Tuesday, April 19, 2016

SFIFF59 2016 More Awards & Special Events

After weeks of anticipation, the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF59) is finally set to kick off Thursday night. Bay Area cinephiles are going to be crazy-busy for the next 15 days. Thus far I've surveyed the programs that were announced prior to the festival's March 29 press conference, as well as taken in-depth looks at the extensive line-up of French and Asian cinema on offer. This final piece of pre-fest coverage spotlights some of the remaining awards programs and special events that will no doubt help make this festival one for the books.

State of Cinema Address
I couldn't be more pleased with the festival's choice of Wesley Morris for this year's SOC Address. The current NY Times critic-at-large has been one of my favorite film writers since his days at the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner. His early-aughts departure from the Bay Area launched a productive decade at The Boston Globe, where he won a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2012. One of my most cherished Morris reviews is his hilarious 2009 Cannes write-up of Lars von Trier's Antichrist, titled "Charlotte, don't." Here's a sampling: "I don't think I breathed for the last half. My seatmate and I took turns grabbing each other – out of shock, out of stress, out of disbelief. At some point, I found myself reaching around the edges of my chair. I was looking for a seatbelt." Morris will deliver the State of Cinema address at the Victoria Theatre on Saturday, April 30 and is expected to speak on "the radicalization of Sidney Poitier and how it parallels the current climate of race in the movies."

Peter J. Owens Award
The festival held off until three days before SFIFF59's start date before announcing the recipient of its annual acting award – talk about good things coming to those who wait! None other than Ellen Burstyn will receive this year's Peter J. Owens Award at the Victoria Theatre on Saturday, April 23. At An Afternoon with Ellen Burstyn, the star of stage, screen and TV will discuss her career before introducing a screening of Darren Aronofsky's 2000 shock masterpiece Requiem for a Dream, for which Burstyn was robbed of a second Oscar® by Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich. The 83-year-old actress can currently be seen in the fifth season of Netflix' hit series House of Cards. She also has a co-starring role in Todd Solondz' new film Wiener-Dog, which plays SFIFF59 as well.

Contemporary Color
For one night the festival expands from the hip Mission District to the even hipper Hayes Valley neighborhood for a free outdoor screening of Contemporary Color. This new documentary from Turner Ross and Bill Ross IV documents the mega-spectacular event spearheaded by David Byrne in which championship color guard teams performed elaborate routines to music performed live by Nelly Furtado, St. Vincent, Money Mark + Ad-Rock, Tune-Yards and others. Reservations are recommended for this free screening that takes place on Friday, April 29 at Proxy, "a temporary two-block project that mobilizes a flexible environment of food, art, culture, and retail within renovated shipping containers." The exact address is 432 Octavia Street. To get an idea of what this film's about, check out David Byrne's mission statement on the Contemporary Color website, or the plethora of amateur YouTube videos shot at the actual Contemporary Colors events last summer (such as this amazing one from Tune-Yards). The filmmaking Ross Brothers, who won the Golden Gate Award for Best Documentary Feature at last year's festival for Western, are expected to attend this very special screening.

Kanbar Award
Ellen Burstyn won't be the only Oscar® winner on hand at this year's festival. SFIFF59's Kanbar Storytelling Award will go to Tom McCarthy, the actor-writer-director who took home filmdom's biggest honor for Spotlight's Best Original Screenplay (a film he also happened to direct). An Evening with Tom McCarthy takes place at Berkeley's fabulous new Pacific Film Archive on Tuesday, April 26 and will feature an on-stage conversation conducted by SF Film Society Executive Director Noah Cowan. There will also be a screening of McCarthy's 2003 screenwriting and directorial debut The Station Agent, which won Sundance's Audience Award and introduced much of the world to the talents Bobby Cannavale, Patricia Clarkson and especially, Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage. According to the Film on Film Foundation's Bay Area calendar, The Station Agent will be one of two SFIFF59 screenings in 35mm.

VR Day
The only thing I know about VR is that it stands for Virtual Reality. That's something I hope to change on Saturday, April 30 when SFIFF59 presents VR Day, "a pilot program designed to showcase emergent storytellers in virtual reality filmmaking." In order to participate, you buy a ticket for a time slot between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. which entitles the bearer to a 60-minute session using Samsung Gear. That same ticket also allows one to attend several VR artist panels and experience Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, Nokia and other Samsung VR tools on a walk-in basis. Featured VR films and stories will include Special Delivery from Aardman Animations co-founder Peter Lord and Seeking Pluto's Frigid Heart, which "creates a stereoscopic virtual reality experience that will bring viewers to Pluto." All of this takes place at Gray Area, a non-profit "supporting art and technology for social good" located in the former Grand Theatre on Mission Street, just down the block from Alamo Drafthouse's New Mission Theatre.

