Thursday, December 31, 2009
It's the end of another year and everyone's compiling lists of the best films they've seen. But what about the films we in the Bay Area didn't get to see? That's the purpose of mounting this annual accounting – to mark the movies from the previous year (2008) which never had a Bay Area screening, never got released on Region 1 DVD, and never became available on On Demand or a (legal) streaming/download site.
This year's tabulation is shorter than 2007 and 2008 for several reasons. First, instead of making my tabulation in the summer, I've waited until the Bay Area's autumn film festivals have played themselves out. Second, I'm not including any films from this year's early festival crop like Sundance and Berlin – I've learned it's too early to get antsy about films that've been around for less than a year. Third, for the first time I'm taking into account films which have appeared on Comcast's On Demand or streaming sites like The Auteurs and Amazon Video On Demand. These are new, valid distribution models I can't ignore, and frankly, I'd rather watch a crisp image on my TV or computer monitor than a crummy big-screen digital projection at a local film festival.
And finally, the list is shorter because local film programmers have done a smashing job of bringing us what's essential in contemporary world cinema. Using Cannes as a debatable barometer, I see that 20 out of 22 films in 2008's main competition have made their way here. I'd like to give a special shout-out to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' Film/Video Curator Joel Shepard, as well as the SF Film Society's Sundance Kabuki Screen, which really came into its own this year.
The following films, to the best of my knowledge, did the festival circuit in 2008 but remain unseen by Bay Area audiences. They necessarily reflect my own tastes and interests (i.e. a predilection for things French). I'd love to hear about anything I left out, as well as which of these 20 films I should be happy to have missed.
8 (France dir. Jane Campion, Gael Garcia Bernal, Jan Kounen, Mira Nair, Gaspar Noé, Abderrahmane Sissako, Gus Van Sant, Wim Wenders)
This portmanteau film premiered at last autumn's Rome Film Festival and then vanished after receiving mixed reviews. Eight directors offer up eight short films examining the eight Millennium Development Goals to halve world poverty by 2015.
99 Francs (France dir. Jan Kounen)
Before Kounen ("the Carlos Castaneda of hipster helmers," according to Variety's Lisa Nesselson) directed his segment for the above-mentioned 8, he made this hallucinatory satire of advertising and consumer culture starring the irrepressible Jean Dujardin (OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies).
Algeria, Unspoken Stories (France dir. Jean-Pierre Lledo)
This controversial three-hour doc screened at Tribeca last year. Four Algerians from different walks of life reflect back upon the war for independence, with a particular focus upon the ill fates dealt to their Jewish and Christian friends and neighbors.
Blind Sunflowers (Spain dir. José Luis Cuerda)
At the end of the Spanish Civil War, a believed-to-be-dead left-wing schoolteacher (Javier Cámara) hides out at home, while his wife (Maribel Verdú) is pursued by a fascist-sympathizing priest in training. The film garnered so-so reviews, but was Spain's 2008 Oscar entry. Cámara, Verdú and an interest in the subject matter are three reasons why I'd check this out regardless.
Dream (South Korea, dir. Kim Ki-duk)
This is Kim's fourth feature to go unscreened in the Bay Area since he accompanied 3-Iron to the 2005 SF International Film Festival. Fortunately, 2005's The Bow and 2006's Time were released on Region 1 DVD, and I caught 2007's Breath at Palm Springs. People love him or hate him – I know I've done both – but his darkly offbeat films have never failed to engage me on some level. In his latest, a man discovers that a female somnambulist is acting out his dreams in her sleep.
Four Nights with Anna (Poland, dir. Jerzy Skolimowski)
Polish auteur Skolimowski took a 17-year sabbatical from directing, during which time he acted in everything from Tim Burton's Mars Attacks to David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises. His return film opened Cannnes 2008's Directors Fortnight and was generally well received. In a grim Polish burg, an ex-con crematorium worker drugs a nurse and sneaks into her house at night – to paint her toenails and do housework.
Inju, the Beast in the Shadow (France/Japan dir. Barbet Schroeder)
A French crime novelist (Benoît Magimel) travels to Japan to promote his latest book, which was inspired by a reclusive Japanese writer for whom imitation does not equal flattery. A violent cat-and-mouse game set in an underground world of geishas and BDSM sex follows. Based on a novel by the acclaimed Edogawa Rampo (a Japanese phonetization of Edgar Allen Poe), this got creamed by critics when it premiered at Venice 2008. Still, the involvement of Schroeder and Magimel tells me it might be worth a look.
