The Seattle International Film Festival, which runs through June 7 at several locations, kicks off with a busy weekend.
The Seattle International Film Festival gets under way this week at screens all over town. Here are a few highlights from movie reviewers John Hartl and Moira Macdonald. For more information, see siff.net. For tips on how to navigate the festival, go to seattletimes.com/movies.
“Closet Monster” ★★★
This surprisingly tense and entertaining homoerotic fever dream is from Canada. The soundtrack features the voice of Isabella Rossellini as a hamster named Buffy, who supplies slightly sarcastic advice for the conflicted teenage hero, Oscar (Connor Jessup). Rossellini is the only marquee name in the cast, but Jessup carries the comic and suspenseful episodes with ease. While the ending doesn’t quite come off, the setup is neatly handled. (9:30 p.m. May 20, Egyptian; 8:30 p.m. May 23, Uptown) — John Hartl
“Concerto — A Beethoven Journey” ★★★
“It’ll last forever,” says Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, of the works of Beethoven; he should know, as he’s just spent four years playing only that composer’s music. This documentary, directed by Phil Grabsky, follows Andsnes on that journey, interspersing performance excerpts (the pianist’s hands floating like butterflies) with thoughtful observations. It’s poignant to be reminded that this beautiful, soaring music was written by a man who knew that his ability to hear it was a temporary gift. (6 p.m. May 23, Uptown; 4 p.m. May 25, Uptown) — Moira Macdonald
“Death by Design” ★★★
Seattle International Film Festival
Runs through June 12: Egyptian, Uptown, Pacific Place, Harvard Exit, SIFF Film Center, Majestic Bay (May 20-26), Shoreline Community College (May 27-June 4), Lincoln Square (May 20-June 2), Ark Lodge (June 3-9), Renton Ikea Performing Arts Center (May 26-June 1), Kirkland Performance Center (June 2-12). Individual tickets are $11 weekday matinees ($9 SIFF members), $13 evening/weekend shows ($11 SIFF members); various ticket packages available; 206-324-9996, siff.net or at festival venues.
You won’t look at your iPhone in quite the same way again after viewing Sue Williams’ thoughtful documentary, which examines the environmental impact of the technology industry’s “planned obsolescence” policy. How our beloved devices are made (and unmade) is “dirty and dangerous,” we’re reminded; the pictures — of polluted rivers, suicidal factory workers, families facing disease and crammed landfills — speak loudly. There’s hope, though, through a fascinating glimpse at a “fair trade” computer. Williams and the film’s producers will attend both screenings. (12:30 p.m. May 21, Uptown; 6 p.m. May 22, Lincoln Square) — M.M.
Agreeably weird and weirdly incoherent, this Polish film falls somewhere between horror, drama and fantasy. A young couple marries at the bride’s family’s rural Poland homestead, but there’s an uninvited guest at the wedding: A Jewish demon (a dybbuk, an evil spirit that can posses the living) has possessed the groom. The pace is wildly uneven, but the film’s full of striking images — and reminders that weddings, sans demons, are essentially the same everywhere. (9:30 p.m. May 20, Pacific Place; 9:30 p.m. May 26, Uptown) — M.M.
Dance on film captures for eternity a moment intended to be fleeting — and this lovely film, from documentarian Eileen Hofer, immortalizes for us a legend (94-year-old Alicia Alonso), a current ballerina (Viengsay Valdes) and a very young student (Amanda De Jesus Perez Duarte) at the National Ballet of Cuba, founded by Alonso in 1959. Their paths cross, just for an instant, and you see how in every ballerina’s performance is the shadow of one who danced the role before her. (3:30 p.m. May 20, Uptown; 7 p.m. May 24, Pacific Place) — M.M.
“How Most Things Work” ★★★
Road movies usually revel in wide-open spaces and eccentric supporting characters, and this engrossing Argentine drama is no exception. Young and good at math, the heroine, Celina, copes with financial and boyfriend problems after the death of her traveling-salesman father. Director Fernando Salem captures the sweeping landscapes as well as the longings of a girl trying to make sense of an unlikely family legacy. Salem will attend the May screenings. (5:30 p.m. May 21, Uptown; 3 p.m. May 22, Majestic Bay Theater; 3 p.m. June 6, Uptown) — J.H.
