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PIFF 42: Take 5

Updated: Mar 19, 2019

3 Faces (Iran). A young woman resorts to desperate measures to enlist director Jafar Panahi and actress Behnaz Jafari in her scheme to escape from her village and study in a drama conservatory in Tehran. Jafari is thrown into a panic when she receives a mysterious video where the young woman describes her plight. The video ends abruptly with a distinct suggestion that the girl has taken her own life. Jafari in a panic goes AWOL from a film set in Tehran in the midst of shooting, having commandeered Panahi for a road trip that takes them through a remote area of Iran in search of the girl's village.

The put-upon but patient Panahi and distraught Jafari eventually bumble their way to their destination with much bickering between them and assorted, minor misadventures along the way. There they find that the girl's family planned to marry her off in hope this would make her forget her foolish dream. Her crazed younger brother is in a perpetual rage because she has dishonored the family. The villagers consider her an empty-headed brat. The village needs doctors and engineers, they tell Panahi and Jafari, not an entertainer. None of this stops anyone except the brother from showing the customary hospitality to strangers. Another endearing film from a master, 3 Faces is a window onto another culture and other ways of life where for all the difference from our own, threads of a common humanity are strikingly evident.

Comment about a Panahi film should not go without mention of his own story. What follows comes from my review of his film Taxi after I saw it at PIFF 2016. The review is no longer available online.

Jafar Panahi is an award-winning filmmaker who in 2010 was charged with making propaganda against the Iranian government. He was sentenced to six years in prison and initially placed under house arrest. Terms of his sentence were subsequently loosened and he was allowed to move freely within the country. Panahi remains under a 20-year ban on directing or writing films, traveling abroad, or speaking to the media.

Panahi continues to make unauthorized films and speak to the media in defiance of the ban on those activities. A peace activist and member of the National Peace Council in Iran, he supported the opposition Green Movement in 2009, appearing at international film festivals wearing a green scarf. In 2000 he declined an invitation to visit the US to promote his film The Circle because of the US policy of fingerprinting Iranian citizens arriving at US airports, which he found absurd and discriminatory. That same year while en route to a film festival in Argentina his plane made a transit stop at JFK in New York, where customs officials insisted he submit to fingerprinting before boarding his connecting flight. Panahi refused, was arrested and held in chains overnight, then deported back to Hong Kong where his flight had originated.

Additional reference: Gwilym Mumford, additional reporting by Saeed Kamali Dehghan, Cannes 2018: The directors who are banned from attending the film festival, The Guardian, May 8, 2018.

Dir. by Jafar Panahi. 100 mins. PIFF program notes with trailer. Upcoming PIFF showtime at Regal Fox Tower: Thursday March 21 @ 6:00 p.m.

"I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians" (Romania et al.). It is a special treat to walk into the theater with no expectations, knowing nothing of the film or its director beyond viewing the trailer, not even remembering the title or the director's nationality, and to walk out feeling almost exalted. Radu Jude's Scarred Hearts did that for me when I caught it last summer. That led me to look forward to the PIFF 42 screening of his new film. Jude did not let me down.

Mariana (Ioana Iacob, who is super) is an actress directing a reenactment of the war on the eastern front in 1941, when Romania was with the aid of Germany freed from decades of Bolshevik rule. Her intention to include a depiction of the massacre of Jews by Romanian soldiers meets with opposition from the civic authorities funding the project. It is fine to show Germans massacring Jews as long as Romanians remain bystanders. Better yet, why can't she do something about communist prisons instead?

Mariana digs in her heels, insisting that the truth matters. As in Scarred Hearts, Jude's characters are cultured and educated. References to literary figures, historians, and philosophers crop up routinely in conversation. "Critique of pure reason" is the punchline for a joke (alas, my attention wandered; I do not recall the substance of the joke, just the punchline). When an actor takes exception to Mariana's direction, she lays some Wittgenstein on him. When she cites historical accounts of the Germans reining in the Romanians because they were killing Jews faster than they could bury them, the town official accuses her of the fallcy of argument that relies on appeal to authority.

When Mariana's production is finally staged, the reaction of the many of the townspeople in the audience is upsetting, not at all what she hoped it would be. Far from setting anyone free, the truth reveals just how deep-rooted the old prejudices are. Once again Radu Jude has made an intelligent, serious, thought-provoking, entertaining film that provides wonderful fodder for further thought and reflection after viewing it.

Dir. by Radu Jude. 140 mins. PIFF program notes with trailer.

Winter Flies (Czech Republic et al.). Another oddball road trip, this one featuring two teenage boys in the Czech Republic. A stolen Audi, a girl hitchhiker who looks hot, a dog named Jackal. What could go wrong? Mára steals the car because he has just got to get away. His dorkish friend Heduš fantasizes about hot girls and joining the French Foreign Legion. It comes as no surprise when Bára the hitchhiker remains impervious to the charms of the clueless, hapless Don Juans. As the police officer who interrogates Mára observes, "He's got an active imagination and a sentimental side." The goofy, charming, and sometimes almost zany humor pulled me in.

Dir. by Olmo Omerzu. 85 mins. PIFF program notes with trailer. Upcoming PIFF showtime at Cinemagic: Monday March 18 @ 8:30 p.m.

The Heiresses (Paraguay et al.). Chela and Chiquita are companions, women of my generation who once were of some means, now forced to sell their household possessions as their financial situation has taken a downturn. When a debt leads to an accusation of fraud and prison time for Chiquita, Chela falls into running an informal taxi service using Chiquita's car to ferry other old ladies to their card games, doctor's appointments, funerals. This leads to friendship and perhaps the possibility of a romantic interlude with a younger woman, Anya, who has not always been fortunate in romance or wise in her choice of men. Over a bottle she shares with Chela the happy memory of her first threesome. Though a bit slow at times, The Heiresses is another nice little film that I quite enjoyed.

Dir. by Marcelo Martinessi. 97 mins. PIFF program notes with trailer. Upcoming PIFF showtime at Cinemagic: Thursday March 21 @ 8:30 p.m. Opens at Living Room Theaters® on April 5.

The Proposal (US, Mexico, Switzerland). The best critique of this film came from the gentleman at the next urinal in the men's room after the film. "Ambush journalism," he said. There is something to that. After his death Mexican architect Luis Barragán's personal and professional archives fell into different sets of hands. The professional archives and copyright are held close to the vest by a Swiss design firm, while the personal archives are in Mexico. The Proposal is a documentary about the efforts of artist and director Jill Magid to be allowed to view materials held by the Swiss firm and to have those materials ultimately returned to Mexico. The issue of who controls and profits from art after the death of an artist is of course of interest. My sympathies should be with Magid. However, Magid's use of communications with the woman who oversees the archive in Switzerland as the subject of an art exhibit of her own and in the documentary has elements of manipulation and bad faith. I wasn't taken with it.

Dir. by Jill Magid. 85 mins). PIFF program notes.

The 42nd Portland International Film Festival continues through March 21 with encore screenings March 22–24.

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