My understanding is that the full schedule won't be available until the 31st. But the folks behind the festival have made this wonderful PDF guide freely available for those who can't wait to start salivating over what they'd like to see.
Ones I highly recommend include (in no particular order): Las Acacias, Clown, Beyond the Road (aka Por el Camino), Declaration of War, Headhunters, To Be Heard, and Turn Me On, Dammit! - with Bullhead and Extraterrestrial close runners up.
If you actually want to know what I thought in more detail about each of the films, please continue reading...
Las Acacias (Argentina) - A tired, grizzled truck driver's boss asks him to give a ride to a woman traveling to Argentina with her baby. He doesn't want her there. The baby is preternaturally cute. There's not a lot of talking, a lot of mate consumption, and in the end an understated super-compelling film. In keeping with the less is more ethos of the filmmaker I'm just going to say you should buy a ticket. I'll wait...
Bullhead (Belgium) - Set amongst farming communities of Belgium Bullhead is a tale of bovine related criminal activity, testosterone fueled violence, and a family tragedy buried for years. When a young boy suffers horrific violence at the hands of a son of a local organized crime figure there's not much to be done for him. With his sense of manhood deeply (and quite literally) crushed his overcompensation and emotional betrayal is palpable onscreen. He's a brute of a man, mostly quiet, but one senses with a tremendous and powerful rage simmering just below the surface. In an agricultural world awash with illegal drug use (mostly on the cows) there's a lot that can go wrong. And this dark character study takes us through it. It's not a fun watch, but it's a fascinating one - well organized and viewable on several levels. Though all of them are likely to keep you sticking to certified organic milk. Absolutely dynamite performance from both the adult lead actor and the boy who plays the same character as a child.
Beyond the Road (Brazil) [aka Por el Camino] - Was one of my top picks of SIFF 2011. An uber-watchable road movie that meanders through absolutely breathtaking parts of Uruguay. The most dangerous thing about the film is that you're going to want to book a ticket as soon as the credits role. Like many road movies it also involves a guy and a girl. Santiago is a former investment banker who is in the process of making changes in his life and en route to check out some property left to him after his parent's death. Juliette is on her way to pickup a romance that started in Costa Rica. In addition to presenting one of the least douchey investment bankers in the history of cinema the film takes us along on a relaxed and romantic trip. The chemistry between the pair is great, the other characters are interesting, and there's always something interesting to watch. Even the music doesn't suck. It's a very enjoyable way to spend 84 minutes is what I think I'm trying to say.
Clown: The Movie (Denmark) - Comedy with a true edge - and not the "edgy" we're often sold by the Hollywood marketing machine. Two men take a canoeing trip away from their wives. A voyage one insistently and consistently refers to as a "tour de pussy." Their goal to visit a once a year pop-up high end brothel. So of course, the other brings along his eleven year old nephew - to prove to his wife that he is in fact father material. I could lie and say it all makes sense in context - and maybe it does, as long as you assume all men are morons. Either way, it's pretty damn hysterical. And really, really over the top - this is one I expect may be a bit too much for an American remake. Some have argued one of the biggest jokes might not be entirely kosher to be shown in US theaters. Definitely worth checking out.
The trailer is definitely NSFW:
Declaration of War (France) - This film was my top fave of things I saw during the Palm Springs International Film Festival. It's also France's submission for the academy award in the best foreign language film category. Sadly though (and unfairly in my mind) it wasn't selected for the final five. It's a wonderful film. A love story of two people who are instantly drawn to each other and create a life together. It's also a story of them starting a family with all the attendant hopes and dreams - only to have them far too soon put in peril by the discovery of their son's brain tumor. They decide to fight, and fight hard. Yes, I know this sounds like the most depressing movie ever, regardless of the outcome. And if I told you there were bright colors and occasional musical interludes you wouldn't be wrong to worry that it could be trivializing something incredible personal and painful. But somehow the film threads the needle perfectly. Producing something that feels realistic, life-affirming, beautifully painful at times, visually creative and joy to watch. A large part of that is likely due to the couple, if one doesn't buy into them no amount of craft would cover that sin. Thankfully it worked - producing what I felt was a film guaranteed to earn a spot on my best of 2012 list. If you'd like to read a longer review I've got that too.
