The Fog (John Carpenter, 1980)

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There’s something fitting about the new restoration of John Carpenter’s The Fog rolling onto Seattle screens the day after Halloween. Everything about it is just a little off the beat, a little bit odd. Which is, of course, what makes it, almost 40 years after its release, continue to be one of his better works. It lingers in the back of your brain, long after its brief running time has elapsed. Clocking in at a mere 89 minutes, and taking place over a single 24 hour period in the life of a small coastal community, The Fog is the leanest work of modern Hollywood’s most efficient great director (one of the many qualities that links him to Howard Hawks).

It begins at a campfire, with a village elder (John Houseman in old-timey fisherman drag) telling the story of the tragedy that accompanied the village’s founding exactly one hundred years earlier. Quickly we will learn the truth behind the legend, that the ship that tragically crashed in the fog one night was lured there intentionally, part of a scheme by the great men of the town to steal gold from a rich leper and his diseased companions: they murdered them and built their town atop their ruins. One hundred years later, the dead men return to balance the karmic scale.

Arrayed against the forces of darkness are Jamie Lee Curtis (a hitchhiker passing through town), the solid blond guy she hooks up with, Janet Leigh (wife of a fisherman and leader of the town’s anniversary festivities), Adrienne Barbeau (single mom from Chicago and operator of the town’s radio station/lighthouse) and Hal Holbrook (drunken priest whose grandfather was integral in the murders and whose diary tells the whole secret). They’re all pretty quick to figure out what is happening, though each of them has only a piece of the puzzle. The fog itself, what with its eerie glow and hidden frozen sailors, is pretty obviously the danger.

It’s a simple story built out of small, perfectly crafted suspense sequences. And while a lot of the horror movies of the era, including Carpenter’s own Halloween, seem to be designed in response to second wave feminism and The Pill, with their Final Girls surviving while their more promiscuous friends get the knife, The Fog is part of another strand of New Hollywood horror, one inspired more by the crises of the 1960s (the Vietnam War and its attendant atrocities in particular) and a kind of generational awakening to the sins of America’s past. Nightmare on Elm Street about a suburban lynching, Poltergeist about building suburbia on the graves of our ancestors, and so on. The Fog equates the foundation of the American community with the literal theft of capital, a town built on blood money. But then Carpenter complicates it further. In the film’s final moments, the priest reads the next few pages of his grandfather’s diary and finds out that the conspirators were actually betrayed: they never even got the money they were trying to steal. Their murder was ultimately pointless, their conspiracy undermined from within. But they founded the town anyway. That’s America for you: immoral, cruel, murderous, hypocritical, and totally incompetent.

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Friday October 26 – Thursday November 1

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Featured Film:

Hale County This Morning, This Evening at the Northwest Film Forum

Counter-programming against the scary movies this week, the Film Forum has the local premiere of RaMell Ross’s remarkable documentary about a few years in the life of a few of the residents of the eponymous county. Told in fleeting glimpses of quotidian life, with occasional extended sections and direct addresses, chronological but structured as much by image and idea as by narrative, it’s a singular, fascinating work. Like a Frederick Wiseman film edited by Terrence Malick.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Hocus Pocus (Kenny Ortega, 1993) Fri-Weds
Badhaai Ho (Amit Sharma) Fri-Thurs

Central Cinema:

Evil Dead II (Sam Raimi, 1987) Fri, Sat, Tues & Weds Hecklevision Tues
Hocus Pocus (Kenny Ortega, 1993) Fri-Weds
The Nightmare Emporium (Anthology) Part 1 Sun &  Part 2 Mon

SIFF Egyptian:

Collide-O-Scope Halloween 2018 (Shane Wahlund & Michael Anderson) Weds Only

Century Federal Way:

Ranjha Refugee (Avtar Singh) Fri-Thurs
Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001) Sun, Mon & Tues Only Subtitled Tues

Grand Cinema:

Final Girls Berlin Film Festival (Various) Sat Only
Love, Gilda (Lisa Dapolito) Tues Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2012) Fri-Tues 35mm
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (Eli Craig, 2010) Fri, Sat, Mon & Tues Only 35mm
Alien Invasion 35mm Triple Feature Pizza Party Sun Only 35mm
Frankenstein Unbound (Roger Corman, 1990) Weds Only 35mm Plus a Secret Second Film (16mm)
The Public Image is Rotten (Tabbert Fiiller) Thurs, Next Sat & Next Tues Only

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Kayamkulam Kochunni (Rosshan Andrrews) Fri-Thurs
Badhaai Ho (Amit Sharma) Fri-Thurs
Hello Guru Prema Kosame (Trinadha Rao Nakkina) Fri-Thurs
Aravindha Sametha…Veera Raghava (Trivikram Srinivas) Fri-Thurs
Baazaar (Gauravv K. Chawla) Fri-Thurs
Andhadhun (Sriram Raghavan) Fri-Thurs
Genius (Susienthiran) Fri-Thurs
Vada Chennai (Vetrimaaran) Fri-Thurs
Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001) Sun, Mon & Tues Only Subtitled Tues

