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A look at the Palm Springs International Film Festival

Mirai Shida (left) and Koichi Sato (right) star in Nobody to Watch over Me.

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The 21st annual Palm Springs International Film Festival began Jan. 5th and has screened a number of movies from around the world. A two hour drive outside Los Angeles, the Palm Springs International Film Festival makes a great weekend getaway for those interested in world cinema, and in particular those who would like to see many official submissions to the Oscar Best Foreign Language Film category. See a selection of films screened at the festival below.

Nobody to Watch over Me (Japan): Japan's official Oscar submission, Nobody to Watch over Me focuses on the media chaos that ensues after a minor is accused of the heinous murder of two young girls. Because the accused criminal is a minor, his family is offered protective custody and new identities. However, a series of tragic events leaves the family's 15-year-old daughter Saori (Mirai Shida) on her own. As the media and individual citizens continually seek out and threaten the young girl while she is in hiding, she finds herself with only a burned out policeman named Katsuura (Koichi Sato) to protect her. 

Noomi Rapace as the enigmatic Lisbeth in Swedish thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Sweden, Germany/Denmark): Based on Stieg Larsson's best-selling novel of the same name, Niels Arden Oplev's (Worlds Apart) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a thoroughly engrossing murder-mystery thriller. The film centers around journalist Mikael Blomkvist who has fallen onto hard times after being convicted of libel and fraud. With six months before he must serve his sentence, he is hired to solve a 40-year old murder mystery involving the disappearance of a powerful man's granddaughter.  Blomkvist meets super-hacker Lisbeth, who despite her powerful skills as an investigator, is an emotional wreck. The two try to uncover the decades old mystery that seemingly points back to the victim's own family. 

An overbearing mother fights to prove her son's innocence in Joon-Ho Bong's Mother.

Mother (South Korea): The latest film from Korean director Joon-Ho Bong (The Host, Memories of a Murder), Mother is South Korea's official Oscar submission. The movie is a murder-mystery about an overly involved mother (Hye-ja Kim)with a mentally-handicapped son (Bin Won) accused of a heinous crime against a young girl in a small town. While her son is in prison, the mother feverishly tries to prove his innocence, collecting clues to exonerate him. Mother comes to L.A. theatres March 12 of this year.

In other festival news: January 6, the Chinese authorities pulled China's two films, City of Life and Death and Quick, Quick, Slow, from the festival in response to the festival's screening of the Tibetan documentary The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet's Struggle for Freedom. Commenting on the incident, Festival Director Darryl Macdonald said,

“After meeting with representatives from the Chinese government regarding their request to cancel our screenings of The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom, we have respectfully declined their request. I’m saddened that the Chinese film authorities have chosen to withdraw their films from PSIFF, as the Festival is an international cultural event whose mandate is to present a wide cross section of perspectives and points of view...”

 The festival replaced the two Chinese movies with For a Moment Freedom (Austria/France), Sticky Fingers (Canada/France/Spain).
Stay tuned for more coverage: Palm Springs International Film Festival