Highlights from the first full evening of the 39th Portland International Film Festival:
“Embrace of the Serpent”: Make sure to seek out this Foreign Language Oscar nominee, an absolute stunner of a third film from young Colombian director Ciro Guerra (“The Wind Journeys”). It’s easily one of THE highlights of the fest, especially on a big screen with the sound turned up nice and loud (it’s playing on the new, larger screen at Cinema 21’s original 500 seat auditorium, which should do the trick).
This black and white widescreen adventure is without doubt an art film, but it’s so accessible and straight up pleasurable to watch that it should entrance a wide swath of viewers. Its two-pronged narrative ping pongs back and forth (sometimes in the same unbroken take) between events 40 years apart in the life of Karamakate, an Amazonian shaman and the last survivor of his people. He encounters and travels with two scientists, one inspired by the other to search the Amazon for a sacred healing plant.
The black and white visuals, druggy hallucination sequences, performances, and a killer soundtrack—ancient tribal music mixed with the natural cacophony of the jungle—all make for an incredibly immersive, funny and beautiful rumination on dying, colonialism and being the last of one’s kind. A film to go get lost in at the cinema. [Erik McClanahan]
(Colombia, 125 min., in Spanish, Portuguese, German, and a bit of Latin with English subtitles) Fri., Feb. 12, 5:45 p.m., Cinema 21; also Sun., Feb. 14, 7 p.m., Moreland Theater.
“Baskin”: Five Turkish cops on a late-night patrol run into trouble when a mysterious creature darts in front of their van, causing them to veer off the road and into a creek bed. Wandering around, they happen upon an old, abandoned police station. Operating with about as much sense as the Scooby-Doo gang, they venture inside, only to find some sublimely creepy set decoration and a gang of disgusting ne’er-do-wells bent on literally visceral vengeance.
The opening salvo in PIFF’s After Dark sidebar is effective in its setup, elusive in its themes, and exceedingly bloody. I kept wanting it to be a metaphor for some sort of Ottoman-era injustice, but director Can Evrenol’s ambitions are more straightforwardly demonic. Despite a lack of narrative depth, or much in the way of character development, though, “Baskin” should satisfy genre fans. Others may want to steer clear.
It’s almost worth the price of a ticket, though, just to experience the gloriously surreal five-minute short that precedes “Baskin.” “The Chickening” is a cinematic DMT trip that repurposes and generally fucks with footage from Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” changing the setting from the Overlook Hotel to a massive poultry-processing plant built on top of a volcano. Yes, you heard me right. [Marc Mohan]
(Turkey, 97 min., in Turkish with English subtitles) Fri., Feb. 12, 10:30 p.m., Cinema 21.
“Eye in the Sky”: This British production stars Helen Mirren as a military officer supervising a drone operation over Kenya. She’s at HQ in London, and the pilots are in one of those high-tech shipping containers outside Las Vegas. It’s a surveillance mission, but when high-value targets are spotted, the decision is made to take them out. Just before the trigger is pulled, though, a little girl starts selling bread right outside the house! What to do?!
It’s fun to watch Mirren strut her stuff as a no-nonsense colonel, and “Eye in the Sky” nicely captures the truly global spread of the War on Terror. But the drawn-out ethical discussions and unlikely plot complications make it seem more like a cross between a philosophy symposium on The Trolley Problem and that scene in the Adam West Batman movie where he just can’t get rid of a bomb.
The saddest thing about the latest from South African director Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi,” “Ender’s Game”) is that it’s apparently the final onscreen appearance of the late Alan Rickman, whose thankless role as a lieutenant general mostly involves sitting in a chair and barking lines at a wall-mounted monitor. [Marc Mohan]
(Great Britain, 102 min., in English) Fri., Feb. 12, 8:30 p.m., Cinema 21; also Wed., Feb. 17, 8:30 p.m., Regal Fox Tower