The Seattle International Film Festival continues this week at screens all over town. Here are a few highlights from Seattle Times movie reviewers.
The Seattle International Film Festival continues this week at screens all over town. Here are a few highlights from movie reviewers John Hartl, Moira Macdonald, Brent McKnight and Michael Upchurch. For more information, see siff.net. For tips on how to navigate the festival, go to seattletimes.com/movies.
“500 Years” ★★★
In 1983, director Pamela Yates came to Seattle to show “Guatemala, When the Mountains Tremble,” her feature-length history of the largely Mayan country that has been dominated for centuries by a handful of wealthy families. This week she’s returned to fill in those missing years of genocide, corruption and disappearances (it’s estimated that 100,000 have died this way). The protests that lead to the overthrow of a president carry hard-to-avoid echoes of recent demonstrations in the U.S. Yates is scheduled to attend the screening. (3:15 p.m. May 26, Uptown) — John Hartl
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The final film of acclaimed Polish director Andrzej Wajda’s near 70-year career presents a warts-and-all portrait of revolutionary avant-garde painter Wladyslaw Strzeminski. Boguslaw Linda embodies the aging artist who struggles against the rising tide of Communist censorship, inspires awe and devotion in his students and has an almost hostile relationship with his young daughter. He’s simultaneously charismatic, sympathetic and maddening. Deliberately paced, bleak and a touch repetitive, “Afterimages” is a swan song from one of the greats, who, like his subject, leaves viewers with a treatise on how to look at the world. (3:30 p.m. May 26, Uptown) — Brent McKnight
“Angry Inuk” ★★★
Less a pro-seal-hunting documentary than an impassioned plea for cultural understanding often denied indigenous people, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s film presents a different perspective than what typically dominates this conversation. It’s most compelling, and often frustrating, as a portrait of a rural Inuit population that relies on sustainable seal hunting for food, community and economic survival. The camera captures gorgeous arctic landscapes as the narrative tracks the yearslong struggle against international legislation. A touch overlong and repetitive in places, and occasionally employing the oversimplified blanket coverage of which it rightly accuses the opposition, “Angry Inuk” offers much to chew on. (11:30 a.m. May 28, Uptown; 11:30 a.m. May 29, Uptown) — B.M.
“Band Aid” ★★★
What’s the best course of action for a couple that can’t stop fighting? Obviously, starting a band with their weird neighbor and turning all of their biggest battles into catchy, minimalist pop songs. A predictable but quirky relationship comedy, “Band Aid” cuts through slacker angst, millennial ennui and the hazards of watching your friends mature as you flounder. Full of sarcastic humor, earnest emotion and a phenomenal performance from writer/director/producer/star Zoe Lister-Jones, it hinges on the central relationship. But even with deep-rooted problems, this is a couple worth rooting for. Lister-Jones and producer Daryl Wein are scheduled to attend both screenings. (4:15 p.m. May 28, Pacific Place; 5:30 p.m. May 29, Uptown) — B.M.
“Becoming Who I Was” ★★½
As playfully time-oriented as its title, “Becoming Who I Was” makes reincarnation a central part of its story about a journey through more than one life. Whether you buy it depends largely on your feelings about karma and related ideas that can sound like child abuse in this context. While the child hero grows up on-screen, his teacher has a creepy weakness for death-defying ritual. (6:30 p.m. June 1, Shoreline Community College). — J.H.
“City of Ghosts” ★★★★
Timely, pressing, important. Oscar-nominated director Matthew Heineman (“Cartel Land”) tells the story of Syrian citizen journalists taking on ISIS in their hometown. “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently” uses hidden cameras, clandestine internet connections, and social media to show the world the reality in the “capital of ISIS.” Exiled, in hiding, depending on brave undercover assets, their task becomes increasingly harrowing as friends and family die and lives hang in the balance. Chilling moments suck the air out of the room. We see the heavy toll, but fleeting glimpses of normalcy and joy illuminate why they persist. Heineman is scheduled to attend both screenings. (6:30 p.m. May 26, Uptown; 2:30 p.m. May 27, Uptown) — B.M.
“Come, Together” ★★½
When the husband and father of a middle class South Korean family loses his soul-crushing middle-management job after 18 years, their carefully contrived world unravels around them. He goes stir-crazy, his wife feels pressure to take risks at work, and their college-hopeful daughter flounders on a waitlist. Cracks form in the facade and petty resentments, long suppressed, bubble to the surface with bitter fights, biting family drama, and nihilistic humor. Everyone is lonely and miserable, but at least we can be lonely and miserable together. Director Shin Dong-Il is scheduled to attend the June 3 and 4 screenings. (8:45 p.m. May 30, Shoreline; 9 p.m. June 3, Uptown; 11 a.m. June 4, Uptown) — B.M.
