THE 39TH ANNUAL Portland International Film Festival (PIFF) is consolation to the vacation-deprived set—those of us who actually have to live all the way through Portland's winter. No cheating! What I mean is: No escape! Unless...
There are a whopping 97 features at 2016's PIFF, plus 62 shorts, representing four dozen different countries' perspectives in genres ranging from freaky, creepy sci-fi to ultra-raw documentary. If you subscribe to the Portland-common wanderlust, but didn't have the cheddar or foresight to actually get the heck out of Dodge, PIFF is your hidey-hole portal to foreign lands. It's not a flashy fest with red carpet premieres (though that has happened in the past), and it doesn't offer major awards or attention—but it does represent an affordable way to stay worldly, even if your damp boots never leave PDX.
Want to roll with the city's educated boho boomer set? (I recommend this unironically, to be clear.) PIFF's opening bash is always a good start. This year's opening film, The Fencer, follows an Estonian fencing coach fleeing '50s-era Leningrad, with twin screenings at the Fox Tower 10 and the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium before a reception at the Portland Art Museum. Broadly speaking, the NW Film Center—which organizes the festival—puts out the handiest guide to what's always a crowded screening schedule (find it at nwfilm.org). It's a lot of material, and many of the films only screen once. If you don't feel like playing PIFF roulette with your time (even though, for the record, I also recommend that unironically), here are some of the ones we've caught so far.
The fest is still screening films for the press, so hit blogtown.portlandmercury.com for updated info, reviews, and recommendations throughout this year's festival.
100 Yen Love (Japan)—The life of a sedentary young woman whose ambitions all involve junk food and video games is kicked into motion when she's booted from her mother's house. Unlikely friendships and the discipline of a boxer conspire to make an offbeat coming-of-age tale that ain't like we do them in the USA.
Adama (France)—The animation in this war story for young adults is just this side of creepy, mining the uncanny valley for beauty and danger. In it, a young boy ventures after his brother, who's left their West African village to fight in World War I.
Court (India)—A somewhat draining, if gently funny, look at the corruption of a broken legal system in Mumbai, as told through the strung-out mockery of the trial of an aging protest musician.
Coz Ov Moni 2: FOKN Revenge (Ghana)—A cheerfully entertaining, sometimes violent musical starring Ghanaian rap stars FOKN Bois, who serve as depraved guides to a life spent hustling for money and respect.
Evolution (France)—A creepy sci-fi/horror flick directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic, who turns the tables on body horror gender roles in this tale of not-quite-human breeding experiments on an isolated island populated by pale women and little boys.
Eye in the Sky (UK)—This dramatization of a drone strike—including the decision-making chain of command, the remote soldier who has to pull the trigger, and the reality on the ground—is a little too on the nose, but it manages what one suspects may be an exaggerated degree of suspense and moral jockeying. Plus it boasts a hard, pragmatic Helen Mirren as a high-ranking officer.
The Forbidden Room (Canada)—A busy, stylistic throwback to old-timey film techniques and absurdist action from auteur Guy Maddin. Despite my best efforts, I lasted less than halfway through.
A Good American (US/Austria)—Exactly what you need to rip out your last shred of faith in the system, this documentary explores the depth of the corruption at the National Security Agency during and following 9/11.
The Invitation (US)—This one's hard to discuss without dropping any spoilers, but there's too much chitchat and not enough payoff in this just-okay thriller about a dinner party in LA gone horribly wrong.
Klown Forever (Denmark)—A hilariously raunchy, charming, and super-ridiculous buddy comedy about a pair of quasi-celebrity douchebags and friends causing epic, debaucherous havoc in the United States.
Office (Hong Kong)—This futuristic musical about global finance starring Chow Yun-fat is recommendable for its production design alone.
The Other Side (Italy)—A jaw-dropping documentary that depicts two milieus within America's Deep South: that of poverty-stricken drug dealers and addicts, and the beer-crushing, hog-castratin' racist paranoia of heavily armed militiamen. Director Roberto Minervini's methods yield an alarming degree of access to his subjects, allowing him to highlight the worst of America for an international audience to gawk at.
Schneider vs. Bax (Netherlands)—Two deadly men are pitted against each other in a bucolic country setting. The stakes never really gel, though the offbeat conclusion is thought-provokingly redemptive.
Sleeping Giant (Canada)—An excellent, sensitive look at teenage boys during a summer spent on the knife's edge of knowing right from wrong.