Wild Rose

SIFF 2019: week two highlights

An experimental documentary about two Hollywood legends, a new take on an animated masterpiece, and a sporty Iranian melodrama are among the must-see offerings in SIFF 2019’s second week (5/24-5/30).

DON’T MISS:

DJ NicFit presents Fantastic Planet
{5/30 7p Egyptian} 
My overstuffed calendar won’t allow me to catch this DJ NicFit situation, but I am here to tell you Fantastic Planet is a masterpiece. It absolutely lives up to the description “otherworldly”, in many ways, and its narrative, such as it is – about small human-like Oms and their much larger blue-skinned oppressors – will make you wish the film (and perhaps everything director René Laloux ever touched) had been a vital part of your childhood. Evidently NicFit will dig into the Flaming Lips catalogue to craft this “live” version of the film. Go see it, and make me jealous.

Cold Sweat
{5/26 6p Lincoln Square} 
This based-on-reality drama follows an Iranian futsal (indoor soccer) champion, Afrooz, who finds herself unable to travel to the tournament finals – the biggest match of her life – without her husband’s permission. Unfortunately for Afrooz, they’re in the middle of a protracted and rancorous divorce. Fortunately for us, her story makes for a great time at the movies: There are twisty surprises, righteous anger, hopeful triumphs. Afrooz’s hubs – the host of a TV show called Good Old Days, which is telling, and perhaps should have been a red flag earlier – is a complete bore and a spiteful piece of garbage. And the ridiculous lopsidedness of Iranian civil law that allows for behavior like his is fucking outrageous. But Cold Sweat hints at something like hope within inert societal helplessness.

Storm in My Heart
{5/28 9p Uptown} 
Intriguing, thorough, experimental documentary that looks at the oddly parallel careers of two Hollywood legends – both born on the same day, in the same city – via their most famous 20th Century Fox musicals: Lena Horne in Stormy Weather (1943) and Susan Hayward in With A Song in My Heart (1953). Remember when I said ‘thorough’? Well: The films are presented side-by-side, in their entirety, with focus shifted via sound modulations and text factoids. By turns delightful, maddening, enlightening, and heartbreaking, this is two hours very well spent.

What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael
{5/26 7p Pacific Place; 5/29 3:30p Uptown} 
Much loved, and often not-so-loved, Pauline Kael wrote about movies in a way no one really had before: As one of The New Yorker‘s resident critics for 25 years, she left an undeniable influence on American film culture. In this lively, compelling, smart documentary, director Rob Garver examines her life and legacy as one of the most controversial film writers of her day. It’s a good surface-scratch – a multi-part documentary series would be required to even begin hinting at the breadth of her work and its importance in the appreciation of (and, as the film shows, the very formation of) contemporary cinema. Even if you’re not familiar with Kael, this is a very enjoyable “movie about the movies” – one of the best I’ve seen recently. And maybe it’s a good start at getting Pauline Kael’s name the current-day household recognition it deserves. She will never fail to amaze me.

Wild Rose
{5/24 9:30p Egyptian} 
Stark social realism mixes with rollicking merriment in this stirring, nicely-assembled British musical dramedy about a fresh-out-of-the-pokey ex-con named Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley) who yearns to break free of her dull Glasgow life and become a Nashville country-music star. Oscar nominees Sophie Okonedo (as Rose’s posh employer) and Julie Walters (as Rose’s mum) are also part of the excellent cast, but it’s Buckley’s voice you’ll have in your head for days. Nothing terribly groundbreaking here, but Wild Rose is touching and fun.

TAKE OR LEAVE:

Afterlife
{5/25 11a Pacific Place; 5/27 9p Egyptian} 
A Dutch teenager named Sam becomes the family caretaker following her mom’s untimely death. After Sam is killed in her own accident a year later, mother and daughter are reunited in the hereafter. A “welcome to the afterlife” party happens, some delicately-thrown shade signals something darker than the warmly-lit milieu, and Sam learns of a possible way to return to the land of the living. I loved the first half-hour of this film – its thoughtful New Europe casting, its Good Place-esque scenario as viewed through the lens of an international Google ad – and the rest isn’t bad at all. It just doesn’t reach the same heavenly highs.

Frances Ferguson
{5/25 6:30p Uptown; 5/26 4:30p Pacific Place} 
Dry (sometimes to the point of catatonia) comedy about a Nebraska substitute teacher (Kaley Wheless) whose overwhelming discontent drives her to an ill-advised transgression: as the SIFF description teases, “her life quickly takes a Letourneau for the worse.” Nick Offerman narrates the dry tale, drily. Austin filmmaker Bob Byington apparently has a niche following; while I’ve enjoyed aspects of some of his earlier efforts (Infinity Baby’s B&W lensing sort of made the deadpannery work for me) I don’t consider myself part of his fanbase. But I reckon there are worse things than a short-n-unsweet (just 75 minutes!) Ron Swanson-led tour of middle-American ennui.

The Man Who Surprised Everyone
{5/25 6p Lincoln Square; 5/28 9:30p Pacific Place} 
A respected village husband and father (incredible Yevgeny Tsyganov), having received a terminal diagnosis, takes a Russian folk tale – conveyed by a drunken faux-witch, about a man who cheated death by changing his appearance – to heart. The miseries he endures after his transformation are many, and increasingly unpleasant to witness – the high quality of the filmmaking and the performances enhance the difficulty. A wonderful movie in many ways, highly deserving of all the accolades it’s garnering, but will very possibly bum you out.

Saf
{5/26 3:30p Lincoln Square}
Bleak, distressing Turkish film about timely and important topics: gentrification, unemployment, displacement, refugees. It concerns a desperate Istanbul resident and his decision to take a job with the same construction crew that’s ripping up his neighborhood. So, yeah, not a lighthearted romp by any stretch. The first and second halves are almost two different films, with increasing returns following a sharp shift in focus. But a good time at the movies this absolutely is not.

Sink or Swim
{5/26 6p Shoreline} 
Mathieu Amalric heads an all-star French cast as a man who, suffering from a mid-life crisis and prolonged unemployment, puts together his local pool’s first all-male synchronized swimming team. It essentially becomes a “ragtag misfits put on a big show” movie, and it’s a lot of fun, despite some head-scratcher choices made by some of the characters after the narrative really gets moving. And Guillaume Canet, as a dour divorced dad, seems to be in a different movie entirely – though I’d totally see his stark, contemplative drama on a different day. Amid the buoyancy, though, his storyline is kinda the “sink” here.

Sonja – The White Swan
{5/27 8:15p Lincoln Square} 
Despite being one of the greatest figure skaters ever (three Olympic golds weren’t for nothin’), and despite her sugar-sweet image in several kitschy pre-WWII Hollywood musicals, in real life Norwegian skating star Sonja Henie was… difficult. A monster, some might say: her personal acquaintance with Joseph Goebbels helped ensure wide releases for her films in Nazi Germany. The amazing first act of this biopic zips along quickly, the rise of a star punctuated with eye-popping skate visuals on the screen and cool Nordic dance pop in the soundtrack – a vintage story told in a contemporary way. The back half, though, is protracted, occasionally just dull, and (perhaps the ultimate figure-skating movie faux pas) extremely heterosexual.

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