“Ice and the Sky” ★★★
Luc Jacquet, the director of “March of the Penguins,” made this very different Antarctica documentary. It’s a diary-like account of the adventures of Claude Lorius, who first visited Antarctica in 1956, when he was in his early 20s. He was hooked on the experience and returned several times. The movie gradually becomes a global-warming warning, and one of the most detailed and eloquent examples of the genre to date. (11:30 a.m. May 21, Uptown; 7 p.m. May 25, Uptown) — J.H.
“The IF Project” ★★★
The world premiere of Kathlyn Horan’s moving documentary is about the impact of an unusual creative-writing project at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. A few shots of Seattle and its rain-soaked highways are included, but most of the film focuses on up-close, warmly lit interviews with prisoners who write about their loneliness, their children, the mistakes they made and their attempts at recovery. Kim Bogucki (once a Seattle police officer) is their dedicated, charismatic mentor. Horan and Bogucki will attend both screenings. (3:30 p.m. May 21, Pacific Place; 11 a.m. May 22, Pacific Place) — J.H.
Longtime indie-film producer James Schamus (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Brokeback Mountain”) makes his feature debut with this elegant adaptation of the 2008 Philip Roth novel about a young Jewish college student (Logan Lerman) who leaves New Jersey in 1951 for college in Winesburg, Ohio. It’s very literary, perhaps too much so — much of the dialogue feels as if it’s straight off the pages — but the acting is sharp and each frame a visual dark-wood-and-tweeds pleasure. Schamus is scheduled to attend both screenings and to teach a master class May 21 (see siff.net). (6:30 p.m. May 21, Pacific Place; 3 p.m. May 22, Lincoln Square) — M.M.
If cats can inspire YouTube and a Broadway musical, perhaps it’s time for the furry ones to have their own feature-length, live-action film. “Kedi,” which refers to the cats of Istanbul, is ready for its close-up, even if much of it seems slapdash. Cats wander in and out of frame, humans speculate on whether they’re ambitious or arrogant, Turkish music spills onto the soundtrack and there’s more than one growler of a catfight. For those who believe in cat worship, no explanation is necessary; for those who don’t, none is possible. The director, Ceyda Torun, and producer Charlie Wuppermann will attend the May 28 and 30 screenings. (11 a.m. May 21, Egyptian; 3 p.m. May 28, Uptown; noon May 30, Uptown) — J.H.
“Love and Friendship” ★★★½
Whit Stillman’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s early unfinished novella “Lady Susan” — a character who, it is said in the film, “has an uncanny understanding of men’s natures” — is a delight, as is the velvet-voiced Kate Beckinsale in the title role. Set in the 1790s (and elegantly filmed in Georgian Dublin), it’s both self-consciously mannered and merrily playful — a mixture that Austen herself might find just right. (5 p.m. May 21, Uptown; 4 p.m. May 22, Pacific Place) — M.M.
“Microbe and Gasoline” ★★★
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A celebration of short-lived midteen friendships, Michel Gondry’s latest French comedy focuses on the relationship of an artist, Microbe, and a mechanic, Gasoline, who take to the open road in their (very) handmade vehicle. They talk about dating do’s and don’ts, acquire goofy defense mechanisms and escape from an obsessed dentist and a hairdresser who has deflowering on her mind. The laughs are sometimes bigger than expected, and so are the emotions stirred by the bittersweet finale. (1 p.m. May 21, Majestic Bay; 7 p.m. May 23, Egyptian) — J.H.
“Midsummer in Newtown” ★★★½
This haunting, lovely documentary (Seattle’s Vulcan Productions is a producer) is about a group of kids, with the help of some talented adults, putting on a play — and about the power of art to help us to remember, to love, to heal. These children live in Newtown, Conn.; many are Sandy Hook students, who remember the day in 2012 when 20 first-graders were murdered. Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” can’t mend the town’s broken heart, but it can, through its magical language, help create hope. Bring something to wipe your eyes with; you’ll need it. Director Lloyd Kramer will attend both screenings. (3:30 p.m. May 21, Majestic Bay; 5:30 p.m. May 22, Uptown) — M.M.
