SIFF 2015 Report #2: The Coffin in the Mountain, Haemoo, The Color of Pomegranates, A Hard Day

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The Coffin in the Mountain – This first film from Chinese writer-director Xin Yukun presents an impressive and quite funny narrative tangle that builds slowly through three interconnected stories, sparked by a death in the woods. A young couple on the run, an older couple cheating on their spouses, and the village mayor all think the corpse is their responsibility and act accordingly to cover it up or avoid being discovered, with cosmically winky results.

Before settling down in the later sections, the opening third is shot in what has seemingly become the new international style. In recent years it seems we’ve moved away from the “Asian Minimalist” style of long shots and long takes to a more flowing style. Handheld cameras wandering freely around a space, usually too close to the actors. I’m hereby dubbing it “Dardennean Motion”. The first section effectively uses this style to emphasize the desperation and claustrophobia of the young lovers trapped together and on the run, only two open up as the film goes on as Xin’s whimsical blackness grows to encompass a whole universe.

Haemoo – Impressively bleak thriller construction in which everything that can go wrong with a fishing boat smuggling immigrants does. Like Titanic but the iceberg is the captain. Directed by another first-timer, Shim Sungbo, from a screenplay by Shim and superstar director Bong Joonho (Shim was a writer on Bong’s celebrated 2003 film Memories of Murder), the atmosphere is tense from the beginning, as Captain Kang (Kim Yunseok) finds himself with mounting marital and financial difficulties. He takes on the illegal immigration job, but when  both he, his crew and his boat prove disastrously inadequate to the task, the film’s vague sense of dread turns increasingly violent. What stands out most in its perspective is the matter of fact ruthlessness of the tragedy at the center of the film, and even more so, the ending, which I won’t spoil, but suffice it to say it is one no Hollywood movie would have attempted.

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The Color of Pomegranates – I was a bit concerned as I sat down in the resurrected Harvard Exit for this showing of Sergei Parajanov’s 1968 experimental biopic. The auditorium was packed, essentially sold out, and given the audience reactions to the Bill Morrison and James Benning experiments earlier in the festival, I wondered how many in the audience knew what they were getting themselves into. A mass stampede to the exits would surely prove disruptive. Well, I don’t know if they were especially into it, I can usually tell how much an audience likes a film just by sitting in the auditorium with them, but this crowd was hard to read. There was some scattered laughter, but this is not an unfunny movie. But only a couple of people that I saw walked out, so I’ll take it as a victory.

The restoration, part of the series celebrating Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, is lovely, putting the old faded DVD to shame, as one would expect. The film is one of those rare great biopics, telling the life of Armenian poet Sayat Nova through a series of iconographic images, oblique and weird but no less meaningful for it. After the disaster that was SIFF’s failed screening of The Red Shoes, I’m glad to see the archival program back on track.

A Hard Day – Somewhere the dominant strain of the crime movie genre morphed from Woovian tales of moral codes in unjust societies to Rube Goldberg narratives driven by slapstick escalations of violence. Suspense and drama comes not from characters or ideals, but from complications in plot, driving the protagonists into ever more desperate and implausible actions and unlikely camera angles. Laurel & Hardy and Infernal Affairs, Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Big Clock are the reference points for Kim Seonghun’s thriller, about a cop who accidentally runs over a man on an empty street at night and goes to great lengths to cover it up. Things get even more audaciously complicated when it turns out, in shades of The Coffin in the Mountain, that he wasn’t alone and maybe the guy was already dead.

As an aside: star Lee Sunkyun is instantly recognizable from many Hong Sangsoo films. His Oki’s Movie co-star Moon Sunkeun is in Haemoo and Hong’s former assistant Lee Kwangkuk has a movie here at SIFF, A Matter of Interpretation. Even when he doesn’t have a movie playing, Hong Sangsoo dominates film festivals.

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Friday May 22 – Thursday May 28

Featured Film:

The Seattle International Film Festival

SIFF 2015 continues and highlights of the second week include the archival 1940s noirs, the latest from Ann Hui and Noah Baumbach, a thriller from Hong Kong, animation from Korea, a restoration of all of Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy and much more. We’ll have reviews posting throughout the festival and here is our Week Two Preview.
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Playing This Week:

Central Cinema:

Singles (Cameron Crowe, 1992) Fri-Sat, Mon
Big Trouble in Little China (John Carpenter, 1986) Fri-Sat, Mon-Tues
How to Lose Your Virginity (Therese Schecter) Tues Only

Century Federal Way:

Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick, 1987) Sun and Weds Only

Crest Cinema Center:

Wild Tales (Damián Szifrón) Fri-Thurs Our Preview 
What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi) Fri-Thurs Our Preview

SIFF Cinema Egyptian:

2015 Seattle International Film Festival Program Details Our Preview

AMC Loews Factoria 8:

Bombay Velvet (Anurag Kashyap) Fri-Thurs

Grand Cinema:

Slow West (John Maclean) Fri-Thurs
Kumiko the Treasure Hunter (David Zellner) Fri-Thurs Our Preview

Grand Illusion Cinema:

About Elly (Asghar Farhadi, 2009) Fri-Thurs
Réalité (Quentin Dupieux) Fri-Thurs
Films by Derek Weber Sat Only Video

Harvard Exit Theatre:

2015 Seattle International Film Festival Program Details Our Preview

Cinemark Lincoln Square Cinemas:

Bombay Velvet (Anurag Kashyap) Fri-Thurs
Piku (Shoojit Sircar) Fri-Thurs
Tanu Weds Manu Returns (Anand L. Rai) Fri-Thurs
Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick, 1987) Sun and Weds Only
2015 Seattle International Film Festival Program Details Our Preview

Regal Meridian 16:

Bombay Velvet (Anurag Kashyap) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

Heaven Adores You (Nikolas Rossi) Fri-Tues
The Sacrifice (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1986) Fri-Thurs 35mm
Croatian Avant-Garde Filmmakers of the 1960s Sun Only 16mm/35mm
The Experimental Film Movement in Serbia: Formative Years (1950s-60s) Mon Only

AMC Pacific Place:

2015 Seattle International Film Festival Program Details Our Preview

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Bombay Velvet (Anurag Kashyap) Fri-Thurs

Scarecrow Video Screening Lounge:

Local Hero (Bill Forsyth, 1983) Sat Only
Chris Marker Group Mon Only
Attack! (Robert Aldrich, 1956) Tues Only
Toast of London: Season One Weds Only
Kundun (Martin Scorsese, 1997) Thurs Only

Seattle Art Museum:

Black Box 2.0: Landscapes, Revisited Fri Only

Landmark Seven Gables:

In the Name of My Daughter (André Techiné) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

2015 Seattle International Film Festival Program Details Our Preview 

Sundance Cinemas Seattle:

Iris (Albert Maysles) Fri-Thurs
Slow West (John Maclean) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Cinema Uptown:

2015 Seattle International Film Festival Program Details Our Preview