Revival Screenings
In addition to classic films being screened in connection with awards programs like Requiem for a Dream, Blood Simple, The Station Agent and Monsoon Wedding, SFIFF59 will host three additional repertory/revival events. In honor of LV-426, the exomoon that harbored the dastardly Xenomorph eggs in the Alien movie franchise, the festival in conjunction with Alamo Drafthouse will host a 30th anniversary showing of James Cameron's Aliens on 4-26-16. Both the Castro Theatre and PFA will host screenings of the classic 1955 UK noir thriller Cast a Dark Shadow, in a brand new digital 2K restoration. The film stars Dirk Bogarde as a sociopathic homme fatale looking to bump off his second wife and is directed by Lewis Gilbert, who would make a star of Michael Caine in Alfie as well as direct three James Bond flicks. Finally on May 1 at the Castro Theatre, there'll be a 20th anniversary presentation of Cheryl Dunye's New Queer Cinema breakthrough, The Watermelon Woman, which is recognized as the first feature film directed by a Black lesbian. Following the screening, Dunye will take part in an on-stage conversation with SF State Assistant Professor of Sexuality Studies, Darius Bost. 

Cross-published at The Evening Class.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

SFIFF59 2016 Focus: Asian Cinema

Perhaps it's a just matter of perception, but it appears there might be fewer Asian films at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival. Admittedly, not many movies from the continent generated festival buzz in 2015 and several of those that did, such as Hou Hsiou-hsien's The Assassin, Apitchatpong Weerasethakul's Cemetery of Splendor and Jia Zheng-ke's Mountains May Depart have already played the Bay Area. The biggest surprise is that there isn't a single film representing Southeast Asia. Fortunately, there's still plenty to look forward to from the region, including the film that topped my wish list for SFIFF59 inclusion. Here's a country by country overview. 

South Korea
Of all the films in the festival I'm most excited about Hong Sang-soo's Right Now, Wrong Then. It's the director's 17th feature in a 20-year career, which probably makes him Asia's most prolific (non-genre) arthouse filmmaker. His works never receive a Bay Area theatrical release, so I'm incredibly grateful to SFIFF for screening his movies year after year. I confess that I haven't always been a fan. The protagonists in his early efforts were so obnoxiously pathetic as to render the experience of watching them insufferable. That began to change somewhere around 2009's Like You Know It All and I've been on the Hong love train since. The 65-minute bonbon Hill of Freedom was the funniest movie I saw at last year's festival.

Some critics accuse Hong of making the same movie over and over again. From what I've read, it sure doesn’t sound like Right Now, Wrong Then will change any minds. All the familiar Hong tropes appear firmly in place – an artistic-type male protagonist travels out of town and attempts to hook up with an enigmatic female, accompanied by lots of booze consumption and Hong invariably messing with the story's narrative's structure. More specifically in this new movie, a film director comes to Seoul for a festival and meets an attractive artist while sightseeing, followed by an alcohol-fueled incident that turns things sour. At the film's mid-point the clock gets reset, with the title changing to Right Then, Wrong Now. The entire story gets replayed with slight variances, affording the hero a shot at redemption. The jury at last year's Locarno Film Festival gave the film its top prize, the Golden Leopard, as well as the best actor award to leading man, Jeong Jae-yeong.

While RNWT might be the lone South Korean entry in SFIFF59, it's also worth mentioning Vitaly Mansky's Russian documentary Under the Sun, which adds to the recent groundswell of non-fiction films reporting on life inside North Korea. Under the Sun is one of 11 films competing in the Golden Gate Awards Documentary Feature Competition.

There are three Japanese selections at the festival and I've had an opportunity to preview two. I especially recommend Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Journey to the Shore, which is the director's latest metaphysical exploration and his best film since 2008's Tokyo Sonata. In the pre-opening credits sequence, a piano teacher comes home to find that her husband, played by Japanese superstar Tadanobu Asano, has returned home after dying at sea three years previous. He invites her on a journey to experience the villages where he "lived" during his absence, working as a newspaper assistant at one location and a cook/astrophysicist teacher at another. Journey to the Shore is filled with melancholy longing and regret, as well as a goofy kind of sweetness. This being Kurosawa, one keeps waiting for the appearance of some malevolent entity that never (quite) shows up. Stylistic flourishes include the dimming and brightening of interior settings for emotional effect, and an archaically sweeping music score that lies somewhere between Max Steiner and Arvo Pärt. Journey to the Shore premiered at Cannes and received mixed reviews, with some critics calling it an "overlong afterlife story" that's "undecided if it belongs in the arthouse or on afternoon TV." Un Certain Regard jury members rightfully thumbed their nose at these naysayers, awarding Kurosawa the sidebar's Best Director prize.

