By Robin E. Simmons
If you’re reading this online Wednesday, January 7 or a hardcopy on January 8, several of the films listed here have yet to be shown. Even if the PSIFF website (www.psfilmfest.org) says the films are sold out; it’s likely you can still get into the theater if you go to the venue as a stand-by patron.
It’s my guess some or all of these films will also be included at the close of the fest among the “audience favorites” for an additional screening. Again, check the website.
After a twelve-year absence from the big screen, Peter Bogdanovich is back with an overwrought and sometimes over-written but intermittently hilarious throwback to the screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s. There are generous doses of Ernst Lubitsch, Howard Hawks, Frank Capra and Preston Sturges throughout this silly, lightweight cotton candy of a movie.
Setting off the complications, is Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson), a married Broadway director, who is so smitten with Izzy Finkelstein (Imogen Poots), a free-spirited Brooklyn prostitute who longs to be an actress, he gives her a no strings assistance of $30,000 cash to advance her acting career. Naturally, this triggers an unlikely chain of events that touches nearly everyone in his circle. Besides the adorable Poots and a Woody Allenish Wilson, the terrific cast includes Jennifer Aniston, Rhys Ifans, Kathryn Hahn, Will Forte and Austin Pendleton. Quentin Tarantino, Cybill Shepherd and Tatum O’Neal make brief but recognizable cameos. North American premiere. Friday, January 9, 8 PM, Camelot.
When aging actor Simon (Al Pacino) discovers that his audience is no longer “participating” with him, he has a crisis of identity. His mojo gone, he retires to rural Connecticut and tries to sort out the differences between his acting life and real life. Barry Levinson directs this adaptation (by Buck Henry and Michal Zebede) of Philip Roth’s acerbic novel with a light touch. About halfway through, everything gets very interesting when a young lesbian (a terrific Greta Gerwig) with a 16 year crush on Simon shows up. Or is it all in Simon’s unreliable mind? This strange and delightful film is kind of a companion piece to BIRDMAN, but of a lesser fever. Friday, January 9, 7 PM, PSHS and Saturday, January 10, 12:00 PM, PSHS.
This superbly crafted art film – literally — is about three artists who suffered challenging physical and mental blows — actually, in one case — but continued to do what they most loved; that is, being Creative. This beautiful meditation hovers over the ephemeral intersection of loss and love. But much more than that, it is a celebration of the transcendent nature of the human spirit. This exceptional film by husband and wife team Erinnisse (director and editor) and Patryk (cinematographer) is one of the seven world premieres. Don’t miss this if art is in any way is part of your life. Even more so, if it is not. . Saturday, January 10, 1:30 PM, Camelot and Sunday, January 11, 2:30 PM, Regal.
SONG OF THE SEA
The breathtaking animated Celtic myth is about big brother Ben and mute sis Saoirse who live in a lighthouse with their father, Conor, who is grief stricken over the loss of his beloved wife a few years earlier. When Saoirse discovers their mom’s shell flute, the ethereal music she creates opens a secret locked deep in their mother’s past. But when Saoirse is taken into the sea by a group of smiling seals wearing their mom’s shiny, mystical coat, Ben realizes that his sister holds the power to bring the ancient stories their mother told them to life — but in order to keep these tales alive, she needs to find her voice. And to do that, he must overcome his deepest fears. From Irish filmmaker Tomm Moore, who gave us the equally beautiful Academy ©Award nominated THE SECRET OF THE KELLS.
From Estonia, Georgian director Zaza Urushadze’s war drama was inspired by the bloody 1992 conflict between Georgia and the Russian backed Abkhazia Republic in which the Estonians were forced to return to the country of their origin. Of the few people who chose to remain behind are old carpenter Ivo and his neighbor Markus, whose livelihood is his tangerine orchard. When fighting takes place outside his door, Ivo takes in two wounded men – both enemies of each other. This wonderful pacifist parable plays out like a thriller in which the characters go through huge arcs. Urushadze won the Warsaw Film Festival’s Best Director award. Last year, it was a Top Ten audience pick at PSIFF. This year it has returned as Estonia’s submission for Best Foreign Language film.
Timbuktu is a city in West Africa near the southern border of the Sahara. Director by Abderrahmane Sissako’s fascinating film is about the brief invasion of radical Islam’s militant rebels into the relatively serene community of moderate, peaceful Muslims. Beautifully photographed, with exceptional regional music. I liked the film’s use of English, Arabic, and French among the spoken languages. But the heart of the film is the absurdist noose that threatens to choke the population with the vagaries of specific and ever more restrictive, close-minded, Jihadist demands. The resulting confusion between differing groups is frightening. It would be funny if it weren’t so deadly. A brave film that demands to be seen. Created a stir at Cannes.
The audience I saw this with enjoyed these wickedly funny stand alone – but linked by a revenge motif — short tales as much or more than any of the films I’ve seen at this year’s PSIFF. Argentine writer director Damián Szifrón has a deliciously dark sense of humor that frees him to examine extremes of the human condition. You know that moment when one follows through on an impulse that you know is wrong yet is overwhelmingly compelling. Like when your driving and someone cuts in front of you and flips you off and you decide to follow him or her… My guess is this unexpected comedy will be nominated for Best Foreign Film. Pedro Almodóvar produced. Saturday, January 10, 8:00 PM, Camelot.