The Portland International Film Festival: February 5th–21st, 2009

You can experience whatever language or culture you’re passionate about for the price of a movie ticket. At the Portland International Film Festival, a year-long selection assures no matter where the film is from, you’re seeing the best films the world has to offer. So you can pick anything and feel confident. The festival atmosphere is genial: you’re seeing films with film lovers. This creates an ambiance where you can freely talk with the person next to you about the films they’ve seen and what they might recommend. Some festival-goers join the silver screen club for a festival pass and see many films; not only does this help sponsor the event, you start to see familiar faces at the shows. The variety of world cultures on display during the two weeks of the festival has the potential to bring us closer together as a community, or maybe get you thinking about where to travel next winter. How about choosing what film to see by country: the NW Film Center printed a festival guide that has been dispersed throughout the city, or you can check online. Selecting by country you’re curious about is a great way to sort among the many films. I found most films have previews online: Google for the film’s website or check YouTube for a preview.

If you’re looking for a few choice picks, I recommend O’Horten, Mermaid, and Revanche. If there’s only one film you see: make it O’Horten. If you watch this movie, it’s my hope you will be on board to sample more excellent films at the festival. Bent Hamer wrote, directed, and produced O’Horten. It’s possible you saw other films by the Norwegian filmmaker. Hamer directed Factotum with Matt Dillon playing Henry Chinaski – based on the life and writing of Charles Bukowski. Or maybe you remember his 2003 movie, Kitchen Stories.

O’Horten is the 2008 film by Bent Hamer. A romantic comedy well outside the genre, the male lead, Odd Horten, is a retired train engineer. When Odd goes to work, the cinematography transforms the train station into something extraordinary. Hamer uses the camera both to tell the story and to view the world at a distance – this transforms the everyday into something super-real. The story reminds us of relationships to the past existing in a world both familiar and strange – a world of machines, yet made by humanity and pregnant with our history. The on-screen world is both ancient and futuristic.

The humor is visual, physical, and understated. The comedy happens through situations. Odd walks through each moment like a picaresque hero. His bearing conveys dignified gentility. His uniform is at once commanding and common-place. He is without a doubt the films hero, yet he accomplishes nothing – until he overcomes his weakness. Each individual finds strength by following their heart. Whether the limitations are imposed by society or a sense of duty, the absence in an old person is the weakness of expression that inevitably comes to us if we fail to love. If we cannot truly love, we die inside. Love needs exercise: you need to pursue the dream.

O’Horten follows an intuitive logic and makes sense in the manner of a dream. Something as simple as being locked out of the building becomes an intriguing adventure. Through Hamer’s lens, grapes in a mother’s hands are an immaculate detail and the train passing through the landscape, a millipede. And as with any great film, the music by Kaada is on par with the visuals. O’Horten plays Saturday February 7th at 6:15 pm in the Whitsell Auditorium or Tuesday February 10th at 8:30 pm at the Regal Broadway Metroplex at 1000 SW Broadway.

Another romantic comedy, Mermaid is a highly enjoyable experience from Russia. Maybe, it’s characteristic of Russian drama, as with Chekov’s The Seagull, it is one part comedy and the second, tragedy. The young heroine Alice screams her disappointment at her mother’s infidelity, “When Papa comes, I’ll tell him everything.” Immediately following are scene after scene of Alice running. Next, she’s in the doctor’s office and can’t speak. Her flight from the world and escape are told visually and symbolically. Mermaid is the story of a difficult childhood told with a child’s imagined sense of being the center of the world and having the power to influence reality. Growing up without a father, embarrassed by a flirtatious mother, and moving to a new school, Alice discovers a magic trick to help her cope. “To make wishes come true, you only have to want it very much.”

Anna Melikyan’s Mermaid plays with cultural tropes and comments on our media-saturated environment. She juxtaposes the unconventional Alice with a supermodel. To attract her man, Alice dyes her hair green. Mermaid succeeds by communicating visually. The production design makes each scene a pleasure to watch onscreen. A house of stacked bottles by the sea. A green apple carved with a knife. An electric toothbrush in a boyfriend’s hand. And to show Alice doesn’t like something, she vomits. Does Alice have powers to affect reality? Of course she does. Whether others acknowledge them is a matter of perspective. The film leaves you to decide if events are a result of karma or sacrifice.

Victim and victimizer? Power and impotence? What do you expect from an Austrian crime drama? By avoiding cliche: Revanche will surprise you. Götz Spielmann’s film subverts the fast pace, cross-cutting storylines, and quick edits we expect from a modern crime film. Nominated for an academy award for best foreign language film, Revanche is worth a night at the movies. Revanche places you in an underworld with very human roots. The prostitute is worthy of true love. Her lover, a criminal, is both brutal and caring. Love and desire compel his crimes. Rather than naked force, the action hinges on how the characters feel. Emotions give momentum to the subtlest of acts. Chopping wood. A nighttime walk through the woods. Hiding under the bed.

30 minutes before showtime, same day tickets are available for purchase at the theater. Many festival screenings sell out and there are often limited tickets available at the door. Advance tickets and passes available at 1119 SW Park at Main in the Portland Art Museum’s Mark Building, Open 12PM-6PM
Festival Phone: 503.276.4310
Festival E-mail:

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