of his wife and unborn child.  He persuades his best friend (the wonderful, wisecracking Justin Kirk, better than ever) and a woman friend (Elizabeth Reaser, also perfectly cast) to accompany him as he swims the length of the Hudson River in a personal quest to do something important in his life while he is still alive.  The film touched me deeply...maybe because of the wonderful acting and finely honed script which resonated with my own life.   It's also, incidentally, a beautiful travelogue through the Hudson River valley.  And as a bonus, it has a fantastic cameo by Mary Tyler Moore.   It's almost mysterious to me why some well meaning (and usually noncommercial) American indie films work for me, while most just don't.   This one did.  *** 1/2

AFGHAN STAR (d. Havana Marking)
This is an entertaining documentary about the triumphant and controversial first year's production of "Afghan Star", the local version of American Idol which could never have been visualized during the Taliban era.   The show itself lacks Western production values; but the spirit behind it and the way it illustrates the strides towards free expression in today's Afghanistan provide a truly uplifting experience for the filmgoer.  It's also scary to contemplate what might happen to these participants if the Taliban regains control of the country.  ***

MIAO MIAO (d. Hsiao-Tse Cheng)
Two teenage Taiwanese high-school girls become good friends, in a relationship which skirts with Lesbian issues but doesn't quite go there.  Their adventures include one of them falling for a depressed boy who owns a failing CD store who was once in a pop band that disbanded when the lead singer (and possibly the boy's gay lover) died in an auto accident.   Perhaps I'm overweighting the sexual undercurrents, mainly because for me this was the factor which gave this otherwise light as a feather story a more interesting twist.  Still, for all that, the film was unexpectedly tender and involving.  ***

THE WHOLE TRUTH (d. Coleen Patrick)
This misbegotten and unfunny comedy hit a new low, even for Made In Seattle films, which frankly in my experience often are substandard.  I keep going for the occasional gem (maybe once every other year). Of course, since it was a local product with an audience papered with participants, there was applause at the end. But I swear that nobody (except for the deluded main cast members sitting in front of me) was laughing at the execrably written lines and ham fisted overacting. *sigh*.  It gives me no pleasure to give such an extreme pan to a film.  0*

KAIFECK MURDER (d. Esther Gronenborn)
This is a darkly atmospheric film about the modern day effects on a father and his young son of a family's brutal murder 80 years earlier.  It stars Benno Fürmann, who is always good; but he couldn't save this film from its overwrought claptrap plotting.  I think the whole thing is a riff on the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood...and as such,  it is a step above the other film here ostensibly based on a fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel.  ** 1/2

DARK HARBOR (d. Naito Takasugu)
The title is misleading, as nothing you could call "dark" happens.  This is a story of a lonely fisherman with little to live for until his home is invaded by a mysterious woman and her young boy child.  The story is told with little dialog; but rather things are communicated through action and nuance.  Much is made of the rituals of catching and preparing food; and dining plays a significant part in the characters' relationships.   It isn't exactly subtle...but the film does leave a warm, lived-in feeling.  ***

MID-AUGUST LUNCH (d. Gianni di Gregorio)
A middle age man is living mostly to care for his elderly, but feisty, mother in a small Rome apartment.  When the August 15th holiday of Ferragosto comes around he's saddled with a trio of elderly ladies when his friends all go on holiday and leave their mothers and an aunt in his care.  This is the set-up for a mildly diverting, but expertly acted and directed, situational comedy.  And it is also the second film in a row which makes much of the rituals of preparing food and dining...although the Italian methods are very different from the Japanese.  Anyway, I was glad that I wasn't especially hungry watching this film right after Dark Harbor.  ***

THE SNIPER (d. Dante Lam)
This is the second Dante Lam film at this festival (following The Beast Stalker).  It's the story of a young rookie member of the Hong Kong police special forces who has all the skills of a sniper and is recruited into that branch.  I was impressed by Canadian born Edison Chen who played the role.   Unfortunately I've read since that Chen is temporarily retired from the Hong Kong film scene since a sex scandal involving his participation in sexually explicit photos with several actresses came to light last year.   Anyway, I digress.  The Sniper is a taut policier about cops with big guns chasing gangsters (and a totally conflicted ex-cop sniper) with even bigger guns.  The director Dante Lam definitely has an eye for complex action scenes.   It's all so fast moving that one doesn't have time to cavil at all the pseudo-psychological implausibilities.   *** 1/4

