City Paper is not for tourists
Yeah, this year’s Filmfest DC will be pretty OK.
In its 25th year, Washington’s international film festival will offer glimpses of a South Korean orphanage and Iranian domesticity, a Himalayan monastery and a Norwegian Christmas. It’ll take you inside one of Scientology’s most mysterious arms, and back to the times of Goethe and Lope de Vega. It’ll escort you to the frontlines of revolution in Iran, and to the majestic quietude of Greenland’s fjords.
From what we’ve seen of the festival’s more than 70 films, a lot of this year’s selections are very good. Some are excellent.
And some are kind of meh. In fact, there seems to be quite a bit more meh this time around than in the past—especially following 2009 and 2010, notably strong years for the festival.
It’s not the result of poor curating. It’s more that Filmfest’s mission is kind of incoherent, save for its internationalism, and it brings with it a certain amount of capriciousness. To judge by recent years, Filmfest’s chief interest is offering its audiences a sense of place—telling them what life is like in the far-flung locales they read about in the news. That means it’s always a crapshoot.
Thirty-nine countries are represented at this year’s Filmfest, and it’s no stretch to say the festival seems more concerned with its collection of nations than the cinematic movements they’ve bred. Take this year’s “New South Korean Cinema” program, which contains an array of experiences (an orphan, an artist, a secret agent, an ad-hoc culinary detective) and an array of styles (from big-budget torture porn to meditative neo-neo-realism) but varies wildly in quality. In contrast, last year’s strong selection of Romanian films taught audiences about a country as well as its dominant school of filmmaking, the Romanian New Wave.
By virtue of pedigree, there are some sure winners among this year’s selections: 3, a new film from Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer; Potiche, a comedy from François Ozon starring two greats, Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu; The Human Resources Manager, from the talented Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis, whose last two movies, The Syrian Bride and Lemon Tree, were well received in international art houses.
There are also some surprises, the biggest of which might be Nuummioq, the first Greenlandic feature film.
And undoubtedly, there are some duds. Here is our guide to this year’s Filmfest, wherein we tell you what shouldn’t be missed—and what most certainly should. Happy travels.