As the 39th Portland International Film Festival heads down the home stretch, there’s still a truckload of fantastic cinema to digest. Well, maybe not a truckload, now that movies come on digital hard drives instead of bulky canisters of celluloid. But you get the picture. Here are couple worth catching tonight:
“Chevalier”: Greek writer-director Athina Rachel Tsangari’s previous film “Attenberg” played PIFF a few years back and was, like the best of other recent successes from the country (“Dogtooth” being the pinnacle), a bizarre, alien and at times darkly funny comedy. That film looked at two transgressive women, whereas this more acutely focused, meaner comedy of manners follows a group of middle-aged fellas who can’t relax without competing. To the victor goes not so much the spoils but bragging rights for being “the best man” and then getting to wear a chevalier ring on your pinky.
There’s a lot of talk these days about filmmakers and the industry in general needing to better present stories representing a more diverse swath of humanity. And for good reason. There’s still a massive amount of movies being made following white male protagonists. And “Chevalier” doesn’t qualify as anything new from that perspective, seeing as it follows all rich, white men. But therein lies the reason it works so well. Whether through kismet or coincidence, the time is right to watch a highly-skewering character and social-study-cum-black-comedy that shows, in highly entertaining detail, just how silly us dudes can be–especially when our pride is on the line.
I really took to its bleak but often hilarious worldview. In a way, it’s a litmus test movie, something like “The Wolf of Wall Street” and its ilk. Whether or not you actually like these guys and how you read the comedy (or if you even find it funny at all) will depend on the viewer. I thoroughly enjoyed laughing at them. [Erik McClanahan]
(Greece, 99 min., in Greek with English subtitles) Tues., Feb. 23, 8:30 p.m., Roseway Theater.
“L’Attesa”: Juliette Binoche continues to age with the sort of grace and dignity that French women seem able to conjure with relative ease. She’s the undeniable highlight of this somewhat overwrought drama in which, as in 2014’s “Clouds of Sils Maria,” she plays potently opposite a much younger actress, in this case the rising French star Lou de Laage.
The setting is the grand Sicilian estate where Anna (Binoche) lives, and where Jeanne (de Laage) has arrived without warning to visit her boyfriend Giuseppe, Anna’s son. But Giuseppe doesn’t arrive, and Anna’s efforts to stall Jeanne begin to seem quietly but insistently excessive. Maybe that mysterious opening scene set in a somber church has something to do with his absence?
This is the directing debut of Piero Messina, who was the assistant to Paolo Sorrentino on his Oscar-winning “The Great Beauty.” Messina borrows some of Sorrentino’s baroque but elegant visual style, but only Binoche is able to communicate the intense feeling beneath his characters’ emotionally muted surfaces. The story’s finale is virtually the opposite of a shocking twist, but narrative suspense doesn’t seem to be the goal. Adapted from a Pirandello play, and containing more religious allusions than this non-Catholic was able to digest, “L’Attesa” is about as exciting as its title’s English translation (“The Wait”) would imply.
But that Binoche. This film may not be as intellectually satisfying as “Clouds” or 2010’s “Certified Copy,” but the pleasures of watching a mature performer at the peak of her abilities never get old. [Marc Mohan]
(Italy, 100 min., in Italian and French with English subtitles) Tues., Feb. 23, 6 p.m., Cinema 21; also Thur., Feb. 25, 8:30 p.m., Regal Fox Tower.