PIFF runs though Saturday, February 26. Not all films were screened for critics, and not all films were screened in time for press. See Movie Times for theaters, showtimes, and even more reviews. For more info, see "When Japanese Schoolgirls Attack" and nwfilm.org.
7 Days in Slow Motion (India)
After finding a lost camera, a schoolboy decides to follow his dreams of shooting a film—but between his narrow timeframe and his ball-smasher of a mother, this proves to be a tad difficult. Bollywood hijinks ensue, and 7 Days tiptoes through the serious stuff just long enough to be called a smart comedy. MIKE WILLIAMS
All That I Love (Poland)
You think it's tough to be a band in Portland? Try Poland. In 1981. Oh, and you're a punk band during martial law. The high schoolers of All That I Love struggle with music, girls, parents, and school as they come of age beneath the iron fist of Communism. EZRA ACE CARAEFF
The Arbor (Great Britain)
A documentary (of sorts) tracing the real-life, kitchen-sink pathos of prodigious, Thatcher-era playwright Andrea Dunbar and the three young children she left behind at the age of 29. The Arbor beautifully transcends what at first seems like an aesthetic nonstarter: a narrative told through frank, real-life audio interviews painstakingly lip-synced and re-contextualized by a cast of actors. Turns out it's a surprisingly absorbing conceit, and one that melts masterfully into this bleak account of poverty and familial neglect. ZAC PENNINGTON
Black Bread (Spain)
Finally, an awesome movie about everyone's favorite badass pirate! Wait. No. We read that wrong. This is some drama set in "the harsh years of post war rural Catalonia." Oh. Never mind.
Brother and Sister (Argentina)
A "wryly amusing and heart-warming drama" about "the love-hate relationship between two sixtysomething siblings."
A masterful documentary about genius cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who worked in film for over 70 years. Shot before his death at the age of 94, the articulate Cardiff dishes about naked Marlene Dietrich, tech-savvy Alfred Hitchcock, craggy Humphrey Bogart, and his later work on Rambo and Conan. So much knowledge, creativity, and humor in one talented man. COURTNEY FERGUSON
Look both ways before crossing the street in Argentina, where hundreds of thousands of auto-related injuries and 8,000 traffic fatalities occur annually—giving rise to a crooked industry of lawyers, scammers, and insurance thugs. Carancho tours this seedy, bloody, nocturnal world in a dark, fretful examination that does little more than provoke infrastructural worry. MARJORIE SKINNER
Chekhov for Children (US)
In this disorganized, self-congratulatory documentary, a middle-aged filmmaker revisits her grade-school production of Uncle Vanya. Old footage of kids performing Chekhov has the potential to be charming, but those scenes are tediously interspersed with talking-head grownups reliving their glory days as precocious 11-year-olds. ALISON HALLETT
A western set during "Pancho Villa's failed 1916 invasion of Columbus, New Mexico." (Big mistake. Dude totally shoulda gone for Columbus, Illinois.)
Colors of the Mountain (Colombia)
Tensions between guerrilla forces and paramilitary soldiers in rural Columbia come into focus through the eyes of nine-year-old Manuel. Dimly aware of the adult perspective, Manuel's experience is of classmates disappearing and the retrieval of a soccer ball from a minefield. A sad, gently paced look at ordinary victims of political strife. MARJORIE SKINNER
Crab Trap (Colombia)
Crab Trap follows the stoic Daniel to a small village on Colombia's Pacific Coast. He's running from something... but what? Daniel rarely speaks, much less reacts to the villagers around him. Like this film, they're quiet, pensive, bored, and brooding. Without any arc, Crab Trap unfurls as more of a sketch of place than a scripted narrative. ANDREW R TONRY
The Double Hour (Italy)
A thriller featuring Filippo Timi and Kseniya Rappoport... and a murder!
