SIFF 1998 Reviews

Here are a whole bunch of movie reviews, unsubstantiated hearsay and miscellaneous rants about films from the 1998 Seattle International Film Festival:

Breaking News, Movies by Title, Reviewers, Jon Newman's Reviews, General Advice, Links

Breaking News

Reviewed: Nights of Cabiria, The Governess, Marthe, This Is My Father.  Also see the Fool Serious Results (6/14/98)

Reviewed: Wintersleepers, Lawn Dogs, When Trumpets Fade, Sneak Preview (6/12/98)

Reviewed: A Soldier's Sweetheart. Also see recommendations for final weekend (6/11/98)

Reviewed: Wilde, Burn, The Campus.  Recommendation: Burn (6/10/98)

Reviewed: I Married a Strange Person, The Hanging Garden (6/8/98)

Reviewed: Push! Push!, Bandits, Kingdom II, The Day of the Beast, Henry Fool (6/8/98)

Press Screening List (6/7/98)

Reviewed: Xiu Xiu -- The Sent-Down Girl, The Oyster and the Wind (6/4/98)

Reviewed: Lucky Star, Relax, It's Just Sex (6/3/98)

Reviewed: The Well, Waco: The Rules of Engagement (6/1/98)

Reviewed: The Baby Dance, My Secret Cache, Next Stop, Wonderland. Recommendation: Gods and Monsters, and Waco: The Rules of Engagement (5/31/98)

Reviewed: Things I Left In Havana, Smoke Signals, Metroland. Recommendation: Smoke Signals (5/30/98)

Reviewed: The Thief, Genealogies of a Crime. Recommendation of Relax, It's Only Sex. (5/29/98)

Reviewed: Girl With Hyacinths, See The Sea, War Zone, Digging To China, Funny Games (5/28/98)

New capsule reviewers: Steven Smith, Avi Belinsky.   Avi's reviews from the Toronto and Montreal festivals are invaluable. (5/26/98)

Reviewed: Firelight (5/22/98)

Kathy Fennessy, a fellow Microsoftie, is a big film fan with lots of connections. Here are her picks based on cast, crew, and rumor. (5/17/98)

