21 must see global films at SIFF

Sardournis Butterflies (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

With 447 films from 85 countries, deciding what to see at the Seattle International Film Festival, May 16-June 9, can be daunting.  So let us give you a hand!

SIFF has some great options for browsing by program, country, genre, or venue, as well as by mood. You can also try out SIFFTER, that wonderful invention that allows us to make a puzzle of the selection process.

But even then the options are staggering. Here are my picks of the Global films in this year’s festival.

After the Battle (Egypt) 

After footage of men riding horses and camels into the crowds of protesters in Tahrir Square played on screens around the world, the men themselves became the object of near universal condemnation.

But in After the Battle, Egypt’s foremost working director, Yousry Nasrallah, explores the story of one of the men in question to craft a more nuanced portrait of a society in upheaval.


The African Cypher (South Africa) 

Embrace the physicality of the dance; the awe of a body flowing through space, flipping, spinning, and snaking as if giving birth to a new means of self-expression.

Unique styles emerge from different regions and director Bryan Little harnesses the energy of the extraordinarily diverse performance styles of isiPantsula and sBhujwa to Krump and B-boy. Crime and poverty may be a challenging reality in township life, but the dancers featured describe how their art has enriched their lives with new avenues, and pay it forward by engaging with youth through mentorship and dance training that breaks the cycle of crime and offers hope.


Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari (Russia) 

Celestial Wives of Medow Mari (Photo courtesy of SIFF) From Aleksey Fedorchenko, the director of Silent Souls and First on the Moon (Grand Prize, Venice Film Festival 2001), comes Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari, a wholly original, humorous, colorful, and beautiful folk tale surrounding twenty-two Mari women whose names all begin with the letter O.

They believe in magic birch-trees and in shamans, in the power of spells and the wisdom of nature.


The Cleaner (Peru) 

In this unsettling and intimate dystopian tale, a mysterious epidemic has taken its toll on Lima, Peru, forcing a group of people to become custodians of the dead, cleaning up their lives upon their untimely passing.

While clearing out a recently deceased woman’s apartment, forensic cleaner Eusebio (Victor Prada) stumbles upon her eight-year-old son Joaquin (Adrian Du Bois), untouched by disease and frightened by the pestilence of the outside world. 


Closed Curtain (Iran) 

Closed Curtain. (Photo courtesy of SIFF)Internationally acclaimed Iranian director Jafar Panahi (The White Baloon, Crimson Gold, This Is Not A Film) has been under house arrest since 2010 for making “anti-government propaganda” since 2010 and has been officially banned from filmmaking by Iranian officials until 2030.

In response, the defiant Panahi has taken his allegorical meta-filmmaking style to a new level by setting part of Closed Curtain at his own Caspian Sea villa.


The Deep (Iceland)

This real-life survival tale offers a powerful, authentically elemental depiction of an incident that still haunts the Icelandic psyche. When the rusty fishing trawler Breki sets out to sea off the Westman Islands in March 1984, an accident causes the boat to capsize in rough waters.

Gulli miraculously survives six hours in the freezing ocean, ultimately reaching safety. A story told without the use of computer graphics or special effects, The Deep is an Icelandic spin on a classic survival tale, in which hope and perseverance combat brutal, frozen elements.


Die Welt (Netherlands)

An audacious hybrid between fiction and documentary, set in contemporary Tunisia shortly after the Jasmine Revolution in 2011, Die Welt portrays a society in the vacuum between dictatorship and democracy.

A clerk in a DVD store, young Abdallah has become increasingly frustrated by the limitations of his life. While the country is looking forward to its first free elections since Ben Ali fled the country, and hopes are high, the troubled economy is prompting many young Tunisians to take advantage of their newly gained freedom, by seeking a better life in Europe.


Fanie Fourie’s Lobola (South Africa)

What happens when an Afrikaans guy and a Zulu girl fall in love and have to navigate their way through the complicated process of lobola, a South African tradition that finds the groom’s family negotiating for the bride’s hand?


