I have arrived in Seattle, settled in with my new Windows-7 Ultimate desktop computer for the duration.  The trip up from Los Angeles was mostly uneventful, with visits with friends and family in Berkeley, Shasta City and Eugene.

FARSAN  (d. Josef Fares)
Josef Fares (Lebanese-Swedish director of Jalla! Jalla! and Kops) has built a film around his real-life father, Jan.  It's a sweet comic tale of an immigrant widower, Farsan, who works at a bicycle repair shop and deals with his married son's and his co-worker's problems and joys.  This is a slice-of-life film, diverting enough with well written characterizations and occasionally funny set-pieces.  ***

AHEAD OF TIME  (d. Bob Richman)
Journalist and author Ruth Gruber's byline was slightly familiar to me from reading the International Herald Tribune back in the '60s.  But this documentary made me aware of how extraordinary she is.  Born in 1911 and still sharp as a tack, she was involved in many mid-century events and, along with some remarkable historical film footage and materials that she saved over the years, we're treated to her insights into such historical events as Hitler's coming to power, Alaska's development, and most importantly the birth of the state of Israel and the dramatic saga of the ship Exodus which she covered extensively in 1947.  Gruber's stories are inherently interesting; but the film is fairly straightforward as a documentary structured chronologically around interviews and found footage.  ***

KANIKOSEN  (d. Sabu)
This strange, claustrophobic drama takes place on a crab fishing boat plying the Sea of Okhotsk 
around 1905.  It centers around the slave-like workers on the boat...but I never could get the characters straight.  About 2/3 of the way through the film the projectionist started a reel backwards and upside down...and wasn't able to correct the error for at least 10 minutes while the auditorium emptied.  Since I wasn't really into the film at this point, and was thinking that the insanity of people walking upside down and talking in backwards Japanese was the most enjoyable part of the film so far, I exited the theater too and didn't look back.  W/O

I intended on watching HOLY ROLLERS in the press screenings, having already seen the other two films.  But SIFF crossed me up and played HOLY ROLLERS before its scheduled time; so I missed it - DARN!  I decided to watch the replacement film I AM LOVE, even though I had already seen it.  Second time around it still is alluring and gorgeous with a fascinating performance by Tilda Swinton; but I can't say that I understood it any better.  Anyway, here is the review I wrote earlier this year when I watched the film the first time around.

I AM LOVE (Io sono l'amore)  (d. Luca Guadagnino)
Guadagnino is a young director of great promise.  This film is the story of an haute bourgeois family of mill owners, whose fortune has led to a sumptuous life style, although though the two sons and daughter of the current generation have problems.  The film reminds me of the huge family sagas that Olivier Assayas is so good at staging, particularly Les destinées sentimentales.  And Guadagnino has gathered an exceptional cast and has used a strong musical score by John Adams to good effect.  There are sequences (including a sex scene montage) of enormous filmic beauty and originality.  However, there is also a feeling of excess and pretentiousness...the filmmaker's ambition may have gotten ahead of his ability to produce.  It also seems a little overlong and ponderous.  But I have to say I was totally involved in the story; and despite some flaws this was an extraordinary film.  *** 1/4

NOWHERE BOY (d. Sam Taylor-Wood)
Aaron Johnson, who plays John Lennon as a teenager, fulfills the promise he showed as the battered lead in the film Kick-Ass.  I have no idea how true-to-life this well focused bio-pic is.  It purports to tell the untold story of Lennon's special upbringing by his Aunt Mimi while his flighty mother Julia lived nearby, unknown to Lennon.  The performances by Kristin Scott Thomas and Anne-Marie Duff as the dueling sisters are quite fine.  But it is Johnson's film.  I believed every moment that he was the embodiment of the musical genius that was Lennon.  And to top it off, the wide-screen direction and cinematography are first rate too.  Only the overly pat script, and the ultimate limitations of the real-life bio-pic genre, kept this film from a top rating.  *** 1/4

EXCITED  (d. Bruce Sweeney)
Mumblecore dramedy about a Vancouver family:  two neurotic 30-something brothers with issues, meddlesome mother, ineffectual father.  The older brother is the film's main focus.  He has a sexual dysfunction...and the film is mostly about his coping with this problem within a new relationship with a nice Muslim girlfriend.  I rather enjoyed this film: its premise is something hardly ever discussed in films; and the filmmaker's low-key approach was spot on.  But as I was leaving the theater I overheard one young man say "now I have a new least favorite film".  So definitely this film isn't going to be to everybody's taste.  ***

THE CHEF OF SOUTH POLAR  (d. Shuichi Okita)
The setting is the Japanese Dome Fuji Station camp in the most inhospitable part of Antarctica where a group of eight men are spending a little more than a year in isolation on a scientific mission.  The film focuses on the chef, initially serving as the cook on a naval ship, and a last minute addition to the Antarctic crew.  The film is based on the autobiographical novel written by the  very real chef, Jun Nishimura.  But it wasn't clear to me how much of it was a clever re-creation...it had the authentic feel of a documentary.  In any case, Nishimura's fine Japanese cuisine, utilizing only frozen ingredients for the year plus (no corner market available), was so delicious looking that I'm glad that I had eaten before watching the film.  Add this film to shortlist of the great foodie films of all time, along with Eat Drink Man Woman and Babette's Feast.    *** 1/4

SOUL KITCHEN  (d. Fatih Akin)
Akin is mining a more comic and antic vein than with his previous oeuvre.  Here he's telling the story of Zinos, a young entrepreneurial Greek man who owns a dilapidated industrial building in Hamburg where he runs a soul food (read German comfort food) restaurant for the local denizens.  Adam Bousdoukos is quite good in this role, with an easy charm which makes him especially likable.  He has a criminal type brother (played by one of my favorite German actors, Moritz Bleibtreu) and a rich bitch blonde girlfriend.  In other words, an interesting mix of characters set in a story which revolves around this restaurant and Zinos' striving to make it by upscaling the restaurant.  I'm glad I wasn't hungry watching this film, as it is another fine foodie movie almost rivaling Chef of South Polar for its succulent images.  ***

was supposed to play at today's press screening; but once again the projection was screwed up beyond redemption.  This time this documentary was projected at the wrong film aspect - meaning that no subtitles were visible and the bottom of faces were chopped off.  Or maybe this print simply didn't have subtitles.  In either case the film was unwatchable and after 5 minutes or so I walked.  I'll decide during the festival whether or not to attend it.  Frankly, it didn't look too promising; but I should know better than to judge a film based on what little that I saw of this one.

THE FREEBIE  (d. Katie Aselton)
Here's another noble addition to the mumblecore genre...in this case the story of an L.A. 30-something couple and their reckless experiment with open marriage.  A film like this lives or dies by the casting...and in this case I thought the girl, played by the director Katie Aselton, was stronger than the guy (played by Dax Shepard), which skewed the film.  The film reminded me of a chick flick version of last year's Humpday...not surprising since the actor/director of this film is married to the actor/director of that film.  I'm certain that many will be turned off by the self-absorption and delusional rationalizations of the main characters; but despite the film's utter predictability, I was absorbed by the depiction of the Silverlake lifestyle...familiar to me, yet so foreign to my own West Hollywood sensibility. ** 3/4

THE CONCERT  (d. Radu Mihaileanu)
A Russian conductor, banished from the Bolshoi 30 years earlier for anti-Communist acts, gets a chance to redeem his life by giving a concert in Paris.  It sounds like pure mush and cliché.  But with a strong cast, equally at home with touching drama and slapstick comedy, and some great music adding to the enchantment of a feel-good fairy tale story, we have a winner!  I laughed, I cried.  I want to know who the concert violinist was; and I want to buy the recording.  *** 1/2

BUS PALLADIUM  (d. Christopher Thompson)
The title refers to a Parisian rock club where a fledgling rock quartet going by the name Lust starts on the road to fame.  The director co-wrote and acted in the film Avenue Montaigne, which was a large scale film about Parisian show biz.  This film is also based in the entertainment world; but is smaller in scale...focusing on the founding duo of a struggling modern-day rock band.  The charismatic lead singer is played by Arthur Dupont.  But the film belongs to the lead guitarist, played by the young actor who won hearts  in C.R.A.Z.Y., Marc-Andre Grondin.  They make a Lennon/McCartney sort of pair, only their struggle is over a woman...played by gorgeous supermodel Elisa Sednaoui, who is bound to become a big film star.  The film plies familiar ground...sex, drugs, rock & roll; but it does it with style.  Plus I really dug the music. *** 1/4

SKELETONS  (d. Nick Whitfield)
A pair of weirdos stroll through the Scottish countryside plying their trade which is "extracting" skeletons from the closets of various homeowners.  If that seems like a strange concept to make a film around...well, welcome to the inscrutable fantasy world that this film inhabits.  The film has a fine cast, including Paprika Steen and Jason Isaacs in subsidiary roles.  I'm pretty sure that something here was supposed to make sense...even though I didn't get it.  It did have a kind of loopy eccentricity, though, which was enjoyable even as I scratched my head and dozed a bit.  **

Taiwan in the early 1950's was, according to this affecting film, under martial law with many being accused and executed as Communist spies.  This film is the true story of two little girls, sisters, whose air force father and lovely mother fall under the state's shadow.  It's also the story of perverse love in an era of state terror using an obscure children's illustrated fairy tale called "The Prince of Tears" as a central metaphor (one that I never really understood).  There is much to admire here:  a feeling of authenticity of time and place, lovely cinematography, a true story which also has dramatic cohesiveness.  On the other hand, I never quite became emotionally involved with the adult characters with their austere reserve...or, even more vital to appreciating the film, the children's plight .  ** 3/4