Movies By Title

Above Freezing (Else: forgettable, sitcom; Paul: skip it)
Actresses (Jean: liked)
Adam and Eva (Sebella: pretty good, Avi: disliked it)
Un Air De Famille (Ethel: very enjoyable; Ronnie: really liked it)
Airbags (Vince: hilarious, big, over-the-top comedy by director of Butterfly Wings)
The Baby Dance (Jon: pretty good; Elsa: really liked this)
Backroads (Tom: fun)
Bandits (my sister Suzanne: Entertaining, light comedy, reminiscent of MTV; Max: well-acted but too much MTV)
The Beyond (Steven: bad)
Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss (Ronnie: good, cute)
Black Angel (Avi: very violent "chicks with guns" flick)
The Black Mask
Broken Vessels (Avi: dumb story but well-executed)
Brother (Avi: a little violent, liked it)
Buffalo 66 (Max Kathy Anita: original, Avi: liked it)
Burn (Jeff: terrific, one of 10 best)
The Campus (Ronnie: pretty cute)
Caresses (Linda: liked it, matter of taste; Barbara: weird in a bad way)
Comedia Infantil (Sebella, Janelle, Mitch: liked)
Cousin Bette (Max: disappointing but not really bad)
Claudine's Return (Linda: OK but not great; Max: cliched; Vince: bad; Barbara: bad)
Cleopatra's Second Husband (mixed reviews; Vince liked it; Barbara disliked it)
Conceiving Ada (everyone: definitely avoid)
Dancemaker (Jean: OK, handheld camera warning)
Dark Harbor (Max, others: avoid)
Day of the Deaf (Paul: very good)
Deja Vu (Max: terrible, excellent cast with no opportunity to act)
Denial (Paul: skip it)
Dead Man's Curve (Linda: bad)
Digging To China (Jon: good family movie)
Dirty (Anita: really liked it; Avi: heard good things; Elsa: disliked it)
Doing Time for Patsy Cline (Avi: pretty good)
Fiber Optic (buzz: "OK")
The File of Anna Akhmatova (Elsa and Bic: hated The File but liked Human Remains, the short documentary which played with it)
Firelight (Jon: decent)
Frank Lloyd Wright (Barbara: liked this very much)
Full Alert (Tom: OK, predictable ending)
Full Tilt Boogie
Funny Games (Jon: horror, hard to watch but enthralling)
Gadjo Dilo (Steven: highly recommended; Vince: best of fest)
Genealogies of a Crime (Avi: missable; Jon: terrible; Jean: enjoyed this)
Georgica (Sebella, Janelle, Mitch: liked)
Girl With Hyacinths (Jon: OK)
Gods and Monsters (good advance word: "excellent acting, great multilayered film")
The Governess (Max: liked; Paul: good)
The Hanging Garden (Avi: prizewinner from Toronto; Ronnie: very good, disturbing)
Henry Fool (Avi: see this; Jon: good; Vince: best of fest)
High Art (Tom: liked it; anon: "pretty boring -- she was great, but the movie was full of boring people"; Janelle: mediocre)
Hold You Tight (Avi: so-so)
Homo Heights (Max: dog)
Honey and Ashes (Steven: recommended, Kevin: good)
How to Make the Cruelest Month
The Human Race (handheld camera warning)
I Went Down (Sebella: bad)
Jeanne and the Perfect Guy (Max: film couldn't decide what it wanted to be, also lousy ending)
Jour de Fete (Tom: liked this Jacques Tati archival; Annie: great, lots of fun)
The Kingdom I
The Kingdom II (Jon: great but not quite as good as first part, handheld camera warning)
Kitchen Party (Ethel: lighthearted, OK, not special; Max: walkout)
Late Full Moon (Jean: walkout)
Lea (Ethel: favorite so far)
The Last Days of Disco (Steven: recommended, Avi: This is Whit Stillman's best film (METROPOLITAN, BARCELONA) if you like his films but Avi doesn't; Julie Pearl preferred Barcelona however)
Lawn Dogs (Jon: enjoyable family-type movie; Avi: heard good things, however James Berardinelli's review was very negative; Max: ABC afternoon special; Don: not great)
The Life of Jesus (Avi: "honest", liked this film about nihilistic teenagers but many didn't)
Lost and Found (Max: lousy; Vince: unbearable)
Love Can Seriously Damage Your Health (Avi: avoid; Barbara liked it)
Lucky Star (Jon: a good soap opera)
Marthe (Else: melodrama, good; Paul: good, very French)
The Melting Pot (Max: liked this, went a little long)
Marie Baie des Anges (Tova: avoid; Barbara: pretty but not uplifting; Max and Jean: avoid, also handheld camera warning)
Memories (Kevin: mixed)
Metroland (Janelle: good; Jon: just OK)
The Mirror (Avi: hates always-snail-paced Iranian film in general; Kevin: extremely clever)
Mr. Jealousy (Avi: avoid)
Mr. P's Dancing Sushi Bar (Max and Vince: terrible, worst acting in fest)
My Secret Cache (Jon: very funny, broad comedy)
Next Stop Wonderland (Jon: good; Ronnie: very good; Avi and others: good buzz)
The Opium War (Jean: liked)
The Opposite of Sex (Avi: so-so, Kathy: liked it)
The Oyster and the Wind (Jon: strange and just OK)
Post Coitum
Postman Blues (Ethel: kinda liked it)
The Red Door (Max: "energy-sucking Prozac time" Ed: this is a negative review)
Regular Guys (Avi: standard-issue German sex farce)
Relax, It's Just Sex (Tova, Ronnie, Vince and others: recommended; Jon: disappointing, just OK)
Remembering Sex (Sebella: fair; Ronnie: bad; Vince: unbearable)
Resurrection Man (Paul: skip; Max: ultraviolent)
Road to Nhill (Avi: didn't like it but some did)
See the Sea (Jon: mediocre)
Shooting Fish (Steven: highly recommended)
Six Ways to Sunday (Tova and Jeff: liked it; Jean: fun)
Smoke Signals (Kevin: good; Jon: must-see)
Sneak Preview (Jon: walkout)
Southie (Paul: skip)
Stella Does Tricks (Sebella: bad)
Surrender Dorothy (Steven: bad; Ethel: liked this, very weird and not for everyone though)
Thank God For Lizzie (Paul: a fun little trifle)
The Thief (Jon: OK but missable)
Things I Left In Havana (Avi and Linda: liked it; Jon: pleasant)
Tonka (Paul: film consists mostly of product placements)
Tranceformer (Elsa and Bic: liked this documentary about Lars von Trier)
Tomorrow Night (Steven: bad)
Under Heaven (Linda and Ronnie: liked it)
Under the Skin (Avi: good buzz; Linda: OK; Max: mediocre, handheld camera warning)
The Unknown Cyclist (Elsa: uneven)
Voyage to the Beginning of the World (Avi: avoid this long, talky film; Bic: bad)
Waco: The Rules of Engagement (Ethel: must-see; Jon: excellent documentary)
War Zone (Jon: flawed but a good conversation-starter)
The Well (Jon: hated it; Ronnie: liked it)
Whatever (Max: "whatever, who cares")
When Trumpets Fade (Max: will do well on HBO; Jon: good , somewhat old-fashioned war movie)
Wicked (Barbara: bad)
Wintersleepers (Jon: excellent, quiet drama, well-filmed; Don: see this)
Wilde (Avi and others: heard good buzz)
Xiu Xiu -- The Sent Down Girl (Max: very Chinese film, lyrical i.e. slow, well-directed, three-hankie film; Jon: Chinese melodrama, very pretty, pretty good; Bill: pick for worst of Fest)


