Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
The 2021 Seattle International Film Festival opened yesterday, April 8th, and continues on through April 18th. In my Seattle Weekly days, we’d do an annual “What I Want to See” preview article, ticking off a few sight-unseen titles that were high on the wish list. Here are ten of mine for this year. You can access the SIFF program here and connect the dots to sign on for a pass.
The Pink Cloud. This Brazilian film by Iuli Gerbase has been winning raves in early screenings, and not just for its uncanny subject matter, conceived and shot before the pandemic: When an unexplained and deadly pink cloud settles over a city, the population must go into quarantine—which lasts for years.
Love and Fury. I’m curious about this one because its director, Sterlin Harjo, has distinguished himself as one of the most compelling American indigenous filmmakers of recent years. His first feature, Four Sheets to the Wind, was one of those scrappy low-budget projects that nevertheless prove that someone behind the camera has a distinctive way of looking at things; his 2009 Barking Water was a nifty road movie (my review here: https://www.heraldnet.com/life/filmmaker-harjo-scores-with-barking-water/). This one’s a documentary that tracks the experiences of a disparate collection of Native American artists.
Summer of 85. There’s always room for a new film by the prolific François Ozon, who has been represented at SIFF since his early days as a maker of short films. This one is billed as a love story laced with tragedy, set around the beaches of Normandy; unless I miss my guess, it takes place in the summer of 1985.
There Is No Evil. The winner of last year’s Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, this multi-story film addresses the subject of capital punishment in Iran. Director Mohammad Rasoulof was sentenced to prison time and a filmmaking ban shortly after winning the prize, although he recently appeared on the jury of this year’s Berlinale.
Athanor—The Alchemical Furnace. A documentary portrait of the mighty Czech animator (the word seems woefully insufficient for what he does) Jan Švankmajer, now 86 and looking back at a life of glorious artistic weirdness.
Censor. The advance word on this British film has been enticing indeed for horror-movie mavens: A look at the breakdown of a censor evaluating ’80s UK horror flicks, or “video nasties,” who gets drawn into investigating possible real-life parallels between a movie and her own family’s tragedy. Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond, making her feature debut.
Riders of Justice. I mean, it stars Mads Mikkelsen, so the choice is pretty much automatic. This movie reunites the actor with a frequent collaborator, writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen, who has charted his own odd and busy path through many of the best films of the last 25 years of Danish cinema.
Mogul Mowgli. Current Oscar nominee Riz Ahmed (The Sound of Metal) plays a rapper whose career is interrupted by some real-life crises; the actor also wrote the screenplay with director Bassam Tariq. Ahmed is on such a hot streak that this is probably essential viewing, along with The Sound of Metal, but please also go back and watch Four Lions, if you haven’t seen it.
Bebia, a mon seul desir. I’m curious about this one, a directing debut by Juja Dobrachkous, because it’s from Georgia, a country that has produced some exciting recent films, and it’s in black and white, which I’m a sucker for.
Wisdom Tooth. Okay, this one I’ve actually seen, as it was in the competition last year at the Hong Kong Film Festival, where I was on the critics’ jury. It didn’t win our prize, but first-time director Liang Ming’s film is a dizzying, ambitious project: partly about the too-close dependence of a sister and brother, complicated when he gets a girlfriend, but also about the politics and social order in a Chinese seaside town, sharply rendered in the filmmaker’s strong sense of place.
April 9, 2021
Robert Horton is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.