The Seattle International Film Festival runs through June 7 at several locations.
It’s a busy holiday weekend for the Seattle International Film Festival. Do note, in addition to the highlights listed below, there are screenings this weekend of the Chinese martial-arts drama “The Final Master” (in its North American premiere); a Saturday-night gala screening of Clea DuVall’s “The Intervention” (6:30 p.m. May 28, Pacific Place); a new restoration of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1943 Technicolor comedy “Heaven Can Wait” (11 a.m. May 28, Egyptian) and much more. For more information, see siff.net. For tips on how to navigate the festival, go to seattletimes.com/movies.
‘Author: The JT LeRoy Story ’ ★★★½
Fascinating and disturbing in equal measure, Jeff Feuerzeig’s documentary tells the very strange tale of the once-popular novelist JT LeRoy, a mysterious young man whose supposedly memoirist fiction was revealed in 2005 to have been written by Laura Albert, a troubled woman who had a history of creating voices and identities for herself. You have to put together the puzzle pieces of Albert’s story; the film’s final five minutes, in a punch to the heart, make it all clear. Feuerzeig will attend the May 30 screening. (3 p.m. May 30, Shoreline Community College; 6:30 p.m. June 1, Uptown) — Moira Macdonald
‘Bang! The Bert Berns Story ’ ★★★½
Seattle International Film Festival
Through June 12 at Egyptian, Uptown, Pacific Place, Harvard Exit, SIFF Film Center, Shoreline Community College (May 27-June 4), Lincoln Square (through June 2), Ark Lodge (June 3-9), Renton Ikea Performing Arts Center (through 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. Box office: 206-324-9996, siff.net or at festival venues.
Even if you’re a pop-music aficionado, you may not know who Bert Berns was. But once you’ve seen this tightly wound, well-researched documentary, you’ll wonder why the guy who wrote “Twist and Shout,” “Piece of My Heart” and “Hang On, Sloopy,” among other monster hits, is not as well known as, say, Doc Pomus, whose career somewhat paralleled Berns’. Complete with a gritty Mafia/music-biz sidebar and a surprise-ending death match with Atlantic Records mogul Jerry Wexler, this highly informative film features interviews with Paul McCartney and Van Morrison, and narration by Stevie Van Zandt, though little live footage of Berns himself. (8:30 p.m. May 30, Uptown; 4:30 p.m. June 1, Uptown) — Paul de Barros
Like Denmark’s “Where Have All the Good Men Gone,” this tense, tricky French/Belgian coproduction focuses on the mental state of a soldier returning from Afghanistan. He has post-traumatic stress disorder and, for a while, this works to his advantage; his new job, taking care of a rich man’s wife, almost requires that he be supersensitive. Matthias Schoenaerts brings his usual intensity to the role. (4 p.m. May 27, Lincoln Square) — John Hartl
‘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. (7 p.m. June 2, Uptown; 8:45 p.m. June 4, Kirkland Performance Center)— 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. Director Ceyda Torun, producer Charlie Wuppermann and composer Kira Fontana will attend both screenings. (3 p.m. May 28, Uptown; noon May 30, Uptown) — J.H.
‘A Man Called Ove’ ★★★
Killing yourself isn’t easy. Ove the Swedish curmudgeon knows; he’s been there. His beloved wife has died, and he’s prepared to follow her. There probably hasn’t been this determined a would-be suicide since Bud Cort’s teenage Harold tried to call attention to his distress in “Harold and Maude.” And all those nooses hanging from the ceiling provide an opportunity for elaborate flashbacks, some of them funny, some of them quite touching. (6:30 p.m. May 28, Egyptian; 1:30 p.m. May 29, Egyptian) — J.H.
‘The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble’ ★★★½
Documentarian Morgan Neville (“Twenty Feet from Stardom”) traveled the world with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, and the result is an irresistible kaleidoscope of music and good fellowship. The film, celebrating the ensemble’s 15th anniversary, introduces us to a remarkable international cast of musicians (among them Cristina Pato, rightly described as the Jimi Hendrix of Galician bagpipes) and finds poetry in the ability of music to bring us home again, wherever we may travel. (3:30 p.m. May 28, Shoreline Community College; 7 p.m. May 29, Uptown) — 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 both screenings. (7 p.m. June 2, Pacific Place; 12:30 p.m. June 4, Uptown). — M.M.
‘Sleeping Giant’ ★★★
Adam is the 15-year-old hero of Andrew Cividino’s troubling Canadian drama, which takes place in an Eden-like park on Lake Superior. His father can’t imagine why he doesn’t want to spend the summer there, but Adam is tormented by a bullying cousin and other macho distractions. The script carries echoes of “A Separate Peace,” though it feels like an original. (3:30 p.m. May 30, Lincoln Square; 7 p.m. May 31, Pacific Place; 4:30 p.m. June 2, Pacific Place.) — 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 easy, as director Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami proves with this Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner. (1 p.m. May 28, Lincoln Square; 3:30 p.m. June 4, Shoreline Community College) — J.H.
On the verge of a singing career, teenage Ari is forced to return to his disintegrating family in rural Iceland. Boy loses girl, hates Dad, feels abandoned by Mom, loves grandmother and gets beaten up by girl’s new boyfriend. But things begin to change when a funeral brings out the orgiastic tendencies in an emotionally limited community. The director, Runar Runarsson, makes the most of throwaway comic touches, including a gym shower in which Ari and a pal check each other out. It’s the first indication that this is anything but your standard coming-of-age movie. Runarsson will attend both screenings. (9:15 p.m. May 29, Pacific Place; 4 p.m. May 31, Uptown) — J.H.
‘Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell’ ★★★
Filmmaker Martin Bell, with photographer Mary Ellen Mark (who died last year), revisit their 1984 documentary “Streetwise” with this poignant update on that film’s unexpected star, former teen prostitute Erin (Tiny) Blackwell. Now a mother of 10 struggling with addiction — and seeing that struggle manifested in her children — Blackwell seems terribly weary, wearing her hard life on her tired face. In a hospital room, as Blackwell’s teen daughter recovers from an overdose, a younger child soothingly whispers, “Get very very better. Then you can have a better life.” You’ll leave wishing this, for all of them. Bell will attend both screenings. (4 p.m. May 29, Pacific Place; 11 a.m. May 30, Pacific Place) — M.M.
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When two old friends (Ricardo Darin and Javier Camara) 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. Gay is scheduled to attend the May 29 and May 30 screenings. (4:30 p.m. May 29, Egyptian; 6:30 p.m. May 30, Egyptian; 9 p.m. June 3, Shoreline Community College) — J.H.
‘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. (9 p.m. May 31, Lincoln Square) — 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. (1:30 p.m. May 27, Pacific Place; 7 p.m. June 6, Egyptian) — M.M.
Fans of Gael García Bernal and trippy, racy animation will likely be happiest watching this Brazilian/Canadian coproduction, in which a cartoon version of Bernal plays an action-movie director. The filmmakers also throw in separate but not really equal story lines involving a sex-doll factory worker and a novelist, then try telling them all at the same time. The result is an overlapping narrative train wreck, but for long stretches it’s visually quite stunning. (9:15 p.m. May 31, Uptown; 9:30 p.m. June 1, Egyptian) — J.H.