Avi Belinsky is a former Microsoftie and major festival-goer. He has seen many of the SIFF films at the Montreal and Toronto festivals.  Avi mostly just gave me thumbs-up / thumbs-down and his comments are inline in Movies By Title.

Steven Smith is a longtime festival-goer and professional photographer, and a leading candidate for "Most Likely to see over one hundred films at SIFF this year." He can often be seen with his photography gear when the director is present, and if you're really nice he might give you a SIFF Fool Serious button. Steve gave me a few capsule reviews which are inline in Movies By Title.

Sebella is a teacher who has taught film courses and is a SIFF regular. (capsule reviews only)

Linda is another longtime passholder. (capsule reviews only)

Anita Rowland is a Microsoft contractor, filmgoer and online journal keeper. She writes daily reviews of every SIFF movie she sees, for that matter she reviews her real life too. See Anita's reviews

Kevin Fansler is a fellow Microsoftie and a serious filmgoer. See Kevin's reviews

Larry Glickman is a major artfilm fan.  I rarely agree with him but maybe you will. See Larry's reviews

Maxine Chan, an old friend, has sent me a list of her to-the-point reviews of movies which showed in press screenings. See Maxine's reviews

Fireman Dan is a professional firefighter, Lindy Hop fanatic and moviegoer.  See Fireman Dan's reviews

Vince is a 20-year Fool Serious veteran, aficionado of Spanish cinema, and a professional movie caterer for 5 years.   (capsule reviews only)

And then there's me, Jon NewmanSee my reviews

A number of other reviewers have contributed a handful of reviews. See other reviews

Jon Newman's Reviews

Nights of Cabiria is a masterpiece by the Italian director Federico Fellini, now re-released amid heavy publicity with some restored footage. Cabiria (played by Fellini's wife Giulietta Masina) is a childlike, boisterous prostitute with a zest for life and a habit of trusting men unwisely. Masina's screen presence is mesmerizing, and every blow life deals Cabiria is heart-wrenching. The SIFF passholders voted this the best film of SIFF 1998 and I rank it among the best.

On a side note, the additional footage is the seven-minute "man with a sack" sequence apparently not shown even at the 1957 premiere at Cannes. If this really was cut due to pressure from the Catholic Church, that is a shame, and I don't regret having seen it. The sequence does provide some insight into the harsh reality awaiting those who lose their tenuous place in society, especially already-marginal second-tier prostitutes such as Cabiria. At the same time, this sequence doesn't really advance the plot, and I can see it as a legitimate editorial cut to tighten up a none-too-short film. Basically I think too much has been made of this.

The Governess features Minnie Driver (Circle of Friends) as Rosina, a Jewish girl forced by circumstances to hide her background and sign on as a governess. Ms. Driver is fine, but this costumer suffers by comparison with Firelight (itself only a mediocre film). Let's count the cliches:

  1. Rosina is an enlightened young 1990s woman caught in the early 19th century, cf. Moll Flanders.
  2. Naturally the young governess has to sleep with her older benefactor.
  3. Jewish viewers will note some errors in the portrayal of Jewish ritual.  Actually this isn't nearly so bad as this well-raised Orthodox girl falling so quickly into bed with, not only one man, but two.