“A Date for Mad Mary” ★★★
To say that Mary McArdle has anger-management issues is an understatement. Fresh from a six-month prison term for a nightclub assault, she’s a walking incendiary device. The smallest things set her off, including anything to do with the upcoming wedding of her best friend — who, increasingly, seems to be avoiding her. Is there anything that could undo Mary’s gift for self-sabotage? Possibly. Irish director Darren Thornton, with dynamo Seána Kerslake as Mary, delivers a canny blend of biting comedy and soulful drama. (7 p.m. May 27, Egyptian; 6:30 p.m. May 28, Shoreline Community College) — M.U.
“Finding Kukan” ★★★
Brash, unapologetic personalities make fascinating documentary subjects, even in uneven films. For nearly a decade, Robin Lung attempted to unearth the truth about Li Ling-Ai and her uncredited role in producing “Kukan,” the Oscar-winning 1941 documentary about atrocities in China during World War II. The film has been lost and Li’s involvement all but erased. Through interviews, documents and archival footage, her story takes shape. She was an author, dancer, lecturer, activist and even pilot. At 75 minutes, “Finding Kukan” feels thin in spots, but it’s so compelling that’s easily forgiven. Lung will appear at the May 27 and 28 screenings. (12 p.m. May 27, Uptown; 7 p.m. May 28, Pacific Place; 4:30 p.m. June 2, Ark Lodge). — B.M.
“The Girl Without Hands” ★★½
This brief French fairy tale, adapted from a little-known Brothers Grimm story about a young woman who escapes from the devil at a terrible price, is surprisingly dark; young children may find it disturbing (or, with its subtitles and murky storytelling, inscrutable). But those fascinated by the art of animation will find much to ponder here — the hand-drawn brush strokes, the lush colors, the way just a few quickly sketched lines suddenly take vivid life. (11 a.m. May 27, Egyptian; 6:30 p.m. May 30, Uptown). — Moira Macdonald
When a hapless, stuttering railway linesman stumbles across a pile of cash on the tracks he’s inspecting, he does the honest thing: Report it to the authorities, which makes him a pawn in an ugly game. Corrupt Transport Ministry officials want to use his “heroism” to distract the public from an emerging scandal. A crusading journalist has other things in mind for him. Stefan Denolyubov, as the linesman, and Margita Gosheva, as his nemesis, are painfully on-target in this Bulgarian satire. One crazed twist: Gorsheva’s character is undergoing fertility treatment throughout, even though motherhood seems the last of her priorities. (9:30 p.m. May 29, Pacific Place; 9:30 p.m. June 5, Uptown). — Michael Upchurch
Tunisian Peugeot salesman Hedi is about to get married — and it seems more his overbearing mother’s idea than his. So it makes sense that, when he falls for a hotel entertainer on a business trip, he starts tearing the whole fabric of his life apart. Actor Majd Mastoura makes pouting, uptight Hedi a completely unpredictable force in the film, while director Mohamed Ben Attia subtly weaves the seismic social changes brought on by the Arab Spring into this sly, poignant drama. (1 p.m. May 27, Shoreline Community College; 6:30 p.m. June 11, Uptown) — M.U.
“The Hero” ★★★
Sam Elliott, with his burnished voice and effortless presence, makes something quietly moving from “The Hero,” a small-scale movie of the sort you’ve seen many times before. He’s playing a veteran actor past his prime (known for playing cowboys, a nod to Elliott’s own past) who’s facing some bad news in his present, and must make peace with himself. Nothing terribly novel here, but director Brett Haley (“I’ll See You In My Dreams”) has assembled a strong cast and a generous spirit, and Elliott has a way of finding poetry in silent gaze, speaking his lines as if written on velvet. Elliott and Haley are schedule to attend screenings on May 27 (a special screening that will also include an onstage interview; higher ticket prices apply) and May 28. (4 p.m. May 27, Egyptian; 1:45 p.m. May 28, Pacific Place). — M.M.