I've also taken a look at Ryûsake Hamaguchi's Happy Hour, which has the distinction of being SFIFF59's longest movie at 317 minutes. Is it worth the huge time investment? My answer is a qualified yes. Happy Hour centers on the lives of four 30-something women in Kobe who are best friends. When one of them announces her impending divorce, plus the fact that she's having an extra-marital affair, it destabilizes the group and causes the others to question their own relationships with men. Hamaguchi's film is rich with character detail and features several extended set pieces that invite comparisons to Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer. I was particularly struck by how the director places his actors within the frame, achieving meaning via their relationship to the camera and each other. Unfortunately Happy Hour wears out its welcome in the plot-heavy final hour, which also includes the least engaging of the aforementioned set pieces. The performances by the quartet of first-time, non-professional actresses are effective, if occasionally awkward. Collectively they won the Best Actress prize at Locarno. The script, which was developed through a series of workshops, also won that festival's Best Screenplay prize. The third Japanese SFIFF59 selection is Eiichirô Hasumi's Assassination Classroom, which screens in the festival's Dark Wave sidebar.

China/Hong Kong
There are zero narrative features from China in the festival, which is quite a contrast to last year's powerful and artistically accomplished triple punch of Black Coal Thin Ice, Red Amnesia and Dearest. The closest we come this year is Paths of the Soul, a highly acclaimed docudrama from narrative filmmaker Zhang Yang (Shower, Getting Home). The director's latest recreates a grueling 1,200 mile pilgrimage to Lhasa during which a group of 11 Tibetan Buddhist devotees stop every few yards to prostate themselves. Along the way they endure extreme temperatures, flooded roads and a mini-avalanche. Stops are made en route, once for a participant to give birth, and again for the group to perform manual labor in order to earn travel expense money. In his rave review for Variety, Richard Kuipers calls Paths of the Soul "a stirring study in faith and spirituality that will inspire many viewers to think about big and small questions of life." The other mainland Chinese documentary at SFIFF59 is A Young Patriot. The film traces the disillusioned transition of a die-hard young Maoist as he's forced to confront the realities of his country's rush to cutthroat capitalism. The film's director, Du Haibin, is expected to attend the festival.

The SF Film Society presides over a separate Hong Kong Cinema festival each autumn. That, combined with the fact that Hong Kong (and mainland Chinese) films now receive year-round Bay Area theatrical exhibition could explain why there are only two HK flicks at SFIFF59. The one I'm looking forward to is the U.S. premiere of Hong Kong Trilogy: Preschooled Preoccupied Preposterous, the third directorial effort from ace cinematographer Christopher Doyle (known for his work with Gus Van Sant, Zhang Yimou, Pen-ek Ratanaruang and most memorably, Wong Kar-wai). Each section of this docudrama triptych spotlights a different generation, with "actors" playing slightly modified versions of themselves. The first is set amongst a group of elementary schoolchildren, the second focuses on young people involved in the 2014 "Umbrella Revolution" and the third spends time with a group of "speed dating" seniors. According to reviews, the middle segment is by far the most compelling. Also representing Hong Kong at SFIFF59 is Trivisa, a high-octane crime thriller set during HK's 1997 handover to China, which screens in the festival's Dark Wave sidebar.

The big news here is that Mira Nair will be given the festival's Irving M. Levin Directing Award, making her the first woman to receive the honor since its inception in 1986 (when it was initially called the Akira Kurosawa Award and later, the Founders Directing Award). The India-born, New York-based filmmaker will be on hand for an An Afternoon with Mira Nair at the Castro Theatre on Sunday, April 24. The program will include an on-stage conversation, clips reel and a revival screening of the fabulous 2001 Oscar® nominated Monsoon Wedding (in 35mm!). We're also promised a preview of Queen of Katwe, Nair's upcoming biopic of Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi starring Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo. Be sure to check out Michael Fox' excellent SF Film Society Blog essay on Nair's career, Mira Nair: Between Two Worlds.

