PIFF best bets for Thursday, Feb. 25

Two award-caliber French films and a meditative film essay from Jem Cohen are today's picks

Welcome to the penultimate edition of ArtsWatch’s daily recommendations during the 39th Portland International Film Festival. (We’ll do one final roundup of the final weekend’s titles tomorrow.)

Today’s highlights include a pair of the most-nominated films at tomorrow’s Cesar award ceremony, a/k/a the French Oscars. Arnaud Desplechin’s “My Golden Days” is up for 11 awards, while Jacques Audiard’s “Dheepan” has nine nods. There’s also the latest from experimental indie filmmaker Jem Cohen, whose previous winners have included the Fugazi documentary “Instrument” and the meditative “Museum Hours.” In other words, just the typical array of fascinating flicks we’ve come to expect from the Northwest Film Center.

 

deephan

“Dheepan”: French auteur Jacques Audiard (“The Beat That My Heart Skipped,” “A Prophet”) is one of the most talented and exciting filmmakers working today, crafting one great film after another. (Even his last effort, the messy “Rust and Bone,” has its share of great moments.) So it’s a tad strange how little attention his latest film, “Dheepan,” has received since winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year. It may not be his best work, but its mix of topicality and the director’s neo-realist genre aspirations packs a real punch.

This immigration tale, about a former Tamil soldier from Sri Lanka given a fake family and identity who flees to France with a fake family and a new identity, only to find more violence in his new home, is very au courant, but thankfully it never resorts to didactic speechifying or lazy melodrama. Instead, the film delivers a more experiential, immersive style that plays like Paul Greengrass (“Captain Philips,” the “Bourne” films) taking on “Taxi Driver.”

Dheepan is the new name given to the protagonist (Jesuthasan Antonythasan, who’s fantastic), this film’s version of Travis Bickle. He’s a broken man right from the beginning, but the film yearns for him and his ersatz family to make good on this opportunity. It’s not to be (or maybe it is, depending on how you read the final scene), and though the film is shot like a docudrama, certain sequences take on a kind of dream logic. But that’s nothing new for Audiard, who often adds touch of spiritual poeticism to his films. This is a great film that doesn’t deserve to get lost in the shuffle, but just might. See it if you can. [Erik McClanahan]

(France, 115 min., in Tamil, English, and French with English subtitles) Thu., Feb. 24, 5:45 p.m., Empirical Theater at OMSI; also Fri., Feb. 25, 5:45 p.m., Whitsell Auditorium.

counting1

“Counting”: I happen to like boring movies. Not “a story badly told” boring, but the kind of boring where narrative is pushed aside in favor of wordless reverie. Jem Cohen’s “Counting” is this kind of boring – relaxing-boring. It’s less like taking in a story and more like taking a bath.

Cohen’s camera crawls across the globe, from New York City to Moscow, to Istanbul and beyond, bookended by cryptic chapter titles. Nothing really happens, although a lot does: a radio plays, construction workers begin their day of labor, an open air market bustles with activity, a casket is carefully wheeled into a funeral home, political protesters chant in unison, a cat licks its paws. At times it evokes that touchstone of cult experimental film, “Koyaanisqatsi,” pulsing with the chaos and vastness of life on earth. At other moments it’s a humble traveler’s scrapbook, concentrating hard on little details like a paper cup of tea abandoned on a Turkish sidewalk.

To many readers, this will sound terribly boring, but fans of experimental filmmakers such as Chris Marker will appreciate its visual ebb and flow. (Cohen describes the film as a reaction to the passing of Marker and an attempt to channel his impressionistic cine-essay techniques.) [Lily Hudson]

(United States, 111 minutes, English) Thu., Feb. 25, 8:30 p.m., Whitsell Auditorium; also, Fri., Feb 26, 8:30 p.m., Regal Fox Tower and Sat., Feb 27, 3 p.m., Whitsell Auditorium.

My Golden Days

“My Golden Days”: The original French title of Arnaud Desplechin’s film translates as the more evocative and specific “Three Souvenirs of My Youth.” It’s both a sequel and a prequel to his 1999 breakthrough film, “My Sex Life (or How I Got Into an Argument),” in Mathieu Amalric played Desplechin’s on-screen alter-ego, Paul Daedalus.

It’s nearly twenty years later, and Paul is preparing to return to Paris from Tijikistan after several years working there as an anthropologist. There are irregularities with his passport, however, and so he ends up in a room with a government employee (André Dussollier), to whom he relates the second of the “souvenirs,” flashbacks to Paul’s youth which take up the bulk of the film. (The first is a brief but potent memory of his tyrannical mother.)

As a teenager, Paul (Quentin Dolmaire) is enlisted in a slightly dangerous mission while on a school trip behind the Iron Curtain, back when there was an Iron Curtain. He and a friend smuggle travel documents to Russian Jews trying to emigrate, their low-grade spy antics presented with wry, youthful amusement rather than real tension.

In the third and longest segment, Paul pursues his studies in Paris, as well as relationship with the lovely Esther (Lou Roy-Lecollinet), as the Cold War comes to an end in the background. Both the young, fresh-faced leads are fantastic, and they’re each responsible for one of the film’s 11 César award nominations, tied for the most this year with “Marguerite,” which also played during PIFF. The ceremony is tomorrow, so this is your last chance to get a head start on that César office pool! [Marc Mohan]

(France, 123 min., in French with English subtitles) Thu., Feb. 25, 5:45 p.m., Cinema 21; also Sat., Feb. 27, 5:45 p.m., Whitsell Auditorium.

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