“The Last Animals” ★★★
University of Washington research professor Samuel K. Wasser provides key commentary for “The Last Animals,” a frightening, nearly hopeless doomsday documentary about the extinction of elephants and rhinos that once thrived in Africa. Writer-director Kate Brooks focuses on the damage done by poaching, both officially approved and otherwise, with some of the profits financing terrorist groups. Testimonials cover a wide range, including England’s Prince William who helps to bring it all into perspective. Brooks and Wasser will attend the 3 p.m. May 27 and 6:30 p.m. May 28 screenings at the Uptown. Additional screening 6:30 p.m. June 6 at the Ark Lodge. — J.H.
“Pow Wow” ★★★
This experimental documentary by Seattle-based director Robinson Devor (“Police Beat,” “Zoo”) circles lots of subjects without quite landing on any — but its evocation of a specific place, California’s Coachella Valley, is indelible. The 1909 manhunt for a Paiute Indian (basis for the 1969 film “Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here”) forms part of its picture. So do musings on differences between “Western time” and “Indian time,” conflicting attitudes toward the valley’s life-sustaining aquifer, and stark native versus white contrasts in land-use practice, highlighted in gorgeous overhead shots of orderly irrigated suburb ceding abruptly to arid desert expanse. Devor is scheduled to attend both screenings. (7 p.m. May 29, Pacific Place; 6:30 p.m. June 5, Ark Lodge) — M.U.
Based on actual events from 1978, director Erik Skjoldbjaerg’s (“Insomnia”) psychological thriller tracks a tight-knit Norwegian coastal community terrorized by a string of arsons. Behind the fires is Dag (Trond Hjort Nilssen), the 19-year-old son of the local fire chief. An outsider in a town where everyone knows everyone, the villagers don’t know him as well as they thought. With fantastic sound design — Dag’s fires sound eerily monstrous and alive — and gorgeous photography, “Pyromaniac” loses focus in the back half. The measured pace and minimalism isn’t for everyone, but the firebug’s escalating, evolving motivations keep the film engaging. (6:30 p.m. May 31, Shoreline) — B.M.
“Roberto Bolle — The Art of Dance” ★★★
This one’s strictly for the ballet fans: Francesca Pedroni’s documentary tells us little about the charismatic ballet star at its center, focusing instead on dance performance. But oh, those performances, captured at a series of historic Italian outdoor amphitheaters. “Romeo & Juliet,” at the Arena in Verona on a velvety night, is magical; Balanchine’s “Apollo,” at the Teatro Grande in Pompei, looks like ancient sculpture come to exquisite life. Just as exquisite is Bolle, an Italian-born principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre and La Scala whom the camera unabashedly adores. (7 p.m. May 28, Egyptian; 3 p.m. May 29, Uptown). — M.M.
“The Truth About Love Is …” ★★½
Dora and Davide have little to connect them aside from an initial attraction, until they have kids. But that only carries them so far, and Dora finds herself a single mother. Based on a comedic memoir, Max Croci’s film traces the ups and downs of motherhood. This includes a free-spirited — and childless — BFF, a poet/janitor/manny, and intrusive family members offering questionable advice. Light and breezy, and not particularly deep or substantive, it’s not without authentic, easy charms as it follows the minor heartbreaks and triumphs of parenting. Croci is scheduled to attend the June 3 and 5 screenings. (8 p.m. May 28, Shoreline; 6 p.m. June 3, Uptown; 3:30 p.m. June 5, Uptown) — B.M.
“Two Irenes” ★★★
This leisurely Brazilian coming-of-age story has an explosive secret at its heart. Petulant 13-year-old Irene, the squeaky wheel in her otherwise smoothly functioning family, stalks and befriends another 13-year-old, also named Irene, who lives in the poor part of their small town with her single mom. The intensifying bond between the girls leads to actions their parents don’t see coming. Understated performances and a vivid sense of place make this an appealing package. Actor Priscila Bittencourt is scheduled to attend. (6 p.m. May 30 and 4 p.m. May 31, SIFF Cinema Uptown) — M.U.
Black-and-white coming-of-age movies are a film-festival staple, but Bruce McDonald’s “Weirdos” sets itself apart with warmth, affection and by being narrated in part by the spirit of Andy Warhol. In 1976, two teens, Kip and Alice, set off on a road trip full of self-discovery and the joyous highs and mournful lows of youth. Their bittersweet journey — photographed like an art book and featuring a stellar period- appropriate soundtrack — captures an earnest hope for the future. The young leads are charming and authentic, and the film reminds us all to embrace our own weirdness. (4:15 p.m. May 27, Pacific Place) — B.M.