Once again the Portland International Film Festival blew by with the blink of an eye. It seems only yesterday we were queueing up inside the doors at the Portland Art Museum entrance by the sculpture mall to collect our festival passes and catch the first advance press screening of the season. Ah, blink of an eye, seems only yesterday, how many more cliches can I work into these remarks? Let's just say that it was the consensus among PIFF pals that this was a great festival. I had a lot of fun with it. As the festival winds down with encore screenings today through Sunday, it's time to revel in the memories and look forward to next year's films and with them renewal of old festival friendships and the forging of new ones.
If asked to name my favorites from PIFF 42, the list might vary from day to day. There were many that I liked a lot. Here are a few that come mind this morning (in no particular order):
Ash Is Purest White
Woman at War (definitely a favorite among festival goers)
Hotel by the River
"I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians"
The Wild Pear Tree
Asako I & II
Good grief, already this makes nine of the thirty-three films I caught, and I could go on. PIFFers who made sixty, seventy, or more films could no doubt make some worthy additions to my list.
We'll wrap it up with notes on four more films.
Blind Spot (Norway). A terrible event shatters a middle-class family where everything seemed to be perfectly normal. The film takes place over the course of one night and is shot in one take with no cuts from scene to scene. This is absolutely integral to the film's impact, as is the top-notch performance by Pia Tjelta as Maria the mother. Raw, emotional, incredibly suspenseful, with not a single false note. I don't want to say much because I don't want to give anything away about this wrenching and altogether remarkable film. I'm glad I saw it once. I don't think I want to see it a second time. I mentioned this while chatting with another PIFFer as we waited to see One Day. He was eager to view Blind Spot again so he could try to figure out the technical aspects, camera set-up, &c., to see how it was all done in one take even while moving from the daughter's school to the family home to the hospital and back home. I can see that but do not share it. I am interested in the technical aspects primarily insofar as they achieve the desired effect for character and story. What matters to me is that it works. How it is done I leave to others. That's just my take.
Blind Spot is actress Tuva Novotny's debut as a director. She is worth noting for future reference. I look forward to whatever she does next.
Dir. by Tuva Novotny. 98 mins. PIFF program notes with trailer.
Fugue (Poland, Sweden, Czech Republic). Dissociative fugue (formerly called psychogenic fugue) is a psychological state in which a person loses awareness of their identity or other important autobiographical information and also engages in some form of unexpected travel. People who experience a dissociative fugue may suddenly find themselves in a place, such as the beach or at work, with no memory of how they got there. Similarly, they may find themselves somewhere in their home, such as a closet or in the corner of a room, with no memory of going there. The DSM-5 refers to dissociative fugue as a state of “bewildered wandering.” In addition to confusion about identity, people experiencing a dissociative fugue state may also develop a new identity. (Psychology Today)
Alicja/Kinga is reunited with a family she does not remember. Slowly, painfully for all concerned, including this viewer, she discovers how she lost her self and recovers it to some extent. Though she reconnects with her husband and young son, she is not the same. A thoughtful look at the problematic nature of self and one's tenuous hold on it. For a good portion of the film I was not taken with it. By the end I found it strange and in a way haunting.
Dir. Agnieszka Smoczynska. 100 mins. PIFF program notes with trailer.
Redemption (Israel). Yet another film where it took a while for me to get into it but get into it I did. It turned out to be yet another nice little film. This year's festival is rich with them.
Menachem, Menny, is a widower who headed up a band with a modest following before he found religion. Now desperate for money to pay for his daughter's cancer treatments, he recruits three old bandmates to play weddings. The band members have moved on with their lives in different ways and respond differently to Menny's proposition, not all ot them with enthusiasm. But it is for Menny's daughter.
Menny's turn to religion fifteen years earlier left him a stiff-necked sort with a rigid, unbending sense of right and wrong, how one should act, what is permitted him and what is forbidden. How much of it is religion? And how much ego and pride? As the story plays out Menny begins to come to terms with the past and with himself. Moments of self-awareness glimmer through trial and fear. The frayed bonds of friendship are renewed. He loosens up. Through it all love for his daughter is never in question.
Maybe I am drawn to this film in part because I recognize a strain of Menny's too rigid sense of right and wrong in myself. It has been part of more than a few moments when I would like to have acted other than I did.
As the title suggests, Redemption ends on a note of hope, for Menny, for his daughter, and maybe for each of us.
Dir. by Yossi Madmoni and Boaz Yehonatan Yacov. 104 mins. PIFF program notes with trailer.
What Is Democracy? (Canada/US). Director Astra Taylor talks about democracy with Silvia Federici, Wendy Brown, Cornel West, students, a Syrian refugee, some ordinary blockheads, and others. Everywhere you look, says Brown, democracy is in trouble. How do you make democracy out of an undemocratic people? Cornell West cites Plato's indictment of not just democratic practices but the possibility of democracy. Plato's challenge will never away. Yet West remains committed to the idea of democracy. Well done, much interesting discussion, some of it genuinely thought provoking, neither naïvely optimistic nor devoid of hope.
Silvia Federici: Italian-American feminist activist, writer, teacher, cofounder of the International Feminist Collective in 1972
Wendy Brown: political science professor at UC Berkeley "best known for intertwining the insights of Marx, Nietzsche, Weber, Freud, Frankfurt School theorists, Foucault, and contemporary Continental philosophers to critically interrogate formations of power, political identity, citizenship, and political subjectivity in contemporary liberal democracies"
Cornel West: Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University
Dir. by Astra Taylor. 117 mins. PIFF program notes with trailer.
Thanks for bearing with me as I revisited the films with these blog entries. I hope you can sense a little bit of the joy I found in the festival. And maybe even catch some of the films yourself.
And that's a wrap. Signing off on PIFF 42,
yr intrepid cinéaste