It's Hard Being Loved by Jerks (France dir. Daniel Leconte)
This well-received documentary details the 2007 court case against French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, on trial for publishing allegedly anti-Islamic cartoons and for being an equal opportunity offender.
Linha de Passe (Brazil dir. Walter Salles, Daniela Thomas)
Despite having a name director in Salles (Motorcylcle Diaries, Central Station) and a prize for Best Actress at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival (Sandra Corveloni), this film has barely been seen in North America, let alone the Bay Area. Compared by critics to Visconti's Rocco and His Brothers, the film is about a single mother with four grown sons struggling to survive in contemporary São Paulo.
Louise-Michel (France, dir. Gustave de Kervern, Benoît Delépine)
The same year Yolande Moreau gave her Cesar-winning performance in Séraphine, she also starred in this anarchic satire about laid-off factory workers hiring a hitman to bump off their ex-employer. Co-starring Bouli Landers (writer/director/star of Eldorado), with music by American bipolar iconoclast Daniel Johnston.
Pandora's Box (Turkey dir. Yesim Ustaoglu)
Along with the works of Nuri Bilge Ceylan, this film gets included in any discussion of New Turkish Cinema. Winner of Best Film and Best Actress prizes at last year's San Sebastian Film Festival, it follows three Istanbul siblings as they deal with their rural Alzheimer's-afflicted mother.
Private Lessons (Belgium/France, dir. Joachim Lafosse)
The director follows 2006's dysfunctional family feud-er Private Property (starring Isabelle Huppert and real-life brothers Jérémie and Yannick Renier) with this perverse comedy about the seduction of an aspiring teen tennis player by three adult acquaintances. Variety's Justin Chang calls it "wickedly seductive" and a "sly, superbly knowing entertainment," while an imdb user comment promises "a movie that will have you vomiting for weeks."
Revue (Russia, dir. Sergei Loznitza)
This narration-less compilation of kitschy Soviet propaganda films extolling life in the 1950s and 1960s USSR got excellent reviews during a brief NYC theatrical run last year. As a longtime Russophile recently thrilled by the 1950s Russian film musical Hipsters, I really want to see this.
Salamandra (Argentina, dir. Pablo Agüero)
2008 was a banner year for Latin American cinema. Virtually every established director put out something new, and there were a number of promising debuts like this one. At the end of Argentina's Dirty War, a young woman who's been released from prison drags her 6-year-old son to live on a Patagonian hippie commune. With Velvet Underground's John Cale in a supporting role.
The Sea Wall (France/Belgium, dir. Rithy Panh)
I'm mystified why this film has been passed over by our general interest festivals (SF International, Mill Valley, CineQuest) and specialty festivals (Asian, French) alike. Based on a novel by Marguerite Duras, Isabelle Huppert is a widow struggling to make a go of rice farming while raising two children in 1930s Indochina. Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Panh (S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine) directs his second narrative feature.
Two-Legged Horse (Iran, dir. Samira Makhmalbaf)
This fourth feature from the eldest daughter of the movie-making Makhmalbaf clan was dismissed as being pointlessly exploitative, but I'd still be curious to have a look. Set in Afghanistan, a poor boy is hired to act as human horse to a crippled rich boy and is treated sadistically. Written by Samira's venerated filmmaker father, Moshen Makhmalbaf
Under the Tree (Indonesia, dir. Garin Nugroho)
Nugroho's wildly imaginative Opera Jawa was one of my ten favorite films of the decade. Unfortunately, this anticipated follow-up – a story of three contemporary Balinese women set against a backdrop of traditional song and dance – received uniformly awful reviews that accused it of being half-baked and ugly-looking. I'd be interested in seeing firsthand just what went wrong.
Unrelated (UK, dir. Johanna Hogg)
British TV director Hogg gained acclaim as a rising new talent for this UK indie about a middle-aged woman's unsettling Tuscany holiday with two upper-class families.
Who Do You Love (USA, dir. Jerry Zaks)
At the 2008 Toronto Film Festival there were two narrative features depicting the golden era of Chicago R&B label Chess Records. Cadillac Records stole all the thunder with its star power and big push by Sony Pictures. This alternate version has garnered good reviews, and stars Alessandro Nivola as Leonard Chess and a movie-stealing Chi McBride as Willie Dixon.
