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Thread: San Francisco International Film Festival 2007 (50th anniversary)

  1. #31
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    Joachim trier: Reprise (2006)

    JOACHIM TRIER: REPRISE (2006)


    Espen Klouman-Høiner and Anders Danielsen Lie as Erik and Phillip in Reprise

    Youthful New Wave-ish wit from Norway

    Joachim Trier's smart, witty first film about a group of talented Oslo twenty-somethings won a prize at Toronto and was Norway's Oscar entry. Reprise focuses on Erik (Espen Klouman Hoiner, who's blond, and smiles practically all the time) and Phillip (Anders Danielsen Lie, dark-haired, crew-cut and wide-eyed). They're well-off, presentable and ambitious young men (and best friends) who try to launch writing careers by submitting manuscripts at the same moment. They also share a passion for the same reclusive novelist, Sten Egil Dahl (Sigmund Saeverud). The film amuses us right away by showing a series of alternative possible outcomes to the young men's ambitions with quicksilver editing and a bright voiceover--a light approach which, with the close artistic friendship in the story's foreground, brings up memories of the Nouvelle Vague and especially Truffaut's Jules et Jim. The screenplay, appropriately for a treatment of young people on the brink of maturity, constantly toys with possibilities, which we briefly see. Much of its charm is in the editing, but the opening segment is such a flood of wit, it's a little hard to sustain it.

    Moreover things turn a bit more Nordic and dark when Philip is the one to get published first, but immediately has a psychotic episode--partly attributed by doctors and family to his "obsessive" love for his girlfriend Kari (Viktoria Winge)--that lands him for a while in a sanatorium. Much of the film that follows deals with the problems for Phillip and the problems Phillip poses for others after his psychosis emerges.

    Now Erik gets a MS. accepted, a little novel (we guess) called Prosopopeia. He thinks that with this event, he must end his relationship with his longtime girlfriend Lillian (Silje Hagen) -- a decision perpetually put off that may recall Matthieu Amalric's wavering over Emmanuelle Devos in Arnaud Desplechin's similar study of a group of (a bit older) intellectual young people, the 1996 My Sex Life. . .or How I Got Into an Argument.

    Reprise is full of little ironies, some a bit obvious. There's one friend who acts as a mentor for the guys. Not a good idea to have girlfriends, he says--they'll make you settle into a life of watching TV series and having nice dinners and give you too little time to read and listen to music. That's his rule; and he doesn't have a girlfriend. Then, wouldn't you know it, he's the first one to wind up married and living the bourgeois family life. Another easy irony is the way the pretty editor at Phillip's publisher's is first utterly repelled by an older punk rock band friend's politically incorrect and offense chatter, then later is drawn to him like a magnet and marries him.

    The film's co-writer Eskil Vogt studied at La Feris, and his French residence comes out in the way two segments of Reprise take place in Paris, where Philip and Kari first discover they're in love and where they go back after his mental problems to recapture the feeling, with mixed success.

    Erik and Phillip know where the reclusive Sten Egil Dahl lives and occasionally spy on him. Phillip shoots Erik on a bench pretending to talk with the writer but forgets to remove the lens cap so the photo is a blank. Undeterred, Erik enlarges the resulting black rectangle and hangs it in a prominent place on his wall. Later it turns up as an emblem on the jacket of his book.

    Erik performs badly on TV after Prosopopeia is out (arguments over the odd title stand in for a young author's stubborn missteps). He refuses to acknowledge a personal element in his references to psychosis, or anything else for that matter, in his book; and such reticence doesn't go over well on the boob tube. He also reflexively uses a lot of affected finger "quote" marks imitating their mentor, making him look the fool even to his friends. But, in another quick irony, Sten Egil Dahl sees the show, reads Erik's book, and, rescuing him from a mugger, reassures him that he did right on television and that he likes his novel -- or most of it, anyway.

    Phillip's psychosis seems to come and go. He can't write any more -- but then he does, though it's unsuccessful, as Erik feels obliged as a best friend to tell him. Phillip has a habit of counting from ten down to zero and we may think when he gets to zero one day he's going to throw himself off a roof or in front of a truck. The darker side is always there, but also the light side. That's why, Trier says, he used lots of punk music but also French poetry in his film. Part of the pleasure in this enjoyable, fresh piece of work is the sense of a group of talented, bright young people at work together making it. The punk band is part of the way the film fills in a whole group of friends from this generation of whom Phillip and Erik are only the foreground. Norwegian filmmaking plainly is infused with lots of new blood and in a good period: there were plenty of Norwegian competitors for their Oscar submission this year.

    Shown as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival 2007 and a SKYY Prize contender.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-14-2012 at 08:34 PM.

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    PAVEL GIROUD: THE SILLY AGE (2006)

    PAVEL GIROUD: THE SILLY AGE (2006)



    "Big things are happening in this country"

    Edad dela Peseta or "silly age" is the term used in Cuba for the pre-adolescent period from the age of seven to the age of eleven. Giroud's stylish, assured period study of this awkward time takes him back to the very moment of the revolution of Fidel Castro, to 1958. The whole film is a bit tongue in cheek. Samuel (Iván Carreira) is ten. He's so sophisticated and handsome-looking it's a bit hard to believe that, but everything is heightened. Samuel is the Rudolf Valentino of little boys. Except that sometimes he still wets his bed. This is Havana as Hollywood. The film is brightly-colored, as tasty as a box of fine candies, but its elegance is tinged with the acid of irony. The writing never pushes its points too hard, and the result is pure pleasure. Coming of age may be a well-worn theme, but there is always room for new variations. Samuel's utter self-possession, defiance, and good looks provide a fresh mix.

