View Full Version : San Francisco International Film Festival 2013

Chris Knipp
03-20-2013, 08:30 PM

San Francisco International Film Festival 2013 April 25-May 9

ALL FILMS (SFIFF WEBSITE) (http://prod3.agileticketing.net/websales/pages/list.aspx?epguid=db9c7f13-edc8-489f-bc28-5aa111f9970e&)

FORUMS THREAD (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3472-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013-%28year-56%29&p=29939#post29939)

Links to the reviews:

Act of Killing, The (Joshua Oppenheimer 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3441-New-Directors-New-Films-and-Film-Comment-Selects-2013&p=29809#post29809)
After Lucia/Después de Lucía (Michel Franco 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30084&posted=1#post30084)
Artist and the Model, The (Fernando Truba 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30016#post30016)
Before Midnight (Richard Linklater 2013) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30033#post30033)
Chimeras (Mike Matilla 2013) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30112&posted=1#post30112)
Cleaner, The (Adrian Saba 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30023&posted=1#post30023)
Cold War (Longman Leung, Sunny Luk 2013) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30095#post30095)
Computer Chess (Andrew Bujalski 2013) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30066#post30066)
Ernest & Célestine Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30032#post30032)
Eight Deadly Shots (Mikko Niskanen 1972) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30030#post30030)
Fill the Void (Rana Burshtein 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3341-New-York-Film-Festival-2012&p=28572#post28572)
Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3341-New-York-Film-Festival-2012&p=28484#post28484)
Futuro, Il (Alicia Scherson 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30017&posted=1#post30017)
Habi, the Foreigner (María Florencia Álvarez 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30018&posted=1#post30018)
Hijacking, A (Tobias Lindholm2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3441-New-Directors-New-Films-and-Film-Comment-Selects-2013&p=29795#post29795)
In the Fog (Sergei Loznitsa 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30106&posted=1#post30106)
Juvenile Offender (Kang Yi-Kwan 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30022#post30022)
Key of Life (Kenji Uchida 2012)
La Sirga (William Vega 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30031#post30031)
Last Step, The (Ali Mosaffa 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30028#post30028)
Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Peravel 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3341-New-York-Film-Festival-2012&p=28541&posted=1#post28541)
Memories Look at Me (Song Fang 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3341-New-York-Film-Festival-2012&p=28528#post28528)
Museum Hours (Jem Cohen 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30019#post30019)
Nights with Théodore (Sébastien Betbeder 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30020&posted=1#post30020)
Night Across the Street (Raul Ruiz 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3341-New-York-Film-Festival-2012&p=28534#post28534)
Patience Stone, The (Atiq Rahimi 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30021#post30021)
Pearblossom Highway (Mike Ott 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30082#post30082)
Penance (Kiyoahi Kurosawa 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30129#post30129)
Present Tense (Belmin Söylemez 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30077#post30077)
Rosie (Marcel Gisler 2013) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30091#post30091)
Sofia's Last Ambulance (Ilian Metev 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30119#post30119)
Something in the Air (Olivier Assayas 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3341-New-York-Film-Festival-2012&p=28583#post28583)
Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3441-New-Directors-New-Films-and-Film-Comment-Selects-2013&p=29856#post29856)
Strange Little Cat, The (Ramon Zürcher 2013) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30069#post30069)
Tall as the Baobab Tree (Jeremy Teicher 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30104#post30104)
Thérèse Desqueyroux (Claude Miller 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3443-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2013&p=29665#post29665)
What Maisie Knew (David Siegel, Scott McGehee 20113) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30026#post30026)
Youth (Justine Malle 2013) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3470-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2013&p=30072#post30072)

SFIFF56 Opening Night: What Maisie Knew

April 25; Screening 7:00, Party 9:30 Castro Theatre and Temple Nightclub


The 56th San Francisco International Film Festival opens with a screening of What Maisie Knew.
In this loose adaptation of Henry James's 1897 novel of the same name, Scott McGehee and David Siegel focus on the effects of a marriage's unraveling as viewed through the eyes of a couple's six-year-old daughter. Shuttling between narcissistic parents and bemused but compassionate parental stand-ins, young Maisie comes face to face with the mercurial world of grown-ups who are anything but. With Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgård, Onata Aprile, Steve Coogan. Directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel and Actor Onata Aprile Expected!

SFIFF56 Centerpiece: Inequality For All

May 4; Screening 6:30, Party 8:30 Sundance Kabuki Cinemas and Roe
Director Jacob Kornbluth and Subject Robert Reich Expected!


At the center of the Festival is an extraordinary event featuring an impassioned new film by a celebrated director followed by a chic lounge party at one of San Francisco's hottest nightspots, Roe. Be part of one of the Festival's most anticipated events. For more film and party details, visit sffs.org.

In this Inconvenient Truth for the economy, the Sundance Special Jury Award-winning Inequality For All introduces former Secretary of Labor (and current UC Berkeley professor) Robert Reich as an inspirational and humorous guide in exploring the causes and consequences of the widening income gap in America and asks what is means for the future of our economy and nation. Passionate and insightful, Reich connects the dots for viewers by providing a comprehensive and significantly deeper understanding of what's at stake if we don't act.

Closing Night film: Richard Linklater's BEFORE MIDNIGHT

May 9; Screening, 7:00, Party 9:00 Castro Theatre and Ruby Skye *
Director Richard Linklater Expected!


They're still the same romantic, articulate and gorgeous couple that met on a train in Linklater's Before Sunrise (1995), but now, nearly 20 years on, Jesse and Céline (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) are approaching middle age and facing questions of commitment, family and, as ever, the staying power of love. Before Midnight, with a funny and touching screenplay cowritten by Linklater and his two lead actors, is that rare sequel (rarer still: a sequel to a sequel) that not only delivers the charm and energy of its antecedents but adds layers of poignancy, standing firmly on its own as a mature observation of love's pleasures and discontents. With Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Jennifer Prior, Charlotte Prior.

Chris Knipp
04-16-2013, 06:03 PM


Which is the model?

In black and white, with a faultless evocation of the Forties, Spanish director Fernando Truba's The Artist and the Model depicts an aging sculptor called Marc Cros (he has known Cézanne and Matisse) who briefly works with a young woman, a refuge from Spain, just taken over by Franco, Mercè (Aida Folch). It's the summer of 1943, in occupied France, not far from the Spanish border. Jean Rochefort is the sculptor, and as his once beautiful wife Léa we get none other than Claudia Cardinale. The screenplay was written by Jean-Claude Carriére, who wrote all of Luís Buñuel's French language scripts. These credentials are enough to recommend this quiet, inconsequential but immaculately composed film to festival and mature art house audiences.

American viewers may remember Jean Rochefort playing opposite Johnny Hallyday in Patrice Leconte's 2002 L'homme du train/Man on the Train. He even had a role in the high-speed French thriller Tell No One. But I always think of the story told in the documentary Lost in La Mancha (also 2002) of how Terry Gilliam's film version of Don Quixote was sabotaged when Jean Rochefort hurt his back and could not play the lead. Tall, aristocratic, fine-boned, but with an erratic slightly sleepy look in his eyes, the perennial Rochefort, who is now 82 and has been in movies since the Fifties, would have been a perfect Don Quixote -- for looks, anyway. He seems a bit distant as a actor, and usually appears on the periphery of films even when he's at the center of them. That's why it's moving to see him as the main character in a classic, almost mythical story. Girl comes, artist makes sculpture of girl, girl goes away, artist fades. A famous artist in retreat, Marc Cros is a tired and disillusioned man, not a stretch for Rochefort with his weary, far-away look.

What distinguishes this film apart from its Mediterranean light and quiet rhythms (World War II is winding down, but seems far away), is its sweetness. The young woman is not pouty like the one who poses in the pretty new film Renoir ( (http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=2299")R-V 2013). She seems ready to make love to the old artist, and does kiss and caress and hug him. And he tells her his wife was the most beautiful model who ever posed for him. Mercè and Léa caress each others faces in parting and tell each other how beautiful they are. The sculptor struggles to get started (what else?) but then turns out a mid-sized plaster cast of a woman with elbow on knee that's almost worthy of Maillol. In a major monologue, he tells Mercè there are two and only two proofs of the existence of God: the body of woman, and olive oil -- a life lesson from the 81-year-old Jean-Clause Carrière, no doubt. One of the true stars of the film is the artist's cluttered studio full of maquettes, plaster sculptures, drawings, and soft light. Props to cameraman Daniel Vilar for his fine use of black and white, which heightens the focus on the charcoal drawings and plaster models of the briefly reborn old sculptor. Aida Folch hasn't much to do but pose nude, but she has an earthiness that rings true in this otherwise awfully slow-moving and self-conscious effort.

Compare this little film with Jacque Rivette's almost four-hour La belle noiseuse (1991) starring Michel Piccoli, and you will see how much more complex a treatment of the artist-model relationship can be. And compare the careers of Piccoli and Rochefort. Piccoli is 87 now, but he is still starring in major films. Rocefort seems, in contrast, almost like a model himself more than an artist. With his tall, thin stature, his handsome "triste figura" and fine mane of hair, he always looks good in every shot, but does not add much more to the shot than his looks. However, the sadness in his face plays well into the final moments of this little film.

El artista y la modelo (the original title Spanish even though 95% of the dialogue is in French: Cardinale speaks French fluently, having been born in 1938 in Tunis) debuted at San Sebastien in September 2012 and was released in France 13 March 2013. It was not too badly received (Allociné press rating 3.4), but critics did note the sad truth that it is stiff, boring, clichéd, and yes, a "pale copy of La belle noiseuse." Screened for this review as part of the SFIFF, April 2013.

Opened in NYC August 2, 2013. Metacritic rating 49.

Chris Knipp
04-16-2013, 06:19 PM


Orphans in Rome

For her third feature Chilean writer-director Alicia Scherson -- whose Santiago-set debut, Play (http://www.cinescene.com/knipp/sfiff.htm), (SFIFF 2006) I loved -- has adapted a final hitherto untranslated novella, Una novelita lumpen, by the noted Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003). (Bolaño's National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Pynchon-like 2666 is his best known work in the US.) Viewing Il Futuro at Sundance, Variety's Alissa Simon called (http://variety.com/2013/film/reviews/the-future-2-1117949106/)it a "moody head scratcher," and the story's trajectory indeed makes it wind up feeling atmospheric but curiously inconsequential; one wants to say "So what?" In a nutshell, Bianca (Manuela Martelli) and her younger brother Tomaso (Luigi Ciardo) become orphans in Rome when their parents are killed in a car accident, and falling heir to their father's pension they're allowed by home services, on approval, to live on by themselves in their parents' nice suburban apartment. They both see a strange bright light, made visible to them, according to Tomaso, by "paranormal" energy released by the accident -- one of several novelistic ideas fed to us too fast to make sense of. Hanging out in a gym now instead of gong to school, Tomaso brings two dubious young body builders/"personal trainers" to the house and they not only move in, but sleep with Bianca, and then persuade her to begin sleeping with a decrepit and now blind ex-Mr. Universe and former star of Italian Hercules or Maciste movies (Rutger Hauer), to find a stash of money they think the paranoid, reclusive "Maciste" has stored in a strong box at his big dark house.

Il Futuro begins with handsome film noir or Sixties Italian B-picture opening credits, and the tech aspects are all fine. The film's betrayal of conventional expectations fits Scherson's genius as exhibited in Play, and its lack of point seems intentional: it's all meant to be seen as a youthful episode: what counts is not this but the future, "il futuro." At the end Bianca and Tomaso have said goodbye to Maciste and the sleazy gym rats and are ready to move on, though they still have a feeling of apprehension about something ominous in the air. If the Rome of Il Futuro, which is in Italian and English and appears to follow Bolaño's novel rather faithfully, hasn't the intimate and personal feel of the filmmaker's Santiago in Play, it again has vivid, clearly realized scenes (or memorably murky ones in the house of the blind old actor) and a sense of place, and the people also are distinctive and present. But while Scherson's new film comes closer to conventional narrative then her two earlier ones, it's only close enough to leave one frustrated.

Play took place in bright sunlight. Il Futuro is dominated by the oppressive "afa" of a Roman summer, and subtly ominous throbbing music (by Caroline Chaspoul and Eduardo Henriquez) dominates the scenes, especially the ones in the dim interiors of Maciste's house, where the photography mimics his blindness by making it hard for the viewer to discern spaces clearly. There is a certain humor in the scenes at home with the sub-mental harmlessly thuggish body builders Libio (Nicolas Vaporidis) and Boloñes (Alessandro Giallocosta), "blood brothers" who are very domestic, straighten up, do the dishes, and serve proper cooked meals like lasagna or spaghetti and meatballs, but otherwise live like slobs. While Bianca is always going out for her dark sessions with Maciste (who thinks he is rotting inside and his sperm is turning black) or to work at the hairdresser's where she's taken a servile job, Tomaso watches porn pirated off the cable TV system, hoping to train for when he loses his virginity. There is constant snacking, making of sandwiches by Maciste, and everyone is always popping open canned soft drinks.

Tomaso's and Bianca's giving up going to school and getting involved in these inconsequential digressions, parallel to the "fugures" in Play, seems to be a sign that the sudden loss of their parents has left them rudderless and rebellious. For a while Tomaso follows Libio and Boloñes around like a puppy, but he doesn't seem in their thrall. Bianca, whose voiceovers punctuate the film, thinks for a while she's in love with Maciste (Rutger Hauer, speaking only English, seeming alternately sad, menacing, or strange). But she decides the search for the strong box is stupid and she's not interested in Maciste any more either, and she commands the body builders to move out while she and Tomaso go for a walk in the Roman hills and eat ice cream cones. And that's the end of it. Maybe you would get it better if you'd read Bolaño's novella. Il Futuro isn't satisfying, but I'll still think Scherson is a smart, distinctive filmmaker.

Il Futuro debuted at Sundance, and a week later at Rotterdam. Theatrical releases are set for Italy 6 June and Germany 12 September 2013. It was screened for this review as part of the SFIFF (showing May 7-8-9, 2013 ).

Chris Knipp
04-16-2013, 06:27 PM


Running away and joining a mosque in Buenos Aires

In Argentinian director Florencia Alvarez's first feature, Analia (Martina Juncadella), a 20-year-old from the provinces whose family runs a hairdressing salon, comes to Buenos Aires to deliver a package, and, running into a funeral in the Muslim community, feels welcomed. She's even given several of the possessions of the deceased. This somehow contributes to a decision to change identities. She phones excuses to her mother and stays in town, checking into a cheap, raucous residential hotel. She starts to "pass" as an orphaned refugee from Lebanon making up the name Habiba Rifat, Habi for short. She goes to an Arabic class at the mosque and the ever-friendly women put Muslim headdress on her. The consistently excellent Juncadella plays her character as shy and delicate, but also supple and protean, adept at deception. She fools us too, so we aren't surprised when she gets a delivery job at the Lebanese grocery -- some of these details are vague. This in turn leads her to meet Hassan (Martin Slipak), a handsome young employee who was brought from Lebanon at the age of five and feels estranged from his origins in spite of being able to read, write, and speak Arabic. Hassan is immediately drawn to Analia and she to him, and this leads to a date, which "Habi" botches. And then the deception begins to fall apart. In frustration with the date gone wrong, Analita gives in to her rowdy house-mate Margerita's invitation to come partying and the headdress is off, the hair flows and so does the beer, and the modest, pious "Habi" is drinking and dancing.

