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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 second look at the films playing this year’s festival include three animated tales from Spain, the U.S., and France.

Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises will be opening the fest this Thursday, but between its Oscar nomination and Miyazaki’s apparent retirement the film is already getting more than its share of press. Plus, if I’m being honest, I wasn’t actually all that impressed with it outside of the animation itself. Instead, I decided to review three other animated films more in need of the exposure.

Keep reading for capsule reviews of The ApostleCheatin’, and Ernest & Celestine, and follow all of our coverage here.

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The Apostle

Ramon and a second convict escape from jail via the underground sewers, and before they separate the other man shares the location of some jewels he hid in a small mountain town many years ago. Ramon heads there on foot in the guise of a pilgrim, but his arrival is met with an unsettling kindness and a strong sense that something is amiss. He soon discovers that the residents are in some sort of cahoots with supernatural forces, and if he doesn’t act fast he’ll find himself stuck someplace far more formidable than prison.

I’m a sucker for stop-motion animation and have been ever since my early discovery of the technique in films as diverse as Star Wars, Clash of the Titans, Robocop, and Laserblast. Recent full-length animated movies like ParaNorman have strengthened my interest, and while this entry from Spain eschews childish audiences for viewers more attuned to mature plots, themes, and pacing, it’s yet another fantastic entry in the world of stop-motion animated films.

There are no concessions made for immature viewers, and while there’s nothing here to offend children there’s a lot that would go over their heads. It’s a creepy and atmospheric tale for adults filled with spooky visuals and commentary on greed, morality, and religion. The score, co-composed by Philip Glass, adds to the haunting, nightmarish atmosphere, but a few hectic scenes aside the film prefers to focus more on mood and feeling than loud or bold “scares.”

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The Apostle screens 2/8 at 1:00p and 2/19 at 8:30p. Buy tickets here.

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Cheatin’

Jake and Ella meet under odd and surreal circumstances, but their love is as clear as a sunny day leading to a wedding and multiple bouts of intense love-making. Time marches on, and the two live a happy life, but when Jake spurns a woman’s advances she plants a seed of doubt in his head as to Ella’s fidelity and soon Jake is hell-bent on having as many affairs as possible. Ella discovers his cheating ways, but not his motivation, and she sets in motion a plan for revenge.

Bill Plympton shows a poor grasp on physics and anatomy in his animation, but the man knows his way around the human heart and psyche. Essentially dialogue free, the film tells a clear story of love, heartache, and all the other highs and lows the human mind is capable of reaching on the subject of relationships. Plot moves forward through visual cues, a storytelling score, and the occasional aural aid.

Plympton’s work in general suffers from the opposite fate in my eyes as The Wind Rises. Namely, while the story is engaging and fun even without dialogue the animation style just doesn’t work for me in feature length form. Maybe it’s too messy? It’s sketch-like, shaky, and exaggerates nearly everything for effect, and the result is animation that pushes me away when it should be pulling me into its world. Still though, the story and raw and recognizable emotions on display make it compelling all the same. But I still can’t pretend to understand why the one guy staples his nipples.

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Cheatin’ screens 2/12 at 8:30p and 2/16 at 5:30p. Buy tickets here.

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piff37 ernest and celestine

Ernest & Celestine

Celestine is a young mouse still learning the ways of the world around her as she works towards her apprenticeship to become a dentist. Part of her ongoing education is learning that the bears who live on the surface above the subterranean city the mice call home are vicious, mean, and constantly intent on eating any mouse they come across. She’s never met one, but she sees no reason why mice and bears couldn’t be friends. She finds her opinion challenged when one of her excursions up top brings her in contact with a bear named Ernest, and soon the two are on an adventure that goes against all the laws of both bear and mouse society.

This French award-winner is a whimsical delight from beginning to end as it tells a sweet tale of friendship that doubles as a metaphor for inter-species relations. Maybe I read too much into that part, but it does work as a story about celebrating commonalities instead of fearing differences, and in that regard it’s a big success. It’s effective writing, but part of what makes it work is the confidence the film has that makes broad message-oriented dialogue unnecessary.

The soft animation, complete with unfinished lines and watercolor stylings, creates an immersive and warm world, and scenes like Ernest and Celestine’s garbage can meet-cute and a wonderfully chaotic chase with police show a diversity that the style handles with equal strength. The film also benefits from smart writing/editing throughout with one highlight being a stretch that shifts repeatedly between mouse and bear in serious and simultaneous trouble in the other’s world. See it with the bear (or mouse) in your life.

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Ernest & Celestine screens 2/7, at 6:00p and 2/11 at 6:00p and 2/23 at 12:15p. Buy tickets here.

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PIFF 37 runs 2/6 – 2/22


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