Sunday, October 1, 2017

French Cinema Now at SIFF Cinema: Sept 28 - Oct 5 | Orcas Island Film Festival: Oct 6 - 9

The week sees the opening of Seattle International Film Festival's annual French Cinema Now series at SIFF Cinema. This year's program largely concerned with functional Eurodramas, little else on offer speaks to the exceptional quality of Agnes Varda's most recent investigation of place and identity, "Visages Villages". In the course of her humble, quietly groundbreaking, nearly 60-year career, this highlight of Cannes stands out as one of her most profoundly personal and exuberantly populist works. Much like her quietly triumphant, "The Gleaners and I" it watches as a tour de France that is both a romp and a meditation on photography, cinema, cultural identity, community and mortality. Additionally, the film is also a document of the unexpected kinship between anonymous 33 year old visual artist JR, and the octogenarian Left Bank auteur. Inspired equally by JR’s large scale photographic portraits produced in his mobile photo booth, as the locales they aspire to have a visual dialogue with, Varda enlists her counterpart for an impromptu cross-country road trip through France. At once poetic and naked truth, like director's best work, the documentary essay shape-shifts before one’s eyes, once again, "Agnès Varda, People Person, Creates a Self-Referential Marvel". Much in the way of Vardas' essayist documentary, it could be argued that the most overtly personal of his works, "Those Movies, Himself: Bertrand Tavernier’s Tour of French Cinema" essentially watches as an autobiographical account of his apprenticeship as a cinephile. If you are fascinated, as Bertrand Tavernier is, by generations of filmmakers as adaptable in their own different ways as Jean Renoir, Jacques Becker, Jean-Pierre Melville, Claude Sautet, and Edmond T. Gréville, then stylistically "Taking Film Lovers on an Incredible 'Journey' Through the Past", may be simply a form of historically minded generosity, inspiration, even humility. His three hour "My Journey Though French Cinema" is a non-chronological consideration of the above director's work and their shared era of French history. We join Tavernier’s personal assessment of the films and directors that influenced him, punctuated with insights into the lives and times of friends and mentors within the world of French cinema, set against the tumultuous events of mid-20th century Europe. The Guardian's review equating the shared journey with Taverier as documentarist and guide, "Like Cracking Open the Lid of a Cinematic Box of Delights".

In programming a festival of diverse yet qualitative content, the current body of the Seattle International Film Festival could take a page or two out of the per-capita seen on offer in this year's Orcas Island Film Festival. In the unlikely setting of the rural beauty of the San Juan islands, chief programmer Carl Spence, has produced a 30-odd-film program in their 4th year to rival that of its Seattle goliath. Too much on offer to cover here, but it should be noted that the program features northwest premiers of two of Cannes' most notable highlights. Foremost among them, there's been much ado both in cinema and visual art circles concerning the Palme d'Or winning, "The Square" in which director, "Ruben Östlund Turns Art World Satire into Performance-Art Cinema". Another crowning point from Cannes, Claire Denis delivers a subtly pointed observations of contemporary French life in, "Let the Sunshine In". This elegant, eccentric relationship comedy of ideas on middle age, with an almost inscrutable sophistication "Un Beau Soleil Interieur: Juliette Binoche Excels". Running through the shortlist, other highlights from the weekend's curation review as a essential assessment of the notable releases of the past half-year. The festival's program including, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Before We Vanish", Robin Campillo's "Beats Per Minute", a second opportunity to witness Agnes Varda's "Visages Villages", Alain Gomis' "Felicite", Ai WeiWei's "Human Flow", Fatih Akin's "In the Fade", Richard Linklater's "Last Flag Flying", Agnieszka Holland's "Spoor", Sean Baker's "The Florida Project", Aki Kaurismäki's "The Other Side of Hope", Joachim Trier's "Thelma", and Todd Haynes' well reviewed adaptation of Brian Selznick's illustrated children's novel, "Wonderstruck".