AMREEKA (d. Cherien Dabis)
A Palestinian mother and teen-age son finally win the lottery to emigrate to the U.S.  They join the woman's sister's family outside of Chicago and undergo all of the stresses of being "Arab" (although Christian) in post-9/11 America.   This is a beautifully played and well observed slice-of-life story which totally involved me.   Nothing flashy, just a straightforward ethnic narrative with a satisfying resolution:  think something like My Big Fat Greek Wedding without a wedding and a much better script.  *** 1/2

SÉRAPHINE (d. Martin Provost)
Yolanda Moreau was born to play this role:  20th Century French primitive artist Séraphine de Senlis.  The biopic covers the era from 1914, when homosexual German art dealer Wilhelm Uhde (a sensitive portrayal by Ulrich Tukur, so memorable fromThe Lives of Others) discovers her as a stubborn, lowly charwoman with a remarkable natural artistic talent, until her mental breakdown in the 1930s.   It's a beautiful film which captures the French countryside and period with remarkable fidelity.   I got a real feeling for the actual art of this strange being; but to be truthful the film dragged a bit for me.   *** 1/4

SWIMSUIT ISSUE (d. Mans Herngren)
This is a Swedish dramatic comedy about a group of working class guys who decide to go for the recently inaugurated World Championship of male synchronized swimming in Berlin.  If you liked The Full Monty, then you'll probably like this film...which is the same exact story told the same way.  In other words, a fun, audience pleasing piece of fluff.  ** 3/4

FORASTERS (d. Ventura Pons)
Ventura Pons is a Catalan director whose works often showcase his gay sensibility.  A few years ago I attended a retrospective of his films; and I really respect his talent.  This film is a lengthy melodrama about a family living in a Barcelona apartment contrasting two generations (color for the present day, black & white for the main story taking place maybe 25 years earlier) and the similarities of happenstance between the two eras.  I loved the structure of the film, which bounced back and forth between the eras using clever transitional devices.   It also has a tour de force performance by Anna Lizaran who is allowed to chew the scenery beautifully...dying of cancer in both stories.   But ultimately the film was too old fashioned and overwrought to be entirely successful.   As with all Pons films, however, it looked great.  ** 3/4

THE ESCAPE (d. Kathrine Windfeld)
A Danish journalist (the luminous Iben Hjejle) is kidnapped in Afghanistan by the Taliban.  By a particular set of circumstances she escapes which sets up a thriller involving a sympathetic young terrorist suspect, the Danish government, and issues of journalistic integrity.  The film, which is a fictional account based on a popular Danish novel, has the ring of a true story...but the implausibilities mount over the course of the story, detracting from the film's veracity.  Still, simply accepted as a third-world refugee in Europe story it is grippingly tense.  ***

THE MISSING PERSON (d. Noah Buschel)
Michael Shannon is totally miscast playing a modern day Sam Spade type of private detective hired to follow a missing person from Chicago to L.A. (by train, yet! how mid-20th century), to Mexico (by cab????), and finally to New York City.  The implausible situations mount up as the film progresses.  Shannon is no Bogart, even though the role calls for one.  And the Raymond Chandleresque story falls flat, too.  The film does convey a convincing neo-noir atmosphere, though, with fine cinematography and production design.  Too bad the pacing is so flat and the acting so affectless (even Amy Ryan, an enormously resourceful character actor, just walked through her role), that by the end it added up to a waste of time.  **

FOUR BOXES (d. Wyatt McDill)
Three friends working as estate liquidators in an empty house become entranced by an internet streaming webcast they start watching on the former owner's computer.   It's 2005, and the jerky webcast seems to feature terrorists doing mysterious things in a four-way split screen.   This super-low budget film is extremely inventive (and a little confusing) in the way it mixes real reality with virtual reality.  The enterprise is enormously aided by the three actors...Justin Kirk, Terryn Westbrook and Sam Rosen who all bring a sassy freshness to their characterizations.  I was entertained for sure; but I'm not at all sure what actually happened in this strange film.  This is post-post modern filmmaking if I've ever seen it, perfect for the internet era.   ***  [Thanks to a reader, Lee, who made me realize that my original journal entry this morning (now revised) was too spoiler laden.  I try to keep these squibs spoiler free; but occasionally I mess up.  I truly appreciate the feedback taking me to task for publishing a spoiler.]

