The 37th Portland International Film Festival runs through Sat Feb 22. Not all films were screened for critics. Films screen at Cinema 21, Cinemagic, OMSI's Empirical Theatrer, Fox Tower 10, Whitsell Auditorium, and the World Trade Center. For more, see "Passport PIFF," this issue; for showtimes, see nwfilm.org.
A middle-aged man returns home to a small Polish village to find his brother has become a social outcast. His crime: excavating and restoring Jewish gravestones that have been repurposed as construction materials. A combination of social history and horror movie, there's plenty of frustration here, but meager reward for enduring it. MARJORIE SKINNER
Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas
Europe is currently known for cheese and monetary policy, but that hasn't always been true. In the bad old days it was all horse cruelty and murder and never brushing your teeth. Age of Uprising is a dour Braveheart-type story set in a particularly muddy part of the 16th century. BEN COLEMAN
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa
Alan Partridge, the clueless, vain broadcaster embodied by brilliant British comedian Steve Coogan, is an even more intrinsically funny character than Ron Burgundy. Partridge's big-screen debut is a little plot-heavy, as Partridge attempts to negotiate a siege situation when one of his fellow DJs takes the radio station hostage after getting laid off. But scene for scene, Alpha Papa is undoubtedly the funniest film at PIFF this year. NED LANNAMANN
A grungy outsider insinuates himself into a wealthy family's household. Things promptly go screwy. This fairly indescribable Lynch/Von Trier mashup dangles expertly on the queasy edge between ha-ha and WTF (that scene in the lake!) with an ending that lingers longer than you'll probably wish. The damnedest thing, really. ANDREW WRIGHT
This darkly funny documentary dumps us right into the pell-mell hell of Cairo's highways on the eve of the Arab Spring. It's a difficult mission to sustain; the brake lights, cursing, and reckless pedestrians all bleed together. But the daily chaos offers a poignant peek behind the crumbling façade of an authoritarian regime. DENIS C. THERIAULT
After her adult son gets involved in a horrific accident, a wealthy Romanian woman begins calling in her considerable markers. A witty, more-than-a-little Oedipal drama sparked by Luminita Gheorghiu's towering performance as a woman bent on imposing her will over reality. Every time the camera lands on her, there's something new to see. ANDREW WRIGHT
Almost more notable for the circumstances of its filming than the film itself, Closed Curtain was directed by Jafar Panahi, a filmmaker banned from working in his native Iran. Panahi shot the film secretly, at his own home, and its meta-theatrical structure (in which a writer-in-hiding confronts mysterious visitors who claim to be fleeing the police, only to have the director himself break into the scene), while interesting in relation to Panahi's body of work, is cryptic and inaccessible. ALISON HALLETT
Cycling with Moliere
A narcissistic soap star casts a former friend, a now-reclusive misanthrope, to play the misanthrope in his staging of the 17th century play The Misanthrope. The two men grapple with one another as they rehearse; plenty of meta moments ensue. Dry and slow, but the performances are great. JENNA LECHNER
Ernest and Celestine
Dark enough for adults and mild enough for children, this animated feature tells the tale of two social misfits who bridge the barriers of species (she's an artistically gifted mouse, he's a dancing bear) to form a friendship. Compelling visuals, charming dialogue, and moral instillation suggest they do still make 'em like they used to. MARJORIE SKINNER
The Galapagos Affair
In the early '30s, three sets of offbeat Europeans settled on a tiny, uninhabited island of Ecuador's archipelago, garnering a certain amount of fame for the endeavor. Predictably, conflicts, affairs, and disappearances took place. This exhaustive documentary picks through the evidence, giving it a tad more interest than is perhaps due. MARJORIE SKINNER
The Good Road
In this satisfying, unadorned drama, a boy is separated from his parents, a truck driver makes criminal plans, and a young orphan girl finds refuge in a brothel, all in a remote part of India. When their stories intersect, first-time writer-director Gyan Correa shows humanity's potential for goodness. ERIC D. SNIDER
Google and the World Brain
The story of Google's controversial attempt to scan every book in existence, filtered through a doomy prophecy by H.G. Wells. Clunky at times, particularly during some ill-conceived animated sequences, but the questions raised by the future-minded interviewees are fascinating. The Head of the French Library needs a sitcom, stat. ANDREW WRIGHT
A Gun in Each Hand
In this anthology of six talky vignettes, director Cesc Gay examines men in various stages of infidelity. The individual scenes are strong and occasionally funny, but a bigger picture doesn't reveal itself by the film's nonchalant close. Instead, it's a bittersweet, lightweight contemplation on the fragility of relationships—so, yeah, it's nothing too profound, or even interesting, really. NED LANNAMANN