Goodbye First Love (France) - Instead of reviewing the film I'm going to point you to a song that neatly sums up the plot. Well ... Maybe not exactly. But not that far off really. Girl meets boy who's maybe not ideal. She's too young, he's dropping out of school to tour South America with a backpack. She's hooked for life - or at least into her twenties. He leaves, they break up, she expresses her talented side architecturally and shacks up with an older accomplished dude. But the pull is strong. You may see a resemble parts of this from your life, or think the whole thing seems ridic. If it speaks to you I aspect you may love it. I found enough recognition and pleasure in the characters to like but not love this film. An interesting addition to some of the not quite meant to be together relationship films of the last year - such as Like Crazy. Though this one is maybe better than that.
Almanya - Welcome to Germany (Germany) - Screened at SIFF under the slightly shorter title Almanya this is one worth seeing. It's a nice, enjoyable film and very audience friendly fare. But that doesn't mean it's not good. And how often does a multi-generational humorous and occasionally touching piece also leave you with an understanding of the history of guest worker programs in Germany? No, not very often.
Attenberg (Greece) - if you thought Dogtooth was super weird, strange twisted and wonderful then Attenberg is going to seem super watered down to you. Where Dogtooth was crazy nutty "I can't look away" nifty Attenberg is more quirky, filled with more believable albeit somewhat off characters. Marina is a somewhat physically repressed young woman who has a deeply close relationship with her dying father. Repressed is maybe the wrong word - just physically uninterested in men or woman. The film opens with her practicing French kissing with her friend - aghast at the grossness of it. The two grown woman bop around having unusual conversations. Which fits in as almost all the conversations are a bit unusual. There's often very little going on at the surface, but a lot going on with the characters. Lots of room to analyze where folks are coming from and the underlying symbolism. There are times where I felt the picture was trying just a bit too hard to be "off" - but overall I thought it was an interesting experience that I wouldn't mind repeating someday after my brain has made a first shot at digesting Attenberg.
Footnote (Israel) - Another of the films I watched in Palm Springs in early January. I even took the time to write a more or less full review. Maybe the
Restoration (Israel) - comes to PIFF via a bunch of awards in Israel and a best screenplay award from Sundance. It's chock full of family drama, serious acting, loving shots of restored furniture, and the dark yet rich look that's all over Israeli films these days. If you tend to like films of that description it's worth a watch. There's something about the story that left me less than completely sold - but I'm having a hard time putting my finger on it. But it definitely is nice looking cinematically. So statistically there's a good chance that you may be in the (apparently) large population that loved the film more than I did. Though come back if you see it and tell me if you didn't just want to smack a key character due to a particularly (I guess) poignant business transaction in the final reel.
Norwegian Wood (Japan) - I saw this what feels a lifetime ago at SIFF. I didn't take notes then making it hard to remember what I thought. Beyond that it looked really nice and I was really not into this movie. I didn't read the book. But at least one person I know who loved it liked the movie even less than I did. Just saying.
Headhunters (Norway) - This story of a corporate headhunter with height based self esteem issues and a side gig as a high end art thief ... rocked. It looks great and takes a turn from caper to revenge picture without missing a beat. The lead actor does a terrific transition through some key milestones making it a pleasure to watch from start to end. See it in Portland while you can before Summit who bought the English language rights does heaven knows what to the film. Maybe adding teen vampires and Eddie Murphy for all I know.
Turn Me on, Dammit! (Norway) - This coming of age story of a teen dealing with her runaway libido is funny, sweet and well done. Motivating me to write a longer standalone post. Enjoyed this film for its frankness, humor and especially due to the strong performance by Helene Bergsholm as Alma. She's both sympathetic and believable in the role portraying the main character as a real, feeling person. An interesting and well integrated soundtrack complements the charming mood. While Bergsholms, humor and especially due to the strong performance by Helene Bergsholm as Alma. She's both sympathetic and believable in the role portraying the main character as a real, feeling person. An interesting and well integrated soundtrack complements the charming mood. While Bergsholm is a standout by virtue of her need to carry the concept on her shoulders all of the characters deliver. Including Alma's mom whose dealing with her own sexual issues as well as coming to terms with her daughters's. The latter dealing occasionally requiring earplugs. Read the description in the PIFF catalog and unless it turns you off I recommend buying a ticket.
Invasion of the Alien Bikini (South Korea) - this award winning micro-budget film from South Korea has it all, except most astonishingly anyone appearing onscreen in a bikini. The low budget aspect doesn't appear all that obviously - with the possible (and brilliantly played) exception of an backstory reveal that eschews special effects to instead pan across a childlike drawing of the intergalactic unnamed ancient evil at the heart of the film.