The only new Indian film showing at the festival is Raam Reddy's Thithi, was has gotten plenty of attention since winning the New Directors Prize at Locarno. It screened at last month's New Directors New Films series in New York (along with nine other films playing SFIFF59) and will compete for our festival's New Directors Prize as well. In this folk comedy-of-errors set in a South Indian village, three generations of sons react in very different, but all too human ways to the death of the family's 101-year-old patriarch. At issue is what's to be done with the old man's estate, as the family prepares for the thithi, or final funeral celebration taking place 11 days after death.

The festival has done a fine job programming new Turkish cinema in recent years and I'm thrilled they've secured Emin Alper's Frenzy for SFIFF59 inclusion. The director's second feature won the Special Jury Prize at last year's Venice Film Festival. Set in an Istanbul shantytown amidst a quasi-apocalyptic, near-future dystopia, Frenzy's protagonist has just been released from prison after 20 years. He's assigned the job of combing through people's garbage in search of terrorism clues and lives with his brother whose occupation is shooting stray dogs. Reviews describe Frenzy with adjectives like "tense," "brooding" and "paranoid," making special mention of its dark visual palette and nerve-jarring sound design of explosions, alarm bells, rattling trucks and clanging metal doors. "A parable about a society brought to heel by its fear of terrorism" is how Jay Weissberg sums up Frenzy in his review for Variety, a description that certainly has applications extending beyond Turkey given our planet's current socio-political zeitgeist.

While there aren't any Iranian films per se at SFIFF59, there are three very promising-sounding features which are Iranian in terms of either setting or co-production. Radio Dreams is the latest from director Babak Jalali, whose Frontier Blues won the festival's FIPRESCI prize in 2010. Set during a single day at a San Francisco Farsi-language radio station, this bittersweet deadpan comedy stars Moshen Namjoo, a.k.a. the Bob Dylan of Iran, as a station manager awaiting the arrival of Metallica. The Bay Area metal band has promised to come jam in-studio with visiting Afghani rock group Kabul Dreams. Jalali's film, which won the prestigious Tiger Award at January's Rotterdam Film Festival, has been praised for how it gently touches on issues of immigration, national identity and assimilation. A large coterie of the film's talent, including the director, producers and cast members are expected to attend the festival, with Kabul Dreams performing a concert after the April 28 showing at the Victoria Theatre.

Although I'm not a particular fan of genre films, I have no intention of missing debut filmmaker Babak Anvari's Under the Shadow, which has garnered terrific write-ups as it's traveled the 2016 U.S. festival circuit. The story takes place in a Tehran apartment building near the end of the Iran/Iraq war where Shideh, a resentful, aspiring female doctor lives with her young daughter. When a missile crashes through the roof of the top floor unit, it unleashes an evil force that takes special interest in the girl. In his favorable review for Variety, Justin Chang asks us to imagine Under the Shadow as "an Asghar Farhadi remake of The Babadook," with "feminist anger blazing at its core." He also praises lead actress Narges Rashidi, who "plays Shideh like an instrument slowly going out of tune, modulating skillfully between maternal tetchiness and scream-queen abandon." The film unsurprisingly screens under the festival's Dark Wave banner.

Finally in the documentary Sonita, an 18-year-old undocumented Afghani refugee lives in a Tehran homeless shelter, all the while aspiring to become a rapper. Tensions come to a head when her mother tries to return her to Afghanistan, where she'll be sold for $9,000 so her brother can afford his own bride. In the World Cinema Documentary section at Sundance, Sonita won the Grand Jury Prize as well as the Audience Award. Director Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami, who ends up stepping outside her role as objective filmmaker in order to assist Sonita, is expected to appear at the SFIFF59 screenings.

Cross-published at The Evening Class.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

SFIFF59 2016 Focus: French Cinema

Franco-cinephiles in the Bay Area look upon the San Francisco Film Society, with its international film festival and French Cinema Now series, as their principal source for important and interesting new works emanating from France. The eight eclectic features chosen for SFIFF59 include one animated movie, two feature directing debuts, three new works from mid-career auteurs and the latest from an octogenarian I'm guessing to be the oldest filmmaker in the entire festival. Here are some thoughts about what's on offer from April 21 to May 5.

