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The 37th Portland International Film Festival runs this year from February 6th to the 25th. They’re screening 104 feature films and 24 shorts across those two weeks from countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Iceland, Nepal, and Taiwan. Check out the official site for tickets and/or more details.

Our 8th look at the films playing this year’s PIFF share absolutely nothing in common, but we’re approaching the end of it all and the stragglers need to be collected somehow.

First up is the oddly structured romantic comedy of sorts from France, 2 Autumns 3 Winters. Next is Nobody’s Daughter Haewon, the new film from critically acclaimed South Korean director Hong Sang-soo. And lastly, we have the low-fi American thriller, Proxy.

Keep reading for capsule reviews of 2 Autumns 3 WintersNobody’s Daughter Haewon, and Proxy, and follow all of our coverage here.

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2 Autumns 3 Winters (France)

Arman is in his early thirties and looking for love. Well, looking is a strong word. He’s open to it anyway, and the possibility arrives when he collides with Amelie while the two are jogging in the park. They only exchange a few words but meet again when he saves her from a pair of would be assailants days later. Love blossoms. Arman’s best friend, Benjamin, takes a more indirect route to romance when a medical emergency lands him in serious recovery in the proximity of a nurse named Katia.

Writer/director Sébastien Betbeder‘s film has all the hallmarks of a traditional, heartfelt romantic comedy, but it plays around with the structure and presentation in an odd way. Not only do the characters talk directly to the camera, both in the scenes and in staged, interview-like backdrops, but they also narrate some of the films biggest moments. What would have been emotional beats if presented in a normal narrative way are instead a bit flattened as we simply hear someone telling us what happened. It’s a strange choice that risks being little more than an unsuccessful gimmick.

And yet, it pretty much works. Some dramatic moments lose feeling they would otherwise have had, but overall the film still manages some laughs and sweetness. Much of the credit goes to the cast who engage even as talking heads sharing moments both minor and life-altering. In fact, the only dialogue that feels false is their weird acknowledgement and praise of Judd Apatow’s Funny People. Because seriously?

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2 Autumns 3 Winters screens 2/22 at 7:30p. Buy tickets here.

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Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (South Korea)

Hae-won (Jeong Eun-chae) is a college student with a fragile grasp on two important relationships. Her mother is leaving Korea tomorrow and moving to Canada, and the impending loneliness drives Hae-won back to an ex-boyfriend she should never have been involved with in the first place. Not only is Sung-joon (Lee Seon-gyun) her teacher, but he’s also married. Good thing Charlotte Gainsbourg’s mother, Jane Birkin, is wandering around town.

South Korean writer/director Hong Sang-soo is much beloved by film critics, but his films are just not for me. He seems indifferent to quality acting to the point that I wouldn’t be surprised if he never shoots more than one take. That’s not a knock on the cast either as both Jeong and Lee have proven themselves capable of delivering compelling and convincing performances, but they’re allowed to stumble around in ways that feel neither professional nor real. Combine those distractions with Hong’s penchant for sloppy zooms during dialogue scenes, and you have a film that fails to connect.

It’s a shame too as the implied drama has potential. Hae-won is a lost young woman, confused about her place in life let alone where she stands with the people around her. Strangers hit on her, but intimacy, platonic or otherwise, evades her. Unfortunately, every moment that hints at the film forming an emotional connection is smothered by an amateur presentation.

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Nobody’s Daughter Haewon screens 2/20 at 8:30p. Buy tickets here.

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Proxy (USA)

Esther (Alexia Rasmussen) is nine months pregnant and nearing her due date when a mysterious attacker takes it all away. The police work to solve the case while she rediscovers the loneliness of a life with no one in it (or inside her). A bright spot appears in the form of a friend she makes at a group grief counseling, but Melanie (Alexa Havins) has some disturbing secrets of her own.

Fair warning to viewers who need to be hooked in the first 20-30 minutes of a film as writer/director Zack Parker‘s latest feature fails miserably at that task. The opening attack is followed by a doldrum of action and drama until a reveal around the half hour mark truly sets things in motion, and that initial dullness combined with an overbearing score (that feels like it escaped one of Brian De Palma’s lesser films) makes for an incredibly rough start.

But stick with it. While the script has some issues with dialogue and logic (most inept police ever) the general story offers some pretty smart and highly unexpected turns. It’s less of a thriller than a surprising drama, but the plot becomes an incredibly engaging affair. The film could easily be subtitled Bitches Be Crazy, so it’s a refreshing change when Joe Swanberg arrives. Of course, he soon finds reason to go a bit nutty too, and the events that follow up the ante even more.

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Proxy screens 2/21 at 11:45p. Buy tickets here.

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PIFF 37 runs 2/6 – 2/25


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