WE ALL HAVE our methods. Vitamin D. Hot yoga. Fancy lamps. There's a wide array of coping mechanisms to get us through the extended, gray, post-New Year stretch—and one of the most tried and true is to hide out in the sheltering, windowless confines of a movie theater. Enter: the NW Film Center's Portland International Film Festival.
Now in its 36th year, PIFF has had its ups and downs, contending with the vagaries of festival scheduling as a second-tier market and, now, the changes brought about by digital projection. This year, however, things have shaped up just fine, with a diverse roster that represents just about every genre.
Opening night, by definition, features one of the festival's best gets—in this case, Pablo Berger's Blancanieves, the Spanish submission for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. A silent, black-and-white twist on Snow White re-imagined in Seville and centered on a female bullfighter, Blancanieves was, oddly, not made available for critics, but looks breathtaking. Combined with the accompanying party's hobnobbing over sponsored refreshments at the posh Newmark Theatre, there are certainly less elegant ways to spend $30 on a weeknight.
As for the rest of the festival, there are always gems embedded in the schedule, but unless you're prepared to go full-nerd on it (and bless you if you are), here are a few nudges in the right direction:
• Alien Boy—It's certainly not an exotic foreign film (unless you count the fact that Matt Davis, the film's writer—and former Mercury news editor—is British), but this many-years-in-the-making documentary about the death of James Chasse Jr. at the hands of the Portland Police is a devastating, urgent piece of journalism that hits very close to home.
• Lore—A gorgeous, captivating film from Australian director Cate Shortland, Lore follows the fate of a group of German children directly after WWII and raises provocative questions about guilt and mass retribution.
• Paradise: Love—This squirmingly difficult-to-watch first film in Austrian director Ulrich Seidl's Paradise trilogy is about the sex tourism of a lonely, middle-aged woman vacationing in Kenya.
• Post Tenebras Lux—A polarizing, willfully nonlinear, numbly disturbing film from Mexican director Carlos Reygadas. It's obtusely self-indulgent—but also contains some of the most unforgettable scenes you're likely to see in a while.
• Sightseers—A black comedy from British director Ben Wheatley (Kill List) about a murderous road trip, AKA the best kind of road trip.
• The Sapphires—It's on the cheesy side, but this Australian musical depicting the true tale of an aboriginal girl group entertaining American troops in Vietnam boasts an offbeat perspective and charmer Chris O'Dowd.
• Happy People: A Year in the Taiga—Werner Herzog's aimless documentary about people living way, way off the grid in Siberia. Only Werner could make this magical.