TRUE ADOLESCENTS (d. Craig Johnson)
I take back everything I've ever said about "Made In Seattle" films:  this one was a winner.  Mark Duplass, apparently a fixture in Northwest indie films, plays a 30-something would-be musician and general all around slacker.  Kicked out of his digs by his former girlfriend, he moves in with his aunt (the always wonderful Melissa Leo); and he's guilt tripped into taking his 14 year old nephew and the boy's best friend on a camping trip to the Washington state outback.  The script is marvelous...funny, well observed, very today.  And the two teenage actors (Bret Loehr and Carr Thompson) are especially good portraying the doubts and difficulties of early adolescence.  *** 1/2

A WOMAN IN BERLIN (Anonyma - Eine Frau in Berlin) (d. Max Färberböck)
This is a major production from Germany, taken from novel written by an anonymous woman who managed to survive the aftermath of the Russian takeover of Berlin in April, 1945 by "any means necessary".  The film is an ordeal to watch...it's long and I had a little trouble identifying with the lead character (Nina Hoss, wonderfully dour) and her dilemma.  However, everything about the film:  acting, production design, cinematography etc. was first rate.  The most shocking part of the whole film came at the end when titles described the German reaction to the autobiography by "Anonyma" published in the late 1950s.  I hope the film has received a better reception today.  ***

LITTLE JOE (d.Nichole Haeusser)
For what it's worth, I was a "fan" of Joe Dallesandro during his Warhol/Morrisey heyday.  But I knew nothing about the person and his life after the breakup of the Warhol Factory.  This documentary uses clips from Dellesandro's many films (and his early films where he was shot mostly nude were well worth revisiting in short clips!) and lengthy interviews with the real person.  I think "Little Joe" (the prominent tattoo on his arm) is an inherently interesting character; and even though the documentary breaks no new creative ground, it is worth watching.  ** 3/4

THE BURNING PLAIN (d. Guillermo Arriaga)
Arriago wrote the complexly interconnected-story screenplays for Amores Perros and 21 Grams, among others.  But this was his first directoral effort.  He's gathered a fine cast of Hollywood actors and fresh faces to make another complexly edited story of illicit love over two generations and two time lines.  It's a melodrama, to be sure; but I was entranced by the stories, which were actually pretty easy to follow considering the film's back and forth structure.  All in all a more than creditable effort, and I'm looking forward to more films from this writer/director.  *** 1/4

FINDING BLISS (d. Julia Davis)
Leelee Sobieski has grown up.  She no longer looks like a younger Helen Hunt; and at least in this role, as a film school graduate with aspirations to make it in Hollywood, she somehow lacked the star quality she evidenced as a young girl.  The hook of this entertaining, if trivial, romantic comedy is that Leelee's character takes a job as editor at a porn (oops, "Adult Entertainment") studio working with a handsome director (Matt Davis, quite attractive here).  The outcome is fairly predictable; but the journey actually is sort of worth it.  Much humor was made from the gentle poking fun at the porn industry.  And the supporting cast (especially Denise Richards who actually was called on to act here and Jamie Kennedy as a male porn star) was fine.   I'd put this in the category of "guilty pleasure":  a not so good film which I really enjoyed.  ** 1/2

HUMPDAY (d. Lynn Shelton)
The Seattle alternate weekly "The Stranger" puts on a yearly amateur porn contest called "Hump!", which is the jumping off point for this wonderfully wacky improvised comedy.  Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard play two 30-something former super-straight buddies reunited after several years.  Duplass's character is married (kudos to Alycia Delmore for holding her own in this male dominated triangle) and rather buttoned up.  Leonard's character is a free spirit Jack Karouak type yearning to express himself artistically.  In a drunken night of one-upsmanship, the two men embark on an experiment in sexual liberation (no more spoilers here) and the results are hilarious and extremely honest, even if the sexual politics is rather annoying.  The most impressive thing about this two camera mumblecore production is that for all its improvisational look and feel, the entire enterprise seems polished and well written, a tribute to the brilliance of the actors at understanding and defining their characters.  It's a lot harder than it looks!  *** 1/4

