Week 2: Seattle International Film Festival highlights
Capsule reviews of films at the Seattle International Film Festival, through June 8 at several locations.
Seattle International Film Festival
Through June 8 at SIFF Cinema Uptown, Egyptian, Harvard Exit and Pacific Place; also at Lincoln Square (through May 29), Renton Ikea Performing Arts Center (through May 28) and Kirkland Performance Center (May 29-June 1); 206-324-9996 or www.siff.net. Printed festival guides available at all SIFF venues and many Starbucks locations.
The Magnetic Fields song “Nothing Matters When We’re Dancing,” sung by gravel-voiced Stephin Merrit, is used to maximum effect in this uneven, soft-core Spanish drama. When longtime lovers Alex (Natalia Tena) and Sergi (David Verdaguer) test their relationship with a long-distance arrangement (she moves to L.A. while he stays in Barcelona), modern technology is no substitute for physical contact. To borrow the sentiment of an older song: “You can’t make love by wireless.” Director Carlos Marques-Marcet is scheduled to attend the June 5 and June 6 screenings. 9:30 p.m. May 27 at Lincoln Square; 9:30 p.m. June 5 at the Harvard Exit; 4:15 p.m. June 6 at Pacific Place. — John Hartl
Bernadette Lafont, the young star of François Truffaut’s “Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me” (1972), grew up to co-star in this bouncy new musical about a sheltered pianist (Guillaume Gouix) who is protected by a couple of comically pushy aunts (Lafont plays one of them). A gleefully cartoonish opening sequence, which suggests John Travolta’s swaggering walk down a “Saturday Night Fever” street, establishes the confident tone almost instantly. It’s the first live-action film from “Triplets of Belleville” creator Sylvain Chomet, and the last film for Lafont, who had a stroke last year and died at 74. 7 p.m. May 27 at the Uptown. — J.H.
‘Born to Fly’
Somewhere between dance, gymnastics and circus aerial feats lies the aesthetic of contemporary choreographer Elizabeth Streb, whose gravity-defying work is profiled in Catherine Gund’s film. Her company — an assortment of astonishing “fliers and crashers and soarers,” in Streb’s words — writhe between swinging iron beams, fling themselves off bridges, flail inside the confines of a box and effortlessly perform Streb’s trademark move: a strangely beautiful arching, diving fall. “Wreak havoc,” she whispers to one of her dancers; indeed, they do. 5:30 p.m. May 26 at the Uptown, 4:30 p.m. May 28 at Pacific Place; 1 p.m. June 6 at the Uptown. — Moira Macdonald
‘A Brony Tale’
It takes all kinds of “bronys” to create the cult following behind the animated television series “My Little Pony.” Although the show is aimed at very young kids, it also attracts males, 18 to 30, who respond to the hippie-like celebration of kindness and friendship. Focused on the fans, some of them surprisingly eloquent and anti-macho (an Iraqi war vet stands out), this documentary includes few detractors and offers little analysis, but the positive vibe is contagious. Director Brent Hodge and voice actor Ashleigh Ball are scheduled to attend the screening. 11 a.m. May 24 at the Egyptian. — J.H.
This is a passionate, folksy documentary about the dam-removal movement, with an emphasis on the Olympic Peninsula. Several points of view are represented, including a debate on salmon, although the filmmakers were unable to convince government spokesmen to contribute to the conversation. Among the narrators is a man who’s battling Parkinson’s and finds the disease has changed his outlook on conservation. It’s an unexpectedly personal touch that helps to ground the film. 7 p.m. May 28 at Lincoln Square. — J.H.
In this corner: the “Pastor of Disaster,” one of many Christian clergymen who enthusiastically participate in their churches’ MMA (mixed martial arts) fighting programs. In this corner: a Catholic priest vehemently opposed to the idea that God could condone violence. Both points of view are explored in this thoughtful documentary from Daniel Junge and Bryan Storkel, whose central question is summed up by a subject: “Can you love your neighbor as yourself, and still hit him in the face as hard as you possibly can?” 12:30 p.m. May 26 at Renton Ikea Performing Arts Center. — M.M.
‘I Am Big Bird’
“If you look inside him, you’ll see feathers,” says a colleague of puppeteer Caroll Spinney, who has performed as Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on “Sesame Street” for more than 40 years. This documentary occasionally gets bogged down in too many home movies and gooey music, but ultimately it’s an affectionate, engaging portrait of a gentle man who’s played a role in countless children’s lives. I dare you not to cry at the footage from Jim Henson’s memorial service — where Spinney, costumed as Big Bird, sings “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” Spinney and directors Dave LaMattina and Chad Walker are scheduled to attend all screenings. 1:30 p.m. May 25 at the Egyptian; 4:30 p.m. May 26 at the Harvard Exit; 7 p.m. May 27 at Pacific Place. — M.M.
