PIFF Recommendation: ‘Café de Flore’

Written by Nick Bruno. This review has been re-published from the blog The Rain Falls Down on Portlandtown.

When writing during PIFF 34 about Le Quattro Volte (The Four Times), I noted that every year there’s at least one film at the festival that seems to come out of nowhere, surprising me to no end and causing me to wonder how it escaped being caught up in the festival-circuit hype machine. This year, Café de Flore is that film.

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y.The Young Victoria), this French-Canadian import had me aware that I was watching a truly great film in the first fifteen minutes, something that always makes me nervous, worrying about the path that the rest of film will take, hoping that the delicate balance struck by the filmmakers doesn’t dissipate before the end credits crawl across the screen.

Café de Flore did not disappoint. Vallée is unapologetic in his attempts to wow the audience with the sheer audacity of how he intends to tell the story.  His technique is an invigorating mixture that pulls from familiar scenarios; a man who regrets where his choices have led him, while pushing the tale with a structure that offers unique thrills throughout.

At the beginning of the film, we’re introduced to three characters: Antoine (Kevin Parent), Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) and Carole (Hélène Florent). Thanks to the fact that dreams are heavily involved in the story — one of the three characters is a somnambulist — it’s initially unclear if all of the characters are real, due to the disruptive nature of the quick shifts between sleeping and waking states and Vallée’s clever use of differing color palettes. This ambiguity, coursing through the whole of the picture, heightens the storytelling beyond the base realities of the lives portrayed. The result is a film that dares the audience to care; a drama with all the dressings of a tense thriller.

I’ll be very surprised if I am still not raving about Café de Flore at the end of the year. So far, I’ve seen twenty-four of the features programmed for this year’s festival. Of that number, Café de Flore easily rests in the top three overall.

“Café de Flore” screens at the Lloyd Mall 5 on Feb. 13th at 6 p.m.  A final screening will occur on Monday, Feb. 20th at the Cinema 21 at 7:30 p.m. For more information and to purchase tickets in advance, check out the official PIFF Web site.

PIFF Recommendation: ‘Monsieur Lazhar’

Written by Nick Bruno. This review has been re-published from the blog The Rain Falls Down on Portlandtown.

Philippe Faladeau’s Monsieur Lazhar travels well-trodden cinematic ground; it’s easily filed into the inspirational teacher genre, of which there are already some fairly successful models out there (To Sir, with Love and Stand and Deliver come to mind).  So it’s nice to see that what could have been yet another by-the-numbers entry is, in fact, an intelligent and humanistic look at a group of students and the adults mentoring them through the healing process in the wake of a tragic event.

Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) is a man who has recently immigrated to Quebec from his Algerian homeland.  He shows up at the elementary school where most of the action of the film takes place, seeking to replace a teacher who has recently died.  While the circumstances behind Bachir’s move are complicated, they make him the ideal candidate for dealing with a classroom packed full of children who have recently experienced their own loss.

While Fellag is wonderful in the film, exuding both deep sorrow and empathy, often in the same moment, the children’s performances are amazingly nuanced as well.  This is especially true of the work of Sophie Nélisse and Émilien Néron, both of whom fearlessly project a complexity beyond their years.

Monsiuer Lazhar is an excellent film with an emotional core that has the potential to resonate for all ages (however, younger children might have difficulty with the themes or the fact that the film is subtitled).  In many ways, it reminded me of Thomas McCarthy’s The Visitor, another film that tackles difficult subject matter in an optimistic fashion without attempting to declaw the more troubling aspects at play.

“Monsiuer Lazhar” screens at the Lloyd Mall 6 today at 6:15 p.m.  Its final screening is  on Wednesday, Feb. 15th at Pioneer Place 5 at 8:45 p.m. For more information and to purchase tickets in advance, check out the official PIFF Web site.

Nel Centro Puts On Quite the Party

The 35th Portland International Film Festival opened last night with CBS Films’ SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN followed by an absolutely smashing party at Nel Centro.

Coming soon on our Flickr  we’ll have more images of scrumptious food, divine drinks and the festive atmosphere to share!

A thousand thanks to Nel Centro and the Hotel Modera for putting on the ritz!

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Adjust Your Tracking #4: The PIFFkeepers

Adjust Your Tracking is the new podcast produced through the facilities of the Northwest Film Center Newsroom. The show is hosted by Joe von Appen and Erik McClanahan, and is produced by Jessica Lyness and Laurel Degutis. Opinions expressed are that of the hosts, and not necessarily of the Northwest Film Center. In episode 4, Joe and Erik  find time to review Ti West‘s new horror film The Innkeepers, then give in to PIFF madness to give several recommendations to check out at the festival. Finally the show concludes with a PIFF-inspired edition of Laptop Cinema.