AMER  (d. Hélène Cattet)
This is a typical midnight film:  a genre slasher film which is all overwrought
style over any rational substance.  It's the story of a girl, maybe schizophrenic, definitely hysterical, in three parts...as a child, teenager and young woman.  She lives in a remote seaside mansion and deals almost totally without dialogue with inner and outer demons.   I've got to give the film credit for its outrageously gorgeous widescreen cinematography...all supersaturated reds and blues.  But to say I hated this film is an understatement...I have no affinity for this genre and kept wishing I was anywhere but in the theater being subjected to the artificially overamped terror tropes.  Still, leaving the theater I did hear some complimentary comments from apparent aficionados of the genre who recognized some merit in the way the film comprehensively covered all the slasher film bases.  *

WINTER'S BONE  (d. Debra Granik)
The setting is hardscrabble Missouri Ozark hill country where just about every family cooks meth or uses or both.  17 year-old Ree, who is caring for her depressed mother and two young siblings needs to find her father who has disappeared after putting up the family homestead as bail.  This is the setup for a totally involving, harrowing trip through a slice of American culture which is familiar, yet totally foreign to me.  The wonderful John Hawkes plays Ree's uncle, her reluctant ally in the search for his younger brother.  But the film belongs to young Jennifer Lawrence in a tough but vulnerable turn as the teenage girl forced to face life experiences that nobody should ever have to face.  She is a budding star; and I expect to see a lot more of her in the future.  *** 1/2

WHEN WE LEAVE  (d. Feo Aladag)
Apparently there is nothing worse than to be a Turkish Muslim woman who has shamed her family.  In this case, 25 year-old Umay leaves Istanbul and her unhappy marriage, taking her 5-year old son with her to the supposed protection of her family in Berlin.  Not a good move for Umay.  The subjects of the abuses which occur in the cultures of shame and the plight of Muslim women are familiar in art films...for instance at the 2008 SIFF we saw a film, Bliss, about a Turkish family hunting down their fallen daughter.  But this cautionary tale needs to be told over and over so that these horrors are exposed. This film may be somewhat predictably melodramatic; but it works, mainly because of the excellent cast and the first time director's fine sense of pacing and skillful use of music to heighten the tension.   ***

SKATELAND  (d. Anthony Burns)
This is an American indie coming of age story taking place in an authentic looking '80s Texas town featuring up-and-coming actor Shiloh Fernandez as a middle-class kid who works at a soon-to-be-closed roller skating emporium during his last year in high-school.  He has a number of difficult relationships:  parents, girlfriend, buddies, enemies.  Frankly, the script is pedestrian...predictable and unoriginal.  This is no Adventureland, which it resembles thematically, but falls very much short of.  Still, there is a certain artistic quality to the production which must have attracted the film to the festival programmers.  ** 1/2

ONDINE  (d. Neil Jordan)
Neil Jordan is a fine director and I was really looking forward to this film.  Colin Farrell plays a lone, ex-alcoholic fisherman who captures a near-drowned  woman in his boat's net.  Is she a mermaid or maybe a selkie (mythical creature half woman, half seal)?  The film sort of lost me when it started out as a realistic fable.  However, it is partially redeemed by its  charming subsidiary characters:  Stephen Rea as a quipster priest, Alison Barry as Farrell's bright, infirm young daughter.  And Christopher Doyle's cinematography brings the Irish seaside community to luminous life, even with the inferior digital transfer that the festival pulled together for the press screening.  Still, I couldn't get past the all too pat plot.  ** 1/2

COUNTDOWN TO ZERO  (d. Lucy Walker)
There is no doubt that this film about the increasing dangers of nuclear proliferation in today's world is an important documentary.  Not that this is anything new...I was around in the 1950's when we were taught "duck and cover" in school and lived under the certainty that atomic war was immanent.  But this film shows that the dangers today may be greater than ever:  accidents, miscalculations, madness plus 23,000+ nuclear warheads still in existence.  It's scary stuff and this film hits the viewer over the head with it almost to the point of over-saturation.  ***

MAO'S LAST DANCER  (d. Bruce Beresford)
To be honest, this film is an unexpected delight.  I wasn't excited about the prospect of another biopic about a Chinese expat or a defecting dancer.  But Australian director Bruce Beresford proves that he hasn't lost his touch for making emotionally powerful films.  Dancer Chi Cao is remarkable as the adult real-life ballet star Li Cunxin.  The film has some incredibly beautiful dancing sequences...but Li's unlikely life story is also fascinating and well portrayed, even if the familiar plot devices seem at time emotionally manipulative (sort of a Chinese version of "Billy Elliot".)  *** 1/4

EVERY DAY  (d. Richard Levine)
Liev Schreiber plays a husband/father beset with problems on all sides:  his irascible father-in-law (Brian Dennehy) is coming to live with his already stressed family.  His wife of 19 years (Helen Hunt) is on the verge; his teenage older son (up-and-comer Ezra Miller so good in the recent City Island) is exploring his gay sexuality; his younger son has nightmares; and his job writing porn tv scripts for his weirdo gay boss (Eddie Izzard) is on the line.  Great cast, a story that totally absorbed me, so why does it just seem to miss the mark?  For one thing, this screening was marred by an extremely poor video print...dark and murky with a soundtrack so underpotted that much dialog was lost.  But more than that, despite some clever banter and a-list cast, the script's uneasy mix of comedy and pathos often seemed clichéd and overly familiar, more tv dramedy than indie film.  I loved it; but objectively, I have to admit to the film's limitations.  ** 3/4

THE DRY LAND  (d. Ryan Piers Williams)
This film, like Kimberly Peirce's underappreciated Stop-Loss, explores with dramatic intensity the plight of servicemen returning from the Iraq war with variants of PTSD and worse.  Here Ryan O'Nan does a potentially star-making turn as the soldier returning to civilian life in his small Texas town facing multiple problems with his wife (America Ferrera), his mother (the always wonderful Melissa Leo) and former buddies.  This is downer drama of a high order illustrating the unintended consequences that this country faces for its involvement in this f*cked-up war...reminiscent of what happened to some of my generation after returning from Viet Nam.  Definitely not for the squeamish (one sequence where the soldier takes a job in a slaughterhouse is hard to take), the film nevertheless delivers on its promise to illuminate important issues in today's America.  *** 1/4

SON OF BABYLON  (d. Mohamed Al-Daradji)
The film opens in a stark landscape where an old woman and young boy are wandering.  It turns out that they are Kurd refugees, grandmother and grandson, in the period immediately after the fall of Saddam who are searching for the woman's son who had disappeared into prison or worse under the fallen regime.   What follows is an extended road trip through the harrowing landscapes of post-war Iraq.  The kid is voluble and smart...but somewhat annoying at times.  Which describes the film, too.   ** 3/4

LIFE DURING WARTIME  (d. Todd Solondz)
There is probably no more misanthropic a director making films than Todd Solondz.  We're back in the irony drenched territory of Happiness, visiting the world of the Jordan sisters of Miami (formerly of New Jersey).  These are the same characters as in the 1998 film, only here played by different actors.  Alison Janney is the perfect Solondz anti-heroine: pluckily facing life with three children and a child molester ex-husband (Cirian Hinds) who is getting released from prison, while currently having an affair with a man who isn't her "type" (Michael Lerner).  Her sister, ironically named Joy (baby doll voiced Shirley Henderson), has her own problems seeing ghosts.  This is Solondz's most narratively cohesive film since Happiness; and I, for one, am happy to see that development.  I'm not exactly sure why it is; but I get a kick out of watching these misbegotten characters live their desperate, depressive lives. Your mileage may vary.  ***

This documentary is about the indomitable 50-ish, lesbian Topp twins, born on a New Zealand farm, who became a unique singing/comedy act which eventually toured the world.  Audiences seem to love their shtick:  singing, yodeling, character acting in various costumes and guises.  I have to admit I wasn't very receptive to their act...I don't think I laughed once during the film.  But I recognize talent when I see it; and this film does showcase that talent in a pretty comprehensive way with lots of footage from their life and career.  And even though I had trouble understanding their Kiwi accents, these ladies are inherently likable, as is the film for the most part.  ** 3/4

THE EXTRA MAN (d. Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini)
Kevin Kline shamelessly chews the scenery playing Henry, who makes a tenuous living as an amusing extra man for rich old New York society ladies who need to balance their tables at dinner parties.  He takes in a naive lodger new to the big city, a wannabe writer who constantly narrates his own life in interior voice-over.  Paul Dano plays the younger character as buttoned up as Kline plays his manic.  The result is a sporadically funny comedy which seems familiar and derivative of other, better written and directed films about eccentric elders mentoring naive young men (for instance Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont.)  ** 1/4

THE EXTRA MAN continues a SIFF tradition of dud opening films designed for a broad audience, but which invariably fail to be of interest to the usual festival cineaste crowd.  At least the gigantic Benaroya Hall, designed for symphony orchestras, was a venue where the film's sound track was audible (as opposed to the McCaw opera house, the event's home for the previous two years, where the sonics were muffled and the film's sound track barely audible.)  Also, for once I was able to navigate the food line after the film with no problems.  Good food this year, nicely prepared and efficiently served! 

