After a long holiday weekend full of romance, American history, and political chaos, what could be more relaxing than a little cinematic wandering? Perhaps a trip up north, to where brave saplingjacks contend with submarine disasters and volcanic eruptions? Or across the pond to Norway, where life-changing disaster is always just a rockslide away? Or maybe the Czech countryside, where life lessons await around the most unexpected corners? These and other destinations await among the films screening on Tuesday at the 39th Portland International Film Festival. Bon voyage!
“The Forbidden Room”: For the most part, I’ve enjoyed much of Canadian auteur Guy Maddin’s idiosyncratic filmography (highlights include “The Saddest Music in the World,” “My Winnipeg,” and “Brand Upon the Brain!”), but “The Forbidden Room” feels like the ultimate thesis on what he brings to the table as an artist.
It’s indulgent, nightmarish, and almost always hilarious. His oddball brand of cinephile nostalgia is in top form here in what plays like a program of short films stitched randomly together by a mad scientist film nerd who stumbled across piles of discarded B movie reels from some distant past that never really existed. The gloriously contradictory end result feels at once disconnected but wholly of a piece. Maddin, here working with co-director Evan Johnson, has found his sweet spot.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention actor Louis Negin, who plays five different roles. In the film’s opening sequence he expounds on how to properly take a bath. That man could read the phone book and it would be hilarious. Even the length, over two hours, adds to the experience. The exhaustion opens you up for all the weirdness to truly seep in. Plus, Udo Kier performs a song about loving butts. What more could you ask? [Erik McClanahan]
(Canada, 133 min., in English) Tue., Feb. 16, 8:30 p.m., Cinema 21; also Fri., Feb. 19, 8:30 p.m., Roseway Theater.
“Home Care”: At first, this Czech film from first time-director Slavek Horak seems like it’ll be another of those earnest slices of miserabilism that litter foreign film festivals and seem designed to remind us not to complain about our petty first-world problems. But a wry sense of humor and a captivating lead performance turn it into so much more.
Vlasta (Alena Mihulova) is a fiftyish nurse who makes house calls, travelling by bus around the countryside to tend to a variety of eccentric, generally aging, clients. Her husband is something of a lout–emotionally blunt, domestically inept, and more affectionate toward his bottle of schnapps than he is to his wife. One night, Vlasta begs a ride from a local motorcycle. An accident occurs that brings her face-to-face with her own mortality and forces her to contend with the health care system from the other side.
She soon befriends one of her patients’ daughters, and embarks on a journey into the sorts of alternative medicine she had previously scoffed at. “Home Care” isn’t an advertisement for the medical efficacy of holistic treatment, but it does point out how attending to a patient’s soul (for lack of a better word) can make one feel better in a way that traditional medicine largely ignores. [Marc Mohan]
(Czech Republic, 92 min., in Czech with English subtitles) Tue., Feb. 16, 8:30 p.m., Whitsell Auditorium; also Sun., Feb. 21, 1:30 p.m., Roseway Theater.
“The Wave”: Hey, guess what? Advances in technology have made it possible for global filmmakers without all the resources of Hollywood to craft their own formulaic disaster movies, complete with apocalyptic special effects! The world is truly flat, as is much of this numbly enjoyable saga that draws attention to the problem of Norwegian tsunamis caused by rockslides into fjords. It’s true—a pair of separate events in the 1930s created gigantic waves that killed over 100 Norwegians.
That’s why, according to “The Wave,” monitoring stations have been set up around the tourist town of Geiranger, manned by capable scientists like geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) and his colleagues. On the very day when Kristian and his family are preparing to move out of town, though, the mountain starts to tremble, and before you know it stock characters of all stripes are fleeing a massive wall of digitally-rendered water that’s a-roaring down the fjord.
That description may sound disparaging, and “The Wave” definitely cribs from the “San Andreas” playbook. But director Roar Uthaug (who seems born, or at least named, to make disaster flicks) respects his story’s internal logic and his characters, notably Kristian’s intrepid wife (Ane Dahl Torp). The gender dynamics make this feel something like a remake of “Force Majeure” directed by Roland Emmerich, and if you get both of those references, count yourself a well-rounded film buff. [Marc Mohan]
(Norway, 104 min., in Norwegian with English subtitles) Tue., Feb. 16, 8:30 p.m., World Trade Center.