Friday, May 26 – Thursday, June 1

Featured Film:

The Seattle International Film Festival, Part Two

SIFF continues rolling along this week. Last week we had reviews of Bad Black, Finding KukanChronicles of HariSami BloodKnife in the Clear Water, and Cook Up a Storm, and capsules on Dawson City: Frozen TimeMy Journey through French CinemaThe Unknown GirlBy the Time it Gets Dark, and Manifesto. Films we’re looking forward to in the next week include: God of War, Girl Without Hands, The Little Hours, Godspeed, Pendular, Person to Person, Napping Princess, and two films I saw and liked at Vancouver last fall: Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, and João Pedro Rodrigues’s The Ornithologist, 

Playing This Week:

Central Cinema:

Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985) Fri-Sun, Tues
The Lost Boys (Joel Schumacher, 1987) Fri-Sun, Tues

SIFF Egyptian:

The 2017 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program Our Coverage

Century Federal Way:

Saab Bahadar (Amrit Raj Chadha) Fri-Thurs
Lahoriye (Amberdeep Singh) Fri-Thurs
Smokey and the Bandit (Hal Needham, 1977) Sun & Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

Citizen Jane (Matt Tyrnauer) Fri-Thurs
Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (Joseph Cedar) Fri-Thurs
Neither Wolf nor Dog (Steven Lewis Simpson) Fri-Thurs
The Lovers (Azazel Jacobs) Fri-Thurs
Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986) Sat Only
Le Chef (Daniel Cohen, 2012) Mon Only
The Salesman (Asghar Farhadi) Tues Only
Deconstructing the Beatles: Rubber Soul (Scott Freiman) Weds Only
Vincent van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing (David Bickerstaff) Thurs Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

The Commune (Thomas Vinterberg) Fri-Thurs
Harold & Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story (Daniel Raim) Sat & Sun Only

Landmark Guild 45th:

Your Name. (Makoto Shinkai) Fri-Thurs Our Review Subtitled
The Lovers (Azazel Jacobs) Fri-Thurs

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Baahubali: The Conclusion (SS Rajamouli) Fri-Thurs Tamil & Telgu, Check Listings Our Review
The Lovers (Azazel Jacobs) Fri-Thurs
Sachin: A Billion Dreams (James Erskine) Fri-Thurs
Rarandoi Veduka Chudham (Kalyan Krishna) Fri-Thurs
Keshava (Sudheer Varma) Fri-Thurs
Hindi Medium (Saket Chaudhary) Fri-Thurs
The 2017 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program Our Coverage

Regal Meridian:

Baahubali: The Conclusion (SS Rajamouli) Fri-Thurs Hindi Our Review
Sachin: A Billion Dreams (James Erskine) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

Obit. (Vanessa Gould) Fri-Sun
Thollem’s Hot Pursuit of Happiness Fri Only Live Music & Video
Sarah Jacobson: Queen of the Underground (Sarah Jacobson, 1992-97) Sat Only
Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1971) Sun Only Our Podcast 
Disasters of Peace vol. 3 Sun Only Filmmakers in Attendance
The Earth is a Hollow Shell: Films + Videos by Georg Koszulinski Weds Only Filmmaker in Attendance
Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979) Thurs-Sun

AMC Oak Tree:

Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (Joseph Cedar) Fri-Thurs
Chuck (Philippe Falardeau) Fri-Thurs

AMC Pacific Place:

29+1 (Kearen Pang) Fri-Thurs
The Lovers (Azazel Jacobs) Fri-Thurs
Battle of Memories (Leste Chen) Fri-Thurs
The 2017 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program Our Coverage

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Lowriders (Ricardo de Montreuil) Fri-Thurs
The Lovers (Azazel Jacobs) Fri-Thurs
Hindi Medium (Saket Chaudhary) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

Buena Vista Social Club: Adios (Lucy Walker) Fri-Thurs
Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (Joseph Cedar) Fri-Thurs

Landmark Seven Gables:

Angkor Awakens (Robert H. Lieberman) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

The 2017 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program Our Coverage

SIFF Uptown:

The 2017 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program Our Coverage

Varsity Theatre:

A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Podcast

In Wide Release:

Alien Covenant (Ridley Scott) Our Review
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (James Gunn) Our Review
The Lost City of Z (James Gray) Our Review
The Fate of the Furious 
(F. Gary Gray) Our Review

SIFF 2017: Bad Black (Nabwana IGG, 2016)

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It is perhaps not incorrect to say that the goal of any film festival should be to highlight the most interesting and fascinating works of world cinema, especially those which are unfairly underseen. Such is the case with Bad Black, one of the newest films from the immensely prolific Nabwana IGG, the auteur of the Ugandan film unit lovingly referred to as Wakaliwood. Nabwana IGG first came to prominence in 2010, when the trailer for his film Who Killed Captain Alex? went viral on YouTube for its insane and seemingly amateurish action and special effects. Bad Black, as far I can tell, is the only Wakaliwood film that has actually shown in theaters in the United States, premiering at Fantastic Fest last year.