WORLD'S GREATEST DAD (d. Bobcat Goldthwait)
I approached this Robin Williams vehicle with trepidation; but I did enjoy Goldthwait's one-joke previous film Sleeping Dogs Lie, so it was worth a try.  Actually, the set-up is pretty nifty:  Williams plays a nerdy, up-tight high school poetry teacher with a horribly screwed up teenage son who is acting out every vile and stupid rebellious cliché imaginable.   But the comedy goes sour when the film goes into "life lesson" mode.  Honestly, it isn't quite as bad a Williams vehicle as Patch Adams.  And Daryl Sabara gives a wonderfully smarmy performance as the son.  Close, but no cigar.  ** 1/4

SPRING 1941 (d. Uri Barbash)
This is one of worst Holocaust films I've ever watched.  It's actually a shame, because the production itself was quite well done...gorgeous cinematography and authentic period design.  It's based on the stories of Holocaust survivor Ida Fink.  This particular story is of a Jewish doctor and his talented cellist wife and their two daughters who take refuge in a Polish farmhouse owned by a woman who has an ulterior and not quite altruistic motive for hiding them.  The production was marred by the decision to have the actors (especially Joseph Fiennes) use horrendous Polish accents.  But even more telling, the film as shown here was missing about a half hour of its listed length.  I have a feeling that entire reels were missing which destroyed the entire point of the narrative.   * 1/2

Chen Kaige is here returning to the medium of Chinese opera he explored earlier with Farewell My Concubine.  In this film he's telling the based on fact story of real-life Peking opera superstar Mei Lanfang, who was a woman impersonator actor in the first half of the 20th century.  The film is told in episodic fashion, telling stories of his life including a contest for supremacy in the opera company with an older male-acting actor, his triumphant tour of America and his trials living through the Japanese occupation during WWII.  This is an extremely lush production, which shouldn't be a surprise from this director.  But I found it rather hard slogging to keep the characters and plot lines straight.   Also, it didn't help that the entire film was shown slightly out-of-focus...especially infuriating since Chen's images are 99% of the reason to watch this film.  ** 1/2

GARBAGE DREAMS (d. Mai Iskander)
This documentary shows the plight of about 60,000  "zaballeen" (Cairo's garbage collecting and recycling underclass), who are gradually, but inexorably, being replaced by foreign corporations using traditional landfill methods.  It follows three young men and a woman social worker who live and work in a "garbage village" where 80% of the refuse collected throughout the city is recycled by manual labor.  It illustrates how progress and westernization can have dire consequences for many people while doing an overall worse job than traditional methods.  The filmmaker chose interesting subjects to make her point...but the film itself made the point and then hammered it over and over becoming somewhat tedious.   ** 3/4

NORTH FACE (d. Philipp Stölzl)
In 1936, the year of the Berlin Olympics and Nazi ideals of Aryan manhood, a number of mountain climbers including a pair of German adventurers set out to conquer the last unclimbed challenge in the Alps:  the north face of Eiger mountain.  This is the based-on-true story of of the German pair's adventure as told through the eyes of a rookie woman reporter who grew up with the climbers.  The film is a marvel of technical achievement:  I have no idea how the hell the director managed such a seamless job of showing the difficult, if not impossible, climbing stunts and get it on film with awesome cinematography.   When you add to that a script which provides nail biting tension you can cut with a knife and some really fine performances from the acting ensemble (including Benno Fürmann in the third film of his I've seen in the past fortnight and Ulrich Tukur in the second) and you have a WINNER.  *** 3/4

THE SQUARE (d. Nash Edgerton)
This Australian thriller is about a pair of illicit lovers who gradually get a bunch of greedy sociopaths involved in their "simple plan" (thanks to my housing host Dave for suggesting the comparison to that story) to run off together.  This is a modern take on film noir, and takes the concept to an almost humorously excessive (but never illogical) conclusion.  There's no moral center here...just about everybody is a villain and more or less unlikable.  Cleverly done; but unremitting.  ***

