SIFF 2018 Preview: Week Three and Beyond

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There’s a week and a half left in the 2018 Seattle International Film Festival. So far, here at Seattle Screen Scene we’ve reviewed: Freaks and Geeks: The DocumentaryFirst Reformed (twice), and People’s Republic of Desire (twice),  The Bold, the Corrupt, and the BeautifulRedoubtable (aka Godard mon amour)Let the Sunshine In, The Mis-education of Cameron Post, and Matangi/Maya/MIA, with more to come.

Here are some of the movies we’re looking forward to over the last ten days of the festival:

Leave No Trace – Director Debra Granik’s long-awaited fiction film follow-up to her 2010 art house hit Winter’s Bone (she directed the doc Stray Dog in 2014), with Ben Foster as a traumatized vet trying with his teenage daughter to reintegrate into society after living for years in the Oregon wilderness.

 – One of the few experimental films at this year’s SIFF. The festival describes it: “Structural filmmaker Johann Lurf collected all the filmed images of starscapes he could find from high quality sources and assembled them in chronological order, rejecting the clips that had trees or people or spaceships or text. The result is a hypnotic journey through film history starting in 1905 and going all the way through 2017.”

The Empty Hands – Chapman To, who was here a few years ago starring in the film The Mobfathers, directs Stephy Tang in this film about a young directionless woman who inherits half her karate instructor father’s dojo after he dies. She wants to carve it up and sell it off, but her father’s former student (To himself) convinces her to give fighting another chance. A fine film, reminiscent in its best moments of the Johnnie To (no relation) masterpiece Throw Down.

The Crime of Monsieur Lange – The new restoration of Jean Renoir’s 1936 film about “a writer of pulpy Westerns who becomes an improbable hero in order to combat the misdeeds of a slimy, predatory publisher.” It’s one of the Renoir classics I haven’t seen yet and thus one of my most-anticipated Seattle film events of the year.

Ballet Now – The next film in the Tiler Peck Cinematic Universe, as the New York City Ballet dancer (who featured in the fine doc Ballet 422 a few years back) travels to Los Angeles to put on a show.

Susu – “Two Chinese students find themselves in a chilling Gothic tale in a secluded 16th century mansion in the British countryside.” Sounds good to me.

Tyrel – “A comedy where a man realizes that he is the only black man attending a weekend getaway.” Yup.

Good Manners – Brazilian film about a woman who takes a job as a caretaker for a wealthy pregnant woman. With monstrous consequences. One of the better films about parenthood and wolves of recent years.

Girls Always Happy – The debut film from Yang Mingming, who writes, directs and stars as a college graduate who moves back home with her mother. Yang was the editor for the 2015 film Crosscurrent, which played in Seattle for I believe only a single show at the Meridian. But it’s pretty great.

Wrath of Silence – Xin Yukun’s follow-up to his twisty thriller The Coffin in the Mountain, one of the highlights of SIFF 2015. Stars Jiang Wu (last seen here in the Andy Lau film  Shock Wave and the brother of actor/director Jiang Wen) as “a mute Chinese miner (who) sets off to find his missing son using whatever tactics necessary.”

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SIFF 2018: People’s Republic of Desire (Hao Wu, 2018)

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Evan is right that there’s nothing in the aesthetic (PBS plus CGI) to match the radical transformations of a life spent online, but I think that’s kind of the point. That despite the newness of the technology and of this form of celebrity, of an economy built solely on loneliness and “prestige”, all the same old principles of exploitation and alienation apply. The virus of capitalism replicating itself anew. Pair it with All About Lily Chou-chou and The Human Surge and then go into the woods and read some Thoreau.

SIFF 2018: The Bold, The Corrupt, and the Beautiful (Yang Ya-che, 2017)

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The winner of this past year’s Golden Horse Awards Best Picture is shockingly bad. Generally considered the top awards body for Chinese language film, The Golden Horse has a sterling reputation, though perhaps that is unearned. Looking back over recent winners reveals more than one questionable decision (2013’s win for Ilo Ilo over A Touch of Sin, Drug WarStray Dogs and The Grandmaster in particular stands out). The Awards are based in Taiwan, and tend to favor Taiwanese film, but considering that two of The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful‘s top rivals for the 2017 award, Sylvia Chang’s Love Education (also playing here at SIFF, along with another Best Picture nominee, Angels Wear White) and the grimy indie The Great Buddha+ (which has inexplicably yet to appear on Seattle Screens) are also Taiwanese, that can’t be the reason for it’s win. Honestly, I’m baffled.