The aim of Wakaliwood films hews closely to the action comedy, as does the overall arc of the narrative, but the means of achieving this are entirely different. Nabwana IGG’s aesthetic is proudly low-grade, immersing the viewer the slums of Kampala, Uganda as seen through blurry digital video and overflowing with quick cuts and rapid-fire action scenes interspersed with the most archetypal, blatant narratives.

Continue reading

SIFF 2017: Finding Kukan (Robin Lung, 2016)

Li Ling-Ai and Rey Scott

Finding Kukan, a feature film debut from Robin Lung, is a documentary that tells the story of one of the first documentaries to win an Academy Award, Kukan: The Battle Cry of China (1941). Positioned in China and operating from a Chinese perspective, a perspective unknown to most white Americans at the time, Kukan aimed at documenting the Chinese experience of World War II and was noted on its initial release for its stunning ground level footage of the devastating bombing of Chungking (now Chongqing). Photojournalist Rey Scott received the Oscar for the film -“For his extraordinary achievement in producing Kukan, the film record of China’s struggle, including its photography with a 16mm camera under the most difficult and dangerous conditions” – but Lung, as she tells us in her documentary, discovered another person central to the creation of Kukan, a person who had gone essentially overlooked: a Chinese-American woman named Li Ling-Ai.

Li Ling-Ai is credited only as “technical advisor” to Kukan, but, as Lung discovers from a 1993 TV interview, Li Ling-Ai seemed to regard the film as her own, a story she herself, not Rey Scott, needed to tell: “I wanted to tell the story of China, the battle cry of the people of China, heroic under suffering.” It’s a curious way to speak about a film for which one is only “technical advisor.” Was she, in fact, more than the technical advisor?

For Lung, the mystery of Li Ling-Ai’s involvement demanded solving, and it set her on what would be a seven year journey. The content of Kukan, Lung quickly found, too, promised to be, in itself, extraordinary, and its print history made the content all the more tantalizing, for, as documentary curator Ed Carter notes, it is the only academy award winning documentary without an extant print. Consequently, Lung’s film and the search her film documents is guided by two questions: 1) who is Li Ling-Ai and why is she so little known, and 2) is there, in fact, some surviving print of Kukan yet to be discovered that might be restored and shown to the world?   Continue reading

SIFF 2017: Manifesto (Julian Rosefeldt, 2015)

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Note: as this film is under embargo until its release in the Seattle area, here are exactly 75 words.

Cate Blanchett plays 13 characters reciting dozens of artistic manifestos, from Marx to Dogma ’95 and everything in-between. It isn’t literally watching a favorite actor read the phone book, but the spliced-together manifestos are too many, too jumbled and too contextless to pull any kind of coherent meaning from the project. Instead, it’s at its best when Blanchett plumbs humor from the (necessarily) self-important and incandescent material, as with her Dada funeral oration and diction-perfect Conceptualist/Minimalist newscasters.

SIFF 2017: By the Time It Gets Dark (Anocha Suwichakornpong, 2016)

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Note: as this film is under embargo until its release in the Seattle area, here are exactly 75 words.

Boundaries are under attack in Anocha Suwichakornpong’s Thailand. The 1976 Thammasat University massacre infiltrates past and present, people and personhood, eating away at the tissue that divides. What’s left over is anyone’s guess: By the Time It Gets Dark shape-shifts into a unclassifiable design, the root contagion ultimately wreaking havoc beyond Suwichakornpong’s control. A kaleidoscopic final shot throws acid, though it seems that the film might spore on, finding forms both banal and beautiful forever.

SIFF 2017: Chronicles of Hari ( Ananya Kasaravalli, 2016)

The film begins with a series of Yakshagana artists readying themselves for the show. They sit still and silent as makeup is applied to their faces, and rituals are performed to bless their performances. In an interview, a man backstage explains that in a Yakshagana performance, men play the female roles. He extols that some performers’ movements are so feminine that they are mistaken for women. He is questioned off-camera about a particular performer who might or might not have worn women’s clothing at all times, and committed suicide. After a few more questions, the camera gives us the reverse shot, showing two young filmmakers huddled over a camera, listening to the interview subject.

These early sequences depict the film’s strengths and also its limitations: its fascination with these performers and their pathologies is earnest and often illuminating, but the film layers on a critical distance which feels unproductive and tacked on, rather than organic in approach. It posits the main character, Hari (Shrunga Vasudevan), as a sort of enigma – the film’s narrative does a great job of shading in the detail of this particular person, but the film’s conception casts him as a host of contradicting details and stories, reduced to what might or might not have happened to him.