Reviewing the film at its Berlin debut for Hollywood Reporter (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/habi-foreigner-habi-la-extranjera-422044) Stephen Dalton called it a "puzzling portrait of cultural tourism taken to extremes," alluding to how the concept of the film is more intriguing than convincing, questions posed but unanswered, the coincidences and accidents that make the Muslims believe in "Habi" too easy.. There are pluses, however, beginning with the compelling performance of Martina Juncadella, whose mobile face you can't take your eyes off of. Florencia Álvarez maintains delicacy and texture in the unfolding of the story, which stays very close to its protagonist. Details about Islam are never botched. A sense of authenticity is greatly helped by participation of what appears to be an authentic Venezuelan imam in an acting role, a Spanish speaker who can intone the Qur'an beautifully. The mesmerizing sound of Qur'anic recitation is one of the things that first attract Analia to the community, which is depicted as peaceful and welcoming. Florencia Álvarez has said that she conceived the film several years before 9/11, before Muslims were associated so much with terrorism or paranoia. There are some good random touches, such as the funny young girl at the hotel desk (noted by Dalton) who insists in speaking to everybody in English, and the frightening fight between Margarita and a boyfriend that makes Analia cringe in her little room. This "hotel" seethes with convincing seediness just through the sound track.

Motivation for Analia's risky deception isn't provided. It also remains hard to see how she could deceive people, including the sweet religious student who befriends her, Jazmín (Lucía Alfonsín), simply by claiming to be an orphan. In adopting a fake identity, language and religion are serious hurdles. Analia's sudden rejection of the pose is also unmotivated, and the manner of it ill fits with her previous reserve. Of course anything is possible, but this film doesn't make it seem quite as possible as it should. To say as Giovanni Marchini Camia of Film Comment (http://www.filmcomment.com/entry/berlin-2013-panorama-habi-the-foreigner-so-much-water-coming-forth-by-day) does that this film is "a variant of Antonioni’s thesis from The Passenger within a much more modest scope," is almost as ridiculous as saying it's a variant of the Bourne series, and his claim that this is an "insightful" consideration of "disorientation" at a moment of developmental confusion depends on ignoring how much the film focuses on superficial role-playing. It's nice, though, as Camia says, that Islam is shown as welcoming rather than exotic or dangerous.

Habi, la extranjera was co-produced by Walter Salles. As mentioned it debuted at the Berlinale, 12 February 2013, and it has shown at several other festivals. It was screened for this review in connection with the San Francisco International Film Festival, 25 April-May 9, 2013.

Chris Knipp
04-16-2013, 06:32 PM


Art and life in Vienna

Tall, grey haired, amiable and pensive, Vienna-born Booby Sommer could be a university lecturer. In his youth he was a promoter and manager for punk bands. In Jem Cohen's semi-documentary exploration of Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum, he's one of the guards, though he doesn't seem to be guarding anything. Rather he drinks in the work and ponders it and chats with visitors, sometimes at length, wandering the great rooms of the great museum, with their rich red, green, and brown walls and seemingly endless supply of old masters. Particularly so with a Canadian woman, Janet (cult singer and sometime actor Mary Margaret O’Hara), who's come to Austria to provide company for a relative long resident here who's in a hospital, comatose. The guard begins to accompany her sometimes, also on walks or visits to taverns. Cohen meanwhile provides a rich supply of supplementary images. It's winter. What makes Museum Hours special, because there's not a great deal happening otherwise, is the way it teaches us to see, refreshing our ability to focus on great paintings and helping us take the same eye out of doors. The difference between inside and out is enhanced by the film's two different formats. The museum views are shot in sharp, accurately colored HD. The rest were shot on Super 16, keeping softness and delicate color in the digital transfer, so they have a delicious and original faintly brush-stroked texture. And Cohen never shows you anything obvious. But besides the ideally calm, civilized, European personality of Bobby Sommer what I cheafly take away from Museum Hours are those soft, nubbly, pastel-y winter Vienna citiscapes.

A scene of Janet singing to her comatose relative in semi darkness, with fading sunlight, is memorable and special. A handsome middle-aged woman giving a tour of the Breugels (Ela Piplits) seems to tell the usual art historical message of the panoply of peasant life and the off-center angles on great events, but when she gets to Auden's poem you realize this is no ordinary lecture. There is an extra touch of passion and wisdom.

It seems for no special reason that we see boys skateboarding out of doors. But then we cut to adolescents sitting on a bench in the museum and the guard talks about how they flaunt their boredom, but ogle the sexy canvases. He also recounts extensive discussions he had with a young man who came for a while talking of "Late Capitalism" and conspicuous consumption in the teutonic still lives, saying they were the same as if an artist drew Rolexes today.

The young man suggested the museum is irrelevant. Maybe so if the triumphs of western art mean nothing to you, but the young man kept coming back. The Kunsthistorisches Museum is a treasure trove of Breugel, Rembrandt, and Vermeer. There are also notable works by Rubens, Arcimboldo ("Summer" and "Winter"; "but 'Spring' is in Paris," the guard dryly observes), Van Eyk, Dürer, Tinturetto, and Caravaggio. But this film is not a tour, and only focuses at length on the most heavily emphasized figure, Pieter Brueghel the Elder. It's also pointed out, apropos of the Rolexes gibe, that museums are a relatively new thing and make the status symbols of the rich available to everyone, though it would be nice if both museums and movies were free.

Janet's understated observations seem idiosyncratic and original and, most of the time, unscripted.

A museum is a splendid place for unnoticed people-watching. The guard notes this but the film doesn't indulge too deeply in it because to do so would be to become too aimless and lose the sense of keen, intelligent observation that Cohen shows and awakens.

Cohen, who has a philosophy background, has been a prolific and idiosyncratic documentary fimmaker, working entirely outside the commercial mainstream for thirty years on a wild variety of topics. These include a 1987 History of New York (his place of origin and home base) full of street scenes, Real Birds (from last year) a portrait of Brooklyn through people, objects and birds. Among the SFIFF 56 POV Award recipient’s other honors are a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship and an Independent Spirit Award. In 2005, the Herb Alpert Foundation awarded Cohen with its Alpert Award in the Arts, stating that he “mines the forces, wonders, damages and poetry of everyday life.” Museum Hours is one of his most elaborate, dialogue-scripted works. Indeed it could have been a bit less elaborate. As I am not alone in observing (Hollywood Reporter's (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/museum-hours-film-review-359186) Stephen Dalton says so), it would play better if lightened by 15 or 20 minutes.

Museum Hours, 107 mins., debuted at Locarno August 2012 and has shown at other festivals. It will be 28 April 2013 shown along with Cohen's receipt of the POV ("Persistence of Vision") award at the San Francisco International Film Festival and was screened as part of that festival for this review.


Chris Knipp
04-16-2013, 06:36 PM


A romantic revery in a minor key at the Buttes-Chaumont

Sébastien Betbeder's little film is a mixture of things, mainly, perhaps as the Slant (http://www.slantmagazine.com/house/2013/02/film-comment-selects-2013-nights-with-theodore/)review of it at Film Comment Selects says, environmental psychology and romantic idealism; a romantic love affair anyway, that gets sidetracked by an nocturnal obsession with a Paris park. The film begins with a history review of the Paris Parc des Buttes-Chaumont with a soft, enticing young female voiceover (by Nathalie Boutefeu ) that runs back to surprisingly vivid moving images of the park in the nineteenth century. The young lady describes, and we see, open spaces, a waterfall, an artificial lake, and a temple, and long-ago crowds of children in dark clothes and men in bowler hats. The Buttes-Chaumont stands high up in the northeastern corner of Paris in the 19th arrondissement, and when the story takes place on warm summer days it's full of people in the daytime, empty at night.

With this prologue the film jumps to a party at a Parisian apartment where Théodore (Pio Marmaï) meets Anna (Agathe Bonitzer), they dance, and there's good chemistry. They wander outside to the park and Théodore persuades Anna to climb over the fence to wander inside it. They make love, and decide to spend the night lying entwined under a wide leafy tree. And then next morning by the Métro they exchange coordinates and agree to meet and spend the next night there too. In the nights that follow they explore more of the park, and the nocturnal meetings there become a compulsion on both parts, perhaps a physical and psychological necessity for Théodore. In the daytime she's an art history major and he's an at-home proofreader, but they begin just sleeping in the daytime. And he suffers from severe asthma, though in the park at night, he's okay.

They find an abandoned pavilion and spend their nights there, though there are meditators and a nutty vagabond writer (Fabrice Adde) also in the park at night. And then things start to go wrong, and the film itself starts to come apart, unable to sustain its various strands. Still it has a certain very French and Parisian charm, seducing one at the outset and then becoming very subtly and strangely sad and upsetting, all the while intersperced with an indie-rock soundtrack that includes Antlers, Beach House, and That Summer, and nice twilight and dawn images of this quite lovely park, which few foreign tourists are likely to ever see.

Anna's older sister Suzanne (Sarah Le Picard) learns of this obsession and urges her to abandon it, and she persuades Théodore to go to a family beach house to take a break, but he has an asthma attack after three days and insists he must get back to the park. When they return to the Buttes-Chaumont Théodore becomes more possessive, there is a clash with the kooky writer that turns violent and Anna flees, her occasional voiceover ending with the declaration that she never saw Théodore or returned to the park again.

Early on there's a short interview with a (real) psychiatrist indeed specialized in environmental psychology (Dr. Emmanuel Siety) who describes how this park can have a positive power as a place. He learned of a man who lived near the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont and walked through it every day on the way to work. When his work transferred him to the city of Nantes he fell into a depression and became so incapacitated he was confined to a wheelchair. The psychologist recommended his resettling back in his old neighborhood and, monitoring his daily returns to the park, says they gradually brought him back to health. There is also the suggestion of something occult and hidden in a cave the group of meditators think lies under the park containing an enormous life-giving energy. But it's also true that the park above all belongs to the public, and to the many activities that take place there in the daytime, especially during the summertime when this story unfolds.

Nights with Théodore is initially sexy and romantic and French; atmospheric and instructive; finally a little strange and creepy. It's an interesting little film, and at least one reviewer called it "Rohmeresque," but it may try to stuff too much into one package and thus undercuts its main theme of the summer romance that, however conventional it may seem, is the essential thread that holds things together. And so a film that begins well loses its charm, though Betbeder's intent is clearly to focus on mysterious, haunting and spooky aspects of the place, at least as much as on the couple.

Les nuits avec Théodore, only 67 mins., a TV movie, whose original title IMDb lists as Je suis une ville endormie, was shown at the Turin Festival, which gives detailed information (http://www.torinofilmfest.org/?action=detail&id=10422). It is roughly his fourth short feature; his longest is 81 minutes. It opened in Paris 13 March, receiving fair reviews (the Allociné press rating is 3.1 based on 11 reviews). It played in Film Comment Selects at Lincoln Center, NYC, 22 February 2013. It was screened for this review in connection with the San Francisco International Film Festival, 25 April-May 9, where it received the FIPRESCI Award.

Chris Knipp
04-16-2013, 06:43 PM


Kabul monologue

Afghan-born Atiq Rahimi's eponymous French bestseller, scripted here by French screenwriting great Jean-Claude Carrière and directed by Rahimi in Farsi, is a riff on all that's wrong with the situation of women in the rougher parts of the Middle East, the first of which is having to live in zones of perpetual war. The film reads, or views, like a novella that's been converted into a play. But that does not keep its pared-down settings, and symbolic cast -- good soldier/bad soldier, inert husband, raucous auntie, doomed neighbors, mullah kept at bay -- from being strong and sometimes heartbreaking, even as the physical realism of film makes the generic, abstract elements look more obviously abstract. The cinematography, with interiors and costumes as handsomely color-coordinated as if this were a production of the Kirov Ballet; the limpid sunlight on the rubble-strewn town with its horizons shining in the light of dusk or dawn, is never less than ravishing. You are watching an artificial chamber piece, but it still sometimes sings. It is always a pleasure to watch Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani (who also like Rahimi lives in Paris) in the lead. (Both Rihami and the Iranian Faraani, she a big star in Iran now a recent refugee in France due to restrictions and condemnations at home, are on the way to becoming international cultural celebrities. ) She has the austere beauty of the young Joan Baez. If the basic situation is static -- the protagonist is a young wife who talks on and on to her husband lying paralyzed from a bullet -- it's also enlivened by stabbings, rape, and explosions.

The setting is described as "somewhere," but it's also obviously Kabul, Rahimi's birthplace from which he fled via Pakistan to France after the Soviet invasion. The bulk of the film was shot in Casablanca, Morocco, in a cement factory, though some exteriors were shot in Kabul (with the a stand-in for the lead in her mustard burqa in street scenes).

The woman played by Farahani is stuck in this urban war zone because she's taking care of her much older husband (Hamid Djavadan), who's been parallelized and apparently in a coma for several weeks from a bullet in his neck. He stares blankly into space, or at the ceiling; his eyes do not move. She gives him serum (when she has the money for it) and a sugar and salt drip into his mouth and for a while he seems merely a decorative symbolic male object: she dips a rag into a little bowl of water and wipes his brow. Finally she undresses and cleans him. After several terrifying attacks that cause damage to the building and leave her neighbors horribly murdered, she locates her feisty aunt (Hassina Burgan) and leaves her little girl with this woman, who tells her story of being turned into a servant of her husband's when it's found she's barren, then repeatedly raped, and then became a prostitute to make money and become independent.

The significant dialogue and storytelling concern sex. The protagonist has revelations of her own, which she addresses mostly to her immobile husband, and they are shockers. More than that she has relations with a stammering young soldier (Massi Mrowat), who thinks she's a prostitute, then falls in love with her, and this all happens a few yards away from her husband, whom she's hidden away in a kind of closet. This experience Rahimi has said is meant to be an awakening for her to the possibility that she can enjoy sex just for the pleasure, whereas in her previous experience it was only to make babies. That Rahimi juggles these heavy issues, with some pretty bold moments and some lewd talk, along with the dangerous wartime atmosphere where they may be blown up or killed at any moment, is a neat trick. The whole situation is borderline absurd at times, but Farahani, with her beauty and her solemnity and fierce confidence, very nearly carries it off. In the last shot of her face she is pale, glowing and radiant, a transcendantly gorgeous shot in a film full of gorgeous shots by DP Thierry Arbogast. At this point the film has, however, turned a little bit into a low keyed Grand Guignol. If that's not an oxymoron.

Glowing reviews of the original French-language book include Olivia Laing's in the Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jan/23/patience-stone-atiq-rahimi-review); she calls it "a beautifully constructed, deeply memorable novella." It won the Prix Goncourt in 2008, suggesting its political commitment came sheathed in elegant style. Laing likens the book, because if its minimalism, to Beckett. However it must be said that a crucial difference is this: Beckett has no specific social or political axes to grind. Rihami does. He's a longtime exile who takes a rather intense and schematic view of his own country. The film is strong and handsome, but not altogether convincing, because it's so obviously making points. This is very far from, say, the complicated and specific sequences of events and more vérité style of Asghar Farhadi's universally admired A Separation (http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1900), or many other recent Iranian films. The "patience stone" itself is a folklore fairy tale about a stone to which you can tell all your troubles. When they become too much, the stone bursts and your troubles are gone. The protagonist's immobile husband plays the role of the stone.

i]The Patience Stone/Syngué Sabour[/i] debuted at London and played at many other festivals including Toronto, opening theatrically in various countries including France 20 Feb. 2012 (Allociné press rating 3.6). This was Afghanistan's Best Foreign entry for the 2013 Oscars. It will show in the San Francisco International Film Festival, for which it was screened for this review. Release (Sony Pictures Classics): 14 Aug. 2013. Metacritic rating: 58.

