It’s another jam-packed weekend day at the various venues of the 39th Portland International Film Festival, including second (and final) screenings of worthwhile, ArtsWatch-approved flicks like “Office” (in 3-D!), “The Sky Trembles and the World Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers,” “The Pearl Button,” and “Men & Chicken.” There are also several films debuting at the fest we think you should check out. Decisions, decisions. This would all be so much easier if we had clones.
“Coz ov Moni 2: FOKN Revenge”: One of the awesome things about PIFF is the opportunity to see a film in a language you’ve never even heard before. This is my first encounter with Ghanaian Pidgin. The film, directed by King Lu, opens with the note: “If you don’t know what chale means, ask a Ghanaian… ;)” Or you can just Google it.
Wanlov the Kubolor and M3nsa – aka rap duo The FOKN Bois – are our goofy, charismatic stars. With an easy back-and-forth rapport, they wander around the outdoor market, do some bench presses at the gym and crash a funeral for the free food. The plot is scanty (they’re seeking revenge on the guys who beat them up and stole their cash in “Coz ov Moni 1”) but it’s enough to propel them on a road-movie quest with plenty of fun musical sequences, sex/food analogies and jokey skits. (My favorite was a fantasy interlude, “Count Dracula vs. Kweku Anase,” which pits the famous vampire against “the original spiderman”). Barely an hour long, it’s over too soon. [Lily Hudson]
(Ghana, 63 minutes, Ghanaian Pidgin English with English subtitles) Sat., Feb 20, 11 p.m., Cinema 21.
“In the Shadow of Women”: It’s tempting to see the title of veteran French helmer Philippe Garrel’s latest film as slyly ironic, since its perspective remains duly centered on its narcissistic male protagonist, a documentary filmmaker named Pierre (Stanislas Merhar). Pierre acts as if the women in his life, both his wife and collaborator Manon and his younger mistress Elisabeth, exist only in relation to him, and the movie has a typically Gallic, if rueful, tolerance towards his chauvinistic narcissism. But maybe Garrel is merely being too subtle for this clumsy American viewer.
This is a refreshingly concise, novella-sized work that feels autobiographical even if it isn’t. (Garrel’s actor son Louis provides wry voiceover narration.) With the recent death of Jacques Rivette, Garrel père is one of the last working filmmakers with direct ties to the Nouvelle Vague (Godard being the notable exception). He shoots in a black-and-white widescreen format reminiscent of Truffaut’s earliest classics, and his besottedness with celluloid is reflected in the scene where Pierre and Elisabeth meet cute as she hauls canisters of film reels out of the archive where she works.
The battle-of-the-sexes story, in which Manon senses Pierre’s infidelity and strikes up an affair of her own, is secondary to the oh-so-French posturing—baguettes, cigarettes, and ennui abound. There’s nothing terribly original here, but for fans of the style, nothing to regret, either. [Marc Mohan]
(France, 73 min., in French with English subtitles) Sat., Feb. 20, 6 p.m., Whitsell Auditorium; also Mon., Feb. 22, 6:15 p.m., Regal Fox Tower.
“600 Miles”: This is just the kind of small but wholly effective gem that’s meant for PIFF and other film festivals, where you can discover and enjoy its minor-key thrills. And it’s always good to be reminded how special Tim Roth is as an actor. Here he plays ATF agent Hank Harris, who’s taken hostage by small-time gunrunner Rubio (Kristyan Ferrer, who played El Smiley in Cary Fukunaga’s debut feature “Sin Nombre”) after an arrest attempt that goes wrong. As they cross the border and make the titular long drive towards Rubio’s bosses, a bond grows between the two. Both the leads are fantastic, especially Roth’s quiet, stoic officer who truly surprises and reveals very little as a cop who’s more capable, ruthless and amoral than you might suspect initially.
The setting and tone feel familiar (it’s the world of “Sicario” and “Traffic”), but writer/director Gabriel Ripstein, in his debut feature, has built a strong foundation with his airtight, focused script. Everything builds to a thrilling, briefly violent climax (and a slightly shocking reveal after that), proof that a strong ending can often be a filmmaker’s best special effect. [Erik McClanahan]
(Mexico, 85 min., in English and Spanish with English subtitles) Sat., Feb. 20, 8:45 p.m., Cinema 21; also Mon., Feb. 22, 8:30 p.m., Regal Fox Tower.
“The Thin Yellow Line”: This is the second film I’ve seen in the last two years about people employed to paint lane dividers on a rural highway. And while it’s neither as funny nor as profound as David Gordon Green’s “Prince Avalanche,” this Mexican dramedy travels similar roads through a landscape of male bonding and comedic ennui.
Damian Alcazar, a paragon of aging Latino dignity who also stars in the Peruvian PIFF film “Magallanes,” plays a former engineer who, as the film opens has just been laid off from a job as a junkyard night watchman. Before too long, he’s given a shot a redemption as the foreman of a five-man crew of misfits assigned to paint a dashed stripe along 237 kilometers of barren pavement. The workers in his charge include an initially callow youngster who becomes a surrogate son of sorts to the gradually less embittered Alcazar.
First-time director Celso Garcia has made a road movie that moves at a walking pace, which is not a bad thing. The third act ends up attempting to inspire emotional responses that the movie hasn’t quite earned, but nevertheless the combination of well-worn performances and well-photographed desert vistas manages to please. [Marc Mohan]
(Mexico, 95 min., in Spanish with English subtitles) Sat., Feb. 20, 8:30 p.m., World Trade Center; also Sun., Feb. 21, 7 p.m., Regal Fox Tower, and Tue., Feb. 23, 8:30 p.m., Cinema 21.