Memorial Day weekend usually includes a marathon or two at SIFF. This year’s main event is a 165-minute version of the late Abel Gance’s 1919 pacifist classic, “J’accuse,” which was restored with Gance’s cooperation in the late 1970s. The script, about a romantic triangle during World War I, includes trench-warfare sequences, shot on battlefields by Gance in 1918, that suggest a forerunner of his 1927 “Napoleon.” The finale remains an uncompromising stunner. 11 a.m. May 24 at the Uptown. — J.H.
Local filmmaker Megan Griffiths’ latest, shot in and around Seattle and featuring a sparkling performance by the nighttime lights of Capitol Hill, is a quirky, bittersweet charmer about love and friendship and why we need both. Toni Collette plays a melancholy Seattle music writer assigned to search for her ex, a musician who disappeared long ago; Thomas Haden Church is the would-be documentarian — he’s irresistibly clueless — determined to film her quest. Together, they drive and talk and make a little magic. Lucky us. Griffiths and screenwriter Emily Wachtel are scheduled to attend the screening. 9:15 p.m. May 23 at the Egyptian. — M.M.
Oh my. Michel Gondry’s latest is a wildly surreal, colorful ride through a Paris romance, in which food dances on plates, shoes run down stairs by themselves and human hearts are made from red velvet. Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou are Colin and Chloe, whose jazzy love story is interrupted by a mysterious illness. “We are far off the coast of informality,” one character tells another, at some point during this film’s whirlwind of images; indeed, and you’ll be quite happily lost there. 7 p.m. May 28 at the Harvard Exit; 11 a.m. May 31 at the Uptown. — M.M.
‘My Last Year With the Nuns’
Much more than a photographed one-man play, Bret Fetzer’s irreverent film of Matt Smith’s popular monologue makes spare but clever use of Seattle locations that represent the churches, schools, parks, playgrounds and outhouses where Smith’s adolescent adventures took place in the mid-1960s. Eventually the focus turns to the “paper shack” where Smith and fellow “newsies” picked up their newspapers for distribution. The language, which always rings true, is anything but G-rated. Fetzer, Smith and producer Michael Seiwerath will attend the screening. 11 a.m. May 26 at the Egyptian. — J.H.
Kelly Reichert’s tale of a trio of environmentalists (Peter Sarsgaard, Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning) who plot to blow up a local dam is like a slow, meticulous heist movie; it’s almost hypnotic in its precision. Perhaps too hypnotic — the pace is glacial and the movie often seems pointlessly stretched-out — but the powerhouse actors are a pleasure, particularly Fanning, who’s reminiscent of a sleepy Drew Barrymore, and Eisenberg, who turns in another mesmerizing variant on his neurotic-guy-in-a-hoodie persona (wound so tight here, you fear he may snap). 7 p.m. May 23 at Lincoln Square; noon May 26 at the Uptown. — M.M.
James Fox, who has a key role in the new Jesse Eisenberg drama “The Double,” stars in this 1964 British classic about a servant (Dirk Bogarde at his most sinister) and master (Fox at his most delightfully upper-class-twittish) who exchange roles. Featuring dialogue (and pauses) by Harold Pinter, the movie has been restored for its 50th anniversary, which emphasizes the black-and-white brilliance of Douglas Slocombe’s cinematography. 7 p.m. May 29 at the Harvard Exit. — J.H.
Charismatic Paul Walker-look-alike Brenton Thwaites appears to be like leading-man material in this twisty, initially engaging science-fiction entry. It starts out as a scenic road movie, turns into a haunted-house thriller (imaginatively set in the desert) and eventually clicks as a vehicle for Laurence Fishburne. He gets to try on various disguises, among them a doltish bureaucrat and a darkish variation on the wizard of Oz. It’s fun while it lasts. Director William Eubank is scheduled to attend the first screening. 7 p.m. May 27 at Lincoln Square; 7 p.m. May 28 at the Egyptian. — J.H.
‘Standing Aside, Watching’
If you guessed that this contemporary Greek drama might have something to say about the country’s troubled economy, you’d be right. The heroine, an unsuccessful actress plagued by rich fascists and burdened with the name of Antigone, finds that it’s too expensive to live in Athens, so she returns to a small town where everyone seems emotionally stunted (especially the men). The movie is an effective cry of despair, but it’s so schematic you expect that the final, fatalistic panoramic shot was created first. Director Yorgos Servetas is scheduled to attend both screenings. 8:30 p.m. May 23 at the Uptown; 3:30 p.m. May 25 at the Uptown. — J.H.