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The 37th Portland International Film Festival runs this year from February 6th to the 22nd. 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.

My sixth capsule review round-up of films playing this year’s fest includes three Oscar submissions for Best Foreign Language Film from Norway, Georgia, and Afghanistan.

The three also share a coincidental theme of sorts in their collective view of women as the more oppressed and stressed of the sexes. I Am Yours follows a single mother trying her damnedest but faced with the reality that she may not be cut out for motherhood. In Bloom is focused on two teen girls coming of age in the hell that was Tbilisi in the early ’90s. And Wajma explores the sad reality of what happens when young women get pregnant out of wedlock. Fair warning, none of these are happy movies.

Keep reading for capsule reviews of I Am YoursIn Bloom, and Wajma: An Afghan Love Story, and follow all of our coverage here.

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I Am Yours (Norway)

Mina (Amrita Acharia) is a single mother living in Oslo with her young son, Felix. She shares custody with the boy’s father who has since gone on to begin a new family, and her mother refuses to let Mina forget that she screwed up in letting Felix’s father go. Mina’s focus is split between her son, her nonexistent acting career, and finding a man. She wants someone forever, but she far too frequently settles for someone right now.

Much of Iram Haq‘s film follows Mina’s efforts to make a relationship work with a Swedish filmmaker named Jesper, and it’s clear that the two are quite fond of each other. The actors’ chemistry helps, but those same skills are put to good use as the two lovers hit a roadblock that is Mina’s son. It would be the end of any other tale’s relationship, but here Mina actually questions the idea of life without Felix if it meant she’d be happy in love and loved in return. It’s a rarity, and it makes for compelling cinema as Mina’s drives lead her towards some unhealthy situations and away from winning a Mother of the Year award.

Acharia is onscreen in every scene, and she delivers a fantastic balance of emotion and physical presence. She exudes a joyful, sexy vibe, but her attractive and appealing smile thinly masks Mina’s frustrating sadness. There’s a desperation to Mina, and Acharia does strong work as she fails to connect with her situation in any meaningful way until finally she realizes something has to give. It’s a brave character and even braver performance.

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I Am Yours screens 2/12 at 8:30p and 2/20 at 6:00p. Buy tickets here.

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In Bloom (Georgia)

Tbilisi, Georgia, 1992. The Soviet Union has collapsed, and one of its many fractured states struggles to rebuild and survive. Amid the conflict, bread lines, and daily break down of law and order, are two friends, Eka and Natia. Both fourteen, the girls live their lives like anyone else but with the added pressures of a male-dominated society in immediate decay. Danger seemingly exists around every corner, but the girls’ reaction to it changes when one of them receives a handgun as a present.

The film is a coming of age tale of sorts as the two girls, best friends, find their paths weaving in and out of each other’s lives. They don’t physically grow apart, but they appear to differ in emotional maturation. Eka is fully immersed in being a young girl, still idealistic about certain things, while Natia is more forward and ready to move on into womanhood. Both girls are on common tracks, but it’s their environment that will have the ultimate say.

The film feels its budget at times, but that doesn’t seem to prevent writer/co-director Nana Ekvtimishvili from attaining some attractive shots and moments of real tension. Moments that should be innocent or innocuous instead carry a fearful energy, and while this is far from a suspense film certain scenes will have viewers anticipating the worst.

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In Bloom screens 2/15 at 6:00p and 2/17 at 5:00p. Buy tickets here.

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Wajma: An Afghan Love Story (Afghanistan)

Wajma and Mustafa are a couple of frisky young adults in Kabul who hit it off and soon begin sneaking around to spend time with each other. She’s flattered by Mustafa’s attention, and soon the two are knocking boots on occasion and tittering about it afterwards. Things change though when Wajma discovers she’s pregnant. Alone and found out by her father, her life becomes a waking nightmare.

Writer/director Barmak Akram‘s film is a low-budget affair made with heart and more than a little rage directed at a system that treats women and sexuality as subject to arcane laws and social justice. The scene where Wajma’s father arrives after hearing the news lasts seemingly forever in its harshness as he beats, berates, and threatens to burn her alive in the snow. It’s painful for viewers both in its immediate visceral effect and its far more lasting one when the realization hits that this is a common scenario. “I allowed you to study,” says her father, “and this is the result?”

There are no flashy shots or memorable cinematography here as instead Akram’s film presents a raw look at contemporary Afghan life. From the casual dog fights to the Blackhawk helicopter flying overhead, this is real life. The offensive point is driven home during a scene that shows Wajma’s father consulting a legal authority as to his options. He lists the possibilities alongside the regret that the two lovers hadn’t been caught in the act. According to the law, the aggrieved family member, the father, could have then killed one or both of the fornicators without fear of legal ramifications. The most damning moment here, and one that should have been repeated at the very end, is the opening statement that the film is “based on several true stories.”

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Wajma: An Afghan Love Story screens 2/16 at 3:00p. Buy tickets here.

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PIFF 37 runs 2/6 – 2/22


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