A name that links three SFIFF59 French selections is Thomas Bidegain, the screenwriter best known for deconstructing genre-movie masculinity in his work with director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet, Rust and Bone and last year's Cannes Palmes d'Or winner Dheepan.) Bidegain finally makes his directorial debut with Cowboys, a contemporary drama that's been thematically linked to John Ford's 1956 western The Searchers. Here the protagonist is a French aficionado of American cowboy culture whose daughter converts to Islam in 1995 and then disappears. He sets off to find her, and following the events of 9/11 he's joined by his son in a years-long search that touches down in Syria and Afghanistan. The film received very positive reviews when it premiered in Cannes' Director's Fortnight sidebar last year, but reactions from Toronto and the NY Film Fest were less kind. One reviewer went so far as to sum up Cowboys as "meatheaded pulp." Regardless, it remains a must-see for this SFIFF59 attendee.

Bidegain also lends a screenwriting assist to Clément Cogitore's Neither Heaven Nor Earth, which is competing for the festival's New Directors Prize. The film premiered in Cannes' Critics Week sidebar and has toured the festival circuit thus far as The Wakhan Front. Fortunately it's been renamed with a literal translation of the French title, Ni le ciel ni la terre. Jérémie Renier stars as a French army captain serving in Afghanistan. After several men under his command disappear, followed in short order by a handful of nearby villagers, a suspicion of paranormal or perhaps even theological causation comes into play. Reviews have been favorable, with some quibbling over the effectiveness of the film's denouement – or its lack thereof. Renier is one of my favorite French actors and it's hard to believe 20 years have passed since his teenage debut in the Dardenne brothers' breakout film, La Promesse. It's worth noting Renier played another Afghan War vet in last year's The Great Man, which screened at French Cinema Now, and he appeared at last year's fest in Bertrand Bonello's Saint Laurent biopic, whose script also bore a Thomas Bidegain imprint.

The third SFIFF59 selection with script collaboration by Bidegain is Joachim Lafosse's The White Knights. Belgian director Lafosse is known for a trio of effectively transgressive domestic dramas – Private Lessons (2006), Private Property (2008) and Our Children (2012) – none of which, to the best of my knowledge, have ever screened in the Bay Area. Lafosse broadens his scope with the ironically titled The White Knights, based on the true story of earnest NGO workers employing dubious means to smuggle orphans out of Africa for eventual adoption in France. The film stars Vincent Lindon, who took home the best actor prize at last year's Cannes for The Measure of a Man (French Cinema Now 2015), as well as actor/director Valérie Donzelli as a reporter embedded with the NGO. Lafosse, whose "gift for sustained emotional tension and moral ambiguity" was praised in Justin Chang's positive review for Variety, won the Best Director prize at last year's San Sebastián Film Festival for The White Knights.

I've had the pleasure of previewing two of SFIFF59's French selections, but their "hold review" status restricts to me to brief remarks. First off, I flat-out adored Michel Gondry's Microbe and Gasoline, which is his best film since 2006's The Science of Sleep (and I say this without having seen the poorly reviewed The Green Hornet or Mood Indigo). In this wondrous road movie about two teenage outsiders, Gondry tones down his predilection for frenzied whimsy and aims for something more low-key and heartfelt. Microbe is a budding artist nicknamed for his small size and resultant low self esteem, while his unlikely pal Gasoline exudes self confidence and possesses a talent for things mechanical. After cobbling together a petrol-powered cottage on wheels complete with geranium boxes, they hit the summertime byways of rural France in an effort to escape worrisome problems at home. Gondry's endearing script thumbs its nose at our high tech world – an iPhone literally gets pooped on – and low-fi surprises await our heroes, and us, with each passing kilometer. I'll be surprised if I see a funnier movie this year.

When it comes to animation, I sheepishly admit I'm not much of an enthusiast. When I noticed that Phantom Boy hailed from the same creators as the extraordinary A Cat in Paris, however, I couldn't resist having a look. Jean-Loup and Alain Gagnol's latest is set in an alternate NYC where everyone speaks French and a Dick Tracy-like villain threatens to unleash a cataclysmic computer virus. A wheelchair-bound cop and a plucky journalist (voiced by Audrey Tautou), with assistance from a terminally ill boy who's discovered a way to float outside his body, all work in tandem to put an end to his treachery. While I wasn't as impressed by Phantom Boy as compared to Cat (which the festival screened five years ago), I was still taken by its vibrant rendering of the Big Apple and the genuinely moving plight of its juvenile protagonist. Both elements should be greatly enhanced via a big screen experience, and co-director Gagnol is expected to attend the festival screenings. Animation fans might also want to check out additional titles being screened in SFIFF59's World Cinema Spotlight: Animating the Image. For those who miss them at the festival, Microbe and Gasoline will open in Bay Area Landmark Theatres on July 15, followed by Phantom Boy on July 29 (although the latter could possibly show up in a dubbed version).