AIR DOLL  (d. Hirokazu Kore-eda)
A Japanese city dweller makes friends with his relatively cheap blow-up sex doll...talks to her and has apparently satisfactory sexual relations with her.  But when he goes to work the doll comes to life and has adventures.  I thought this might be an appealing idea, recalling Lars and the Real Girl.  However in Kore-eda's hand the film takes on a gossamer, fantasy tone which I couldn't relate to.   I have a feeling that the film is an allegory of alienation and transitory beauty...or something like that...just not executed in a style designed to keep me from dozing off.  **

A LITTLE HELP  (d.  Michael J. Weithorn)
This is Weithorn's first feature film; and he's done an admirable job of pulling together an amazing cast and making the dysfunctional family comedy/drama genre look fresh again.  Jenna Fisher, familiar from the sitcom "The Office" (which I don't watch, but should), plays the unhappy beer guzzling wife in this post-9/11 New York suburban milieu.  Her husband philanders, her overweight son tells lies, her bossy older sister and mother meddle etc.  A film like this depends greatly on the chemistry of the casting; and here Weithorn has succeeded admirably with this excellent ensemble.  He also excels with his script with sprightly dialogue and well constructed situations.  If the bittersweet ending is a little tentative and left me wanting more, that's a testament to how well the film worked for me.  *** 1/4

LOOSE CANNONS  (d. Ferzan Ozpetek)
Ozpetek is back in familiar territory exploring gay men and their families.  In this case the family is a complex, upper class one, owners of a huge pasta-making conglomerate in a small northern Italian city.  Everyone has issues; but the family's fragile peace, and the orderly transfer of the business to the next generation is shattered when one son comes out as being gay and is banished by the homophobic paterfamilias.  The way this eccentric family was portrayed reminded me of another recent Italian upper class drama, I Am Love.  But Ozpetek takes an altogether different tack combining a kind of camp comedy with a dysfunctional family drama, and amazingly pulls it off with his usual directorial flair and attractive cast (is there a more handsome actor in the world than Riccardo Scamarcio who works hard to play gay?)  *** 1/4

HUACHO  (d. Alejandro Fernandez & Almendras)
This is a quietly fascinating story of a day in the life of four members of poor peasant family in today's Chile.  They work a meager existence from their little plot of ground.  We follow the grandmother, mother, young son and grandfather as they go through their hardscrabble daily life, such quotidian tasks as making cheese to sell, struggling to pay the electric bill, making friends with the rich kids at school, growing old and feeble.  It's all done with cinema verité realism and has a cumulative impact since the people are inherently likable.  ***

FROM TIME TO TIME  (d. Julian Fellowes)
This is the second year in a row that I've been blown away by an ostensible kid's film with supernatural elements.  Last year it was Krabat.  This year it is this ghost story spanning two periods in the existence of an old English mansion.  The present day here is 1944 in the midst of war when young Tolly (played by Alex Etel, grown a bit from his turn in Millions) comes to live with his grandmother (the amazing Maggie Smith) in the countryside.  The past is about his ancestors who were involved in a fire in 1815 and haunted the mansion ever since.  The film is a charming period piece with the distinction of having two interesting periods and vivid characters to explore.  *** 1/2

THE ROBBER  (d. Benjamin Heisenberg)
Andreas Lust is remarkable playing a just released prisoner who combines extraordinary skills as both a bank robber and marathon runner.  The film is a character study and a thriller which reminded me a lot of part one (On the Run) of Lucas Belvaux's Trilogy.  *** 1/4

CYRUS  (d. Jay Duplass & Mark Duplass)
The Duplass brothers are making a bid for mainstream success with this odd black comedy about a depressed divorced man (John C. Reilly) who meets a woman (Marisa Tomei) with a manipulative, weirdo grown son living with her (Jonah Hill in a breakout role from his usual fat sidekick casting.)  For me it was involving up to the point when it became somewhat predictable.  Maybe the trailer promised a blacker film than what resulted...and I found myself somewhat disappointed. ** 3/4

HOLY ROLLERS  (d. Kevin Tyler Asch)
Two of my favorite actors, Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Bartha here are quite authentically playing Brooklyn Hasidim who get involved in drug smuggling in the late 1990's.  It's an involving, suspenseful, possibly true story of how modern life corrupts.  ***

No hints, of course; but I loved this film and hope that an actor in it becomes a major international star.  *** 1/2

ON THE TOWN  (d. Stanley Donan & Gene Kelly)
Maybe I'm just jaded, but the naivety of the plot, what little there was of it (three sailors spend a day looking for dames while on leave in New York) and the predictability of the music and the choreography just didn't transport me.  The film looks great, with a fine new Technicolor sheen.  Too bad that they can't improve the sound tracks to match on these old musicals.  ** 1/2

PERRIER'S BOUNTY  (d. Ian FitzGibbon)
I totally misunderstood the title of this film going in.  I thought this was a film about the bountiful gifts of the Perrier spring.  Instead the bounty in this comic Irish gangster shoot-em-up is the price that Brendon Gleeson's gang kingpin Perrier puts on the head of poor Cillian Murphy who owes him money.  If the film had 1/4 the wit of In Bruges or even some of the misbegotten elan of Guy Ritchie's Snatch, it would possibly be enjoyable.  But for all the attraction of such a fine cast, including Jim Broadbent and the voice of Gabriel Byrne, the film is a mess of non-stop ridiculous chases and killings.  ** 1/4

I attended two programs of short films, mainly because they were scheduled in slots where I had seen all the available narrative films.  The program called "Playing Doctor" was ostensibly about budding young love.  None of the films rose to the level of mediocrity, although a Belgian film called Siemiany about two barely pubescent boys falling out because one of them is at the cusp of discovering girls had high production values.  And another, Mutually Assured Attraction delivered on its one joke premise by being short and to the point. 

The gay short program "From Boys to Men", on the other hand, was quite fine on average.  The standout was an engrossing film called Bedfellows, a wry fable of a bar pickup which goes wonderfully right.  Another standout was writer/director James Franco's The Feast of Stephen (yes that James Franco), a short B&W home movie about a nerdy boy who fantasizes naked boyflesh while watching a pickup basketball game and then gets brutally gang raped for his transgressions.  Sounds horrid; but Franco's primitive camera makes it all strangely erotic rather than brutal.  Another standout was The Queen (not to be confused with a lesser film here called Queen) about a boy who works in his parent's Chinese laundry who fantasizes about being a prom queen romancing the prom king while tending to dry cleaning their clothes.  Another fairly interesting film was Chased where two straight guys being chased by a gang discover a passion for each other.  I was less enamored with the Spanish film Pasajero, a bittersweet tale of two friends who meet up by chance in Madrid and don't quite click.  But it and the other film which didn't quite work for me, Play Name, about a Thai boy who is picked up by a handsome American in Bangkok, at least had high production values and an attractive cast. 

IMANI  (d. Caroline Kamya) 
This languorous film takes place in Entibbe, Uganda and tells three interconnected stories about victims of war, of violence, of poverty.  I had trouble keeping the characters and stories straight, most likely due to the unprofessional actors and desultory pacing.  My mind wandered. The definitive native Central African drama has yet to be made, I think.  * 3/4

JOAN RIVERS:  A PIECE OF WORK  (d. Ricki Stern, Annie Sundberg) 
I've never been a particular fan of Rivers, knowing nothing about her other than the obvious facets of her reputation.  This remarkably entertaining documentary set me straight about her and her life and career.  The film followed Rivers' activities  throughout the year she turned 75 (2007-8).  What soon became clear is that this woman is sharp as a tack, still working full tilt and funny as hell.  And surprisingly she is, despite her reputation, basically a good and kind Jewish yenta who toils ceaselessly to support an entourage of support personnel while doing good works and fighting the ravages of time.  I have no way of knowing how much of this film is accurate, or how much is an elaborately set-up puff piece.  All I know is that I haven't laughed this much at a show biz movie since The Aristocrats.  *** 1/4

THE PENITENT MAN  (d. Nicholas Gyeney) 
This is a time travel film with no real special effects.  It is all done with dialogue:  mainly featuring  a young Seattle psychologist dealing with a client who claims that he came from the future with the intention of changing the past to save humanity from imminent disaster.  If this reminds one of The Terminator, it was clear from the Q&A with the writer/director afterwards that this was no accident.  Lance Henriksen plays the ostensible visitor from the future.  The rest of the cast is not quite up to his gravitas.  The film was intriguingly intellectual, if a tad pretentious.  However, I did guess the film's surprise gimmick fairly early, which moderated my response.  ** 3/4

MOUNT ST. ELIAS  (d. Gerald Salmina) 
This is one documentary which ought to be seen on the big screen to take advantage of its enormous and incredible scale.  It's about a group of intrepid (and maybe foolhardy) extreme alpine skiers who attempt to climb to the top of 18,000 foot Alaskan peak Mount St. Elias and ski down its sheer snow covered slopes.  This may just be the pinnacle of man's audacity caught on film...as the entire enterprise is fraught with danger and the seemingly impossible...not the least of which is the difficulty of just shooting the damn thing.  Anyway, this is a wonderful documentary which exalts the human spirit.  *** 1/2

CAIRO TIME  (d. Ruba Nadda)
Honestly, Patricia Clarkson is the only reason to seek out this chick flick/travelogue.  Clarkson is playing a woman journalist, married to a U.N. envoy in Gaza, who is on vacation in Cairo awaiting her husband's joining her.  And waiting and waiting, sort of seeing the sights with her husband's hot Syrian friend (Alexander Siddig).  The cinematography and views of Cairo are super...I felt I was there.  But the film lost its way with coy romanticism and desultory pacing.   ** 1/2

WASTE LAND  (d. Lucy Walker)
Vik Munoz is a New York artist, a Brazilian ex-pat who conceives a major art project in his home country, which is the rationale for making this affecting documentary.  Munoz recruited photogenic people working as garbage recyclers in the world's largest garbage landfill, Rio's Jardim Gramacho.  He then made gigantic photo-montages of these people using found garbage...and exhibited and sold the results returning the proceeds to the subjects.  The film combines art, environmental issues, and stories of impoverished, but plucky people into one film.  It breaks no new ground as a documentary; but I was fascinated by Munoz and his vision, and moved by the stories of his subjects.  *** 1/4