Regal Meridian:

The Happy Prince (Rupert Everett) Fri-Thurs
The Nightmare Before Christmas (Henry Selick, 1993) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

Hale County This Morning, This Evening (RaMell Ross) Fri-Weds Our Review
306 Hollywood (Elan & Jonathan Bogarín) Fri-Sun
Milford Graves Full Mantis (Jake Meginsky) Sat Only
And Then They Came for Us (Abby Ginzberg & Ken Schneider) Sat & Sun Only w/Post-Film Discussion
North Pole, NY (Ali Cotterill) Sun Only Director Q&A
Society (Brian Yuzna, 1989) Weds Only
A Tuba to Cuba (T.G. Herrington & Danny Clinch) Thurs Only
The Fog (John Carpenter, 1980) Starts Thurs Our Review

AMC Pacific Place:

Project Gutenberg (Felix Chong) Fri-Thurs

Paramount Theatre:

The Cat and the Canary (Paul Leni, 1927) Mon Only Live Score

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Badhaai Ho (Amit Sharma) Fri-Thurs
Baazaar (Gauravv K. Chawla) Fri-Thurs
First Love (Paul Soriano) Fri-Thurs

Seattle Art Museum:

Sudden Fear (David Miller, 1952) Thurs Only 35mm

SIFF Film Center:

Seattle Polish Film Festival Fri-Sun Full Program
The Night of a Thousand Scares (Rachel Carlson & Kim Douthit) Tues Only

AMC Southcenter:

Hocus Pocus (Kenny Ortega, 1993) Fri-Weds

Regal Thornton Place:

The Nightmare Before Christmas (Henry Selick, 1993) Fri-Thurs
Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001) Sun, Mon & Tues Only

SIFF Uptown:

NFFTY 2018 Fri-Sun Full Program

Varsity Theatre:

Big Fish and Begonia (Liang Xuan & Chun Zhang) Mon Only
Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001) Tues Only

Hale County This Morning, This Evening (RaMell Ross, 2018)

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Shot over several years while he lived in Hale County, Alabama working as a teacher in the area, RaMell Ross’s debut film Hale County This Morning, This Evening is without a doubt one of the essential documentaries of 2018, and it plays this week exclusively at the Northwest Film Forum. It’s an interesting companion to What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?, one of the highlights of this year’s Vancouver Film Festival (Seattle release date unfortunately unknown). Both are portraits of Southern, African-American communities, but from vastly different perspectives. As much as Roberto Minervini did to embed himself with his subjects and befriend them, he is necessarily an outsider, an Italian immigrant in America. And his film is more focused on rhetoric and event than on individual moments or the environments of the communities he’s depicting.

RaMell Ross, on the other hand, is documenting people he lived among for years. He’s filming from inside the room, and Hale County is made up of the kind of off-hand, minor moments that make up life, often devoid of any kind of narrative context (though there is a spine of a story about two young men, one of whom goes to college while the other stays home after high school). His tendency is toward the impressionistic (unlike, say, a Frederick Wiseman film), structured as much by image as theme. Ross even gives Apichatpong Weerasethakul a “creative advisor” credit, to give a hint of what the film’s rhythms are like. Though it’s world is far from dreamlike, it does have a certain potent magic. The presence of landscape (and its absence in the film’s interior spaces) is as deeply felt as any film of the year. Still, Hale County is no less political than Minervini’s film, of course, in its expressed intent to reconfigure stereotypical images of African-Americans, and in reclaiming the land they live in (the white residents of which were documented in the 30s by Walker Evans). Simply showing the way people live, in all their joy, wonder, tragedy and fear, is a revolutionary act.

The Frances Farmer Show #19: VIFF 2018

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Sean and Evan discuss some of the films they saw at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival, including Christian Petzold’s Transit, a variety of Moody Asian Noirs (Manta Ray, Lush Reeds, A Land Imagined), Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Ulrich Köhler’s In My Room, Derek Chiu’s No. 1 Chung Ying Street and Jodie Mack’s The Grand Bizarre.

You can listen to the show by downloading it directly, or by subscribing on iTunes or the podcast player of your choice.

Friday October 19 – Thursday October 25

Featured Film:

Seattle Polish Film Festival at the SIFF Uptown

As anyone who listens to the Frances Farmer Show knows, I’m not generally a fan of Contemporary European Cinema. But despite that, at VIFF this year I found myself at a screening of Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War, the follow-up to his Oscar-winning Ada. Much to my surprise, I loved it. It’s a sweeping romantic epic about a singer and a pianist set against the backdrop of the eponymous Cold War and told with astonishing speed an narrative drive. Three hours worth of Dr. Zhivago in less than 90 minutes. It reminded me of both A Star is Born and Visconti’s White Nights. It’s playing Friday only on the opening night of SIFF’s annual Polish Film Festival (though it will surely have a wider release later this year or early next. The only other film I’ve seen from this year’s festival plays on Saturday, Andrzej Wajda’s 1958 post-war/post-apocalypse masterpiece Ashes and Diamonds.

