Shadow Well Go USA
As the Portland International Film Festival (PIFF) heads into its final week, here are some brief impressions of stuff I've seen that'll be screening over the next few days. (For our previous coverage of this year's PIFF, see here, here, and here.)

At three-plus hours, Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s The Wild Pear Tree tries the audience with a rambling character study of an aspiring writer reckoning with his father’s gambling addition. That sprawl, which worked so effectively in Ceylan’s masterpiece Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, feels excessive here, although the central character of Sinan (Dolgu Demirkol) is meant to test your patience. He’s arrogant, argumentative, and convinced of his own genius, but Ceylan continually puts him up against the limits of geography and genetics. There are a couple breathtaking sequences here, and despite long stretches where you want to throttle the protagonist, The Wild Pear Tree’s autumnal greens and browns are beautiful enough to tide you over. Fri March 15, 5 pm, Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park; Sat March 16, 3 pm, Cinemagic, 2021 SE Hawthorne

recommended TRANSIT
The “gimmick” with Transit is pretty simple: It’s based on a World War II novel, but it’s set in the present day, without further explanation. German director Christian Petzold (Phoenix) could be saying something about borders, refugees, displacement, and resistance, but the personal outweighs the political with Transit, and the result lands somewhere effectively—and wonderfully—between Kafka and Hitchcock. Fleeing from occupied Paris to the port of Marseille, Georg (played by Joaquin Phoenix doppelgänger Franz Rogowski) assumes the identity of a dead author, and comes into the orbit of his widow and a young, fatherless boy, all of whom are trying to escape the country. There’s mystery a-plenty in this world of paranoia and purgatory, but like the best of film noir, the brilliant Transit’s twists and turns are elevated by an inescapable emotional undercurrent. Fri March 15, 5:45 pm, Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st

A Finnish film about teen pregnancy, with two unlikely parents: pretty, popular Kiira (Rosa Honkonen) and scrawny, invisible Lenni (Jere Ristseppä). The movie is observant and kind, and asks the audience to take sides of these unprepared parents even as the rest of the world refuses to. Stupid Young Heart’s nuance transcends its after-school-special elements, but the movie is sidelined by a (disturbingly timely) subplot about white nationalism that isn’t adequately dealt with. In that regard, perhaps the movie is a little too kind. Fri March 15, 6 pm, Cinemagic, 2021 SE Hawthorne; Tues March 19, 3:30 pm, Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park

recommended SHADOW
Director Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers) returns to the wuxia genre with the visually staggering Shadow, in which the sets and costumes are all rendered in watercolor shades of gray, to evoke a black-and-white ink drawing or, perhaps, a written text come to life. The story’s not the grabber here: Two warring kingdoms attempt to broker peace, while the general of one king’s army trains a doppelganger to take his place. In fact, the first hour of Shadow is a bit boring, as gorgeous as it is to look at. But then the action kicks in, and the movie becomes every bit the equal of Zhang’s past triumphs. It’s pageant and poetry and breathtaking ballet, except with super-sharp knives and umbrellas that kill people. Combined with the film’s gray-scale palette, in which the only other colors are flesh and blood, it becomes something truly extraordinary to see. Fri March 15, 8:15 pm, Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st

recommended SUPA MODO
Kids and grownups alike will enjoy the ebullient, bright Supa Modo, which manages to walk an unlikely tightrope: It’s the story of Jo, a young Kenyan girl dying of cancer, but she copes with her situation through vivid superhero and martial arts fantasies, and the film becomes a warm, uplifting experience. Although director Likarion Wainaina gets the tricky tone just right, the cast—led by the heart-warmingly great Stycie Waweru as young Jo, with Maryanne Nungo and Nyawara Ndambia as Jo’s mother and daughter—is funny and alive, and Supa Modo feels like something not too far away from a miracle. Sat March 16, 12:30 pm, Cinemagic, 2021 SE Hawthorne

Low-budget junk about a medieval monster-killer for hire. This should have been invigorating, silly fun, but the filmmakers (director Jordan Downey and cinematographer Kevin Stewart, both of whom co-wrote the barebones script) are trapped by their limitations rather than inspired by them. Basically a one-man show starring Christopher Rygh, we never actually get to see any the monsters or the fights, just the warrior preparing his weapons and healing potions and then sauntering off to the next slaughter. The movie adheres to a shit-gray aesthetic that becomes monotonous, but the bigger problem is that the movie’s visually unintelligible—due to awful camerawork and a reliance on close-ups, you can’t ever really tell what’s going on. This could’ve been a okay short, but stretched out to 72 minutes, it’s painful. Screens with short film Helsinki Mansplaining Massacre. Sat March 16, 9 pm, Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st

Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin
Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin
Although it’ll appear on PBS’ American Masters later this year, this superb documentary is a must-see primer on the life and work of Portland science fiction and fantasy author Ursula K. Le Guin, who died in 2018. We see Le Guin in various spaces across the state of Oregon, from the city of Portland where she made her home, to vacation spots at Steens Mountain and the Oregon Coast, all locations that informed her work. The movie also depicts her pioneering work as a woman in the male-dominated genre of science fiction, and her struggles against the big-money elements in the publishing industry. It’s a tender, triumphant portrait of a brilliant woman, making a case for Le Guin as one of the titans of American literature. Sun March 17, 12:30 pm, Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st; Mon March 18, 6 pm, Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park

Mára is brash and cool, while Heduš is pudgy and awkward, but these two Czech teenaged boys form an unlikely bond as they drive a stolen car across a wintry Czech countryside. They acquire a dog and meet a girl; they also evade the cops and nearly freeze to death, too. In other words, it’s a fairly standard road movie paired with a coming-of-age story, although Mára and Heduš don’t grow up, exactly. The movie’s interwoven with Mára’s interrogation by an oddly sympathetic police officer, and we never quite get to know as much about the characters as we’d like. But the movie’s winning, partly because it never overemphasizes its emotional beats, instead letting its gentle observations of the characters do the work. Sun March 17, 6 pm, Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park; Mon March 18, 8:30 pm, Cinemagic, 2021 SE Hawthorne

recommended RAY & LIZ
The tactile sensations of memory are front-and-center in the autobiographical Ray & Liz, a cinematic look at English photographer and director Richard Billingham’s parents, informed by Billingham’s still photographs of his family. Their unpleasant lives of abject poverty, tinted by cigarette smoke and homemade hooch, make this one a tough sit, and the 16mm cinematography, rather than soften the story’s harshest elements with nostalgia, amplifies them with oppressive, deliberate graininess. Told in two big episodes with a third framing device depicting Ray’s late-in-life descent into alcoholism and functionless-ness, the movie puts you inside of this world in a way few movies can manage. It ends up being gasp-inducingly beautiful, in its own miserable way. Sun March 17, 8:30 pm, Fox Tower, 846 SW Park