ME TOO (Yo, también)  (d. Alvaro Pastor & Antonio Naharro)
Pablo Pineda is a high functioning Down Syndrome actor; and this breakthrough story film utilizes him as a character longing to break out of the disability box and have a romance with a normal 46-chromosome woman (an interesting, difficult performance by actress Lola Dueñas.)  The film is an amalgam of an issue-based tract and an offbeat love story.  It left me vaguely uncomfortable; but I think that was the intention.  ***

PETYA ON THE WAY TO HEAVEN  (d. Nikolai Dostal)
The setting is a Siberian gulag (or maybe just a snow-bound Russian small town, it was never made clear) in 1952, the year Stalin died.  Petya (Pete in the subtitles) is a young man of dubious intelligence - maybe the village idiot, but not obviously so.  Anyway, he has a makeshift job of being a pretend "inspector" of vehicles.  Maybe it's just me, but I just didn't get the point of this tragi-comedy which couldn't decide whether it was "Keystone Kops" or a comic exposé of Stalinist oppression.  * 1/2

SEX&DRUGS&ROCK&ROLL  (d. Mat Whitecross)
Andy Serkis, most famous for playing Golem hidden by CGI in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, is furiously effective as the real-life English punk rock icon Ian Dury.  It doesn't matter that most of his dialogue is impossible to understand behind an impenetrable cockney accent...he nevertheless comes across as an intriguing monster in this strange, overamped biopic.  ** 3/4

Four disparate characters in Portland, Oregon are depicted in their ordinary lives in this rambling American indie.  Each story is emblematic in some way of our throw-out society, and the characters ultimately connect in subtle fashion.  Carrie Brownstein and James Mercer are non-actors who carry the film's major story threads:  the former a girl obsessed with reality tv, the latter a man with no career goals.  The film weaves a spell through a lack of artifice...it's typical of a school of Northwest filmmakers (think Kelly Reichardt, for example).  ***

CHERRY  (d. Jeffrey Fine)
A pair of young actors who have made their mark in tv series, Kyle Gallner in "Veronica Mars" and Brittany Robertson in "Life Unexpected" become genuine movie stars in this fine coming-of-age film.  Gallner plays a 17-year old ivy-league college freshman, a smart as a whip engineering student who naively becomes involved with an older woman fellow student and her 14-year old daughter.  This film could easily have gone wrong, could have been just another teenage exploitation flick.  But the fine, original script and sure handed direction of the young actors raised the level.  *** 1/2

Diyarbakir is a village in Turkey where the oppression of Kurds by the Turks apparently is ongoing.  Here two young children are left homeless with their infant sister when their parents are summarily executed at a roadside stop while the children watch helplessly.  What follows is something like Kore-eda's Nobody Knows:  children left to fend for themselves.  Harrowing subject matter, but also in the end life-affirming.   ***

KATALIN VARGA  (d. Peter Strickland)
The character Katalin Varga is a Hungarian woman whose husband has just found out about a 12-year prior rape and who kicks her out along with her bastard young son.  She commences a protracted road-trip by horse cart and foot...one which may or may not be one of vengeance.  The story is involving enough, even though protracted beyond the slender premise.  ** 1/2

FROM BEGINNING TO END  (d. Aluizio Abranches)
Francisco and Thomas are half-brothers in a modern Brazilian upper middle class family.  During their childhood they were particularly close and as teenagers they become lovers.  No holds barred, this is a lushly romanticized story of forbidden gay love which could have been icky...but it isn't because the film takes such a positive, non-judgmental view of the affair.  The actors are beautiful, the family life intriguing in its knowing denial.  For all its controversial subject matter, this isn't about sexual politics.  Rather it is pure wish-fulfillment fantasy which ignores the usual film convention of fateful retribution for breaking society's rules. *** 1/4

STIGMATA  (d. Adán Aliaga)
During the members preview here at SIFF there was one trailer shown, a single scene to weird music of a prostrate man leaking some fluid onto the ground in dark B&W.  I decided that this was a film to miss at all costs.  Of course I forgot that when it was announced as a press screening.  The film turns out to be a slowly developing lyrical piece of Catholic symbolism about a burly giant of a man, a taciturn drunkard who develops bleeding stigmata on his hands which have curative powers.  He joins a carnival which exploits his "talent".  The film is as moody and mysterious as its main character.  Not terrible; just not a film I could relate to in any way.   **

DRIFTING (A la deriva)  (d. Ventura Pons)
Pons is a director I know fairly well, one whose intellectualized, dense films are difficult and often rewarding.  Here he is telling the story of Anna, a woman marked by previous life experience working in the killing fields of Africa who leaves her husband, moves into a trailer and embarks on an illicit, highly erotic affair with a mysterious patient at the exclusive clinic where she works as a night security guard.  I had trouble getting into the film, and I'm not sure I understand the characters' underlying motivations.  Still, Maria Molins is quite fine as the woman adrift in her life.  ** 1/2

HIDEAWAY (Le refuge) (d. François Ozon)
Ozon, one of my favorite directors, has been uneven of late.  He's back in form in this involving film which makes an interesting companion piece to his incredible Time to Leave.  In this film the star of that film, Melvil Poupaud plays a heroin addict, spoiled upper class scion who at the start of the film leaves his pregnant, addicted girlfriend to fend for herself.  Isabelle Carré takes over the story as she finds refuge during her pregnancy in a seaside villa and becomes involved platonically with Poupaud's gay younger brother, a truly breakthrough performance by charismatic Louis-Ronan Choisy.  Once again, Ozon is examining the relationships of gay men and pregnant women...only in the current film the film's point-of-view is reversed, and from the woman's perspective. *** 1/2

3SOME  (d. Salvador Garcia Ruiz)
Three art students, a girl and two guys embark on a dangerous experiment in sexual liberation.  Neither of the guys is gay; but one is sexually dysfunctional and the other one, poorer and less attractive to women (although to my tastes cuter with his flashing eyes) is quite happy to use the girl's attraction to his more talented friend as a way to become involved with her.  This film could have gone seriously wrong.  But, for me at least, it was a flawless character study and a fascinatingly unconventional love story, in addition to being a subtle examination of what defines the creative spark.  Kudos to director Garcia Ruiz who has a great artistic eye and a way with actors; but it is the attractive, convincing cast which makes this film most memorable.  Adriana Ugarte is fine as the girl who loves both men in different ways.  And  handsome Nilo Mur and animated Biel Duran make the most of their difficult roles which feature unabashed full frontal male nudity and some quite compromising situations. I loved everything about this film except for the male characters' unbending straightness...and even that was contextually, unambiguously right.   *** 3/4

LIKE YOU KNOW IT ALL  (d. Hong Sang-Soo)
I'm not a particular Hong fan; but this film was touted as his most approachable, so I decided to see it.  It's the story of a Korean art-film director and his meandering, quasi-comic adventures serving on a film festival, visiting people, and having various affairs with unsuitable women.  True enough, this time Hong's narrative was not too obscure to follow.  But I still cannot find anything with which to personally relate in his films.  ** 1/4

SENIOR PROM  (d. Nicholas Terry)
Terry is an authentic high school senior attending school in Mountlake Terrace (a suburb north of Seattle).  He has collected a small group of his fellow students to (apparently) improvise a mockumentary about preparing and going to senior prom.  The characters are pretty stock:  nerd, bossy prom queen, mismatched couple, jock cut-up etc.  But they're all portrayed with affection and by unprofessional actors who are all pretty wonderful...they could easily fit into a Christopher Guest mockumentary (which I think was the fledgling director's aim.)  Going to this film was an iffy proposition...but Terry pulls it off with some nifty video camera work, professional quality editing and an attractive, interesting cast of characters just quirky enough to have universal appeal.  I doubt if I would ever have a chance to see this film anyplace but at SIFF; but this is what film festivals are all about:  finding little unpretentious gems to savor.  ***

LEAVING  (d. Catherine Corsini)
Kristin Scott Thomas plays a working class English woman who married a successful Frenchman (Yvan Attal), had two now teenage children and was living a good life.  She meets a Spanish day laborer (Sergi Lopez) and, seemingly against type falls madly and passionately in love.  In some ways this is very similar to the Tilda Swinton's situation in the Italian film at SIFF, I Am Love, although things work out quite differently.  This is melodramatic hokum at a high level...but it does make the point that French men and French marriage laws still regard wives as property.    ***

THE TROTSKY  (d. Jacob Tierney)
Jay Baruchel, who in my humble opinion walks on water as an actor, absolutely shines as the character Leon Bronstein, an anglophone Montreal teenager who truly believes himself to be the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky.  The film has some of the same feeling as Alexander Payne's Election crossed with Ferris Bueller's Day Off:  i.e. a battle between a high school student and the administration.  But the extra dimension of Baruchel's crazy Marxist obsession becomes a vessel for some very smart comedy riffs.   *** 1/4

This is a German made, large-scale costume drama which covers the life of Henri 4  (king of Navarre and later the first Bourbon king of France through his marriage to Marguerite of Valois).  Julian Boisselier has a sufficiently charismatic physical presence to be a convincing Henri 4 (incidentally one of my personal favorite historical characters).  However the film covers much the same ground as Patrice Chéreau's Queen Margot and suffers somewhat from the comparison (nobody can ever compete with Jean-Hugues Anglade as crazy Charles IX, although Boisselier compares favorably with Daniel Auteuil's Henri except for the execrable dubbing into French.)   The film looks great with a wide-screen digital print which had to be restarted several times because of technical problems.  But once the film got going it was an exciting re-creation of the 16th Century world of conflict between Catholics and Protestants.  ***

A favorite director changes gear.  *** 1/4

KHARGOSH  (d. Paresh Kamdar)
A 10-year old kid makes friends with a much older student.  They fly kites together and the kid helps the older man carry on an assignation with a woman whom the latter calls his "Death".  This is somewhat shocking in a Muslim Indian film.  However, the film has about 10 minutes of substance stretched out to 94 minutes.  The director is obsessive about his compositions.  Every shot is perfect...and extended far past anything interesting happening within the frame.  It's all beautiful, and annoying, and ultimately boring since very little actually happens over the course of the film.  * 1/2