Close in spirit to last year’s Golden Space Needle winner, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” Clay Liford’s film is a sweet and funny portrait of an awkward, talented 15-year-old writer, Neil (perfectly cast Michael Johnston), facing underage restrictions at a convention for online erotic fiction. His real and fantasy lives mingle in ways that often invite one-liners. Names are dropped, but not always the ones you’d expect. Liford will attend both screenings. (4 p.m. May 20, Uptown; 8:30 p.m. May 21, Uptown) — J.H.
A star is born in this irresistible contemporary film about a talented young Afghan rap singer who earns a scholarship that takes her to Utah and San Francisco. While her precocious tale is the main event, her journey is filled with drama, including passport troubles, a suicide bombing and a hunt for her birth certificate. None of it comes easily, as director Rokhsareh Gharem Maghami proves with this Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner. (6:30 p.m. May 26 at the Uptown; 1 p.m. May 28 at Lincoln Square; 3:30 p.m. June 4 at Shoreline Community College) — J.H.
“Sunset Song” ★★★½
Terence Davies (“The House of Mirth,” “The Deep Blue Sea”) makes visually exquisite movies, and this World War I-era drama, breathtakingly shot in 65-mm widescreen, is no exception. It’s an often-grim tale of a young woman’s harsh life in rural Scotland (based on Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel), but it blooms with moments of astonishing beauty: a quiet face; a candlelit window; a yellow frenzy of springtime trees; a desolate landscape, impossibly green. (4 p.m. May 20, Egyptian; 6:30 p.m. May 21, Majestic Bay) — M.M.
This tragic romance was inspired by a real-life 1987 arranged-marriage story that demonstrated how peer pressure and ancient traditions could force two soul mates into saying their marital vows with others. Trapped on the island of Vanuatu, the lovers are surrounded by reminders that powerful systems of belief usually end up having the final say. The script carries echoes of F.W. Murnau’s doom-laden “Tabu.” (1:30 p.m. May 20, Pacific Place; 8:30 p.m. May 23, Majestic Bay) — J.H.
Last year’s SIFF featured a semi-serious documentary, “Do I Sound Gay?,” that explored gay stereotypes and their impact. This engaging New Zealand documentary starts out in a similar vein, then sets off in another direction entirely. It’s really about the dangers of identity theft, especially as the filmmakers become detectives trying to track down fraud in the world of nonsexual Competitive Endurance Tickling. The innocent victims include a coach who is misidentified as a “sexual deviant” on the Internet; then his life falls apart. (4 p.m. May 21, Egyptian; 9 p.m. May 24, Uptown) — J.H.
“The Violin Teacher” ★★½
Described at one point as a concert for a drug dealer’s party, this Brazilian musical drama seems to reflect the country’s economic crisis — the citizens are maxed out on their credit cards and they live in fear of eviction — but mostly it’s a “greatest hits” compilation of classical favorites. Mozart, Beethoven and Vivaldi are on the bill, and so is Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” The music, not the creaky plot, is the main attraction here. See it in a theater with a great sound system. (9:30 p.m. May 20, Majestic Bay; noon May 21, Uptown; 7 p.m. May 25, Egyptian) — J.H.
Documentarians Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman’s latest project, winner of the documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year, could have been titled “Portrait of a Fallen Politician,” but hey, some movies name themselves. The filmmakers have uncanny access as they follow the fortunes of disgraced former New York congressman Anthony Weiner in his ill-advised campaign to be elected mayor of New York, as his wife, Huma Abedin (a top aide to Hillary Clinton), sadly looks on. It’s a train wreck to end all train wrecks, but you won’t be able to look away. (4:30 p.m. May 20, Uptown; 6 p.m. May 22, Uptown) — M.M.
“Where Have All the Good Men Gone” ★★★
The world premiere of Rene Frelle Petersen’s powerful Danish drama is about a teenager who experiences Neanderthal treatment from the adult males she knows. All but kicked out of her home, she goes on the road to find her biological father, who may have written the passionate love letters to her mother that the girl discovers. He may also be nuts. Sometimes over-the-top, the movie has an ending that’s both rousing and disturbing. Petersen will attend the May 20 and 22 screenings. (9 p.m. May 20, Uptown; 11:20 a.m. May 22, Uptown; 9 p.m. May 31, Lincoln Square) — J.H.
Editor’s note: Information in this article was corrected May 20, 2016. A previous version of this story gave an incorrect name for Vulcan Productions.