Chris Knipp
04-16-2013, 06:50 PM


The sins of the parents

This good-looking and tightly edited little Korean film is unobtrusive little gem lacking the European-style sophistication of Hong Sang-soo or the spectacular fireworks of Park Chang-wook but instead choosing to take a quiet but discerning look at social issues. Kang Yi-kwan tells a domestic tale about the attempt to survive social errors in a culture with little tolerance of them. The focus is on the relationship of a 16-year-old boy, Ji-gu (Seo Yeong-ju, a TV actor, actually only 14), child of a one-night stand, who's been in a detention center for a year and his childish, unmarried mom Hyo-seung (actress-pop star Lee Jeong-hyeon), who abandoned him to his grandfather but is pressed by authorities to take him in on his release. She was herself only 17 when the boy was born and now, in her thirties, still hasn't grown up. She's working at a hairdresser's as a trainee and living with her spoiled boss (Gang Rae-yeon), and she and the boy must share her room there. The boy discovers his own one-night stand before detention (for breaking in a house with some other boys) got the girl pregnant and she's had the baby, put it up for adoption, been kicked out of school and ostracized by her family. Ji-gun seeks out the mother of his child, Sae-rom ( Yeon Ye-jin ) to apologize and take responsibility, with mixed results.

This is an orderly society -- the detention center seems clean and quiet, and its head (Jeong Seok-yong) is kind and helpful. This positive treatment of social services together with a focus on social problems may be explained by the film's sponsorship by the National Human Rights Commission of South Korea. ,Ji-gu and Hyo-seung are a good-looking pair. But the situation is dicey. The mother is flirty, irresponsible, and unstable, and her son emerges as just as much in charge of her as the other way around, as was also true when he lived with his diabetic grandfather, who died while he was in the center. But he is still only a boy, and he has not had good parenting.

The extreme youth of the actor Seo Yeog-ju (though of course he's a good actor and quite poised) helps to underline the contrast between his character's lack of preparedness and the big issues he has to face as he tries to become more respectable and responsible. And as his mother, Lee Jeong-hyeon becomes a complex character, but perhaps more lost and immature than her son.

It is the harsh Korean winter. Underneath its surface of good-looking people and its appearance of a prosperous, well-ordered society, the world of Juvenile Offender provides an experience as heart-wrenching as any Italian neo-realist film, and the understated, often light and humorous story, has considerable complexity. Megan Lehman of Hollywood Reporter (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/juvenile-offender-tokyo-review-384712) nails it when she writes "the film sails close to being hopeless, but is saved by the affection the director clearly feels for his flawed characters."

Beom-joe-so-nyeon, 107 mins., debuted at Tokyo, winning the Best Actor award there for Seo Young-ju as well as a Special Jury Prize in the Competition Section, was also shown at Taiwan and Toronto, and opened theatrically in South Korea 22 Nov. 2012, though overshadowed, by reports, by bigger, more commercial Korean releases of the same period. This is Kang's second feature, his first in eight years. It was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, 25 April-9 May 2013.

See also reviews by Korean blog critic Seongyong Cho (http://kaist455.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/juvenile-offender-2012/) and Asian film expert Derek Elley (http://www.filmbiz.asia/reviews/juvenile-offender).

Chris Knipp
04-16-2013, 06:56 PM

Víctor Prada, Adrián Du Bois in THE CLEANER

Man and boy on the edge of dying Lima

In Peruvian filmmaker Adrian Saba's sad but sweet feature debut El limpiador (The Cleaner), a mysterious respiratory illness has already swept away half the population of Lima, especially the grown men. The children are spared. Saba adopts the low budget sci-fi device of representing disaster by absence and silence, broken by white noise. In the grim, rudimentary flat of the Buster Keaton-faced Eusebio Vela (Victor Prada), a "forensic cleaner," who sweeps up human remains and infected areas, there is always the sound of barking dogs outside. Elsewhere there is the sound of the sea or occasional passing cars. In the course of his work Eusebio rescues a quiet, soulful boy called Joachim (Adrián Du Bois) whose mother has just died and whose father was already absent. What to do with him? At first Eusebio moves Joachim around like an offending object. He makes a box for him to protect his head, a semi-comic effect. The spirit of Samuel Becket has mated with Charlie Chaplin. Can a movie be both grim and charming? The Cleaner strikes a meditative mood. It's surely not for everyone, but it's memorable and a promising debut indeed for young Saba, the son of a Peruvian father and Dutch mother who was born in Madrid.

In the opening scene a young man stands below an overpass smoking a cigarette, then throws himself in front of a car. This is as fancy as the effects get. No need to show the collision. Eusebio sees the report on TV, but we don't even need to see a TV screen; we just hear the announcer. This is a minimalist method in which every little thing has to be just right and Saba proceeds slowly and meticulously, wasting nothing. The result is a poem of solitude and dead-end love.

Much use is made of empty places, a whole football field with only one other person besides Eusebio and Joachim, nice new subway cars that are empty or have one other person, deserted streets, everything depicted in a soothing yet ominous gray by DP César Fe. Sound, which fills in the background evocatively without elaborate staging, plays an important role. The white noise in the city, the barking dogs outside Eusebio's apartment, create a palpable sense of how oppressive and present emptiness is in a plague city.

Eusebio consults periodically with a city doctor who tells him this illness resembles one that ravaged London centuries ago but has not been heard of since. It is not a virus. "We will be in the history books," he says, referring to Lima.

Of course Eusebio is as empty inside as the ravaged city is without, but the boy he takes into his care is the one flower that makes the garden bloom. First he tries to turn him over to the city, but its shelters are all filled to capacity with the homeless and orphaned. He takes the boy to cemeteries to "find" his mother, a palliative gesture. The box breaks, and he finds Joachim a bicycle helmet to wear. There is something heartbreakingly cute about Joachim's willingness to wear the box and the helmet even to sleep. Progressively, Eusebio comes to love the boy. Awakened to a sense of family by trying to locate Joachim's surviving relatives, he visits his own father, who is alive but ill, and finally tells him that he wants him to know that because he is protecting a boy, he is "having a good time."

In The Cleaner, it's hard to separate inner and outer landscapes. This very imaginary place ultimately seems much more real than the ostensibly realistic spaces of Soderbergh's superficially so very informative but ultimately empty and clueless film about government handling of a global plague Contagion, a theme already treated far more resonantly in Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men. Saba approaches the apocalyptic genre with a whimsical and lyrical touch and makes it about loneliness and love. His dry, slightly comical approach avoids any trace of sentimentality.

El limpiador debuted 26 September 2012 at the Biarritz Film Festival, and has since been at San Sebastian, Palm Springs, and other festivals including Chicago and Fribourg. It won the New Voices/New Visions Grand Jury Prize and New Directors Award - Special Mention at Palm Springs. It was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival (25 April-9 May 2013).

The Cleaner received Honorable Mention in the New Directors feature competition at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

http://www.chrisknipp.com/links/limpia1.jpg._________.. http://www.chrisknipp.com/links/saba1.jpg
.......................................___________ _________________________________ ADRIAN SABA AND ADRIAN DU BOIS

Chris Knipp
04-16-2013, 07:54 PM


Where are the grownups?

Viewers of the new film by Scott McGehee and David Siegel (The Deep End) unfamiliar with Henry James's eponymous 1897 novel may be surprised how similar its outlines are to this seemingly very modern tale of a poor little rich New York girl and the irresponsible and confused adults who shuttle her back and forth. James was being very up-to-date: his little Maise, like the one played by the preternaturally composed Onata Aprile, was the child of divorced parents, who used her as a bargaining card and object of contention. The father in James's novel married the nanny, just as Steve Coogan marries Joanna Vanderham, the Scottish au pair. There's no likable but weak Sir Claude for Maisie's mom Julianne Moore -- titled Englishmen aren't so thick on the ground in modern Manhattan. But she quickly gets hitched to a likable but weak fellow, the tall young bartender Lincoln, played by Alexander Skarsgård. And these new couples soon start fighting, and the new spouses pair off with each other -- just as happens in Henry James.

Faithfulness to the source novel's basic structure isn't what makes this new movie cool and successful, simply a sign of how clever Carroll Cartright and Nancy Doyle's screenplay is. Adept writing provides a foundation for good acting. Coogan is perfect as the posh and busy, but flailing and clueless art dealer Beale, Masie's father. Julianne Moore has an edge and brave lack of beauty she's rarely shown and goes admirably far outside her usual weepy comfort zone as Maise's hardened, fading rock star mom Susanna, her outfits always stylish, always too rakish and too young. Her moments with Maisie are the hardest to watch, and the most important. Vanderhaum and the younger Skarsgård (he especially) are remarkably real and present.

The most innovative thing about the novel, also followed here, was its telling everything from the little girl's point of view. All we see (or read) is precisely what Maisie knew. McGehee and Siegel preserve this effect. And at the center of it all, at all times, young Aprile is suitably remarkable. This filmmaking pair are no Dardennes, no Powell and Pressberger; in a Metacritic (http://www.metacritic.com/feature/best-and-worst-movie-director-duos) "Best and Worst Director Duos" scale they fall in the middle. This ranks with The Deep End as their greatest success. Again McGehee and Siegel are appealing to a sophisticated indie audience.

As in the source novel, the nastiness is somehow muted because the little girl doesn't really understand it. When the movie begins, Susanna and Beale are having a yell-fest, with Masie's minder at one side. It's Maisie who goes down the stairs and gives the pizza delivery man his tip. It's a sign how strong, independent, and oblivious she is. She only rarely lets on with tears how hurt she may be by the chaos and hostility that surround her. She can't afford to.

The big difference is that the movie cuts out the reliable, if frumpy, traditional old nanny, Mrs. Wix (not even identified in the IMDb casting list), whom Susanna hires after Margo goes off with Beale. Maisie says she "smells bad," and she's dropped, so there is no reliable person, and at the end Maisie must not choose between the fairytale young couple of Margo and Lincoln (a little too idealized here) and the safe and mature Mrs. Wix (just a blip on the screen), but between them and her mother. And her mother has begun to scare her, as she does us.

The immorality and frivolity of Maisie's parents in the movie is nothing new; it's in the nineteenth-century novel. Of course all the details of contemporary New York are different. This good looking movie is busy and always out of breath. Everyone is anxious and overworked, and always on a cell phone. At some point the constant confusion and threat of outright abandonment become wearing for us. As Variety's Justin Chang wrote (http://variety.com/2012/film/reviews/what-maisie-knew-1117948246/) from Toronto, the film "strikes the same sad note for 98 minutes." Gradually we see very well what Maisie knows: Susanna's and Beale's competing and maneuvering (beautifully rendered here) show their protestations of love are meaningless. But how adaptable this child is! You may not want to watch this movie again, but its depiction of posh child neglect is as timely as it apparently is enduring, and you'd be missing something not to watch it once. However, Denby's thumbnail New Yorker review (http://www.newyorker.com/arts/reviews/film/what_maisie_knew_siegel") neatly highlights the pluses and minuses of this Henry James adaptation: "The movie is shrewd about the infinite varieties of selfishness, but it lacks the necessary erotic tension, as well as anuy approximation of James's wickedly funny voice."

What Maisie Knew debuted at Toronto in Sept. 2012. Screened for this review as part of the SFIFF where it was the opening night film 25 April 2013. Limited US release begins 3 May.

Chris Knipp
04-17-2013, 12:23 AM


Death and the maiden

Narration of this ingenious head trip is divided between an engineer and lifelong depressive, Khosro Shahidi (Ali Mosaffa), who tells us at the beginning that he's dead, and his actress wife Leyli (Leila Hatami of the Best Foreign Oscra winner A Separation). He is supposed to have died after falling down a stairway he himself designed, miscalculating and making the last taller than the rest. But family friend Dr. Amin (Alireza Aghakhani), is reluctant to sign the death certificate because he has an earlier scar on his temple that's unexplained. Soon we see a scene where Leyli smacks Khosro in the head when in the kitchen and he bleeds and falls. A further flashback shows him being told he has cancer, and "celebrating" by buying a skate board. And before that in the film but later in time of course we've seen him try to skate down a busy Tehran street, at some danger to his life. It seems his impending death has freed him to do fun things like risk getting run over on a skateboard. And later, Dr. Amin emerges as wanting to be an actor, wanting to play Leyli's wife in the film she's making.

Khosro's death might have one of several causes. Woven in with these backwards strands is Leyli's story. She's acting in a film about a husband's death just at the time of Khowro's passing, but insists in going on with it, and rather creepily gets the giggles in a scene and has to stop. She seems like an angel of death, because she keeps flashing on an admirer in Tafresh when she was very young who stood outside paying court to her in the rain and was scorned by her (again she laughed) then immediately died. The filmmaking, a Rivettian obligato to the flashbacks, is noisy and combative. The couple squabbles too. This film is talky and never takes a break and seems on the verge of becoming wearing with its constant new details and flashbacks, but at the end, when the threads are all retied in a new arrangement, it becomes fun. Perhaps the couple alienation here somehow represents the same Iranian impulse worked out more subtly and economically in the Tuscan hills, with a French actress and glossy European cinematography and a more mature, restrained writer-director's hand in Kiarastomi's Certified Copy. The Last Step, made under semi mulllah-approved conditions perhaps, is weighed down by the inevitable presence at home of women in long coats and wrapped heads even indoors, yet without a realistic contemporary situation (like A Separation) to justify them. And thus Mosaffa renounces any interest in confronting contemporary Iranian political and social issues. However, we must acknowledge nonetheless Mosaffa's tour de force in writing, directing, and starring in a film full of complicated staging and multiple secondary characters. Here the dissatisfaction is not political but personal.

Pirandello has been mentioned in the festival blurb, Tolstoy's "Death of Ivan Illych" and Joyce's "The Dead" by Mosaffa himself as influences, aiming high. Some viewers, relishing high art allusions and enjoying puzzle-solving, will enjoy this film. It is certainly sophisticated, haute bourgeois material (about posh, jaded artist-intellectuals), but though it has its occasional amusing, bustling moments, and Leila Hatami (Mosaffa's real-life spouse) has a glow and cheekbones almost worthy of the young Ingrid Bergman or the young Isabella Rossellini, Mosaffa, however influential an actor he may be, has, despite its intricacy, not I think made in this sophomore effort a film quite worthy to be mentioned in the same breath with these other artists and works. In an excellent short Italian review Alessia Starace notes (http://www.movieplayer.it/film/articoli/recensione-the-last-step_10033/) that Hatami alas fails to act up to the level of Mosaffa, who "Comes out more than well, giving Khosro a truly unexpected range of emotions, from torment to rage, from resignation to irony." But one can't condemn Mosaffa for his ambition. The film has nice moments, and he is clearly one to watch. And mind you, the ingenuity gives pleasure and this is a heck of a head trip. Nicely atmospheric contrast of city and country.