SCRATCH (d. Michal Rosa)
In post-Communist Poland, a couple married for 40 years are celebrating the wife's birthday with friends.  One of the guests leaves an anonymous video which casts the couple's relationship in a new and destructive light...and this slow to develop story is about the corrosive effects that the past has even on such a solid relationship (like a little scratch on a photo marred in an accident which opens the film...seemingly nothing, but in fact everything.)  The film might even be profound; but it was so slow to develop that I just about lost interest in the outcome.  ** 3/4

THE ONE-HANDED TRICK (d. Santiago Zannou)
A plucky high-functioning young man with cerebral palsy concocts a plan with his troubled addict best friend to build a recording studio.  They inhabit a dingy barrio outside of Barcelona...and their life is shit until they start to make their dream studio come true.  The film is a fairly interesting if unappealing slice of modern life; but its ultimate pointlessness left me wondering why the film was made and even more why I bothered to stick around to watch.   **

TALHOTBLOND (d. Barbara Schroeder)
This is a documentary of the internet age...about crime, punishment and injustice in a well publicized chat room escapade.  No more spoilers on this one...except that I was left wondering at the end whether or not this was a documentary or a mockumentary.  I'll leave the answer to that up to future audiences.  Technically this was a superior film, with super neato graphics illustrating the chat room dialogs.  If some of the talking heads and the bizarre narration seemed unlikely and even fatuous, that actually added up to the aura of mystery surrounding the film.  In any case, this was a fascinating piece of filmmaking which proved that truth may often be more outrageous than any fiction.  *** 1/4

NORTH (d. Rune Denstad Langlo)
Anders Baasmo plays a depressed ski-lift attendant who sets off on a weird road trip through the snowbound Norwegian north by snowmobile and on skis to reclaim his life.  On the way, he meets some quite strange people, more or less humorously portrayed, and manages to inadvertently destroy a lot of property.  This is a wry road trip set to an amazing U.S. country rock score.   The film was played at a monotone in keeping with the main character's dejected mood...and I found myself tuning out at times.  But by the end I sort of liked the unlikable protagonist, and felt the same way about the film itself.  ** 1/2

THE ADMIRAL (d.  Andrei Kravchuck)
This is a massive historical epic film about the very real Admiral Kolchak (a wonderful performance by the charismatic Nightwatch star Konstantin Khabensky), who led the Russian Whites in their battle against the Bolsheviks in the years 1917-1920.  The film features some vivid, well directed war scenes, especially WWI sea battles and horrendously bloody land battles in the civil war in Siberia.  It's also a love story featuring the married Kolchak in an affair with the wife of one of his officers.  Here the film feels less successful...it's definitely no Dr. Zhivago, more a rushed version of War & Peace.    All the technical credits were superior...especially the sets, costumes, massive number of extras, and the fine musical score which was both martial and intimate.  I was moved and impressed by the superb filmmaking; but felt that the film needed more length to flesh out the characters and live up fully to the promise of its extraordinary historical scope.   *** 1/2

Let's just get it out at the start:  I didn't get this Turkish film.  I'm told that it is a parable of one man's downfall due to the evils of free-market capitalism.  For me, it just seemed like a man wanting to better himself and his family who, despite his best efforts, falls victim to his own weaknesses and the corruption of the system.  As such, it was a mildly diverting road trip flick with no heroes and an ironic conclusion.  Nothing much to write home about.  ** 1/4

This is an informative and even entertaining documentary about the search for the child who is the reincarnation of a Buddhist lama who died in 2001.  The holy man's long time disciple is charged with finding the child; and his journey, filmed with remarkable access, is interesting enough.  But the film also raises some disturbing questions about faith and life after death; and this skeptical filmgoer found a number of cherished disbeliefs challenged.  ***

BUDDENBROOKS (d. Heinrich Breloer)
This is the epic German adaptation of Thomas Mann's novel about the rise and fall of a 19th century merchant family in the Hansiatic League city-state of Lübeck.  It centers on the pater familias (played stoically by Armin Mueller-Stahl) and his daughter and two sons and sweeps through three generations as the line peters out.  The production values are all superb...this is Masterpiece Theater on a huge scale and made for the big screen.  *** 1/4

