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The 35 Films We Saw at SIFF 2023

Posted by June 7th, 2023 No Comments »

Seattle International Film Festival Recap
May 11-21, 2023 in Seattle, Washington
By Peter Cameron, Tim Basaraba and Matt Ashworth

Wow! SIFF, you did it again. You roped in more than 250 films from all over the world and brought them to Seattle. 

Did the three of us see all of those films? No. But we saw a lot. Were they all masterpieces? Of course not. But that’s not the point. The point is we love cinema, and for ten days we got to stand in line with other cinephiles who couldn’t help but talk our ears off about all the films they saw or wanted to see. We let them have their 15 minutes. 

Now it’s our turn to talk about the films we saw and whether or not they’re worth your time. Don’t worry. We’ll be quick.

Capsule Reviews

The 35 films we viewed at the 49th Annual Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF)

26.2 to Life (2022)
Directed by Christine Yoo
Starring Markelle “The Gazelle” Taylor, and Rahsaan “New York” Thomas

This redemption story gives us touching portraits of criminals serving life sentences at San Quentin who, through their own hard work and the support of a marathon group called “The 1000 Mile Club,” define what reform looks, talks, and runs like.

I didn’t know what to expect coming into this documentary, but I think it’s a story that can touch anyone’s heart and reminds us all that it’s never too late to turn our lives around. RECOMMENDED. – PC

ANU (2023) 
Directed by Sudeshna Sen
Starring Diya Modi, Eden Campbell, and Hudson Bruener

Set in the city and beautiful parks of Seattle, ANU is the story of a young, South-Asian-American girl coping with the recent death of her beloved grandpa – her Bapu.

Having adapted this story during her own personal loss and grief, director Sen puts a silver lining onto the silver screen. If you like Lifetime Originals, you’ll enjoy ANU. – PC

The Beasts (2022)
Directed by Rodrigo Sorogogoyen
Starring Marina Fois, Denis Menochet and Luis Zahera 

Two thrilling aspects of French/Spanish “thriller” The Beasts were the score and sound design. Minimal and sparse, yet always looming in the background… patiently waiting to drop subtle percussive ques that something more than we were currently viewing was on its way. RECOMMENDED. – TB 

Burning Hearts (2022)
Directed by Pippo Mezzapesa
Starring Elodie, Francesco Patanè. Lidia Vitale. Francesco Di Leva  

I’m not sure that this generational Italian crime drama with a Romeo and Juliett twist is GREAT – it’s a little unnecessarily melodramatic in spots and lacks the nuance and character development of Johnnie To’s similarly-scoped organized crime drama Election (2005). But it’s definitely GOOD. And it sure is COOL. Burning Hearts looks great. The people in it look great. There are some great moments/scenes. Anyone who likes Tarantino and Leone and Goodfellas should watch it. RECOMMENDED. – MA

Chile ‘76 (2022)  
Directed by Manuela Martelli
Starring Aline Kuppenheim, Nicolas Sepulveda and Hugo Medina

From the vehicles to the homes, restaurants and streets, every frame in Chile ’76 feels lived in and true to the time period. Each scene is crafted to hold our protagonist as she moves in and out of frame. Dolly shots glide smoothly and slowly, never cut short with ill-timed quick edits. These master filmmaking techniques were so engaging, I felt myself leaning forward to get closer to this colorful world in front of me. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. – TB  

Read Tim’s full review

Copenhagen Does Not Exist (2023)
Directed by Martin Skovbjerg
Starring Angela Bundalovic, Jonas Holst Schmidt and Zlatko Buric

A haunting reinterpretation of Vertigo through the lens of a filmmaker who obviously respects Terrence Malick. Do you trust your memories? Do you mistake obsession for love? If you want to be extremely frustrated with the “protagonist” throughout the film and then eventually gain empathy only to once again be frustrated, then Copenhagen Does Not Exist is the film for you. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. – TB

Dancing Queen (2023) 
Directed by Aurora Gossé
Starring Liv Elvira Kippersund Larsson, Cengiz Al and Viljar Knutsen Bjaadal

My favorite of the 16 SIFF films I saw at the theater, Dancing Queen offers many of the familiar and joyful aspects of a coming of age film without painting characters into exact caricatures or stereotypes. Napoleon Dynamite meets Pitch Perfect meets John Hughes. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. – MA

