WatchPlayRead goes to SIFF! Part 1
The Seattle International Film Festival is now over halfway through its 44th year! Spreading over 25 days, it is the largest film festival in North America. It’s also one of the few to have every film open to the public (there are a few press only screenings, but those films are still available in ticketed viewings).
Lucky for you all, I live in Seattle and have caught several showings. Not as many as last year when I was able to catch about 60. Back then, I was in my final semester at Seattle University, with only one class. And that class was heavily involved with the festival. This year, I’ll get in about twenty. So there are many films I really want to see which I can’t.. Some great buzz pictures like Sorry to Bother You and Won’t You Be My Neighbor will have to wait for regular release. My skipping them wasn’t by choice but nature.
Below are a selection of short reviews for what I’ve checked out so far.
SIFF shows films from all genres and ideas. I note this as my focus is far often on genre work. I don’t hide this is where my interest lies. But that’s also where the site is often focused as it is. I highly recommend if you can to check out www.siff.net for full listings of the hundreds of options. As I write this, there is still a week left. Plenty of amazing picks. Many of the films noted below may have passed their showings at SIFF, but don’t despair! Several are already streaming; others will have theatrical releases (two are already playing in multiplexes), and still more are lined up.
Disobedience, Directed by Sebastian Leto (A Fantastic Woman), Written by Sebastian Leto & Rebecca Lenkiewicz from the novel by Naomi Alderman.
The marketing may focus on the forbidden romance between Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams’ characters, but the film casts a wider net in regards the title. Weisz is the disavowed daughter of a well-loved, recently-passed London Rabbi returning home. Her own disobedience is outward and direct, causing simmering anger from others in her former community. In particular, of a relationship with the McAdams; now married to the male portion of their childhood close trio, who is about to take the Rabbi’s position. McAdams gives a career best performance as a deeply unhappy, oppressed woman who longs to escape her community; despite a commitment to her religion. The women’s chemistry is strong, and it’s to great relief their relationship is not sensationalized by the filmmakers, but instead as a natural need. There is a subtle and impressive use of composition to create a distant, uncomfortable world for McAdams until her moments of freedom when this opens up. I’ve not mentioned Alessandro Nivola as the third part of this trio, grappling with his own demons; but he’s just as wonderful although overshadowed by Weisz and McAdams. With amazing, understated performances and a compelling mutlt-faced story, Disobedience is a fantastic film. A
The Guilty, directed by Gustav Moller, writtedn by Gustav Moller and Emil Nygaard Albertsen
The Guilty may draw focus from what can be seen a gimmick: the entirety of the film takes place in real time in just two rooms, with the majority of the interactions of emergency services operator Asger (Jakob Cederon) over the phone; but once the story starts moving the feeling of gimmick drops away. We are just as engaged as Asgar into hunting down the woman in trouble somewhere out on the road. Her ex-husband has her in a van and her kids area alone at home. We never see anyone on the other end, including police and service personnel, just Asgar as he tries to move all the pieces in to place. iThe Guilty is an exercise in tension as the stakes build and change, both for the players on the road and for Asgar himself.
Sweet Country, dir by Warwick Thornton, written by Steven McGregor and David Tranter
The mistreatment of the native populations by white settlers is a subject of discussion around the world in recent years, as it should be. The beautiful, but harsh Outback is a fitting backdrop for the trial of an Aboriginal man Sam (Hamilton Morris) for the self-defense shooting of a white man in western Australia in 1929. One of the most heartbreaking and entrancing films I’ve seen this year, even outside of the festival, one can’t help but feel anger for Sam and the other indigenous (mostly non-actors giving solid work) persons forced in an uphill battle in a system built against them on their own land. The film feels honest and a natural in it’s world, helped along by Bob favorite Sam Neill (who co-led in his favorite film of 2016 – both at SIFF and on the whole- The Hunt for the Wilderpeople from Thor: Ragnarok’s Taika Waititi…. Seriously go watch that now) as Sam’s friend and white advocate. With resonating themes through a different cultural lens, Sweet Country is affecting and heart wrenching.
A (yes, another A – good run so far this year).
American Animals; Written and Directed by Bart Layton
Oh Bowie, do I love a good heist movie. Gathering the players, watching a plan together, fall apart, come together again, and of course the heist itself, is a blast. (Bring on Ocean’s 8) I love it, and so do the four college students who decided in 2004 to steal original Audubon books from the University of Kentucky library. Of course, heist movies are just that, movies – and real life never goes so smooth. This is movie too, but the film does state it is exactly how it went down rather than a fictionalized version. Layton is typically a documentary filmmaker, and he uses that history – including talking heads and a few clever interactions of the real life culprits- to ground that aspect. Layton is simultaneously able to build a grounded true-robbery story and a outright entertaining heist flick. THis is helped by a mostly terrific set of actors. The always entertaining Evan Peters is the leader, charismatic as all hell even if he doesn’t think most things through. Lower level co-conspirators played by Jared Abrahamson and Blake Jenner are game – especially Jenner in a scene-stealing performance. Barry Keoghan as the lead character is the weak link. In the three features I recall him, Dunkirk and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I can’t get him. Performances seem like a struggle; I can’t help but picture him a human shaped pile of molasses. Keoghan aside, most of the film lands, scoring laughs, this is an intensely funny and clever, even with the current of remembering this is real running beneath it. Not to the same degree as I, TONYA but the elements are shared. With a different way of approaching a heist film, from regular schmoes in over their head, buoyed by several great performances; American Animals comes recommended.
On Chesil Beach Directed by Dominic Cooke, written by Ian McEwan from his own novel.
It’s a shame when the third act of a film nearly sinks a film after two solid acts. Sadly, this is the case for the Ian McEwen adaptation of his 2014 novel. Newly married couple Edward (Billy Howe) and Florence (Saoirse Ronan) are on their honeymoon when they come across a problem they haven’t had to deal with before in their chaste upper/middle class 1962 England: they aren’t ready for sex. Leading up to the explosion of emotion and turning point of the film at the titular location, we see two narratives: the disastrous attempts at the act, and the courtship of the two charming leads. As the newlyweds, both Howe and Ronan shine; especially Ronan, now eleven years after breaking out with the last McEwan adaptation ATONEMENT, who can say so much with the slightest look. Their courtship is by most points standard, it’s wonderful to watch them come together and fall in love, and they sell the awkward interactions of two people truly alone for the first time who know what they need and want to do but unsure of how to proceed best. So what’s the issue? The aforementioned issue coming to head, the argument and revelations on Chesil Beach doesn’t fit. At this point, it betrays the characters growths and actions of the preceding acts; coming from nowhere. They feel like totally different characters. While it’s supposed to be, how both react is just eye-rolling absurd. It also functions as the climax of the film, leading to the after-effects third act to feel like a very long coda instead of continuing the story. All the steam is gone; causing a disjointed narrative. This could work very well in a novel format (I’ve not read this so don’t quote me if it does in the actual work), but doesn’t translate to the way stories unfold on screen.
I really wanted to like On Chesil Beach, and for a little over half the run-time, I did. Ronan does make it worth the journey, even if the last portion is weak.