Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

Red Rooms

Our big annual cine-celebration (the 50th overall!) strikes again Thursday evening, May 9, with Thelma. This will of course be followed by plenty more to feast your eyes and ears and emotions on before the in-person smorgasbord comes to a close on May 19, with screenings at usual SIFFy spots: the Paramount (opening night); SIFF Cinemas Egyptian and Uptown and Downtown (formerly Cinerama, a welcome re-addition to the venue roster!); Pacific Place; Majestic Bay; and Shoreline Community College. Then a slate of select streaming titles will follow May 20-27.

As we ran down a couple weeks ago, there will be 92 feature films, 5 archival presentations, and 115 shorts on offer this year. I’ve been able to check out a small fraction of these pre-fest, and will be balancing day-job duties to get to a few more during-fest, and plan to update this post throughout with short reviews as I go.

First up, 5/7/24, my early takes on ten features – six to see, three to be cautiously optimistic/pessimistic about, and one to avoid (unless you’re high as hell).

5/12/24: Added capsules for We Strangers, Voy! Voy! Voy!, and Why Dinosaurs.

DON’T MISS:

• Red Rooms
{5/14 8:30p Majestic Bay, 5/15 9:15p Uptown}
The high-profile case of serial killer Ludovic Chevalier – accused of unthinkably horrific acts against teen girls – has just gone to trial, and Montréal model Kelly-Anne is obsessed; she attends the proceedings (inside the slickest and lightest courtroom ever) each day. When reality blurs with her morbid fantasies (to quote one character, vraiment weird), she goes down a dark path to seek a missing piece of grisly evidence. Juliette Gariépy, giving a super-chilly young Winona Rider vibe in a quietly fascinating performance, keeps Kelly-Anne a mystery as tone and style shift in the absolute scream of a third act; its sheer audacity more than justifies the 2-hour runtime.

• Scala!!!
{5/13 9:30p Egyptian; 5/16 3p Uptown}
Lively, colorful, joyous documentary on the infamous Scala Cinema in King’s Cross, London, a repertory house whose eclectic run (1978-1993) featured nose-thumbing alternative programming, midnight madness, illicit pornography, and transgressive politics that often countered the Thatcher-ness of the time. The Scala’s anarchic reputation attracted and inspired a whole generation of renowned musicians, artists, and filmmakers, many of whom (John Waters and Mary Harron among them) make appearances to reminisce. A very fun film and true love letter not only to (sadly less and less common) weird cinema spaces, but also to the communities that cherish them.

• Slow
{5/13 1:30p Uptown; 5/16 9p Pacific Place; 5/20-27 streaming}
Sundance-winning Lithuanian filmmaker Marija Kavtaradze’s engaging and lovely film follows a dancer named Elena (Greta Grineviciute), who has hit it off with Dovydas (Kestutis Cicenas), an interpreter for the Deaf. As their relationship blooms, he reveals that he is asexual, leaving the couple to explore new paths of intimacy and romance. What follows is a lot of discussion about compromise, some very interesting choreography, and a bit of stumbling toward finding the pair’s path to lasting partnership. Sometimes the film does feel a little, well, slow, but the overall effect lingers.

• The Summer with Carmen
{5/15 9p Egyptian; 5/19 6p Uptown; 5/20-27 streaming}
Frustrated over personal and career setbacks, actor friends Demos and Nikitas spend time on a clothing-optional beach in Greece concocting a screenplay pitch, based on memories from the summer of the title. (Carmen is an ex’s dog, a key character beginning in what we’re very clearly shown is Act II.) Their story concept plays out in a film-within that’s not as droll or zippy or existential as its framing device, and only slightly less naked. It’s all fun, though, vibrantly designed, gleefully queer.

• Terrestrial Verses
{5/20-27 streaming}
A quick series of vignettes follow people from all walks of Tehran life as they navigate the cultural, religious, and institutional constraints imposed on them. Individually the short tales – set at job interviews, police stations, a clothing store, a school principal’s office, etc. – have a light touch, even when the conversations within them are infuriating, and they capture the spirit and determination of people amidst adversity. Collectively the film offers a nuanced portrait of frustration – a uniting force that may one day shake establishments to their foundations.

• We Have Never Been Modern
{5/14 9:15p Downtown; 5/17 1p Downtown}
This knockout kicks off as a thriller, following a 1937 Czech factory owner’s pregnant wife (Eliška Křenková), who’d left her medical education behind to help build a business and family with her husband, as she investigates a mystery around the discarded body of a stillborn intersex baby. This is a film filled with visual surprise; director Matej Chlupacek beautifully applies contemporary stylings to images of the past, then tweaks cine-narration conventions, then scoots them aside so deftly you barely realize when the film switches genres completely. Křenková is amazing to watch as she serves charm and pluck amid some very zippy spins on thriller tropes. Surely a best-of-fest contender.

