For this year’s Seattle International Film Festival, though we did not get to see a wide swath of films, those we did catch mostly impressed us. After the jump, don’t miss our full coverage of 2023’s SIFF!
Focused on positive messaging for body image issues and the loneliness of being an outsider, Dancing Queen is a lovely, charming movie that quickly won me over. Mina (Liv Elvira Rippersund Larsson), a precocious twelve-year-old girl with few friends, struggles to find her place in the world. Her parents aren’t the most supportive, with only her sassy grandmother being a constant source of comfort and knowledge. Dancing becomes Mina’s one true passion. Mina has finally found a way to channel her energy into a new medium that sheds attention on her in a positive light. She joins a class in preparation of the upcoming Mjosa Challenge—they will not be performing as a group, though, but instead in duos. The instructor assigns Mina to be paired with a cocky young boy named E.D. Win (Viljar Knutsen Bjaadal), who possesses thousands of social media followers. As we follow Mina’s journey from distant outcast to blossoming preteen, Liv Elvira Rippersund Larsson shines. By the time we get to the rapturous Mjosa Challenge ceremony, I didn’t want to leave the world of Dancing Queen behind. Ultimately, the film directed by Aurora Gosse is sweet and challenging—following dreams and believing in oneself reign supreme.
ERNEST & CELESTINE: A TRIP TO GIBBERITIA
Previously reviewed for San Francisco Film Festival.
(Written by Intern, Wyatt Frantz) While this Roma-esque immigrant story was beautiful from a visual standpoint, the pretentious core of Fremont fails to capture the artistic edge it aims for. Donya (Anaita Wali Zada), an Afghan immigrant, works at a fortune cookie factory with her friend, Joanna (Hilda Schmelling), but suffers from insomnia. After expressing trouble in finding a psychiatrist, one of her neighbors gives her an appointment slot with Dr. Anthony (Gregg Turkington), who agrees to see her regularly despite some push back. It turns out that not even sleeping pills help her get the sleep she needs. Donya continues to trek through her daily routine of working, watching soap operas by force, and socializing late at night with her neighbors. Suddenly, one of her coworkers dies, leaving her to write the fortunes encapsulated in the cookies. The heavy thematic focus becomes evident in the first few minutes, and continues on with its overly artsy storytelling that tries too hard to provoke its audience. Setting a philosophical bar out of reach, its symbolism feels too on-the-nose and inorganically shoehorned into the film in hopes of creating meaning where it might otherwise not be needed. The plot suffers from character inaction until a more engaging act three ensues featuring Jeremy Allen White. For a story grounded in the truthfulness of the immigrant experience, greater realism would have made for a more digestible experience. The performances and line delivery as a whole feel feigned, and could have benefited from less straight-laced performances while still capturing the melancholic mood it aimed for. On the other hand, the flowery writing accompanies astonishing cinematography, which captures urban spaces in intimate ways that feel in touch with Donya’s search for belonging. A creative use of lighting reminiscent of Bergman manages to create very compelling frames of our characters. Akin to amateur poetry, Fremont is mostly blue skies in its heavy use of theme and symbolism, but not grounded in enough realism to sell its viewer. While it is a visual pleasure with a relevant story, it struggles with its execution.
I LIKE MOVIES
Previously reviewed for 2022’s Toronto International Film Festival.
(Written by Allison Brown) As someone with chronic ankle instability in and out of physical therapy, Late Bloomers could not be more relatable in Louise’s millennial struggle with an elderly ailment. The situation is, of course, even worse when the injury is a result of reckless behavior. At the heart of it all, the tender “odd couple” relationship between desperately lovestruck Louise (Karen Gillan) and irritable Antonina (Margaret Sophie Stein) is bound to charm the pants off any viewer.
THE MATTACHINE FAMILY
Full review at the link.
Nakedly capturing a day in the life of a trans man, Mutt features a captivating lead turn from Lio Meheil as Fena. If only everything around this signature performance felt as raw and exploratory. Three major figures that Fena has not seen since fully transitioning have come back into his life all over the course of a single, hectic day. His younger sister, Zoe (MiMi Ryder), is going through womanhood for the first time, seeking to reconnect with Fena who has grown distant; his straight ex-boyfriend, John (Cole Doman), potentially seeks to rekindle or at least reexamine their volatile relationship; finally, Fena’s father comes to New York City to visit. Writer/producer/director Vuk Lungulov-Klotz has an intensive understanding of the human experience, morphing Fena’s day from hell into an eventful, if small stakes, exploration of the trans experience. In its more passionate, intimate moments, Mutt works magic; in maintaining a throughline and doubling down on its simplicity, there was something missing here. After all the buzz from screening at the Sundance Film Festival, perhaps hopes were too high for Mutt to have even the slightest chance of fulfilling them. While I am overjoyed that Berlinale finally gave me the chance to seek out this unusually straightforward drama, Mutt never lives up to its full potential, nor the lovely performance from Lio Mehiel.
Part of the Midnights selection at Sundance and already picked up by Paramount for global distribution, horror/romance/drama My Animal is an easy film to recommend. A lesbian-charged werewolf movie unlike any other, director Jacqueline Castel brings an erotic, surrealistic touch to the proceedings. Heather (Bobbi Salvor Menuez) has a complicated home life to put it mildly—this includes attempting to manage her raging alcoholic mother, and Heather’s own lycanthropic tendencies at the approach of each full moon. Complicated figure skater Jonny (Amandla Stenberg) enters Heather’s life at just the right time. Both women have bruises and scratches, whether physical or mental. Rippling with rich chemistry between Bobbi and Amandla, My Animal is a dark and stylish find that could be a future LGBT favorite for many.
SNOW AND THE BEAR
(Written by Intern, Lauren Vega) Get ready for metaphorical situations and deep thinking in Snow and the Bear. Directed by Selcen Ergun, Snow and the Bear follows a woman who has transferred from her hometown to a snowy, desolate place. The isolated location is in the midst of a long winter, which subsequently makes things feel lonelier. The protagonist is determined to succeed in her new job as a nurse, however is treated as an outsider in the small town. Though she begins to make friends, a missing persons case hits the town, casting a suspicious shadow on those around her. Cinematography was spot-on, while the set building helped to create an eerie ambiance throughout the film. Additionally, the sound design made me feel alone and spooked—all the midnight howls and bumps immersed me in their world. Acting-wise, I think everyone’s blank faces threw me for a loop. I understand that the characters are in the middle of nowhere, but the only emotions appeared to be anger and depression. I felt there was a void in the acting, especially in our main hero. Overall, I felt there were some really great metaphors and lines which made me think of my own morals. However, I think this whole film could have been condensed into a half an hour short.
(Written by Allison Brown) Opening with haunting cinematography at arresting angles, Superposition presents much potential. This creative tactic sadly ends too soon, replacing dread with boredom and cliché. The story centers more on relationship dysfunction than the sci-fi doppelgänger theme. Neither partner is particularly likable, so why should the viewer be invested in their toxicity? It is also quite comical from an American perspective that a significant portion is spent literally finding Nemo (the couple’s child).
YEAR OF THE FOX
Full review at the link.
As the newest Seattle International Film Festival comes to a close, we look back fondly on another great year for cinema. What will the future hold? Only time will tell.