It’s that most wonderful time of the year when the NW Film Center takes over a smattering of movie theaters around the city to bring you engaging, thoughtful, weird, and heartbreaking cinema from across the globe. Yes, friends, tonight kicks off the first full night of the 38th Annual Portland International Film Festival – and we here at BA headquarters couldn’t be more excited about it. The schedule, as ever, is jam packed with goodness, so that even the most jaded movie lover will have something to get excited about.
We’re going to be spending the next week or two highlighting the films playing the festival that we’ve had a chance to screen in advance, and will give you our thoughts – both good and bad – on what we see. This will hardly be as comprehensive as some local publications will give you, but that’s only because we are a very small operation with other obligations and only have so many hours in the day to watch some of the 97 features and 60 shorts on offer this year.
Still, hopefully we can help guide some of your own scheduling for PIFF as we are doing our best to pay attention to features that might otherwise get ignored in the face of big ticket events like Chuck Workman’s Orson Welles documentary and yesterday’s opening night film Wild Tales. Look for the second installment of this series to drop on Monday.
THE TRIBE (screens tonight at Cinema 21 @ 8pm)
I wrote about this a little bit for this week’s Portland Mercury but will expand a bit on here. This feature from Ukraine’s Miroslav Slaboshpitsky puts viewers at a disadvantage from its opening moments. As a title card advises you, this dialogue in this film is all delivered via sign language, but Chyou’ll get no subtitle or in scene translations. Instead, you just get chilling silence and ambient sound. This works to the director’s advantage though as you are forced to pay such close attention to every moment so you can get carried forward through the plot – which follows a young man who falls in with a gang of teens running various criminal operations (drug dealing, prostitution) out of a deaf school – via body language and context clues. It’s absolutely enthralling and chilling in the mode of Harmony Korine’s Kids but free of that movie’s strange moralizing.
THE BOY AND HIS WORLD (screens 2/7 at Moreland Theater @ 1pm)
If I had to pick one movie that will be the talk of PIFF this year, it would be this charming and indicting animated feature from Brazil. Using simply drawn characters and richly complex backgrounds, director Alé Abreu takes us on a journey into the heart of modernity, following a little boy as he seeks out his father in the unforgiving world beyond his humble hillside home. Almost every action in it is pitched to the beat of music, the sole source of comfort for many of the downtrodden proletariats that the young man encounters along his adventures, giving the film a pulse that helps ease the swallowing of its harsh views on the horrors of capitalism and adds depth to its most heartrendingly touching moments.
MARIE’S STORY (screens tonight at Fox Tower @ 5:45pm; 2/8 at Moreland Theater @ 6:15pm)
Based on the true life of the titular young deaf and blind woman brought out of her self-imposed cocoon by a dedicated nun, this French feature has its controls set right to the heart of crowd pleasing. To that end, if you’ve seen enough of these films following someone as they set out to beat the odds and overcome adversity, you’ll easily be able to predict scenes and plot points unspooling before you. That doesn’t make the film any less affecting, however, especially thanks to some unusually strong work from first time actress Ariana Rivoire as Marie and Isabelle Carré who plays the girl’s protector and teacher Sister Marguerite.
SHORT CUTS 2: OREGON SHORTS (screens 2/8 at Whitsell Auditorium @ 1pm)
As they do every year, the programmers have put together an impressive collection of short subjects, including this bunch all filmed in the state or made by Oregon-based directors. The works run the gamut from deeply felt fiction to short documentaries, and, as you’d expect, vary in quality. I was surprisingly moved by Portland director Jessica Baclesse’s Roughneck, a small portrait of a former rodeo rider struggling to make ends meet and comeback after an injury sidelined his career, just as I was by a simple two minute look at the changing landscape of one small part of Bond Butte as seen through the lens of Pam Minty. I was less moved by Vanessa Renwick’s Layover, which did an amazing job of capturing the swirl of the swifts that take over the chimney at Chapman School ever year, but slathered her images with an unnecessary post-rock soundtrack, and Austin Will’s Long Way Gone, which married some lovely looks at the beautiful Oregon landscape with a formless wanderings of a man on a motorcycle.