Peleh Akhar (the Farsi title), 88 mins., opened in Iran 11 Feb. 2012, and has shown at some festivals. It won the FIPRESCI Prize at the 2012 Karlovy Vary film festival and Hatami won the Best Actress award. It was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it shows 4,8, and 9 May 2013.

Chris Knipp
04-17-2013, 08:08 PM


"Booze was the root of all evil in our family"

This 1972 black and white mini-series directed by and starring Mikiko Niskanen, which consists of four hour-plus episodes, has been called the crowning achievement of Finnish cinema, even by Aki Kaurismäki. Why? It's showing in various film festivals lately (2013), including Rotterdam, Seattle, and San Francisco, so a wider international audience can find out. Eight Deadly Shots turns out to be a seamless and immersive narrative of alcoholism, rural poverty, and the romance of moonshine. Niskaken begins with a true event, not graphically illustrated, however: a habitual drunk, Pasi (Niskanen) kills four policemen after terrifying his family. What follow are scenes from a marriage and a life as the fimlmaker imagines them leading up to these killings. The use of non-actors, the humanistic directness, remind one of the Italian neorealists; visually sometimes, with the use of closeups, Eisenstein and the great silents come to mind. The "potential for intimacy" (http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/features/the-triumphant-but-quiet-return-of-the-academy-ratio-lpalm.php) of Academy ratio helps that emphasis on faces and individuals -- though ensemble scenes of a prayer meeting and a wedding make several of the most memorable set pieces. In other aspects of technique there are doubtless much more contemporary influences too. It's an intimate epic, a universal tragedy with pointed Nordic relevance. This is an unmistakable classic and deserves to be on a US Criterion DVD.

Pasi is an alcoholic. It's a social disease and he draws others in with him, notably his cohort and drinking partner Reiska (Paavo Pentikäinen), with whom he secretly makes moonshine white lightening in one of the first prolonged sequences. Pasi has a small farm and they pretend to be working in a field, bury the still in the ground and cover it with hay. One sees the fascination of illegal enterprise feeding their favorite pastime of drinking, which must work similarly for pot growers in the American Northwest. When Pasi hands over his concealed bottle of moonshine to other men at social events, it's like he's proselytizing, and they're also sharing an activity that's more fun because it's forbidden, illegal. The secret sharers often smile and giggle and can't resist another shot and then another.

And then comes the erosion of the family. Pasi has a wife, Vaimo (Tarja-Tuuliki Tarsala) and four kids, three boys and a girl, strong presences in the film, and the family's passive suffering slowly grows from his disappearances, his hangovers, his incoherence or distractedness, all this worsened by the rural poverty of their situation, a farm that can't support them, odd jobs (extensively shown) that wouldn't suffice either, even if the drinking didn't erode the performance. And then come the scenes, particularly surrounding the prayer meeting and the wedding, when the family is shamed, disappointed and humiliated, all sense of security and safety shattered, and Pasi's wife bitterly rebukes him, to no effect. Some time past midway through the second episode Pasi becomes quite clearly frightening to his family. "You always scare me when you're drunk," his older son says. He works very hard through the winter (the early moonshine-making was in the summer): rolling big logs into the river, digging deep trenches for sewers, cutting down trees and splitting logs, then hauling them through the snow with his horse, Liisa. Poor Liisa! This log-hauling sequence in particular is gruelingly real, remarkable filmmaking. The work is all seasonal: in the spring come fishing, planting, and moving the logs stacked in winter down to the river. Everything about all this shows direct knowledge of the life, passionate commitment by Niskanen and everybody involved, and remarkable use of non-actors. One can't help wondering if some of them weren't really drunk when they were filmed in the many boozing sequences. The camerawork is equally remarkable the way it follows the action and captures the beauty of the landscape and the seasons, and the editing maintains a steady hypnotic pace.

Niskanen knew whereof he spoke. He apparently came from poor, rural roots, and worked in forestry and as a car mechanic in his youth. "Everyone may have their own truth," he says in the opening statement repeated before each segment, "but this is the truth I have seen and experienced, having been born into these surroundings, having lived this particular life and having studied these matters." Niskanen is a magnetic personality, a force of nature, and also the most awarded filmmaker in Finnish history. Renowned Finnish writer-filmmaker Peter von Bagh made a three-part TV documentary about him, Director on the Way to Becoming a Human Being: Mikko Niskanen's Story, which reviews his acclaimed oeuvre. The actual man who shot the police, Tauno Pasanen, went to jail in 1969, and was pardoned by the president in 1982, probably moved by the film's assertion of social causes. Fourteen years later, still a drunk, he strangled and killed his long-suffering wife, who had moved to be near him during his incarceration, but from whom he had been divorced. This time he served 13 years and was let out on parole.

Kahdeksan surmanluotia (Finnish title), 316 mins., released in 1972, won Best Actor and Best Director Jussi awards. Screened for the review in the four-part version as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, showing 5 and 7 May 2013.

Chris Knipp
04-18-2013, 11:07 AM


Role reversal, for a while

Preview. Full review will come later with local release.

Festival blurb notwithstanding (it hasn't even got the names right), the 35-year-old suicidal failed actor Takeshi Sakurai (Masato Sakai), doesn't "send" the meticulous older Yakuza hit man "Mr. Fixit" Shinichiro Yamazaki (Teruyuki Kagawa, a Kiyoshi Kurosawa regular), who uses the alias Kondo, to the hospital. Kondo just trips on a bar of soap when they're at the same bath house. Sakurai does switch identities with the gangster and holds onto his posh new identity when he finds he has amnesia. But this is no screwball comedy. It's absurdist, slow, and overlong by 20 or 30 minutes. It's complicated by the necessary female (we can't even say romantic) interest, the fussy, schoolmarmish VIP magazine head Kanae Mizushima (Ryoko Hirosue), who is looking for a husband, and improbably thinks the amnesiac gangster, wandering around thinking he's an actor, could be the one. It all gets worked out, but it takes two hours.

"Kagi-dorobô no mesoddo" or Key of Life, which weighs in at a hefty 128 mins., scored for its chessboard intricacy by winning Best Screenplay at the Shanghai Film Festival. A good festival run includes Toronto, London Cleveland, Hawaii, and Taipei. It opened in Japan 22 September 2012. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival (27, 28 April, 5 May 2013 showings). Film Movement has acquired Key of Life for US distribution.

Chris Knipp
04-18-2013, 12:37 PM


Inter-species love, happy poverty, sweets

The thing that's great about the French animated film Ernest & Célestine is the drawing, which has the same loose, light, Forties or Fifties pen & ink and watercolor sketch visual style as the children's book by Daniel Pennac. Never has there been a better antidote to the hard, plastic, puffy look of Hollywood or Pixar animations. The story, though sweet, about the fraught but ultimately happily-ever-after loving cohabitation of a bear (Ernest, voiced by Lambert Wilson of The Princess of Montpensier and Of Gods and Men) and a little girl mouse (Célestine, voiced by Pauline Brunner), is a little odd, to say the least, but only in a usual children's-book way. Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, are the Belgian guys who made the stop-motion animation A Town Called Panic, (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?2684-SFFS-4th-Annual-Animation-Festival&p=23225#post23225) and they're joined by and Benjamin Renner, who made the admired short A Mouse's Tail.. The scenario is by Daniel Pennac. It is based on a series of over two dozen children's books featuring these characters by Belgian writer and illustrator Gabrielle Vincent, dating from 1981 to 2003, three years after her death.

Vincent has social concerns and the story is very obviously about relationships society deems "inappropriate," as well as about underdogs and the downtrodden. In this world, bears live above ground, rodents hidden below. Ernest the bear is a marginal bear, and a crude buffoon who's poor and hungry. In an opening sequence he struggles to play and sing in the village square to collect money or food and the police take his musical instruments and give him a ticket. It's while he's rummaging in garbage cans that he founds Célestine. She's is a little orphan mouse (at first we see her in a dormitory where the girls are told a bedtime story by the big jolly, awesome La Grise - Anne-Marie Loup) who's now in dental school, where trainees are required to bring in baby bear teeth in large numbers, to be used as replacements for redents. But she doesn't want to become a dentist just as Ernest doesn't want to become a notary. "Incisors" are also the key to culture, to civilization, which might be a reference to French society's self-satisfaction and sense of specialiness. There is a candy shop, "The King of Sugar," and Ernest raids it: he loves sweets. Célestine raids the wife's dentistry shop across the street, and gets a bagful of 50 teeth, which greatly impresses the head of the dental school. Ernest and Célestine get taken away and put on trial for robbing the two shops and are tried separately but both courtrooms catch fire, they save the judges, and are released as a reward and, the greatest award of all, allowed to live together.

Célestine, the reluctant dentist, is an offshoot of the folkloric little mouse who's a Gallic equivalent of the tooth fairy. Ernest is a new twist on the "big bad bear." Though Ernest threatens to eat Célestine when they first meet, she stops him, and he turns out to be a pussycat for all his dangerous strength and bluster. This combination of big and bumbling and little and innocent, not far from the world of A. A. Milne, is a sure delight to young children, but story elements have resonance for adults. Lambert Wilson reveals a comic range his you'd never suspect from his serious film roles. Don't forget though, that as a film, what Ernest & Célestine most has to offer is the loose yet sure and elegant lines of its drawings and the d elicacy of its washes, which as the review in L'Humanité (http://www.humanite.fr/culture/la-souris-qui-murmure-l-oreille-de-l-ours-ami-510783)mentions, make one think of Raoul Dufy.

Mike D'Angelo rated this number six in his top ten films at Tornoto. He comments (http://letterboxd.com/gemko/film/ernest-celestine/)it's "endearingly nutty" like A Town Called Panic, and runs out of steam further along, the images continuing to delight right to the end. He is right also to point out that Ernest's song and dance routine is funnier if you know French. Lambert Wilson is very able in the singing parts.

Ernest & Célestine debuted at Cannes Directors Fortnight May 2012, opening theatrically in France 12 December after appearing in six or eight other festivals. Universal acclaim in France (Allociné ratings, both viewers and press, of 4.3) and the 2013 César for best animated film. Its US premiere apparently was the San Francisco International Film Festival, when it will show 28 April. Screened for this review in connection with the SFIFF.​​ First released Feb. 2014 (IFC Center, NYC)..

Chris Knipp
04-18-2013, 10:22 PM


Flirting turns to squabbling

Bravely, it's the second real-time sequel to the 1995 Before Sunrise (each at nine year intervals from the last) amd Jesse and Céline aren't meeting or re-meeting and feeling the chemistry as before but a long-cohabiting couple debating whether the chemistry is still there. It probably is, but the magic of the whole talky formula fades in this version. Mind you this is classy, grownup stuff. The collaborative team of Linklater, Delpy and Hawke know very well, even a bit too well, what they're doing by now, and Hawke and Delpy remain an attractive couple. But despite fine writing and terrific acting all the arguing seems overly tinged by the argumentative, somewhat crazy persona Delpy has honed in her own two relationship films.

The glamorous Greek resort setting doesn't help much, nor does a middle section of a farewell dinner out of doors with Greek friends whose speechifying and toast-making, with the best spirit in the world, add the kind of formality Hawke and Delpy are at such pains to hide from their own studiously casual performances. The aim is admirable: to add a philosophical basis, considering the nature of modern love (what role digital media play now, for instance), and comparing how various longtime couples have related to give a broader context. But if these are three acts, and there is a definite theatricality (in which Hawke's deep experience by now as a theatrical director may play a part), act two doesn't add much about Céline and Jesse, leaving us with acts one and two. Act one is a tour-de-force argument in the car, where the bone of contention is Jesse's desire to move to Chicago to spend time with his son by his first wife, Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), whom he's just said goodbye to a the airport. Céline won't hear of giving up an important new environmental job and carting their twin daughters from Paris to the Midwest.

Act three is an idyllic evening in a resort hotel set up by their Greek friends for the couple that turns into a long argument about Chicago, and everything else. There's a distinct impression that this is an ideal couple who have very good problems. Céline's fault-finding with Jesse fails to reveal any glaring faults on his part; and she suggests that his worry about not seeing Hank more often is unnecessary because the boy is doing well and their relationship is good. This lengthy debate is a chance to show off the pair's acting chops, but very little is resolved except to suggest that Jesse may be able to coax Céline into bed at the hotel for some special love-making after all.

In a walk-and-talk sequence earlier, the couple talk about each other's looks and attractions. They trade pretty crude accusations of momentary sexual infidelity, with Jesse convincingly squashes with a declaration of his long faithfulness, sincere love, and loyalty as a husband and father. He at least insists he still finds her beautiful; and he exhibits arguably even more sexiness and charm than when he was younger. Again, what's the problem? Nonetheless if this is a cliff-hanger, as the first two "Before" films were, what's uncertain now is whether the couple will break up as a result of the many little resentments all this talk has aired.

But if I ask what the problem is with this relationship that began so romantically and was rekindled into an unofficial marriage nine years later, you can ask what my problem is with this accomplished film. It is a pleasure indeed to see actors age with their characters this way, and lovers of the original formula will not find it completely gone here. Indeed even if this is a less magical moment in the series, if this goes on to be a kind of feature film version of Apted's "Up" series, the next one could still be the best yet, because the gathering complexity of experience chronicled here is fascinating.

Before Midnight, 108 mins., debuted at Sundance in January 2013 and was in the Berlin, Istanbul and Tribeca festivals. It is the closing night film (9 May 2012) at San Francisco, screened there for this review. It opens in the US 24 May, the UK 21 June.

Chris Knipp
04-21-2013, 11:03 AM


Terrifyingly nerdy

Mumblecore "godfather" Andrew Bujalski (Mutual Appreciation, Funny Ha Ha, Beeswax) takes a new tack in his latest film, Computer Chess, away from his own generation and time into a moment that might seem for him resonantly, awesomely prehistoric. He reconstructs (or invents?) a weekend circa 1980 computer chess convention long before the sleek age of smart phones and Mac Airs. To do this he uses a combination of improvisation, studiously bad hair and unfashionable clothes, and ancient Portapak videotape equipment, mimicking the shooting style that goes with this technology, thus recapturing in the round a scary nerdiness. The result can seem brilliant -- or totally stupid, depending how you look at it. The cult potential of this film is unquestionable. It is instantly recognizable as unique. It may not initially be a whole lot of fun to watch -- unless, that is, you're consciously filtering it through Pynchon and comparing it favorably with Pablo Larraín and and Harmony Korine, which not all viewers will manage. Distinctly odd this certainly is, one of the year's most original American films; and conceivably a bold new step for Bujalski to greater scope and a wider audience.

But this is a movie that will polarize audiences. When it showed at Sundance "squares" like Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/computer-chess-sundance-review-414228)("deadly dull") and Variety's Justin Chang (http://variety.com/2013/film/reviews/computer-chess-1117949092/) ("Hit or miss") dutifully noted the singularity and authentic look of the film but didn't particularly like it. "Hipsters" like Mike D'Angelo (http://letterboxd.com/gemko/film/computer-chess/) ("78/100, "Deeply, deeply, deeply weird"--it's now no. 2 on D'Angelo's year's running ten-best list) and Vadim Rizov (http://filmmakermagazine.com/66585-truefalse-dispatch-2-sleepless-nights-and-computer-chess/) ("major filmmaking") on the other hand were thrilled to the core. (These were January, pre-release, reviews.)

