Final Weekend Round-Up

Note: The Closing Night Movie & Gala will be covered in a separate post.

Friday, April 22

The Passenger (Raul Cerezo, Fernando Gomez, 2021, Spain, 90 min) — 9:30PM @ Pac Place 11

Photo courtesy of SIFF

Of all the venues I’ve been to, Pac Place is the hardest to take pictures in. So, since the director and cinematographer were scheduled to attend, I made sure I was sitting closer to the front than usual. And then the person introducing the movie said they wouldn’t be there because the movie was ending so late. I wonder if they came the first night, since the showtime was the same.

Before the movie began, a short played called “Facies,” which was a light-hearted comedy about the Spanish Inquisition.

I’m kidding, it was brutal.

A sadistic Inquisitor (Carlos Santos) in 1692 Spain makes an inventor (Daniel Ortiz) create a torture device that will keep its victims alive for the last possible second while in complete agony. The inventor’s wife has been burned at the stake, and his daughter Elena (Lucia Diez) is in danger of the same fate, as she heals people with herbs. I enjoyed the slight twist at the end, though Santos is so large with his gestures that his performance threatens to cross into the ridiculous — which might be the point.

The Passenger starts with what I like to call a false beginning, where a scene occurs among people who don’t appear in the movie proper, but helps set up the movie to come. In this case, two hikers come across a weird patch of fog, from which a woman appears and runs at them. One of the hikers flees, while the other ones stays to help her. For his trouble, she kills him.

After this scene, we’re launched into the movie proper. Blasco is a ride share driver in a beat-up old van he calls Nessa. He’s driving Mariela to pick up two other passengers on the way to a remote village: Lidia and her teenage daughter Marta. We get to spend a fair amount of time with all these characters and get to know their personalities before we hear about reports of something seen falling from the sky. Then Blasco finds a craft on the side of the road, and in hurrying out of there, hits someone. Except that when they go back for her she doesn’t look….quite human. Blasco agrees to bring her to the hospital, but then she attacks Mariela and swaps bodies with her. From here on out it’s a straight horror film, with slight reprieves between encounters, including a scene where Blasco has to get gas because of a hole in the gas line.

Mood is essential in a horror movie, and here cinematographer Ignacio Aguilar excels, with sparse lighting and scenes dim enough to bring out the horrors of the dark while being bright enough to see everything that’s going on. Perspective and sound is also used well, with one scene using the sound of footsteps and an image in a side view mirror to create a sense of dread. While not in the same league as The Babadook or It Follows, it’s an efficient, and effective, horror film.

Saturday, April 23

Cha Cha Real Smooth (Cooper Raiff, 2022, USA, 107 min) — 8:00PM @ Uptown 1

Photo courtesy of SIFF

What a joyous film, helped by the large crowd that came out to see it (at least, large by this festival’s standards, as the first few rows in each section of House 1 were empty). And, like all comedies, it’s better seeing it with an audience.

Like Sublime, the film opens with our hero as a young kid, who decides he’s in love with the dance instructor at what looks to be a birthday party. Though she finds his declarations of love sweet, she continues, “but…..I’m old.”

The movie jumps forward ten years, and Andrew is now a recent college grad at 22. He works a shitty job at the food court, and his girlfriend Maya is about to go to Barcelona on a Fulbright scholarship. He tells her he’s going to make enough money so he can go to Barcelona, too, but he doesn’t seem to have any direction of his own.

Then he’s asked to bring his middle-school aged brother David to a bat-mitzvah because their mother is embarrassed to show her face there, as the mother of the girl hosting it witnessed her having a manic episode. At the bat mitzvah, two things happen. One, he meets the older Domino and her autistic daughter Lola. Second, the mothers see how good he is at getting everything out on the dance floor and want to hire him for their children’s parties.

As the Jig Conductor, Andrew DJs and coordinates the fun at more bar and bat mitzvahs, and gets to know Domino and Lola more. The second time they meet, he helps them home from a party after she suffers a miscarriage. He finds out she has a fiancé who is often in Chicago for a case he’s working on, but that doesn’t stop her from straddling him and making out with him briefly on the couch. Andrew isn’t sure that’s what she really wants to do, however, and future interactions, though charged with sexual tension, don’t lead to anything. He eventually meets her fiancé Joseph and Lola’s hamster Jerry, as he is recruited to babysit Lola when Domino has plans to go out and Joseph isn’t around.

If you think you know where this is going, it’s not that predictable, and is more grown up about adult relationships than most films. In its truths, it almost reaches the level of Superheroes, even if it does it in a more lighthearted movie (yet it knows when to get serious). Even our prejudices against Joseph turn out to be wrong.

