Three Imaginary Girls

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The Sound of Noise

SIFF 2011’s concluding week is upon us, and the festival’s wily programmers have saved some of their best cinematic treats for last. Tickets will move fast in the final days, but there’s still ample opportunity to catch several incredible documentaries, a Dutch financial-collapse drama, or (if you must) a Northwest Bigfoot tale; all are set to unspool between now and June 12’s closing night brouhaha.


Buck{screens June 8 at 7pm at SIFF Cinema and June 9 at 6:30pm at Kirkland Performance Center; both screenings are on standby status}
Moving documentary about wise Montana cowboy and real-life “horse whisperer” Buck Brannaman, whose humane training methods counter medieval “breaking” practices in place for most of America’s history. The film effectively takes us from nightmarish childhood experiences (terrifying parent, rodeo circuit, ’70s Corn Pops TV-ad appearances) to a current-day personal and professional life of gentleness and grace. Buck demonstrating his legendary skills at “helping horses with people problems” is wondrous to behold, and his simple strive-to-be-better actions and attitude are superbly inspiring.

{screens June 6 at 4:15pm at the Egyptian}
Teen besties Atafeh and Shireen explore Tehran’s underground scene, fantasize about lesbian bars and the relative freedom of Dubai, and take the occasional road trip with Atafeh’s family (at the beach, the gals must remain covered head-to-toe while the guys’ asscracks and bulges hang out for Allah and the world to see). And Atafeh’s brother, a once-promising musician home from rehab, has replaced his substance addiction with something more sinister. A languid but gripping film that will make your blood boil.

Hot Coffee
{screens June 9 at 7pm at June 11 at 11am at the Harvard Exit}
In the assumed absence of bigtime extenuating circumstances, you surely remember hearing about the woman who sued McDonald’s after she suffered coffee burns in the early ’90s, right? Well, your take on the matter was very likely affected by conservative tort-reform advocates’ nefarious objectives. Turns out the case a harrowing example of extreme difficulties individuals can face when taking legal action against a corporation; it’s one of several explored in the delightfully enlightening documentary Hot Coffee. Fun man-on-the-street interviews are interspersed throughout deep-dives into a number of cases illustrating the dark sides of damage-limits legislation (“jackpot lawsuits” my ass), mandatory arbitration of disputes (which you’ve probably agreed to if you have a credit card of cell phone), and the pro-corporation front known as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. If you are American you are consistently being dissuaded from utilizing your civil justice system; Hot Coffee shows you what to do about it.

On the Ice
{screens June 10 at 9pm at Kirkland Performance Center}
It’s tough to cover up a crime in Barrow, Alaska, where pooled blood freezes and snowmobile tracks reveal most everywhere you’ve been. Teens Qalli and Aivaaq return from a seal hunt with the news that their friend James fell into the sea; after several unsuccessful searches, Qalli’s cop dad becomes increasingly suspicious of his son’s involvement in the incident, leading to an inevitable showdown between Qalli and Aivaaq over what really happened on that desolate ice. There’s never a doubt about the ultimate outcome, but On the Ice has a lot up its chilly sleeve: an ominous score accompanies stark visuals and a fascinating setting, working to join disparate elements and fill empty spaces left by story flaws and less-than-perfect performances (think Elaine Miles as Marilyn on Northern Exposure). Glimpses into these characters’ frosty day-to-day lives prove even more haunting than the screenplay’s Hitchcocky crime suspense.

Revenge of the Electric Car
{screens June 8 at 8:30pm at Kirkland Performance Center, June 10 at 7pm at the Egyptian, and June 12 at 4:30pm at the Harvard Exit}
Picking up where Who Killed The Electric Car? left off (the elimination of some 5,000 electric cars by 2006), the surprising and very exciting sequel quickly fast forwards five years, when some of the same companies (and a few new members of the club) have revved production of new electric models in Detroit, Tokyo, and the Silicon Valley. The resurrection tale replaces Who Killed‘s rabble-rousin’ agitprop with delicious corporate intrigue via astonishing access to four of the field’s visionaries: egomaniac GM CEO and cigar-chomper Bob Lutz, ridiculously business-unsavvy Elon Musk of Tesla Motors, eternally dollar-driven Nissan CEO Carlos Chosn, and Left Coast Motors’ oddball retrofitter enthusiast Greg “Gadget” Abbot. Taking us from boardrooms to production lines to showrooms (and to a Detroit church service that really must be seen to be believed), this nimble and stylish film demonstrates why revolutions don’t come easy. My favorite entry in SIFF 2011’s strong documentary lineup.

Sound of Noise
{screens June 9 at 7pm and June 11 at 1:15pm at the Neptune}
A tone-deaf detective pursues a group of aural resistance fighters (ok, terrorists) imposing unannounced public performances on a sleepy Swedish city. The filmmakers’ 2001 short Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers involved repurposing apartment furnishings as percussion instruments; Sound of Noise widens its focus to civic and cultural institutions. Even when a late-breaking magical-realist element doesn’t really make sense (even within the film’s cuckoo logic), it’s all such fun you really don’t care. Inventive, thoughtful, and hopelessly enchanting.

