By Robin E. Simmons
The first PSIFF program selection I always check is for “Modern Masters.” This year’s selection showcases 12 excellent films from acclaimed international directors who have raised the standards bar in contemporary cinema. I have yet to be disappointed with the overall satisfaction of previous selections and this year’s choices are greatly anticipated by film buffs. As of this writing, tickets are available for all showings, although in some cases only a few remain. (The lesson is to reserve yours as early as possible. Like now.)
Consider these intriguing films in this year’s “Modern Masters” program. Additional screening times and venues may be listed at psfilmfest.org. Stand-by tickets (as available) at the door.
CHAGALL – MALEVICH (Russia)
Legendary director and screenwriter Alexander Mitta breaks a 10-year absence from the screen with his latest film about the intermittently violent ego clashes between the two great opposite Russian artists Marc Chagall and Kazimir Malevich during the early years of Soviet rule between 1917 and 1920. Don’t miss the engaging, complicated story of love and passion and how a friendship can become hostile. More than 140 detailed copies of paintings by Chagall and Malevich were made for this richly atmospheric film. Sunday, January 11, 2:00 PM. Camelot.
CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (France)
Director Olivier Assayas’ film was triggered by a conversation with Juliette Binoche. She said she called Olivier Assayas and gave him the idea and he wrote a beautiful script. “I gave him a sprout and after that he just went with it.” Here’s the story:
At the peak of her international career, Maria Enders (Binoche) is invited to perform in a revival of the play that made her famous two decades earlier. Originally she played the role of a seductive young woman who drove her female boss to suicide. Now she’s been asked to play the older boss. She goes with her assistant to remote Sils Maria in the Alps where she rehearses with a young Hollywood starlet who has a scandalous history. Suddenly, everything is reversed as Maria finds herself facing a confusingly charming young woman who is a disturbing reflection of her former self. The cast includes Kristen Stewart as the assistant and Chloë Grace Moretz as the young starlet. Binoche is an authentic creative force. In last year’s popular PSIFF entry WORDS AND PICTURES, Binoche, as a physically challenged artist, did all her own on screen painting. Saturday, January 3, 10:AM. Regal 9.
DANCING ARABS (Israel)
Director Eran Riklis (THE SYRIAN BRIDE) has created a timely and engaging film that follows an unnamed narrator who naïvely recounts his own history. Obviously smart and eager to assimilate into Israeli society, he’s also acutely aware that as an Arab he’ll never be a true part of it. Despite his true identity, he wins a place at an elite Israeli boarding school and assumes the Jewish-Israeli persona of a friend who’s confined to his home. I was moved by this unabashed, heartfelt look at the stresses of ordinary life for Arab Israelis. The movie “is a brave and necessary film” says Aaron Katsman in “The Jerusalem Post.” Saturday, January 3, 1:00 PM. Regal 9.
AN EYE FOR BEAUTY (Canada)
Luke is a brilliant young architect whose talent has not yet been recognized. He leads a tranquil life with his beautiful wife sports writer wife Stephanie in the picturesque Charlevoix region. Luke has a perfect life, wife, house, and friends. But when he has an affair with a mysterious woman while attending an architectural event in Toronto, it turns his life upside down and threatens to change everything. This deft exploration of the fault lines that run under a seemingly perfect surface is from director Denys Arcand. Saturday, January 10, 7:00 PM. Regal 9.
GEMMA BOVERY (France)
Director Anne Fontaine resurrects Gustave Flaubert’s “Madam Bovery,” the once shocking story of a rural doctor’s wife who has an affair to relieve her abject boredom. In the movie, based on the graphic novel by Posy Simmons, Gemma Arterton’s anglo Bovery is luminously beautiful and properly voluptuous. Set in Normandy, local baker Raymond Joubert fears English import Gemma is fated to relive the tragedy of Emma since everything in her beautifully bored life fits her literary predecessor. Ray decides if he can’t have her, at least he can save her from herself. I loved this delightful mix of light comedy and romance. Tuesday, January 6, 4:00 PM. Palm Springs High School.
