Vaughn’s Capsules: SIFF 2023

With another festival in the books, here are some selections from this year’s SIFF lineup.

Ernest & Celestine: A Trip To Gibberitia

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

The most saccharine sweet approach to breaking down fascism’s nonsensical and aggressive assertion of an imagined status quo you’ll ever see. Everyone’s favorite anti-establishment mouse and bear return to stand up against oppression and fight for individual freedom, this time by traveling to Ernest’s picturesque but culturally subdued homeland, where music has been outlawed by an archaic government blinded by their desire to restrain the forces of progress. The result is another beautifully animated and effusively scored rejection of police, prisons, injustice, and rigid expectations. All anyone wants to do is to be free to be who they are, and when applicable jam out to a rockin’ saxophone solo.

The Beasts

The Beasts. Dir. Rodrigo Sorogoyen.

A searingly uneasy clash between simplicity and progress tearing the fabric of humanity apart at the seams, reducing us to little else but beasts feeding off of the land, scavenging for scraps and fighting for territory. A portrait of economic distress painted by the disquieting influence of Haneke and Sluizer but without the guttural catharsis of violence at its core, just a simmering anxiety that twists the stomach into knots while rural decay and mindless hatred slowly destroys everyone at its core. Sorogoyen’s corrosive traversal through idyllic summertime Spain into bleak and barren winter as his characters slowly destroy each other is blistering and visceral, drip feeding the perfect constant microdose of information as you desperately attempt to piece together some semblance of rationale behind the missing pieces of explosive satisfaction you expect. When we have been reduced to beasts, what freedom remains?

Past Lives

Past Lives. Dir. Celine Song.

The elasticity of time, both as a permanent and inescapable stasis that keeps us locked in our liminal memories and as a languid, meandering cosmic thread that floats and intersects with a million others. Past Lives is an exercise in a constant theoretical narrative conclusion that it repeatedly deftly glides away from, eschewing rote simplicity or expected tropes in favor of a heartbreaking emotional maturity that leaves a lingering pang like only the most genuine resonance can. It is at odds with itself in the most inexplicably harmonious way, from its first moments of protagonist Nora looking down the lens into the audience’s soul throughout its beautiful watercolor portrait of both the painful fragility of longing and the warm, comforting security of love. Celine Song quietly escapes every boundary of expectation without ever calling attention to just how stunning the construction of it all is, leaving a lasting satisfaction following its poignant conclusion which only makes Past Lives grow more and more brilliant the longer it sits with you.

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