Calvin’s Capsules – SIFF 2023: Part 5

The festival is over but the blurbs carry on with five more picks in this fifth capsule round-up.

Ernest and Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia

Ernest and Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia. Dirs. Julien Chheng & Jean-Christophe Roger.

The warmest news of the festival season is actually that Ernest & Celestine is equally as warm-hearted and cute and the original movie. Iteration even enhances the kind storybook presentation and even works in this bigger plot about taking down a fascist government. A really beautiful standout animation that is like warm soup on a cold day. Animation that moves us from its beauty and in its beauty, tells a great story. Simply wonderful stuff.

King Coal

King Coal. Dir. Elaine McMillion Sheldon.

A better “Hillbilly Elegy” in several ways, the most important two being that it doesn’t shame the Appalachians with false rhetoric and that it’s more of a poem addressed to and from a certain population. Director Sheldon descends from a proud coal mining family and exhibits both the pride and trauma of the cultural traditions she comes from. It’s not a point of shame that the country has failed its coal miners. Not for miners who did real work and derived real poetry and soul from the endless mountainsides of America’s heartlands. The approach is twofold here, working as a sociological excavation of a place and culture and a sorrowful expression of the dying economic opportunity that was the lifeblood of said culture.


Fremont. Dir. Babak Jalali.

I wanted to love Babak Jalali‘s Fremont and really still do want to love it and while I was watching it, wanted to love it, too. It’s a very pretty movie, the shot choices are erudite and it looks great in black-and-white. There’s not very much there there but there is some unknowable intangibles about the project, where the pieces of the good version of this movie are actually in place and waiting for the check to clear but then the check doesn’t clear and the movie feels incomplete. It’s so close to really being very good but is too lightweight for that full recommendation and not that much really happens, which is a shame, because if something happened, it would be pretty good news for the movie.


ANU. Dir. Sudeshna Sen.

Sudeshna Sen is a local Seattle filmmaker who is premiering her debut feature at SIFF. The story, reflecting a personal loss in her own life, is adapted from the book Looking for Bapu by local author Anjali Banerjee. This is a story about grief and processing, what it’s like when that space someone in your life filled up isn’t filled up anymore. Distinctly, deeply independent filmmaking that also feels as local as it is. Seems to come from a kind place but may not move most viewers, besides out of joy for seeing specific representation on-screen and all played by local actors. Would love to see Sudeshna Sen continue to show her films at local festivals as she develops as a filmmaker with empathy and perspective.

Hole in the Head

Hole in the Head. Dir. Dean Kavanagh.

In preliminary experimental films you sometimes start to see the good movie they could have made. Something like Something in the Dirt (2022) starts to emerge in the dizzying puzzle of the metatext which may not actually formally mean anything but is just experienced and that’s the point. An almost-horror construction comes out of this but the points of experimentation are too uncertain to really fasten the parts together into any kind of legitimate overarching idea. At best, Hole in the Head promises to be interesting, these scattered remnants of a projectionist’s mind’s eye experiencing through moving reels of images. The experiments do not really result in anything which is another thing that can happen with experiments — they are privileged to fail on their own terms and own it.

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