LITTLE SOLDIER (d. Annette K. Olesen)
Annette Olesen, a recent SIFF emerging master, makes quality films which just don't appeal to me.  Here she is working with the fine Danish actress Trine Dyrholm, playing a recently returned from Iraq ex-soldier who goes to work at her father's shady business as a driver for a Nigerian prostitute as she does her call girl rounds.  The film is a well observed character study, and also an indictment of the treatment of immigrant women in today's Europe.  But just not my cuppa.  ** 3/4

BE CALM AND COUNT TO SEVEN (d. Ramtin Lavafipour)
Apparently there is an entire subculture of boat owning smugglers in today's Iran.  This is the story of one such family, centered on the teen-age son and daughter coping with the disappearance of their father on one smuggling run.  I never got a good idea of where this was taking place or what was being smuggled (tvs, microwaves and cigarettes, for sure; but mostly sealed packages carried by anonymous burkha wearing women running around like demented ghosts).  It's definitely a different sort of Iranian film...but just a little too obscure for me to appreciate it fully.  ** 1/2

MY SUICIDE (d. David Lee Miller)
I don't want to oversell the film My Suicide...but for me it is the most interesting film I've seen here so far and, in my opinion, represents a true paradigm shift in the process of filmmaking.  The filmmakers spent three years in post-production, literally producing the film on a computer at home in Thousand Oaks, CA.  Their script, about a nerdy, loner high-school media student who shakes up his family and fellow students when he embarks on an assignment to film his own suicide, was good enough to induce some fine actors to do cameos (among them Joe Montegna, Nora Dunn, Mariel Hemingway and Tony Hale from "Arrested Development").  It also has an eerie turn by David Carradine as a guru of death, which will obviously turn some potential viewers off in theory; but in truth is quite in keeping with his career's persona.  But what the film has going for it in spades is an enthusiastic and skillful application of the YouTube aesthetic of radical re-invention of filmic form (a tradition which stretches from Donnie Darko through Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation to Antonio Campos's Afterschool) combined with an obvious love and appreciation for the history of cinema (wonderful lead actor and film editor Gabriel Sunday is a skilled impressionist and the film is full of references to touchstone film performances which help define his character.)  Plus it has a superb song score featuring today's emo rock which even an old fart like me can appreciate, and some kick-ass video animation.   *** 3/4

HACHIKO:  A DOG'S STORY (d. Lasse Hallstrom)
I usually enjoy the films of Lasse Hallstrom.  He's never particularly adventuresome with his Hollywood projects; but he has a knack for making films which are emotionally resonant for me.  This film, about a dog's loyalty to his master, is particularly manipulative in the way it pulls an emotional response...yet, once again, I have to admit that I submitted gladly to the process.  This one is a true guilty pleasure.  ** 3/4

The setting is late '60s Quebec (the third film from this time and place that I've seen in the past year...it's also the best).  The film portrays a family where the deeply closeted gay father (so closeted that I'm not even sure if my gaydar was working correctly) is deserted by his journalist wife leaving him with three troubled children.  The film becomes the children's story...and all three child actors are superb, especially the youngest boy, dyslexic and constantly acting out.  The film got just about everything right:  very true to the time and place, well observed characterizations and lovely cinematography.  Nothing flashy here, just solid filmmaking.  *** 1/2

GIVE ME YOUR HAND (d. Pascal-Alex Vincent)
Two 20-something twin brothers embark on a road trip from their French village to Spain to attend the funeral of their mother, whom apparently they've never known.  During their travels by foot, hitchhiking, rail, and every which way imaginable, they encounter a series of people, many of whom they have sex with (both women and occasionally men.)  The film has some strikingly beautiful cinematography.  And the characterizations of the twin brothers are particularly interesting in that they seem to relate best with mutual aggression tinged with fraternal love.  There is hardly any dialog in the film.  Both boys were emotionally cut off; yet I felt that I somehow got deeply involved with their inner lives anyway.   The film reminded me of another, ultimately superior French road flick: The Adventures of Felix;  but the added twin brothers dynamic gave it a different spin.  ***

KANCHIVARAM (d. Priyadarshan)
There are two types of Indian films which show up at festivals:  Bollywood spectacles with music and dancing, and serious art films.  This film falls in the latter category...it's a social realism story of the exploitation of silk weavers in mid-20th century India.  The story centers around one of the weavers, an avowed communist labor organizer, who gets into trouble when he swears an oath at his daughter's birth to marry her off in a silk sari (an impossible expense for a poor, exploited worker.)  For me, this was a bleak exercise in overwrought miserablism.  But as Indian films go, it was startlingly realistic.  ** 3/4