THE HUMBLING (USA)
Director Barry Levinson’s latest film is an adaptation of Philip Roth’s same-titled novel. Buck Henry wrote the screenplay and Al Pacino stars. There’s a lot of ambiguity here, probably intentional. Sometimes it’s funny, often it’s confusing but I think that’s also intentional since it’s about an ageing actor (Pacino), losing his mind but is dragged back from his madness by love from a young woman. Or at least I think that’s what’s going on here. The exceptional cast includes: Greta Gerwig, Charles Grodin, Mary Louise Parker, Dan Hedaya and Dianne Wiest. I couldn’t take my eyes off Pacino as he deftly inhabits — or reveals (?) — the jagged inner gears of an increasingly out-of-control actor on a self-made road to ruin. Friday, January 9, 7:00 PM. Palm Springs High School.
IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE (Norway/Sweden)
In this violent thriller, mild-mannered snowplow driver Nils (Stellan Skarsgard) goes Dirty Harry when his non-drug taking son turns up dead from a presumed overdose. I loved the unhinged gangster war triggered by Nils between rival drug-smuggling factions. Director Hans Petter Moland’s breathtakingly gorgeous revenge thriller is loaded with very dark humor set against stunningly photographed Norwegian vistas. A rare and satisfying treat in the crime comedy genre. Tuesday, January 6, 2:00 PM. Camelot.
IRIS (USA), Director Albert Maysles
When the irreverent, elderly Iris Apfel talks, New York fashionistas listen. And when she places a piece of jewelry piece of jewelry on a manikin or wraps a swath of cloth around her neck, they sit up. Iris is well past 90, but her unique “eye” and sense of style has not diminished in the least. With her 100 year-old husband of 66 years by her side, legendary documentarian Albert Maysles captures the essence of life as celebration. And it’s a beautiful thing dripping with warmth, wit, intelligence and love. Especially love. Sunday, January 4, 4:00 PM. Annenberg Auditorium.
LI’L QUINQUIN (France)
French filmmaker Bruno Dumont’s (LA VIE DE JESUS, HORS SATAN) latest film is a decidedly quirky story about a series of murders in a small French town where a mischievous boy and his girlfriend create another set of problems. Dumont’s previous art housework has been rather severe and somber; here he unleashes an unpredictable and unexpected comic sensibility that is as hilarious as it is unsettling. Saturday, January 10, 11:00 AM. Camelot.
THE PERFECT DICTATORSHIP (Mexico)
Director Louis Estrada’s tale focuses on the most powerful Mexican television corporation disclosing a scandalous story involving a Mexican governor Carmelo Vargas’ crimes and illicit businesses. Worried about his political future, Governor Vargas tries to clean up his image by negotiating a big bucks secret agreement with the same owners of the TV corporation that exposed him. That’s when ambitious young news producer Carlos Rojas and star TV reporter Ricardo Diaz create a campaign to change the public image of the corrupt Governor and make him, no matter the cost, a great presidential candidate and perfect dictator. Already a huge hit in Mexico, don’t miss this fine satire of big media and corrupt politicians. Tuesday, January 6, 9:30 AM. Regal 9.
QUEEN AND COUNTRY (United Kingdom)
John Boorman’s quasi sequel to his semi-autobiographical 1987 film HOPE AND GLORY is a “gently comedic memoir” about Englishman Bill Rowan who grew up in London during World War II and joins the military with his best pal Percy to fight in the Korean War. Soon, the conjoining circumstances of love, war and friendship force Bill to decide where his loyalties truly lie. Sunday, January 11, 1:00 PM. Regal 9.
RED AMNESIA (China)
Chinese “Sixth Generation” master Wang Xiaoshuai’s melodramatic thriller has a not unexpectedly strong political subtext. This admittedly challenging work requires close attention as it builds to its powerful climax in which a retired widow has her daily routine derailed when she starts receiving mysterious, anonymous phone calls. Friday, January 09, 4:30 PM. Regal 9.