But maybe I should backup... The film opens with a slightly nerdy but reasonably skilled "city protector" on patrol. Seeking out evildoers and picking up trash while sporting one goofy-ass mustache. When he happens upon a group of goons attacking a damsel in distress he springs into action. While they constantly try to explain that he doesn't really understand what's going on he beats them into submission and takes the lady home. His apartment is where most of the rest of the film takes place as they engage in an epic battle of the wills. Over - what you ask? Just the normal stuff - his sperm. She wants it, he's willing to part with it, but only if they're legally married. She's in more of a hurry though and can't wait until morning to extract it. I suppose technically resulting in the most insane chastity pledge support film in the history of Christendom. Or so I would expect.
The mood of the film switches several times - but none of them are dull. I doubt I'm giving anything away by mentioning that she's of course some sort of alien that needs to procreate that night. And that said result of that procreation might not be very good for mankind. This isn't the T&A fest that the title and colorful poster suggests (yeah - I was disappointed at first too). It's not necessarily going to be everyone's cup of tea, and it's not making my top few films list of Fantastic Fest. But I feel you gotta admire the effort, though for me the ending didn't feel as satisfying as it might have been. If you're seeing a bunch of films at PIFF and the trailer entertains I'd suggest taking a closer looksee.
Amador (Spain) - Marcela is an immigrant to Spain who lives with her boyfriend making a living running a not entirely by the numbers flower business. When their key asset (a refrigerator) dies suddenly their only choice is to buy a new one for credit. Which normally wouldn't really be Marcela's problem as the film opens with her leaving a Dear John letter for the boyfriend on her way out the door. Except for the he ill timed realization that she's pregnant which her back home in time for supper, and forced to deal with how they'll pay for the refrigerator at month's end. Her clear ambivalence about the pregnancy at first takes a backseat to the practical financial matter at hand. Their solution is a short term gig for Marcela taking care of the bedridden Armador. The position promises a payout at the end of the gig that will cover the short term emergency expense. As you'd expect in a film like this she and Armador go from cold and frosty to kindness in the course of their first week together. What you might not expect is Armador's sudden death soon after (in my defense it's called out clearly in the film description). How Marcela chooses to deal (or not deal) with the death which could cause the sudden termination of the much needed employment while she struggles with what she really wants out of life drives the rest of the picture. Magaly Solier as Marcela is extremely engaging in the quiet but central role. She and Celso Bugallo (Amador) have a positive, believable chemistry that makes it work - even after Bugallo ceases to be onscreen. It's worth saying for the record that this is an internal voice drama more than a Spanish Weekend at Bernie's. There are definitely moments of humor, but it's not there primarily for the laughs. A nice film well worth seeing.
Extraterrestrial (Spain) - This past September Nacho Vigalondo (director of TimeCrimes) brought his second film to Fantastic Fest. It's not as intense, nor in my mind quite as good. But it's still well worth watching. The aliens have invaded. Though that's a key fact that's lost in the initial walk of shame going on in Julia's apartment. As Julia awakes to re-meet Julio who was his partner in a night of drunken celebration. There's also her super nosey neighbor poking around, and it's clear he'd be pleased to be poking around more intimately with Julia. All of which would be news to Angel, Julia's boyfriend who arrives soon after. In some point of all of this the whole alien invasion thing comes to their shared attention. It's just one of those days. We never really see the monster - though maybe the truly scary thing is among them. The film held my attention and definitely has its charms. One of which is admittedly Michelle Jenner as Julia. Extraterrestrial didn't make my top list of 2011 films, but that doesn't mean it's worth skipping. Especially if like me you have a weakness for talky Spanish films with a random genre quirk to 'em.
To Be Heard (USA) - It's hard for me to believe that in 2011 I reviewed two poetry related documentaries. Even harder to believe I liked them both so much. On one hand it's possible to think of the To Be Heard as a less uplifting version of the dynamite Louder Than a Bomb. That's the documentary about a poetry slam contest for students in the Chicago area. Though it might be fairer to view this as an unvarnished look within an inner city school about what can (and cannot) be accomplished by focused and dedicated educators (not to mention motivated teens). The leaders of the program shown utilize words as their weapons of choice, but I have a hard time imagining one couldn't achieve similar results with science, engineering, or any number of other tools to engage and keep the kids focused on a goal beyond their day to day lives. What seems to work is that this is a group of incredibly hard working educators doing everything they can to give determined teens a way out of (seriously) challenging circumstances. The fact that the directors and the teachers are at least 50% the same people (the film boasts four directors) guarantees a level of total access that provides the viewer a sense they are living alongside the participants.
This is a documentary about growing up in the Bronx, not a work of fantasy. So you shouldn't go expecting everything to come up roses. But you should go. My full review is also available online.