SIFF ‘08: The second week of the festival

My second week of SIFF 2008
by masakaman

The highlight of my second week at the 2008 Seattle International Film Festival was a film from Poland. Time to Die is a black & white film about the elderly Aniela & her smart companion dog Philadelphia. This visually stunning film captures the day to day story life in a beautiful wooden villa. It’s a simple story of Aniela dealing with her past, present, and inevitable future. I chose to see this film because of its title and the promotional still shot (above). Later, I learned the script was written especially for Danuta Szaflarska, a Polish actress who was 91 years old at the time of filming. In the movie, Danuta plays Aniela as a complex charactier. In her granddaughter’s eyes, she is a mean grandma, her son thinks she is too much to deal with, a neighbor tries to trick her into selling her house, and the kids from a local music club call her “old bat.” At least her guardian, Phila, is on her side. And to us, the audience, she appears a charming older lady with funny sense of humor. She is strong, enjoys her life, and lives it fully in her own way. She makes us laugh and makes us worry; she makes us sad and makes us feel happy. I was constantly thinking of my own grandmother as I watched the film.

My family used to live in same market block with my grandparents, whom I visited often. My grandpa had a shop & my uncle helped him. When I was small, my uncle would throw me a few feet up in the air and catch me. After my favorite ritual, I would say hello to grandpa, before runing through the shop to the back and then up the stairs to the Fusuma sliding door. Behind the Fusuma was the most quiet place I can remember, quiet like when all the sounds are turned off from the world you exist in, a strange moment that only used to happen when I was a child. I often wonder why I used to get ready to face the quietness behind the door, to catch my breath before opening the Fusuma and calling out, “Grandma?”

Whenever I visited, I would sitting in front of a wooden Hibachi box, which is a traditional Japanese heating device that has an open topped pit designed to hold burning coal within a few small drawers. She would be sitting Seiza-style on a zabuton dressed in kimono, appearing at first as a soft focused in shadow, backlit from the sun shining through the sliding glass door that opened to the veranda. That room had a very tall ceiling that I wouldn’t hit when my uncle threw me. On the floor were 25 Tatami mats, each 36in x 72in, about the size of single bed. I don’t recall any other furniture but her Hibachi, but I can still hear the cicadas and kids outside.

She would reply, “Masaka?” and then all would be quiet; I was in my grandma’s space-time now, where I would wait like a well-trained dog. Things tended to expand in her space-time, or that is it just how it seemed. I could compare her space-time to watching old Wim Wenders film. Finally, she would wave her hand and I walk over to her and sit down Seiza-style. While smoking tobacco with Kiseru — an old 17th century Japanese style smoking pipe with a metal mouthpiece and a single shot-sized bowl with a bamboo shaft for smoking loose tobacco or whatever — she would always asks me with a same questions: how I was, whether I had been good, and how my mother was doing. I answered her questions simply: “fine,” “yes,” and “good.” She would take her time loading a single shot of tobacco; there was no need to rush in her space-time. When she was happy with her prep, she would lower the Kiseru bowl into the burning charcoal to fire up the leaves. As she inhaled it in one long draw, I would listen closely to the sounds of the burning tobacco and watch as her eyes are closed and a quiet smile spread on her face. It was then I felt she had gone somewhere — I wasn’t sure where but I knew she has gone even though I could see her with my eyes. Being in her space-time like this, I could no longer hear the noisy cicadas or sound of the kids playing. It used to scare me a little but I got used to it. I would follow the thin strings of smoke that looked alive as they rose out of the Kiseru mouthpiece. Finallly, she would exhale a small crowd of smoke and I would wonder how she keeps so much smoke inside of her. When she opened her eyes after that, I knew she was back from wherever she went to. She looked happy then, and that made me smile. Afterwards, she emptied the bowl of ash into the Hiabchi pit. When Kiseru hits the edge of pit, it makes this round metallic noise. I loved the sound of it, and I have been looking for that sound ever since that day. In a short time later, she would start the ritual all over again, and I would just sit next to her, happily watching her smoking and fascinated deeply by the sound of her world.

Here are my upcoming film suggestions for the third week of SIFF 2008:

Late Bloomers
The most successful film in Swiss history about 80-years-old widow opens lingerie boutique in a small village.
6:30pm, June 7, Uptown Cinema

Very funny comedy movie about Sex-addict and medical school dropout.
9:15pm, June 5, Egyptian Theatre
4:00pm, June 7, Uptown Theater

Sukiyaki Western Django
The latest camp epic from Takashi Miike!
11:55pm, June 7, Egyptian Theatre
9:45pm, June 9, Uptown Cinema

Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Tennis Shoes
Fascinating documentary about Garrison Keillor & his one-man radio show.
7:00pm, June 12, Egyptian Theatre
11:00am, June 14, Egyptian Theatre

Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) makes his feature directorial debut.
6:30pm, June 14, Egyptian Theatre
1:30pm, June 15, Egyptian Theatre

French Blade Runner with twist of The Matrix.
12:00am, June 13, Egyptian Theatre
10:00pm, June 14, Cinerama

Cherry Blossoms – Hanami
6:30pm, June 13, Uptown Theater
12:00pm, June 15, Cinerama

Finished at SIFF, but may I recommend to you:

Blind Mountain

Island Etude


Mad Detective

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