Of all the films I’ve seen so far, this is the one that I’d most like to see again. For being honest about how messy relationships are, for giving props to experience over youth, and for making Lola a fully formed human being instead of a plot point or Oscar bait, this is my second favorite film of the festival, and the one that gave me the most warm fuzzies upon watching it.

Sunday, April 24

Framing Agnes (Chase Joynt, 2022, Canada, 75 min)– 12:00PM @ Uptown 3

Photo courtesy of SIFF

While everyone else was watching Marcel the Shell With the Shoes On, I decided to watch this documentary on trans history.

We start with Christine Jorgenson, the first man to successfully transition to a woman. In the years after World War II, her story was framed as one in which the US is so free, a man can become a woman (despite the fact she had to go to Denmark to get the procedure done). Mike Wallace interviewed her during the same years Harold Garfinkel was at UCLA conducting his gender-health research. After Garfinkel died in 2011, director/writer Chase Joynt and researcher Kristen Schilt went through his materials to find out what they could about Agnes. Near the end of their search, they found a rusted cabinet drawer, which they pried open. Inside, they found not only all of Agnes’s files, but also files of other gender nonconforming subjects that didn’t make it into the case files, including a trans woman of color (Georgia), a trans man (Henry), and a trans teen with a supportive mom (Denny). Using a talk show format (since most people in the general public came across trans people on afternoon talk shows) and shooting in black-and-white to evoke a 50s look, actors plays these roles as they re-enact the transcripts, while commenting on their subjects and what’s in these documents in-between these segments (Joynt himself plays Garfinkel).

Props to the movie for using such an ingenious device to reveal to us a history that has been unknown for too long. Agnes was thought to be a singular case of someone who lied to UCLA officials in order to qualify for sex reassignment surgery, and then later told them that she lied. Still, she “got the hormones, got the surgery, and made a life.” As it turns out, her story wasn’t a singular one, and going through these files reveals not only what it was like growing up in the 1950s as trans, but also Garfinkel’s shortcomings in understanding his subjects. And while the balance between re-enactment and self-reflection is maintained through most of the film, there is a section late in the film involving Jules Gill-Peterson (historian and producer of this film), where the balance comes precariously close to being undone.

I would’ve loved to have gotten more context on Agnes and why she’s considered so controversial and important in the trans community (something Joynt assumes people already know), and while it’s an important documentary to watch, especially considering its subject matter, I felt it could’ve been simultaneously tightened up a bit and broadened. Still, kudos to Joynt and Schilt for reclaiming a part of trans history that was lost for so many years.

Fire of Love (Sara Dosa, 2022, USA/Canada, 93 min) — 2:00PM @ Uptown 1

Photo courtesy of SIFF

I prefer an intense and short life to a long and monotonous one.

-Maurice Krafft

I went from one doc to another with Fire of Love, but first, I stood outside and got some sun. And while standing outside, I heard that Fire of Love had won an award during the Golden Space Needle Awards Brunch.

And it deserved it, as this doc narrowly became my favorite of the festival. It follows volcanologist couple Maurice Krafft (geologist) and Katia Krafft (geochemist), tracing the stories of their first meeting (there are several conflicting accounts) to their tragic deaths. We learn about their early activism against the French Indochina War and how plate tectonic theory was in its prime then.

Deciding not to have children, they devoted their lives to “volcanoes, volcanoes, volcanoes.” They even visited the volcanic island of Santorini for their honeymoon. At first, they studied both red and gray volcanoes, which are the only two categories that Maurice used. Red volcanoes are formed where tectonic plates pull apart. Their eruptions are gentle, and the lava flows follow set paths so you know where they will travel. Gray volcanoes are the killers. They’re formed when the plates collide. Their eruptions are unpredictable, and while there are signs before they erupt, there’s no way of knowing when the eruption will occur.

After the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, where the lava flow traveled 30 km north instead of the predicted 7 or 8 km (killing volcanologist David Johnston where he was stationed 10 km away), they decided to devote their lives to exclusively studying gray volcanoes since so little is known about them (of 350 volcanologists in the world at the time, only 50 specialized in these killer volcanoes). It was while studying a gray volcano in Japan (Mt. Unzen), that they died (this film is dedicated to the 43 people who died in that eruption).

Much of the documentary’s footage was shot by them or taken from programs Maurice and Katia appeared on. Voiceover narration provided by Miranda July fills out the story, with quotes provided by the Kraffts.

Their lasting legacy was in getting governments to create evacuation plans for volcanic eruptions, as well as creating a greater understanding of volcanoes through their films and books.

Exciting, inspiring, and terrifying (one eruption, in particular, was louder than I thought it would be and made me almost jump out of my seat), Fire of Love is a great documentary on life, love, and volcanoes.