Playing This Week:

Admiral Theater:

Night of the Living Dead (George Romero, 1968) Weds Only

AMC Alderwood:

The Oath (Ike Barenholtz) Fri-Thurs

Central Cinema:

Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) Fri-Mon, Weds
The Craft (Andrew Fleming, 1996) Fri-Tues

SIFF Egyptian:

Beautiful Boy (Felix Van Groeningen) Fri-Thurs

Century Federal Way:

Aate Di Chidi (Harry Bhatti) Fri-Thurs
Twilight (Catherine Hardwicke, 2008) Sun & Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

Goosebumps (Rob Letterman, 2015) Sat Only Free Screening
MFKZ (Shojiro Nishimi) Sat Only
The Last Suit (Pablo Solarz) Tues Only
Imagine (John Lennon & Yoko Ono, 1972) Weds Only
The Doors: Live at the Bowl ’68 (Ray Manzarek, 1971) Thurs Only
A Plastic Ocean (Craig Leeson) Thurs Only Free Screening

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Ninja Zombie (Mark Bessenger, 1992) Fri Only
Body Melt (Philip Brophy, 1993) Fri & Sun Only 35mm
The Most Dangerous Game (Irving Pichel & Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1932) Fri-Sun, Tues 35mm
King Kong (Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933) Sat, Sun, Tues & Thurs 35mm
Final Girls Berlin Film Festival “Best of” Night Sun Only
Schlock (John Landis, 1973) Sun, Weds & Thurs
Sonic Youth: 30 Years of Daydream Nation Mon Only Drummer in Attendance
Sisters (Brian DePalma, 1973) Weds Only

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Beautiful Boy (Felix Van Groeningen) Fri-Thurs
Badhaai Ho (Amit Sharma) Fri-Thurs
Hello Guru Prema Kosame (Trinadha Rao Nakkina) Fri-Thurs
Aravindha Sametha…Veera Raghava (Trivikram Srinivas) Fri-Thurs
Namaste England (Vipul Amrutlal Shah) Fri-Thurs
Andhadhun (Sriram Raghavan) Fri-Thurs
Sandakozhi 2 (N. Lingusamy) Fri-Thurs
Vada Chennai (Vetrimaaran) Fri-Thurs
Twilight (Catherine Hardwicke, 2008) Sun & Weds Only

Regal Meridian:

The Oath (Ike Barenholtz) Fri-Thurs
Beetlejuice (Tim Burton, 1988) Sat & Weds Only
Twilight (Catherine Hardwicke, 2008) Sun & Tues Only

Northwest Film Forum:

Kusama: Infinity (Heather Lenz) Fri Only
Sadie (Megan Griffiths) Fri-Thurs Filmmaker Q & A Fri & Sat
From the Zapatistas and Beyond (Various) Sat Only
Blood and Steel: Cedar Crest Country Club (Michael Maniglia) Sat, Sun & Weds Only
Evil Dead II (Sam Raimi, 1987) Weds Only

AMC Pacific Place:

Project Gutenberg (Felix Chong) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Badhaai Ho (Amit Sharma) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

The Oath (Ike Barenholtz) Fri-Thurs

Seattle Art Museum:

On Dangerous Ground (Nicholas Ray, 1951) Thurs Only 35mm

SIFF Film Center:

KINOFEST Seattle Fri-Sun

AMC Southcenter:

The Oath (Ike Barenholtz) Fri-Thurs

Regal Thornton Place:

The Oath (Ike Barenholtz) Fri-Thurs
Beetlejuice (Tim Burton, 1988) Sat & Weds Only
Twilight (Catherine Hardwicke, 2008) Sun & Tues Only
Night of the Living Dead (George Romero, 1968) Weds & Thurs Only

SIFF Uptown:

The Guilty (Gustav Moller) Fri-Thurs
Seattle Polish Film Festival Fri-Sun

Varsity Theatre:

Tea with the Dames (Roger Michell) Fri-Thurs

VIFF 2018: La Flor (Mariano Llinás)

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“Years passed, with Sundays as bleak as Mondays. Anatole married Henriette, and one particular Sunday…” It’s with these words—the passage of time and the scale of a human life transmuted into a single title card—that Jean Renoir’s Parti de campagne was completed, ten years after its initial filming halted prematurely due to weather conditions. Something of the same shift in scale—from days to years and vice versa—is what writer-director Mariano Llinás achieves with La Flor, a six-episode, 868-minute, decade-long undertaking which, not coincidentally, reworks Renoir’s famously “unfinished” masterpiece in its fifth episode. But while the intervening ten-year limbo of Renoir’s film was filled in with, effectively, the stroke of a pen, Llinás’ evinces countless hours of herculean effort, which has been thus far rewarded with the top prize at BAFICI, a NYFF main slate selection, and no small amount of hushed awe in the cinephile community where its reputation only continues to build. (That there are reportedly only a handful of physical DVD copies floating around for preview purposes is surely a calculated attempt to cultivate a small, but fervent cult of appreciation.)