Sushi: The Global Catch
{screens June 8 at 7pm at the Admiral, and June 10 at 4:30pm at the Harvard Exit}
Interesting if uneven documentary on sushi’s history (humble street-food beginnings), culture (traditional Japanese sushi-makers must undertake a seven-year apprenticeship, two on rice preparation alone), and evolution (sustainable sushi is the way to go). Of most interest are sections on the enviro-impact of sushi’s insane world popularity (bluefin tuna consumption is contributing to a global ecosystem collapse; stop eating it now) and fun little glimpses at current sushi iterations, like a grilled-meat Texas version (sign reads “nothing raw, nothing weird”), and, um, Sushi Poppers. Yeah.


Flying Fish
Flying Fish{screens June 7 at 6:30pm and June 9 at 4pm at Pacific Place}
Three loosely-entwined stories (covering lost love, forbidden passion, and ethnic conflict), set against a variety of gorgeous tropical panoramas in a seemingly idyllic village, demonstrate the excruciating tension faced by Sri Lanka’s people during the Tamil insurgency. Beautifully-presented small moments — a bus cushion split from wear, a happy couple walking down train tracks holding a machine gun between them, a Tamil Tiger disrupting a school session to propagandize — punctuate a languorous and contemplative cinematic experience. It isn’t for everyone, but patient viewers who make it through Flying Fish‘s 125-minute runtime will experience a devastating jolt of an ending they won’t soon forget.

{screens  June 12 at 3:30pm at the Kirkland Performance Center}
On the periphery of a remote and snowy Turkish village, a mysterious stranger named Kosmos materializes just in time to save a small boy from certain death. A grateful community welcomes him, despite his weird mutterings and tendencies to shriek at people, after he shows he’s able to pull off other miraculous feats. (It all seems pretty Jesus-y to me.) The film’s cold beauty and strange goings-on are compelling enough, but at two-plus hours they wear thin and never add up to much.

On Tour
{screens June 9 at 9:30pm and June 11 at 3:30pm at the Neptune}
Acclaimed French actor Mathieu Amalric seems to turn up in at least one SIFF offering each year. In this colorful and glittery film, which he also directed, he plays Joachim, the manager of a bawdy troupe of American performers, all of whom are played by actual burlesque stars. As their titular tour around sleepy coastal towns wears on, Joachim’s love-hate relationship with sassy feather dancer Mimi Le Meaux (Miranda Colclasure) is highlighted, but his character never shows us much more than his general asshole nature, his tendency to make enemies, and his bad parenting skills. The performances are quite fun (even as most of the girls are better at burlesque than at acting), but the B-cup story is a bit small for a DD-sized runtime.

{screens June 10 at 7pm at Kirkland Performance Center}
Ivan, a big-eyed 24-year-old Amsterdam brokerage firm analyst who may or may not have Asperger’s, reveals himself to be a data-whiz wunderkind; promoted to a trader position he rakes in huge coin for the firm, and is rewarded with a swanky new apartment and some lovey-dove attention from a pretty receptionist. But as the profits and his reputation soar, Ivan finds himself growing increasingly detached. Bear Stearns collapses, a shitty one-minute PowerPoint presentation is given in memoriam of a deceased colleague, and solace is sought via such methods as an all-night missionary church service and a webcam-based gamblers’ support group. A bleak drama, but a captivating and well-made one.


Letters from the Big Man
Letters from the Big Man{screens June 10 at 6:30pm and June 11 at 4:30pm at SIFF Cinema}
When the enviro-chick Sarah (Lily Rabe) isn’t being too fierce and blindly independent to take well-informed suggestions, or grilling fellow National Park visitors like she owns the fucking place, or assigning feminine pronouns when referring to southwestern Oregon forests, or making bad watercolor art, she, um, communicates telepathically with a Harry and the Hendersons-lookin’ Sasquatch. Weird timing, huh? Hinted-at bigger ideas (perils of deforestation, bureaucratizing of public resources) are lost in a mire of unintentionally funny visuals, creaky dialogue, and a classicalish soundtrack that’s like being trapped inside a Peet’s Coffee.

The Most Important Thing in Life Is Not Being Dead
{screens June 9 at 9:30pm at the Egyptian, and June 11 at 1:30pm at Pacific Place}
This film seems to aim for a Jeunet-meets-Gilliam vibe, but it misses spectacularly. No fewer than three directors bring us the drab tale of an insomniac piano tuner (for whatever poorly-conceived reason he works from his home, because pianos are so portable and all) whose work mysteriously seems to get accomplished by itself… until it suddenly doesn’t anymore. And then he discovers that a strange man has been hiding out undetected in a hidden lair in his home for many years. And then… well, who cares. The central story’s logic doesn’t pan out, and the intended whimsy fails to mask the film’s numerous fatal flaws.

{screens June 11 at 6:30pm and June 12 at 11am at the Neptune}
It’s tough to believe famed British chef/writer Nigel Slater was ever the helpless, uninteresting, namby-pamby teen on display in this middling-at-best film. In telling of his ’60s Midlands early family life (mum and dad were averse to most non-tinned food, despite the veg garden out back), his mother’s death (sad and untimely), and his later-teen years in a new town with a new stepmum (deliciously vile Helena Bonham Carter, the best thing here), Toast‘s simplistic broadness compromises its plausibility; a Dusty Springfield-heavy soundtrack can’t even redeem it.