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SIFF opening night: The Bookshop - Rounding up the Usual Suspects
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SIFF opening night: The Bookshop
SIFF's capsule summary: "Spanish director Isabel Coixet heads to the English coast circa 1959, where a headstrong widow (Emily Mortimer) opens a bookstore in a sleepy village and encounters both pride and prejudice from the provincial locals. Winner of Best Film, Director, and Screenplay at Spain's Goya Awards.
    "'Its subversive undercurrent, embodied in fine performances by Emily Mortimer and Bill Nighy, is what makes it really interesting.' Jonathan Holland — The Hollywood Reporter" (UK, 2017, 110 minutes)
SIFF link: The Bookshop

The widow Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) buys into a vacant house in a small English town, opening a book shop on the ground floor and living in the upstairs. She and her late husband had met in a book shop where they had worked together, but there's no hint of where she would have found the money to buy a house or initial inventory, except that the local banker refused to help. Ignoring any child labor laws that may have applied, she hires Christine (Honor Kneafsey), who is great at the job. Local recluse Edmund Brundish (Bill Nighy) has books sent to his mansion, and discovers a fondness for Ray Bradbury and other authors Florence sends him, and eventually he invites her to visit in person. But because the story needs a villain, rich busybody Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson) decides that the book shop must be destroyed to make way for an arts center. Can Florence prevail against her wealthy adversary?

4 Lackluster The directing, by prolific Barcelona director Isabel Coixet, emphasizes the quaintness of the small town, and presents Florence and Violet as caricatures of goodness and villainy, and Christine as charmingly precocious; allowing only Mr Brundish (whose first name I know only from the credits) to be a fully-developed character. The story, adapted by the director from the 1978 Penelope Fitzgerald novel of the same name, seems to have lost any perceptible motivations for the characters that may have been present in the book. The exception is Brundish, who is also the only character to show any character development through the course of the story. The story seems to be intended to be primarily a comedy, but it's only rarely funny.

On the other hand, the acting is solid. Nighy has the advantage of playing the only three-dimensional character, and he is excellent. Mortimer is stuck with a one-note character, with only one scene where the story allows her to be interesting. Similarly, Clarkson chews the scenery like a comic book villain. I know how good Mortimer and Clarkson are, but the material here doesn't allow them to flex their talents. Kneafsey is excellent, given the constraints the story places on her.

The late 1950s art direction is very good.

It's rare for a film to rise above a lackluster script, and this film isn't an exception. Overall, the film is lackluster too.

Languages: English. (Given the often-muddy sound when McCaw Hall is pressed into service as a film venue, subtitles would have helped at times.)

Rating: I don't think this film has a US rating (yet), but I don't recall anything that would have pushed it past a "PG" rating.

Screening: 7 pm, McCaw Hall.
Audience: mostly full crowd, 2963 seats.

Snacks: ice cream, cupcake, wine at the party afterward.

Ads and announcements:

  • Aegis Living — This ad by an old folks home company was pretty sweet.
  • SIFF 2018 "Escape the Couch" trailer — This clip shows a couple of people becoming friends through the shared experience of SIFF.
  • SIFF principles — Managing Director Sarah Wilke, Artistic Director Beth Barrett, and board chairman Rick Fassio all spoke words of welcome and introduction.
  • SIFF film montage — SIFF supporters Lindy and Kris Boustedt assembled a nice montage of clips from films that have shown at SIFF.
  • Mayor's Award — The award was presented by the deputy mayor; the mayor wasn't able to attend. The award went to Tracy Rector, who also wasn't able to attend; her husband accepted for her, and gave a pretty good speech.
  • Beth Barret — Beth returned to the stage to present the film.
  • Isabel Coixet — The director of the film was in Barcelona shooting a film and thus not able to attend. Instead she sent a recorded video message, where she was standing next to a rented cinema camera.
  • Alaska Airlines — SIFF sponsor message.
  • Brotherton Buick GMC Caddilac — SIFF sponsor message.

Notes to myself:

SIFF statistics: 23 films (all features), 1 unofficial party, tonight's official party.

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