A dour, black-and-white film about a young convent girl on the brink of taking her vows. Sent to find her only living relative—an unhappy, hard-drinking, man-eating aunt—the two bond over their family's mysterious tragedy in a listless story that doesn't live up to its stunning visual arrangement. MARJORIE SKINNER
Just a Sigh
This French film, about a broke, unhappy actress who picks up Gabriel Byrne at a funeral and has passionately anonymous sex in his hotel room, is oddly dull considering the inherent sexiness of the premise. Per the title, star Emmanuelle Devos does indeed do a lot of sighing, presumably because she's bored by her own boring movie. ALISON HALLETT
A funny, relatable film in which a seemingly ideal, near retirement aged British couple take a weekend in Paris to celebrate their anniversary. The resultant kaleidoscope of whimsy, humor, sadness, and complexity is wholly entertaining. MARJORIE SKINNER
A young woman carefully packs lunch every day for her unappreciative husband; when the lunch is mistakenly delivered to a sour, lonely accountant, a friendship blossoms via notes passed through the daily lunchbox. Despite the premise, this isn't a meet-cute, but rather a thoughtful look at how relationships affect the texture of our lives. Plus, all of the food looks amazing. ALISON HALLETT
There's minimalist documentary filmmaking—and then there's bolting a camera to a cable-car and surveilling pilgrims as they take the 10-minute ride up a mountain to a Nepalese temple. Some passengers' conversations are slice-of-life charming; others sit quietly the whole time. The view through the window is lovely. But two hours of this? Come on. ERIC D. SNIDER
Mary Queen of Scots
An almost gothic representation of the beautiful, well-intentioned, ill-fated queen. This romantic period drama isn't much for explanations (nothing a quick Wikipedia scan can't prepare you for) but it does breathe a dreamily creepy breath into an old, musty story. MARJORIE SKINNER OMSI Empirical Theater.
A two-hour-long drama set in the Philippines, and a torturous exercise in misery and desperation. Take the price of admission and ship it off to victims of Typhoon Haiyan rather than wallowing in Metro Manila's human suffering, as a sweet farmer and his young family get dicked over again and again. COURTNEY FERGUSON
The Missing Picture
Part documentary and part biography, Rithy Panh uses a combination of archival images and clay dioramas to recount the difficult story of his childhood as the only surviving family member under Pol Pot's regime. Illuminating and nightmarish, it's an important account that many wouldn't have the strength to tell in this level of detail. MARJORIE SKINNER
A nerve-wracking look at the life of Omar, a Palestinian freedom fighter whose life begins to unravel when he participates in his first serious action against Israeli occupying forces. Combining a web of spy intelligence and interpersonal conflict, Omar is valuable for both its storytelling ability and for its too-rare perspective at the heart of a seemingly endless conflict. MARJORIE SKINNER
Some Laotian villagers believe that if twins are born, one is always evil, so both must be killed. Young Ahlo's twin died during childbirth, but his mother convinced his superstitious grandmother to let him live; as a result, he grows up taking the blame for the family's many misfortunes. Ahlo enters a rocket-building competition in the hopes of getting back into his family's good graces, which is exactly as sweet, sad, and charming as you'd imagine. ELINOR JONES
Those Happy Years
The unfulfilled wife of a philandering artist discovers feminism in this sexy, stylish Italian offering. The hot actors in '70s costumes alone are worth the price of admission, but the film—told from the point of view of the couple's children—is both breezy and thoughtful as it skewers artistic and moral pretentions in a world of rapidly changing gender roles. ALISON HALLETT OMSI Empirical Theater.
Tito on Ice
This semi-animated yarn about two Swedish comic artists touring the war-torn Balkans with a "mummy" of Yugoslavian god-king Josip Tito opens with pure absurdity. But as they reach towns whose wounds have barely scabbed-over, a fascinating tale emerges about the resiliency of art and its ability to make sense of devastation. DENIS C. THERIAULT
The central mystery of Trap Street, which revolves around an alleyway that refuses to be GPS'd, isn't as compelling as it should be. Some of the commentary might be lost in translation. But as a contemporary Chinese slice of life with a plucky young cast, it works just fine. BEN COLEMAN
Germany's submission for this year's Oscars follows a Norwegian woman (Juliane Köhler) whose identity suffers a glacial shift after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Not much suspense, due to a script that keeps the viewer a few too many steps ahead of the characters, but the performers (especially Liv Ullman's secretive matriarch) are terrific. ANDREW WRIGHT
Wajma (An Afghan Love Story)
Grim sarcasm drips from the title of this film, a compilation of true stories. Wajma is a young woman on the fringes of modernity—she's just been accepted to law school, which represents the potential to escape an antiquated, anti-feminist society. Then she gets pregnant, and you can guess how well that goes over. MARJORIE SKINNER
What Is Cinema?