Douglas Sirk – Hope as in Despair (2022)
Directed by Roman Huben

A visually simple dive into the personal choices and regrets of esteemed director Douglas Sirk, known for his expert use of melodrama, Hope as in Despair was not the film retrospective I expected. Knowing now his struggles and triumphs, I want to view more of his films. This is a must see documentary for any cinephile and a should see for anyone interested in 1930’s Germany. The drama, however, is not so mellow. RECOMMENDED. – TB

Egghead and Twinkie (2023)
Directed by Sarah Kambe Holland
Starring Louis Tomeo and Sabrina Jieafa

Egghead and Twinkie is a sweet and funny film about a pair of awkward, authentic and adorable teens who set off on a road trip to meet an online crush. Inspiring to see a gay Asian American protagonist at the center of a coming-of-age film that feels familiar yet somehow fresh and very Gen Z. RECOMMENDED. – MA

Even Hell Has its Heroes (2023)
Directed by Clyde Peterson

Shot in Super8, this documentary from Seattle director Clyde Peterson is the perfect time capsule of a bygone Seattle. Through the words of Dylan Carlson and his collaborators we experience the drone of living in this city of sound. Speaking of sound, the mix and overall volume of the tracks sounded superb at the SIFF Egyptian. Even if Earth isn’t your thing, Even Hell Has its Heroes might be. RECOMMENDED. – TB

Falcon Lake (2022)
Directed by Charlotte Le Bon
Starring Joseph Engel and Sara Montpetit

Film is not dead! Shot on 16MM film, this coming-of-age story had me engaged from the opening shot. All you really need to know about Falcon Lake is that Joseph Engel as Bastien and Sara Montpetit as Chloé give emotionally accurate portrayals of modern teenagers in a not so modern setting. HIGHLY RECOMMEND. – TB 

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Filip (2023)
Directed by Michal Kwiecinski
Starring Eryk Kulm,Victor Meutelet and Caroline Hartig

Filip is a beautifully shot character-driven film set in Frankfurt in 1943 that gives us a peek into one man’s personal battle against the Nazis. Amazing performance from Erik Kulm Jr. RECOMMENDED. – MA 

Gaga (2022)
Directed by Laha Mebow
Starring Wilang Lalin, Ali Batu, Kagaw Piling, Yukan Losing, and Esther Huang

This film is gorgeous from the get-go. A resonant portrait of director Laha Mebow’s indigenous Taiwanese Atayal culture, Gaga documents a way of life for the Hayung family and how the members of that family try to find their way after the death of their grandfather. If you like Edward Yang’s Yi Yi, go see Laha Mebow’s Gaga. RECOMMENDED. – PC

Gloriavale (2022) 
Directed by Fergus Grady and Noel Smyth

Solid, but relatively unremarkable documentary about some brave people in New Zealand working to protect some other people from an abusive religious cult. Unfortunately, the plot of this documentary feels all too familiar for those who have explored the history of cults in film and literature. It’s sad that this is happening again in real time. NOT RECOMMENDED, but here is information on how you can help.  – MA 

Hanging Gardens (2022)
Directed by Ahmed Yassin Aldaradji
Starring  Jawad Al Shakarji, Akram Mazen Ali and Wissam Diyaa

Pimpin’ ain’t easy, especially when you’re a young Iraqi boy pimpin’ a sex doll you found in a landfill. No joke. Hanging Gardens is extraordinary, and its symbolism lends itself brilliantly to deep, philosophical issues. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. – PC

I Like Movies (2022) 
Directed by Chandler Levack
Starring Isaiah Lehtinen, Krista Bridges and Romina D’Ugo

We like movies, too. Think of this one as Lady Bird (2017) meets Clerks (1994), but with more references to Kubrick and PTA instead of Truffaut and Lucas. RECOMMENDED.  