Such monumental effort is, of course, cause to take note; the only other film this decade even approaching its scale and magnitude is Miguel Gomes’ three-part Arabian Nights trilogy (2015), which at six hours still runs less than half the time of Llinás’ film. But the comparison turns out to be an instructive one, since both are essentially anthology films, with each episode more or less disconnected from the rest, and largely absent of, say, the durational exercises of Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó (1994) and Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 (1971). Indeed, in La Flor’s in-film introduction, which has the director seated at a picnic table with an open notebook of film-related ideas and sketches—not unlike the opening, artistic statement portion of Gomes’ Arabian Nights—Llinás explicitly lays out the overall structure with a graphic: four “petals” pointing upward (stories with beginnings, but no endings), a circle joining them together (a complete story), and then an arrow shooting downwards (a story with no beginning, but an ending). Six extraordinary stories, then, each of which are associated with a specific genre: a B-movie, a musical, a spy movie, one that by Llinás’ admission is difficult to describe, a remake of Renoir’s aforementioned film, and finally a captive story in 19th century South America. The only connections between the six: a single writer-director and the same four lead actresses: Laura Paredes, Elisa Carricajo, Pilar Gamboa, and Valeria Correa.

Pace some early characterizations, though—particularly claims that there’s little to no ironic distance at play within the film—La Flor is not quite a series of adroitly engineered, expertly calibrated embodiments of genre that just happen to have emerged from the same mind. It seems no accident that the first episode is a B-movie (“the kind that Americans used to shoot with their eyes closed and now just can’t shoot anymore”), with its associations of less-is-more ingenuity; nor that the actual plot—mainly centered on a mummy, but which also involves some murderous feline tendencies—obliquely nods to Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People (1942) and thus the low-budget triumphs of RKO Pictures producer Val Lewton. Rather than attempt to slavishly recreate each genre, Llinás thus demonstrates a willingness to impose his own set of limitations on the project, to take what he wants and discard the rest—so while La Flor frequently signals varied genre expectations, it also progresses in multiple contradictory directions at once.

The effect is uncanny, occasionally frustrating, but also uniquely thrilling, since its story possibilities refuses to telescope in the traditional way; there’s always the chance that Llinás hits the restart button and begins anew and so his hand casts a long shadow over the proceedings. In Episode I, he employs an insistent, playfully exaggerated score and an absurdly shallow depth-of-field, which means that much of the frame is shrouded in indistinctness and that shifts in action are often preceded by hilariously conspicuous focus pulls. And the shooting style remains more or less consistent across the film—which is indicative of budgetary limitations, but also of a willingness to rely on genre-inflected suggestion to fuel narrative, to treat each and every moment of a daunting 14-or-so hours as a kind of pointillist dot in a larger canvas.

If the first episode, while pleasurable in the way it allows viewers to get their bearings, still seemed recognizably in the B-horror realm, the second (“a musical with a touch of mystery”) departs more clearly from its ostensible antecedents and stands as Llinás’ most effective genre reconfiguration. The episode tells of a famous, singing duo Siempreverde, comprised of Victoria (Gamboa) and Ricky (Héctor Díaz), whose failing collaboration is obliquely linked, through Victoria’s personal assistant, to a conspiracy plot to locate a rare scorpion venom (naturally, the key to an elixir of youth). The opening epigraph (“Watch out, the world’s behind you”), from The Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning,” is indicative of Llinás’ intent here, as in the rest of the film—which is to continually expand each given story, to suggest an entire world with a simple change of shot or line of dialogue. Fittingly, there’s an increased attention to basic storytelling pleasures, particularly an oral tradition linked to music. Parceled across the episode are three melancholy, black-and-white sequences that each tell versions of the night Siempreverde’s most famous song “Rain” was composed—how a small tale of understanding (here, between Victoria and Ricky) became lost within deluge of salacious tabloid, fabricated memoir and commercial success—which both gestures to the popular forms that Llinás is working with and captures the inexorable movements of a wider culture of engagement.

