The Seattle International Film Festival runs through June 12 at several locations. On the lineup: A mesmerizing drama about nuns during WWII, plus documentaries about eating bugs, former NFL player Steve Gleason, Maya Angelou and — from Vulcan Productions — ivory poaching.
The Seattle International Film Festival has another busy week in store, with special events including a Centerpiece Gala screening of the documentary “Gleason” (5 p.m. June 4, Egyptian); the world premiere of Seattle filmmaker Megan Griffiths’ “The Night Stalker” (5:30 p.m. June 4, Uptown; 1:30 p.m. June 5, Pacific Place); a Gay-La screening of the French film “Being 17” (7 p.m. June 9, Egyptian); noir czar Eddie Muller introducing the 1956 Argentine thriller “The Bitter Stems” (2 p.m. June 4, Egyptian); and two new venues joining the fray: Ark Lodge and Kirkland Performance Center. For more information, see siff.net. For tips on how to navigate the festival, go to seattletimes.com/movies.
‘The Brand New Testament’ ★★½
This rowdy Belgian biblical spoof might as well be subtitled “Anything Goes.” It may begin at the beginning, but it quickly strays elsewhere, with a version of Genesis that proposes that God is a reckless, cruel creature who would be lost without the internet. His daughter, Ea, avenges herself by hacking Dad’s computer, which promptly informs everyone on Earth of the date of their deaths. Chaos reigns, though it’s less entertaining than you might have expected. Still, the special effects are often witty, and Catherine Deneuve has a cameo role guaranteed to be remembered. (9:30 p.m. June 3, Egyptian; 2 p.m. June 5, Uptown) — John Hartl
“Bugs” isn’t just about bugs — it’s about eating bugs. The many, many shots of hills, hives, baskets and bins full of bugs are often followed by a shot of a Nordic Food Lab chef popping an ant, or bee, or cricket or fat-and-squirmy grub-type bug into his mouth. The polar opposite of food porn, this documentary follows a world-spanning investigation of the ways in which many cultures practice entomophagy (that’s bug-eating), as well as its culinary and humanitarian potential. Meanwhile, “Bugs” also turns into a story about ecstatic discovery, crushing disillusionment, friendship, capitalism and the entire food system. (11 a.m. June 4, Pacific Place; 4 p.m. June 5, Pacific Place) — Bethany Jean Clement
‘Burn Burn Burn’ ★★★
Seattle International Film Festival
Through June 12 at Egyptian, Uptown, Pacific Place, Harvard Exit, SIFF Film Center, Shoreline Community College (through June 4), Lincoln Square (through June 2), Ark Lodge (June 3-9), Kirkland Performance Center (through June 12). Individual tickets are $11 weekday matinees ($9 SIFF members), $13 evening/weekend shows ($11 SIFF members); various ticket packages available. Box office: 206-324-9996, siff.net or at festival venues.
Chloe Pirrie and Laura Carmichael (a marvelous comedy team) play survivors who have been assigned to locate a final resting place for the ashes of a friend; the idea is to honor the destinations that loomed large in his life. The mood is anything but funereal for the first half of the film, and even when the soupy score threatens to dominate the soundtrack, the actors keep the script from taking itself too seriously. At worst it’s a soap on the road; at best it’s something more. Director Chanya Button and Carmichael (from “Downton Abbey”) are scheduled to attend both screenings. (6:30 p.m. June 3, Egyptian; 2 p.m. June 4, Uptown) — J.H.
‘Complete Unknown’ ★★★
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You might not buy the premise of this tale of shifting identities, but the sense of mystery and peril the movie creates is hard to shake. In an early party scene, Farsi becomes part of an extended joke, and you’re immediately caught off-guard; it’s the first of several clues that suggest things are not as they seem between the characters played by Rachel Weisz and Michael Shannon. Who are these people and why are they celebrating his birthday? Director Joshua Marston uses a fluid camera style to allow for the unveiling, and his well-choreographed actors are with him all the way. Marston will attend the screening. (6:30 p.m. June 3, Shoreline Community College) — J.H.
“It’s not going to crush my life, even as it does crush my body,” says former NFL player Steve Gleason, who five years ago was given a diagnosis of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. This devastating film, partially made up of excerpts from a video blog Gleason created for his baby son, follows the merciless progress of the disease. Along the way, it creates a moving portrait of courage and love, exemplified in Gleason and his devoted, free-spirited wife, Michel Varisco. Director Clay Tweel and cinematographer Ty Minton-Small will attend both screenings; portions of the ticket price from both will benefit the Team Gleason foundation (5 p.m. June 4, Egyptian; 1:30 p.m. June 5, Egyptian) — Moira Macdonald
‘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. (3 p.m. June 6, Uptown) — J.H.
