SIFF 2018 Index

This is an index of our coverage of the 2018 Seattle International Film Festival.

Sean Gilman:

SIFF 2018 Preview: Week One
SIFF 2018: Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary (Brent Hodge, 2018)
SIFF 2018 Preview: Week Two
SIFF 2018: Matangi/Maya/MIA (Stephen Loveridge, 2018)
SIFF 2018: The Bold, The Corrupt, and the Beautiful (Yang Ya-che, 2017)
SIFF 2018: People’s Republic of Desire (Hao Wu, 2018)
SIFF 2018 Preview: Week Three and Beyond
SIFF 2018: Dead Pigs (Cathy Yan, 2018)
SIFF 2018: Girls Always Happy (Yang Mingming, 2018)
SIFF 2018: The Widowed Witch (Cai Chengjie, 2018)

Evan Morgan:

SIFF 2018: People’s Republic of Desire (Hao Wu, 2018)
SIFF 2018: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2017)
SIFF 2018: Un beau soleil intérieur (Claire Denis, 2017)
SIFF 2018: ★ (Johann Lurf, 2017)

Ryan Swen:
SIFF 2018: First Reformed (2017, Paul Schrader)
SIFF 2018: Le Redoutable [GODARD MON AMOUR] (2017, Michel Hazanavicius)
SIFF 2018: The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018, Desiree Akhavan)

Sean, Evan & Ryan:

The Frances Farmer Show #18: SIFF 2018

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The Frances Farmer Show #18: SIFF 2018

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Looking back at the just-concluded Seattle International Film Festival, Sean, Evan and Ryan discuss Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, Claire Denis’s Let the Sunshine In, Vivian Qu’s Angels Wear White, and more festival highlights.

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

SIFF 2018: The Widowed Witch (Cai Chengjie, 2018)

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A woman survives the explosion at the makeshift fireworks factory that kills her third husband. Now homeless, she wanders in and around the wintery Northern Chinese villages she has called home alongside her young, deaf-mute brother-in-law. The villagers decide that she has magical powers, and she might, but whether she does or not, and whether she believes it or not, the results are much the same: everything goes wrong and everyone is out to screw over everyone else.

As a stark black and white journey through the dark side of society, it recalls Dead Man in style, but more cynical and hopeless. Director Cai Chengjie makes sparing but deft use of color, sometimes highlighting objects (usually light) within the black and white image, other times brightening into full color (the opening sequence, for example, which may be a dream or may be the afterlife). The evocation of a persistent (resurgent?) pre-Taoist, animist worldview existing alongside the deprivations and struggles of contemporary China recalls other recent films that fuse mysticism with the documentary realism and social problem focus of the previous, Sixth Generation filmmakers. Chai Chunya’s Four Ways to Die in My Hometown for example, and Yang Chao’s Crosscurrent.

SIFF 2018: Girls Always Happy (Yang Mingming, 2018)

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Yang Mingming edited Yang Chao’s Crosscurrent, but this film is almost nothing like that one. She stars as well as directs, playing a young woman who has a rough relationship with her mother, with whom she lives (off and on) in ramshackle house in a Beijing hutong (an kind of neighborhood built out of narrow alleys). The two women are both aspiring writers, and they alternate between vehement arguments (over things both big and small) which can get devastatingly cruel, and happy times sharing meals and shopping trips. It’s a fascinating relationship, we don’t normally see a family filled with such evident love and hate. The film never really evolves, and in its stasis, both women are stuck both professionally and romantically in addition to being continually forced back together, it finds a unique kind of misery. It might be a dark comedy, and there are moments of delightful whimsy (in the devouring of food, in Yang’s rides around town on her scooter), enough that the suffocating relationship never feels unbearable.

SIFF 2018: Dead Pigs (Cathy Yan, 2018)

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As overstuffed with ideas both political and cinematic as any debut feature you’re likely to see this year is Cathy Yan’s film about the intersecting lives of a family in Shanghai and its environs and their war with both capital and the very concept of property itself. Vivian Wu plays a hair salon owner (her employees gleefully begin the day with a self-affirming song and dance) who doesn’t want to sell her family home to a big corporation, which has plans to develop the area it into a giant Spanish-themed apartment complex surrounding a replica of the Sagrada Familia. Her brother is a pig farmer who finds himself over-extended with a local loan shark after he falls for an investment scam and all his pigs die in a mysterious plague that sweeps the city (eventually some 16,000 pigs end up dumped in local waterways). His son is a busboy working in the city who meets and falls for a rich girl who becomes disillusioned with her club life after a car accident. The brother needs money and so tries to get his sister to sell her house, and alternately appeals to his son (who he mistakenly thinks is earning big money with a real job) for help. The sister refuses: the house is hers, the property is a part of herself and she cannot conceive of relinquishing it. The son tries to help, but all he can come up with is scamming cash off of driving by running into their cars with his bicycle.

Yan skips deftly between the stories, and the drama is leavened by a light touch and a great deal of comedy, ably waling the line between maudlin and silly. The satire is pointed, both in the amoral greed of the corporation and the sympathetic unreasonableness of the sister. But it’s also brightly colored (thank God for Chinese cinema, one of the few cinemas in the world that has yet to abandon pink and green and red in favor of gray and teal and orange) and knows how to bring everything together for a musical sequence, Magnolia-style.

Yan, who was born in China, grew up in Hong Kong and Washington DC, went to Princeton and got both an MBA and MFA from NYU, clearly has a unique insight into the contradictions of global capitalism in an ostensibly class-free society. While most of the characters are recognizable types (the sister as a variation on Yuen Qiu’s landlady in Kung Fu Hustle, the brother as an older version of the striving workers of Jia Zhangke’s films, the girl in the city a wealthier version of Shu Qi’s club girl in Millennium Mambo), the one that seems to resonate most for her is an American architect, from rural Minnesota, who finds himself in charge of this massive project on the other side of the world, where he doesn’t speak the language and may not even be qualified for the job. He’s the human face of capital, muddling along just like the rest of us, increasingly aware that things in our world are all out of whack.

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.”

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: 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.