With a Little Help From Myself (France, dir. Francois Dupeyron)
Dupeyron followed his 2004 international arthouse hit Monsieur Ibrahim with this comic drama set amongst African immigrants living in Parisian public housing. On the day of her daughter's wedding, Sonia's son is arrested for drug-dealing, another daughter turns up seven months pregnant, and her husband gambles away the wedding money and then promptly dies. Starring Félicité Wouassi "in a tornado-like performance that almost defies evaluation" (Todd McCarthy, Variety).
Introductory illustration by Brian White.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
I got my first job during junior year of high school (class of '71), working as an usher in a suburban New Jersey movie theater. I didn't know it then, but we were living through a great era for cinema. At work I watched films like Five Easy Pieces and Women In Love literally dozens of times, which had the effect of convincing this serious young man that movies were something to take seriously. Around the same time, a Philadelphia rep house programmed a bunch of double bills curated from the New York Times' Ten Best lists of the Sixties. I'd take the train into Philly and return home dazed and overwhelmed by pairings like Red Desert and Juliet of the Spirits (the first color films from Antonioni and Fellini), and Visconti's The Damned alongside Nichol's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Forty years later, I offer up my own decade of favorites in memory of that NY Times series which kickstarted my film education. These lists were compiled at the end of each year and by no stretch represent what I might in retrospect consider "The Best" or "The Most Important" of The Aughts. They're simply the ten films which, at the time, exhilarated me most in a given year.
Chuck and Buck (USA, dir. Miguel Arteta)
Dancer in the Dark (Denmark, dir. Lars von Trier)
East-West (France, dir. Régis Wargnier)
The Eyes of Tammy Faye (USA, dir. Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato)
Human Resources (France, dir. Laurent Cantet)
Nowhere to Hide (South Korea, dir. Lee Myung-se)
Our Song (USA, dir. Jim McKay)
Requiem for a Dream (USA, dir. Darren Aronofsky)
Titus (UK, USA, Italy, dir. Julie Taymor)
You Can Count on Me (USA, dir. Kenneth Lonergan)
Dora-Heita (Japan, dir. Kon Ichikawa)
The Gleaners and I (France, dir. Agnès Varda)
In The Mood For Love (Hong Kong, dir. Wong Kar-wai)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings (USA, New Zealand, dir. Peter Jackson)
Mulholland Drive (France, USA, dir. David Lynch)
No Man’s Land (Bosnia, dir. Danis Tanovic)
The Princess and the Warrior (Germany, dir. Tom Tykwer)
Tuvalu (Germany, dir. Veit Helmer)
The Vertical Ray of the Sun (Viet Nam, France, dir. Anh Hung Tran)
Waking Life (USA, dir. Richard Linklater)
Adaptation (USA, dir. Spike Jonze)
Atanajurat: The Fast Runner (Canada, dir. Zacharias Kunuk)
Bloody Sunday (UK, dir. Paul Greengrass)
Bowling For Columbine (USA, dir. Michael Moore)
Lantana (Australia, dir. Ray Lawrence)
Musa The Warrior (South Korea, dir. Kim Sung-su)
My Voyage To Italy (USA, Italy, dir. Martin Scorsese)
The Piano Teacher (France, Austria, dir. Michael Haneke)
Rivers and Tides (Germany, UK, dir. Thomas Riedelsheimer)
Y tu mamá tambien (Mexico, dir. Alfonso Cuaron)
Hukkle (Hungary, dir. György Pálfi)
Irreversible (France, dir. Gaspar Noé)
Kill Bill Volume 1 (USA, dir. Quentin Tarantino)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (USA, New Zealand, dir. Peter Jackson)
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (USA, New Zealand, dir. Peter Jackson)
Marooned in Iraq (Iran, dir. Bahman Ghobadi)
The Path to Love (France, dir. Rémi Lange)
A Peck on the Cheek (India, dir. Mani Ratnam)
The Pianist (France, dir. Roman Polanski)
Russian Ark (Russia, dir. Aleksandr Sokurov)
15 (Singapore, dir. Royston Tan)