The explicit interest in various storytelling modes intensifies in the third and longest episode: a spy movie that finds the four actresses playing agents “somewhere in South America” in the 1980’s (the “time of spies”). Transforming a Cold War era thriller into a very protracted waiting game, the globe-trotting episode proceeds, over roughly six hours, to tell the intentionally involuted backstories of each of the four women, with Gamboa’s mute agent inevitably recalling Jean-Pierre Léaud’s Colin in Rivette’s Out 1. Given that Llinás presents the viewer with his own gang of four—not to mention an opposing gang of four and an impending duel—it’s somewhat tempting to invoke Rivette, particularly given the French New Wave director’s interest in a form of play (theatricality, embedded fictions, false faces) and an approach to performance (a conception of being that flows, first and foremost, from artifice) that La Flor does engage with. And indeed, the nature of the film’s production, which allows the four actresses a number of uncanny transformations and reversals, a constant shedding, melding and forging of identities across the epic runtime—for which the actresses’ collective theater troupe “Piel de Lava” (or “Lava Skin”) provides a perfect visual metaphor—does seem uniquely conducive to a Rivettian project.

The first two episodes seemed to bear this out, but Episode III, which is split into three acts, provides something of a difficulty in that regard, since for the most part it emphasizes a distance—at times courting parody—in not just genre, but also performance. This is, of course, Llinás’ prerogative; and it must be said that the more outside-in view taken here does make the moments when the episode (at times literally) racks focus that much more breathtaking, such as the end of Act I, with a cosmic reverie set to the dying of the light, prompted by a kidnapped man’s realization that he’s not about to be killed. Beneath his gag, the man smiles. That’s merely one of no less than four coups de cinema dispersed across Episode III, which in their wending, digressive verbosity have a quality that recalls the writings of Roberto Bolaño and his ability to cap off meandering peregrinations with epiphanic onrushes of emotion and sudden clarity. Whether one accepts that such moments require the surrounding protraction to function—and I remain unsure on this point—the film’s overall retreat from a more Rivettian embodiment and approach to an actor’s “essence” seems undeniable.

Extending this outward movement, the fourth episode takes on a meta-textual docu-fiction of sorts, which, based on Llinás’ Cinema Scope interview, is his answer to those who have abandoned pure fictive pleasures in favor of “hybridization.” Accordingly, there’s a film director, four actresses, and an ambitious six-part undertaking titled The Spider, though the director stand-in’s corresponding diagram, being six-legged, naturally resembles an ant—industriousness over cleverness, it would seem. When we pick up with the film crew, production has already spanned six years, and the doltish parody of a film director seems more taken with shooting trees than with filming his actresses, whom he frequently describes as witches. In theory, this episode presents a number of productive avenues: for Llinás to acknowledge the limitations of his production, as well as explore the nature his collaboration with his gang of four. And there is a degree to which Llinás does follow through on both. But his lack of facility with the meta-textual trappings renders the former tack deathly dull. There’s none of the reverse-engineered cleverness of, say, Our Beloved Month of August (2008), in which Gomes weaponized his (sound-capture) production limitations into a brisk, inventive tale, so the episode relies mainly on tired meta-humor to make its mark.

In taking on the latter, Llinás at least seems to expend more energy. Owing to the fact that the four actresses are actually witches, the director and his film crew vanish from the story. The director’s shooting diary is later found by an academic named Gatto (Pablo Seijo). The remainder of the episode then proceeds as an investigation, narrated in epistolary form, of the the director’s writings, which later incorporates yet another layer: the director’s fevered search for a number of esoteric books which Gatto takes upon himself to investigate. (That the reading list includes the Polish classic The Saragossa Manuscript, with its delirious, nested mini-narratives, is simply Llinás showing his work.) The text the director becomes obsessed with, though, and the effective fulcrum of Episode IV, is Giacomo Casanova’s memoir Histoire de ma via. But the director’s infatuation, as Gatto observes, is not with the Italian’s infamous conquests, but with “secret fingerprints” and “slight moments of truth”—atomized fragments or seeds that lodge themselves in the mind for later germination. What the director zeroes in on eventually is an apocryphal tale of how Casanova was individually teased and refused by four gorgeous, flighty women (played, of course, by Carricajo, Correa, Gamboa, and Paredes) in what he later discovers to be a vast conspiracy between the four to deny him. The parallels between Casanova’s predicament and the viewer’s are obvious—though lest one miss it, Llinás offers up a layered image of the four actresses, their profiles coming together to form a flower.

What follows, though, is somewhat more unexpected: a strikingly intimate sequence of the four actresses in various locations, comprised of footage one might reasonably (though incorrectly) assume was shot by a partner or spouse. Two of the actresses even bare their breasts for the camera; that we are even watching this seems oddly intrusive. In the film’s introduction, Llinás says that La Flor really belongs to his actresses—which in some sense is true. But the aforementioned sequence gives lie to such unfreighted auteurial benevolence, and serves as the director’s admission of his infatuation, creative or otherwise, with these women. By positioning this (literally) seductive flourish at the close of Episode IV, he seems to ask the viewer if they feel the same. Whatever one’s response, the gesture remains unsettling, as if Llinás were confessing his salacious motives, while also soliciting approval for his candor; even Llinás’ sheepish, apologetic remarks directly following the episode’s end register as a kind of narcissism.