A reminder to all readers and listeners that PIFF 35 has officially kicked off. The festival goes from February 9 – 25, with more than 80 shorts and features from around the globe screened. We’ll have more on the festival next week and pretty much the rest of the month. We hope you look forward to our coverage.

New episodes of AYT are released every Thursday, so make sure to come back and check out what Joe and Erik are discussing. We’d love to hear your feedback in the comments section, or feel free to email adjustyourtracking@gmail.com or follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/adjustyourtrack. You can download the podcast by right-clicking the link below and selecting ‘Save Link As…’ Once saved, the show can be played in iTunes or any other mp3 player. Or stream it on the embedded player.

AYT #4

Life Without Principle

Director Johnnie To (The Heroic Trio, Election, Exiled) has been known for bringing fast paced action films to the screen, until now. With his latest film Life Without Principle he takes a sharp turn into a slowly unfolding financial thriller that is both a testament to the aggressive greed and fanatical wealth hoarding that grips so many of the people in contemporary Hong Kong.

The film tells the story of three characters. First, there is financial analyst Teresa (Denise Ho) who is forced to sell high-risk securities to customers in order to keep her job. Then comes Panther (Lau Ching Wan), a small time thug who messes around with the futures index in order to make enough money to post bail for a friend. Finally, Cheung Ching Fong (Richie Ren) is an upright and honest police inspector suddenly plunged into financial misfortune when his wife presses him with an ultimatum. In desperate need of money, each character is forced to make questionable choices when a middle-aged loan shark is killed for his bag of millions and a whole lot of money suddenly turns up “available.”

Director To brings out solid performances from his alumni cast, who deliver unflinching looks at a time of financial strain when desperation and compromise can make even the best of us act like ruthless maniacs. The Vancouver Film Festival had this to say of To’s directorial excellence: “[He] shows his mastery of urban space, tension, and action … [and is] one of contemporary cinema’s preeminent visual structuralists.”

Catch Life Without Principle at this year’s PIFF35. Showing on Sunday February 12 at 8 PM (Whitsell Auditorium), Tuesday February 21 at 6:15 PM (Lloyd Mall 6), and Thursday February 23 at 8:45 PM (Cinemagic).

Surviving Life

With a title like Surviving Life, it’s no wonder that Jan Švankmajer’s new feature film blends reality with fantasy and the subconscious. Using a mix of cutout animation from photographs and live-action segments, internationally acclaimed director and animation godfather Švankmajer (Alice, Faust) brings his unique and surreal vision to this darkly humorous story of a married man who lives a very strange existence.

Watch the trailer for Surviving Life below.

The story revolves around Eugene (Václav Helšus) who leads a double life, so to speak. In real life he has a wife named Milada (Zuzana Kronerová), but in his dreams he has a young girlfriend named Eugenia (Klára Issová). Sensing that these dreams have some deeper meaning, he goes to see a psychoanalyst, Dr. Holubova. The doctor interprets the dreams for Eugene, with the help of some argumentative psychoanalytical babble from the animated heads of Freud and Jung, of course.

Featuring giant snakes, chickens, eggs, and feet that constantly pop out of the photographs of Czech buildings, Surviving Life has been described as an offbeat, psychoanalytical comedy. It premiered at the 67th Venice International Film Festival and was nominated for the 24th European Film Awards, which was presented in Berlin on December 3, 2011.

See it at this year’s Portland International Film Festival (PIFF 35) on Wednesday February 15 at 8:45 PM (Whitsell Auditorium) or Wednesday February 22 at 9 PM (Whitsell Auditorium).

Café du Flor

From Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y., The Young Victoria) comes Café du Flor, a challenging and emotionally raw look at love.

Watch the trailer for Café de Flore below.

Told in two parallel stories, Flor first takes us to contemporary Montreal where hotshot musician DJ Antoine (Kevin Parent) and his ex-wife Carole (Hélène Florent), the mother of his two daughters, are clearly not over their breakup, which happened two years prior. Antoine is involved in an intense relationship with Rose (Évelyne Brochu), but he’s racked by guilt about the breakup. Yet his angst does not compare to Carole’s, who is tortured by the dueling forces of insomnia and strange nightmares, unable to come to terms with the reality that Antoine, whom she believed was her soulmate, is no longer sharing her bed, or her life.

The other narrative of Café de Flore unravels in 1969 Paris as we’ve hardly seen it: a decidedly unglamorous city. Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) is a single mother raising Laurent (Marin Gerrier), her Down’s syndrome afflicted son. Jacqueline’s single-minded determination to protect him from the world borders on obsession.

The two story lines eventually link up, possibly causing some viewers to lose their patience with the twisting, turning plots.