A convoluted story of political corruption and its parallels in the corruption of a family, the film almost exclusively focuses on women, led by Kara Hui, who began her career as a martial arts star in a series of films directed by Lau Kar-leung in the late 70s and early 80s (Dirty Ho, My Young Auntie, The Lady is the Boss) and has in recent years become one of the more respected actresses in Chinese film (The Midnight AfterMrs. K). She picked up the Golden Horse Best Actress Award, which unlike the Best Picture win was well-deserved, playing an antique dealer with ties to local officials who are engaged in some kind of land speculation deal. All the corruption is opaque, taking place in coded exchanges at parties and meals, with the trading of a statue of the goddess Guanyin meaning. . . something. The details of the scam, and its undoing after a betrayal and the slaughter of one of the involved families, aren’t particularly important, but neither do they make the least bit of sense. The film instead focuses on the corruption in Hui’s family, as her daughter (Wu Ke-xi) and (spoiler I guess but like every supposed twist in the film it’s blindingly obvious from the beginning) grand-daughter (Vicky Chen) become involved to various degrees in Hui’s scheming, leading one to drug addiction and promiscuity and the other to a general kind of psychosis.

Director Yang Ya-che throws a lot of bells and whistles at his basic scenario: cutting indiscriminately around in time, deliberating excising exposition in favor of dreamy montages of people looking pensive, adding a goofy narration by an elderly couple who play stringed instruments and sing the story as it unfolds maybe in a TV studio, but none of it really works. All the officials are corrupt in the same ways, and the extent of Hui’s involvement is treated as a major reveal but isn’t the least bit surprising. The youngest girl for the most part is our window into the world, which might explain the inexplicability of many of the crimes, as we wouldn’t expect her to know it all. But then it turns out she actually does know everything her elders are up to, and anyway, we get also a bunch of scenes that she couldn’t possibly have witnessed that don’t really explain anything but instead just further cloud the plot.

The film is bright and colorful, with deep yellows and reds that are a welcome respite from the orange and teal and gray that infests so much contemporary cinema. And there’s a kernel of an interesting idea here, in that the film focuses its admirably nasty crime family/political corruption saga entirely on the women, not just Hui and her family but the wives of all the officials involved are the real drivers of the schemes, negotiations and power plays, their husbands blank slates receding into the background. But with no likable women or heroic figures (the only stand-up person in the movie is a man, a cop who fruitless investigates), the story we ultimately get is of a gang of greedy, amoral harpy women who have too much power in the workplace and have therefore ruined both society and their families with their independence.

SIFF 2018: The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018, Desiree Akhavan)

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Note: as this film is under embargo until its release in the Seattle area, here are exactly 90 words.

For whatever reason, The Miseducation of Cameron Post feels like the sort of film that suffers from a clash in sensibilities, though it was directed and co-written by the same voice, Desiree Akhavan. This story of the film’s eponymous character’s stint in a gay conversion camp at the behest of her Evangelical aunt comes off alarmingly often as too pat and resolved for its own good. But a more sensitive sensibility sometimes shines through, and the film occasionally comes to life through an assortment of little, carefully considered interactions.

SIFF 2018: Un beau soleil intérieur (Claire Denis, 2017)

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Cinema’s seer of texture and touch swaps the pleasures of the eye for the vagaries of spoken language. Denis applies her halting, fragmentary style not to the images—which are atypically steady and clear—but to the words. Un beau soleil intérieur understands how people talk in fits and starts, how romantic (comedy) conversations slip into ellipses; it’s the gaps that matter. So, a Claire Denis film. Still, there’s a sense of perhaps too much light let in, of the genre bending Denis to its will, and not the other way around.

SIFF 2018: Le Redoutable [GODARD MON AMOUR] (2017, Michel Hazanavicius)

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Simply put, the Jean-Luc Godard caricature presented in Le Redoutable, played by Louis Garrel in Michel Hazanavicius’s toothless broadside against not only one of cinema’s true artists, but seemingly all of film that even attempts to be intellectually responsible, never made a single film or put a word of criticism to paper. The film (retitled Godard Mon Amour for American audiences) depicts the auteur at a turning point, struggling with his radicalism and his filmmaking in the atmosphere before, during, and after May 1968, purportedly through the viewpoint of his then-wife, actress Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin). But Hazanavicius can never seem to decide where he lands specifically on Godard and his legacy: the film seems to simultaneously attempt to worship at his feet and excoriate him, supposedly for his mistreatment and neglect of Wiazemsky but in actuality for his politics and turn away from “conventional” cinema.

