The stars of Deathgasm pre-game for a big SIFF 2015 opening weekend.
The stars of Deathgasm pre-game for a big SIFF 2015 opening weekend.

The 41st Annual Seattle International Film Festival is officially on like Rashomon. By all accounts, yesterday was a gala day (and as Groucho Marx reminds us, a gala day is enough for anyone). Now that the big party’s over, the real fun begins. Here are all the films the Stranger recommends and/or demands that you see this weekend, along with a promising few we haven’t been able to see yet. Don’t forget that our massively searchable festival guide—trailers, synopses, reviews, schedules, tickets—is conveniently located right here in our online calendar, Things To Do. Daunted by the bounty of options? Timid in the face of thrilling advances in technological convenience? Don’t be! Here’s a handy user’s guide. Now then:

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SIFF 2015 Weekend One (Fri-Sun May 15-17)

Frame By Frame
Frame By Frame: Must-see.

MUST SEE:

The Apu Trilogy: Song of the Little Road
The first installment of the trilogy (also known as Pather Panchali) remains in some ways the most affecting, its scrappy, almost amateurish direction only increasing your emotional investment in the young lead. Throughout the series, Apu learns the value and wisdom of others, as well as the folly of caring only for yourself. Road traces the nascent steps of this evolution, as the child Apu realizes that the poverty in which he’s raised affects not only him, but his poet father and much-harried mother as well. There are some clumsy moments—both narratively and cinematically—but what do those matter in the face of such glowing, embracing humanism? (BRUCE REID)

Frame By Frame
Afghanistan was a country without photography during the Taliban, and this doc follows the core crew of four photojournalists—one of them a woman—trying to rebuild the practice. Their story is incredible. We see them fighting for access, getting bombed but taking pictures rather than panicking, visiting children who are past subjects they watched nearly die, looking into the eyes of women who are never seen. “And also I will be seeing the self-immolation section in the hospital” is a sample line. Maybe that sounds depressing. But seeing matters. See this film, and tell everyone you know to see it, too. (JEN GRAVES)

Gemma Bovery
A woman played by the voluptuous English actress Gemma Arterton, finds herself literally suffocated by three middle-aged men who are in love with her youthful beauty. One of these older men is played by the always entertaining French actor Farbice Luchini. The film’s final message is not that different from the final message in the last film by the director, Anne Fontaine, the scandalous Adore: A woman can only be satisfied, enjoy life to the fullest, if she is regularly fucked by the naturally hard and splendidly unthinking cock of a young man. Older men just don’t cut it. They suffocate you. (CHARLES MUDEDE)

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Senior year is eventful for any teenager, but that goes double for Greg (Thomas Mann), when his mom (Connie Britton) volunteers his services as companion to leukemia-stricken classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke). Along with his filmmaking partner, Earl (RJ Cyler), they’re a modern-day Mod Squad battling high school hierarchies and deadly disease with dubious advice from the works of Werner Herzog and Greg’s super-slacker dad (Nick Offerman in peak form). (KATHY FENNESSY)

The New Girlfriend
If you’ve seen Francois Ozon’s other films (See the Sea, Swimming Pool, 8 Women), you know to expect something uncommon. The New Girlfriend is no exception. It begins with a corpse: Laura has died and left behind her husband David and a baby daughter. Her lifelong best friend, Claire, has promised to support the grieving spouse. Both Claire and David are searching for a way to live without that fundamental relationship in their lives. It’s a tricky story of change, acceptance, and moving on to be your true self. And I love that darling Romain Duris. (GILLIAN ANDERSON)

Personal Gold: An Underdog Story
If you like sports documentaries at all, don’t miss this one. The narrative lets a few loose ends flap, but c’mon: extreme underdogs, extreme biometrics, extreme uxoriousness, extreme Yankee ingenuity. Your heart would have to be made of Silly Putty not to beat faster. (BARLEY BLAIR)

The Red Shoes
A young ballerina takes on a Hans Christian Andersen fable, only to see it boomerang back into her own life. A favorite of Scorsese, this may just be the greatest film from the Powell-Pressburger team (they are known for a series of influential films in the ’50s and ’60s), which is saying quite a bit. Almost indecently lovely, in Technicolor that pulses off of the screen. You’ve gotta see this 1948 gem in a theater—and not just any theater. The Egyptian. ANDREW WRIGHT

Results: Recommended
Results: Recommended

RECOMMENDED

Behavior
An 11-year-old bad seed forms an unusual alliance with his teacher, a middle-aged idealist on the verge of being pushed out by the system. Cuba’s submission for last year’s Oscars, this admirably unvarnished take on childhood compensates for some shaky technique with plenty of heart. Uplifting, but never cloyingly so. (ANDREW WRIGHT)

Best of Enemies
It used to be critics. Then DJs. But nowadays, everybody’s a documentarian. This film looks like it assembled itself out of existing footage—both primary (the debates themselves) and secondary (lots of the talking heads, including back-from-the-dead Christopher Hitchens, RIP, are culled from existing docs)—but it’s unimportant. The film is a fascinating time machine. These two cranks were the last of their kind, patrician public intellectuals from the days when being on TV was déclassé, whose animosity for each other was rivaled only by their profound narce. (SEAN NELSON)

The Connection
How it took them this long to do the French response to The French Connection is a puzzler, but it’s good they waited for Jean Dujardin as long as they were waiting. Fueled and felled by the same fetish for American policiers, this is nonetheless as great a vehicle for Dujardin as William Friedkin’s original was for Gene Hackman. (SEAN NELSON)