If the concern here is the age-old relationship between artist and muse, then perhaps it’s useful to return to Rivette, specifically his Balzac adaptation La Belle Noiseuse (1991), in which an aging artist attempts, with the inspiration of a new model, to create a masterpiece long since abandoned. (“Ten years ago you stopped searching, you got scared just when you should have gone all the way,” the painter’s wife tells him.) After a lengthy battle between artist and model, the painter succeeds—but the results are so horrific, so cruel to his subject that he conceals the masterpiece and, overnight, produces another painting in its stead. He shuttles away the identity he has stolen from his model, and leaves her the final decision: to either return to the essence now locked away or to start anew. In an echo of that gesture, Llinás offers the final two episodes of La Flor, which, taken together, chart a canny reversion to pre-cinematic modes.

There’s the aforementioned remake of A Day in the Country (in which the actresses do not appear at all) and the final episode (in which their faces are barely recognizable). The first proceeds in silent black-and-white, that is, until the romantic coupling occurs, and the soundtrack of Renoir’s film is dropped in to the sight of a plane taking flight, joining another two as they streak across the sky—an achingly beautiful visual-aural flourish that rightly ties cinematic progress to technological invention. The sixth episode follows soon after, telling a silent tale of four captive Native American women via a string of murky, Impressionist images, with intertitles attributed to an apocryphal 1900 memoir by Sarah S. Evans. Laying bare to his cinematic apparatus once more, Llinás reveals the camera obscura used to capture those images, leaves the camera running and allows the frame to invert itself as the film crew packs up and slowly leaves, their efforts finally completed. As the camera intermittently pans across the landscape in 360-degree revolutions, the credits roll, distilling an entire decade of labor into just 40-or-so minutes. (Here, one thinks of the “Chimera Room” in La Belle Noiseuse, a favorite of the artist’s wife precisely “because it’s useless.”) Even through such an ambitious endeavor as La Flor, the world spins, indifferent. But the scale of human life is such that for the viewer, indifference is not an option.

VIFF 2018 Index

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This is an index of our coverage of the 2018 Vancouver Film Festival. To be updated as new reviews and such are posted.

Sean:

Preview: Grass, People’s Republic of Desire, Girls Always Happy, Microhabitat, Matangi/Maya/MIA – Sept 29, 2018
Spice It Up (Lev Lewis, Yonah Lewis, & Calvin Thomas, 2018) – Oct 1, 2018
Diamantino (Gabriel Abrantes & Daniel Schmidt, 2018) – Oct 3, 2018
Asako I & II (Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, 2018) – Oct 3, 2018
Mirai (Mamoru Hosada, 2018) – Oct 4, 2018
Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Bi Gan, 2018) – November 10, 2018

Evan:

Fausto (Andrea Bussmann, 2018) Sept 29, 2018
Sofia Bohdanowicz’s Shorts – Oct 2, 2018
The Load (Ognjen Glavonić, 2018) – Oct 6, 2018
Non-Fiction (Olivier Assayas, 2018) – Oct 8, 2018
Asako I & II (Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, 2018) – Oct 9, 2018

Lawrence:

La Flor (Mariano Llinás) – Oct 14, 2018

Podcast (Sean and Evan):

The Frances Farmer Show #19: VIFF 2018 – Oct 18, 2018

Bisbee ’17 (Robert Greene, 2018)

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In July of 1917, 2,00 deputized citizens of Bisbee, Arizona, under direction of the county sheriff (and almost certainly the copper mining interests that ran the town), rounded up at gunpoint 1,200 striking mineworkers, members of the IWW, marched them four miles out of town, loaded them onto boxcars, and transported them into the New Mexico desert, to be left to die in the middle of nowhere. The one-hundredth anniversary of this event, and the town’s attempt at reckoning with it, is the subject of the latest film from documentarian Robert Greene, which opens today at the SIFF Film Center.

Questioning the nature of truth as it is presented in non-fiction film is the guiding mission of Greene’s work, in acclaimed films like Actress and Kate Plays ChristineBisbee ’17 too is explicitly about the recreation of historical events, as the town organizes a kind of dramatization of the Deportation (as it has come to be known), with various townspeople, some of them fairly recent arrivals to the community, some with family members who fought on either side (or both sides) in 1917. We meet the various locals who will be taking part in the reenactment, and learn a little bit about their current lives, though the emphasis is on their thoughts about the strike and its bloody conclusion.

That the consciousness of an American community has not changed much with regard to labor rights in the past hundred years should come as no surprise. But even some of those who say they still support the mining company’s actions notably feel pangs of regret as they watch their fellow citizens rounded up and shipped away. There’s a lot of good old fashioned American excuse-making on the pro-capital side, especially ubiquitous is that most despicable of all arguments: that the actions of these cruel men were on some level acceptable simply because they believed they were doing the right thing. I don’t know where this idea comes from (I suspect Evangelical Protestantism, but I can’t say for sure), that what you do in life doesn’t matter as long as your intentions are good, that any evil is justifiable in the name of belief, but it is long past time it was discarded. Let us send it to the desert to die.

