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 fourth look at this year’s crop of international titles features three films concerned with love and sex in modern day Paris, but while two of the three are French films the third is a UK production set in the city of lights.
Just a Sigh follows a Parisian actress whose rough day is complicated by a chance meeting and flickers of emotion between strangers. The second French film, Francois Ozon’s Young and Beautiful, concerns a teenager whose budding sexuality leads to a brief career as a call girl. Finally, Notting Hill director Roger Michell sends a couple to Paris for their 30th anniversary, but their celebration is quickly revealed to be a dying gasp.
Keep reading for capsule reviews of Just a Sigh, Le Week-End, and Young and Beautiful, and follow all of our coverage here.
Just a Sigh
Alix (Emmanuelle Davos) is currently working in a stage production, but a day trip to Paris for a promising audition becomes something far bigger and more complicated when she makes eye contact with a stranger on the train. Doug (Gabriel Byrne) is an American visiting for a funeral, but as the circumstances of Alix’s day see her following him around the city the two eventually follow through on the promise of their shared glances earlier in the day.
For better or worse, Jérôme Bonnell‘s romantic drama belongs to the meandering, pseudo real-time sub-genre most successfully utilized in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, but where those films worked (the first two anyway) this one suffers. Doug is far too much of a non-entity here as our time is spent almost entirely with Alix, and while her efforts to navigate a day where far too much goes wrong occasionally engage, various subplots force the film to lose focus. The themes of fate and chance are interrupted by unnecessary narrative that derails what little magic existed.
Davos is pure brilliance though, which makes it that much more of a shame that the film isn’t there to support her. She exudes sexiness, but there’s an undeniable tenderness and fragility to her that keeps attraction fueled as much by the heart as is by lower organs. She says more with a look than many say with pages of dialogue, and as Alix’s day marches forward Davos keeps viewers in tune with her state of mind with minimal effort and maximum effect.
Just a Sigh screens 2/13 at 8:30p and 2/15 at 6:00p. Buy tickets here.
Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) arrive in Paris to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary, but what should be a joyous weekend is tainted by the reality of their situation. He’s recently been sacked, she’s disinterested in intimacy, their grown son is a drain on their finances and emotions, and they’re currently living at the intersection of penniless and dead broke. The next three days will see their love and hate for each other pushed to the limits.
Roger Michell‘s latest feels like a less familiar but equally unbearable Before Midnight in that its two leads spend the vast majority of the film’s run-time fighting, squabbling, and otherwise grating each others’ (and viewers) nerves. Yes, I know you and everyone else loved Before Midnight, but try to imagine dropping blind into that film with characters you hadn’t already come to know and love in two previous movies. That’s the frustration here.
It probably wasn’t the intention, but the film is at its best when Nick and Meg are apart and interacting with others. Jeff Goldblum‘s arrival in particular around the thirty minute mark is a godsend of personality and charm that make the remaining hour bearable. Make no mistake, Broadbent and Duncan do fine work here, but it’s a losing battle for far too long. The handful of moments of life between them are too infrequent and not nearly enough to engage viewers in the characters’ lives. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, but the intended effect has been neutered long before it’s reached.
Le Week-End screens 2/7 at 8:30p and 2/9 at 5:30p at 2/26 at 8:15p. Buy tickets here.
Young and Beautiful
Isabelle (Marine Vacth) is a newly minted seventeen year old when she has sex for the first time, and she walks away from the experience unimpressed. Deciding there must be more and better out there she becomes a call girl catering to older men who can afford the hundreds that she charges, but an incident with one of her regulars, a man she’s come to care about, forces her to face the decisions that led her to this point.
François Ozon is a fantastically prolific filmmaker, and while his films aren’t always winners they are consistently interesting in his approach to themes and ideas. There’s no topic that interests him more than women, and his latest continues that trend with its exploration of blossoming sexuality in the rare form of a woman uninterested in emotional entanglements. The only intimacy Isabelle feels is in the power she knows she wields, and the challenge presented by her affection for her favorite elderly john is made clear when tragedy strikes. Her familial relationships with her mother, stepfather, and curiously close younger brother lack that same emotional level, and the result is a refreshingly direct female character who may or may not have some severe issues.
The film is divided into four seasons, but it seems unnecessary judging by what transpires within each. The connections between the seasons and the events in Isabelle’s life throughout the year are tenuous at best, and while the “chapters” don’t distract from the narrative they’re a superfluous construct. It’s worth noting that while far from Blue Is the Warmest Color territory this is still a fairly explicit film so proceed accordingly.
Young and Beautiful screens 2/8 at 8:30p and 2/10 at 8:30p. Buy tickets here.
PIFF 37 runs 2/6 – 2/22