Portland International Film Festival, now Hilary Duff free.

After an unbelievable opening weekend when anyone who gives half a crap about film accomplished nothing outside of the hazy darkness of the theater, the Portland International Film Festival goes into full swing this week. Since you spent all last night romancing Shorty, he or she will certainly understand if you treat yourself to some post-Valentine’s Day film.

Tuesday, Feb. 15

Regal Broadway Cinemas, 1000 S.W. Broadway Ave.

"Other Side of the Street" (Brazil) 5:45 p.m.
"The Waiting Room" (Turkey) 6 p.m.
"Crying Ladies" (Philippines) 8 p.m.
"The Syrian Bride" (Israel) 8:15 p.m.

Guild Theatre, 829 S.W. Ninth Ave.

"The Edukators" (Germany) 6 p.m.
"Schizo" (Kazakhstan/Russia) 8:45 p.m.

Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 S.W. Park Ave.

"20:30:40" (Hong Kong/ Taiwan) 5:30 p.m.
" The Ballad of Jack and Rose" (U.S.) 8:15 p.m.


"Days of Santiago" (Peru, Josu퀌� M퀌�ndez)
You would be hard pressed to find a more poignant, disarming and altogether more relevant film than Josu퀌� M퀌�ndez’ incredible "Days of Santiago," a film that is being lauded as the most important film to come out of Peru in 10 years. Certainly no dramatic American achievements of this caliber have been released in recent years – a fact that doesn’t seem very coincidental considering that "Days of Santiago" tackles an increasingly difficult subject that will perhaps be viewed as even more charged in this country.

Santiago, a young soldier who returns home after serving time in military service, tries desperately to reconcile the ideals he learned in the army with the complex reality of home life. The result is a film that seems to take place entirely from the viewpoint of a tattered conscience, juxtaposing stark, black and white footage with hazy, washed out colors to form a varied palette of emotional struggle. Finding his home life nothing short of unbearable and his upstart friends holding on to the romance of youth, Santiago begins to discover the degeneration of his surroundings reflected in his own identity.

Not relying on more obvious and ultimately degrading depictions of the horrors of war, "Days of Santiago" exists in a far more sensitive space, one that addresses how we learn to be something that cannot possibly exist outside the context of violence. Mendez’ vision is complex beyond understanding, yet told with a simplicity that is never trite or gratuitous.

"Yoshino’s Barber Shop" (Japan, Naoko Ogigami)
Naoko Ogigami’s first feature film "Yoshino’s Barber Shop" pretends to be nothing but a singsong fable about a town where all the boys have to wear the same haircut. Ostensibly governed by the local dictator/barber, the citizens (for the most part) happily uphold the traditions of the town and honor the mountain goddess to whom the ridiculous "law" is devoted – until a trendy young boy from Tokyo shows up and unwittingly gives the wrong people the wrong ideas.

As all fables seek to do, "Yoshino’s Barber Shop" teaches an important lesson dressed as a charming story, which certainly breaks no new ground in cinema. The ragtag group of boys (including the barber’s own son) spend the whole film working towards an inevitable rebellion, and the tension as the children learn to stand up for their fledgling ideas is palpable throughout.

Yet underneath the conspicuous moral docket that guides "Yoshino’s Barber Shop" is something of staggering beauty. It exists at that moment where childhood ends, even if only for a day. The soft hues of Ogigami’s town juxtapose beautifully with the springtime imagery offered by nature, and the grown-ups who clatter around the periphery of the children seem almost like memories, or strange manifestations of the mountain goddess herself. All in all, the film works not as a doctrine on human issues that plague the modern world, but rather as a loving symphony dedicated to the first, awkward steps taken towards identity.

"Czech Dream" (Czech Republic, V퀌_t Klus퀌�k, Filip Remunda)
In the last five years, 125 "hypermarkets" (think Super Target times 100) have opened in the Czech republic, harkening a new age of rampant consumerism that threatens to undermine the tradition-steeped social infrastructure. Instead of eating together, families go shopping. Instead of drives in the country, shopping. Instead of breathing, people shop.

"Czech Dream," a documentary by Vit Klusak and Filip Remunda, seeks to lay bare – without heavy-handed judgment – this frenzied transition in Czech social habits by creating a fictitious hypermarket. As much an inside look at the vast, psychologically manipulative world of advertising as it is a sometimes-brutal portrayal of citizens-as-sheep, the creation of the Czech Dream hypermarket leaves no detail left behind. An advertising team creates a "negative" ad campaign: stark colors and bold shapes make up flyers and billboards that warn people, very simply, not to shop. A band is hired to devise a snappy jingle. Shopping addicts are interrogated about the habits and minds of shoppers so the creators can direct their creation accordingly.

The somewhat less than surprising result is that people buy it. Literally. The whole effort culminates dazzlingly as the hundreds of snow-blind would-be consumers hoof across an expansive green field on opening day to find nothing but a giant facade.

In many ways, it’s unfortunate that this brilliant documentary wasn’t created on American soil, where the indiscriminate, rabid masses would have been multiplied exponentially. But don’t let the "safety of the other" trick you into thinking how silly those Czechs are: This is the most important American documentary never made.