Monday, July 26, 2010

Return of the SFFS Kabuki Screen

Try as we may, even the most diehard cine-maniac among us can't see every single film that's shown at every single Bay Area film festival. With that in mind, the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) re-launches its screen at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas this week following an eight-month hiatus. The August comeback roster revives three films from this year's San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) and a fourth that will have its Bay Area premiere this week at the SF Jewish Film Festival.

After eight long months away without an official word to suggest otherwise, folks assumed the SFFS's Kabuki screen was history – and at this spring's SFIFF, rumors swirled about the search for an alternate venue. So it was an unexpected pleasure to learn of its revival, and I've heard intimations the screen will continue on into September. Should that happen, we'll hope the line-up includes some films we haven't already had the opportunity to see. Last summer the SFFS Kabuki Screen really hit its stride, with non-stop Bay Area premieres of prime world cinema –
Munyurangabo, Three Monkeys, Eldorado, Julia, La belle personne, Tony Manero – it seemed like I was at the Kabuki every week. While the August line-up contains nothing brand new, it does offer an opportunity to see some worthy titles we might have missed on the first go-round. Showtimes can be found here and don't forget that year-round SFFS members receive $1.00 off the ticket price.

Alamar (July 30 to August 5)
This rich and wondrous Mexican film from director Pedro González-Rubio won the New Directors Prize at this year's SFIFF. That's where I saw it, at a terrific screening with the director in attendance. Set along the gorgeous Yucatan coast, it's a narrative-documentary hybrid about a young boy spending a final summer with his fishermen father and grandfather, before heading off to live with his mother in Italy. The film is completely devoid of drama or conflict, which I found incredibly refreshing. What we get in its stead is a string of lovingly observed scenes that detail an unfamiliar way of life and the bonding of three generations. Visually stunning, it demands to be experienced on the big screen.

Making Plans for Lena (August 6 to 12)
I missed this at the SFIFF, so I'm grateful the SFFS has brought it back, despite the mixed reports I heard from those who did see it. I'm generally a fan of director Christophe Honoré (Ma mère, Dans Paris, Love Songs) and find it hard to imagine not liking a film that has Chiara Mastroianni, Marie-Christine Barrault and especially, franco-hunk Louis Garrel among its cast. Mastroianni stars here as a harried, soon-to-be divorced mother of two who heads off to spend time at the family homestead in Bretagne. Her visit yields little comfort and a lot of contentious confrontation.

Vengeance (August 13 to 19)
It appears to be the consensus of critics and Johnnie To fans alike that this is a minor work in the Hong Kong director's oeuvre. I caught it at the SFIFF and found plenty to like, despite an inclination towards ludicrousness. It probably helps that I'm a nut for French rock and roll idol Johnny Hallyway. The now 67-year-old craggy-faced actor (last seen here in the title role of Patrice Leconte's 2002 Man on the Train) stars as a French chef who enlists the help of some Macau gangsters to extract vengeance upon those who slaughtered his daughter's family. The fact that he's got a bullet lodged in his head and a resultant lousy memory figures prominently in the story. Also in the cast are Sylvie Testud as the daughter and To regulars Anthony Wong and Simon Yam. To is famous for his stylized action set-pieces and Vengeance has got some doozies, most notably a junkyard shootout that threatens to never end.

Army of Crime (August 20 to 26)
I'm planning to catch this week's lone Jewish Film Festival screening of Robert Guédiguian's new film because a.) I'm absolutely dying to see it, and b.) I'll be out of town the week it screens at the Kabuki. I'm a big fan of this French-Armenian director's politically humanist films and this will be his first work to have a Bay Area theatrical release since 2000's The Town is Quiet. The prolific Guédiguian made five other films in the last decade, two of which, The Last Mitterrand and Lady Jane, we had the pleasure of seeing at the SFIFF. His latest critically acclaimed work details the exploits of a group of WWII French resistance fighters – most of them foreign-born and half of them Jewish. Simon Abkarian stars as their Armenian leader and the cast includes Guédiguian regulars Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Ariane Ascaride (the director's wife), plus Virginie Ledoyen and Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet.

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