Top-tier festivals like Cannes, Venice, Toronto, and even Sundance, exist so new films can debut, get press, and land distributors. For second-tier festivals (San Francisco, Seattle, and Tribeca) premieres get mixed in with movies that have already scored distribution (or still hope to). So when you get around to a festival like the Portland International Film Festival--a festival that doesn't chase premieres--the films are already on their ultimate path. Some have distribution (The Dreamers, My Architect, to name two), and others never will. And you know what?
That's just fine.
PIFF may not have a large staff of adventurous programmers, and they may not be aggressive in their marketing of the festival as a citywide, all-inclusive event, but they did stumble upon some excellent movies this year. Festival buzz has been excellent for Ross McElwee's personal documentary Bright Leaves, a meditation on his family's involvement in the tobacco industry. Twilight Samurai is Japan's nomination for the foreign film Academy Award and is supposedly an entertaining "revisionist" samurai film. Blind Shaft exposes the hardships of working class China by crafting a thriller around an illegal coalmine. Other films have equally good buzz. Below: some good films opening this week. ANDY SPLETZER
PIFF opens Fri Feb 13 and runs through Fri Feb 28, at the Broadway Cinemas (B1, B2), Guild Theatre (GU), and Whitsell Auditorium (WH). Tickets are $8 general admission; passes are available at 228-PIFF. See Movie Times pg 49, and Film Shorts pg 46, for times, addresses, and more synopses.
h The Dreamers (dir. Bertolucci, Italy) Bernardo Bertolucci's controversial latest is a cinema-phile's wet dream: a sensual, colorful, naive homage to youth in all its excess. When an American, Matthew, meets alluring Parisian twins Theo and Isabelle, he learns about power and choice via sex and rock music. Not simply an erotic film of discovery, The Dreamers wistfully captures a time when idealism ruled. STEVEN LANKENAU 2/13, 7 pm, WH
h Distant (dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey) A photographer is almost inspired to create art again when he allows an unemployed guy from his hometown to stay with him while he looks for work in the shipyards. This slow-moving, cinematic, and sometimes funny film evokes the lonely satisfaction of a winter's stroll down by the waterfront. AS 2/14, 12:30 pm, WH; 2/18, 6 pm, B1
h A Heart Elsewhere (dir. Avati, Italy)--A thirty-something schoolteacher named Nello moves from Rome to Bologna to teach. He inspires the students immensely, but sadly, he can't inspire the women. Eventually, he stumbles on a beautiful blind girl who takes advantage of him, but also agrees to marry him. When she leaves for Zurich to be treated by a doctor who may be able to restore her sight, Nello is in torment--and rightly so. KATIE SHIMER 2/14, 6:30 pm, GU; 2/18, 7 pm, WH
h Osama (dir. Barmak, Afghanistan)--Osama is not directly about bin Laden. The film is about a little girl forced to disguise herself as a boy to prevent her jobless mother and grandmother from starving under the oppressive Taliban regime--subtle. It's a fantastic film, with invaluable historic significance, but a devastatingly joyless experience. MARJORIE SKINNER 2/14, 7:30 pm, B1; 2/15, 7:30 pm, WH
h The Return (dir. Zvyagintsev, Russia)--When a tough-love father returns from a decade-long absence, he takes his two sons on a male-bonding fishing trip. The boys distrust him and his mysterious past to the point of believing he has underworld connections. This being a powerful Russian film, everything is beautiful but ends tragically. AS 2/14, 6 pm, WH; 2/16, 6 pm, GU
h The Saddest Music in the World (dir. Maddin, Canada)--Isabella Rossellini plays a brewery baroness with two beer-filled glass legs who creates an international sad-song contest to inspire more drinking. Guy Maddin transforms a script from the Japanese author of the Merchant-Ivory film The Remains of the Day into an absurd 1930s screwball comedy with hilarious results. AS 2/14, 8:30 pm, WH; 2/18, 7 pm, GU