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FilmWatch Weekly: Wim Wenders’ ‘Perfect Days,’ plus ‘Bob Marley: One Love,’ Oscar-nominated shorts, ‘A Taste of Things,’ and more

Wim Wenders' latest film, an Oscar-nominated fictional feature set in Tokyo, follows the day-to-day existence of an eccentric toilet cleaner.

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Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog, and Rainier Werner Fassbinder all came of age in the late 1960s, members of the first generation of German filmmakers to have been born during (or in Wenders’ case, mere days after) World War II. While Fassbinder burned fast and furious before flaming out at the age of 37, the other two have compensated for his absence by continuing to produce fascinating and enlightening cinema well past retirement age. The fact that Wenders’ two most recent films are opening within a week’s time is testament to his productivity: his stunning 3D documentary Anselm is moving from Cinema 21 to the Living Room Theaters this weekend and the utterly charming Perfect Days will be taking its place.

Currently nominated for the Best International Film Oscar, Perfect Days continues a career-long interest in Japanese life, cinema, and culture for the 78-year-old filmmaker, as reflected in his previous documentaries Tokyo-Ga (about film director Yasujirō Ozu) and Notebook on Cities and Clothes (about fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto). Here, Wenders was invited to make a series of short films about Tokyo’s unique and highly regarded public toilets. He instead opted to make a fictional feature centered on an enigmatic middle-aged man who makes a living cleaning them.

Hirayama (Kōji Yakusho) lives a supremely ordered and tranquil life. He follows the same routine every day, including watering the small collection of seedlings he keeps in the closet of his small apartment, having dinner at the same modest sushi stall, and listening to American classic rock on cassettes in his vehicle. He’s fastidious in his work tending to the facilities, which include self-darkening privacy walls and, of course, those famously fancy Japanese toilets. He almost never speaks, even when prompted by the juvenile ramblings of his younger, much less meticulous co-worker.

Although it’s at least a half-hour in before we ever hear his voice, Yakusho (who has worked with Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Shōhei Imamura, and other Japanese auteurs, and starred in the 1996 crossover hit Shall We Dance?) delivers an impressively expressive performance. Hirayama is anything but a soulless drone; he takes quiet joy in reading Faulkner, photographing swaying treetops, and, it seems, simply existing.

Perfect Days is not entirely without incident, most notably the intrusion of Hirayama’s runaway niece, which hints at some of the reasons he may have chosen to pursue such solitude. But Wenders is less interested in providing psychological explanations for his main character’s ostensibly eccentric life than in teasing us into appreciating its rhythms and grace. Not for nothing did this guy make an entire film about Ozu, and one gets the feeling that master of cinematic subtlety would appreciate the homage. (Cinema 21)

ALSO OPENING

Bob Marley: One Love: This could have been an embarrassment. A biopic about the reggae icon could easily have devolved into cartoonish depictions of Rastafarian stereotypes, dreadlocks, and pot smoke. Instead, director Reinaldo Marcus Green (King Richard), working from a screenplay he co-wrote with three others, wisely avoids the standard rags-to-riches-to-tragedy arc in favor of a revelatory look into a key year in Marley’s life.

In late 1976, shortly after attempting to hold a peace concert during a period of political violence in Jamaica, Marley (Kingsley Ben-Adir), his wife Rita (Lashana Lynch), and his manager (Anthony Welsh) were shot by unknown assailants. This prompted Marley to relocate to London, and the film follows the recording of the Exodus album there as Marley wrestles with what his role should be in his home country’s political battles. His earlier years—meeting Rita, converting to Rastafari, beginning his musical career—are depicted in flashbacks that provide context without overwhelming the present-day narrative.

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Ben-Adir, although more conventionally handsome, makes a convincing Marley, and Lynch is his equal as the supportive but strong-willed Rita. The recreations of live performance’s aren’t 100% convincing, but the spirit is there. The screening I attended was preceded by a video introduction from Ziggy Marley (he and Rita are both credited producers), so this is clearly an authorized version, with all the measured hagiography that implies. Still, it’s a compelling and detailed take on a figure who is all too often reduced to a single dimension. (multiple theaters)

The Taste of Things: Culinary cinema is its own genre these days, and of all its members, this may be the one most deserving of the Odorama treatment. It’s opening fifteen-minute scene of feast preparation in a late 19th-century French manor will make you wish you could inhale the aromas emanating from the steaming tureens and fully loaded stovetops. It’s the kitchen of gourmet Dodin Bouffant (Benoît Magimel), where his cook—and romantic partner—Eugénie (the ever-radiant Juliette Binoche) prepare astonishing, decadent repasts for Bouffant’s small club of similarly epicurean elites.

The film is directed by Vietnamese-born Anh Hung Tran, whose debut feature, 1993’s The Scent of Green Papaya, also captured the sensual sights and sounds of privileged existence. That film, though, was told from the perspective of a servant girl in colonial Saigon, while this one basks in the luxuriant lives of its wealthy connoisseurs. Dodin and Eugénie are wonderful people, and to vicariously savor their gastronomical pleasures is to appreciate the relationship between food and its creation. (Vegans beware, French cuisine involves plenty of animal corpse mutilation.) But I couldn’t completely avoid an awareness of the dichotomy between this lifestyle and that of the neighboring farmers whose young daughter our heroes so kindly allow in their home. (Regal Fox Tower and multiple other theaters)