As usual, Vallée garners stunning performances from his cast. Paradis plays against type and dives headfirst into the surprisingly ferocious mother-on-a-mission role. Rose (Brochu) is the woman who’s stuck in the middle of the psycho-drama that is Antoine (Parent) and Carole’s (Florent) tumultuous relationship. But the stunner seems to be Parent. A singer-songwriter in real life, this is his first film, which he has pulled off with sublime skill. He embraces rock star confidence and sex appeal while hinting at tenderness.

With a soundtrack that weaves together Sigur Rós, Pink Floyd, The Cure,  and the jazz-inspired song by British DJ Matthew Herbert that inspired the title, Café de Flore is a film not to be missed.

Catch Café de Flore at PIFF35. Playing Saturday February 11th at 5:30 PM (Lake Twin Cinema), Monday February 13th at 6 PM (Lloyd Mall 5), and Monday February 20th at 7:30 PM (Cinema 21).

“Pink Ribbons, Inc” doubts Susan G. Komen’s Planned Parenthood reversal

Most of us have heard the outcry over the very recent Planned Parenthood/Susan G. Komen conflict. The conflict started with the Foundation’s announcement that it had instituted a new policy, which would refuse funding to organizations under Congressional investigation, making Planned Parenthood no longer eligible for a renewed Foundation grant.

In a popular turn of events, the Foundation went on the record to say that it will only refuse funding for organizations after investigations have proven “criminal and conclusive in nature.” At the exact moment Susan G. Komen released the news, Indiewire was speaking with 2011 Toronto International Film Festival Pink Ribbons, Inc. producer Ravida Din about how her film helps to contextualize the world of pink capitalism and philanthropy.

Pink Ribbons, Inc. critiques the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the industry surrounding the pink ribbon campaign for turning cancer into a marketing ploy. It also takes the big pink-ribbon players to task for concentrating funding on the pharmaceutical industry and preventive measures that ignore problems that would change the way some people do business.  The film opens in Canada this weekend, in conjunction with World Cancer Day, and will head to a few festivals in the coming months.

Luckily, PIFF35 is one of the few! See Pink Ribbons, Inc on Wednesday February 22 at 8:30 PM (Cinema 21) and Saturday February 25 at 3:30 PM (Whitsell Auditorium).

The above is a summary taken from a recent Indiewire article by Bryce J. Renninger. To view Renninger’s piece in its entirety go here. To buy tickets to see the film at PIFF go here.

Monsieur Lazhar

Last month, Toronto film critics named Philippe Falardeaus Monsieur Lazhar as their best Canadian film of 2011. The Quebec film, which is Canada’s contender for the best foreign language film at this year’s Academy Awards, beat out another French-language film, Jean Marc Vallees Cafe de flore, and David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, for top honors at the Toronto Film Critics Association kudosfest in Toronto. Monsieur Lazhar, which is from the producers of Incendies (last year’s audience favorite at PIFF34) has also earned the best Canadian feature film prize at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Monsieur Lazhar is Falardeau’s fourth feature length film, and not to be missed. Set in Montreal, it begins with the suicide of a female elementary school teacher. Bachir Lazhar, an Algerian immigrant, is quickly hired to replace her while he is experiencing a personal tragedy of his own. His wife, who was a writer, died in a criminal arson attack with her daughter and son, a fire caused by targets (along with their associates) of the last book she wrote dealing with the social and economic shortcomings in present-day Algeria, from which comes the phrase eloquently said by Bachir: “Nothing is ever really normal in Algeria.” He gets to know his students despite the cultural gap that is evident from the very first lesson. As the class tries to move on from their former teacher’s suicide, nobody at the school is aware of Bachir’s painful past, who could be deported at any time given his status as a refugee.

PIFF35 brings Monsieur Lazhar on Saturday Feb 11 at 3 PM (Lake Twin Cinema), Monday Feb 13 at 6:15 PM (Lloyd Mall 6), and Wednesday Feb 15 at 8:45 PM (Pioneer Place 5).

Red Carpet Tea: Back in Action for PIFF 35

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The Film Center blend is back for PIFF: the proceeds go to the School of Film.

Before last year’s Portland International Film Festival, Film Center staff members were given the opportunity to visit Smith Teaworks and, working with a variety of ingredients, create their own blend of tea. Participants concocted blends ranging from black and green teas to herbal infusions, before conducting a blind taste test to find the one they liked best. “In regards to the particular tea that was chosen, I offered very little guidance,” said Smith. “I tasted and commented on each of the blends, but they pretty much had free rein.” The winning blend, created by School of Film Education Program Assistant Miles Sprietsma, was then scaled into a larger batch by Smith for a 50-box series.

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