Stories like that of Bisbee are increasingly necessary, not simply for their obvious parallels to the political issues of the present day (Bisbee is only a handful of miles from the Mexican border, and Deportation today has all kinds of new though not-so different resonances). Somewhere in the immediate post-war era, with the mass expansion of public education at the high tide of Cold War propaganda, America lost a sense of its own labor history, of the crimes committed by capital in the creation of our communities and our nation. As the great factory and mining towns that built the foundations for our national wealth have been abandoned over the last 40 years (Bisbee in most respects looks identical to the mining towns my parents grew up in in Northern Idaho), whole generations have been adrift, without a coherent narrative to explain how things got to be so bad or what we can do to get from here to a better place. Watching the residents of Bisbee grapple with basic truths about capital, its exploitation of labor and its manipulation of racism in the creation of an all-white community (the vast majority of the deported mine workers were Latino or Eastern European), one can, with hope, see the beginnings of a reborn class consciousness.

But compared to Peter Watkins’s La Commune (Paris 1871), which similarly reenacted a historical event and mixed in coverage of the past with discussions among the performers about their own feelings regarding the events they were depicting, highly energized, engaged and informed discussions of labor, sexual and racial politics as they stood in the last century and continued into the present, one can see just how much our educational system, our culture, our politics, have let us down. We’re playing catch-up, but it’s starting to look like we might finally be back in the game.

Friday October 12 – Thursday October 18

Featured Film:

Monsters Attacking at Every Rep Theatre in Town

It’s officially Halloween season, and all over town the scary movies are popping up for limited runs. The Central Cinema has Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, the one that started it all, while the Northwest Film Forum has a one night only showing of George Romero’s Day of the Dead, less illustrious than his two prior zombie movies, but no less essential. The Grand in Tacoma has Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice on Friday night (and spreads the rep love around later in the week with Do the Right Thing and Henri-Georges Cluzout’s The Mystery of Picasso). But no one in town celebrates the dark soul of cinema like the Grand Illusion, and this week their annual All Monsters Attack series starts with 35mm prints of Kathryn Bigelow’s 80s vampire classic Near Dark and Antonia Bird’s cannibal thriller Ravenous. They’ve also got The Night Eats the World, a new film from French director Dominque Rocherthat starring Golshifteh Farahani and Denis Levant along with something called Ninja Zombie that the good people at VHS Uber Alles unearthed somewhere. And this Sunday they have Scarecrow Video’s annual triple feature of obscure oddities. In coming weeks, the series will continue with the original King Kong and The Most Dangerous Game, Brian dePalma’s SistersThe Cabin in the Woods, Roger Corman’s final film, 1990’s Frankenstein Unbound and more.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

The Sisters Brothers (Jacques Audiard) Fri-Thurs
Free Solo (Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) Fri-Thurs

Central Cinema:

Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) Fri-Mon, Weds
The Craft (Andrew Fleming, 1996) Fri-Tues

SIFF Egyptian:

TWIST Seattle Queer Film Festival 2018 Fri-Weds Full Program
Absinthe Films and B4BC Present Stay Tuned (Justin Hostynek) Thurs Only

Century Federal Way:

Son of Manjeet Singh (Vikram Grover) Fri-Thurs
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra, 1939) Sun & Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

Monsters and Men (Reinaldo Marcus Green) Fri-Thurs
The Old Man & the Gun (David Lowery) Fri-Thurs
Beetlejuice (Tim Burton, 1988) Fri-Thurs
Kusama: Infinity (Heather Lenz) Tues Only
Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989) Weds Only
The Mystery of Picasso (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1956) Weds Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

The Night Eats the World (Dominique Rocher) Sat, Mon, Weds & Thurs
Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow, 1987) Fri-Sun, Tues 35mm
Ravenous (Antonia Bird, 1999) Fri, Sat, Mon & Tues 35mm
Scarecrow Video Weirdo Horror Triple Feature Sun Only
Ninja Zombie (Mark Bessenger, 1992) Thurs & Next Fri

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

The Old Man & the Gun (David Lowery) Fri-Thurs
Free Solo (Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) Fri-Thurs
The Hate U Give (George Tillman Jr.) Fri-Thurs
Aravindha Sametha…Veera Raghava (Trivikram Srinivas) Fri-Thurs
96 (C. Prem Kumar) Fri-Thurs
Andhadhun (Sriram Raghavan) Fri-Thurs
Helicopter Eela (Pradeep Sarkar) Fri-Thurs
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra, 1939) Sun & Weds Only

Regal Meridian:

The Sisters Brothers (Jacques Audiard) Fri-Thurs
The Old Man & the Gun (David Lowery) Fri-Thurs
Monsters and Men (Reinaldo Marcus Green) Fri-Thurs
Free Solo (Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