Marthe is a romance novel on film, set during World War I. Simon (Guillaume Depardieu) is a soldier recuperating from a near-fatal wound, when he falls in love with schoolteacher Marthe. He professes his deepest feelings eloquently and profusely, and the film progresses through heaving bosoms and passionate confessions of love, set amid the madness of WWI. This is the purest example of a "chick flick" I have ever seen; listening to men talk about their feelings must be some female variant on pornography. I don't understand why the screenwriter chose to make Simon Jewish, the film does nothing with this besides adapting Kaddish for the soundtrack.

This Is My Father is an old-fashioned romance set in Ireland, the product of a collaboration between brothers Paul Quinn (writer/director), Aidan Quinn (actor) and Declan Quinn (cinematographer). An American schoolteacher travels to Ireland to find his roots, and learns the tragic story of the love between his mother and the father he never knew. The modern-day backstory is unnecessary but the Irish side is moving, lushly photographed and delightful.

Wintersleepers is a quiet, beautifully shot drama set in a Bavarian ski town.  An automobile accident brings together the lives of two young women, a film projectionist, and an older Bavarian dairy farmer.  Special kudos go to the edgy and haunting soundtrack.

Lawn Dogs is a sort of a family movie, although the sexual references make it probably inappropriate for children.  A Precocious And Disobedient Young Girl (tm) in a walled suburban development befriends a working-class young man who mows lawns for a living.  The film is well-acted and has some interesting and unsubtle observations on class, but I am tiring of films which lionize trouble-making children (re: Digging To China).

When Trumpets Fade is a straightforward, somewhat old-fashioned WWII war film about a private who survives a bloody battle and is unwillingly rewarded with a promotion.  The plot fits squarely into the "war is hell" tradition, with deadly orders coming down from an uncaring officer hierarchy, and a resourceful platoon leader left to pick up the pieces.  The film is competently made all-around and should play well on HBO.

Sneak Preview: I walked out, but not until after about an hour.  Without mentioning the title of this film, I will say that this is an art-film-among-art-films trying to be an exploration of the soul of an artist.  Many of the scenes are hauntingly beautiful, but the fancy camerawork gets in the way.  My real problem is that all of the characters (especially the main character) are pretty unsympathetic, also the soul of this particular artist is pretty perverse.  I might have stayed if this weren't my fourth film of the day.  The film is audacious if nothing else.

A Soldier's Sweetheart is a decent, well-acted drama set in Vietnam, described accurately by its director as "sort of a ghost story."  A medic sneaks his girlfriend from the States into his camp, where she brightens up wartime life.  Over time, she transforms from an innocent girl into -- well, I shouldn't give it away.  This is set to play on Showtime in October.

The Campus is a drama about political correctness on campus, based on a novel.  An unfortunate constellation of political forces causes a student's casual affair with her professor to be misinterpreted as rape.  This strident work resembles a more expansive take on the subject matter of David Mamet's play Oleanna.  I would have preferred to see a little more moral ambiguity (though this was not entirely absent), but I found the film to be quite watchable, and it may provoke some interesting conversations in some circles.

Wilde is a saccharine, dreadful biopic on the life of Oscar Wilde.   This should have been much better, with Stephen Fry turning in a fine performance in the title role, but two hours of watching people fawn over Mr. Wilde was just too much.   The fault lies with the screenplay, and to a lesser extent with the soundtrack.

Burn is a taut, supercharged character study set entirely in a rundown apartment in LA.  Ben (played with ferocity by Randall Slavin) is supposedly a writer but hasn't touched his typewriter in months; he rarely leaves his apartment and is clearly going somewhat bonkers.  When his glib friend Tom appears on his doorstep, Ben begins to emerge from his shell, and when Tom brings in his date Amanda, the stage is set for self-discovery, transformation and power politics.  Even though the action is all in one room, the film is not all that stagey.  Special kudos go to the screenwriter, to Mr. Slavin, and to the composer who brought together a very modern soundtrack.