As so often the truth probably lies somewhere in between. Both sides acknowledge the spot-on evocation of period (even though that period's a bit vague). The consciousness-raising est-like meetings (with a dash of group sex) also happening at the dinky hotel that weekend could be well before 1980 and Spotpak cameras go back to 1969. The bad hair and clothes and sexism evoke something like thirty years ago well, as does the fuzzy black and white video (Bujalski's ironic response to chiding about when he would move to -- modern -- video from 16mm. film).

But authenticity and bad acting are not the same: they may come close, but they will never meet. It's also true that the humor here falls flat, and if this isn't a comedy what is it? Computer Chess is original but also a long slog whose cringe-worthiness peaks when the middle-aged couple try to lure the shyest, youngest programmer Peter Bishton (Patrick Riester) into sex with them. The pervasive nerdiness has a terrifying way of making you feel it's entering you and becoming you and reflecting everyday life more than any other movies do.

And there is the meta-fictional realization that all this "realism" is highly stylized. In fact what's lacking are the one or two cool guys who'd set off the gang of nerds and make them nerdier, as a drop of black paint is said to make a gallon of white paint whiter. But everybody thinks this seems like real found footage. It does -- sort of. And one does appreciate what the Guardian writer Andrew Pulver admiringly noted (http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2013/feb/12/computer-chess-review-berlin), "a wide-eyed appreciation for just what humble, shabby beginnings the digital revolution sprang from."

Real computer programmers and various personalities participate as cast members in Bujalski's geek game along with huge clunky period computers with clackity keyboards and black screens spewing rows of white digits. They are outsized -- but still not capable yet by a long sight of beating a living human chess master. As A.O. Scott notes, "the triumph of I.B.M.’s Big Blue seems a very long way off." The program of the event is to pit various rival computer chess programs against each other in playoffs, and at the end the winning program gets to play against a human, the arrogant conference leader Henderson (played by academic and film critic Gerald Peary). Some programming team heads like the experimental psychologist Martin Beuscher (Wiley Wiggins) coyly vaunt their personal aims and methods. Others, like Shelly Flintic (Robin Schwartz), repeatedly touted as the tourney’s first female participant, or the shy and possibly brilliant youngster Peter, hover mutely in the background. The boastful and evidently disliked Michael Papageorge (Myles Paige) is for no good reason forced to wander the hotel at night searching for a room. A skinny call girl hovers in front. In a mystical sci-fi touch, Peter thinks the computers have souls and the one he's involved with is failing because it doesn't want to play against another computer but against a human. The goofy, invasive free love encounter group conference, led by a tall black "African" Papageorge thinks may just be from Detroit, is an obvious contrast, and helps round out the sense of period goofiness. The plump lady who tries to seduce Peter says he'll never reach his "true potential" if he sticks to programming or the 64 squares of a chess board -- and so on.

Sudden split screens interrupt the otherwise period video images, which as has been pointed out are more consistently dated in visual style than the use of Sony U-matic cassette video cameras in Pablo Larraín's No. For a few minutes in an unrelated scene of Papageorge at his mother's, Bujalski reverts to blotchy color film. If you have seen the documentaries about the human-computer chess wars (notably Kasparov vs. Deep Blue) you will miss here any depth or excitement in the snatches of games that, as Todd McCarthy wrote, "are excerpted in ways that offer no insight or, God forbid, tension." In fact Bujalski's deadpan humor here bets on deliberately letting everything fall flat. That's the point.

There is much to ponder here, perhaps most resonant being the idea of a crowd of geeks and nerds who don't yet know they are to rule the world and of a burgeoning technology that now looks ridiculously primitive, reminding us how ruthless progress is and how clunky and limited present technology is likely to look thirty years hence.

Now that the film has had its July US theatrical release and will get more widely reviewed, awareness of it is likely to spread; and it has had time to percolate in my mind as something memorably unique. They don't make 'em like this any more (if they ever did). A.O. Scott of the NY Times describes (http://movies.nytimes.com/2013/07/17/movies/computer-chess-depicts-programmers-in-1980.html?_r=0"?)Computer Chess as "sneakily brilliant" and ends, "Artificial intelligence remains an intoxicating theory and a heady possibility, about which I am hardly qualified to speak. But I do know real filmmaking intelligence when I see it." Aaron Hills of the Village Voice calls (http://www.villagevoice.com/2013-07-17/film/computer-chess/)the film "So far the funniest, headiest, most playfully eccentric American indie of the year." In five months or so he may want to drop the "so far."

Computer Chess debuted at Sundance (surprisingly, a first for Bujalski), in its "Next" section. It was also shown at Berlin, Montclair, the SFIFF (the latter where it was originally screened by me). US theatrical release (at Film Forum, New York) was July 17, 2013.

Chris Knipp
04-21-2013, 09:53 PM

Leon Alan Beiersdorf and the cat in The Strange Little Cat

Kitchen life: choreographed poetry and zaniness of the quotidian

The quiet magic and lurking humor of the quotidian are subtly dramatized in this seamless film about several generations of a good looking family puttering around the a kitchen of a Berlin apartment. Two dozen people and creatures come and go, including a black dog, an orange cat, and a moth (which keeps coming back). A rat is also mentioned. Comparisons with Jacques Tati, Michel Gondry, and François Ozon have been made. Zürcher is only 30; the film is only 72 minutes long. Accomplished filmmaking, though conventional expectations are frustrated and the hilarity of Tati is certainly missing. My memory is the sort of obligato of the presiding figure of the kitchen and the film, the unnamed mother played by Jenny Schily, whose Sphinxlike face reminded me of Charlotte Rampling's. For those who can't tune in -- and small English subtitles that vanish in a millisecond may undermine those efforts -- this may seem much ado about nothing. But the originality of the conception and the precision of the execution are unmistakable and critics at the Berlinale ranked this film high.

First a cat loudly whines to be let in, and then that seamlessly morphs into the voice of the youngest child, Clara (Mia Kasalo), who likes to screech at kitchen appliances. Zürcher works with what there is, so there are electric blackouts, a noisy espresso machine, a bottle that magically spins in a pan, and a washing machine, briefly menacing, repaired by a handsome neighbor with whom Schilly's character has a wordless sexual chemistry. There is a shopping list whose orthography is much discussed as a recurring family record of childhood, and people come and go. Zürcher's art is in the smooth choreography of the many people moving around and dodging each other (or kissing later when another group visits for the long prepared for dinner that evening), constantly talking, sometimes seen from below, constantly in action, as if naturally, yet with a perfection, a geometrical rhythm, that suggests preparatory diagrams and many rehearsals -- but the effort never shows.

There are recurrent motifs: the moth reappearing, the ginger cat slinking in and out, the dog coming and going, arguments over buttons and shirts, "grandmother's sleeping!" said to quiet noisy children. Cheery music by San Francisco rock trio Thee More Shallows ("a shiny chamber-orchestra affair in sub-Michael Nyman vein" explains Stephen Dalton in Hollywood Reporter (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/strange-little-cat-das-merkwurdige-420748)) helps keep things light and smooth.

Zürcher is interested in interrelationships and overlappings, both familial and physical. Sometimes people briefly recall a recent incident, which bears this out. For instance Schilly's character recalls going to a movie with grandmother, when a man who sat beside her put his right foot over her left one. She didn't know that it was intentional: maybe he was just too engrossed in the movie to notice he'd done it. When she didn't pull her foot out right away, she was stuck and had to leave it there, as grandmother fell asleep and breathed heavily, making her fear she'd snore. Finally grandmother woke up with a start and she could retract her foot. Zürch sees his scene and perhaps life as a kind of "Twittering Machine" like a Rube Goldberg gadget only less eccentric. He has been for some time and still is a student at the DFFB Berlin film school, and made this film reportedly as a result of a seminar with Béla Tarr, whom he thanks in the credits.

Zürcher was "The first-timer with perhaps the most distinctive sensibility" at Berlin this year, wrote Dennis Lim in the NY Times. (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/14/arts/14iht-berlinale14.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0) His unmistakable talents may show to even better effect in future if he relaxes a little and lets things get simpler, but it seems essential to his effect to give equal weight to everything, people, animals, and objects, "such that nobody and nothing is sidelined," as Charles H. Meyer writes for Cinspect. (http://cinespect.com/2013/02/berlinale-2013-tackling-a-bear/)

Das Merkwurdige Kätzchen, 72 mins., in German, debuted at Berlin. The Swiss-born filmmaker, now resident in Berlin, has made videos. This is his first feature.

Chris Knipp
04-22-2013, 02:14 AM


A girl's shaky coming of age, her famous father's death

A short feature debut at only 75 minutes, Youth/Jeunesse is more or less 39-year-old Justine Malle's much-delayed memoir of her father director Louis Malle's last days and her shaky coming of age at twenty when he rapidly declined after being diagnosed with a brain-destroying virus. It's also a homage to the Nouvelle Vague style, with its simple mise-en-scene, sweeping drives through the country, and rapid-fire notations of temporary romances, Youth has a classic simplicity and contains beautiful, touching moments perhaps worthy of the filmmaker's illustrious father, but in important ways it also disappoints. It's no coincidence perhaps that Juliette, Justine's alter ego, is played by Esther Garrel, daughter of director Philippe and sister of Louis Garrel. They have things in common.

Esther embodies the protagonist's mixture of defiance and immaturity up to a point. She has her brother's strong Mediterranean face, if no quite his presence and charisma. The younger male leads being pretty generic, it says something that the best work may be by Didier Bezace, an actor who's rarely even had serious talking roles in films. Though his on screen moments are few -- this is still more about the girl -- Bezace is touching and technically convincing in portraying the rapid physical and mental decline of her father. Whether he has the presence of Malle, however, is doubtful.

Juliette's father is superficially so like Louis Malle he made a documentary in India (there is even an excerpt shown), and had two other children with different mothers. Malle died in California with Candice Bergan, however; this Papa's current spouse is Portuguese and they live in the French countryside (the actual Malle estate is used). Juliette has an on-off relationship with a classmate, Benjamin (Émile Bertherat of LOL), who refuses to have sex with her when he learns she's still a virgin ("I need things to be simple; if not it makes me nervous"), but then relents, for one time. Juliette seems to like his coldness and failure to make a fuss over the tragedy of her father's impending demise, which she at first is in denial about, and then avoids being present for his very last days.

I have to concur with Screen Daily's (http://www.screendaily.com/reviews/the-latest/youth/5048942.article)Dan Fainaru, who says the references to Iranian cinema and Eric Rohmer and to fashionable songs and to Leibnitz and Nietzsche and the shots of hip left bank cinemas like the Saint André des Arts and the Champollion ("Le Champo") evoke a New Wave-ish flavor in a rapid catalogue without integrating them "into the fabric of the plot." The director, who co-authored the script with Cécile Vargaftig, might have done better to keep things simpler and go into more depth. She may be ruthlessly honest in representing herself as unformed and a bit cowardly at twenty (a little step-sister seems better and more sensible at caring for her father), but this vague protagonist may not be the best lens through which to view these events.

Unfortunately this film is content to be more a series of sketches than the kind of searching and precocious work one has seen from Mia Hansen-Løve, the outstanding young French woman director, who is seven years younger. Hansen-Løve's The Father of My Children, while not autobiographical, but based on the life of her mentor, the influential French producer Hubert Balsan, is a richer study both of a cinematic father figure and of a family.

Jeunesse, 75 mins., has had showings in Italy (at Rome's Alice nella città sidebar) and Denmark, and is included in the New Directors competition of the San Francisco International FIlm Festival (showing 1, 4, and 5 May 2013), where it was screened for this review. It opens in France 3 July.

Chris Knipp
04-22-2013, 10:49 PM


Political unrest embodied in wind and water

This boldly abstract debut film, well received at Cannes, an award-winner at Lima, nominated for a Discovery Director Award and FIPRESCI at Toronto, emphasizes windy sound and wild open spaces over story: it's a mood piece, magical if you give yourself to it, richly if vaguely evocative. A teenage Colombian refugee, Alicia (Joghis Seudin Arias) is a downcast young woman who sleepwalks, tries to rebuild her life at a guest house located on the shores of a great lake in the Andes in William Vega's atmospheric, quietly haunting film. She is running from the burning of her house and killing of her parents by unspecified hostile forces. Alicia spends her days working with Flora (Floralba Achicanoy), with her uncle Cesar (Julio Cesar Roble) and his son Freddy (Heraldo Romero). No one is very friendly and everything is tenuous but perhaps her greatest ally is Mirichis (David Fernando Guacas), a man who does errands on a boat and wants to go away with her. All is uncertainty ("I don't know" is the main answer to questions) and I never believed these people had real identities or functions; it's all about metaphor, the dilapidated inn representing Colombia itself. But the place itself, the vast quiet lake and swampy borders and big plants, is also all very real.

Menace and uncertainty vie with solitude and emptiness. Vega opens with the image of a dead man hung on a spear, a reference to the horror Alica is fleeing from. La Sirga (it means "The Towrope"), the "inn" Cesar watches over, seems more like a multi-layered shack fully of cracks and holes letting in the rain and howling wind, and we never get a precise idea of its upper storeys. The "restoration" Alicia, Flora, and for a while Freddy work on is vague, involving sheets of plastic, varnish, and potted flowers set around on the front porch. The idea of "Tourists" seems fantastic; there is no one around for many miles. Vega is deliberately waiting and revealing nothing of what may come to pass: but the hidden subject is danger and corruption, a national "house" that isn't safe to visit or really stable. There's something clearly hard and menacing about Freddy, and both he and Uncle Oscar spy on Alicia at night through the omnipresent chinks in the walls: no privacy, no stability, no future, no hope.

Sound and image (by dp Sofia Oggioni Hatty) are excellent, and use of location is seamless and mysterious. This is one of these things where you wonder how the filmmakers ever got there, and the location is what you remember most.

La Sirga, 88 mins., a Colombia, France, Mexico co-producion, debuted at Cannes, showed also at Toronto and San Diego, Chicago and Boston, many other locations, and included in the San Francisco International Film Festival, in connection with which it was screened for this review. To be released in the US by Film Movement. French release is set for 24 April 2013. US DVD release 6 August 2013.

Chris Knipp
04-23-2013, 02:18 AM

Senay Aydim and Sanem Öge in Present Tense

Quiet desperation in Istanbul

Documentary filmmaker Belmin Söylemez focoses in her beautiful, atmospheric feature debut on an enigmatic woman called Mina (Sanem Öge), recently divorced and living alone in Istanbul, who dreams of escaping to the US, though there is an air of patient hopelessness about her. She is about to be evicted from her apartment (the building is being turned into a hotel) and at the film's start works as a cipher in some big office. She gets a job as a fortune teller in a cafe reading coffee grounds and in this setting, is befriended by the owner Tayfon (Ozan Bilen), and another employe, Fezi (Senay Aydim), who are both as much adrift as she is. Through these associations and her fortune telling she begins ruminating about her past. People come and go; a recurrent trope of the film is the fortune telling. Mina's good at it; women often are pleased with her descriptions of their lives and like her, inviting her to private sessions. If only she could see into her own problems as well as she sees into other people's.