THE ACTRESSES  (d.  E. J-Yong)
Six Korean actresses of varying generations are gathered together for a Vogue magazine photo shoot.  They talk, and drink, and incidentally get clothed and made-up and photographed.  But mostly they talk.  The film is shot documentary style with hand held camera, and it's unclear whether this is a scripted encounter or an actual documented event.  In any case, the actresses are all beautiful and interesting...but I had trouble keeping their identities straight.  This is something like My Dinner With André turned into a hen party of ego and trivialities.  It did keep my interest because the banter was amusing enough; but it just wasn't my kind of film.  ** 1/2

CRAYFISH  (d.  Ivan Cherkelov)
Two naive friends get involved over their heads in a turf battle between rival gang chieftains in today's post-Communist Bulgaria.  Our first experience with them is watching them catch crayfish in a river, stupid animals who cling to the bait right into the cooking pot unknowing of their fate
...an obvious symbol of what's in store for our heroes.  What follows is a confusing narrative with too many unidentified characters and insufficient exposition for at least this viewer to understand motivations or even what's happening.  Too bad; because I think there might be an interesting thriller hidden in this film.  It was just all too Eastern Euro murky to find.  * 1/4

LEO'S ROOM  (d. Enrique Buchichio)
Leo (played by Martin Rodriguez) is an attractive young Uruguayan college student who can't seem to get it up with his girlfriend.  He is having issues with his sexual identity, but is having trouble acting on his gay urges.  The film really should have been called "Leo's Closet".  In any case, considering the video look and the 4X3 aspect ratio, I suspect this is a tv movie, sort of an aftercollege special.  The film never commits wholeheartedly to letting Leo be gay...but it is sweet and involving, and tackles issues which are pretty far out for a South American culture of macho.  ***

MY YEAR WITHOUT SEX  (d.  Sarah Watt)
Sasha Horler is exceptional playing a wife and mother who suffers a brain aneurysm, barely survives, and then spends a year recovering among her family and friends.  The film is structured around 12 monthly vignettes, each emblematic of a phase of recovery and ranging from humorous to touching.  The South Australia family dynamics played very, very real and I found myself drawn into the story, especially identifying with the faithful, suffering husband's point of view (the film's other fine performance by actor Matt Day).  ***

DEVIL'S TOWN  (d. Vladimir Paskaljevic)
This is a black comedy about present day Belgrade, Serbia...no longer war torn as in the director's father's very similar 1998 film Cabaret Balkan, but every bit as screwed up.  It's about a group of tenuously connected people of shady morals who spend an event packed day living and dying and everything in between while Jelena Jankovic is playing tennis on television.  It has its funny situational moments; but what makes the film work are the fascinating characterizations and how intricately the script connects them.  ***

THE ARMY OF CRIME  (d. Robert Guédiguian)
There has been a spate of WWII resistance films lately.  This film joins that crowded field which ranges from the Norwegian Max Manus, to the Danish Flame and Citron, and from Verhoeven's Black Book to Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds.  The current film is about a resistance cell in Paris made up of mostly Communists, Jews and Armenians.  They wrecked havoc with the occupation Germans (who labeled them terrorists) until the French police torturers and collaborators managed to infiltrate their security.  The film has the retro look and feel of a previous generation of French resistance films, such as J-P Melville's Army of Shadows.  But it also has a modern "big" film look, with a large cast of fine actors, young and old.  I was especially impressed (as usual) with Gregoire Leprince Ranguet and Robinson Stévenin, both of whom played hotheaded Jewish fighters.  But there were too many memorable actors and roles to list here.  In any case, for its realistic look and breadth of action, I'd rate this as the best of the recent WWII films, which is high praise indeed.  *** 3/4

RUN IF YOU CAN (Renn, wenn Du kannst) (d. Dietrich Brüggemann)
Robert Gwisdek is spectacular playing an embittered paraplegic who makes life tough for his state assigned caregivers.  This is one of the most convincing jobs of acting disabled since James McAvoy's Rory O'Shey.  The plot turns around his being assigned a new caregiver, attentive and happy-go-lucky Christian, played by a game Jacob Matschenz.  When they meet a girl (co-screenwriter and director's sister Anna Brüggemann) the film develops into a bittersweet, unconventional (but heterosexual) love story, something like Jules and Jim with a very different focus.  There's a certain predictability in the ways the characters develop; nevertheless I became quite emotionally invested in this story, loved the film.  *** 1/4

MEET MONICA VELOUR  (d. Keith Bearden)
Kim Cattrall deglamorizes up to a point to play washed up ex-porn star Monica Velour, object of retro teenage nerd Dustin Ingram's fantasies.  What follows is a tawdry coming-of-age, semi-comic road flick where nobody comes off as all that interesting, including Brian Dennehy as another crotchety grandfather (he's getting type-cast).  Clichés abound.  There's a germ of an interesting idea here...but the execution is maladroit and, frankly unpleasant.  **

BRAN NUE DAE  (d. Rachel Perkins)
This is a filmed musical based on an Australian hippie stage musical from 1990 probably influenced by Hair.  Like Samson and Delilah it is a story of a young Aboriginal boy in love with a girl bar singer.  Here the boy's religious mother forbids the affair and packs the boy off to a religious school run by a weird German priest (Geoffrey Rush in a smallish character role).  The musical numbers are pretty stock.  This is a feel-good musical which left me cold.  ** 1/2

The set-up for this Hong Kong historical epic is that in 1906 Sun Yat Sen visited Hong Kong to meet with resistance leaders and plan for a rebellion to overthrow the corrupt Qing Dynasty.  The dowager Empress ordered his assassination; and Sun's supporters must act as bodyguards to overcome hundreds of assassins in the crowded streets of the British colony.  What follows is one of the great martial arts extravaganzas, a series of set piece battles extremely well choreographed, with characters that we actually care about.  This is bravura filmmaking which I could appreciate even though I'm not a particular fan of the genre.  *** 3/4

EASTERN PLAYS  (d. Kamen Kalev) 
I subjected myself to yet another dark Eastern Euro film from Bulgaria.  Yet this one mostly worked for me, being the story of two brothers trying to make a life for themselves in today's Sofia.  The older one, played by recently deceased real life artist Christo Christov, is depressed and desperate for a life change.  His younger brother has become a skinhead, part of a gang which beats up tourists.  Nothing all that dramatic happens; yet I became invested in rooting for the characters despite their flaws.  ** 3/4

PATAGONIA  (d. Marc Evans)
In 1865 a shipload of Welsh families arrived in Argentina and settled in the Patagonian desert, creating an ethnic enclave which exists to the present day.  This film is a contemporary story with two simultaneous threads.  In one, an old lady returns to Wales along with a neighbor boy (played by a favorite actor of mine Nahuel Pérez Biscayart last seen in Glue)
to find the farm her family came from.  In the second story a Welsh photographer and his girlfriend visit Patagonia to take time lapse films of old Welsh settlement churches.  The first story works, the second not so well, despite the presence of another of my favorite actors, Matthew Rhys as the couple's tour guide and descendant of Welsh farmers.  For all the excellent acting and lush cinematography, the two stories never quite mesh and the film just goes on too long...which is a shame since at least the Welsh story is emotionally affecting.  ***

AGORA  (d. Alejandro Amenábar)
Amenábar has made a large scale historical epic about the city of Alexandria in the 5th Century AD when Christianity is becoming ascendant over the Roman Empire, ultimately sowing the seeds of the Dark Ages as such pagan monuments as the great Library are destroyed.  The story revolves around a philosopher at the library, a woman of unusual intelligence convincingly played by Rachel Weisz, and the platonic love that her slave Davus (stolid Max Minghella) has for her.  The production values are high with an authentic feel for the period; and as ancient Greco-Roman epics go, I enjoyed this far more than Oliver Stone's similar Alexander, which isn't necessarily high praise.  ** 3/4

THE ATHLETE  (d. Danny Frankel and Rasselas Lakew)
This is an interesting biopic about the great Ethiopian marathon runner Abebe Bikila.  It combines actual footage from his triumphs in the 1960 and 1964 Olympics (which were world-class achievements which I recall quite well) with scripted events from later in his life...dramatic, life affecting and affirming events.  The co-director Rasselas Lakew, who has a startling resemblance to the real Bikila, plays the runner in the recreations from his life after the Olympics.  The film turned out to be a surprisingly effective emotional experience, although the direction and production were rather pedestrian. ** 3/4

TWISTED ROOTS  (d. Saara Saarela)
This contemporary Finnish drama is about a family in crisis when the father discovers that he has the progressive and always fatal Huntington's disease and may have transmitted it to his children.  The film could have been maudlin; however with its fine, unpredictable script and interesting, well played characters, it kept my interest even if it sort of rambles and ultimately peters out.  ***

TURISTAS  (d. Alicia Scherson)
Alicia Scherson was the fledgling director of the quirky 2005 Chilean film Play.  I'm not sure whether the current film fulfills that promising debut.  It's the story of a depressed 37-year old woman (nicely depicted by Aline Kuppenheim) on vacation with her husband who blurts out a surprising disclosure which leads to her husband deserting her at a roadside gas station.  She proceeds by foot to a campground where she intersects with various quirky (an indispensable word when writing about this director) characters and situations.  I enjoyed this film; but clearly it went on a little too long and had too many possible end points to be universally successful.  Still, I'm going to watch for Scherson's next film.   ***