2024 Oscar Nominated Short Films: While it’s possible to track down most of this year’s fifteen nominated films in the Live-Action Short, Animated Short, and Documentary Short categories online, it’s far more convenient and rewarding to watch them as groups. As usual, they’re being screened by category, with a couple of extra “Highly Commended” titles added to the animated selections to ensure an 80-minute running time. The live-action shorts boast the most star power, in Wes Anderson’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Secret of Henry Sugar, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Kingsley. Though not as polished, my vote would probably go to Red, White, and Blue, a humanistic but harrowing look at post-Roe America that packs a huge punch. Three of the five nominees in the animated short category are seemingly based on childhood recollections of their female directors, from France, Israel, and Iran. Of these, Tal Kantor’s Letter to a Pig makes the strongest impression, telling a story about a Holocaust survivor’s visit to a classroom and its effect on one student with a visual style that mirrors the way memories can merge nearly formless sensation with photographic precision. Just as strong is Ninety-Five Senses, in which an old man’s Proustian reminiscences gradually reveal a life with a series of tragic twists. The short documentaries are, by nature, more issue-based, drawing attention to book banning, China-Taiwan tensions, and economic racial inequality. The slickest, longest, and deepest of them, however, is The Last Repair Shop, a moving tribute to the Los Angeles school district workers charged with keeping all those loaner musical instruments in working condition. (Cinema 21, Living Room Theaters, and multiple other locations)

DISC OF THE WEEK

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVI: Usually, by the time any series gets up to its 16th entry, it starts to fray a bit. That’s not the case with Kino Lorber’s continuing effort to preserve the seemingly endless supply of B-movies from the studio age. This three-disc set includes the curious but merely passable 1942 Edgar Allan Poe adaptation The Mystery of Marie Roget, a sequel of sorts to The Murders in the Rue Morgue. It stars Technicolor screen queen Maria Montez in a rare black-and-white role as the Parisian party girl at the center of a series of gruesome murders. Chicago Deadline, from 1949, stars Alan Ladd and Donna Reed in an engaging journalistic noir about a reporter trying to track down the truth, Laura-style, about a beautiful woman found dead in a hotel room. The best of the lot is 1951’s Iron Man, in which a kind-hearted but rage-filled miner (Jeff Chandler) is exploited by his unethical brother to become a vicious boxing star. He’s called Coke (because mining), and his eventual nemesis (Rock Hudson!) is nicknamed Speed, so “I care about Coke and I care about Speed!” is an actual line of dialogue in this movie. As usual, each film is accompanied by an erudite, enthusiastic commentary track (two in the case of Roget!) providing dozens of fascinating facts about these films and the folks who made them.

ALSO THIS WEEK

Sambizanga: This 1972 film from one of Africa’s first female directors, Sarah Maldoror, dramatizes the events that led up to the Angolan resistance to Portuguese colonization. (Tuesday, Clinton)

Scenes from an Occupation: Films of the Palestinian Film Unit: Formed in 1968 following the Arab-Israeli war of the previous year, the PFU was dedicated to chronicling the lives of Palestinians in the occupied territories and exploring the avenues of resistance being taken. Obviously, these films have an added resonance today. (Wednesday, Clinton)

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“Playing with Dolls”: This imaginative programming theme brings together at least two films that had likely never been part of the same sentence beforehand. What does last year’s empowering and acclaimed smash hit Barbie have to do with special effects maestro Phil Tippet’s grimy, disturbing, stop-motion endurance test Mad God? Well, duh, they both involve dolls! Also this week, one of B-movie factory Full Moon Studios’ biggest hits, 1991’s Dollman (about an alien cop who shrinks to doll-size while on Earth), and Ryan Gosling brings pre-Kenergy to his role as a lonely guy in love with a sex doll in 2007’s Lars and the Real Girl. Nicely played, Cinemagic. (Friday-Tuesday, check site for specific dates and times.)

Sira: The centerpiece film for this year’s Cascade Festival of African Films is this harrowing tale of female endurance and survival from Burkina Faso, about a young woman traveling through the lawless Sahel who is raped and left for dead by bandits but survives to seek justice. (Hollywood, Friday)

REVIVALS

THURSDAY

  • Ghost in the Shell [1995] (Clinton, with live score)
  • Jamón jamón [1992] (Tomorrow Theater)
  • The Manitou [1978] (Hollywood, on 35mm)

FRIDAY

  • Bottoms [2023] and Antiporno [2016] (5th Avenue)
  • Deep Cover [1992] (Academy, through Thursday)
  • Friday [1995] (Academy, through Thursday)
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors [1987] (Clinton, with pre-show DJ set)

SATURDAY

  • Cemetery Man [1994] (Hollywood, also Sunday)
  • Deep Cover [1992] (Clinton)
  • The Lady Vanishes [1938] (Cinema 21)
  • Oppenheimer [2023] (Hollywood, in 70mm, also Tuesday)
  • The Wizard of Oz [1939] (Hollywood)

SUNDAY

  • Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz—Special Edition [1998] (Hollywood)
  • Nope [2022] (Clinton)
  • Scotland, PA [2001] (Hollywood)

MONDAY

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  • One False Move [1992] (Hollywood, new restoration)

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Marc Mohan moved to Portland from Wisconsin in 1991, and has been exploring and contributing to the city’s film culture almost ever since, as the manager of the landmark independent video store Trilogy, the owner of Portland’s first DVD-only rental spot, Video Vérité; and as a freelance film critic for The Oregonian for nearly twenty years. Once it became apparent that “newspaper film critic” was no longer a sustainable career option, he pursued a new path, enrolling in the Northwestern School of Law at Lewis & Clark College in the fall of 2017 and graduating cum laude in 2020 with a specialization in Intellectual Property. He now splits his time between his practice with Vérité Law Company and his continuing efforts to spread the word about great (and not-so-great) movies, which include a weekly column at Oregon ArtsWatch.

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