MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD Well, they don't look that mutanty....

RATHER INAUSPICIOUSLY, this year's Portland International Film Festival (PIFF) kicks off with Potiche, a French comedy starring Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu. Billed by the Northwest Film Center as an update of "a popular boulevard farce," Potiche wasn't screened for local critics—but I'm going to hazard a guess and say, hey, it's a French flick starring Gérard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve. You probably know what to expect.

Which, for better or worse, has been a theme for PIFF for... well, a while. On the upside, every year the Northwest Film Center brings a truly impressive number of foreign films to Portland for PIFF's two-and-a-half-week run (this year boasts a whopping 129 films, culled from over 40 countries). On the downside, it's tempting to scroll through the Film Center's website and succumb to a sense of déjà vu—in many ways, this motley, vaguely interesting assortment of dramas, documentaries, comedies, and shorts feels a lot like PIFFs of the past.

But to write it off would overlook a few key developments that—much like PIFF's 2009 premiere of Coraline—aim to inject some excitement into the fest. First up is an expansion in venues—no longer limited to the Film Center's lecture-hall-like Whitsell Auditorium and the subterranean Broadway Metroplex, this year PIFF spreads to Cinema 21, the Hollywood Theatre, and Cinemagic. There are also new spots for festival attendees to shoot the shit (the "PIFF Lounge" at downtown's Nel Centro restaurant, and "PIFFbar" across from Cinemagic), a Hispanic film showcase, and a solid smattering of films worth seeking out, including the subtly tense Austrian drama La Pivellina; Romania's stressful but oddly upbeat If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle; the unflinching documentary Armadillo, which follows Danish soldiers in Afghanistan as they train, wait, watch porn, and kill; and two heavily buzzed Oregon-based films, the Portland-set mumblecore/detective mashup Cold Weather and the right-to-die doc How to Die in Oregon, which just snagged the best documentary prize at Sundance.

But the real adrenalin shot this year is "PIFF After Dark," a late-night genre series programmed by the Grindhouse Film Festival's Dan Halsted (a guy who's been everywhere lately—he also just took over as the Hollywood Theatre's head programmer). PIFF After Dark showcases four films that—to hazard another guess—will probably pop for Mercury readers: The French film Rubber is a "surreal tale of a psychotic tire out on a telekinetic murderous rampage"; there's Takeshi Kitano's latest yakuza flick, Outrage; there's The Revenant, an American horror film in which an Iraq War veteran returns home as something "between a zombie and a vampire"; and there's Mutant Girls Squad, a blood-splattered action flick about a squad of... y'know, mutants. Who are also pretty schoolgirls. Who also kill things. It probably goes without saying that Mutant Girls Squad comes from Japan.

For the Mercury's take on individual PIFF films, see Film Shorts; for showtimes, see Movie Times. As ever, you can stay updated throughout the fest in upcoming issues of the Mercury and at