For Grace
Just when you begin to wonder why the hell you should care about the story of the opening of control-freak and somewhat robotic chef Curtis Duffy’s three-Michelin-star Chicago restaurant Grace, directors Kevin Pang and Mark Helenowski drop a devastating emotional bomb that opens up the film—as well as your heart to the chef. Beautiful food-plating sequences will satisfy annoying, self-proclaimed foodies, but you don’t need to care about haute cuisine to be moved by For Grace. (ANGELA GARBES)

Free Fall
Central European drollery, but without the turgid pacing that so often entails. I liked two of the skits (the very clean people and the sitcom threesome), I love the idea of stuffing the baby back inside when you’re tired of it, and although the others are weaker, they move right along. My favorite apartment is the one in which the old lady lives herself — what’s the Hungarian for "snug"? (BARLEY BLAIR)

Handmade with Love in France
An enjoyable look at some of the systems of production that contribute to haute couture, the film concentrates on three venerable ateliers, but also shows a new corporatized workshop and a brand-new independent. Will the producer of hand-pressed pleats sell out? Look hard at the Chanel Spring 2013 collection to see whether you care. (BARLEY BLAIR)

Margarita, With a Straw
Laila Kapoor, played by French Indian actress Kalki Koechlin, has cerebral palsy. Koechlin does not. It takes some time to get over what could have been a disastrous casting decision (Koechlin has the name recognition in India, but couldn't they have cast someone differently abled?), but it works. "It" is a love story that takes place in a world largely programmed to reject certain kinds of love, just as it's programmed to reject certain kinds of bodies. The film winds around love, bodies, and transformational self-love in a way that feels honest rather than schmaltzy. (SYDNEY BROWNSTONE)

Murder in Pacot
The sense that the last still-standing portion of a home will collapse in a heap of white dust looms throughout this brooding drama. The earthquake in Haiti has made a wealthy Haitian couple poor, forcing them to camps out in the yard. They decide to rent what is left of their expansive house out to a smarmy foreign aid worker (whose organization is called, in a touch of almost too-obvious sarcasm, “Beyond Aid Unlimited”). He brings with him a Haitian lover from a poor village in the countryside, played fiercely and sensually by debut Haitian actress Lovely Kermonde Fifi. As the earth shudders in aftershocks, the real fracturing lines of the country - along class, race, and gender - are laid bare. This is post-earthquake Haiti like you haven’t seen it before. (ANSEL HERZ)

Results
Pulling a 180 from the clinical Computer Chess, director Andrew Bujalski goes surprisingly big-hearted here, with some agreeably messy results. The narrative may be a bit too shaggy (a schlubby millionaire, Kevin Corrigan, wreaks havoc on a pair of personal trainers, Cobie Smulders and Guy Pierce), but ultimately, the chemistry between the actors could power a city. (ANDREW WRIGHT)

A Second Chance
The latest film by the Danish director Susanne Bier (In a Better World), is a thriller with lots twists and surprises. It involves a cop who has a baby, a marriage, and a handsome house by a lake that reflects a wintery sky. But the cop makes one fatal mistake: He refuses to see if his marriage is happy or not. And if he had done so, if he had just taken the time to asses the true state of things, he would have soon faced this difficult question: Is his wife crazy or not? Everyone, however, can see within minutes of the film’s opening that she is not at all stable and needs help right away. But the cop is too wrapped in his cute baby, his safe job, his wood-warm house, and the beauty of his wife’s face to see that shit is about to hit the fan hard. (CHARLES MUDEDE)

Set Fire to the Stars
A buddy movie in black and white, Stars follows an uptight, chain-smoking poetry professor (Elijah Wood) as he tries to manage the drunken chaos of Dylan Thomas (Celyn Jones) on his first American tour. Some might object to Jones’s gleeful and brawny performance on the grounds that it makes catastrophic alcoholism look like too much fun—but it’s a pleasure to watch him bellow, flirt (primarily with waitresses and Shirley Jackson), and even vomit into a bucketful of sand before stepping onto the stage and taking possession of his audience. (BRENDAN KILEY)

Tea Time
If you’ve ever yearned for a window into the souls of upper-class, octogenarian Chilean women, Tea Time is yours to cherish. This documentary studies the faces and hands of longtime friends during their monthly high-tea ritual as they joke and argue, and the servants bring a steady parade of sandwiches and intricate-looking cakes. Their discussions—about infidelity, death, homosexuality, religion, melancholies past and present—are gratifyingly candid but feel as if they’re coming from a century away. (Though they do take brief detours into emo culture and twerking.) Tea Time may be as close to a home movie from the Edwardian era as we’re ever likely to see. (BRENDAN KILEY)

Those People
If you’re interested in New York City, gay sex, and Gilbert & Sullivan, you’re going to love this. A suave handsome man and an awkward handsome man mouth the words to The Pirates of Penzance in a drawing room. One of them is in love with the other. Unrequited. Sucks. Other themes: jealousy, dads, artistic ambition, money, shame. Those People is like the HBO show Looking, except interesting. The anal sex scene is surprisingly tender. (CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE)

Villa Touma
Quiet, dour, and predictable on some levels (orphaned 18-year-old comes to live with rigid, delusional aunts), but still intriguing given the context—Christian Palestinian aristocrats living as if the war never happened, under the iron grip of a matriarch who refuses to give up the family’s outdated bourgeoisie customs. Most scenes are wooden, but darkly humorous—synchronized tea drinking, attending strictly weddings and funerals as means to meet eligible bachelors. The ending is effed up. (EMILY NOKES)

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Deathgasm

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By the end of this weekend, youll know what a Deathgasm feels like. It feels like this.
By the end of this weekend, you'll know what a Deathgasm feels like. It feels like this.

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