THE FORTRESS (d. Fernand Melgar)
I was induced by good word of mouth to attend this documentary which shows the plight of various refugees from the 3rd world trying to get asylum in Switzerland.  They're interned with relative freedom in a facility which is something like a secure hotel in the French part of the country.  Many are from Africa, others from Bosnia and the former Soviet Union.  The film tells their story through interviews with the Swiss faculty, including one dedicated health professional.  The film was rather aimless and overlong...but it did give a relatively neutral overview of the Swiss system along with several moving stories from the refugees themselves during their internment interviews.  The film was shot with a purely objective camera with no apparent point of view.  It all seemed a bit disappointingly dry and emotionally unaffecting.  ** 1/2

ADAM (d. Max Mayer)
Hugh Dancy displays a perfect American accent and fine acting chops in this pleasant and moving American indie film about a recently orphaned young man with Asperger's syndrome (a form of high functioning autism), befriended by a "normal" woman neighbor (the ubiquitous Rose Byrne).  This is a well acted, "feel-good" flick which will likely get lost in the crowd when it gets released.  *** 1/4

INVOLUNTARY (d. Ruben Östlund)
This is a Swedish story film which intercuts a series of disconnected vignettes of people involved in moral quandaries.  It is an interesting slice of contemporary life from various social strata and age groups.  Initially I found it hard going, since none of the various sequences seemed to go anyplace before being abruptly blacked out.  But gradually the film started to make sense as each story developed.  The acting and filmmaking were very naturalistic...it had the feel of a documentary, but a particularly beautifully shot one.  I almost walked out on this because I wasn't "getting" it.  But I'm glad I stuck around because ultimately each vignette paid off.  ***

THE OTHER BANK (d. George Ovashvili)
The Caucasus region has been rife with wars for territory in recent years.  One ethnic war that hasn't been clear to me up to now is the one between the Republics of Georgia and Abkhaza, with the Russians literally in the middle.  I vow to do more research on this; but in the meantime, this devastating film will have to do.  It's the story of 12-year old displaced Georgian refugee Tedo (a beautifully naturalistic performance by cross-eyed Tedo Bekhauri), living with his prostitute mother, struggling to survive with odd jobs and petty thievery.  One day, in trouble with the law, he sets off to cross the border in search of his missing father.  This is the set-up for one powerful and gripping road trip, exposing all the ills (and incidental humanity) of the regional strife.  *** 1/2

SWEET CRUDE (d. Sandy Cioffi)
This documentary is, at its heart, about the suffering of the people of the Niger delta, the oil rich area of Nigeria, which is on the verge of ecological disaster due to the rapacious practices of the oil companies and the government.  Western media, according to this film, have totally blown their coverage of this situation:  labeling the people, in digestible sound bites, as terrorists for their justifiable fighting for the recognition of their grievances.  The filmmaker (who was very well spoken and convincing in person at the Q&A) was briefly incarcerated by the Nigerian government which confiscated much film stock from her recent sojourn in the area.  This is issue oriented filmmaking at its most vitally important, timely and illuminating best.  But still, for me at least, it wasn't a totally successful film:  its overall structure so sprawling and didactic that I tuned out for portions of the first half.  ***

EVERYONE ELSE (d. Maren Ade)
Getti and Chris are a newly involved 30-something German couple on vacation at Chris's parents villa in Sardinia.  The film is basically two hours of them talking and screwing their way into the process of exploring the possibilities of forming a lasting relationship, with no help from another annoying couple whom they run into on the island.  I was really impressed by the two lead actors, Birgit Minchmayr and Lars Eidinger.  Essentially such a film lives or dies in the way one relates to these physically appealing, but rather whiny and unlovable moderns.  In some ways, this is a replay of the couple dynamic of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf; and I found the dramatic tension fascinating enough to really involve me in the story.  I'm sure others would find it all insufferable.  *** 1/4

