SIFF 2019 Capsule Reviews

The 2019 Seattle International Film Festival kicks off on May 16th and runs until June 9th and UW Film Club is covering as many films as possible so you know which films to see! Throughout the festival, this article will be regularly updated with capsule reviews for festival films with the newest additions at the top. Check back every couple days to see whats new!


3 Faces

After viewing a distressed fan’s suicide video, actress Behnaz Jafari goes on a trek with director Jafar Panahi to discover what caused the incident. By utilizing on-the-go shooting styles and basing the characters on themselves, Jafari and Panahi create a Neo-realist, documentarian-esk road film. Through its simplicity, 3 Faces analyzes deep-seated issues of misogyny and creative oppression in restrictive areas. Despite still being under a filmmaking ban, Panahi writes a powerful script, elevated by Jafari’s beautifully subtle performance to create a quiet, provocative feminist tale. 

4/5 STARS

-Cynthia Li

3 Faces will play on May 18th at Lincoln Square Cinemas at 6:00pm and May 19th at SIFF Uptown at 6:30pm.


Crystal Swan

Set in newly independent Belarus in the mid-90s, Crystal Swan follows Velya, a law graduate turned DJ as she desperately tries to emigrate to America. A black sheep in her native land, Velya dreams of freedom and the famous house music scene in Chicago, but standing in her way is the bureaucratic American immigration process. With a caustic and skilful blend of humor and tragedy, Darya Zhuk manages to provide both sincerity and hilarity in this unique (anti-)homage to Belarus and to those who refuse to conform. Whilst it can, at times, seem bleak and unforgiving – much like the setting itself – the film is well balanced, with vivid and beautiful cinematography, absurd humor, and a banging house music soundtrack to boot.

-Ivy Pottinger-Glass

Crystal Swan is playing on May 24th at 9:00pm at Lincoln Square Cinemas, May 31st at 8:30pm at SIFF Uptown, and June 1st at 2:30pm at SIFF Uptown. Screenwriter Helga Landauer scheduled to attend the 5/31 and 6/1 screenings.


Monos

Concealed on an ethereal mountaintop in the Colombian wilderness, a band of rigorously trained teenagers are tasked with guarding a prisoner of war by an enigmatic militia referred to only as ‘the Organization’. Within this situation of extreme isolation and self-governance, the group have to navigate leadership, love, and rivalry as they guard their captive for an otherwise unknown political purpose. Monos is an overwhelming sensory experience that portrays the extremities of raw human emotion with both disturbing intensity and artistic dexterity.

-Ivy Pottinger-Glass

Monos is playing on May 17th at 3:30pm at SIFF Uptown and May 20th at 9:30pm at SIFF Egyptian


Sibel

Youth worldwide know the difficulty of breaking with the traditional values only to be greeted with resentment, and Sibel tackles just that. Following our titular character in a remote village in Turkey, Sibel is shunned not only because she is a mute who communicates by whistling, but also because she doesn’t abide by the traditionalism of the old guard. Her differences and defiance become a source of drama in the film, presenting a solid narrative about rebellion and romance in the face of adversity which we’re all familiar with.

3/5 STARS

-Greg Arietta

Sibel is playing on May 18th at 5:30pm and May 19th at 12:00pm. Both are at SIFF Uptown.


Baby (Bao Bei Er)

Baby skillfully uses the forgotten stories of its main characters to build an honest critique of China’s ableist and sexist society. As the main character fights to save a disabled newborn girl –in whom she sees reflections of herself– the film reveals how society’s expectations and social norms pressure individuals into decisions they don’t want to make and others into total apathy. With strong performances and a quiet strength, Baby makes you evaluate the value of human life. 

4/5 STARS

-Stephanie Chuang

Baby (Bao Bei Er) is playing on May 22nd at 6:30pm at Lincoln Square and May 30th at 3:45pm at SIFF Uptown.


The Farewell

The Farewell is the perfect combination of heartwarming and heartbreaking, an oxymoron perfect for a story based on a true lie. In its brief 98 minute runtime, The Farewell explores the emotional struggle of any first/second generation American immigrant, unpacking the complicated notion of wanting to be there for a family you often feel distant from. With great comedic beats and impassioned performances, The Farewell provides an oddly familiar tale that reminds us to embrace the eccentricities of family, because in the end, they make us who we are. 

4.5/5 STARS

-Cynthia Li

The Farewell is SIFF’s Closing Night Gala Film. It will play on June 9th at 6pm where director Lulu Wang is scheduled to attend.