Eastern Plays (Bulgaria)
This compelling drama demonstrates that twentysomething ennui is a global phenomenon. Against the backdrop of ethnic polarization, violence, and economic anxiety, though, the angst that plagues Eastern Plays' protagonists—two brothers—seems fully justified. ALISON HALLETT
Even the Rain (Spain)
A Spanish film crew shoots an historical biopic of Christopher Columbus in Bolivia and finds itself in the middle of an uprising. Bolivia’s privatization of the country’s water supply leaves its impoverished citizens—the film’s extras—unable to afford water, and this politically charged film tells a fascinating and story through an unpredictable framework. NED LANNAMANN
Flamenco, Flamenco (Spain)
Carlos Saura's sequel to Flamenco, "his landmark film on the history of Spanish music and dance." This time: TWICE AS MUCH FLAMENCO!!!
The Four Times (Italy)
A wordless meditation on the transference of souls through death, this sad, gently humorous film set in the rural southern region of Italy is not for the impatient. It meanders through the last days of subjects like an elderly shepherd and—tragically—an adorable baby goat that gets separated from its herd, inducing the occasional frustrated squirm. MARJORIE SKINNER
A wrenching film set in the Venezuelan slum of La Ceniza, Hermano chronicles the relationship between two soccer-playing brothers as they grapple with the organized crime and violence that pervades their environment. Death and tragedy dog them as they attempt to grasp their only means of escape: to be drafted onto a major league team. MARJORIE SKINNER
An autobiographical drama about a young boy and his father. Broadway Metroplex.
The Housemaid (South Korea)
The plot might seem tired—a young maid begins an affair with the rich, aristocratic man of the house—but The Housemaid comes alive in the details. Melodrama, yes, but I can handle a heavy hand so long as it's this sure. TONY PEREZ
How I Ended This Summer (Russia)
Loooong, still shots and sparse dialogue make Alexsei Popogrebsky's thriller either beautifully minimalist or tedium defined. That said, this film about growing tensions between two men at an isolated Arctic weather outpost gains a lot of traction from its strong acting and consistently gorgeous cinematography. DAVE BOW
How to Die in Oregon (US)
A powerful documentary about the nuanced experiences of patients who opt for physician-assisted suicide. Less an argument regarding legality (though clearly it’s in favor of the Death with Dignity law pioneered in Oregon in 1994) than an openhearted portrayal, How to Die in Oregon is emotionally overwhelming not because it’s tragic, but because it is intimately, intensely honest. MARJORIE SKINNER
In a Better World (Denmark)
This Danish flick about two damaged adolescent boys and their families reminded me of Paul Haggis' Crash. It tackles a big issue (the nature and consequences of revenge) but does so bluntly, with too many characters, too many subplots, and a handful of affecting scenes. World has both the power to make you cry and put you to sleep. DAVE BOW
Katalin Varga (Hungary)
A slowly unfolding mystery, Katalin Varga eventually reveals itself to be a revenge road movie about a woman's attempt to right the wrongs of the past—discovering that vengeance may be a dish best left unserved. Spoiler alert: Things don't end well. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY
Last Report on Anna (Hungary)
An exiled political leader of the Hungarian Social Democratic party, Anna whiles away her time in Brussels as an increasingly irrelevant figurehead. Nonetheless, the communist party enlists the nephew of her long-lost love to infiltrate her trust in this talky, occasionally ridiculous melodrama. Note: Bone up on 20th Century Hungarian politics prior to viewing. MARJORIE SKINNER
A film about 16th century Spanish playwright Lope de Vega, AKA "The Spanish Neil Simon."
Louder Than a Bomb (US)
Another tried-and-true story of an unlikely team making good and learning about life via a heated competition—this time, the contest is a high school poetry battle. It's much better than it sounds. COURTNEY FERGUSON
The Man Who Will Come (Italy)
A film that tells you what you've already been told by countless period dramas: Nazis are assholes. Martina, a young mute girl, witnesses the escalating tension in rural Italy in the days leading up to the Marzabotto massacre. What the film lacks in nuance, it attempts to make up for in gravitas and pretty landscape. TONY PEREZ
A 75-year-old archivist is fired and replaced with a computer. Think of it as a underwhelming version of The Terminator. In Spanish.