LIVE AND REMEMBER (d. Alexander Proshkin)
I guess the Russians will never run out of World War II stories.  This film does put a different spin on it, being about a small Siberian village near the end of the war where most of the young men are gone fighting and the women and old men left must suffer deprivations and hear about the war remotely.  The film centers on one such woman living with her in-laws and what happens when her husband deserts his duty and returns as a fugitive.  I was intrigued by the depiction of the lifestyle and snowbound milieu of these peasants.  I can't say I was emotionally involved with the characters; but the film was strong enough in terms of direction and performance to hold my interest.  *** 1/4

TEARS OF APRIL (d. Aku Louhimies)
The last day of the festival started strong with this powerful and emotionally devastating drama set within the civil war between the Red and White factions in Finland in the winter of 1918.  The film centers on a pretty woman soldier on the losing Red side (contrast this with the similar struggle in Russia shown here in the epic film The Admiral , where the Red side triumphed).  She is captured and mass raped when her platoon is wiped out...but saved from immediate execution by an upstanding and somewhat naive soldier who is charged with bringing her to what passed for summary justice (which actually in this civil war added up to a judge advocate ordering mass executions).  The drama develops out of this, involving the girl, the soldier and the judge advocate in a complex triangle.  It's a totally involving love and war story with a literate script, fine cinematography, and some amazing acting by the three principals, Pihla Vitala, Samuli Vauramo and Eero Aho.  *** 3/4

HOME (d. Ursula Meier)
Isabelle Huppert continues her quest to find weird vehicles to star in.  This is a comedy of sorts, about a family living far out in the country, but immediately adjacent to a major highway under construction for ten years - seemingly with no finish in sight.  Suddenly the highway is actually put to use, and the eccentric family's pleasant life is overwhelmed by the disruption.  The film reminded me of Tod Haynes' Safe (especially Julianne Moore's performance in that film, similar to Huppert's here) in the way it depicts the exaggerated tragi-comic reaction of people to a hostile environment.  I'd also like to give recognition to an outstanding child performance by Kacey Mottet Klein as the young son most vulnerable to the menace of the highway.  ***

A PAIN IN THE ASS (d. Francis Veber)
This was a typical Veber film:  a French farce with characters becoming increasingly mired in their absurd life games.  The film offered an occasional laugh; but like most of the Veber films since The Dinner Game, I found the whole enterprise tedious and ridiculous.  **

TROUBLED WATER (d. Erik Poppe)
This outstanding Norwegian drama relates two complexly interconnected stories.  The first involves a man released from prison after serving his time for committing a horrendously botched kidnapping when he was very young.  The second story centers on the mother of the child victim of that event.  The man (a truly memorable performance by Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen, who is an actor to watch for) is a talented musician who takes a job as organist at a church.  The woman (Trine Dyrholm in her second amazing performance at this festival along with  The Little Soldier) and her husband have adopted two young Asian sisters; but their life is still affected by the past tragedy.  The film raises a number of fascinating issues about crime and redemption without resorting to clichés.    *** 3/4

SUMMER (d. Kenny Glenaan)
Robert Carlyle plays a man whose lifelong best friend, a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair, is dying.  Through a series of flashbacks we get to know the backstory of this severely learning disabled boy and his relationships lasting to the present day.  I had trouble understanding the dialog...the Scottish and lower class accents were so strong that sub-titles should have been used.  But I also had trouble relating to the characters and their situation.  Not to imply that this was a bad film...it was actually a pretty fair character study. ** 3/4

Thus ended another successful SIFF for me.  There were a number of clunkers; but they were far outweighed by the good films.  The Golden Space Needle for most popular film went to something called Black Dynamite, a midnight film which was apparently a comic takeoff on the Blaxploitation genre of the 1970s.  I never even considered going to it; and it seemed like another embarrassing choice when so many outstanding dramas were programmed here.  As usual, the results of the polling of Full Series passholders (the summary compiled and available at their web site ) was much more in keeping with my tastes.  I actually saw nine of the top ten films chosen by the "Fools" and loved all of them.  My five weeks of intense filmgoing comprised 123 festival features and one short film compilation.   I hope to be back next year for another bout of total immersion in artfilms at this amazing festival. 

On the Fool Serious listserve I posted a review of the varous theater venues at SIFF this year.  My rankings can be found here.

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