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PCFF 2015 Day 3: A Summer Adventure, An Animated Marvel, and a Sibling Road-Trip

Posted on | February 14, 2015 | Add Comments

PCFF 2015Thursday and Friday’s PCFF screenings certainly whet the appetites of movie-lovers ready for another great fest. But the feast really began on Saturday, with eight movies spread across two venues. In describing the fest, bigger” and “better” are the most appropriate words.

While there were five films screened at RISD’s Metcalf Auditorium, I spent the day at the Avon Cinema, seeing three movies. This is the fest’s first year at the Avon, and the theatre is a more than welcome addition to the list of venues. With a colorful marque, addictive popcorn, and five-hundred comfy seats, it’s a stylishly old-school cinema. (It opened in 1938).

My first film of the day was Scrap Wood War, Marien Rogaar’s Dutch boy’s adventure tale gone haywire. As the tale begins, Ziggy and Bas are inseparable friends, but that bond starts to splinter almost immediately. First, Ziggy attracts the attention of Bas’ classmate crush, to his friend’s glaring irritation. Then Bas befriends  a gang of intimidating older kids. At summer camp, kids compete to build the tallest scrap-wood towers possible. When Bas shuts out Ziggy and teams up with his new friends, things start to spiral out of control. A push-and-pull battle of menace, manipulation, and eventually violence ensues.

This is an intriguing premise, but not one you’ve never heard of (think the coming-of-age summer adventure of Stand by Me meshed with the kid-fighting of the first Hunger Games movie). Director Rogaar, however, elevates that elevator-pitch with her blend of suspense and adventure. She gives it the slow-burning dread of a horror movie, with the appropriate nighttime climax. Add in a fourth-wall breaking narrator, moody cinematography, and some surprisingly intense child performances, and you’re left with a nail-biting kid thriller. My only major gripe is with the film’s last 10 minutes. After the big confrontation scene, we’re given an unnecessary happy-ending pat-on-the-back.

PCFF 2015While Scrap Wood War was modestly attended, lines were out the door for the next film Song of the Sea. By the time the lights went down, nearly all of the Avon’s seats were filled by excited parents, ecstatic kids, and squealing babies. For some members of the audience, this was their first big-screen experience. The film is an Irish fable, based largely on the myths of the ocean, and centers on Ben, a pouty young boy with a silent six-year old sister, a depressed father, and a pesky grandmother. He lost his mother as a toddler, just before she gave birth to her daughter Saoirse. When Ben and Saorise runs away from home to get back their dog, they are unaware of the mythical journey that awaits them. It turns out Saoirse is half-human and half-Selkie, an endangered species of seals. Three kindly, singing men send brother and sister on a quest to save the Selkies. But Ben soon finds himself forced with his saving his sister.

Song of the Sea is directed by Tomm Moore, who made PCFF’s 2010 opening night film The Secret of Kells. While both draw from Irish mythology, Kells had the kind of sweepingly epic story you might find in a dusty old book of mythology. Song is a lovely, heartfelt, though often meandering film, with a story you could imagine your grandmother telling. It’s also a work of pure artistry, of hand-drawn animation from a new master of the form. Using gorgeous colors, lots of circular shapes, and a flat yet tactile sense of depth, Moore crafts one of the most ravishing animated films I’ve seen. Nearly every image offers new visual treats for the viewer. Unfortunately, the story isn’t as engaging, and the narrative is a sleepy, slightly confused jumble. Still, the animation alone makes it a must-see and, surrounded by hundreds of rapt viewers, I was swept up by the collective joy of moviegoing. What else could a film festival ask for?

PCFF 2015After hordes of teary-eyed viewers cleared out (the film has a three-hankie third-act), a new crowd came in for Side by Side. Director Arthur Landon’s debut feature is a sibling road-trip story with equal parts family tragedy, dry humor, and warm sentimentality. At the movie’s start, teen Lauren Buckley is living with her geeky gamer little brother Harvey and mentally-ill grandmother. Her parents died in a car crash years ago. People expect big things from Lauren: her athletic agent has big dreams for her running career, her grandmother assumes she will bind the family together, her brother believes she will make everything alright. But the morning granny is supposed to be taken to a nursing home and Lauren is going to sports-centered boarding school, Harvey runs away in search of the grandfather he never knew. Lauren follows, and an adventure begins. 

This sounds like high-stakes stuff and though there are slow-motion chase sequences, Side by Side works best when it seems to be working the least. The casual spontaneity developed during Harvey and Lauren’s one-on-one scenes work better than the more theatrical stretches. Yet while Landon sometimes fumbles (there are predictable scenarios, forced tear-jerking, and a one-note villain), the movie has an amiable, honest tone. Lauren and Harvey are characters you don’t mind spending 90 minutes with, and their journey is one you won’t mind taking.

Though I didn’t see it today, I’d previewed The Boy and the World (O Menino eo Mundo). At once a ravishing visual experience and a cautious commentary on modern society, it’s a meandering animated opus that stuns, provokes, and occasionally bores. The film’s hand-drawn animation is unlike any I’ve seen before: marvelous minimalism marked by boisterous color. After five minutes, one question became clear: is there more to the film than the gorgeous animation? The style, not the substance, is what makes the film so singularly dazzling, no question. But the plot, which begins as a generic “finding a father” quest, eventually dissolves into a surprisingly deep look at commercialism, materialism, and global warming (the meaning is up to interpretation). A pleasantly catchy pop-song that the film replays until it becomes irritating may also be a comment on culture. There are stretches of this largely wordless trip that don’t demand your attention as forcefully as others, that did make me a little squirmy in my seat. But while some may see the film as a pretentious art-school muddle, I think the ambition and artistry make this is a must-see, despite the flawed storytelling. The Boy and The World puts you in a trance that sometimes falters but, at it’s best, keeps your eyes darting around the screen in utter excitement.

Tomorrow: reviews of gravity-defying sci-fi anime Patema Inverted and classic musical Singin’ in the Rain.

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