Before Sunset (USA, dir. Richard Linklater)
Control Room (USA, dir. Jehane Noujaim)
Games of Love and Chance (aka L'esquive) (France, dir. Abdel Kechiche)
Moolaadé (France, Burkina Faso, dir. Ousmane Sembene)
Oasis (South Korea, dir. Lee Chang-dong)
The Return (Russia, dir. Andrei Zvyagintsev)
Sideways (USA, dir. Alexander Payne)
The Incredibles (USA, dir. Brad Bird)
A Very Long Engagement (France, dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
The Assassination of Richard Nixon (USA, dir. Niels Mueller)
The Devil and Daniel Johnston (USA, dir. Jeff Feuerzeig)
Duck Season (Mexico, dir. Fernando Eimbcke)
Gift From Above (Israel, dir. Dover Koshashvili)
I am a Sex Addict (USA, dir. Caveh Zahedi)
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (USA, dir. Shane Black)
Life is a Miracle (Serbia, dir. Emir Kusturica)
The Polar Express: An IMAX 3-D Experience (USA, dir. Robert Zemeckis)
Private (Italy, dir. Saverio Costanzo)
Thumbsucker (USA, dir. Mike Mills)
12:08 East of Bucharest (Romania, dir. Corneliu Porumboiu)
Babel (USA, France, Mexico, dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)
Between the Lines: India’s Third Gender (Germany, dir. Thomas Wartmann)
The Child (Belgium, dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
The Descent (UK, dir. Neil Marshall)
In the Battlefields (Lebanon, dir. Danielle Arbid)
Iron Island (Iran, dir. Mohammad Rasoulof)
The New World (USA, UK, dir. Terrence Malick)
The Science of Sleep (France, dir. Michel Gondry)
What a Wonderful Place (Israel, dir. Eyal Halfon)
7 Years (France, dir. Jean-Pascal Hattu)
Glue (Argentina, dir. Alexis Dos Santos)
Grindhouse (USA, dir. Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez)
Hairspray (USA, dir. Adam Shankman)
Opera Jawa (Indonesia, dir. Garin Nugroho)
The Page Turner (France, dir. Denis Dercourt)
Ratatouille (USA, dir. Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava)
Sicko (USA, dir. Michael Moore)
Syndromes and a Century (Thailand, dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
To Get to Heaven, First You Have to Die (Tajikistan, dir. Jamshed Usmonov)
A Christmas Tale (France dir. Arnaud Desplechin)
The Duchess of Langeais (France dir. Jacques Rivette)
I'm a Cyborg and That's OK (South Korea dir. Park Chan-wook)
Jar City (Iceland dir. Baltasar Kormákur)
Nightwatching (UK dir. Peter Greenaway)
The Secret of the Grain (France dir. Abdel Kechiche)
Slingshot (Philippines dir. Brillante Mendoza)
Solitary Fragments (Spain dir. Jaime Rosales)
Still Life (China dir. Jia Zheng-ke)
Synecdoche, New York (USA dir. Charlie Kaufman)
35 Shots of Rum (France, dir. Claire Denis)
Ander (Spain, dir. Roberto Castón)
Everything Strange and New (USA, dir. Frazer Bradshaw)
The Fantastic Mr. Fox (USA, dir. Wes Anderson)
Fig Trees (Canada, dir. John Greyson)
Hipsters (Russia, dir. Valery Todorovsky)
My Dear Enemy (South Korea, dir. Lee Yoon-ki)
Revanche (Austria, dir. Götz Spielmann)
Still Walking (Japan, dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda)
Tony Manero (Chile, dir. Pablo Larrain)
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
In a stroke of fortune for Bay Area movie lovers, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) presents a second 2009 Winter Event this Saturday, December 12 at the Castro Theater. The first took place back in February (I wrote it up here) and now SFSFF supplements its summertime fest with yet another extraordinary one-day line-up of classic silent cinema. For the uninitiated, SFSFF is the Western Hemisphere's premiere showcase for silent film exhibition, featuring the best available 35mm prints, live musical accompaniments, program notes, special guests and savvy film intros. The four films comprising this Saturday's line-up – all of which I'll be seeing for the first time – sound like a diverse and rewarding lot.
Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness 11:30 a.m.
