Hang the blame on poor marketing, or a tendency to cater to a faithful older audience rather than drum up some fresh blood—fact is, Portland's International Film Festival (PIFF) is not the Big Deal it should be. That's a shame on several levels, not the least of which is that each year yields at least a handful of excellent films. Seek them out; the organizers' efforts need to be met with excitement when they've unearthed something great.
Being that we media types are still knee-deep in screenings for PIFF, here's an outlook on what looks good—and not so good—from our perspective so far.
• The Band's Visit (Israel, Thurs Feb 7)—This year's opening-night film. Like last year's opener, The Lives of Others, this is almost sure to be excellent, with a broad appeal and little controversy: It's a situational comedy with a sincere heart, in which the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra gets stranded in a tiny Israeli village. Director Eran Kolirin will be in attendance.
• In Bruges (Great Britain, Fri Feb 8)—Despite the odds, Colin Farrell does an excellent job in this dark comedy (and Sundance opener) about two hit men stuck in Bruges, a Belgian town preserved in its medieval state as a tourist attraction.
• Then She Found Me (US, Fri Feb 8 and Mon Feb 11)—Helen Hunt's directorial debut (she also stars) is a stinker about a woman on the verge of turning 40 grappling with a ticking biological clock and the newfound fact that her father is Steve McQueen.
• The Counterfeiters (Austria, Sat Feb 9 and Wed Feb 13)—Another in the inexhaustible tradition of Holocaust films, this is the fascinating story of the Nazis' counterfeiting program—the largest in history—and the imprisoned experts and criminals who were forced to pull it off.
• Caramel (Lebanon, Sat Feb 9)—A girly flick about the women who work at a Beirut beauty salon, which demonstrates the universality of a laugh/cry chick flick.
• Chicago 10 (US, Sun Feb 10 and Mon Feb 11)—A documentary told through archival footage and animation, this examination of the anti-war demonstrations (and their aftermath) at the Democratic National Convention in '68 is one of the best films in the history of PIFF.
• It's a Free World (Great Britain, Sun Feb 10 and Wed Feb 13)—All but the most stubborn fans of Ken Loach's The Wind that Shakes the Barley will be sorely disappointed with this follow-up.
• Mongol (Kazakhstan/Mongolia, Sun Feb 10 and Mon Feb 11)—The story of Genghis Khan's childhood—how could this not be cool?
• The Duchess of Langeais (France, Tues Feb 12 and Thurs Feb 14)—Equally polite in its humor and melodrama, this adaptation of Balzac's History of the Thirteen is more like watching a play than a film, and sufficiently absorbing to justify its nearly two-and-a-half-hour length.
• XXY (Argentina, Wed Feb 13, Fri Feb 15, and Sun Feb 17)—An applaud-able departure from PIFF's more staid subject matters, this is about a 15-year-old of indeterminate gender.
• OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (France, Fri Feb 15 and Sat Feb 16)—A resurrection of an old spy-movie series, this take on the genre is a welcome reminder that foreign films can be fun, too.
• Taxidermia (Hungary, Fri Feb 15, Mon Feb 18, and Tues Feb 19)—Almost certainly the first venture into body horror at PIFF!
• Paranoid Park (US, Mon Feb 18)— This would be the biggest deal at the festival even if it didn't win an award at Cannes: The latest from native Gus Van Sant, who we all hope will redeem Portland's growing reputation as the land where terrible movies are filmed.