Söylemez constantly hovers around her protagonist, who projects a subtle blend of determination and exhaustion, with hints of other aspects, a serious accident as a child, poor relations with other family members. What little money she accumulates she puts into dollars, but she hasn't the documents or other requirements for study-travel to America and she floats in uncertain limbo.

Söylemez shows some influence of Iranian films. Her first documentary feature, the 2005, 34 Taxi, depicting Istanbul through cab rides, could be an idea of Kiarostami's. Here the screenplay written by the director and Hasmet Topaglu conveys a strong sense of urban ennui and alienation, and with it, to leaven the glumness, a pleasing mystery. And it doesn't hurt that as Jay Weissberg of Variety (http://variety.com/2012/film/reviews/present-tense-1117948887/)suggests, Sanem Öge looks a good deal like the young Juliette Binoche. He also rightly compliments Austrian dp Peter Roehsler whose work here is a continual pleasure to watch, for "his stately, mutedly rich lensing," in which figures together, sitting at the cafe to talk, say, are often framed formally and distantly "to gently emphasize their separation." The color Roehsler captures is delicately beautiful too, with much emphasis on yellow, turquoise (the word may come from "Turkey") and pale green, and there are many shots of the wonderfully complex bottoms of Turkish coffee cups: the possibility of seeing all the world in those scattered and hardened grounds has never been more evident.


Present Tense/şimdiki zaman, in Turkish, 110 mins., debuted at Sarajevo (April 2012), and was shown at Istanbul, where Sanem Öge was given the Best Actress award, Hamburg and Turin. It is included in the April-May 2013 San Francisco International Film Festival, where it was screened for this review.

Present Tense won the New Directors feature award at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Chris Knipp
04-23-2013, 08:02 PM


Looking for dad, missing grandma

Mike Ott is a skilled super-indie American filmmaker who gets at the heart of being an off-the-radar young American partly by introducing foreign characters, and his last two films are both set in "the buttcrack of the Antelope Valley" (Doug Harvey (http://www.artillerymag.com/featured-articles/entry.php?id=under-the-radar-pearblossom-hwy&ref_=ttexrv_exrv_1)), a poor-white stoner small town California desert world. Both also feature the sweet, touching Cory Zacharia and his co-writer Atsuko Okatsuka in the lead roles. In fact it's a bit confusing to watch Ott's 2010 Littlerock, his second feature, in close proximity with his new on Pearblossom Highway because of the way characters and situations overlap without being quite the same. In both, Ott deftly uses his simple methods and materials to deliver something touching and authentic. They're both good, though Littlerock may leave more of an emotional wake behind it and have a more clear and present time sequence.

In Littlerock, Atsuko (her character's name too) and her brother meet Cory (Cory Zacharia) and his friends while visiting from Japan and on their way to San Francisco and Manzanar. Only the brother speaks any English, and the linguistic non-understanding is a brilliant study in point of view. In Pearblossom Highway, Atsuko has become Anna, who has no brother, is living in California, speaks English, is preparing for a citizenship exam, misses her grandmother, and sells her body to pay for a visit home. Cory (same name) is her best friend (as he wanted to be in Littlerock), sort of, and is about the same person, only it's a couple years later and he's recently had a DIY conviction -- he drinks and smokes drugs too much -- and his life is a mass of artistic plans that aren't happening. And instead of talking all the time to the uncomprehending Atsuko, he talks into a video diary, expressing doubts and aspirations, where it's often hard to tell whether the actor is talking about his character or himself. This film is punctuated by jarring video-game shot sounds: it's intentionally more disjointed than the previous one. In Littlerock Cory wanted to go to L.A. and become a model and an actor; now he makes videos, works part-time for his stepfather, is the lead singer in a death metal band called Cory and the Corrupt, and wants to get on a TV reality show, "Young People." He's the one who has a brother this time who takes Cory and Anna to San Francisco to meet Cory's biological father. Anna's emotional story is told through phone calls to Japan. She hasn't the money to go there but her grandmother may be dying.

Some of the other cast members reappear too, a handsome, maybe not so nice black guy, Markiss (Markiss McFadden), and a Latino man, Francisco (Roberto 'Sanz' Sanchez) whose first name and role changes, and who, like Okatsuko's character, speaks perfect English now but in the previous film was a short-order cook who couldn't understand much outside the kitchen. He seems at home explaining things to Atsuko (in Littlerock) in Spanish, while she replies in Japanese. All through Littlerock Cory talks constantly and caringly to Atsuko in English, and she replies in Japanese, neither understanding exactly what the other one is saying.

Ott is good with transitory, superficial relationships. Rarely as in Littlerock has anyone captured so well how people, young ones anyway, can become friends and even lovers for a few days, and then drift apart. And maybe the relationship between Atsuko and Cory is the most touching one he captures. As Doug Harvey noted, Anna and Cory may only really connect while watching a Chaplin movie at the Roxie in San Francisco. The hunt for his father with his macho, disapproving older brother Jeff (John Brotherton ) leads to Cory's conclusion in his video diary that in the end, it "wasn't that interesting." Doug Harvey thinks Ott's channeling the French New Wave and calls Cory Zacharia his Jean-Pierre Léaud. Harvey makes great claims for Ott, and I don't know if they're all justified, but his use of and collaborations with his little troop of actors and writers is successful and ongoing. Lake Los Angeles is coming in 2014, with the same writing team and some of the same actors and characters. This seems like American indie filmmaking at its best and most humanistic.

Pearblossom Highway, 78 mins., debuted at the Viennale, following at AFI and other festivals, including the San Francisco International Film Festival in May 2013, where it was screened for this review. Littlerock got much fest attention including an Independent Spirit Award and a Gotham award that included a NYC theatrical release, followed by pickup by Fox Lorber: it is on DVD and instant play at Netflix. Pearblossom Highway was partially funded by the San Francisco Film Society.

Chris Knipp
04-24-2013, 12:38 AM


Bereavement, bullying, blowback

It's funny to go from Mike Ott's very natural and organic American indie films Littlerock and Pearblossom Highway to one that's completely self-conscious, contrived, and staged. An IMDb viewer's suggestion that Franco is a "new Mexican Haneke" is going overboard. He lacks Haneke's boldness and mastery, and this doesn't seem like a Haneke topic. Franco may deserve credit for depicting the nastiness of bullying with chilly thoroughness. Either this is a newly widespread phenomenon or there's a newly pervasive awareness of it. "Bullying" -- the English word is used also in other languages for this hot button topic. If Después de Lucía is to be believed, it's just as ugly at upscale Mexico City high schools as in the United States. This won the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes (jury headed by Tim Roth) and was Mexico's entry for the Best Foreign Oscar of 2013. But I have reservations about it. It's an example of taking one idea and hitting on it over and over relentlessly, except for a morally dubious finale that caters to the worst impulses in the audience, and there are elements that seem implausible. Ultimately despite its rubbing our noses in cruel teen behavior for a while, this film doesn't so much fully develop the theme of bullying and its consequences as use it, to cite Charles Grant of Variety (http://variety.com/2012/film/reviews/after-lucia-1117947611/), as "an attention-grabbing hook."

Lucía is the wife and mother, dead in a car accident. Her widower (Gonzalo Vega Jr.), a successful chef, and their teenage daughter Alejandra (Tessa Ia), move from Puerto Vallarta to Mexico City to a new restaurant (for him) and a new posh school (for her). They're cut off from emotion, he especially, but then according to Letterboxed (http://letterboxd.com/preston/film/after-lucia/)contributor Preston, Franco may have started off meaning to do something "sober" and then been "carried away by the more sensational aspects." This seems unlikely but the parts don't quite fit. Others (back to IMDb) suggest the first 40 minutes are just deadly dull and could be lopped off. Alejandra falls in quickly with the in crowd at school (but we know those seek victims) and is doing well; her father plainly isn't. But then Alejandra gets drunk at a party and has sex with the alpha girl's boyfriend José (Gonzalo Vega Sisto), which he cellphone-films. It goes around the school, and the attacks begin, gradually escalating and peaking on a school trip to Veracruz -- a surprisingly boozy and druggy one (one of the implausibilities) given that it's a school trip and the school has rigorous drug tests. At first "Alé" fights back vigorously to her tormenters but she becomes more and more meek and passive, borderline catatonic on the trip. Due to her dad's having a hard time, she tells him nothing till things get quite advanced.

Then things take several new directions, essentially dropping the social issue of bullying for other outcomes, partly unexpected. Franco maintains cool art house style with diegetic sound, no music, a measured pace, avoiding conventional mainstream appeal. The effect sometimes is to make shots uninformative. Certain group scenes of the kids seem unconvincing, the non actors, reportedly some of them Ia's real life classmates, perhaps not well directed; and some of the scenes shot from the middle distance aren't wholly clear. However the latter part certainly deserves credit for being surprising and exciting, especially compared to the beginning.

Después de Lucía, 93 mins., debuted at Cannes as mentioned May 2012, included at a number of major festivals including London, Glasgow, and Rio with releases in various countries, including France (critical response fine: Allociné press rating 3.7). Also included in the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it was screened for this review (showing 26 and 29 April 2013).

Chris Knipp
04-28-2013, 06:26 PM

Fabian Krüger, Sibylle Brunner and Sebastian Ledesma in Rosie

Dealing with family problems opens up the heart of a cynical writer

Rosie is a slightly clichéd theme: the cynic who finds love and becomes reconciled to his past. It's all handled in such an understated way that the filmmaker (who co-wrote with his previous collaborator Rudolf Nadler) carries it off, but the energy level is never very high. It's fueled by Sibylle Brunner as the mother, Rosie, a feisty old dame who drinks and smokes too much but maintains her independence even in the face of old age's indignities. Brunner's performance is pitch-perfect, scene-stealing at moments yet still mostly understated. Rosie and her jaded gay novelist son Lorenz (Fabian Krüger) share a cigarette and glass of wine now and then. If fact everybody shares a cigarette and a glass of wine now and then. Rosie's defiance gives her a twinkle in her eye sometimes. Indeed sometimes she's outrageous. At those times she's probably drunk. In fact she's an alcoholic. Lorenz and his sister, the grumpy, troubled Sophie (Judith Hofmann) frown at this, but tolerate it. The story is about everybody coming together, a bit. Rosie is about facing life on life's terms, but it's not made to look so terribly hard.

The thread that makes this a gay movie, but less overtly so than Gisler's previous films, is Mario (Sebastian Ledesma), a handsome, soulful young man who turns up eager to have sex with Lorenz. He's been a huge fan of his novels since he was a kid. Lorenz, a veteran of one-night stands, cooly chronicled in his books, does go to bed with Mario once -- despite back trouble -- but will have none of the youth's clinginess. Besides, he's dealing with Sophie, Rosie, and his agent. He's supposed to be on a book tour, or something. The film's transitions are usually shots of drives along the highway, accompanied by classical music. Frankly, if you don't know the landscape, they don't mean much. Presumably Lorenz has to go back and forth to Berlin, but it's not clear.

You don't quite know whether to root for Rosie or shake your head. Sure, tippling and smoking all day are her ways of having a good time, but there's something a little sad about her. And about Sophie.

A lunkish girl called Chantal (Anna-Katharina Müller) turns up who does chores for Rosie. Then despite Lorenz's having rebuffed Mario, he turns up helping Rosie too, in time to give Lorenz a very loving back rub. Lorenz is twenty years older than Mario, but Fabian Krüger is handsome and youthful. He may need the bad back to show he has some age. In the course of things, Rosie takes several gradual turns for the worse. And there's news from the past. At a birthday dinner for Rosie, an old man appears, a friend of the family, it seems. Lorenz looks into his history with Rosie and his father (about whom he has been having dreams) and gets some revelations.

All the stuff that's happening brings Sophie and Lorenz closer together, and in his acceptance of the importance of ordinary love relationships and his sadness about facing his mother's decline, guess what? Lorenz turns to Mario. Sophie gets back with her estranged boyfriend. Reluctantly, but with her usual aplomb, Rosie makes a go of life at an old people's home. Lorenz and Mario move to Berlin together. Lorenz's new novel is about Rosie and the triangle he discovered when he explored his father's past.

Whether or not this film is autobiographical (and he, like Lorenz, is a Swiss gay artist long resident in Berlin) it appears more family-oriented than Marcel Gisler's previous ones. It met with a warm reception at this year's Solothurn (Swiss) Festival, where it was nominated for Best Feature Film, Best Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Actor, and twice for Best Supporting Actor. Sibylle Brunner won the Best Acress award. This film however is not a patch on Ursula Meier's exciting and original film, Sister, the Swiss Oscar entry last year, which won Best Fiction Film and Best Screenplay. But Swiss film successes on the international scene are rare, so we must welcome the engaging, thoughtful Rosie, despite its low pulse.

Rosie, 106 mins., in German, is also is included in the 2013 San Francisco International Film Festival, in connection with which it was screened for this review. It opens in the German speaking region of Switzerland in June 2013.

Chris Knipp
04-29-2013, 01:59 AM


New directors, old theme, less success

Given California's proximity to Asia, certainly a big flashy new Hong Kong police drama is worthy of inclusion in the San Francisco film festival, especially with two new directors, Longman Leung and Sungy Luk, at the helm and som major names in the cast. But despite good scenes, mostly in the first half, this must be written off as a muddled attempt to spin a variation on the mole-in-the-force theme developed in the hugely successful Infernal Affairs (on which Scorsese's The Departed was based) and its sequels. Readers are advised to refer to Asian film reviewer Derek Elley (http://www.filmbiz.asia/reviews/cold-war)for an expert rundown on the plot and acting highlights of this movie. I will provide a more impressionistic treatment. Suffice it to say at the outset that there are some terrific, high drama scenes here, but as Elley puts it, the film "suffers from the perennial Hong Kong problem of a weakly developed script just when things are getting interesting" -- and probably heavy editing that makes many threads get lost and some hard to follow, a flaw that was to be experienced in Infernal Affairs too. Are we not really supposed to be paying attention? The writing matters. It really does.

A lot of slickness here, with much emphasis on the high tech equipment, chiseled cool modern office interiors, chiseled-faced actors with impressive eyebrows and immaculate suits, with lots of play with focus in action scenes, cameras that like to fly down from above, sweeping symphonic background music, and an editor who knows the value of cutting from a showdown at the harbor to a beautiful babe's soft legs silhouetted in her bedroom.

The opening is provocative enough (if only it were fully developed, instead of taking a new tack in the second half). While the police commissioner is in Copenhagen at a conference touting Hong Kong as "Asia's safest city," there's apparently a diversionary operation during which a whole six-person squad of the force is kidnapped for ransom, with the cops cleverly misled into following a false trail. The deputy commissioner names himself acting commissioner and treats this as a terrorist threat to be fought by an operation dubbed "Cold War." But his aggressive manner of behaving leads to opposition on the management side and a "cold war" between operations and management. The action is a little like a Shakespeare history play. Opposing forces, particularly Tony Lau Ka-fai as the operations acting commish and Aaron Kwok as the younger management opposition, stand around glaring and addressing fiery speeches at each other.