Six years before they unleashed King Kong upon the world, directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack made this melodramatic docu-drama about a Siamese farming family and their struggle against the creatures of the jungle. Shot under rough conditions near the Thai border with Laos, Chang followed other successful silent ethnographic films such as Nanook of the North (1922) and the directors own Grass (1925), which documented the migration of Bakhtiari herdsmen in present day Turkey and Iran. It's said that three crew members were bitten by pythons during the Chang shoot, and Schoedsack himself battled malaria and sunstroke in the 115 degree heat.
In contrast to the corniness of the film's staged drama (complete with cute inter-titles and a rascally pet monkey), there's the sobering sight of numerous wild animals being slaughtered on camera. The animal kingdom gets its revenge, however, in the film's climactic, village-flattening elephant stampede. At the first Academy Awards in 1927, Chang was one of three films nominated for the first-and-last Unique and Artistic Production Award (the others were King Vidor's The Crowd and winner F.W. Murnau's Sunrise). Introducing the film on Saturday will be Mark Vaz, author of "Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper." Returning SFFS virtuoso Donald Sosin will accompany Chang with an original piano score.
J'accuse 2 p.m.
This 1919 anti-war film from Abel Gance is the movie most SFSFF-heads I know are itching to see. It's only been available in severely truncated editions, which is why this U.S. premiere of a new 162-minute version, painstakingly assembled and restored by the Netherlands Filmmuseum and France's Lobster Films, is such a big deal. Gance, who is sometimes referred to as Europe's D.W. Griffith, is best known for his 1927 epic Napoléon. It's the only Gance I've ever seen, back at a glorious 1981 (?) screening at Oakland's Paramount Theater, with Carmine Coppola conducting a symphony orchestra and the film's famous three-screen triptych battle scenes (an early stab at something akin to Cinemascope) fully restored.
J'accuse tells the story of a romantic triangle against the backdrop of WWI. Gance returned to active military duty in 1918 (as part of France's Section Cinématographique) to film parts of J'accuse, including the Battle of Saint-Mihiel. During a lull in fighting, he shot the celebrated "March of the Dead" sequence employing 2,000 soldiers – 80 percent of whom would later die in battle. This eerie 20-minute sequence, along with Gance's expressionistic camerawork and rapid-cut editing, are reasons why J'accuse is remembered today. Although it was a commercial success in France, Pathé Films couldn't get U.S. distribution until Gance himself arranged a gala New York screening for D.W. Griffith in 1921. Griffith released the film through his recently formed United Artists, but it failed to find an American audience. Film preservationist Robert Byrne will introduce J'accuse, and Robert Israel will perform his original orchestral score adapted to play on the Castro's Mighty Wurlitzer.
Sherlock Jr. 7:00 p.m.
After a two-hour dinner break, during which time there'll be a special SFSFF party in the Castro mezzanine, the Winter Event continues with this 1924 Buster Keaton classic. Considered "one of the great movies of all time about the movies" and "a brilliant meditation on the nature of cinema," Sherlock Jr. follows Our Hospitality – which we just saw in February – within Keaton's filmography. Here he plays a movie projectionist who longs to be a celebrated detective. After being framed by a romantic rival for stealing his sweetheart's father's watch, he falls asleep in his projection booth and enters a cinematic dreamworld where his super-sleuthing skills are put to good use.
Expect plenty of Keaton genius – both in his hilarious sight gags and his primitive, but seamless special effects. This is also the film in which Keaton famously fractured his neck performing a stunt (the water tower scene). Because Sherlock Jr. runs only 45 minutes, it's being paired with his 1921 short The Goat, which some consider his best. This time he's pursued by cops who mistake him for an escaped killer. Look for the iconic scene of Keaton riding a train's cowcatcher. Keaton's granddaughter Melissa Cox will be a special guest at this program, where she'll be interviewed by SFSFF board member Frank Buxton (who once acted with Keaton in summer stock). Dennis James will accompany the films on the Mighty Wurlitzer, with the help of Mark Goldstein's special sound effects.
West of Zanzibar 9:15 p.m.