I Married a Strange Person is a showcase for the twisted animation of Bill Plympton.  Plympton is known for his short films such as 25 Ways to Quit Smoking and How To Kiss; his films appear on MTV and as a staple item in Spike And Mike's Festival of Animation.  Plympton's work hearkens back to pre-Disney animation, when characters were infinitely malleable and transformable for a laugh (see the documentary Frank and Ollie for details).  The storyline of this film, about a bride who discovers that strange things happen when her husband is around, is paper-thin, but Plympton works in some great musical numbers and plenty of mayhem.   This is also much, much more sexually explicit than his more familiar work.   At 80 minutes, I Married a Strange Person overstayed its welcome by about 20 minutes, but it drew some serious belly-laughs.  This should open in mid-September.

The Hanging Garden is an award-winning Canadian melodrama about a dysfunctional family which reunites at the daughter's wedding.  Son William (Chris Leavins) returns after ten years away, having transformed himself from an fat and sexually confused teenager to a relatively sane, self-assured, and thin homosexual.  The situation is somewhat stock and cliched, but the dialogue is true and the supporting cast is first-rate.  The director is to be commended for taking a risk with a magic-realist element, a startlingly out-of-place hallucination.  I recommend this film.

Push! Push! is an enjoyable South Korean comedy set in an obstetrics hospital.  This feels like the work of the late Juzuo Itami (Minbo, Supermarket Woman) in that it mixes educational messages into the comedy, in this case needling about the traditional Korean preference for boys over girls, about the all-too-public abortion debate, etc.  It also resembles the television series ER, with the personal lives of the doctors and staff playing out against the everyday emergencies of a hospital. 

Bandits is a bit of mindless fun out of Germany, described by one friend as "a cross between Thelma & Louise and The Commitments."  I haven't seen The Commitments so I'll have to take her word on that half; it is also similar to Blues Brothers but not as deadpan.  Four female convicts form a band in prison, then break out and hit the road, torn between playing gigs and evading the cops.   Much of the movie consists of a series of rock videos cut MTV-style.  The movie and soundtrack are both chart-toppers in Germany.

Kingdom II:  The Kingdom is a Danish TV series, which for theatres is broken into two parts (so far) of over four hours each; this is the second part.  It is a wild comedy similar in theme to Twin Peaks but more audacious, set in a hospital which is experiencing increasingly severe hauntings and paranormal phenomena.  Many of the characters are unforgettable, including hypochondriac spiritualist Drusse, Swedish neurosurgeon Stig Helmer who despises everything Danish, and a host of others.  I preferred the first part to the second, in particular I hated the Big Baby subplot in Kingdom II, and you should definitely see the first part first so that you will know the characters.  As the series has progressed, the paranormal subplots have been taking more time away from the hilarious character interactions, which is a shame.  Mild handheld camera warning.  The video is available from Hollywood Video, and this is expected to play at the Varsity sooner or later.  How many TV series could pack a big moviehouse full of film buffs for a nine hour marathon?   Why don't we get television like this in America?

The Day of the Beast is a bizarre but often hilarious Spanish comedy.  A theology professor becomes convinced that he must commit as many evil acts as possible to gain the trust of Satan, sell his soul, and discover the location of the impending birth of the Antichrist in order to prevent it (this is the "bogus Catholic theology" premise ala The Exorcist).  The film starts out with a series of scenes with the priest stealing wallets, pushing a mime down a manhole etc., pure Schadenfreude, if this is what you like...  The film doesn't quite maintain its pace later on.

Henry Fool is the latest from American auteur Hal Hartley (Amateur, Flirt).  Meek garbageman Simon is befriended by the charismatic drifter Henry Fool, who encourages Simon to take up poetry.   Much of the film is spent musing on the soul of the artist, which I normally find pretentious and terrible but was actually made interesting here.  I think I wouldn't have liked this if it were a foreign film with subtitles.

Xiu Xiu -- The Sent-Down Girl is a Chinese melodrama about a teenage girl sent from the city to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution.  She is dispatched to live a tent with a good-hearted castrated Tibetan horse-herder, and the authorities appear to forget about her.  As her promised return permit fails to materialize, she turns to desperate measures to get back to the city.   The scenery of the Chinese high plains is breathtaking.  The ending is IMHO truly bad.  This is a decent film but can't hold a candle to A Mongolian Tale.  (Re: Lucky Star: what's with all these good-hearted castrated heroes anyhow?  I swear, a guy can't go to a movie without having to keep his legs crossed nowadays...)