Another Day of Life

Renowned Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski reported from the frontlines of war for nearly three decades covering 27 revolutions and giving a voice to people in the midst of revolutions and civil wars. One of his more famous books, Another Day of Life, has now been adapted into an animated feature of the same name, and shows the Angolan Civil War through the journalistic approach Kapuscinski took that made him so prolific. Using rotoscope technology reminiscent of A Scanner Darkly and opting for a surreal fantasy approach akin to Waltz with Bashir, Raúl de la Fuente’s and Damian Nenow’s feature uses archival footage, contemporary interviews, and animated material to discuss a journalist’s roll in national conflicts, questioning the ramifications of their work and exposing the necessity for it. The film is not only easy on the eyes, but it’ll also leave you with a better understanding on how journalism can give a voice to those who don’t have one.

3.5/ 5 STARS

-Greg Arietta

Another Day of Life plays on May 20th at 9:15pm and on May 22nd at 4:30pm, both at SIFF Uptown


Running with Beto

“You just don’t get it.” These words uttered by Beto O’Rourke’s communication director perfectly describe an outsider’s perspective on the phenomenon of O’Rourke’s 2018 Texas Senate campaign, and what looks to be answered with David Modigliani’s Running with Beto. Packing an impassioned punch that’s sure to shake up political participation, Running With Beto frames its political message through characterizations of O’Rourke himself and the ambitions of his supporters. Through these two, we explore the significance of O’Rourke’s campaign for Texans and the future of American politics as a whole.

4/5 STARS

-Cynthia Li

Running with Beto will play on May 17th at 6:30pm at SIFF Egyptian and May 18th at 12:30pm at SIFF Uptown. Producer Rebecca Feferman scheduled to attend both screenings.


Pigeon Kings

Pigeons. The rats of the sky. The birds that pillage city streets and poop on your car are made cool in Milena Pastreich’s documentary, Pigeon Kings. Telling the story of enthusiast pigeon trainers who compete with their birds in South LA, audiences are shown one of the most bizarre hobbies that you won’t believe is an actual thing. Like last year’s SIFF film Catwalk which took viewers inside the cat show circuit, this doc will guide you through the wild and surreal hobby that is competitive pigeon training. Synching up rolls with multiple pigeons, learning the rules of pigeon scoring, preventing a hawk from killing your birds, keeping a family tree of pigeon lineage, and more are facets of this unbelievable niche culture that cultivates an avid and passionate fanbase. Through an extraordinary exhibition of this absurd avian interest, you sympathize with these trainers and come to understand their obsession much in the same way you would for any other culturally popular past time, despite the repugnancy that comes from the very idea of pigeons themselves. Though the ending is relatively flat and its theme on pursuing one’s passions is fairly common, Pigeon Kings’ subject matter is certainly enough for a passing score. 

3.5/5 STARS

-Greg Arietta

Pigeon Kings will play on June 8th at 6:45pm at AMC Pacific Place and June 9th at 11:00am at AMC Pacifc Place. Director Milena Pastreich and subjects Keith London & Darrian Hogg are scheduled to attend both screenings.


The Nightingale

The Nightingale is Jennifer Kent’s follow-up to the Babadook that pulls no punches when addressing its themes of violence against women and the terrors of colonialism. This period piece tale of revenge is extremely graphic — and I mean brutal —, but only because its subject matter calls for it, presenting issues from the 19th century that have contemporary relevance today. At 136 minutes, The Nightingale really run its course by the end of the film, but its worth the watch if you can stomach its length and explicit violence.

3.5/5 STARS

-Greg Arietta

The Nightingale is playing on May 18th at 9pm at SIFF Uptown and May 23rd at 9:30pm at the SIFF Egyptian.


Sword of Trust

The opening night film for SIFF 2019 is Lynn Shelton’s Sword of Trust, a comedy about a duo trying to sell an inherited confederate sword that claims to prove the South won the Civil War. The film thrives on a seemingly improvised brand of comedy between from the likes of Marc Maron and Jillian Bell to great effect as it assesses the value of personal ‘trust’, but the story and lessons it spins out of history, historical artifacts, and their social controversy are less clear.

3/5 STARS

-Greg Arietta

Sword of Trust is SIFF’s opening night gala film and will be shown on May 16th at 7pm at the Marion Oliver McCaw Hall. Director Lynn Shelton and actor Marc Maron will be in attendance.


