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PIFF 2018: Take 5

41st Portland International Film Festival (February 15 – March 1, 2018)

What Will People Say (Sweden/Norway/Germany, 2018)

dir. Iram Haq

(106 mins)


Nisha's parents came to Norway from Pakistan to offer their children a chance at a better life. With her school friends she is a typical 16-year-old Norwegian girl living in Oslo. At home family life remains rooted in the Pakistani culture of her parents.

When her father catches a boy in her bedroom, he assumes they had sex even though both are fully clothed. Her father says the boy will have to marry her. Nisha says she won't marry him, he's not her boyfriend anymore, she doesn't love him. Humiliated and threatened with ostracism by the Pakistani community, Nisha's parents ship her off to relatives in Pakistan as an example to her younger sister and other young people of the consequences for violation of cultural norms.

After a rocky start Nisha adjusts somewhat to her new life until an innocent romance, innocent by Western standards, with a handsome cousin leads to a fresh crisis. Her father is summoned and issued an ultimatum by her aunt and uncle. Nisha can no longer stay with them.

One of the film's triumphs is the complexity of the father's emotions throughout the affair, revealed with great subtlety and effectiveness. In his own mind he loves his daughter and wants what is best for her. Yet she has brought dishonor on his family. He cannot bring himself to marry her off to some Pakistani peasant, as her aunt threatens when she first arrives in Pakistan. He can order her to take her own life, but when she refuses that, he cannot bring himself to kill her, not even for the sake of family honor.

I found myself hoping against hope that things will somehow come out okay for Nisha, torn between family and the opportunity for a better life for which her parents brought her to Norway. What Will People Say? concludes with an element of possibility for Nisha and a final revelation of her father's deeply conflicted emotions. It is easy enough to criticize what strikres us as cruel and hard, things that are cruel and hard, but it is no easy matter to throw off the culture within which one was raised and where self and identity are found. My heart went out to Nisha. In the end her father is in his own way a sympathetic character.

This year's festival has been marked by remarkable, first-rate performances by young actors, Maria Mohzdah as Nisha, Charlie Plummer in Lean on Pete (to be reviewed after it festival screening on February 28), Brady Jandreau as Brady Blackburn in The Rider, and Mahour Jabbari as Ava in the film of the same name. They rank high among the festival's pleasures.

Hochelaga, Land of Souls (Canada, 2017) dir. François Girard (100 mins) Trailer

This inventive retelling of the history of Montreal is thrown into motion when two college football players fall into a sinkhole that opens up during a game. A Native American grad student supervises an archaeological excavation at the site and presents his findings for his dissertation.

The student's account of artifacts discovered at the site sets up episodes in the history of the Iroquois village of Hochelaga, a scene where a shaman conducts a ceremony for warriors killed in a battle at the site of the original village in 1267, the meeting between Jacques Cartier and the Iroquois people in 1535, an encounter between a French trapper and an Iroquois woman, and an uprising against the colonial government.

I have not looked into the historical accuracy of the film. A fanciful contrivance where members of the football team are depicted as descendants of individuals in the earlier episodes adds little but is not annoying. Not a must see, in my view, but a decent film.

Lover for a Day (France, 2017) dir. Philippe Garel (76 mins) Trailer

Lover for a Day runs 76 minutes. It did not need to be longer. As it is, I found it a moderately entertaining trifle.

A distraught 23-year-old woman, Jeanne, shows up at the door of her father, Gilles, a philosophy professor, after her boyfriend kicked her out. Gilles says of course she can stay and introduces her to his girlfriend, Ariane, a student the same age as Jeanne.

The girls become friends of sorts, with Ariane counseling Jeanne, who is devastated by the end of her first serious romance. Along the way Ariane tells Jeanne that the affair with her father was her idea. She "chased him until he cracked." She is in love with Gilles after her fashion, but she enjoys making love for fun when this or that young fellow catches her eye. Gilles for his part has a modern, liberated attitude about the relationship and harbors a fancy their love with endure.

Lover for a Day is exquisitely filmed in glorious black and white. It is worth seeing for that alone.

Two Films by Hong Sang-soo (director of Claire's Camera, reviewed at PIFF 2018: Take 2)

On the Beach at Night Alone (South Korea, 2017) dir. Hong Sang-soo (101 mins) Trailer

The Day After (South Korea, 2017)

dir. Hong Sang-soo

(92 mins)


It is unusual for the festival to feature two films by a single director. Three is almost unheard of.

Hong, born in Seoul in 1961, studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts and then got a master’s degree at the Chicago Art Institute. A professor at a Seoul university, he gets free rent there for his company (two employees) and relies on students as interns; he shoots on location without building sets and is able to hold the costs of a feature film down to about $100,000. (Philip Lopate, The Discreet Charm of Hong Sang-soo, The New York Review of Books, December 7, 2017)

I do not yet know what to make of Hong Sang-soo. He may be one of those filmmakers in whom pleasure is to be found as much in reflection afterward as in viewing the film, maybe more.

I thought of French nouvelle vague director Eric Rohmer as I watched these films, as I did with Claire's Camera. The stories tend to jump around confusingly. There are sporadic emotional outbursts. Narrative, such as it is, is advanced primarily by dialogue. There is much talking, much eating, and more drinking, accompanied from time to time by weird, low-key humor, the kind that elicits quiet bemusement rather than outright laughter. For instance, there is an extended sequence, a brief portion of it shown in the trailer for On the Beach at Night Alone, where a window washer at a fancy hotel looks in on three people checking out their room as he stands outside scrubbing the window. They talk as if he were not there. I found it oddly amusing.

Married men having affairs with younger women is a recurrent theme. On the Beach at Night Alone is based on Hong's scandalous 2012 affair with actress Kim Min-hee, who stars in all three films shown at the festival. In The Day After it's the boss of a small publishing company who has an affair with an employee. His jealous wife comes to the office to confront her husband's lover. Unbeknownst to her the affair ended a month previously and the former lover is gone. The wife assumes that a baffled new employee (Kim Min-hee) in her first day on the job is the lover and goes ballistic.

I was not crazy about On the Beach... as I watched it. Now I think I would like to see it and The Day After again.


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