I've considered Anne Fontaine a fairly middling director for some time now. Her recent efforts have included Coco Before Chanel (vastly inferior to Jan Kounen's Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky released the same year), My Worst Nightmare (Isabelle Huppert embarrassing herself as a rich-bitch buffoon) and Adore (Naomi Watts and Robin Wright having sex with each others' sons). The thought of her making a movie about pregnant nuns is enough to induce major eye-rolling. That movie, however, which premiered at Sundance as Agnus Dei and is now titled The Innocents, has gotten rave reviews and is now one of my most anticipated films of SFIFF59. Set in 1945 Poland, it stars Lou de Laâge, a relatively unknown actress outside of France, as a French Red Cross doctor on a mission to assist concentration camp survivors. Her efforts become diverted upon discovering a convent of pregnant nuns who were raped by Russian soldiers, many of them consumed by shame and now perhaps questioning their faith in God. In his review for Variety, Justin Chang calls The Innocents Fontaine's "finest film in years," admiring how it "manages to respect faith even though it refuses to partake in it." He also singles out two performances for special praise. Agata Kulesza, who was memorable as the hard-edged aunt in Pawel Pawlikowski's Ida, plays the convent's strict Reverend Mother, and Vincent Macaigne, an actor heretofore known exclusively for his schlubby slacker roles, appears as a more experienced doctor brought in to assist with childbirths.

The octogenarian referred to earlier is 82-year-old French-Georgian director Otar Iosseliani, who's a long-time SFIFF favorite. His latest is titled Winter Song and it's the filmmaker's 12th movie to play the festival in 30 years. For me, Iosseliani reached a career high with 1999's masterful Farewell, Home Sweet Home. Since then his style of stringing together sight gag-filled absurdist vignettes has become overly precious, reaching an insufferable nadir with 2006's Gardens in Autumn. Iosseliani actually flew to San Francisco five years ago to screen his semi-autobiographical Chantrapas. While I didn't care much for the film, I was delighted by his spirited Q&A that continued long past midnight. Winter Song premiered in competition at last year's Locarno Film Festival and can seemingly be summed up in three words – geezer buddy comedy. The film has its champions, particularly Eric Kohn at Indiewire. If I decide to catch Winter Song, it'll be due to a featured performance by legendary French comic actor/director Pierre Étaix, as well as an extended cameo by Mathieu Amalric. The latter made his screen acting debut at age 19 in Iosseliani's Favourites of the Moon.

The only SFIFF59 French selection not previously on my radar is Pascale Breton's Suite Armoricaine, which premiered at Locarno and brought home the festival's FIPRESCI prize. Illumination, Breton's previous (and only other) feature screened at the fest 10 years ago, but it seems I missed it. Her latest centers around an art history professor who becomes destabilized after leaving a 15-year relationship in Paris. She comes to teach at her alma mater in the Brittany capital of Rennes, where her past and present become tangled in heady and dreamlike ways. There's no one in the cast I've heard of, but the reviews are stellar and the trailer is captivating. SFFS programmer Rod Armstrong makes a reference to director Arnaud Despechin in the festival capsule, which pretty much seals the deal right there. Pascale Breton is also expected to attend the film's SFIFF59 screenings.

Finally, I'll make mention of Chantal Akerman's No Home Movie, which is of course in French and is the only Belgian film in the festival that's not merely a co-production. I previewed No Home Movie via Fandor and will be necessarily brief due to its "hold review" status. As many people know, iconic experimental-feminist filmmaker Akerman committed suicide two months after the film's premiere at Locarno. It's essentially an ode to her concentration camp survivor mother and speaks to the idea that "there's no more distance in the world." We observe Akerman and her mother interacting within the confines of a Brussels apartment, as well as via Skype during the director's time abroad. As her mother's condition deteriorates, the camera pulls back and records her from increased distances. No Home Movie requires a patience not every moviegoer possesses. Lengthy static shots – of a treetop whipping in the wind, an empty room devoid of people, a tracking shot of barren, scrub-covered hills filmed from a moving car – achieve profundity from the mundane for those willing to dig deep. If you miss No Home Movie at the festival, it will screen again at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts from May 19 to 22, along with I Don't Belong Anywhere, Marianne Lambert's new career-spanning documentary on Akerman.

Cross-published at The Evening Class.