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by Jay Kuehner

SIFF 2010: Like You Know It All

The Seattle International Film Festival is upon us again, that equally cherished and dreaded pre-summer ritual that entails queuing and going indoors just as the city is collectively preparing to spread its wings after another monochrome season of scarce daylight and, quite probably, enough drama already. Complain, however, that the fest is too long, and it will end all too soon. Moan that it’s too big, yet still lament the absence of your favorite director’s latest masterpiece (where oh where is Claire Denis’ White Material, or Eugene Green’s Portuguese Nun, or Joao Pedro Rodriguez’s To Die Like A Man?). As for the lines that still stretch down the alley behind the Egyptian theatre: haven’t we all waited longer for something far less tasty, like bad coffee for instance?

Cast your net wide at this audience-friendly (as opposed to industry-oriented) festival and something’s liable to turn up, perhaps something unexpected, just as in the fisherman Syracuse’s (Colin Farrel) catch in Neil Jordan’s improbable Irish fable Ondine; is she a mythic half-seal come to land to redeem the recovering alcoholic and his wheelchair-bound daughter? A Romanian drug runner fleeing a bust on open seas? Or, to take the whole enterprise at face value, is she a perfect narrative muse of a lingerie model who seductively chants Sigur Ros tunes to the ocean’s depths as Colin Farrel is consigned to channeling profound sympathy with his eyebrows alone? At the very least, the film boasts a smoldering, bruised palette in keeping with its nautical Irish milieu, lensed by the estimable Christopher Doyle who, it’s worth remembering, was once considered Wong Kar-Wai’s primary pair of eyes, and who delivered a master class in cinematography in typical rambling fashion at a past edition of SIFF. Has it really been that long?

Of course there is the wisdom that says it’s not the size of the catch but how you fish, an apt metaphor not only for festing but for filmmaking as well. Which is what makes Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio’s Alamar such an exemplary case; its protagonist is a beautiful Mayan fisherman in Mexico’s Banco Chinchorro reef who snares his fish by hand or spear, under the curious gaze of his tiny son Natan, born to an Italian mother and now thousands of miles away, surrounded by the vast sea, dwelling in a hut on stilts flanked by crocodiles and birds (one of which he proprietarily names ‘Blanquita’). Is this a fiction? A documentary? Or simply, as its director attests, just a “film” ? A genuine sleeper, graceful and direct.

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A Hole in the Heart of Man, Out At the Edge of the World: Some Remarks On the Cinema of Lisandro Alonso

[Published in conjunction with NWFF’s Hot Splice]

“Why is manhood… an endless highway?” – Adam Zagajewski, Tierra del Fuego


The NWFF is to be commended for presenting a rare coup: a cycle of films that taken together evince a dedicated and visionary artist at work, the Argentine director Lisandro Alonso. The devoted following that Alonso’s work to date has commanded owes mostly to the fact that his films are both rarefied in their aesthetic and scarcely screened to audiences beyond the festival circuit. In a career that is nascent yet already overwhelmingly singular in style, here is a director who is clearly hitting his stride. We are fortunate to have the opportunity of seeing Alonso’s four features, and it is truly an  honor to have the director in attendance.

When Alonso’s debut La Libertad premiered in 2001, seeming to come out of nowhere save for its own rural milieu, it was a bit of an enigma to cinephiles. Was the story, much of it unfolding in real time in an unnamed outback in the Pampas, involving the quotidien labor of a woodcutter named Misael, a piece of documentary or fiction? Was Misael playing himself? Did such labor exist? And crucially, was this for real? And who the fuck did the director think he was, offering very little in the way of narrative save for the swinging of an ax, the buying of cigarettes, a ride in a pick-up truck with dog and timber, and the ritual slaying of an armadillo for dinner?

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