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Hari is a young star in his rural theater troupe who specializes in playing female roles. However, after his request to play male roles is rebuffed, he becomes more unsure about who he is. He begins to wear a skirt which causes trouble at home (his younger’s brother marriage proposal is laughed off because of Hari’s reputation). He finds himself sharing a house with another man so the neighbors threaten to take them to the authorities. His struggles with his identity haunt him and Vasudevan’s performance is wonderfully mopey, but more often than not the film sits there on the screen, its dynamics and conclusions set in stone.

This is the first film of  Ananya Kasaravalli, the daughter of famous Kannada filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli, and she acquits herself well for the most part. Most of the interest here is in Vasudevan’s performance, the slow rhythms of the rural villages of Karnataka, and the strange, stylized rituals of the Yakshagana art. But the film truly sabotages itself with the frankly useless conceit of the filmmakers trying to find out more about Hari and his life. The ending is as ill-judged as I’ve seen in a long time, essentially commenting on the film’s emotional high point (a long shot of a character walking into the middle of a lake, followed by a stunning look at the camera) and rendering the emotional fallout of these images as meaningless. The film’s failures are crystallized in its final image: two useless characters stare out at the ocean, deflating the drama, and putting the whole thing in quotation marks. Why wasn’t Hari’s story enough?

 

SIFF 2017: The Unknown Girl (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 2016)

Jenny

Note: as this film is under embargo until its release in the Seattle area, here are exactly 75 words.

Unfairly dismissed last year at Cannes, the latest Dardenne Brothers movie is another iteration of their fiercely humanistic, engrossing filmmaking, for once wrapped in a more conventional mystery. Adèle Haenel stars as a doctor who becomes obsessed with discovering the identity of a young woman found dead near her practice. The Dardennes’ style is as keenly focused as ever, and if the emotions are slightly muted this time around, the film pulls no punches nonetheless.

My Journey through French Cinema (Bertrand Tavernier, 2016)

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Note: as this film is under embargo until its release in the Seattle area, here are exactly 75 words.

Director and critic Tavernier amiably narrates, with ample clips and sharp insights, a history of his cinephilia. After a formative encounter with Becker, we circle magically from Renoir through Gabin, Carné and Prévert, Jaubert and Kosma, then outward to find Constantine, Berry, Gréville and more. Each discovery leading to a new object of obsession. The last hour (Melville-Godard-Sautet) is more scattershot, reflecting the happy chaos of a young adulthood spent haunting Paris’s ciné-clubs and journals.

SIFF 2017: Dawson City: Frozen Time (Bill Morrison, 2016)

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Note: as this film is under embargo until its release in the Seattle area, here are exactly 75 words.

Superficially more conventional than Beyond Zero: 1914-1918 and Back to the Soil, in its clear and direct narrative about the discovery of buried nitrate film in the Yukon. But in circling back to tell the simultaneous stories of cinema, Gold Rush, and the rise and fall of a western town, it contains multitudes. Dawson City is either a remarkable locus point of history or it’s not: who knows what forgotten histories lurk beneath our swimming pools.

SIFF 2017: Sami Blood (Amanda Kernell, 2016)

Outsider status in gymnI long for the land that isn’t
For all that is I’m tired of wanting

Sami Blood, Sami-Swedish writer-director Amanda Kernell’s debut feature, opens on a black screen and the sound of a lonely, whistling wind. Then, a knocking, as the introductory credits, white on black, appear, and a man’s voice: “Mom?” More knocking. The same voice: “Christina?” The first image appears, an elderly woman, alone, in close-up profile, lighting a cigarette, looking out a window, ignoring the voice. It’s a haunted space with that blackness, the wind, the disembodied voice, and the woman, turned away, hiding from both the voice of her son and our public prying eyes. It’s a space that sets the stage for the film to follow, the story of the girl who becomes that woman, a woman who is, indeed, haunted, hiding, and alienated from those closest to her and from the larger world, too, a world, she fears, might stare at her too much and too long.

Christina

In the opening scenes, the elderly Christina (Maj-Doris Rimpi), reluctantly guided by her son and accompanied by her granddaughter, attends the funeral of her long estranged sister. It is a Sámi funeral, following the traditions of that complex and internally diverse people group indigenous to Sweden, and it is clear that Christina, living in Swedish dress and speaking the Swedish language, feels deeply uncomfortable within the Sámi community. She speaks to no one and even shields her face with her hand while she sits silently at the post-funeral meal, away from her son and granddaughter, who are eating and talking with ease with those around them. The intimacy of family-community bonds juxtaposed with the individual isolation of Christina, separate and silent, is what strikes us most immediately. It is one thing to feel alone among strangers, wholly another to be alone among kin. Continue reading