SIFF 2018 Edition: Capsule Reviews, Week One

Here are capsule reviews for all the films I’ve seen so far at the Seattle International Film Festival. Reviews are alphabetical by title. Included is my rating of each film. As per Golden Space Needle ballots, films are rated on a scale of 1 to 5:

1=Awful. Major flaws in plot/characters/writing/filmmaking. No reason to see this film unless you have to, and then I still wouldn’t.

2=Okay to average. Some major/minor flaws in plot/characters/writing/filmmaking. Not good enough to recommend.

3=Above average to good. A few major/minor flaws in plot/characters/writing/filmmaking. Films in this category either garner a slight recommendation from me or almost do.

4=Very good to great. Might have a few minor flaws in it. All films in this category are recommended viewing.

5=Excellent to outstanding. Very few flaws, if any. The best of the best.

Ava: Ava (Mahour Jabbari) is a teenager who lives in Iran. When she goes out with Nima (Houman Hoursan) under the guise of practicing music with her best friend Melody (Shayesteh Sajadi), her mother discovers the lie and sets in action a series of events that slowly transforms Ava from a model student and daughter into a rebel. Director, producer, and writer Sadaf Foroughi’s first feature is a solid film, but needs to be tauter. Non-actor Jabbari, who was 16 at the time the film was made, is a find. Opened April 27 in limited release.

Blaze: Ethan Hawke directs this biopic about songwriting legend Blaze Foley (actor and musician Ben Dickey). Based on the book Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley by his lover and muse Sybil Rosen (Alia Shawkat), the film focuses on the relationship between Foley and Rosen, even after they split ways. The chemistry between them is wonderful and mirrors that of a real couple; that and Blaze’s songs are strong reasons for seeing this film. Playing as part of A Tribute to Ethan Hawke on Friday, June 8, and the following day as a stand-alone film. Release date TBA.

The Bookshop: The Opening Night movie about a woman (Emily Mortimer) trying to open a bookshop in a town resistant to it seems strangely abridged. (d: Isabel Coixet) Opens August 24 in limited release.

The Devil’s Doorway: This solid horror film (originally shot on 16mm!) would benefit from a slower build in its terror and more character development (particularly Father John). Having said that, it’s scary as fuck, and knows how to include both unsettling images at the corner of the frames and jump scares. And since Magdalene laundries were horrible places, anyway, it’s not difficult to imagine greater evils taking place there.(d: Aislinn Clarke)  No release date set. World Premiere

Disobedience: Sebastián Lelio’s latest deals with a closed Jewish community and the lost sheep (Rachel Weisz) who returns home when her father (the much-beloved rabbi) dies. We soon find out she left due to a scandal with another woman (Rachel McAdams), who is now married to their best friend and the rabbi’s best pupil (Alessandro Nivola). Now playing. Full review  

The Faces of Zandra Rhodes: The world-famous fashion designer is given a documentary as eclectic and vibrant as her fashion sense. We get some biography, but not until a lengthy opening concerning a fashion show she’s putting on while simultaneously being asked to design the costumes for Seattle Opera’s The Pearl Fishers. We also get some repetition in her saying that she always wears the clothes she designs (mentioned three times), one slight title card spelling error, and many interviews with the fashion models, artists, and other people she’s worked with over the years, including Angelica Huston. Somehow, it all works and gets better as it goes on, but it’s dense, which one would expect from a project that began in 1982 with a fashion show in La Jolla, California.(d: David Wiesehan)  No release date set. World Premiere

Love, Gilda: A solid, lean documentary about the late comedienne, with readings from her audio book, It’s Always Something, a generous portion of clips from SNL, TV interviews, and home movies, and present-day interviews with the people who knew her best, and those who followed in her footsteps on Saturday Night Live. If you’re a fan, you’ll love this film; if you know nothing about her, this is a great place to start. (d: Lisa D’Aplito) Release date TBA.

Sadie: Megan Griffiths’s film about a 13-year-old girl (Sophia Mitri Schloss) whose dad is overseas in the military and whose mother (Melanie Lynskey) has started dating the cute neighbor (John Gallagher, Jr.) that just moved in. Unfortunately, Sadie has feelings for him while angry that he’s trying to take the place she feels is reserved for her dad. Even worse, she’s at the point where she’s more intelligent than she is wise. Playing as part of An Afternoon with Melanie Lynskey and as a stand-alone film on Wednesday, June 6. No release date set. Full review

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?: This wonderful documentary shares the life and philosophy of the late Fred Rogers through archival footage, interviews, and cartoons, expertly edited together. It resists turning him into a saint, but still reveals him as an extraordinary human being. Bring tissues. (d: Morgan Neville) Opens June 15.

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SIFF 2018 Edition: Disobedience

Disobedience_KeyArt

Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz. Photo courtesy of SIFF

When I watched Sebastián Lelio’s previous film, A Fantastic Woman, the earth moved. With Disobedience, there were only slight rumblings. Films, like music, need a thread to tie them together from beginning to end, whether it be through story, images, sounds, dialog, or a repeating motif. There is such a thread in Disobedience, but it often thins to nothing, pricking the viewer with its needle.

A rabbi (Anton Lesser) passes away. The daughter (Rachel Weisz) is called back home. We sense something is amiss. There is a coldness to those who welcome her back. The society she left is a conservative Jewish one. Married women wear wigs outside the bedroom. Men do not touch women not their wives. Couples have sex every Friday. The synagogue is segregated: women sit in the balcony, men sit below.

Most of the surprise of what will happen has been spoiled by advance press concerning Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams’s love scene together. The film wants to be Call Me By Your Name for women, but the complexity of its subject would seem more at home in a novel, where each character could be given her own chapter. Despite terrific acting, I never felt completely connected to these people, or felt that Esti (McAdams) would pine after Ronit (Weisz) without finding love elsewhere, however briefly. Call Me By Your Name was based on a novel, and yet fleshed out its characters more.

But is that what the movie’s about? Take note of the opening. The soon-to-be-deceased rabbi is giving a sermon on God’s creation. He mentions that the angels are perfect, and so are incapable of sin, since they cannot choose to be sinners. The beasts also do not sin, as they follow what’s in their nature, and their nature was chosen by God. Only humans are given the freedom to choose. Is this, then, its message? That we have the freedom to choose? Choose our partners, our communities, our lives? Certainly it doesn’t mean choosing our sexuality, for that if that were the case, the movie would’ve ended differently, and I would’ve stormed out of the theater. Nor is it about choosing acceptance, for the Jewish community in this film cannot accept homosexuality any more than it can accept other deviations from its traditions.

So the thread breaks and the pattern unravels, and we cannot see where the needle has gone. While this is still a solid film in its camera work, imagery, acting, and script, it does not shake the heavens, nor does it stir the heart.

Now playing at AMC Seattle 10, which used to be Sundance Cinemas, which used to be the Metro. Also playing at AMC Pacific Place.