My Joy (Ukraine)
Eastern Europe is still hard as fuck and ten kinds of terrifying. My Joy begins as a truck driver’s strangely claustrophobic expedition into the barren heart of Ukrainian darkness--where everyone stares unblinkingly into your soul before they beat you and rob you blind--and ends somewhere even more nightmarish. (This is a positive review, in the event that it's not totally clear.) ZAC PENNINGTON
My Tehran for Sale (Iran)
Filmed illegally, My Tehran for Sale is a deep portrait of a conflicted, frustrated generation of Iranians wedged between Western aspirations and a government that whips people for going to raves. Depressing, yes—but given current events, a must-see. SARAH MIRK
Takeshi Kitano's latest yakuza flick.
Passione: A Musical Adventure (US)
Basically a series of music videos broken up with loose narration, Passione tours its audience through the long musical tradition of Naples, Italy. The music is very Italian (dramatic, lusty), and it’s a bit much if that’s not your bag, but the scenery (dancing girls included) will make you want to catch the next plane there. MARJORIE SKINNER
Pink Saris (Great Britain)
A woman from the lowest level of India's caste system serves as the voice for women suffering oppression in India. This documentary's not so much a feminist statement, though, as a realistic look into the lives of its subjects, revealing the limits of their strengths. CHARMAINE PRITCHETT
Poetry (South Korea)
A South Korean grandmother discovers she has Alzheimer's right around the same time she finds out her grandson is a creep. In trying times, a new-found love for verse helps her search for meaning. Though slow going, Lee Chang-dong's drama is worth it for its lyrical, emotional finish. JAMIE S. RICH
An omnibus film that "commemorates the centenary of the Mexican Revolution."
Brilliant premise: Carrie meets Christine when a telekinetic tire named Robert goes on a murderous rampage in stylish fashion, blowing people's heads up and mooning over a brunette. Tiresome execution: The French filmmakers get all meta and deconstruction happy, reveling in their more-clever-than-thou cheekiness. Watch the trailer, ignore the film. COURTNEY FERGUSON
Russian Lessons (Norway)
One enduring image from this graphic look at Russia's war crimes, including their 2008 invasion of Georgia: Vladimir Putin speaking over the sounds of shovels digging out the charred corpses of children. When victims on one side are shown on TV as victims of the other—or not at all—nothing is what it seems. Not even the horror of war. DENIS C. THERIAULT
Sawako Decides (Japan)
A lightly absurd movie that follows a listless, withdrawn young woman who returns home from Tokyo to save her ailing father's shellfish packing company. The film's first half is jumbled and emotionally distant, but an hour in, it gains some energy, leading to a cathartic climax that's both heartwarming and weird. DAVE BOW
Shorts VI: Everywhere Was the Same
The Cinema Project presents a program of contemporary avant-garde films whose subjects range from African hairdressing salons to a massacre in Gaza to the Amazon rainforest. ALISON HALLETT
Some Days Are Better Than Others (US)
If Portlandia fawned instead of sneered, it'd be Some Days Are Better Than Others, talented local filmmaker Matt McCormick's feature-length misfire. Set in Portland, Some Days is beautifully shot and scored, but its more-emo-than-thou plot is crammed with unearned sentiment. Ostensibly this is a film about unwanted people, pets, and objects; in actuality, it's a film in which Carrie Brownstein continues to sniff and fumble her way along her ill-advised career switch into acting while the Shins' James Mercer, alone in a depressing little bedroom, dejectedly sings "Total Eclipse of the Heart" to himself. ERIK HENRIKSEN
A Somewhat Gentle Man (Norway)
A lackadaisically filthy comedy about an amiable ex-con (Stellan Skårsgard) schlumping his way into distasteful situations and schlumping his way back out of them, A Somewhat Gentle Man is as awkward and charmingly off-putting as its shuffling, grimacing, sad-faced clown of a main character. BOBBY "FATBOY" ROBERTS