The Oyster and the Wind is a strange Brazilian psychodrama about a lighthouse keeper living with his daughter on a remote island.   The jealous and paranoid father won't let his daughter off the island, and she goes somewhat crazy.  It kept my interest but I can't really recommend it.

Lucky Star is a melodrama, actually a soap opera (more exactly a "telenovela"), but a very good soap opera.  Good-hearted butcher Rafael rescues young Marina whom he sees on the street being beaten by her lover Daniel, and takes her into his home.  They fall in love, Daniel goes to prison, and he takes her child by Rafael as his own.  All is well until Daniel gets out of prison and Rafael takes him in too.  Oh, did I mention that Rafael was castrated?  (I'll leave out a few other plot twists.)  Nothing about Lucky Star is subtle, but if you want to cry a little, this is for you.  One of the things I really like about this is that Rafael has a truly good soul, and his openness actually brings him love and companionship; it is too much of a movie cliche that something terrible always happens to nice guys.

Relax, It's Just SexRule 3: Avoid Gay Cinema.  I should read my own advice.   Yes, I did recommend this ensemble romantic comedy, but it was a disappointment; not actually bad or unenjoyable, just too preachy and schmaltzy.  It's sort of like ninety minutes of the TV-series Friends except more sexually explicit and almost everyone is gay.  Squeaky-voiced Jennifer Tilly (BOUND) is fine and not at all annoying, no really.

The Well is a pretentious psychodrama, reminiscent of Jane Campion's The Piano but far inferior.  A middle-aged farm woman (Pamela Rabe) befriends a young woman from the city (Miranda Otto) and sacrifices everything to be with her.  They hit and kill a pedestrian, and the girl goes picturesquely insane (why does everyone have to be Ophelia?).  The scenery is beautiful, the dialogue is sparse, the action is lacking.  Pamela Rabe and Miranda Otto (Love Serenade) turn in solid performances but I just didn't buy into their characters' behavior.  Many others liked this but I couldn't stand it.  Subsequent addition: I heard a rumor that SIFF was missing a reel in both showings.

Waco: The Rules of Engagement is a highly charged documentary questioning much of the official story about the the Branch Davidian standoff and events leading to it.  In their version:
-    The original ATF raid was intended as a publicity stunt to support the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) during federal budget negotiations;
-    After the ATF bungled the first raid, the ATF and FBI wanted to cover up the evidence as much as they wanted a peaceful conclusion;
-    If the ATF and FBI did not actually set the fire which consumed the Branch Davidian compound, they at the very least acted in profound disregard of the danger, injecting the building with flammable gases (CS nerve agent, this is openly admitted) and knocking holes in its sides during hot, dry, and windy weather;
-    During the fire, the ATF and FBI fired on the building, preventing the Davidians from escaping, contrary to the FBI's claim to have "never fired a shot"; and
-    After the fire, the ATF and FBI covered up the incident, confiscating materials from local law enforcement and conveniently "losing" it.
Their evidence is well-constructed, including many interviews, videotape and a damning infrared tape of the final assault; I wish that they had used less angst-inspiring soundtrack though.  You can decide for yourself just how many of these claims you are willing to believe, but the film certainly makes a strong case against the FBI's version of events.  The conspiracy-theory crowd was out in full force for this showing and the subsequent producer interview, but paranoia is not required to question the ATF's and FBI's veracity in this case.  More information about this video is available from

The Baby Dance is a quality TV-movie, worth seeing when it opens on Showtime in August (with subsequent video release).  A well-to-do LA couple (Stockard Channing and Peter Riegert) travel to Shreveport to adopt the unborn child of a poor but fertile couple (Laura Dern and Richard Lineback).  They encounter the predictable misunderstandings and heartbreaks in the difficult process of "open adoption," with an especially tragic conclusion.  Laura Dern is strong in yet another "white trash" role (Rambling Rose, Citizen Ruth) as are Channing and both male leads.

My Secret Cache is a very funny, broad Japanese comedy about a young woman obsessed with money in general and with a suitcase of bank robbers' stolen loot in particular.  Generally apathetic, Sakiko is capable of remarkable feats when a cash prize is dangled in front of her.

Next Stop, Wonderland is a nice ensemble romantic comedy, funny and sometimes touching with some nice moments.  There must have been a thousand indie films much like this in the past few years, this is at least a good one, well-acted and not too unbelievable.

