Port Townsend Film Festival: Day One finds ‘Life Inside Out’ to be pitch perfect

lighthouse

Day One of the Port Townsend Film Festival opened with a great deal of hometown pomp and circumstance, including a parade that undoubtedly left many of the locals wishing it was the final day of the festival rather than the first.  All the flowerpots hanging from lampposts were freshly watered, and nobody gave a damn that it was cool and drizzly to start.  By noon, however, the ‘marine layer’ had lifted, as the indie film gods provided a day of sunshine for their worshippers (as well as third-degree burns to the forehead).

The most buzzed about opening film of the day seemed to be Belle and Sebastian.  This adaptation of the famous French novel puts a wicked spin on the ‘boy and his dog’ saga by throwing them into WWII and making them battle the Nazis (when in doubt, just add Nazis).  There was a general consensus that this film will effectively tear the still-beating heart from your chest and stomp it into a bloody stain.  Spoiler alert: There’s a dog in this movie, people!

Day One’s outdoor movie was the underrated John Sayles classic, The Secret of Roan Inish.  As hundreds of people huddled under blankets, sipping their coffee and trying to keep the straw from poking into their flesh, a camera-mounted drone hovered above the pavilion.  It’s unclear which was more disconcerting; the presence of a drone hovering overhead or how few people actually noticed it.

 

forawoman

The French film, For a Woman (Pour une femme), is writer-director, Diane Kurys, glance back at love and obligation in post-WWII Europe.  Michel (Benoît Magimel) tells a creative lie, that they are engaged to be married, to save himself and a beautiful stranger named Lena (Mélanie Thierry) from the Nazi gas chambers.  Their life together as husband and wife is a mix of adoration from Michel and gratitude from Lena.  These incompatible motivations are exposed when Michel’s mysterious and handsome brother, Jean (Nicolas Duvauchelle), awakens passions in Lena she never thought possible.

While a mostly harmless diversion, For a Woman lacks an engaging emotional core, as Michel is something of a bore and Lena never gets any time to shine.  The story is told in flashback by Michel and Lena’s youngest daughter, Anne (Sylvie Testud), as she sifts through old family photos and journals.  The modern scenes with Anne are superfluous, at best, and add nothing to the overall narrative or theme of the piece.  At its heart, this is a thin love story about a doomed couple thrown together by circumstance and torn apart by unrequited love.  Its premise is much more interesting than the final product.

 

M@ Shane Laura Piano

Life Inside Out is wonderful little prize about a mother and son, both in the throes of an identity crisis, who find direction through their music.  Laura (Maggie Baird) used to write songs and play guitar, but the unexpected death of her mother pulled her into the family baking business.  Now the business is closing, and the creative itch is coming back.  Her youngest son, Shane (Finneas O’Connell), is withdrawn and has all the classic warning signs of depression.  Desperate to push the right buttons, Laura drags Shane to an open-mike performance.  Through the music and creative process, they (re)connect with each other and find the strength to share their true selves with the world.

Shane is played by Baird’s real-life son and he’s a powerhouse musical performer.  Baird, who co-wrote the script, shows a deft touch for the familial interactions.  There are several scenes that resonate with a profoundly genuine humanity.  Each character, even the gruff father (David Cowgill) who would normally be portrayed as a clueless boob, defies your expectations and is given a moment to shine.  All of the musical numbers are delightful, with Baird and son making a powerful duo.  People change and tears are shed, but none of it feels forced or abrupt.  It opens in limited release in mid-October and is definitely worth checking out.

**Personal Note:  Baird participated in a brief Q&A after the screening.  Shot over 15 days in their friend’s houses, it was a project funded largely through a Kickstarter campaign.  Baird was open and gracious, nearly breaking into tears while discussing the biographical nature of the material.  Her son came along, too, but because the venue serves alcohol and he’s still a minor, Finneas had to wait in the foyer outside the theater.  When the Q&A concluded, Finneas performed several of the film’s songs, with mom joining in for a truly commanding performance.

Coverage of the Port Townsend Film Festival for Sound on Sight will be ongoing from September 19th-22nd.




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