‘The Innocents’ ★★★½
Anne Fontaine’s French/Polish drama, set in wintry 1945 Warsaw, is a moving study of what happens to the faithful when God’s plan suddenly seems impossible to follow. A group of nuns has endured what one of them calls, haltingly, “an indescribable nightmare,” after a horrific Red Army occupation of the convent. Shot in artful, quiet light (many of the frames look like paintings) and beautifully performed, the film mesmerizes, finding insights, both gentle and painful, about faith along the way. (8:45 p.m. June 4, Kirkland Performance Center) — M.M.
‘Life, Animated’ ★★★
Owen Suskind, a sweet-natured young man with autism, is the hero of Roger Ross Williams’ gentle documentary. Here, animation easily blends with real life, just as it does for Owen, who’s obsessed with Disney movies and uses them as a way of making sense of the world. By the film’s end, as Owen faces a future (in his own words), “that is bright and full of wonder,” his courage and spirit fill the screen. Williams will attend both screenings. (7 p.m. June 8, Uptown; 4:30 p.m. June 9, Egyptian). — M.M.
‘Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise’ ★★★½
Bob Hercules’ tribute to writer Maya Angelou (who died in 2014) takes us — often in her own warm voice — through the whole of an eventful and fascinating life: early years in the tiny town of Stamps, Ark. (where “the atmosphere pressed down with the smell of old fears”); her career as a singer/dancer/actor; single motherhood; unlucky love affairs and marriages; and, always, her searing gift for crafting words into vivid stories and pictures — “scraping a pen,” as she described it, “over the scars.” Hercules will attend both screenings. (6:30 p.m. June 9, Ark Lodge; 4 p.m. June 11, Pacific Place) — M.M.
‘Naledi: A Baby Elephant’s Tale’ ★★★
How do you feed a baby elephant? (Very carefully.) This question, and many others, are answered in Vulcan Productions’ both delightful and urgent advocacy documentary. The title character is a young female elephant born in a Botswana elephant rescue camp – her name is South African for “star” – and the film walks us through her first two years of life, letting the audience enjoy her abundant cuteness while reminding us that her “wild cousins” are increasingly killed or orphaned due to ivory poaching. The film’s directors and Elephants Without Borders founder Dr. Mike Chase will attend both screenings. (4:30 p.m. June 5, Egyptian; 6 p.m. June 6, Kirkland Performance Center).— M.M.
‘The Night Stalker’ ★★★
Lou Diamond Phillips is magnetic in Seattle filmmaker Megan Griffiths’ latest feature, a mostly two-person fact-meets-fiction thriller. Phillips plays Richard Ramirez, the notorious 1980s Los Angeles serial killer; Bellamy Young (“Scandal”) is lawyer Kit, an invented character who meets repeatedly with an imprisoned Ramirez in the hopes of getting him to confess to another crime. It’s a sharp, tight film, gliding back and forth in time, but you won’t be able to take your eyes off Phillips; he speaks slowly and breathes deliberately, like a cat that just might pounce. Griffiths, Phillips (June 4 only) and other members of the creative team will attend. (5:30 p.m. June 4, Uptown; 1:30 p.m. June 5, Pacific Place) — M.M.
‘The Queen of Ireland’ ★★★
Conor Horgan’s documentary is the warmhearted tale of an accidental activist: Rory O’Neill and his drag-queen alter ego, Panti Bliss, who was instrumental in Ireland’s recent successful campaign to legalize gay marriage. O’Neill is interviewed both as himself and as Panti (whom he affectionately refers to as “this giant cartoon woman” who “dresses like a Disney villain”) as he speaks movingly of their journey together: “She’s made me a better person.” O’Neill and Horgan will attend the screening. (12:30 p.m. June 4, Uptown) — M.M.
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 Ghaem Maghami proves with this Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner. (3:30 p.m. June 4, Shoreline Community College) — J.H.
When two old friends (Ricardo Darin and Javier Cámara) almost casually meet for a Madrid reunion, a spry discussion of love and mortality follows. Director Cesc Gay would rather charm than lecture; the chemistry between his stars is something else. (9 p.m. June 3, Shoreline Community College) — J.H.
‘Women He’s Undressed’ ★★★½
Gillian Armstrong’s delightful documentary sashays playfully through the life of Australian-born costume designer Orry-Kelly, who created elegant garments for numerous Hollywood films from the 1930s through the early 1960s. (Among them: “An American in Paris,” “Some Like It Hot,” “Casablanca,” “Jezebel.”) And, despite working in deeply homophobic Old Hollywood, he was a gay man who lived what the film describes as an authentic life — just wait until you hear the secret he kept to the grave, “even though,” the film tells us, “he had a very big mouth.” Stick around after the end credits start for a poignant surprise. (7 p.m. June 6, Egyptian) — M.M.