LAST TRAIN HOME  (d. Lixin Fan)
This documentary follows a family of migrant workers for a couple of years as they join hundreds of millions of other Chinese workers traveling home for Chinese New Year in the world's largest yearly mass migration.  The film is remarkable for its unsparing portrayal of the family and the amazing the hand-held (steady-cam?) cinematography.  But I just couldn't marshal enough interest in the quarrelsome family to care all that much.  But the views and insights into present day China rival last year's Up the Yangtze.  ** 1/2

I MISS YOU (Te extraño)  (d. Fabian Hofman)
Young Fermin Volcoff is impressive in this drama of the "disappeared" victims of the Argentinian military dictatorship in the 1970's.  Volcoff plays Javier, a 15-year old high school student who looks up to his older activist brother.  Both are blacklisted by the government and the film recounts the story of how events shaped the lives of one Jewish, upper-middle class family.  This is a familiar theme in films from Argentina; but this film tackles the plight of the "disappeared" as a moving, youth oriented family drama which I could completely relate to.  *** 1/4

UNDERTOW  (d. Javier Fuentes-León)
Touted as a breakthrough gay film from Peru, I have to admit to some disappointment.  First of all, the digital presentation was marred by technical difficulties which almost scuttled the screening.  But when the film actually played out (with the images occasionally semi-obscured by an annoying, superimposed copyright watermark) I found its coy treatment of a gay relationship as a ghost story to be highly problematic.  The setting, a picturesque fishing village, was pretty enough.  But the town's inhabitants, steeped in Catholic bigotry, and the macho-suffused lead character's family dynamic were off-putting.    ** 1/2

FOR THE GOOD OF OTHERS  (d. Oskar Santos)
Supernally attractive actor Eduardo Noriega plays a hospital doctor who discovers that his hands have magical healing powers.  What is amazing about this present day Spanish film is how this all comes to make perfect rational sense.  It may be science fiction verging on fantasy; yet with all the realism of, let's say, the tv series ER, blown-up to feature size.   The director has a penchant for shooting most scenes in revealingly huge close-ups; and the cinematography is quite strikingly beautiful.  I resisted the story as much as I could; but ultimately I was captivated.   *** 1/4

This Saturday, for the first time all festival I'm having trouble programming because of time, traffic and parking constraints.  SIFF always provides a challenge to get around town and park.  Capital Hill seems to have gotten to the point that every available parking space is permanently filled...and the U-District is not much better.  Next year I just may forgo having a car and limit my schedule to venues I can reach by walking or public transportation...which will cut down my films by a great deal, but go easier on my nerves.

ALL THAT I LOVE  (d. Jasek Borcuch)
The film takes place in a small seaside Polish town in 1981 when Solidarity has forced the Communist government to declare martial law.  Janek is a high-school senior who, with three of his rebel friends has formed a punk rock band which gets him (and his liberal naval officer father) in trouble with the local commissar.  The film meanders through the usual coming-of-age tropes; but I actually enjoyed the band's music and the lead actor (Meteusz Koscinkiewicz) was easy to like.  ***

A RATIONAL SOLUTION  (Jörgen Bergmark)
A married fifty-ish man falls for his best friend's wife...or maybe the wife lures him on, in this modern day Swedish ironic drama.  The clueless man offers a rational solution to the affair by involving the two innocent spouses in a 4-way living together situation.  This leads to the third example so far in this festival of two straight men in bed with a woman in the middle (surely this year's major film trend).  But for all the film's insights into truths about human nature, I found it to be rather talky and unpleasant to watch.  ** 1/2

CENTURION  (d. Neil Marshall)
This sword and sandal semi-epic takes place in Britannia in 117 A.D. when the Picts are fighting a successful guerrilla war against the Roman legions.  Michael Fassbender (an actor that I'm coming to increasingly appreciate lately) has escaped from captivity by the Pict leader (Danish actor Ulrich Thomsen) and joins up with the ill-fated Ninth Legion led by Dominic West.  What follows is a gory, violent, yet intimate chase film with a small band of Roman survivors fleeing through gorgeous Scottish mountain terrain from vengeful Picts led by a woman (a game Olga Kurylenko).  
I thought the cinematography looked dingy for a major wide-screen epic, and the action sequences were often cut too fast to follow.  But overall the film provided the requisite charge for genre films of this type.  ** 3/4

GARBO THE SPY  (d. Edmon Roch)
Director Roch uses a multi-media approach to tell the stranger-than-fiction story of the double agent spy Juan Pujol Garcia.  Pujol convinced the Germans that he was running a large spy ring in England...all the while being handled by British Intelligence to transmit disinformation about preparations for D-Day which contributed greatly to the success of the invasion.  The film amusingly combines telling sequences from old feature films and war documentaries with second-hand interviews with participants and researchers to tell Pujol's story.  Clever, amusing and informative.  *** 1/4

THE RIVER  (d. Jean Renoir) 
Renoir's 1946 film about a European family living in India is beautiful to watch in this restored print (from 3-strip Technicolor and a remarkably fine soundtrack reclaimed from an Martin Scorsese's intact print.)  It tells a wistful story of first love from the point of view of the plain teenage girl's infatuation with an older man, a one-legged, damaged war veteran.  I could admire the filmmaking without becoming very involved with the rather mundane plot.  ** 3/4

TSAR  (d. Pavel Lungin) 
Lungin made my favorite film at the 2001 SIFF, The Wedding.  Since then I've been following his career every chance I get.  Here he is retelling some of the story from Eisenstein's masterwork Ivan the Terrible:  Part II, focusing on the tyrant Tsar Ivan's friendship and ultimate falling out with the Bishop/monk Phillip whom he raises to Metropolitan (church leader and chief adviser).   This is a large scale historical epic with gorgeous costumes and production design. The film closely recalls the film Beckett, being an all-out personality battle between King and Church.  But Lungin fails to delineate the issues clearly, and for the first half of the film I was at sea trying to figure out the roles of the various characters in the large cast.  When it did start to come together, it was almost too late.   The two lead actors, Piotr Mamonov as Tsar Ivan and Oleg Yankovsky as Phillip were quite good.  But I have to admit regretfully that for all the pomp and fascinating history, the film failed to keep my interest more than intermittently.  ** 1/2

MORNING (d. Joseph Mitacek) 
During every SIFF, dramas listed as being in the "Northwest Connections" side-bar (locally produced films) are an iffy proposition.  Occasionally an excellent one comes along which probably would never be seen otherwise; but the proportion is low, unfortunately.  Morning is an example of a film I'm glad I caught.  It's the story of a married Seattle couple and their young son, and how their fragile to begin with relationship is affected when a disasterous accident occurs.  The title is a pun on "mourning" and also represents repentance and renewal.  Yes, the film is predictable and the acting and direction somewhat pedestrian (although lead actor Andrew Ramaglia shows promise).  Still, an honorable attempt.  ** 3/4

  (d. Mehdi Ben Attia) 
Claudia Cardinale is showing all of her 72 years playing mother to 30-something architect Malik, recently returned from France to his home in Tunisia.  Malik is a closeted gay man; but when he falls for handyman/renter Balil he's forced out of the closet in the homophobic Tunisian society.  But this is a sunny, romantic gay film...so even though it may seem somewhat unrealistic, the film is one of the most successful gay love stories I've seen in a while. *** 1/4

No hints; but this one is a hit-or-miss large scale film.  ** 3/4

This is a fairly straightforward biographical documentary about Hugh Hefner (does anybody not know that he's the publisher of Playboy?)   It utilizes nicely a treasure trove of archival material that Hefner has collected over the years.  But what makes it uniquely entertaining and informative is that Hefner's life is a lot more than parties and bunnies...he also has been at the forefront of sexual liberation and has lived a life which disproves the notion that you can't have it all.  Several years ago I worked with Hefner at the L.A. mansion producing sequences for a network television special commemorating a Playboy anniversary...so I know a bit of this story.  But Berman has done an exemplary job of drawing it all together, magazine and creator (not ignoring some of the anti-Hefner detractors for balance).  This was a particularly fascinating, tightly edited and envy-provoking film.  *** 1/2

GOING SOUTH  (d. Sebastien Lifshitz)
Four beautiful people, gay and straight and somewhere in between, drive south to ultimate self-discovery in this dramatic road-trip film.  I enjoyed it for the eye candy; but the stories never quite meshed for me, particularly the main one about the sullen man who witnessed his father's suicide and his mother's confinement in a mental institution at age 10.  I was more interested in the other characters, whose stories were never fully told and left in the lurch.  ** 3/4

AU REVOIR TAIPEI  (d. Arvin Chen)
Running out of time; but this was a charming romantic comedy taking place in Taipei, mostly about a boy obsessed with a girlfriend in Paris who has rejected him, and his comic adventures in one evening before his plane trip to Paris to win her back.  It's a pleasant, funny, diverting little film.  *** 1/4

THE DAMNED (d. Isaki Lacuesta)

Almost two hours of droning tedium about a group of Spaniards who 30 years prior had been involved in fighting the Argentinian junta, and were reliving their past transgressions while searching for the remains of one of their group murdered in the jungle.  I couldn't even force myself to become interested in these characters or comprehend their back story which was never satisfactorily explained.   *

CARGO  (d. Ivan Engler)
This is a Swiss science fiction film long on fine special effects and slightly short on plot.  It takes place around 2270 when the Earth is uninhabitable and the populace lives in artificial abodes in orbit and long for the means to emigrate to the Eden of Rhea, a terraformed planet of another sun.  The film mostly takes place on a cargo space ship on a mission to deliver cargo to a distant unmanned destination.  The trailer was misleading, promising on-board horror, something like Aliens.  However, the film turned out to be something different, and actually more interesting philosophically.  In any case, it is much better than 2010, a film it resembles slightly.  And except for an unfortunate tendency to give sound effects to events taking place in a vacuum (a flaw it shares with most SF films), the science was pretty well accurate.  And the film had a terrific lived-in look.  Too bad that all this fine filmmaking (and some good acting by unfamiliar actors) was used in the service of a trite, seen-before plot.  ***

