A Pitch for PIFF

Jeff Alworth

In the opening scene of Revanche, an Austrian movie currently showing at the Portland International Film Festival, we see a lake surrouned by evergreens.  Revanche The entire foreground is water, as if the camera were in the center of the lake; the trees circle the image like a halo.  The water is perfectly still, a mirror, reflecting what might be a dusk sky.  We can hear loons and the ambient noise of a forest.  Finally, an object crashes into the lake.  The waves that pulse out from the splash reflect the sky in rings--not dusk we see now--echoing the circularity of the shot's initial composure. 

Film can't help but communicate culture.  We make what we are.  For those who only see American movies, the culture may be invisible, but spend a day or two watching movies at PIFF and you're reminded how deeply established our film tropes are.  In Revanche, one of the subplots involves a provincial policeman who has shot and killed a bank robber.  He is shattered by the experience; his body literally quakes with remorse and anxiety.  In one scene as he sobs about the event, a long tendril of snot drips from his nose.  It is an absolutely foreign rendering of human behavior.  It wouldn't occur to an American filmmaker that there was anything wrong with a cop killing a robber; that the cop would, in the age of "24," be suffering mental collapse from the trauma is almost inconceivable.

Filmmaking, too, reflects something of our cultures.  That opening shot in Revanche was a revelation for what it didn't contain--digital manipulation.  Filmmaking in the US has passed the point of hyper-realism.  Now we've gone to hyper dream-realism, where humans don't act like humans (sometimes they're not played by humans) and events and the exterior world morph and roar and explode and glow in ways they can't in our boring, terrestrial environment.  Nwfc_piffBut our hyper dream-realism excludes things like tendrils of snot.  That's a texture of realism no studio, with a $200 million nut to earn back, would ever sanction.

For movie fans, PIFF should be the event of the year.   Based on the screenings I've attended, it is--every one has been sold out.  But I know that some of you still resist its charms.  Maybe you don't want to mess with the long lines or risk seeing a dud.  Maybe you think foreign films aren't your cup of tea.  Whatever the barriers, put them aside.  It's an amazing opportunity to experience the way other people think, to see foreign places and people (the Belgian countryside, for example, looked identical to Western Oregon's in Eldorado), to take a mini vacation to another world, to experience totally new ways of telling stories.

Clock's ticking...

  • Jiang (unverified)

    Maybe you don't want to mess with the long lines or risk seeing a dud. Maybe you think foreign films aren't your cup of tea. Whatever the barriers, put them aside.

    If one reads on to the next thread, the answer is there for all to see. The environment is about the environment, not just us. If you watch ANY nature show though, Americans are only interested in things they can relate to their most basic biology. The language in nature shows is totally anthropomorphized, with animals keeping house and stars engaging in cannibalism and a volcano being the biggest bad ass around. Kari's post illustrates that to get anyone to care about any more, it has to be related to a money and fame, again, or we don't care. Foreign films do not indulge that childish mindset. There is also a common and heartfelt belief in this country that being made to think is rude. We'd rather see a "great man" that kills and kills and kills and dream that we can be like him.

    This was really well written, IMO. I would add a disclaimer at the bottom about pausing before going straight on to the next thread. No exaggeration, I came very, very close to losing my lunch when I read the phrase "power couples for the environment". It was more revulsion at first, until I realized that names were named to get google hits on the front page. One develops a pretty thick skin in this society, but good writing like this may tempt one to let down the defenses for a minute. Oh...and look what pops up immediately; great, successful primates with goatees and glitz to lead the worshipful troupe.

    Anyway, good on 'ya mate! It sounds old-fashioned, but I think that most our evils, from Abu Graib to Hedge Funds, stem directly from Hollywood's unrealistic, biology first, portrayal of everything. Washington wanted to be like Cincinatus. Reagan wanted to be like Rambo. So, here's a hard sell reason to go see a foreign flick with your SO. It might save your relationship. To whit, aren't most relationship problems caused by unrealistic expectations? I'm saying Americans get those unrealistic expectations directly from Hollywood. A foreign film, where people still act like authentic individuals, might remind couples what really matters and let them abandon all those things they think need to happen before it's a quality relationship.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    I'm saying Americans get those unrealistic expectations directly from Hollywood.

    Hollywood is not the only culprit. Talk shows on radio and television may be more guilty. Remember all those prognoses about a "cake walk" in Iraq leading to democracy throughout the Middle East? Then there are all those glossy ads in newspapers and magazines encouraging people to be consumers instead of citizens. On the other hand, Hollywood does get it right sometimes. "Milk" and "Doubt" are among good recent films provoking thought.


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