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Wednesday, February 18, 2004
Portland loves movies. I'm willing to bet there are more cinemas per capita in this city than any other the world, aside from maybe Los Angeles. It should come as no surprise that many a local cinemaphile goes ga-ga when the second week in February rolls around.
So what's so great about the second week in February? Well, it's not that cursed holiday named for a mafia bloodbath (such is my understanding). It's the PIFF, AKA The Portland International Film Festival.
Every year the PIFF gets healthy coverage by just about every publication in the city and most showings sell out. Some devotees even take time off from work to watch as many of the films as possible. They brag like grizzled war veterans, telling tales of watching five movies a day for two weeks straight.
Now the vast majority of these films are hardly my cup of OK Soda. 95% of PIFF's offerings consist of stodgy dramas and political documentaries. The average film is of the "follow one Pakistani woman's courageous battle against bunions" variety. Speaking as someone that would love to see the PIFF offer crazier films, a lot is left to be desired. Midnight showing of international action, horror and youth-oriented flicks would be a welcome addition. Currently, the only local outlet for these genres is the Clinton Street Theater and there's only so much its single screen can handle.
Out of PIFF's large showcase of films, there was two I decided to see: Twilight Samurai and The Dreamers. Because this post just isn't quite long enough, I've decided to tell you all about them. If you stopped reading two paragraphs back, well, then screw you.
The film follows a retired samurai named Iguchi. His wife is dead, leaving him to contend with their two adorable daughters and a not-so-adorable senile mother. After working long shifts as a paper-pushing bureaucrat, he comes home to crops that need tending. On top of it all, he works part time making bug cages out of bamboo.
When and old school chum flees her abusive husband, it's up to Iguchi to clean up the mess. The husband, a high-ranking samurai, challenges him to a duel. He hasn't touched a sword in years but, because he's still a BAM*, he knows it'll be a cakewalk. Their brief battle is a nice display of pacing and sound and suggests better things to come. Unfortunately, after Iguchi defeats him using only a stick of bamboo, the movie settles back into another hour of tedious exposition before crawling towards a conclusion.
Harry Knowles listed Twilight Samurai as one of the best movies of 2003 and described it as the Japanese equivalent of Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. While the two films carry the same themes, Twilight is altogether too slow to really be enjoyable. I went in expecting something along the lines of Yojimbo and wound up with a quiet fable about of and regret. Is this a good film? Yes. Does it deserve to be seen by a larger American audience. Sure. Would it have been better if Iguchi was forced into the service of a lord, offering a final hour of brilliant fight scenes along with the pathos? Y-e-s.
* If you have to ask, you'll never know.
If the PIFF offered more films like this, I'd happily submit to its grueling five-flicks a day schedule. The Dreamers is one of those films that comes around every five years; a European drama that gives American cinema a swift kick in the ass. For lack of a better point of reference, I'll call describe it as a Parisian Trainspotting with more nudity and no marble-mouthed Scottish accents.
It's 1968 and Matthew, an American student, is sitting out the Vietnam War in France. With nothing better to do, he spends his days at the local cinematheque. One day, he wanders over and finds the place closed by the local authorities. A crowd of hoppin' mad Parisians has gathered to protest and one young woman, Isabelle, has chained herself to a gate. A conversation ensues, her twin brother Theo rolls up and the three of them spend the evening wandering the streets tossing movie trivia at each other.
After their parents leave for a month-long holiday, the siblings invite Matthew to stay with them. Slowly, it begins to dawn on him that something ain't right. Isabelle and Theo are big fans of "brotherly love." They sleep nude together and have obviously been boinking for years. Each bears a scar on their arms from when they were separated at birth. With the world's most perfect breasts at her disposal, Isabelle quickly seduces Matthew. In turn, Theo becomes hoppin' mad and wackiness, as it usually does, ensues. The three of them spend the month smoking pot, trashing the apartment and declaring physiological warfare on one other while the world outside burns. It should also be mentioned they do most of this while sitting around completely neeked.
The last 15 minutes of the film is a perfect, heart-breaking analogy for the contradictions of '60s counter-culture. Despite its NC-17 rating, The Dreamers will probably get a healthy release in the US. If you're curious and confident you'll never see the damn thing, despite the copious amounts of nudity, read Roger Ebert's spoiler-filled review.