CELL 211  (d. Daniel Monzón)
Gravel voiced Luis Tosar is in fine form playing a powerful Spanish prison inmate, leader of a fearsome riot for better conditions.  Alberto Ammann, playing a fledgling prison guard caught up in the riot also gives a memorable performance matching Tosar's charisma.  The film is masterfully written and directed:  suspenseful, believable, bloody.  Everyone in the film is more-or-less morally tainted, which is why this is one of those large scale, but totally un-Hollywood films which are particularly valuable to catch in a festival environment.  *** 1/2

A young Catalan woman, studying in France, returns home as her grandfather lay dying (unseen by the audience.)  The film is a family drama showing the interplay of the various characters during the three-day gathering of the large, fractured family...three brothers, an estranged sister and their progeny...for the funeral and entombment.  Not a whole lot happens.  Various members of the family air their grievances, we get a glimpse into their unhappy lives.  The film promises to be a variant of Vinterberg's superb Festen; but it never quite rises to that level of vitriol, being more subtle and nuanced, to the point that we're left feeling that the film is incomplete and unresolved.   ** 3/4

GORDOS  (d. Daniel Sánchez Arévalo)
I didn't originally intend to go to this film, which looked unpromising from the catalog description.  But I was convinced at the last moment by word of mouth to go; and I'm so glad that I did.  This is a clever, insightful comedy about the psychology of several characters fighting against various body issues.  I'm not even going to attempt to describe the set-up or the large cast of quirky characters.  Let's just say that this is an original concept, funny and fun and fully realized.   *** 1/4

Hennessy Road is a busy thoroughfare in Hong Kong.  This film is a romantic comedy of sorts (not very funny, and without much romantic chemistry) about some shop owners in the area and their families.  It's mainly a star vehicle for Jacky Cheung, who plays a 40-something single man whose annoyingly bourgeoise mother wants to marry off in an arranged marriage to a girl who has a secret boyfriend.  It's not well enough written to be farce.  But it's a pleasant enough film; and I felt that I'd seen quite a bit of Hong Kong and its crowds and traffic to last a while.  A note for any distributor:  the film suffered from the worst set of subtitles I've seen in a while:  half of them were on screen for too short a time to read (and I'm a very quick study after years of reading subtitles.) ** 1/2

MISS NOBODY  (d. Tim Cox)
Leslie Bibb plays Sarah Jane, an innocent looking shark in the secretary pool of a pharmaceutical company.  The film is a black comedy of how she murders her way to the top.  Clichés abound; and the silly, predictable plot and stock characters lack any semblance of originality or believability.  Unfortunately Bibb is not a good enough farceuse to carry the film; and Adam Goldberg, shorn of all his quirky persona by the lackluster direction, sleepwalks through his role as the bumbling detective.  I should have walked.  * 1/2

TEHROUN  (d. Nader T. Homayoun)
An Irani beggar uses a rented baby as a prop to get money.  All sorts of hell breaks loose when the baby is lost.  The film is actually better and more involving than its set-up.  For an Iranian film it was just about unique for its unsparing and pessimistic view of the underclass.  Just about every character is morally tainted.  I just wish that the actors were better equipped to make me care about their characters.  ** 1/2

V.O.S.  (d. Cesc Gay)
Four characters play out their shifting romantic attachments in this Pirrandellesque (or Kaufmanesque) fake film within a film. The film was far too filled with artifice for my tastes, flaunting its too-clever-for-the-room film savvy at the expense of a coherent plot.  But I have to admit to admiring some of the wordplay and games that the characters played with other films' plots.  The film really tries hard to be fresh and original in concept and to say something about modern relationships.  But I'd have to rate it as a valiantly failed effort.  ** 1/4

ROOM IN ROME  (d. Julio  Médem)
Médem is a great director, in my humble opinion; but this film is bound to be quite divisive and controversial.  The entire film takes place with a roving camera in one 1st class hotel room in Rome.  Two women get together and talk, make up stories about themselves, make passionate Sapphic love over and over.  I was captivated by a uniquely difficult opening tracking shot which lasted for many minutes.  And Médem's continuing brilliant use of camera and composition kept me glued to the screen despite an overlong, over-Lesbianized, over-talky film which could have been cut down by 30 minutes and two sex scenes and made a great film.   *** 1/4

THE FAMILY TREE  (d. Vivi Friedman)
This is a family based black comedy, reminiscent of American Beauty, with much of the same satiric feeling for present day Americana.  It has a spot-on cast (Dermot Mulroney and Hope Davis as the parents, the ubiquitous Brittany Robertson and upcoming young actor Max Thieriot as the kids) and an inventive, unpredictable script.  It's another film which divides audiences...but I'm firmly on the side of having been entertained.  ***

LOVE IN A PUFF  (d. Pang Ho-Cheung)
This is a Hong Kong romantic comedy about a group of office workers who meet outside to grab smokes after a law banning public cigarette smoking is passed.  It is only intermittently diverting; but the two main characters, who may or may not become a couple, at least had some clever banter which piqued my interest.  ** 1/4

ALTIPLANO (d. Peter Brosens & Jessica Woodworth)
For some reason I forgot to write this review at the time.  I'm reconstructing my reaction in August, 2010. The film was a beautifully shot exposé about an Andean ecodisaster caused by a foreign company's mercury contamination.  Nice acting (Olivier Gourmet as a French doctor, the woman who played the lead in Milk of Sorrow as a local activist religious nut)...but a little overwrought.  I rated it:  *** 1/4

MONOGAMY  (d. Dana Adam Shapiro)
Rashida Jones and Chris Messina play an engaged couple, living in Brooklyn, who are struggling to keep love alive before committing to marriage. I found it hard to get interested in the characters.  He's a wedding photographer, barely paying the bills, who obsessively stalks with his camera a mysterious client.  She's a would-be folk singer, needy but committed to the relationship, despite her fiancés increasing abstraction.  There was a germ of an interesting dissection of modern day relationships.  But I had trouble buying the way the film tried to be both a thriller and a story of love-gone-sour.  ** 1/4

UPPERDOG  (d. Sara Johnsen)
A Vietnamese half-brother and sister are adopted and separated by two Norwegian families when they are quite young.  This is the set-up for the main story of this complex character driven drama.  As young adults the two siblings become romantically involved with characters who have their own fascinating back-stories; and the web of interactions slowly draws the siblings closer to a potential reunion.  The film is beautifully acted, gripping and emotionally involving throughout...one of the unheralded surprises of the festival.  *** 1/2

COME UNDONE  (d. Silvio Soldini)
A woman in an ostensibly happy relationship with her overweight, kindly husband meets and falls for a working class married man who returns her passion with interest.  The film is ostensibly about a clandestine affair in the still rigidly moral Italy of today; but also an intriguing social commentary about marriage in general.  Pierfrancesco Favino and Alba Rohrwacher are particularly fine as the illicit lovers.  Yet I couldn't help but feel frustrated by their characters'  cluelessness.   ***

MICMACS     (d. Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
Dany Boon plays his usual canny-dumb character, bent on revenge against the two arms companies which were instrumental in both killing his father and putting a bullet in his own brain (which he survived).  This is the set-up for Jeunet's customary weird, crazy and unique film, directed with his trademarked propulsive momentum and filled with witty props, amazing stunts, and zany characters.  It's all rather excessive...but I have to admit that once again Jeunet won me over with the sheer brazen energy of his vision.  *** 1/4

I KISSED A VAMPIRE  (d. Chris Sean Nolan)
The presentation Thursday night of this musical film was delayed by 45 minutes because the video in progress that was eventually shown was literally arriving at Boeing Field at the listed start time.  When it did arrive, what was shown was a time coded computer file of the final cut - with final music, but lacking some special effects and color correction.  Other than trouble with the aspect ratio (the film was slightly elongated horizontally), the film mostly looked fine and sounded excellent on the Neptune speakers.  But, whoa!  If this was a final cut there are real problems with story, acting and direction.  Even the musical numbers were poorly choreographed and edited (in my humble opinion); though from what I saw the songs were pretty nifty pop-rock ditties.  I have to admit that I walked out fairly early on.  I'm willing to wait to see what they manage to make of the material when post production is complete.  But for now I can't see how the material is salvageable since part of the problem was an unfortunate directorial decision to break the third wall by having the actors sing directly to the camera.