The SFSFF days ends, as it has several times in the recent past, with a creepy collaboration between director Tod Browning (Dracula, Freaks) and actor Lon Chaney. We've been shown Chaney as a larcenous ventriloquist in drag (The Unholy Three, SFSFF 2006) and an armless knife-thrower lusting to touch Joan Crawford (The Unknown, SFSFF 2008). Here he's Phrosos, a cuckolded, crippled magician who becomes an African ivory trader in order to extract truly twisted, simmering-for-18-years revenge. Boiling in the film's salacious pot are drug addiction, prostitution, voodoo, cannibalism and really un-PC dancing "natives." Unsurprisingly, the folks at Midnites For Maniacs are co-sponsoring the screening, and Dennis James will be back to thrill us on the Mighty Wurlitzer. Program notes for this one have been researched and written by Hell On Frisco Bay's Brian Darr.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
November is now finito and the final bell has sounded for the 2009 Bay Area Battle of Fall Film Festivals. Some I immersed myself in (Mill Valley, French Cinema Now, 3rd i, SF Latino), some I stuck a toe in (Arab Film Festival, Taiwan Film Week, New Italian Cinema) and others I just watched float by (SF DocFest, American Indian, Chinese and Animation Fests). Here's a blow-by-blow synopsis of how last month ultimately shook out, followed by a glance at some of festival-less December's festive film choices.
The first November festival was the SF Film Society's expanded, week-long French Cinema Now, which overlapped from October. I caught 10 of the dozen films on offer, missing only The 400 Blows revival and the Michel Gondry documentary. All ten had at least some element of extraordinariness to recommend them. Surprisingly, my two favorites were films that had evaded my Francophilic radar – Sylvie Verheyde's heartfelt coming-of-age-er Stella and Axelle Ropert's odd, small town family melodrama The Wolberg Family. Following close behind were Alain Guiraudie's The King of Escape and Michel Hazanavicius' almost-but-not-quite-as-clever-as-its-predecessor, OSS 117: Lost in Rio, both benefiting greatly from the insight offered by their in-attendance directors.
Crowds seemed lighter this year, except for the powerhouse Closing Night duo of Benoît Jacquot's Villa Amalia and Claude Chabrol's Bellamy, which were sold out. That night a mini-revolt broke out at the Clay Theater when patrons at the first screening were forbidden from marking their seats with a coat for the second screening, contrary to what had been permitted for the six days previous. Now it's official policy for all Film Society events – if you're seeing back-to-back films you must pick up your stuff, exit the theater and go to the back of the ticket line. This presents a dilemma – does one stay for the end credits and Q&A, or make a beeline out the door to avoid getting a lousy seat for the next film?
The first full weekend in November was a vexing choice between the SF Film Society's Taiwan Film Days and the 3rd i SF International South Asian Film Festival. From the former I only saw the opening night film, Wei Te-sheng's Cape No 7, which was more broad and sentimental than I expected – perhaps not surprising considering it's status as Taiwan's #1 all-time box office champ. An hour into it, and with another hour still to go, I decided I'd seen enough and left behind a sold-out crowd that was clearly having a swell time. Later I heard that Fy Tien-yu's Somewhere I Have Never Dreamed was the film I should have seen, and that the Closing Night screening of No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti (Taiwan's 2009 Oscar submission) was a disaster due to a malfunctioning digital projection system. (It was the only film in the series not shown in 35mm – a lesson to be learned here?)
Digital projection also did no favors for my first 3rd i screening the next afternoon, a Castro Theater revival of Guru Dutt's 1960 Bollywood classic, Full Moon. I understand that October's Dutt retrospective at Lincoln Center was also all-digital. But I have to assume the film looked better at the Walter Reade Theater than it did at the Castro, where it resembled a third or fourth generation VHS tape dub. Still, Full Moon was a charmer, and it was neat to have Dutt's son Aran, there to introduce it. I returned to the Castro later that evening for contemporary Bollywood hit Dil Bole Hadippa!, which was screened in glorious 35mm. A group of us expected to take off at intermission, but when the house-lights came up at 11:30 p.m. we were having way too much fun watching poor, confused Shahid Kapoor chase after cross-dressing Rani Mukherjee – the late hour be damned. The only bummer of the evening was a deadly and interminable speech from the festival's main corporate sponsor, which all but murdered the savvy, rousing film intro delivered by Festival Director Ivan Jaigirdar just minutes before.
