VIFF 2016: Hermia & Helena (Matías Piñeiro, 2016)

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Like his previous features Viola and The Princess of France, Matías Piñeiro’s latest takes a Shakespeare play as its jumping off point, in this case A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But it’s seemingly less invested in the play at its heart than those others (at least at first glance, more research may reveal structural similarities I didn’t pick up this time, it’s been awhile since I read the play), instead it’s a kind of a coming of age film, but jumbled such that it feels like a wholly fresh take on that well-worn genre. Agustina Muñoz plays a young theatre student who moves from Buenos Aires to New York on fellowship to translate the Shakespeare play (her notebooks, with page after page of the play pasted into them, are one of the film’s many small pleasures). While there she visits her father, a man she’d never met, played by critic and filmmaker Dan Sallitt, is visited by a friend of a friend (actress and director Mati Diop, from Claire Denis’s 35 Shots of Rum), and carries on a tentative romance or two, but not in that order. Piñeiro also mixes in scenes in Argentina before her departure, and in New York before her arrival, when one of her friends (María Villar, who played Viola in Viola) lived in the same apartment as part of the same program and dated the same man. The tone throughout is light and playful, even the meeting with the father, though painful and awkward, is suffused with good-humor and warmth. Aside from the jumbled timeline, there’s little of the formal daring of Viola, with its oblique narrative and repeated lines of Shakespeare, or of the brilliantly goofy opening shot of Princess of France. As such, it’s Piñeiro’s most accessible, most easily digestible film.

Taken in quick succession, as I saw them at VIFF, these films Hermia & HelenaThings to Come and After the Storm come to encompass an entire lifespan: the boy from the Koreeda growing into the students of Hermia and Things to Come, who in turn grow into the adult parents of Storm and Things, leading inevitably to the loneliness of late middle age, as marriages dissolve and the younger generation moves away, finally resting on the weary good humor of the elderly Kirin Kiki. These are three filmmakers of different ages from three disparate corners of the world, yet the spirit of these movies is the same: warm and bittersweet and a little bit absurd. Of course, then Paul Verhoeven came along to shatter this globalized humanist dream with Elle, which isn’t exactly a satire and isn’t exactly a nightmare, but creates a world in which the happy existentialism of wistful contentment has no home, where life isn’t about abstraction but the brutal physicality of emotion and the hideous, desperate struggle to achieve and maintain power and control.

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SIFF 2016 Report #3: Disintegration (The Bitter Stems, Thithi, Trivisa, The Mobfathers, Tag)

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Proving once again that no film festival should ever last longer than an Olympic Games, the 2016 SIFF limped to its conclusion this weekend after a soul-crushing 25 days. While the festival had run impressively well over its first two weeks, organized and on time and with nothing in particular for a picky festival-goer like me to complain about, the last week saw an inexplicable series of outrages.

This began on Sunday night, when the programmer tasked with introducing the Johnnie To-produced film Trivisa managed to be both disrespectful, mildly offense and factually inaccurate when he claimed To was the “Roger Corman of Hong Kong”, a producer who would make any movie you had in mind as long as it had “guns or titties”. That same presenter ran the Q&A with actor/producer Chapman To the next night, which was largely unobjectionable (To was the one who mentioned “titties” at least), but the programmer did at one point refer to Mr. To as “Chapman Ho” and later, “Herman”.

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SIFF 2016 Preview Week Three and Beyond

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The Seattle International Film Festival races into it’s third week (has it really only been fifteen days? With only a mere ten to go?) and here we have some titles you won’t want to miss. We’ll link to our reviews of the titles listed here as we write them, as we’ve been doing with our Week One and Week Two Previews. We previewed the festival back on Frances Farmer Show #6 and discussed it at its midway point on Frances Farmer #7. We’ll have a complete wrap-up of the SIFF just as soon as it ends.

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Episode 3: Prospero’s Books and The Princess of France

With the First Folio in town at the Seattle Public Library, we take a look at a couple of unusual Shakespeare adaptations. First is Peter Greenaway’s 1991 adaptation of The Tempest, Prospero’s Books, with John Gielgud and Mark Rylance. Then we discuss Matías Piñeiro’s 2014 riff on Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Princess of France. We also pick our Essential Shakespeare films, look around at what’s coming soon to Seattle Screens, and discuss the 1946 film Dirty Gertie from Harlem USA, directed by Spencer Williams and playing as part of the Pioneers of African-American Cinema here in town and touring around the country.

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

Jauja (Lisandro Alonso, 2014)

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The latest from acclaimed Argentinian auteur Lisandro Alonso finds him working for the first time with a major international movie-star in a recognizable genre. Viggo Mortensen stars in a Western about a Danish cartographer attached to a military expedition in 19th Century Patagonia. When his 15 year old daughter runs off with a young soldier, he sets off on an increasingly weird quest across the desert wilderness, part Ethan Edwards in The Searchers, part William Blake in Dead Man. Like many so-called Slow Cinema films, the cinematic form that has become the dominant international style for festival films and the better art houses, Jauja is paced deliberately, with long takes and very little camera movement, the characters framed at a distance such that they are dwarfed by both the landscapes and, importantly, the sounds of their environment. It certainly isn’t among the slowest of such films (Pedro Costa’s equally impeccable Horse Money (hopefully coming soon to Seattle Screens?) is even more meditative, among great 2014 films), and seeing it a second time I actually found it quite brisk (it’s possible my speedometer has been miscalibrated after a month watching New Taiwanese Cinema films).

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Wild Tales (Damián Szifron, 2014)

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Two of the nominees for this past year’s Academy Award for Foreign Language Film see Seattle Screens for the first time this week, with the Grand Illusion showing Germany’s Beloved Sisters while the Seven Gables opens the Argentine film Wild Tales. It’s somewhat of an identity shift for the two venerable U-District theatres, because (as Charles Mudede points out on The Stranger’s blog) as one would expect to find the lushly costumed biopic of a famous poet thrilling the aged crowds of Landmark’s living room while the none-more-black revenge tale sextet would find a natural home on the GI’s genre-freaky calendar. But times change and with today’s diminished Landmark (a mere three first-run screens, down from 24 when I started working for them oh so many years ago), tough programming choices must be made. Not having seen the German film, I’m pretty sure Landmark made the right call, as Wild Tales is the kind of movie that should be a decent hit, if it can find its audience.

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