A few weeks prior to the start of the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), SIFF holds press screenings Monday through Thursday in order to give film critics a chance to get their write-ups finished in a timely manner. And since the festival runs for 25 days, press screenings continue throughout most of the festival. My festival pass gets me access to those press screenings, which means I can squeeze in a few extra films on those weekdays there aren’t regular screenings. So, even though the festival didn’t officially start until Thursday night, I was able to see two film I might not have been able to see otherwise.
This was also my second SIFF Opening Night Screening and Gala, and it’s always a treat. After welcomes from SIFF’s Executive Director, Artistic Director, and Board President, Seattle’s Deputy Mayor presented the Mayor’s Award to the Choctaw/Seminole documentarian whose son accepted the award on her behalf. And it was so delightful to be able to attend the screening and party with my wife.
The Song of Scorpions
An Indian film from Anup Singh, The Song of Scorpions tells the story of a young healer who is beaten and raped, the assault causing her to be shunned by her community. As she tries to reclaim her identity and sense of self, she marries a longtime suitor before discovering dark secrets. The visuals are absolutely stunning, but the narrative devolves into too much of a soap opera to be truly satisfying. I appreciated the long, slow road our heroine has to take as she recovers from her trauma. I just wish it had been part of a better film.
Let the Sunshine In
I’d been hearing incredible things about Claire Denis’s Let the Sunshine In for awhile now, so I was eager to fit this into my viewing schedule. Starring Juliette Binoche, the film follows Isabelle, a recently divorced artist, who is looking for love. It’s composed of a series of fragmentary episodes as we watch her attempts to connect with a variety of men. Binoche is outstanding here – she conveys so much with just a glance or the flicker of a smile. Denis uses a slightly narrower frame, which accentuates the film’s many closeups and lets us see that range of emotions play across Binoche’s face. The film is a masterpiece, a riveting character portrait about our yearning for connection.
When I saw the trailer for The Bookshop after it was announced as SIFF’s Opening Night Film, I wrote it off as another saccharine or treacly confection – like 2000’s Chocolat. Isabel Coixet’s adaptation of the novel by Penelope Fitzgerald may not be a great film, but it was more compelling than I had expected. It’s the story of a widow who has decided to open a bookshop in her small town, much to the disapproval of the town’s most powerful woman. The narrative avoids many of a cliches this type of story usually involves, and Bill Nighy’s performance is magnificent. There are some genuinely delightful moments scattered throughout the film, but it ultimately isn’t very satisfying. Coixet’s loose framing isn’t very well-suited for the material. Most troublesome is the lack of depth or motivation we get from any of the characters – even our leads. It’s a perfectly pleasant film, but one that’s also ultimately forgettable.