I came on Sunday for two more 3rd i selections at the Castro. By the time you read this, Tariq Tapa's Srinagar-set indie Zero Bridge may well have won a Gotham Award for Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You. That would be terrific, because this engaging, lo-fi tale of a young man trying to escape his circumstances deserves to be seen by more than the devoted few who turned up at the Castro on such a gorgeous autumn afternoon. That evening, however, people did come out in droves for the festival's Closing Night film, Yes Madam, Sir, Megan Doneman's fine bio-doc about India's top female super-cop, Kiran Bedi. Both the director and her subject were in attendance, the latter evoking rock star adulation from the crowd with two standing ovations. The Q&A was focused exclusively on Bedi (who curiously side-stepped a direct question about LGBT persecution in India), until The Evening Class' Michael Guillén brought Doneman back up to the stage to talk about how the film came to be. It turns out that Doneman (an assistant editor on the last two The Lord of the Rings films) simply bought a camera, read the instructions on her flight to India and then showed up unannounced on Bedi's Kolcotta doorstep. Shot over the course of six years, the Helen Mirren-narrated film got picked up for U.S. distribution just days before its 3rd i screening and will see some sort of Bay Area release next spring. Doneman was not at liberty to say who the distributor is. Following the screening, the high energy continued at a fabulous closing party up in the Castro mezzanine. It's worth noting that 3rd i, now in its seventh year, had its most successful festival yet in 2009, with a 15% increase in attendance and three sold-out shows at the Roxie Theater. (Pictured, in foreground: Anuj Vaidya and Ivan Jaigirdar from 3rd i, and Kiran Bedi.)
The following weekend I pretty much devoted to the newly revamped SF Latino Film Festival and their two-day stint at Landmark's Lumiere Theater. On Friday night I was dismayed to find myself literally the only person in the audience for Emilio Portes' Meet the Head of Juan Pérez. This was a shame, as this madcap farce about a Mexican circus magician's guillotine obsession had plenty going for it (including being one of only three films in the fest screened in 35mm). It was kind of a shock to see Isela Vega, the voluptuous star of Sam Peckinpah's similarly titled Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, now age 70 and playing the circus' creepy old fortuneteller.
Fortunately, the fest attracted somewhat larger crowds on Saturday, as I settled in for a four-film marathon. First up was Victor Jesus' How Could I Not Love You, an earnestly middling yarn from Mexico about a none-too-bright young man's desire to play professional futbol. That was followed by 1, 2 and 3 Women, a Venezuelan portmanteau film featuring three women's stories by three women directors. I was particularly taken by the first, which concerned an office cleaning lady who finds a wad of cash hidden in a men's toilet stall. Up third was Gerardo Naranjo's I'm Gonna Explode, a popular film on the 2008 fest circuit. Two disaffected misfit teens, a rich boy and a lower class girl, go on the lam – not by hitting the road, but by hiding out on the roof of the boy's family mansion and pilfering supplies as needed. The film works as a wry little satire for a good while before taking its teen-angst nihilism way too seriously. (I'm Gonna Explode is currently available to watch on IFC's Festival Direct). The festival ended on a high note with Uruguayan director Adrián Biniez' Berlin Golden Bear winner Gigante. In this witty, deadpan social comedy, an overweight, Death Metal-lovin' supermarket security guard clandestinely pursues the janitress of his dreams. The film's U.S. distributor is Film Movement, so don't be surprised to find it booked into the SF Film Society's Kabuki screen when it re-launches in January. I'd happily see Gigante again, if only to savor Beniez' masterful wide-screen compositions in 35mm.
Sunday the 15th offered a choice between Opening Night of the Film Society's New Italian Cinema (a party and screening of Marco Risi's Fortapàsc), or the SFMOMA/Castro Theater four-part event supporting Erased James Franco. I opted for the latter. As it would turn out, a mixture of burnout, ill health and lack of enthusiasm lead me to only see one of the Italian films this year, Closing Nighter Vincere from Marco Bellocchio (a mesmerizing, but confounding saga about Mussolini's mistress and the illegitimate son she bore him). Friends who attended the entire 11-film series were particularly impressed by Marco Amenta's The Sicilian Girl (just picked up for U.S. distribution by Music Box Films), Marco Pontecorvo's PA-RA-DA and to a lesser extent, the festival's City of Florence audience award winner, Donatella Maiorca's Sea Purple.
