Editor’s Note: Intern Tiffany Wan has the kind of arcane film knowledge that bores people at parties and gets arts editors very excited. I’ve set her loose on the Seattle International Film Festival—of which she’s already a six-year veteran—to see what she comes up with.

As much as I love SIFF, its dense programming consistently overwhelms me. You really have to comb through every film description to get a feel for what’s worth watching…which is easy when (like me) you spend 70 percent of your time glued a computer.

That said, here are three picks for this weekend that will be worth your while:

I Am Love
Tilda Swinton ditches her androgynous look to play trophy wife Emma, a Russian who marries into old Italian money. New son Edoardo is opening a restaurant with his friend Antonio, who seduces Emma with his culinary prowess and youthful good looks. Tangentially, Emma’s daughter Betta is staking her independence from the family with her declaration of profession (aspiring photographer) and sexuality (she likes the ladies). As Emma becomes further entangled with her young lover and experiences a rebirth of spirit, she may not be prepared to deal with the ensuing consequences.

If you enjoy films with operatic, visual storytelling (director Luca Guadagnino has an eye for lush detail) and bold aural atmosphere (John Adams provides a strikingly discordant score), you’ll be absorbed by I Am Love. Screening Friday, May 28 at 9:30, Everett Performing Arts Center.

Winter’s Bone
A good indie thriller is hard to pull off—melodrama and exaggerated screaming often abound—but Winter’s Bone (based on Daniel Woodrell’s crime novel) avoids the pitfalls of the genre and makes a teenage girl the hero, rather than the victim. Set in the backwoods of the Missouri Ozarks, the film follows 17-year-old Ree as she pursues her outlaw father who’s skipped bail—and skipped town. Since he staked the family home as bond, Ree’s forced to find him before the local sheriff evicts the whole family—catatonic mom and two younger siblings included. Ree tracks down family members, neighbors and acquaintances who want nothing to do with the search, telling Ree to give up for her own good…and safety.

The bleak Fargo-esque landscape of the film gives it a terrifying edge, and strong performances from Jennifer Lawrence as Ree and John Hawkes (of the much-lauded Deadwood ) as her menacing uncle only bolster the film’s credibility. Top awards at Sundance Film Festival and Berlin International Film Festival also help. Screening Friday, May 28 at 7, and Sunday, May 30 at 1:30 at the Egyptian.

Life During Wartime
This sequel to Todd Solondz’s squeamish-yet-satisfying Happiness (1998) picks up in Miami, where Trish (Allison Janney) is trying to start over with a new man after leaving her pedophilic husband Bill (Ciaran Hinds) who, consequently, just got out of prison. The uber-sensitive Joy (Shirley Henderson) flees her crumbling marriage, only to be pursued by the ghost of an aggressive ex-boyfriend (a grave-looking Paul Reubens). Self-absorbed writer Helen (Ally Sheedy) begrudgingly helps Joy on her quest for emotional recovery.

Those who delight in Solondz’s sometimes-flippant take on controversial subjects might find Life During Wartime tame. Described as his most accessible film to date, this may encourage new fans or deter devotees of the director’s peculiar sense of humor. Screening Saturday, May 29 at 6:30 at the Uptown; Monday, May 31 at 8:45 at the Harvard Exit.

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