There is suspicion that the kidnapping couldn't have happened without a cop or former cop involved -- a mole, something rotton inside, as in Infernal Affairs. The film shows great American influence in the police department, or at least a lot of American English terminology thrown about concerning procedures. Everything is staged to make an impression of top quality facilities. Gone are the dingy police station offices of yore. This film certainly celebrates the Force. However, whether all this action is meant to support or ironize the "Asia's safest city" claim remains moot. The second half's investigation by the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) draws a red herring across the scene. However this half has nice features, such as the young ICAC hotshot known as Billy Cheung (Aarif Rahman), an impressively cocky overreacher if there every was one. This segment is both investigative and action-centered, but it all gets a little too analytical. Gone is noir, all is corporate glass and steel, with quick gun fights and noble final declarations, and a setup for a sequel.

Richard Kuipers, who reviewed this film for Variety (http://variety.com/2012/film/reviews/cold-war-1117948479/), overwhelmed by all the introductory material at the outset, found the first half of this film hopelessly confusing, "Bombarding auds with details and depriving them of much in the way of clarity for the first half hour,' and thought it settled down and made sense in the second part. The first half is fast-action, but it's overall structure seems clear enough, so I'd have to side with Elley's view that the real weakness comes later. Anyway, there's good stuff here, but it doesn't hang together: that much is clear.

Cold War 寒戰, 105 mins., in Cantonese, was released in Oct. and Nov. 2012 in Hong Kong and played at Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival. It was also included in the April 25-May 9, 2013 San Francisco International Film Festival, where it was screened for this review.

Chris Knipp
04-30-2013, 04:07 PM


Tradition vs. the individual talent: arranged marriage in a Senegal village

Tall as the Baobab Tree is a striking first feature shot in Senegal by the 23-year-old American filmmaker Jeremy Teicher. The students and families of Sinthiou Mbadane, Senegal, collaborated with Teicher as cast members in making the film shot primarily in the village where they live, which he knew from previous work there.

The idea is to show the clash of generations through focusing on a high school girl attempting to resist the rather ruthless survival strategies of an African village where her father decides on an arranged marriage of an underage girl, "selling" his 11-year-old daughter Debo (Oumul Ka), the older girl's sister, to raise the money needed to pay to treat his elder son Sileye (Alpha Dia), whose leg is injured early on in a fall from a Baobab tree. Coumba (Dior Ka) vows to raise the money any way she can. She wants herself and Debo both to get an advanced education, and she gets a boy who has a crush on her to mind the cattle she's supposed to be watching as Sileya rests up, while she goes to town and works housekeeping in a small inn. It's a risky deception. Meanwhile their father (Mouhamed Diallo) looks for a man who'll take Debo as a second wife.

Coumba has trouble, constantly asking for more money and rebuffed by the inn owner. She seeks encouragement and advice from her former schoolteacher, who stands on the side of progress. With him and at the inn the spoken language is French; the rest is in the local dialect of the Pulaar language. With help from her admirer who's been watching the cattle, Coumba raises the needed money, and their father is welling to pull out of the marriage arrangement, but the village elder tells him he can't. The men are devout muslims, and their words are constantly laced with Arabic formulas expressing humility and faith in the will of Allah, and this attitude prevails, despite the counter-valance of the will of the young and the French-educated. So after a rebellious gesture, without more ado Debo goes off in a cart with her new husband.

Everything is nicely understated, with no effort at drama, the non-actors delivering their dialogue with quiet conviction, knowing very well the situations they are dramatizing. The feeling of authenticity is beautifully maintained. However, the whole thing is so low-key that only the most ethnographically inclined are likely to maintain interest to the end. However, Teicher did not act unwisely in avoiding overt violence in his story.

The outstanding feature of Tall as the Baobab Tree is the visuals and the way they capture the authentic locations and cast. Crisp digital cinematography by Chris Collins does a fine job of bringing out the beauty of the people on screen and their colorful looks and clothing and velvety dark skin. Obviously state of the art HDSLR equipment was used. Jay Wadley’s African harp score provides a delicate and natural background, aiding the rhythm and never intruding. Teicher had worked in this Sengalese village, lacking running water, electricity or other amenities, for years doing a documentary short, This Is Us (2011), previous to making this film, and has a feel and a reverence for the life that comes through here. Obviously only a well-established trust enabled Teicher to use all these villagers in roles that, in various ways, call their traditional culture into question. The issue of arranged marriages in Senegal, as he has explained in many interviews, is a big one and had come to the fore when he was making the documentary.

Tall as the Baobab Tree/Grand comme le Baobab, 82 mins., debuted at Montreal and has shown at Rotterdam and other festivals, including the April 25-May 9, 2013 San Francisco International Film Festival, where it was screened for this review and where it was a nominee for the New Directors award. Also included in the June 2013 Lincoln Center Human Rights Watch Festival. Bruce Bailey's review and interview on Flickfeast (http://flickfeast.co.uk/feature/grand-comme-le-baobab-2012/) from the LFF provide more information than I have here.

Chris Knipp
04-30-2013, 06:03 PM


Long day's journey toward moral ambiguity

Western frontiers of the USSR, 1942, the film description goes. The region is under German occupation. A man is wrongly accused of collaboration. Desperate to save his dignity, he faces impossible moral choices.

Mike D'Angelo's Cannes 2012 Tweet review: "In the Fog (Loznitsa): 50. Much more conventional than MY JOY, and somehow feels simultaneously sparse and bloated. Adaptation issue?" He means he thinks "there's an interior monologue gone missing here, as is so often the case." And indeed it often is, with loss of intellectual content over heavy mood and stark visuals. Full D'Angelo AV Club review <a href="http://www.avclub.com/articles/cannes-2012-day-nine-the-director-of-precious-drop,75685/">here.</a> People noted the director's fiction feature debut <a href="http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1588">My Joy</a> (Cannes 2010, NYFF 2010), for its formal daring with its very long POV tracking shots (admired by a cinematographer I watched it with at the NYFF), but it went haywire at the end losing narrative coherence and rubbing one's nose in increasing, pointless violence. But Variety gives In the Fog a good <a href="http://variety.com/2012/film/reviews/in-the-fog-1117947639/">review</a>, which means that it will play. And if its moral issues and plotline are all too simple, as noted by D'Angelo, therefore also people will have something easy to latch onto, which they will like. And the contemporary bleakness and absence of any musical they will admire.

When Sushenya (Vladimir Svirskiy) rescues the wounded man Burov (Vladislav Abashin) who was going to kill him for allegedly causing the hanging of the other partisans, that's where you might need interior monologue, to give Sushenya good reason for this gesture other than simply to make him seem morally superior, because it's' an unwise-seeming move, on the face of it.

As in My Joy, Loznitsa begins with a remarkable authentic-feeling crowd scene involving a long tracking shot. This is where three men get hanged and later Sushenya is released. We see the two men come to get him at home because they assume his release was due to his betraying the other men. Sushenya thinks he was released as a decoy, and repeatedly wishes he'd been hanged with the others. The purpose of the scenes that follow can only be to discuss issues of moral courage. Obviously the unhandsome, weasely Voitek (Sergei Kolesov) is despicable. His compadre Burov (Vladislav Abashin) is a well-meaning fellow, but maybe not too smart, anyway not saintly like the long-suffering Sushenya, who lasts the longest, perhaps for no reason in terms of the plot, which is gear to emphasize the pointlessness of fate.

But if this is a Beckettian journey to nowhere, as it pretty much turns out to be, one might really prefer if it were even more pointless, but more eventful. There seems to be a good deal of time spent just sitting around waiting, exhausted, wounded.

Despite its rough period atmosphere and vivid locales, its titular fog and its looming trees, In the Fog seems very talky and theatrical, one of those many films that could have been done just as well, maybe better, on the stage. Which is fine, and this is a well-crafted film that must have done something to justify its Cannes award, the opening sequence itself showing Loznitsa's ability to stage and shoot scenes in ways few can. Except that at the end I'm left agreeing with D'Angelo that there is not enough here to justify the over two-hour run-time ("The story is simple, arguably too simple").

In the Fog/В тумане, in Russian, 130 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2012, where it was awarded the FIRPRESCI Prize. A dozen festivals and releases in as many different countries followed. The last festival is San Francisco, where it was screened for this review. The film has been acquired by Strand Releasing for US distribution.

In the Fog/В тумане, in Russian, 130 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2012, where it was awarded the FIRPRESCI Prize. A dozen festivals and releases in as many different countries followed. The last festival is San Francisco, where it was screened for this review. The film has been acquired by Strand Releasing for US release (NYC) Fri., 14 June 2013.

Chris Knipp
04-30-2013, 10:12 PM


A complicated beast: two post-Mao contemporary Chinese artists from different generations

Wang Guangyi, puffing on big cigars, his goatee and long hair wagging, is a formidable opponent spouting angry denunciations of westernized academics in Chinese art discussions -- his clout not lessened by his being perhaps the richest artist in China. But his work, which has blended burnished Mark Kostabi-like manikin figures with Dali knockoffs and a multiplicity of images blending US pop brands with social realist poster art and revolutionary slogans (Coca Cola and Mao and "No"), important as he may be justified in saying he was as a mover and shaker of China's first wave of contemporary art, big money-maker though he is now, seems a little dated, a little Eighties, and certainly less newsworthy compared to the brave and provocative Ai Weiwei. Wang himself admits to feeling disappointed. Young Liu Gang on the other hand, cherubic and cute as a button, is still hungry, even greedy ("ten thousand is as low as I'll go"). Quietly busy and driven, clicking away with his tripod and his expensive digital camera and playing with subtle pastel images of crinkled ads ("Paper Dreams" his first big show, exhibited worldwide, was called), seems more truly contemporary and interesting. His work captures the kind of confused globalized identity mish-mash the great Jia Zhang-ke talked about in his 2004 film, The World. Liu too roams vast expensive Chinese mockups of European cultural treasures. Wang sought to fight oppressive Chinese political forces; Liu only comments obliquely on culture. Now he's wrestling, in his musings anyway, with the issues Liu depicts of Chinese East-West cultural schizophrenia.

The old and young artists' styles are very different: Wang's is declarative and coonfrontational; Liu's in contemplative and indirect. But both have the same complex: international contemporary art is a Western thing, its hunger for exotic artists a source of their success, and this has unintentionally led both of them, whether several decades ago or only recently, to see the world through Western lenses. Liu is most overtly troubled by this, because it's what he has been criticizing and delineating in his own work.

Mika Maitilla, who is Finnish but lives in Beijing, is ingenious in the way he makes the two artists strong contrasts, and at the same time a single voice of Chinese contemporary art's uneasy relationship to the West. In the end the message is rather simple and contains no revelations. But this is, already by this point, a beautiful and elegant film.

In his last third, entitled "Marriage," Matilla drifts a bit to one side. We see Liu wants to get married, but his parents object, wanting him to focus on career, all the pressure on hiim because he's of the "only child generation." Matilla keeps showing Wang pacing around impressive shows of his work, but then when Liu goes ahead and gets married, we realize we don't know a lot about the private lives of either artist. Though we repeatedly see him with his parents, Liu is private and noncommittal: how did he even meet this young woman? Wang on the other hand is very public: but has he a family or a home life? Anyway, Liu's art career seems temporarily derailed by his marriage. What a cute couple! He takes a regular job in Beijing with the Dutch cultural agency SICA, and the film ends with many handsome photos of him posing with his pretty wife. His first series exhibition was "Paper Dreams," his second "Better Life," his third, to be called "Only Child Generation," still remains uncompleted. Are Wang and Liu both chimeras, illusions, odd mixes of two unrelated beasts? Matilla's handsome film is more food for thought than an answer. With the very rich at the top of China's heap, art is a big investment game -- that aspect a topic only touched upon here.

Chimeras, 88 mins., debuted at the Toronto Hot Docs festival April 25, 2013 and was also included in the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it was screened for this review. Matilla is a cinematographer on documentaries who has lived in Beijing for years. He has another film in the works.

Chris Knipp
05-01-2013, 08:01 PM


No prompt response in Sofia

Young Bulgarian-born, German-resident Ilian Metev, who's 22, made this film chronicling a corner of Sofia's degraded ambulance system by mounting three cameras on the dashboard of one of the city's rickety old emergency vehicles and then editing together material gathered over the course of two years. Mostly we do not get to see the victims and must rely on dialogue. A little girl is injured and the nurse, rather charmingly, asks her questions and talks and talks to keep her mind off it as they rumble over two hundred potholes on the way to the hospital. A drunk run over on the highway with a broken leg keeps trying to get up as the nurse ties on a splint and patiently orders him, over and over, to lie still till they arrive and carry him in. One place they arrive where neighrors have called he patient is not only dead, but her head half eaten away by worms. It is good we do not see. Mostly, nothing works. Yes, this is no competition for the dryly ironic nightmare of Cristi Puiu's Romanian feature, the Cannes 2005 Un Certain Regard prize winner, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, (http://www.filmleaf.net/articles/features/nyff05/lazarescu.htm) (NYFF 2005)</a> but it makes a sort of companion piece further illustrating the nature of Eastern Block medical meltdowns. And the humanity of the endeavor and the trio of ambulance staffers is unquestionable. They come off well, given the pressures, though they show little sympathy for an aborted abortion, nor full understanding of how drug addiction works. But then, neither is really their job, which is to keep people alive on the way to the hospital, if they can get to them in time, or at all, which often they cannot. Its documentary realism will make this of interest, but for a great film, watch Dr. Lazarescu.

Are we jaded by endless American TV series about disasters and police, or films like Scorsese's dramatic Bringing Out the Dead? Or is this not the best way to compile information about what after all involves a lot of running around, when it focuses mainly on sitting in the front of an ambulance, chewing the fat, chewing gum, and smoking cigarettes? Anyway, Sofia's Last Ambulance is really about not being able to find the place, not being able to get through to headquarters, arriving too late. Other ambulances -- this isn't quite the last one -- break down. People are quitting. "There's nobody left," Krassi (Krassimir Yordanov), the male technician, says. There are two others on camera, the patient, good-natured driver, Plamen Slavkov, and the nurse practitioner, Mila Mikhailova.

There are just 13 ambulances for two million people, the film's blurb says, but we get no view of the other dozen. Poor Mila, Plamen, and Krassi seem to live in their own slow frustrating bumpy little world. Of which, due to the filmmaker's remote shooting method, we get too little a view much of the time. A health care professional reviewing (http://lostinreviews.com/2013/03/sxsw-movie-review-sofias-last-ambulance/) the film was disappointed the injuries and treatment methods and tools were never shown.

Sofia's Last Ambulance/Poslednata lineika na Sofia, 80 mins., debuted at Cannes in 2012, where it won a new youth prize, the France 4 Prix Révélation, at Critics Week, and it has shown at easily a dozen and a half other festivals since. It is part of the documentary feature competition of the San Francisco International Film Festival, April 25-May 9, 2013, where it was screened for this review.