As for James Franco, a diverse, adoring mob was on hand at the Castro Theater to see mono-monikered artist Carter's quasi-experimental, collaborative video performance piece. In it, Franco "performs" dialogue lifted from his own body of work, as well as lines from Todd Haynes' Safe (1995) and John Frankenheimer's Seconds (1966). It helped immensely to have attended screenings of both films earlier in the day. Safe was better than I remembered it, and Seconds, which I had never seen, was a revelation. When Erased James Franco began, the audience cracked up as the opening credits hit the screen – "Starring James Franco as Julianne Moore, James Franco as Rock Hudson, and James Franco as James Franco." After the screening, Franco and Carter came on-stage for a rollicking Q&A. The actor was spiffily dressed in jacket and tie, in contrast to the slovenly appearance he put in at that afternoon's SFMOMA screening of back-to-back Freaks and Geeks episodes. That audience was comprised exclusively of Caucasian women in their twenties, plus a smattering of gay guys.
When I wasn't attending film festivals in November, I was out discovering new movie theaters like the VIZ Cinema in Japantown. When it opened back in August, I took note and filed it away – digitally-projected contemporary Japanese genre films not being my thing. Then last month I noticed they were screening a 35mm print of Shinji Aoyama's 2007 Sad Vacation with Tadanobu Asano, a sort-of sequel to the director's 217-minute butt-bruising Eureka from 2000. This was no one-off screening, but a full two week run – so I had to check it out. I'm happy to report that this subterranean, 143-seat cinema is comfy and very brightly lit (you can read without eye strain before the movie starts!) and the 35mm projection and sound is flawless. I understand it's going to be used as a supplemental venue during next year's SF International Asian American Film Festival. (I have no idea who the people are in the photo below, but it was the only on-line image I could find of the theater's snazzy interior).
Finally, just when you thought our fall film calendar couldn't get any more crowded, comes the announcement that Berlin & Beyond, which traditionally kicks off the Bay Area's festival year each January, will be moving to the fall in 2010. There's a seamy backstory to this, involving shabby treatment of beloved, longtime B&B director Ingrid Eggers and the subsequent refusal of the Bay Area festival community to support an Eggers-less B&B. I e-mailed the Goethe-Institute to say they were crazy to move the festival to an already overstuffed autumn. They e-mailed back to assure me they aren't crazy. We will see. Walter Addiego provides more details at SF Gate.
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And now just a few words (yeah, right!) about what to look out for in December. If I only attend one film event this month (yeah, right!) it'll be the SF Silent Film Festival's Winter Event at the Castro on Saturday the 12th. I'll be posting a preview piece on this next week, so stay tuned. Also coming to the venerable Castro this month is a 16-film tribute to producer Samuel Goldwyn (Dec. 2 to 10, including classics like Guys and Dolls, The Little Foxes and The Best Years of Our Lives as well as some rarities), a 13-film overview of Alfred Hitchcock (Dec. 16 to 23, and hell, his films are all classics), and a Midnites For Maniacs "Ladies of the Eighties" triple-bill on Friday, Dec. 11 (Jumpin' Jack Flash, Desperately Seeking Susan and Liquid Sky).
Downtown at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Film & Video Curator Joel Shepard has programmed an uncharacteristic bunch of films for December that they're calling "The Joy of Life." This diverse line-up includes Jacques Tati's Parade, the outrageously fun contempo Bollywood classic Om Shanti Om, W.C. Field's It's a Gift from 1934 (quite possibly the funniest film ever made), the all-singing/dancing That's Entertainment III, and something more emblematic of YBCA, a program of short films by gay provocateur Curt McDowell.
Across the Bay at the Pacific Film Archive, they're currently in the throes of retrospectives for Alain Resnais, Otto Preminger and the European films of Ingrid Bergman. I've got a big, red circle drawn around Sunday the 6th, which is when they'll be screening The Underground Orchestra (master documentarian Heddy Honigmann's 1998 film about Parisian subway buskers), followed by Roberto Rossellini's 1954 Voyage to Italy with Bergman and George Sanders (which I'm told is referenced in Almodóvar's new film). Then, in a supplemental program to the Preminger series, the indispensable Film On Film Foundation is sponsoring a rare showing of 1963's epic The Cardinal at 7:30.
Finally, I can not recommend highly enough local filmmaker Frazer Bradshaw's Everything Strange and New, which opens at the Roxie on December 6. I caught this cynical, haunting meditation on suburban discontent (filmed in Oakland!) at this year's SF International Film Festival, where it won the FIPRESCI prize. I can't wait to have a second look.