• We Strangers
{5/17 8p Uptown; 5/18 4p Pacific Place}
Commercial cleaner Ray (the mononymous actor Kirby, in a wry and luminous performance) accepts a high-paying job as a personal housekeeper for a well-off suburban family, assimilating by necessity and gradually pervading by choice. Sarah Goldberg (of Barry), as the family’s maternal figure, serves bitter sardonicism amazingly well; her facial expressions alone, particularly during a kinda-seance sequence with Kirby, are worth the time and ticket. A sense of unease, a slight volatility, pervades throughout this scene, and many others as well. We Strangers is the feature debut of Anu Valia, and it feels like a film that future superfans of the very gifted director will someday debate endlessly and cherish fully. For now it’s striking and slim (80 minutes!), uneasy yet absorbing.

TAKE OR LEAVE:

• The Missing
{5/17 11a Pacific Place; 5/18 6:30p Shoreline}
The Philippines’ Oscar® submission is an inconsistently-paced, blended-animation film about a mute video game designer who, when sent to check in on his missing uncle, encounters the space alien who stole his mouth (!) as a child. A twisty, Mysterious Skin-type tale ensues. Director Carl Joseph Papa gets props for delving into real-life trauma drawn from his personal childhood experiences, and the emotional story has undeniably gripping moments (brought to life in vivid rotoscope), but the action doesn’t quite fill out the 90-minute runtime.

• The Quiet Maid
{5/13 12:30p Uptown}
Colombian maid Ana (Paula Grimaldo) has just arrived at the Costa Brava vacation estate of her rich new art-dealer employers, only to find she’s being taken for a ride: She learns from a neighboring house’s maid that legal residency and a permanent job contract are next to impossible. Writer-director Miguel Faus’ debut feature is bright and beautiful on the surface, but darkness is never far – it infects Ana eventually, as her little acts of revenge begin to compound. An enraging and often engaging film, but ultimately just short of satisfying.

• Sebastian
{5/18 11:30a Uptown}
Twentysomething freelance magazine writer Max, impatiently hoping to publish a first novel, becomes a gay escort under the pseudonym Sebastian to fuel his not-all-fiction. Immersed in the role of his protagonist, he finds himself losing his grip on where the narrative should end, becoming a shitty colleague and friend in the process. Sluggish stretches add to the film’s too-long runtime, the lead performance underwhelms, and plot twists aren’t so twisty at all, but a late appearance by the great Jonathan Hyde adds much-needed layers of humanity and depth to the proceedings.

• Voy! Voy! Voy!
{5/14 1:30p Uptown}
Egypt’s official Oscar® submission, inspired by reality, follows a man named Hassan in his desperate attempts to leave his home country. With few options left (wooing a wealthy elder white lady is just one thing that hasn’t worked out), he pretends to be blind so he can join a disabled soccer team headed to a tournament in Poland. This is a broad crowd-pleaser whose narrative gets more interesting as the schemes become a full-fledged criminal enterprise. Slight, but surprisingly fun.

• Why Dinosaurs
{World Premiere. 5/18 10:30a Uptown; 5/20-27 streaming}
This nicely-produced, PBS-y documentary traces the humble beginnings, explorations, and apparent universal allure of dinosaurs and the science around them, via the lens of self-confessed dino-enthusiast James Pinto (it was produced over the course of 3.5 of his teen years, alongside his filmmaker dad Tony). Museum curators, toy collectors, artists and paleontologists lend perspectives and stories to Pinto’s dinosaur-fascination history, with the help of illustrative animations and many film/TV clips. All-ages fun for dinosaur fans and those who love them.

SKIP:

• The Primevals
{5/14 9:30p Egyptian; 5/20-27 streaming}
This film’s making-of story might be more interesting than the product: Conceived in the ‘70s, photography commencing in the ‘90s but abandoned after the director passed away a few years later, recent completion after a crowdfunding campaign. The result could have been punchy late-night fun – a grab bag of accented English in an early scene almost made me chuckle (and perhaps wish I’d consumed a THC gummy before viewing), and the Ray Harryhausen-like stop motion effects are often impressive. But (in a sober state) the performances, dialogue, and even the premise itself – scientists travel to Nepal to investigate the icy death of a Yeti, and discover a hidden land populated by prehistoric creatures – just left me cold.