Chris Knipp
05-03-2013, 01:57 AM


Guilt, murder, penance, revenge flow through four or five hours of elegant, restrained Japanese horror from Kiyoshi Kurosawa in his TV mini-series

Hollywood Reporter's overview (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com//review/penance-shokuzai-venice-review-365832)(Deborah Young): "Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s made-for-TV serial drama Penance is a wild, uneven ride through the oddities of the Japanese psyche, as much as it is a psychological thriller examining the far-reaching aftereffects of a little girl’s murder. Complexly plotted, elegantly shot and orchestrated, this is the kind of long-winded, intermittently involving festival package that will earn the director of Tokyo Sonata more critical appreciation but will struggle to find a theatrical audience. For a film that requires nearly five hours of viewing investment, it feels terribly stingy on the emotional payoff. Divided into five interlinked chapters, it aired on Wowow television in January, shored up by an all-star cast and the morbid fascination and human interest of best-selling author Kanae Minato’s original book." Derek Elley points out (http://www.filmbiz.asia/reviews/penance)that Minato's previous novel Confessions, powerfully adapted for the screen by Tetsuya Nakashima, is far darker than this, but in either case the moral complexity to which murder seems to lead in Minato's world suits well with Kurosawa's own outlook.

Four little girls see a murderer who kills their wealthy classmate Emili. Emili's mother Asako (Kyôko Koizumi, wife of the unemployed father in Tokyo Sonata) becomes the avenging angel-guilty conscience-evil presiding spirit of the piece, and she puts a spell in the girls, telling them they must do penance, whatever that means, for not identifying the killer. Asako reappears in the four stories -- 50-minute TV episodes -- that follow. I don't quite see why some think story number four, of the perky Yuka (Chizuru Ikewaki), who opens a flower shop, scoffs at Asako's threats, and indulges a penchant for policemen and adultery, provides any kind of light relief. What you realize by the time her tale is told is that all four girls have grown up to be killers, only not for revenge; it just sort of happens in the course of their differently ill-starred lives. Is Yuka more "normal" than the fragile, doll-like Sae (Yu Aoi) who marries a corporate heir even stranger than she is (Mirai Moriyama), in the first story, "French Doll"? Or than the over-strict teacher Maki (Eiko Koike), who carries martial arts a bit too far in story two, "Emergency PTA Meeting"? Or than the somehow appealing reclusive longhaired "bear" Akiko (Sakura Ando), in jail for killing her brother (Ryo Kase) in story three, "Brother and Sister Bear"? No, in her story, "Ten Months, Ten Days," Yuka turns out to be just as weird as the others and more manipulative, a home wrecker as well as a killer. The important thing is that somehow the material and Kurosawa's handling of it makes each segment feel like a piece of the picture, and yet quite unique in its own way.

Kurosawa adopts the method of staging the early childhood events in full color and the stories of present time fifteen years later in pale grays with touches of color, heightening the coolness and artificiality of it all -- in view of which the brittle, airless first tale of Sae works particularly well, serving as a good introduction for how everything is going to go (badly). As the presiding high priestess of revenge, Kyôko Koizumi, always dressed in impeccable elegance and not having aged a single minute in fifteen years, is always in control, so it's no surprise that she gets her own final episode. Though revelatory, dramatic and climactic in its own way, however, given the complexity of the whole structure this episode hardly provides a sense of full resolution.

Furthermore, though Penance is elegant and compulsively watchable, the whole setup works best if you don't think about it too much. Why should the girls do "penance" well into their twenties for not identifying a killer they didn't know? Why should each young woman seem to think her unrelated act of violence would appease the grieving mother, Asako? Well, both novelist Minae Minato and adaptor-director Kiyoshi Kurosawa understand that in the psychology of horror tidy logical connections aren't necessary -- may even work better when they're clearly askew. But the final "Atonement" section is the usual elaborate string of explanations (with more of a police procedural setup) with little real connection to all that came before. And thus the overall structure remains factitious and dubious in ways that fall well short of what one gets in great art.

Time is wasted at the outset of each 50-minute TV segment by repeating the early moments of the killing and Asako's menacing speech to the four little girls latrer. If these repetitions, needed to introduce weekly episodes, could be elided the whole would play faster and smoother in a theatrical presentation, were there to be any.

This miniseries is great fun for Kiyoshi Kurosawa admirers, not to mention its interest to fans of the wilder shores of Japanese culture. But the flaw remains that, as Deborah Young says in her Hollywood Reporter review cited above, "For a film that requires nearly five hours of viewing investment, [Penance] feels terribly stingy on the emotional payoff." This lacks the intense humanity of Mika Niskanen's 1972 miniseries Eight Deadly Shots, also included in the San Francisco 2013 film festival, or the narrative drive, charisma, and excitement of Assayas' Carlos. This was spoken of at Venice as likely to become a US theatrical release, but reviewers were dubious and the prospect now seems unlikely. What is to be hoped for is a US and UK DVD release.

In its subtitled theatrical form the miniseries (AKA Shokuzai), 270 mins., debuted at Venice in August 2012, having shown on Japanese "Wowwow" TV in January. It has also shown at Rotterdam in 2013 and in Lincoln Center's Film Comment Selects, and was part of the April 25-May 9, 2013 San Francisco International Film Festival, where it was screened for this review. While Tokyo Sonata (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?2339-New-York-Film-Festival-2008&p=20841#post20841)(NYFF 2008) was Kurosawa's last feature release, he has a new one, Real, debuting in May 2013 at Cannes, based on a novel by Rokurô Inui.

Chris Knipp
06-30-2013, 08:07 PM


It's a bit premature to be summing up the festival. After all there are seven whole more days of films coming, counting today, Friday, May 3, 2013. But except for going to see BIG SUR at the Pacific Film Archive Sunday, I am probably done with my SFIFF film-watching. And I have watched nearly forty films. So here is a little summary along with some tentative 1-10 star ratings compiled for the website Flickfeast.uk. Those are in progress.

As usual, I have written about every film I saw. The SFIFF can be a last chance to see last year's festival films before the new ones begin, since the cycle truly starts over in mid-May with Cannes. I watched nine of the ten New Directors award nominees. Of these I particularly liked the touching little sci-fi film of Lima, Peru, after a plague, The Cleaner, but the Brazilian film, They'll Come Back, is also great and the cinematography in the Turkish film Present Tense is hauntingly beautiful.

My most memorable viewing experiences were the most lengthy ones, two made-for-TV mini-series: Mika Niskanen's 1972 Finnish saga of an alcoholic farmer, Eight Deadly Shots, starring the director, and Kiyoshi Kurosawa's intricate five-part psychological thriller of murderous women, Penance.

Of the nine films I'd already seen before I'd recommend A Hijacking, the Danish feature film about Somali pirates, a significant real phenomenon, and Sarah Polley's autobiographical Stories People Tell is a strong documentary debut for the Canadian actress-director. Also the weird, oppressive, memorably fish-eye doc, Leviathon.

In their stylish opening and closing films, Siegel and McGehee's What Maisie Knew and Richard Linklater's third in the talky Ethan Hawke-Julie Delpy romantic two-handers, Before Midnight, the festival organizers struck a very good balance of quality and audience appeal.

In my other choices I'm pleased to say that though it may not sound like it, I did well enough, so everything was decent: none that rocked my world, but no duds. I got as much variety as possible with an emphasis of fiction over documentary but with some good documentaries. So I got to range around from one language to another constantly, seeing films in Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Turkish, Farsi, Italian, French, Chinese, Finnish, Danish, and an African dialect I never previously heard of. At least a third of these may not come available on DVD, and that's the value of festivals.

I'd also single out Andrew Bujalski's uniquely nerdy 1980-set video recreation of an early Computer Chess convention. Similarly I discovered a talented super-indie American director, Mike Ott.

I hope you enjoy my reviews and through them discover some films to watch later on your own.



Act of Killing, The (Joshua Oppenheimer 2012).
This is a harsh documentary about massacres in Indonesia and I did not like its tone, but it has been widely admried. Grade: 6
After Lucia/Después de Lucía (Michel Franco 2012)
A Mexican fiction film about brutal bullying at a posh high school. It has occasioned much comment, but as a treatment of the theme it is weak, and has a vague ending. Grade: 5
Artist and the Model, The (Fernando Truba 2012)
A beautiful black and white film about an aging sculptor (Jean Rochefort) who's momentarily revivified by finding a beautiful, vibrant young woman model. Nice enough but the theme is hackneyed and the action is bland. Grade: 4
Before Midnight (Richard Linklater 2013)
Julie Delpy's character has become peevish and crabby in this sequel where the couple are finally married. The romance has gone out of it but the talk is still as energetic as ever. Grade: 6.5
Chimeras (Mike Matilla 2013)
A new documentary by a Finn long resident in Beijing contrasting and linking two contemporary Chinese artists. Beautiful and elegant, if inconclusive. Grade: 6
Cleaner, The (Adrian Saba 2012)
A touching, perfectly pitched little Peruvian first film about a city employee and a little boy he rescues in the wake of a virus wiping out the male population of Lima. Grade: 8
Cold War (Longman Leung, Sunny Luk 2013)
A new Hong Kong gangster flick by two new directors with some big name stars. Very slick, but in two halves that don't fit together enough. Grade: 5.5
Computer Chess (Andrew Bujalski 2013)
Well beyond mumblecore, its godfather recreates the mood, look, and ultra-nerdiness of 1980 when computer chess was still rudamentary. This one is unique. Grade: 7.5
Ernest & Célestine Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar (2012)
By the guys who did A TOWN CALLED PANIC, this time adapting a popular French comics series with lovely watercolor style animation. Grade: 7.5
Eight Deadly Shots (Mikko Niskanen 1972)
Finnish 5-hour 1972 TV miniseries about an alcoholic farmer's gradual meltdown is deeply memorable and a remarkable tour de force by director-star Mika Niskanen. Should become a Criterion DVD set. Grade: 9
Fill the Void (Rana Burshtein 2012)
This was in the NYFF 2012, about an ultra-orthdox wedding in Israel. Much admired and well done (with short NYC release), but it's like an advert for a very retro style of living. Grade: 5.5
Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach 2012)
Black and white talky improv drama debuted at NYFF 2012 is like mumblecore for young white New York hipsters. Greta Gerwig is in her element but I don't think Baumbach is. Grade: 5
Futuro, Il (Alicia Scherson 2012)
I loved Chilean Scherson's debut PLAY. Here she adopts a hitherto untranslated Roberto Bolaño novel (his last) set in Italian in Rome. An oddity. It's got Rutger Hauer. Grade: 4
Habi, the Foreigner (María Florencia Álvarez 2012)
An extreme form of cultural tourism, a young woman temporarily pretends to be a Muslim in Buenos Aires to escape her drab life. Good cultural details but it doesn't quite add up. Grade: 4.5
Hijacking, A (Tobias Lindholm 2012)
Escellent, highly realistic evocation of what it's like for a Danish shipping company and a crew to be victims of Somali pirages. Grade: 7
In the Fog (Sergei Loznitsa 2012)
Much admired festival film about men in WWII Bellarus wandering through a forest mired in moral ambiguity. Metaphor over action. Grade: 5
Juvenile Offender (Kang Yi-Kwan 2012)
Well-written and acted little Korean film about a parent and child both victims of a judgmental and exclusive society. Grade: 7
Key of Life (Kenji Uchida 2012)
A gangster and a failed actor switch identities. Regarded by some as clever and witty, but this gets bogged down in detail and the pace lags. Grade: 5
La Sirga (William Vega 2012)
A young woman takes refuge in the Andes with a cousin and helps repair his crumbling shack of a tourist inn in this metaphor for Colombia's national condition. Beautiful location, draggy action. Grade: 5
Last Step, The (Ali Mosaffa 2012)
Witty and convoluted Iranian film about jaded artist intellectuals and what did and didn't go right in their lives, with the actress who starred in Farhadi's A SEPARATION. Grade: 6
Leviathon (Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Peravel 2012)
NYFF 2012 Harvard ethnography doc center product fish-eye view of Mass. fishing tanker, exhausting to watch, one of their most emersive experiences and most admired efforts. Limited NYC release earlier. Grade: 8
Memories Look at Me (Song Fang 2012)
A young Chinese filmmaker goes to visit her parents and shoots herself talking to them. Much admired at fests (NYFF 2012) but I find it hopelessly drab and obvious. Grade: 4.5
Museum Hours (Jem Cohen 2012)
Cohen received the POV (Persistence of Vision) SFIFF award this year and this shows his elegance and subtle humanism as a documentary filmmaker blending a view of Vienna's Kuntshistorisches Museum with the viewpoint of a low-key couple. Grade: 6
Nights with Théodore (Sébastien Betbeder 2012)
Young Paris couple meet at a party and start spending the nights inside a park. A big creepy and not much to it. Original premise, though. Grade: 4
Night Across the Street (Raul Ruiz 2012)
Too complicated to explain here but this acts as a kind of summing up of the late master's themes. Grade: 8
Patience Stone, The (Atiq Rahimi 2012)
A very handsome but overly symbolic and theatrical film based on the director's own novel about an Afghan couple trapped in the war in Kabul. US release. Grade: 6
Pearblossom Highway (Mike Ott 2012)
A young ultra-indie US director worth knowing about, he focuses on marginal young people in a nowhere SoCal town. His previous LITTLEROCK you can watch on Netflix instand play. Grade: 6.5
Penance (Kiyoahi Kurosawa 2012)
In between TOKYO SONATA and the new REAL Kurosawa made this elegant 4-5-hour TV miniseries about murderous women based on the novel by Kanae Minato. This is going the rounds and was in Film Comment Selects. Grade: 8
Present Tense (Belmin Söylemez 2012)
A divorcee getting by barely in Istanbul as a fortune teller. Captures marginal survival strategies well and has lovely cinematography. Grad: 7
Rosie (Marcel Gisler 2013)
Little film about a gay writer who returns from Berlin to deal with his alcoholic, ailing mom. Sibylle Brunner won Best Actress at the Swiss awards. Grade: 5.5
Sofia's Last Ambulance (Ilian Metev 2012)
Three HD cameras stapled onto the dahsboard made a chronicle of exhaustion over a two-year period, but a fuller documentary of Bulgarian emergency services to have gone out with the crew more, wielding a handheld camera, and showing more of the actual treatments and patients. Grade: 5
Something in the Air (Olivier Assayas 2012)
Assayas, attractive, but shapeless autobiographical feature about kids chasing the revolution that vanished after May '68. Grade: 6
Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley 2012)
(New Directors 2013 entry). Polley's strong doc debut is about her own life and investigates her confused patrimony. Grade: 7
Strange Little Cat, The (Ramon Zürcher 2013)
German first film is more a logicstical game than a film but very clever and precise as a Swiss watch. Grade: 5.5.
Tall as the Baobab Tree (Jeremy Teicher 2012)
A young American's gorgeously shot drama about teenage girls in revolt in a village in Senegal profits from his excellent rapport with all the people. Ultra low-key action though. Grade: 6
Thérèse Desqueyroux (Claude Miller 2012)
Claude Miller's last film is the Mauriac novel redone with less verve than Georges Franju's 1952 version and Audrey Tautou instead of Emanuelle Riva. Grade: 6
What Maisie Knew (David Siegel, Scott McGehee 20113)
Typically cold-blooded and unfun, this Siegel-McGehee remake of the Henry James novel fits its plot neatly into cotempo Manhattan. Their best since THE DEEP END. SFIFF opening night film. Grade: 7
Youth (Justine Malle 2013)
Alas, daughter Justine Malle's fictionarlized study of her celebrated New Wave director father's last days and what she was doing at the time seems too little, too late and in the protag role Esther Garrel hasn't at all her brother Louis's charisma or sex appeal. Grade: 4.5