Seattle International Film Festival report #1

SIFF is the largest and most attended festival of its kind in the United States. 

I’m here in sunny Seattle (well, it did rain a bit today but weather should be clear the rest of the week) attending press screenings prior to the opening of the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) proper. SIFF ( runs from May 20 to June 13 this year and is the largest and most attended festival of its kind in the United States. To be precise, SIFF will present 406 films in 25 days, including 25 world premieres, 26 North American premieres and 12 U.S. premieres. They also run several weeks of press screenings (most of which are also open to “civilians” who buy a SIFF pass) and we’re in the second week of these pre-festival screenings now (I missed the first due to academic duties).

Besides all the great films I’m seeing there’s another benefit to covering this particular festival. I should be a lot fitter when I get home because I’m staying on Capitol Hill—and the name was not bestowed lightly. From here to downtown where the press screenings are held is about 95% downhill going in and therefore 95% uphill coming back. I thought I was reasonably fit but locals are passing me like they’re mountain goats and I’m a Capra aegagrus hircus (domesticated goat) who’s never seen an incline in her life.

Two very different films were screened today; both are smart and well-made and have already won prizes on the international festival circuit. For contractual reasons I can only do capsule reviews of these films at this time (they can’t get a full review until they open commercially) and, in case you were wondering, that’s why festival coverage often consists largely of 200-word mentions: the definition of “capsule” includes the word count.

Soul Kitchen by the Turkish-German director Fatih Akin is a screwball comedy which centers not so much on the romantic reconciliation of an individual man and woman as on reconciling a whole host of dichotomies, most centrally the uptight, blonde North versus the soulful, dark-haired South. Greek immigrant Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos) runs a none-too-successful restaurant in a rough part of Hamburg and considers chucking it all to follow his beautiful (and blonde) German girlfriend (Pheline Roggan) who just accepted a job in Shanghai. He’s undeterred by the fact that she’s not nearly as interested in him as he is in her, but other contingencies impinge, including the need of his newly probationed brother Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu) for a job. Or, rather, a cover story for the probation officer because Illias has no interest in doing any actual work. Complications ensue with lots of slapstick and satire of modern European culture (at one point a character constructs an impressive nouvelle cuisine plate using fish sticks), and the film is rich with references to the 1970s, including a soundtrack featuring the likes of Curtis Mayfield and Kool & The Gang and closing credits reminiscent of psychedelic concert posters.

Father of My Children by Mia Hansen-Løwe is a perceptive family drama which also delivers an insight into the harried world of the independent film producer. The charismatic Grégoire (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing; the character is based on the French producer Humbert Balsam) seems to have it all: work that he loves, the respect of his peers, a devoted wife (Chiara Caselli), two adorable children (Alice Gautier, Manelle Driss), and a beautiful and poised stepdaughter (Alice de Lencquesaing) who is rapidly becoming an adult. Of course, there are financial strains at work and his wife wants him to devote more time to the family, but what else is new? No one realizes how the tensions of these conflicting demands are building until suddenly and dramatically everything changes and, as with the current economic crisis in Europe, we learn that a lot of things are not as we thought they were. Father of My Children at first seems to be a conventional dramatic comedy with Grégoire as the sun around which everything orbits, while later the tone becomes darker and the focus shifts to matters previously papered over. | Sarah Boslaugh


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