The Fifth Season (Belgium) 

Beautifully photographed in a palette of icy blues and cold earth tones, Peter Brosens and Jessica Hope Woodworth’s appropriately chilling contemporary fable draws on traditional peasant folklore to chronicle what happens when Mother Nature turns her back on a small Ardennes village and simply refuses to let winter give way to spring.


The Hunt (Denmark) 

The Hunt (Photo courtesy of SIFF) Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is well-liked and respected in the suburban town where he grew up and made a life.

The film explores how a lie, especially one of a sexual nature, contaminates perceptions and ruins lives. This probing psychological drama is as gripping and cathartic as any thriller, with a searing performance from Mikkelsen at its core.


I Kori (The Daughter) (Greece) 

A nation imploding into chaos forms the backdrop for a young girl’s desperate actions in this arresting noirish thriller.

When her father (Yorgos Symeonidis) disappears, 14-year-old Myrto (Savina Alimani) searches for him through Athens streets cluttered with rioters angrily demonstrating against Greece’s economic collapse.


Kalpana (India) 

Kalpana (Photo courtesy of SIFF) An unsung gem upon its 1948 release, this black-and-white Indian ballet stars writer/director Uday Shankar (brother of Ravi Shankar) as a dance academy proprietor torn between two women.

Stunning restoration by the World Cinema Foundation at Cineteca di Bologna/L’Immagine Ritrovata.


La Playa D.C. (Colombia) 

When their father is killed in the seaside town of Buenaventura, three teenage Afro-Colombian brothers flee the civil war and land in the capital of Bogotá.

Their mother’s new boyfriend promptly kicks them out and they must fend for themselves. The sounds of local hip-hop fills the streets, where the brothers roam.


The Pardon (Rwanda) 

Manzi and Karemera are best friends who seem inseparable but as ethnic tensions rise in 1994 Rwanda, the forces of history and violence tear them apart. After the death of the president, the country is plunged into an ethnic civil war and Manzi finds his Hutu heritage stronger than his relationship to his Tutsi friend.


Pieta (South Korea

Highly acclaimed, and very controversial, Kim Ki-duk is one of the most contentious figures in world cinema. Pieta is the story of Kang-do, a merciless collector for a loan shark. One day, a mysterious woman shows up on his doorstep, claiming to be the mother who abandoned him as a baby.


Redemption Street (Serbia) 

Redemption Street (Photo courtesy of SIFF) A young lawyer living in the shadow of his law-professor father gets the chance to prove himself while researching his first important case. In this Serbian war crime investigation, Dušan (played by Gordan Kicic, who also produced Redemption Street), is a talented, though inexperienced, lawyer with a pregnant wife.


The Repentent (Algiers) 

Nearly a decade into the country’s civil war, Rashid, a young Jihadi fighter, takes advantage of a national amnesty to leave the mountains and rejoin civil society.


A River Changes Course (Cambodia) 

Time is catching up with Cambodia, and its people are bearing witness. Filmed over a period of two years, director Kalyanee Mam’s engrossing and bracingly clear-eyed feature debut achieves a remarkable intimacy with her subjects, delving into their pasts and imagined futures with a respectful yet persistent gaze.


Sadourni’s Butterflies (Argentina) 

Sardournis Butterflies (Photo courtesy of SIFF) First-time feature director Dario Nardi’s Sadourni’s Butterflies is a labor of love that he started as far back as 1998. It took some time to find a producer willing to risk financing a stylized, surrealistic melodrama about a circus dwarf jailed for a crime of passion; released early for good behavior, he finds work dubbing fetish films and quickly becomes besotted with a beautiful fellow voice-over artist and dreams of the operation that would make her attainable.


Sand Fishers (Mali) 

Sand Fishers (Photo courtesy of SIFF)The Bozo people of Mali are famous for their fishing and are often referred to as the “masters of the river.” The Bozos have been finding their pirogues (fishing boats) coming up empty, and in recent years many have transitioned to fishing for sand.


Short Stories (Russia) 

Get ready for five intelligent, stylish, and entertaining short stories. Director Mikhail Segal’s film presents a profoundly humorous glimpse into today’s Russia.