The 43rd Portland International Film Festival (PIFF43) is in full swing. This post and the next several will be devoted to accounts of films I catch at the festival. These accounts do not pretend to be proper film reviews. They are more in the way of hastily penned notes that relate my impressions, memorable scenes and dialogue, and something about the plot or subject. The intent is to give some sense of what the film is about and my response while viewing it and upon reflection afterward. A link to PIFF43 program notes and a trailer, when available, is included for each film.
Take 1, published on Sunday, covers my thoughts about changes in this year's festival format and three films.
COVID-19 is on my mind as I attend the festival and go about the routines of daily life. I pay attention to news reports about cases in Oregon and receive email updates and alerts from Oregon Health Authority. While I have zero confidence in what comes out of the White House, I trust that information from public health officials at CDC and state and local agencies is delivered conscientiously and in good faith to provide for public health and safety to the best of their knowledge and ability.
NW Film Center staff include the admonition to wash hands with the customary announcements about silencing cell phones and no food and drink in the Whitsell Auditorium (for films at that venue) during introductory remarks preceding each film. Doors to restrooms at the Portland Art Museum, home to the Whitsell, are wedged open so nothing need be touched coming and going.
I do not know how great a risk factor my age poses. I am 67, in good health as far as I know, with no underlying health conditions, and not a smoker. I do not want to do anything really stupid, well, no more stupid than is my way in the ordinary course of things, but I am not inclined to stay home and pull the covers over my head unless public officials advise it based on recommendations made by those with expertise in this field. Prudence is the byword.
Now, on to the films!
Giraffe. At 87 minutes Giraffe seemed longer than it was. I did not get much out of this one. On the other hand, my PIFF pal Gloria found aspects of it to like. I can see that.
My reaction was skewed by an unfortunate misreading of the program notes. I skimmed them and somehow got the impression that Giraffe was a documentary. The opening scenes did nothing to disabuse me of the notion. They showed the main character, an ethnologist, interviewing people whose lives are being disrupted by a massive infrastructure project near the border between Denmark and Germany. I was somewhat discombobulated when the ethnologist, whom I had taken to be the documentary's director, struck up a casual sexual affair with a 24-year-old Polish construction worker. This seemed an odd turn for a documentary, and not only because the ethnologist seemed to have a boyfriend or husband back home.
There is little by way of plot or character development. The ethnologist is somewhat conflicted about the affair but settles on it as a fling. The construction worker hopes for something more enduring. Then the Polish construction crew returns home because of a dispute over pay, as in they are not getting any until, or unless, a snafu involving union regulations is resolved. Meantime, the ethnologist interviews people and searches for the mysterious owner of an abandoned farmhouse with books and memorabilia still in place. That is about it as far as I can see.
I do not think my reaction would have been significantly different had I realized from the outset the film was a work of fiction. But who knows? Maybe I would have picked up on other things, as Gloria did.
dir. Anna Sofie Hartmann
The Long Walk. Director Mattie Do was raised in Los Angeles, her parents Laotian refugees. She returned to Laos with her husband, an American film writer, in 2010. She is Laos's first and only female film director and the first horror film director from Laos.
The Long Walk revolves around the belief that certain rituals must be performed at the time of death to allow a spirit to move on from its past life and the consequences for two people when these rituals were not followed.
Not my cup of tea, not one I would seek out. When it ended, my PIFF pal Bob said he did not understand any of it. I may have figured out some of what was happening but am not sure that mattered much. Yet it was kind of mesmerizing anyway. Mattie Do is good.
The Long Walk (Laos)
dir. Mattie Do
nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up. On August 9, 2016, Colton Boushie, a twenty-two-year-old Cree man living in Saskatchewan, was murdered by Gerald Stanley, a white farmer. Boushie was innocently in the wrong place at the wrong time, asleep in a van with friends who pulled onto Stanley's farm looking for help to fix a flat tire. Stanley claimed to feel threatened and thought he was perfectly within his rights to shoot an indigenous man who happened onto his property.
The investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was to put it tactfully shabby. The crime scene was not secured. Evidence was washed away by the rain. The RCMP interrogated Boushie's family as if they are the ones under suspicion, guilty of something. The case went to trial and Stanley was found not guilty.
The film centers around the family's grief and attempts to secure justice within the Canadian legal system. Interwoven within this narrative is historical background about relations between the Canadian government, white settlers, and indigenous peoples dating back to the nineteenth century. It is distressing tale.
Tasha Hubbard is a First Nations/Cree filmmaker who was raised by adoptive white parents with whom she and her children enjoy a close relationship. She does not hide her feelings and anger about the racism, bias, and stereotypes that dominate relations between white farmers and indigenous people in this rural region of Canada. The closing conversation with a white relative throws light on the situation from the perspective of the farmers without in any way absolving Stanley or whitewashing unjust treatment of the indigenous population.
The testimony of Colton Boushie's mother, sister, and other relatives was emotional and moving, but a bit repetitive at times. Some of it could have been cut without losing anything. More than once I blinked back tears.
nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up (Canada)
dir. Tasha Hubbard
Sole. A pregnant Polish girl in Italy arranges to sell her baby to a couple who cannot have children of their own. The arrangement calls for the husband's nephew to pretend to be the father as part of a scheme to enable the child to be given up to the couple who will serve as foster parents.
It is somewhat predictable, certainly not surprising, that a bond develops between the two taciturn young people, Lena and Ermanno. The way this plays out and remarkable restraint with which the story is told make this intense film all the more moving and compelling. Outstanding. In some respects near exceptional.
dir. Carlo Sironi
A White, White Day. Another intense film. Very Icelandic. Ingimundar is a rural police chief whose wife was recently killed in a car accident. On leave from his job, he undergoes what seems to be mandatory counseling to deal with his grief. The counselor is kind of a dweeb who has only innocuous platitudes to offer. The advice does not help much.
Brightness comes in the form of Ingimundar's granddaughter, Salka, age nine or thereabouts. The sensibility of the people and place is illustrated when the salmon Salka shows to her grandfather's colleagues at the police station turns out to be still alive. Without hesitation the little girl dispatches the fish by pounding it against the desktop a couple of times. On another occasion, at a party, she is instructed to help break up chunks of ice for drinks. She asks for a hammer like the other girl engaged in the task is using. An adult looks around and hands her a sizable knife. What could go wrong? Then another neighbor lights up a firework of some sort inside the house. Stepping outside, holding the firework aloft, he asks blithely, "Did I burn the house down?" None of this is taken as anything out of the ordinary by anyone present.
Ingimundar discovers video that leads him to believe his wife was unfaithful with a neighbor. His behavior grows increasingly erratic as he becomes obsessed by the possibility, suspicious of everyone, short-tempered even with Salka. The concluding scenes are long, intense, and drenched in foreboding. Ingvar Sigurdsson as Ingimundar and Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir as Salka are excellent.
A White, White Day (Iceland/Denmark/Sweden)
dir. Hylnur Pálmason
Zana is set in rural Albania in the aftermath of the wars of the 1990s. Lume is haunted by dreams connected to the past and pressured by her mother-in-law and husband, but mostly the mother-in-law, to conceive a child.
Ilir, the husband, seems to be a decent man and loving man, but there is clearly a divide between him and Lume. They live with his mother, who threatens to bring another wife into the house if that is what it takes that for Ilir to have a child. Ilir does not want another wife, but it is pretty clear who will make that decision.
Her mother-in-law has no faith in the doctor who tells Lume there is no medical reason why she cannot conceive. She just has to keep trying. Lume is forced to consult a local healer, a cruel crackpot who informs Ilir that she is possessed by a Jinn. Weird stuff ensues.
Slowly, with great intensity and never a false step, the back story unfolds and a glimpse of what lies behind Lume's nightmares is revealed. My interpretation, which I will not share here, is speculative but, I think, plausible. I could be completely off base. The ending is near inevitable and tragic. Adriana Matoshi is sublime as Lume. I would love to see her in other films.
dir. Antoneta Kastrati
Favorites thus far: Advocate (see Take 1), Sole, and Zana.