This month, the Portland International Film Festival celebrates its 39th year of existence. There are a total of 97 feature films and 62 shorts screening between February 11th and 27th. With the schedule just recently announced, the festival continues its annual tradition of making me rummage through the lineup quickly to decide which movies to see. It’s a fun game that I don’t always win. Last year, I missed Phoenix and The Duke of Burgundy, which I recently watched and loved in their official releases. This year, I feel more confident in my abilities to narrow things down. It isn’t easy to judge a movie by only a plot description or trailer, but I’ve done my research, and I hope that there’s a film here for each and every one of you.
Every year, countries can choose only one film to submit to the Academy Awards. The following were selected, but they didn’t make this year’s Best Foreign Film shortlist. Still, they were chosen to represent an entire country, so they’re definitely worth a watch.
Aferim! appears to be the crowd-pleaser. Filmed in stark black and white, this art house dramedy is Romania’s answer to the American Western. Set in 1835, the film follows two men on horseback, a father and son, as they search for an escaped gypsy slave. Early reviews call it beautiful, disorienting, and hilarious.
If you’re looking for something more dramatic, The Club is your best bet. Set in a secluded monastery, the Chilean film observes four exiled priests and the nun who watches over them. What have they done to be sent there? Director Pablo Larrain (whose previous film No actually made the Academy Award shortlist) solves this impelling mystery in ways you wouldn’t see coming.
Iceland’s selection Rams is a good tonal mix of the last two. It’s a touching character study of two brothers, rival sheep farmers, who have to deal with their long-lasting feud when a disease threatens their flocks. Both performances have been heavily praised, and the comedic moments are supposedly heightened by the film’s careful pacing.
With Valentine’s Day also happening this week, you might want to see something with a little romance. The Lobster strangely fits the bill. In the near-future, single people are captured and forced to find a mate, otherwise they will be turned into an animal of their choosing. Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth) has proved in the past that he can beautifully execute his outlandish ideas and with a cast including Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, and John C. Reilly, it’ll be interesting to see how mainstream audiences react to his work.
In the Shadow of Women and Right Now, Wrong Then both have love-struck filmmakers as their subjects. The first explores a French love-triangle, while the second depicts two possible scenarios that could have played out after two strangers meet. Both films might lean toward the dramatic side of romance, but they seem like a good pair.
If you’re an art house fan, Guy Maddin’s new endeavor might have your name written in its frames, which apparently seem to always be on the cusp of melting in their projector. The Forbidden Room has four sets of characters learning about life and love. It’s tough to say if these stories are related or even cohesive because the film has been called mutated and overwhelming, but in positive ways.
Great horror films have been on the rise, and the festival’s After Dark series has no shortage of them. A man shows up uninvited to his ex-wife’s dinner party in The Invitation. This film has been kept under wraps and without a trailer, so I’m left only with word-of-mouth, but word has it that Karyn Kusama has created an unsettling slow-burn that you’ll never see coming. This dinner party gone wrong is probably my most anticipated film of the entire festival.
If you like your horror a little more mindless and bloodier, the demonic Turkish film Baskin has been on my radar for a while. A group of cops answer a distress call and quickly regret that decision when they find themselves stuck in the ruins of an old building. While it’s probably not for the faint of heart, this film seems to have been made with a lot of love.
Evolution promises a unique experience. After a young boy starts to question his world, one that consists only of female adults and male children, he stumbles into a horrifying fairy tale. This cerebral sci-fi has garnered some drastically different descriptions, but if you like more style than substance in your films, it should do the job.
There are some bigger movies playing like the Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light and The Meddler, starring Susan Sarandon, but it’s tough to recommend films that will likely see a wide release here in a few months. A lot of the films in this festival haven’t been screened anywhere. If none of my suggestions sound compelling, glance through the schedule and give something else a shot. You never know, next year one or many of these films might be critically acclaimed and you can say “Hey, I saw that first at the Portland International Film Festival!”
Find the PIFF 39 schedule and tickets here.