Read Tim’s longer review 

Ingeborg Bachmann – Journey into the Desert (2023)
Directed by Margarethe von Trotta
Starring Vicky Krieps, Ronald Zehrfeld and Tobias Resch

Forced, vapid and shallow. Beautiful desert scenery contrasts the utter abysmal dialogue that begs to be taken seriously. This film’s attempt at showcasing opulence only proves that being affluent and living a comfortable life affords these characters the luxury of conjuring trauma from banal events, the kind that people who have real problems just brush off. If you need a Vicky Krieps fix watch Corsage or Phantom Thread again. Skip this, the worst film I viewed at SIFF 2023. NOT RECOMMENDED. – TB 

Irati (2022)
Directed by Paul Urkijo Alijo
Starring Eneko Sagardoy, Edurne Azkarate and Itziar Ituño

Imagine a young John Oates in a Basque-style remake of Legend and Dragon Slayer, and that, basically, is Paul Urkijo Alijo’s Irati. A love story set in medieval Spain, where Christians fight but pagan forces still reign. NOT RECOMMENDED. — PC 

Jamojaya (2023)    
Directed by Justin Chon
Starring Rich Brian, Yayu A.W. Unru and Valen Ahlo

Intriguing premise, and a great performance by Yayu A.W. Unru as the father of an Indonesian hip-hop artist signed to a major label, but the cast around him failed to match his emotional depth. I wanted more from this latest film from established director Justin Chon. NOT RECOMMENDED. — MA 

The Last Exit (2023)
Directed by Matthias Hoene 
Starring Joely Richardson, Neil Linpow and Sadie Soverall 

It appears this film was renamed “The Last Exit” just before its run at the 49th annual Seattle International Film Festival but you’ll find it on Letterboxd or IMDB under Little Bone Lodge. Whatever it’s called, it’s a suitably taut and creepy thriller with lots of violence, a lot of tropes and a script I didn’t care for. NOT RECOMMENDED. — MA

Agreed. This home invasion clunker needs subtitles. Some excellent performances that are poorly framed and filmed, don’t make up for the twists that felt more like soft rights. I wasn’t at all disturbed by the darker revelations. The fact that this film’s title was changed last minute suggests the vision wasn’t clear, like the audio, from the beginning. NOT RECOMMENDED. — PC 

Mavka: The Forest Song (2023)
Directed by Oleh Malamuzh and Oleksandra Ruban

I was unable to hear the real voice talents since Mavka: The Forest Song, a Ukrainian computer-animated fantasy comedy-drama, played in English. This was presumably for the young children who attended the early afternoon showing. The choppy English dub only slightly marred my experience thanks to the beautiful animation that really showcased the greenery of the forest. The character design was a bit uninspired but the courage to stick with almost “fabric-like” quality of the creatures may grow on me with repeated viewings. RECOMMENDED. – TB

Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes (2023)
Directed by Sam Pollard and Ben Shapiro (No not THAT Ben Shapiro) 

30 years in the making, this stunning look into the life, art, and activism of the late, great, Bebop drummer, Max Roach, opens our eyes to the complex life he led. He played with the greats, revolutionized music, and, in his own way, led the cultural revolution for African-American rights. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. – PC

Mother Superior (2022) 
Directed by Marie Alice Wolfszahn
Starring Isabella Handler, Inge Maux and Jochen Nickel

This film’s description had me at “Gothic Occult Thriller.” Aesthetically, it delivered but in every other aspect the film was a huge disappointment. The film started full of potential but had no cohesive narrative to hook the audience. I was begging for the film to end and when it finished the last scene saved the film from being my least favorite viewing at SIFF. NOT RECOMMENDED. – TB 

The Night of the 12th (2022)
Directed by Dominik Moll
Starring Bastien Bouillon, Bouli Lanners and Théo Cholbi

I love a good police procedural, but instead of the gritty city, this story is nestled in the foothills of the Alps. The mountains make for a stunning backdrop to a grizzly crime. I wasn’t fully invested into the main character, the soundtrack felt out-of-place, but I would RECOMMEND this film to any true-crime fan. – PC

Read Peter’s longer review

One Day This Will All Be Yours (2023)
Directed by Andreas Öhman
Starring Karin Franz Körlof, Suzanne Reuter and Peter Haber

This vibrant Swedish dramedy is the raw, fun and emotional journey of Lisa and her family. She is a cartoonist that visits home for her mothers 70th birthday party. We know very soon that she gives no fucks and is played perfectly by Karin Franz Körlof. Come to laugh, stay to cry. RECOMMENDED. – TB 

Past Lives (2023)
Directed by Celine Song
Starring Greta Lee, Teo Yoo and John Magaro

Like with last year’s Aftersun, A24 once again allows a first time filmmaker to tell their story their way. This year it is Past Lives, an intentional, articulate and surprisingly whimsical look at modern relationships. RECOMMENDED. – TB 