TWIST Seattle Queer Film Festival 2018 Fri-Weds Full Program
Kusama: Infinity (Heather Lenz) Sun-Thurs
Day of the Dead (George Romero, 1985) Weds Only
Stories of Our Watersheds (Various) Thurs Only

AMC Pacific Place:

Project Gutenberg (Felix Chong) Fri-Thurs
Lost, Found (Lv Yue) Fri-Thurs
The Hate U Give (George Tillman Jr.) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Miss Granny (Joyce E. Bernal) Fri-Thurs
Exes Baggage (Dan Villegas) Fri-Thurs
Goyo the Boy General (Jerrold Tarog) Fri-Thurs
The Hate U Give (George Tillman Jr.) Fri-Thurs
Son of Manjeet Singh (Vikram Grover) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

Bisbee ’17 (Robert Greene) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Headhunt Revisited (Michele Westmorland) Weds Only

AMC Southcenter:

Kinky (Jean Claude Lamarre) Fri-Thurs
The Hate U Give (George Tillman Jr.) Fri-Thurs

Regal Thornton Place:

The Hate U Give (George Tillman Jr.) Fri-Thurs
Free Solo (Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) Fri-Thurs
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra, 1939) Sun & Weds Only

SIFF Uptown:

Matangi/Maya/MIA (Stephen Loveridge) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Inventing Tomorroe (Laura Nix) Fri-Thurs
Mandy (Panos Cosmatos) Fri-Thurs
BLIZZARD OF AAHHH’s 30th Anniversary ReCut (Greg Stump) Weds Only

Varsity Theatre:

Science Fair (Darren Foster & Cristina Costantini) Fri-Thurs
After Everything (Hannah Marks & Joey Power) Fri-Thurs
Seattle Latino Film Festival Fri Only Full Program
New York Cat Film Festival Sun Only
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra, 1939) Weds Only

In Wide Release:

Mission: Impossible–Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie) Our Review
Ant-Man and the Wasp (Peyton Reed) Our Review

VIFF 2018: Asako I & II (Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, 2018)

Screen Shot 2018-10-09 at 8.41.56 PM

How do we count the age of ghosts? That question, posed by Ryūsuke Hamaguchi’s most recent short, is given a kind of answer in his newest feature, Asako I & II. Baku, the first of two Masahiro Higashide paramours, is not a phantom—at least not literally—when, after a heartbreaking departure early in the film, he makes a fated return; his reappearance subjects our eponymous heroine to a haunting nevertheless. Years of uncertain domestic contentment with Ryohei, the second Higashide steady, foretell a dangerous encounter with a lost lover. But more than a reignited old flame, it is the specter of youth that possesses Asako. The ghosts age only as much as you do.

That a reemergent lover confronts us with an earlier, not-quite-forgotten life is, in the realm of romantic comedies, a known insight. And Asako I & II, if it does nothing else well, plays the genre songbook with symphonic grace. Hamaguchi makes for a surprising conductor, though, at least if you take the tack favored by some Happy Hour partisans and read that earlier work as a Rivettian exercise in durational dramaturgy. If, like me, you see in Hamaguchi’s last film a classical woman’s picture played at half-time, his reinvention as pop impresario makes significantly more sense. This is a filmmaker devoted, without shame, to the most cliched beats offered by his scenario. As evidence, look no further than the initial meet-cute: honest-to-goodness sparks fly.

To dwell on the ways in which Asako I & II resembles run-of-the-mill manga (and there are many) is, however, to belie the rigor that Hamaguchi brings to bear, and the film resonates only because of the dissonances that arise from playing the script’s pop rhythms against the direction, which is sharp and socially specific. Mise-en-scène is inextricable from milieu: bourgie young Tokyoites live in a world of Muji-approved wood tones and cramped, but not tiny, apartments, and Hamaguchi’s visual schema responds in kind. I’m not sure that these environs count as anyone’s idea of paradise—heaven is still far away—but it takes a certain personal (and financial) stability to live the way Asako I & II looks, which makes those moments when the style suddenly breaks, either to indulge in romantic reverie, or, as happens more frequently in the second part of the film, during Baku’s extended disappearance, to embrace the outside world, all the more vertiginous. The guarded equilibriums of one’s late twenties are not yet immune to youth’s wobbly passions or, as the presence of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake suggests, safe from the infinite vagaries of chance and circumstance.

But instability is the wellspring of transformation, and it’s precisely Asako’s inconstancy that enables her final metamorphosis. When at last Baku reaches out his hand and beckons, he whisks Asako away from both dinner and domesticity, and yet he cannot pull her back in time. Face to face with her phantom desire, Asako no longer recognizes the youthful spirit conjured in it (“I will always return,” though a sweetheart’s vow, is also a ghost’s threat). A little housekeeping is necessary, following this aftershock, to put a new life in order. Luckily, an unlocked door awaits Asako. As does the promise held out by the English-language title, which, though awkward and surely hellish for prospective marketers, is, in its clumsy way, quite wise: We are our own sequels.