I am by no means attempting to claim myself as a total expert on Godard (or even his ’60s period), but from seeing Le Redoutable, I can’t help but wonder if Hazanvicius himself has seen more than three Godard films, or if he has even seen La Chinoise, the Wiazemsky-starring film from which he (badly) recreates a scene. How else to explain the “experimental” techniques that feel as if they were picked out of a hat, including some devices that (if I’m not mistaken) aren’t in any of Godard’s ’60s films? Even the techniques that do feature in Godard’s work – to name just one example, the studio rendering of driving from Pierrot le fou, with the camera placed too close to register – seem half-hearted and completely lacking in any of the exuberance, thought, or rigor of the original.

So much of Le Redoutable is immensely wrong-headed at best, offensive and anti-historical at worst, but all of its flaws and follies can be summed up in an actual chapter title featured without a hint of irony or self-awareness in the film: Pierrot Le Mépris.

SIFF 2018: Matangi/Maya/MIA (Stephen Loveridge, 2018)

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Documentary portrait of the Sri Lankan/British pop star and activist MIA, compiled largely out of footage she shot herself over the past twenty years. Telling her own story about her family (radical Tamil separatists) and her art (though how she dropped filmmaking for dance music is tantalizingly untold), she explores but ultimately cannot resolve the inherent contradiction in being a politically-committed pop artist in a culture that simply doesn’t care about meaning, especially when the voice speaking out is female and non-white. Funny, poignant, frustrating, but with some sick dancing.

Friday May 25 – Thursday May 31

Featured Film:

The 2018 Seattle International Film Festival

It’s week two of SIFF, and highlights include Claire Denis’s Let the Sunshine In, Sylvia Chang’s Love Education and Vivian Qu’s Angels Wear White. I’ve a brief run-down of the week to come here. This is a strong week for SIFF counter-programming as well, as the Northwest Film Forum is playing the third of Hong Sangsoo’s three 2017 films, The Day After, this weekend only. It’s not to be missed. And the Grand Illusion has a pair of Andrei Tarkovsky classics, with The Sacrifice and Stalker, both in restored versions. There’s even a nifty new Chinese romantic comedy playing exclusively at the Meridian in How Long Will I Love U. Oh, and there’s a new Star Wars movie too.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Pope Francis – A Man Of His Word (Wim Wenders) Fri-Thurs
Disobedience (Sebastián Lelio) Fri-Thurs

Central Cinema:

The Big Lebowski (Joel & Ethan Coen, 1998) Fri-Sun, Tues-Weds
Best F(r)iends (Justin MacGregor) Fri-Sun, Tues-Weds

SIFF Egyptian:

The 2018 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program

Grand Cinema:

Pope Francis – A Man Of His Word (Wim Wenders) Fri-Thurs
Disobedience (Sebastián Lelio) Fri-Thurs
Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001) Sat Only Subtitled
Manos Returns (Tonjia Atomic) Sat Only
White Ravens: A Legacy of Resistance (Georg Koszulinski) Tues Only Director in Attendance

Grand Illusion Cinema:

The Sacrifice (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1986) Fri-Sun, Tues & Thurs
Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979) Sat-Mon, Weds
The Guardians (Xavier Beauvois) Sat & Sun Only

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Parmanu (Abhishek Sharma) Fri-Thurs
Nela Ticket (Kalyan Krishna) Fri-Thurs
Pope Francis – A Man Of His Word (Wim Wenders) Fri-Thurs
Raazi (Meghna Gulzar) Fri-Thurs
Mahanati (Ashwin Nag) Fri-Thurs
102 Not Out (Umesh Shukla) Fri-Thurs
Bucket List (Tejas Vijay Deoskar) Sat & Sun Only

Regal Meridian:

How Long Will I Love U (Su Lun) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Beast (Michael Pearce) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

The Day After (Hong Sangsoo) Fri-Sun Our Review Our Other Review Our Discussion
Scream for Me Sarajevo (Tarik Hodzic) Fri-Sun
Qui trop embrasse… (Jacques Davila, 1986) Weds Only 35mm

AMC Pacific Place:

Pope Francis – A Man Of His Word (Wim Wenders) Fri-Thurs
Disobedience (Sebastián Lelio) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Kasal (Ruel S. Bayani) Fri-Thurs
Ammammagarillu (Sundar Surya) Fri-Thurs
Raazi (Meghna Gulzar) Fri-Thurs
102 Not Out (Umesh Shukla) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

Disobedience (Sebastián Lelio) Fri-Thurs
Beast (Michael Pearce) Fri-Thurs
Pope Francis – A Man Of His Word (Wim Wenders) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

The 2018 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program

AMC Southcenter:

Pope Francis – A Man Of His Word (Wim Wenders) Fri-Thurs
Disobedience (Sebastián Lelio) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Uptown:

The 2018 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program

Varsity Theatre:

Survivors Guide to Prison (Matthew Cooke) Thurs Only

In Wide Release:

Solo (Ron Howard) Our Review
Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony & Joe Russo) Our Review
Ready Player One (Steven Spielberg) Our Review
Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson) Our Review
Black Panther (Ryan Coogler) Our Review

How Long Will I Love U (Su Lun, 2018)

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It’s been awhile since we had a Chinese release of interest here on Seattle Screens, but this time-travel rom-com certainly fits the bill, the kind of clever, unique popular cinema that the Mainland film industry will hopefully start churning out in greater numbers, as opposed to cartoonish action films packed with stars who have little to offer but a basic ability to look cute on camera. A weird temporal anomaly smushes together a single apartment, occupied by a man in 1999 and a woman in 2018. Lei Jiayin plays the man, a down on his luck young aspiring developer with big dreams for the outskirts of Shanghai and a boss engaged in shady business. Tong Liya is a former rich girl who has fallen on hard times and is desperately in search of a husband to lift her out of poverty.

The special effects and design of the squished apartment (mirror images colliding in a chaos of broken lamps and crushed furniture) united by a door that opens onto one time or another depending on who opens it, are especially striking, a unique twist on the premise of something like The Lake House, to which the film bears a superficial similarity. Like another recent Chinese time-travel film, Duckweed, it hearkens back more to early 90s Hong Kong comedies like Peter Chan’s He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Father, in exploring the ways Chinese culture has, and hasn’t changed during an era of more rapid than can reasonably be comprehended modernization. Tong’s grasping materialism is as much a sickness of the 21st Century as it is her own character flaw born of a privileged childhood, while Lei’s more proletarian attitudes and values prove less durable than he’d like to believe when the couple encounter his 21st Century self, a real estate magnate with a dark past.

The couple have a nice chemistry, though Lei, at 34 years old, seems miscast playing a callow 25 year old. In some shots he looks positively middle aged. Tong though is delightful, as she was as the landlady in Detective Chinatown. Director Su has a fine I as well, she knows enough to just let the colors and actors pop and not drag down the conceit with too much science (the mad scientist who caused the problem (time travel in China as to be result of either a dream or science, no magic allowed). A fun, well put together movie with an interesting approach to an old formula, as with last year’s This Is Not What I Expected, China is rapidly becoming home to the best romantic comedies in the world.

SIFF 2018 Preview: Week Two

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We’re now into the second week of the Seattle International Film Festival. So far, here at Seattle Screen Scene we’ve reviewed: Freaks and Geeks: The DocumentaryFirst Reformed (twice), and People’s Republic of Desire, with much more to come in the next few weeks.

Here are some of the movies we’re looking forward to that are playing during the second week of the festival:

Angels Wear White – Director Vivian Qu was received acclaim for this, her second feature on the festival and award circuit for almost a year now. SIFF’s description: “A young woman witnesses a local official’s assault against two schoolgirls, leading to a complex aftermath of cover-ups and gaslighting.” I quite liked Qu’s first film, Trap Street, an effective noirish film about living in a surveillance state, so I have high hopes for this one.

The Third Murder – Fresh off his Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, here is the prolific Kore-eda Hirokazu’s film from last year, a courtroom drama that sounds very different from his more popular (in the US at least) movies about Japanese families.

Love Education – The latest from director and star Sylvia Chang (herself the subject of an on-going series at the Metrograph in New York, which I wrote about last week) is about a woman who hopes to exhume her father’s ashes so they can be buried with her recently deceased mother. Problem is the ashes currently reside under the watchful eye of her father’s first, and possibly only, wife. A nuanced and moving exploration of ideals of love and commitment across generations and genders, it’s surely one of the best new films at SIFF this year.

Let the Sunshine In – No less anticipted though is the arrival at last of Claire Denis’s latest film, a romantic comedy starring Juliette Binoche. Probably the one film from 2017 I most regret not having seen yet.

The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful – This Taiwanese film from director Yang Ya-chee was somewhat of a surprise Best Picture winner at last year’s Golden Horse Awards, especially considering its strong competition (which included Love Education and Angels Wear White). But with the always great Kara Hui starring as the head of a crime family, it certainly should be pretty great.

Belle de jour – Luis Buñuel’s classic starring Catherine Deneuve as a bored housewife who decides to dabble in prostitution gets the restoration treatment. We talked about it on The George Sanders Show way back in 2013.

The Widowed Witch – “A third-time widow who falls on especially hard times is declared cursed, but turns superstition to her advantage by travelling the wintry landscape of rural China and offering supernatural advice, in this modern tale of mysticism told with mordant humor and starkly beautiful cinematography.” Sold.

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda – A documentary about the Japanese musician and composer (who starred with David Bowie in the very great World War II film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence). Another in an interesting selection of musician docs at SIFF this year.