Honeyland

One thing that is clear about Honeyland is that it’s aesthetically stunning. Directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanovemphasize visual storytelling by elegantly navigating the Macedonian landscape, utilizing the natural beauty of the countryside to create magnificent silhouettes, cascading shadows, and intimate looks at our subject’s faces. With its visual emphasis, Honeylandfeels like an untraditional documentary that pulls from slice-of-life filmmaking. It introduces us to a new type of resiliency, one that will leave us in awe at the stress, joy, and isolation that comes with raising bees.

3.75/5 STARS

-Cynthia Li

Honeyland is playing on May 21st at 7:00pm at SIFF Uptown and May 25th at 11am at SIFF Egyptian.


Wild Rose

Wild Rose is about the troubles one faces when your dreams and responsibilities are at odds with one another. Telling the story of ex-conn Rose-Lynn trying to make it big as a country singer in Glasgow, Scotland, the film is a sugary depiction that leaves its potential on the table. At its best when it pits Rose’s ambitions against her children’s interests and at its worst when it loses focus on that, Wild Rose presents a decent, albeit dramatically tame, message about pursing personal aspirations.

2.5/5 STARS

-Greg Arietta

Wild Rose plays May 18th at 7pm at SIFF Egyptian and May 24th at 9:30pm at SIFF Egyptian.


Chef’s Diaries: Scotland

“At the core of the documentary is a heartfelt and respectful sentiment for the Scottish environment as a natural pantry, full of resources that we would be foolish to waste or overlook. A sense that we should all adopt a greater awareness and appreciation for where our food comes from, and the people who produce it, is communicated poetically and eloquently throughout, and is embedded within the brothers’ culinary philosophy. Josep states that the angle of the light in Scotland makes one view things differently, and it is clear that the Roca brothers see the beauty in a culinary tradition that is often disregarded as basic or unrefined. Ultimately, the documentary serves as a tribute to the land, the people, and most importantly, the great food that is waiting to be discovered.”

-Ivy Pottinger-Glass

Full Review Here

Chef’s Diaries: Scotland is playing on May 22nd at 4:30pm at Majestic Bay, June 4th at 6:30pm at SIFF Uptown, and June 5th at 4:30pm at SIFF Egyptian.


For Sama

“The film is narrated by al-Kateab as she looks back at her time in Syria and addresses her daughter, Sama. From the day the revolution breaks to the day she flees the country, al-Kateab traces the important moments in her life that happened in the middle of the war, and what that means for the future of the country.

Through violence, injury, and death, al-Kateab and Watts paint a bloody picture of the Syrian Civil War, but they ground it with the people who experience the conflict. To see a city full of life devolve into complete ruin is unworldly, yet al-Kateab speaks about her country with such tender affection that you come to understand why a family would stay—even with young children. Self-sacrifice and revolution are married as revolutionaries like al-Kateab and her husband put everything on the line and stay in Syria with the hope that their children will not have to live under Bashir al-Assad. But as the war rages on, the film transitions into the possibility that the children themselves will have to bring about change, a somber and sympathetic message for a country whose fate is uncertain.”

4.25/5 STARS

-Greg Arietta

Full SXSW Review Here

For Sama is playing June 2nd at 6:30pm at AMC Pacific Place and June 3rd at 4pm at SIFF Uptown.


The Art of Self Defense

“The film centers on Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) who is your average, awkward, white collar accountant. One evening on his way back from the store, he is the victim of a brutal mugging that leaves him shaken and traumatized. Determined to muscle up and prevent a future attack, his search for self defense leads him to a karate dojo. There he quickly ascends rank and becomes a star pupil of Sensei (Alessandro Nivola), but what he soon learns is there is more to the dojo and his training than he first thought.

The film thrives at dry-pan, dark humor. The script is tack sharp when laughing at things that come off as bizarre, strange, or absurd, but presented as totally normal in the narrative. This sense of humor gives the film an edge to cut deep into the hyper-masculine practices in our own society that we have adopted and normalized. Ditching your plans to learn French because the nation is perceived as weak, or refusing to pet your dog as to not show weakness through compassion are just two of the several dozen sharp witted and exaggerated jokes that Stearns writes into the script to build his hyper-masculine world of the dojo. What are initially pitched as methods of improving your karate abilities are underscored with just the right amount of out-there, rational thinking that makes it funny to laugh at until, eventually, it isn’t anymore, and we realize, ‘Oh … this has taken a dark turn.’”

3.75/5 STARS

-Greg Arietta

Full SXSW Review Here

The Art of Self-Defense is playing May 31st at 6:30pm at the SIFF Egyptian  and June 1st at 3:30pm at SIFF Uptown. Director Riley Stearns is scheduled to be in attendance for both screenings.