Metroland is a pleasant little TV-movie about a thirtyish photographer having a mini-midlife-crisis.  It's always nice to see Emily Watson (Breaking The Waves) but this is nothing special.

Smoke Signals is my favorite SIFF film so far this year. Victor, a young Native American man, travels from his reservation home to Phoenix, to pick up the ashes of his deceased father Arnold who left home when Victor was young. Accompanying Victor on this archetypical voyage of self-discovery is his childhood friend Thomas, shy but with a gift for storytelling. OK, I'll admit, I was basically bawling by the end, I'm a sucker for this sort of thing. Smoke Signals (a local production) should open in Seattle sometime in July, also watch for the excellent soundtrack Kudos go to writer and co-producer Sherman Alexie (who adapted this from his novel The Long Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven). If you're really taken with this, Alexie fan Elsa recommends Sherman Alexie's first book, Fancy Dancing.

Things I Left In Havana is a sweet little film about the life of Cuban immigrants in Spain.

The Thief is a Eurofilm drama about a young boy whose mother takes up with a con artist. Vladimir Mashkov gives a charismatic performance as the con man "Uncle Tolyan." The plot is a little predictable so I cannot recommend this wholeheartedly.

Genealogies of a Crime is easily my worst-of-the-fest so far. Did you ever see a film that made you ask, what the h*ll was that? Did you ever see a film that felt like a joke when you missed the punchline, like a game where you don't know the rules? This is that film. Catherine Deneuve (who doesn't come close to redeeming this stinker) plays a double role as a lawyer defending a murder suspect, and also the victim. Genealogies is sort of a murder mystery, only none of the characters act human so nothing which happens makes any sense.  While watching this I was afraid that everyone else in the theater had figured out the secret code of this film, afterward I found out they hadn't, probably there isn't one.  I wish I had followed my instincts and walked out.

War Zone is a flawed documentary about the routine sexual harassment women undergo on the streets of any big city. The director, Maggie Hadleigh-West, takes a camera crew through downtown New York and other cities, and questions on camera men who whistle, catcall or make lewd compliments. On the positive side, the documentary raised many conversations about behavior which we often take for granted; this is important, IMHO starting conversations is the most important job of any documentary. On the minus side, first, the film consists entirely of handheld camerawork; I got motionsick and had to leave after forty minutes. (My Usual Rant: This is thoughtless of the producer, and even though the format does not allow for Steadicam, there are still things you can do in the editing room if you care about the comfort of your audience.) Also on the minus side, Ms. Hadleigh-West takes some cheap shots, mixing in tape and discussion of actual sexual assaults with the routine harassment which is ostensibly the subject of the documentary. One more minus, this really should be cut to about half its current length.

Digging To China is a quality family movie about the friendship between a young girl and a mentally-retarded man. The first-class cast includes Kevin Bacon, Mary Stuart Masterson and Cathy Moriarty. I found the unnaturally-precocious young girl a little cloying for my tastes but the movie as a whole is quite watchable.

Funny Games is a truly frightening and enthralling horror flick about a sadistic home invasion. This was difficult to watch and I almost walked out, but I never left the edge of my seat. The emphasis here is on honest portrayal of the victims rather than blood and gore. The realism and acting quality, including Suzanne Lothar (Little Angel), lifts this above run-of-the-mill horror.

See The Sea is a French thriller about a young mother who lets the wrong hitchhiker camp on her lawn. By the standards of American thrillers it has more sex and not as much violence, but the suspense is still there. I was somewhat annoyed by the honey-hormone role of the young mother, and by the long buildup with little return.

Girl With Hyacinths is an archival offering from Sweden (not by Ingmar Bergman). This is a mild-paced mystery about the suicide of a young woman and her neighbors who search for the cause of her despair. The best part of the film is the witty repartee between the husband and wife as they discuss her "case".

Firelight is a decent but unspectacular costumer-melodrama set in 19th-century England. A young governess in need of money agrees to bear and surrender a child for a wealthy aristocrat with an invalid wife. Unable to let go of her memories of her child or of the brief affair, she manages to reinsinuate herself into the lives of the aristocrat and their daughter. Firelight is definitely a "chick flick," trying for three-hanky status and managing one or two. My real complaint is that Firelight feels like a romance novel, lacking depth or complexity when compared to other entries in the genre such as The Wings of the Dove. Firelight deserves credit for the beautiful cinematography set in England's sheep country and in a stately manor house.


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