Read Tim’s full review

Plan 75 (2022)
Directed by Chie Hayakawa
Starring Chieko Baisho, Hayato Isomura and Stefanie Arianne 

One of the most emotionally-compelling films I’ve seen in recent memory, Plan 75 is an intimate and very human look at life, death and the nature of aging. It’s a patient and subtle social satire that compassionately illustrates the pain of isolation, and the importance of human connection. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. – TB

A Room of My Own (2022)
Directed by Ioseb ‘Soso’ Bliadze
Starring Taki Mumladze, Mariam Khundadze and Sophio Zeragia

This isn’t Single White Female (1992) in Georgia. In fact, Tina and Megi have an emotional depth that Allison and Hedra never could. Am I saying Taki Mumladze and Mariam Khundadze are better than Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh? Maybe. Give this Georgian film a chance, you may be memorized with their performances as well. RECOMMENDED. – TB

Satan Wants You (2023)
Directed by Steve J. Adams and Sean Horlor

A deep dive into the apparent origins of the Satanic Panic that gripped North America in the 80’s and early 90’s. Stylistic choices aside, this documentary is well done and possibly an important archive of a history that is bound to repeat itself.  Excerpts from Michelle Remembers are harrowing and not for the faint of heart but an important piece of the puzzle that is Satan Wants You. RECOMMENDED.  – TB

Snow and the Bear (2022)
Directed by Selcen Ergun
Starring Merve Dizdar, Saygın Soysal, Asiye Dinçsoy and Erkan Bektaş 

This film sticks with you well after your initial viewing and begs to be viewed again. Lead Merve Dizdar carries the film that also has many special performances by the mostly Turkish cast. A meditative think piece wrapped in a thriller. Are we more than our traditions? Are we more than our current technology? Director Selcen Ergun obviously pays homage to Bela Tar and, if her debut is any indication, will surpass him soon. RECOMMENDED. – TB

Sonne (2022)
Directed by Kurdwin Ayub
Starring Melina Benli, Law Wallner and Maya Wopienka

This film is so refreshing you may leave a screening with a new understanding of culture, youth, immigration and family. I laughed out loud and I even gasped. Great mixture of styles and techniques make this one of the most ambitious films I have seen all year. From first time director Kurdwin Ayub, with a portion of the cast as first timers, Sonne is fresh new cinema I got to see with my two friends/colleagues. RECOMMENDED. – TB

Read Peter’s full review

Superposition (2023)
Directed by Karoline Lyngbye
Starring Marie Bach Hansen, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard and Mihlo Olsen

When Danish couple Stine and Teit decide to live ‘off-grid’ with their son in a remote forest of Sweden, they encounter something very strange and familiar. 

The plot device in this film was, for whatever reason, popular this year at SIFF. Not sure why, but Karoline Lyngbye employs it brilliantly  to tell a deeply disturbing parable about self-discovery. RECOMMENDED. – PC

Until Branches Bend (2022) 
Directed by Sophie Jarvis
Starring Grace Glowicki, Alexandra Roberts and Quelemia Sparrow

When cannery worker, Robyn, cuts open a suspicious looking peach, what she finds inside pits her against her community and much stronger forces.

Until Branches Bend has an important message, and it’s told well. I just found the third act poorly executed. If you like whistleblower stories, this film will wet your whistle. RECOMMENDED. – PC

The Visitor from the Future (2022) 
Directed by François Descraques
Starring Arnaud Ducret, Florent Dorin and Enya Baroux

Was hoping for 12 Monkeys meets Avengers:Endgame. First act had me laughing out loud. The second and third? Not so much. If I would have known ahead of time that this film was based on an episodic 57 episode web series from 2009-2014 that clawed its way to the big screen via a fervent fan base I may have forgiven its many flaws, of which there are many. NOT RECOMMENDED. – TB

When It Melts (2023) 
Directed by Veerle Baetens
Starring Sebastien Dewaele, Charlotte De Bruyne and Spencer Bogaert

When It Melts is a gripping drama from first-time director Veerle Baetens. With brilliant performances by Rosa Marchant and Charlotte De Bruyne, the film suspensefully illustrates the effects of unchecked adolescent trauma. A surprise highlight of my SIFF 2023 experience. RECOMMENDED. – MA


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