According to this semi-engaging but unfocused doc about the current state of experimental film, pure cinema is concerned about the experience of watching it, not on prosaic things like "story" or "characters." Fair enough. But the filmmaker, veteran Oscar-montage editor Chuck Workman, doesn't tell us why avant-garde cinema matters, only that it does. ERIC D. SNIDER
The Wind Rises
A flight-crazy young Japanese boy follows his dreams, which lead to some unexpected paths during wartime. Hayao Miyazaki's directorial swan song has raised some critical hackles for its real-life subject matter, but his combination of seemingly effortless weightlessness and surprising moral gravity feels as entrancing as ever. ANDREW WRIGHT
The Wishful Thinkers
Here's the thing about the rambling, free-form The Wishful Thinkers: this is a movie where someone says "cut" when a scene ends. As in, you can hear "cut." I suppose it's an intentional mashup of product and production, but if you're looking for plot and polish, look elsewhere. Otherwise, it's a charmingly bohemian experimental film. BEN COLEMAN
Young & Beautiful
François Ozon suppresses his more fanciful impulses for this serious-minded, wonderfully acted tale of a well-to-do teen (Marine Vacth) who drifts into prostitution. The potential for melodrama is high, but the director's empathic touch keeps things non-exploitive and compelling. And then Charlotte Rampling shows up and seals the deal. ANDREW WRIGHT
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
"This is a dude who, 700 years ago, totally ravaged China—and who, we were told, two hours ago, totally ravaged Oshman's Sporting Goods." Laurelhurst Theater.
Getting to Know YouTube
Local presenters fire up YouTube and explore "the boundaries of what tubes and you were meant for." Hollywood Theatre.
Kung Fu Theater
A 35mm print of the Shaw Brothers' 1976 film Death Chamber, "featuring an extended sequence of Fu Sheng fighting wooden robots." Hollywood Theatre.
The Lego Movie
See review this issue. Various Theaters.
The Lost Boys
"We've been aware there's some very serious vampire activity in this town for some time." Academy Theater.
The Monuments Men
See review this issue. Various Theaters.
Disney has a horse in this race (Get a Horse!, currently playing in front of Frozen), which usually means they cream the competition in the Oscar-nominated animated short films. The four other animated films in the program are charming and well done and kinda bloodless (for blood, look to the live-action shorts). The best of the lot is Room on the Broom, a kid-friendly British entry about inter-species cooperation, with voice work from Simon Pegg and Gillian Anderson. It's adorable! COURTNEY FERGUSON Hollywood Theatre.
Oscar-Nominated Short Films
The Oscar-nominated live-action shorts are consistent, year to year; you're going to see Short Films About Big Issues. True to form, this year's spate is chockablock with thinky themes that run the gamut from whimsically poignant to rapey awful. There is one light-hearted entry from Finland, Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?, about a family's comically frantic attempts to attend a wedding. But it's the suspenseful Just Before Losing Everything that's the most cohesive and gripping, with a mother and her two children escaping an abusive husband. COURTNEY FERGUSON Hollywood Theatre.
Portland Black Film Festival
The second Portland Black Film Festival, curated by writer and filmmaker David Walker (BadAzz MoFo, Darius Logan: Super Justice Force) and featuring "films that are either directed by African Americans or deal with being black in America"—including 12 O'Clock Boys, Beat Street, Sidewalk Stories, a Soul Train compilation, Purple Rain, and Black Belt Jones. More at hollywoodtheatre.org. Hollywood Theatre.
The Redo Series
A new series that "showcases outsider recuts and remakes of well-loved film and TV shows." First up: I'm Your Density, a re-edit of all three Back to the Future films. See Film, this issue. Holocene.
Rock 'n' Roll Trailer Show
"The wildest and most artful rock-related pre-show entertainment from the last several decades," presented by Jackpot Records and the Academy Film Archive. Hollywood Theatre.
Sex Workers' Film Series
A series offering "the best films by and about sex workers." This week's selection: Profane. More at cstpdx.com. Clinton Street Theater.
Joan Fontaine suspects her new hubby (Cary Grant) might be worse than a gambling, womanizing cad—the slickly charming fellow might be looking to bump her off and claim her inheritance. Alfred Hitchcock plays it safe in this early Hollywood outing, but the 1941 melodrama contains some witty repartee, a teensy bit of gnawing suspense, and the most sinister glass of milk in movie history. NED LANNAMANN Hollywood Theatre.
Vampire Academy is a film about vampire teenagers who attend a vampire academy. Vampire Academy's tagline is "They suck at school." Vampire Academy was not screened for critics. Various Theaters.
MEANS WE RECOMMEND IT. Theater locations are accurate Friday, February 7-Thursday, February 13, unless otherwise noted. Movie times are updated daily and available here.