A War in Hollywood (Spain)
This boring documentary examines Hollywood's sporadic relationship with Spain following the Spanish Civil War and during Franco's fascist regime. Those interested in 20th century Spanish history will have to make do with clips from The Way We Were and interviews with Susan Sarandon. Seriously, why is Susan Sarandon in this movie? NED LANNAMANN
When We Leave (Germany)
A young Turkish woman suffering abuse from her husband flees, with her son, back to her family—where she's rejected for bringing shame upon them. When We Leave is an extremely dramatic movie, but its message is powerful. CHARMAINE PRITCHETT
The Whistleblower (Canada)
Never before has the violation of human rights felt so mawkishly clichéd! Rachel Weisz plays a US policewoman in Bosnia-Herzegovina who uncovers evidence of postwar human trafficking. While it's based on a true story, not even Weisz's solid performance can keep The Whistleblower from feeling like a sordid episode of SVU, replete with sexual torture, wearying speechifying, and bullshit plot twists. ERIK HENRIKSEN
The Woods (US)
Matthew Lessner's Sundance-approved "satirical attack on young, modern, globally conscious citizens."
After you've gone nearly a whole year without beer or movies, the Beer & Movie Fest (BAM) returns, bringing a batch of old favorites to the Academy this week, and a further smattering of screenings over the next couple months at the Laurelhurst. Unlike last year's triumphant uncovering of Hausu, this year they're not showing anything you haven't seen before—but it's not as if there's anything wrong with sitting through Ghostbusters or They Live again. Films include the two classics listed above, along with The Dark Crystal, The Neverending Story, The Fifth Element, and Evil Dead 2. More info: bamfestpdx.com. NED LANNAMANN Academy Theater.
Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son
See review this issue. Various Theaters.
See review this issue. Fox Tower 10.
Dennis Nyback's Forbidden Cinema
Film curator and former owner of the Clinton Street Theater Dennis Nyback has drawn from his huge collection of old 16mm films to compile seven nights' worth of early cinema's naughty, nasty, freaky side. The films themselves are stunning artifacts of little-seen early Americana, filled with booze, boobs, jazz, surrealist spectacle, and some pretty shocking war propaganda courtesy of Dr. Seuss. Nyback also provides invaluable contextual introductions to the films, which means you're being titillated and educated. More info: clintonsttheater.com. DAVE BOW Clinton Street Theater.
See review this issue. Fox Tower 10.
I Am Number Four
See review this issue. Various Theaters.
Danish band Efterklang traveled with music documentarian Vincent Moon to the Danish island of Als to shoot this art project/performance film. As might be expected, the more abstract, experimental portions of the film could be reined in, but the five musical performances are exceptional. Moon's single-camera, fly-on-the-wall technique is a limitation, but he captures Efterklang—joined by local musicians and schoolchildren—performing at the peak of their abilities. NED LANNAMANN Radio Room.
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
Justin Bieber's movie actually has some similarities with Madonna's wholly excellent Truth or Dare concert documentary: While not nearly as sexy or gay, Never Say Never focuses less on the music and more on the Beeb's social network—both immediate and expanded. We meet mom, manager, mentor, grandparents, best friends, vocal coach, security... everyone who keeps a goofily likable kid/pop superstar from tumbling into the Lindsay Lohan abyss. The love and protective instincts these people have for Justin—especially a heartbreakingly sweet granddad—is apparent, and cut together with shot after shot of hilariously lovesick fans, one can't help but think... you know, unlike those who fell before him, this Bieber kid is gonna be okay. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY Various Theaters
See review this issue. Hollywood Theatre.
See review this issue. Various Theaters.