Auteur Rodriguez-Lopez, who according to Wikipedia is 35 years old but looks about 18, produced, wrote, directed, starred and composed the music...so this is about as close to a personal film as we're ever going to see. From my vantage point the film was a narrative puzzle that I couldn't quite put together, with fantasy and reality sequences strewn aimlessly and non-chronologically throughout the film. Yet for all that, it did weave a mysterious spell aided by the pounding, propulsive music which was quite effective in adding to the sense of dread.  But when a film ends by leaving me asking myself "what the f***!?" it's not quite working the way it should be.  An interesting comparison can be drawn between Engine Slayer and Xavier Dolan's I Killed My Mother, which was also a very personal work written, directed, acted and music composed by a much younger filmmaker.  Dolan's film is a movie, love it or hate it (and people do both) it tells a story and looks like a much larger production than it actually is. Rodriguez-Lopez's film might be experimental and arty and even amusing at times in a bumbling way; but to my eye seemed amateurish and fake-art.  Just one person's opinion...so have at me, ENGINE SLAYER fans. 
** 1/4

I AM  (d. Igor Voloshin)
I've noticed a trend in recent Russian films:  using historical mental institutions as metaphor for Communist tyranny.  This was evident in the obscure film Ward No. 6 that was sent to the Academy this year.  But it is even more clearly delineated in I Am.  This is the confusing, raucous, anarchic story of a boy who grew up near a Russian mental institution in the early '80s who, as an 18-year old, gets himself admitted to the same madhouse as a strategy to avoid the draft.  Supposedly based on the writer-director's own life story, this explains the film's shapelessness and hopeless fatalism.  But it doesn't make for anything approaching a palatable viewing experience.   * 1/2

Around 200 B.C. the fragmented Chinese states were at war with each other, prior to being unified by the Qin Dynasty.  This serio-comic historical war film is a star vehicle for Jackie Chan, who plays a lowly soldier who survives an annihilating ambush of the army he is fighting for.  The other survivor is the opposing side's general, whom he takes captive.  What ensues is a fitfully amusing buddy road-flick, with lots of martial arts fighting and some good stunts.  The film has an authentic, large scale look to it; but honestly this isn't my favorite genre, and it wasn't spectacular or original enough to be anything more than a genre film.  ** 1/2

UNDER THE MOUNTAIN  (d. Jonathan King)
This teen-oriented, New Zealand alien invasion cum zombie horror flick was surprisingly involving.  The plot was ridiculous hokum...red-head teenage twins who can read each other's minds having the power to defeat powerful and sinister forces with supernatural rocks.  OK, that sounds even more ridiculous than it turns out to be.  I did enjoy the film, though.  The teenage actors are surprisingly good, the special effects were up to snuff, and Auckland looks like a city I now want to visit.   And Sam Neill plays their mentor in battle, looking bedraggled but retaining his star power.   ** 3/4

PARIS RETURN  (d. Yossi Aviram)
This is a pleasant, interesting, even poignant documentary about the everyday life of an elderly gay couple living in Paris.  Reuven is 73, born an an Israeli Sabra, but long a resident of Paris where he met his younger partner, Italian emigre Pierluigi, almost 40 years before.  They are both quirky, artistic types whose lifestyle made them uncomfortable in their home countries, and who have made a beautiful home in a Parisian garret apartment filled with lovely artworks.  The documentary rambles along, mostly showing both partners living their lives and talking about it to the camera.  Then they travel to Israel where Reuven reunites with his brother.  Needless to say, I totally identified with Reuven and Pierluigi, finding resonance in their lives with my own life.   *** 1/4

DIAMOND 13  (d. Gilles Béat)
This is an above average policier thriller which features an increasingly corpulent Gerard Depardieu as a tough Parisian cop who becomes embroiled in a heavy-duty sting involving drugs and lots of money.  It's all extremely complex and bloody.  I think I followed most of the ins and outs of the mystery.  This is modern day film noir, shot in big screen color...but with the same gritty intensity that exemplified French policiers of old.  *** 1/4

After a late night spent collating Fool Serious ballots I'm too tired and wonky to write this morning's reviews.  But note that both HOWL and VENGEANCE lived up to expectations!

LAND OF THE DEAF  (d. Valery Todorovsky)
Todorovsky is one of SIFF's "emerging masters".  He directed Hipsters, and some of the quirky energy and facility with absurdity are evident in this 1998 film.  This is the story of two women cast adrift for differing reasons in a gritty, colorful Moscow.  Dina Korzun plays deaf Yaya in a memorably manic performance.  The film has a kind of Dadaesque quality of unreality, which is enjoyable to watch for a while...but I couldn't relate to over the long haul.  ** 1/2

GRAVITY (Schwerkraft) (d. Maximilian Erlenwein)
A buttoned down bank executive (Fabian Henrichs) is thrown out of his comfort zone when encountering a horror at work.  He goes off the rails when he teams up with an old friend (Jurgen Vogel, playing a tough criminal type again) to burglarize homes of bank clients.  This is a sharp, noirish, blackly comic thriller with some fine psychological insights into its characters.  ***

HOWL  (d. Rob Epstein &  Jeffrey Friedman)
Apparently Epstein and Friedman intended to make a documentary about the genesis of Allen Ginsberg's modern epic poem "Howl".  Instead, they hit on an extremely interesting docudrama format utilizing James Franco as the young Ginsberg reading his poem to a beatnik crowd in San Francisco in 1955 and being interviewed during the 1958 obscenity trial which followed publication of the poem.  The re-creation of the trial with David Strathern as prosecutor, John Hamm (wonderful!) as defense lawyer and Bob Balaban as judge really worked as informative and moving drama.  Franco is probably too good looking to be the perfect Ginsberg; but his readings and portrayal are right on.  The film is fleshed out by some really fine animation illustrating the poem.  I have had trouble in the past appreciating poetry in general.  But this beautiful film made "Howl" come alive for me.  I loved this film.  *** 3/4

VENGEANCE  (d. Johnnie To)
Director To is in fine form in this deliciously malicious Hong Kong thriller.  It opens with a home invasion massacre.  And then the French father of the mortally wounded wife arrives in Macao to exact vengeance for his family's tragedy.   What ensues is sheer mayhem and bloodletting delivered with a comic touch...but with To's usual crystal clear visual sensibility and character delineations which make action sequences so intimate and easy to follow.  
Grizzled ex-pop singer Johnny Hallyday is quite good as the father exacting vengeance, even as a bullet lodged in his brain gradually excises the memory of what exactly the vengeance is for (reminiscent of the interesting plot device of the great film Memento.)  This is a brainy shoot-em-up with heart, a rare combination.   *** 1/4

A fourth contemporary sub-titled film in this year's Secret Festival, and a good one.  *** 1/4

THUNDER SOUL  (d. Mark Landsman)
This touching documentary is about a reunion of members of a famed high-school band from the early '70s, which reconstituted in 2008 in tribute to their 93 year old teacher.  They represented predominately black public school Kashmere Senior Hi in Houston, TX, which fielded a funk based big band called "Thundersoul" which won national recognition and toured America and the world back in the day when this was a big deal.  The performances and interviews from band members then and now were interesting and even occasionally moving. 
The film is a major audience pleaser, even if for me it all felt somewhat simplistic and manipulative.  ***

THE WEDDING CAKE  (d. Denys Granier-Deferre)
Farces about funny weddings and peculiar families are dime-a-dozen.  But this comic drama was well enough written and acted to make for a very enjoyable time.  Two large bourgeois families with plenty of skeletons in the closet come together to celebrate the union of their clans by marriage.  Especially notable were Danielle Darrieux and Jean-Pierre Marielle as an elderly couple reuniting after 50 years of forced separation.  But the contemporary couple (Jérémie Renier and Clémence Poésy) had their own doubts to resolve.  *** 1/4

BORN TO SUFFER  (d. Miguel Albaladejo)
The festival ended for me, fittingly enough since Spanish films were a major sidebar at the 2010 SIFF, with this irony drenched comedy about contemporary small-town Spanish life based on an unconventional marriage between a 73 year old woman and her female companion.  I was totally involved in the film until towards the end I became confused by some inexplicable quirk in Spanish law that must exist, but left me wondering what actually was happening.  Other than that, this was a good way to end a 6 week festival which left me wanting more.  ** 3/4

SIFF 2010 is over.  I managed to see 128 films - all the films I wanted to catch with two exceptions  (Blessed and Castaways on the Moon).  I managed to remain healthy, get adequate sleep and arrive on time for every screening - no mean achievements!  The sheer physical effort involved in doing 6 weeks of film festival spread all over town is quite rigorous.  I also received no traffic or parking tickets and lost only one item (a relatively expensive umbrella...I did lose a cap, but recovered it at the Neptune theater lost-and-found a few days later.)  I ate well, mostly fast food - but good fast food.  I can't help feeling that the average level of films seen here this year was the lowest in recent years.  Lots of medium to good films, few masterpieces.  The film I ranked as the best film of this year before the start of the festival, The Hedgehog, retained that ranking.  Amazingly enough, that film also won the Golden Space Needle (the SIFF audience award) for this festival.  I'm hoping to be able to return to Seattle for the 2011 edition.

Reviews of the 35 SIFF films that I had already watched prior to arrival are here.

I received my personalized "Fool Serious" ballot results in the mail today (July 1).  For those who might not know:  Seattle is unique in that a large group of Full Series Pass holders band together every festival to rate the films they've watched which is then collated into a group vote and a computerized, personalized record complete with interesting statistics.  What really interested me the most was my "average likability" score for the 2010 SIFF edition, a score which I feel allows me to compare objectively the festival experience from year to year.  The ratings are calibrated from +4 (masterpiece) to -4 (dreck), so that a likability rating of zero is just about average.

I was under the impression that for me this year's SIFF was not as fulfilling as many of the past festivals.  But on reflection, I realize that several of the films I liked the most were films I'd already seen just prior to coming to the festival (for instance "The Hedgehog" and "Bride Flight".)  This may have skewed my impression, since I don't make a habit of watching films a second time at the festival. Thus, there's a good chance that if I had seen these films at SIFF, my overall impression of this year's actual festival might be higher.

The bottom line is that when I include all films that I'd seen during and before the festival, this was on average my 2nd least liked SIFF of the past ten; but also it was pretty much right in line, or just slightly lower, than the average SIFF year for me.

Here are the figures:

2010    153 films    0.50 likability
2009    155 films    0.58 likability
2008    153 films    0.45 likability
2007    149 films    0.56 likability
2006    133 films    0.74 likability
2005    149 films    0.78 likability
2004    146 films    0.84 likability
2003    132 films    0.81 likability
2002    115 films    0.64 likability
2001    123 films    1.00 likability

Of course, it could be that I'm just becoming more critical and/or jaded as time goes on; but the stability of the film count and averages does indicate to me that my standards have remained pretty constant over the years.

Anyway, only at SIFF, with the rich tradition of the Fools and their balloting, could I do such research.  So I'd just like to give thanks and tip my fedora to all who make the Fool Serious balloting work.

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