It’s winter, we’re Portlanders, and we can’t help ourselves—as much as we love holing up with HBO or Netflix, we like to stretch our mental and cultural muscles, too. Starting today, an estimated 35,000 of us will brave leaving the couch to attend the 38th annual Portland International Film Festival.

PIFF, which plays across seven local screens through Feb 21, gives us an opportunity to access the global zeitgeist—to see the rest of the elephant whose tail alone we touch when we watch English-language films. With over 200 films on offer this year, PIFF brings us tales both quotidian and heroic, real and imagined. Wondering where to start? We've got a few suggestions. 


For the Eco-Conscious

Nuoc 2030 (Vietnam)
Feb 9 at 8:45 pm, World Trade Center Theater 

The surreal, watery stills from this film, in which ruined skyscrapers jut angrily out of a flooded landscape, should be enough to entice you. But, if not, there’s also a dystopian romance, food politics, and a noir murder-mystery. In a future South Vietnam flooded by climate change, everyone must live on houseboats and eat increasingly-scarce food grown on floating corporate farms. When a young woman, Sao, and her husband, Thi, get suspicious about the health risks of the farms’ GMO veggies, Thi disappears mysteriously. The vision of the future built into our glittering cities is one that has always looked upward, but global warming and director Nghiem-Minh Nguyen-Vo force us to imagine a future below, rippling and cyan.

FOR The GENRE-AVERSE 

Stop the Pounding Heart (Italy/Belgium/US)
Feb 13 at 5:45 pm, Whitsell Auditorium 

Italian director Roberto Minervini’s Stop the Pounding Heart fuses expert direction with more than a touch of nonfiction. Protagonist Sara, like the 14-year-old amateur actress (also named Sara) who plays her, lives on a goat farm in rural Texas. Sara struggles to forge a path into adulthood without clashing with her family’s strict faith (or losing her own). But ultimately, Sara's problems are more than just adolescent growing pains. Described by Slant Magazine as “a moving portrait of feminism born out of hard work and intuitiveness,” the film provides an intimate yet controlled view into a particularly American set of tensions, admirably without veering into polemic.

FOR A LAUGH

Wild Tales (Argentina/Spain)
Feb 5 at 7 pm, Fox Tower 

This year’s Argentine submission for Best Foreign Language Film is a tense yet hilarious series of six black comedy shorts from director Damián Szifrón. Revenge, destruction, and merciless humor crack like mousetraps around Argentina’s harried citizens as they struggle (and fail) not to lose it on each other. Everyday people, from a disgruntled demolitions expert to a new bride, invoke their own special talents and panache as they literally letti it all out. Hugely well-received at Cannes and PIFF’s choice for its opening night celebration, the Hollywood Reporter calls Wild Tales, “a riotously funny and cathartic exorcism of the frustrations of contemporary life.” 

FOR THE KIDS

Belle and Sebastian (France)
Feb 8 at 12:30 pm, Moreland Theater 

For the last several years PIFF has consistently brought intelligent, kid-friendly French films to Portlanders (Ernest and Celestine, A Cat in Paris, The Painting) and this year is no different. Although the family lineup also includes brilliant animated Japanese and Brazilian offerings, France’s live-action Belle and Sebastian has a special kitschy charm. Based on a 1965 novel subsequently made into an extremely popular TV series, Director Nicholas Vanier’s updated version includes all of the Alps-wandering boy-and-his-dog romance while emphasizing the story’s social message, set during WWII. Our hero, Sebastian, befriends feral sheepdog Belle, whom everyone else rejects and calls a “beast.” Belle, falsely accused of killing the community’s sheep, needs help; meanwhile, local Resistance fighters help Jews escape the Nazis—offering kiddies lessons in both history and allegory.

FOR YOU, BLUE

Rocks in My Pockets (Latvia/US)
Feb 9 at 8:30 pm, World Trade Center Theater 

Director Signe Baumane calls this “a funny film about depression,” which, in the land of Big Pharma, is a heterodox approach to psychic pain. Baumane isn’t out to convince us that the biopsychiatric approach America pioneered is wrong, but with her own harrowing experiences front-and-center—and a deft Eastern-European flair for thinking historically—she coaxes us to reevaluate madness. The Boston Globe calls out the film’s “inspired, nightmarish visualizations” derived “from a scary, diabolically funny place.” This is one animated film definitiely not for the kiddies.

FOR THOSE WHO COME OUT AT NIGHT

Wyrmwood (Australia)
Feb 14 at 10:30 pm, Hollywood Theatre 

PIFF After Dark brings edgy—often violent, sexually explicit, or genre—films to the Hollywood Theatre in SE for 10:30pm screenings. Yes, this year’s Australian offering is a zombie film, but first-time director Kiah Roache-Turner spruces up the genre with Mad Max aesthetics and Dawn of the Dead humor and splatter. The screenplay, written by Roache-Turner and his brother, follows a brother-and-sister pair through both old-hat and unexpected post-apocalyptic trials; Barry searches for his wife and daughter while his sister, Brooke, is captured by the government and made into a human lab rat. With zombies both fast- and slow-moving (did you know? a defining sub-genre detail), and a psychic twist involving and telekinetic superpowers, Wyrmwood isn’t just any old horror flick.

38th Annual Portland International Film Festival
Feb 5–21
 

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