    Samuel is brought to Havana by his mother Alicia (Susana Tejera), newly divorced--but not for the first time--to live with her long-ignored mother Violeta (Spanish actress Mercedes Sampietro). Violeta is a piece of work. She teases and commands Samuel, tries to intimidate him a little, threatens him with being sent away to school. (He's always in a the white shirt and tie he wears at his Catholic school.) Then rather suddenly he becomes Violeta's protégé. They hit it off. He's as strong-headed as she. She's a portrait photographer; he becomes her assistant. She threatens him to make him work for her, but she needn't; he likes it. Gradually a "nice" relationship between Violeta and Samuel develops. One wouldn't call it "warm," but they're close allies, two of a kind. For him she's a bridge toward good things to come. He's probably at least as grown up as she is.

    Samuel also gets to watch "television" of a very special sort that a woman of ill fame shows his classmates--a scene out of Fellini's Amarcord, but like everything in this film, tidier and more elegant. Alicia meets Ramon (Jose Angel Egido), the plump and proper owner of a shoe store, in a weepy movie. They look over at each other, both with tears streaming down their faces, and they know they're a match. She goes to work at Ramon's shop, and eventually they are to marry. Meanwhile Samuel gets increasingly advanced kissing lessons from the television lady's very foxy daughter (Claudia Valdes). (In one of Giroud's more daring conceits, he continues at home in bed with a ceramic head of the Virgin.) He is madly in love with a real woman he meets delivering photo portraits, Violeta's most beautiful model, a movie star named Nuria (Carla Paneca), a gorgeous lady who lives in a nice house and later turns out to be the girlfriend of one of the most famous heroes of the Cuban Revolution.

    Samuel isn't particularly enthusiastic about Ramon, but Ramon makes a successful effort to woo him. Ramon is the one who first alludes darkly to the "big things happening in this country," at the time news to Alicia. He's plainly not at all happy about these "big things," so it seems likely he's going to be among those who will flee when the Revolution happens, as it does, finally, with a burst, jump-starting The Silly Age's last section. But we see nothing of it but some historical footage, and a glimpse at Nuria's boyfriend. The film works on its own small scale with an eye for the absurd--implying its "big things" only appear so to the participants--though perhaps hinting that as Samuel slips out of his silly age, Cuba slips out of hers.

    Everybody knows Havana has an unsurpassed collection of Fifties cars, and some of the most immaculate of them are seen to good advantage in this film. Everything else is likewise perfectly in period. Giroud's touch is deft. He never lets a scene run too long. He's a surprisingly smart and mature filmmaker. Credit is also due to the cinematographer, Luis Najimias Jr.; the author of the screenplay, Arturo Infante; and the production designer, Maya Segura.

    The Silly Age was shown at the Toronto festival last September and was a SKYY Prize contender (for first time directors) when shown as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival 2007. It won the new SFIFF Chris Holter Award for Humor in Film.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-14-2007 at 02:57 AM.

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    PABLO TRAPERO: BORN AND BRED (2006)

    PABLO TRAPERO: BORN AND BRED (2006)



    Running from emotion in Patagonia

    As Born and Bred (Nacido y Criado) begins, Trapero quickly establishes the happy, well-off family, the designer dad Santiago (Guillermo Pfening); mom, Milli (Martina Gusman); and little Josefina (Victoria Vescio), living in a house all done in white with a maid to wait on them. They even drink milk for breakfast. They take a day trip out in the country to visit and then BAM! On the way back, squabbling with the girl, who climbs onto the front seat, Santiago looks away from the road and there's a terrible accident. We don't know at first what's happened, hear only the voice of the dad. Fast forward to winter in Patagonia with a male companion. The designer Santiago, tousled and bearded now, is living a rough life out in the country, it appears, hunting with Robert (Federico Esquerro) and Cacique (Tomás Lipan). Night scenes show he is disturbed, suffers perhaps a kind of post traumatic stress syndrome. Normal for the most part, at other times he seems deranged, acting out little moments of hyper-vigelance right in the middle of a drive or a hunt and vomiting in the night. His constant associates now obviously don't know him well, and he tells them nothing.

    Trapero seems much more at ease in developing this scene than the earlier too-perfect family life. Santiago is escaping, unsuccessfully. The men work occasionally for the local airport, though traffic is dwindling. They go to Riojano's bar, and when they've caught some game they sell it to the barman for the meat or the skins, usually at a loss to them. The barmaid Betty provides sex à trois -- one such session an occasion for more moody acting out by Santiago.

    It's intentionally left up in the air what's happened with Milli and Josefina, who're vaguely and occasionally referred to. What became of Santiago's successful career? Someone keeps trying to call Roberto, and later someone calls Santiago on his phone. What's going on? Why has Santiago chosen this way out? A call he makes to Victoria (Nilda Baggi) shows he hasn't told his relatives where he is. This seems to be male avoid-responsibilities country, since Roberto has a girlfriend back home who's pregnant and he won't talk to her; he calls her his "ex." Even Cacique, the Indian, neglects his family and goes out carousing knowing his wife is sick. It's all drink, hunting, a little work, and machismo with these big boys. There is a shade too much determinism in the similarity of the three men's behavior.

    This goes on too long, and the tension created by the accident is lost. Finally a naked shot of Santiago shows his body is covered with welts, apparently incompletely treated burn scars. When Cacique's wife dies, Santiago's grief is released and he confesses to Robert about the accident. But as we learn next, he really doesn't know altogether what has happened, because he fled before finding out.

    Seemingly like a prolonged tease, Born and Bred does provide an intense experience. It will appeal to you if you like to have emotions developed by their non-expression. Trapero is a highly esteemed director and this film may increase its interest if one sees it in relation to his previous work, but I have seen only this one. His 1999 debut Crane World and his 2004 Rolling Family were earlier SFIFF selections. He has relied more often on non-actors in the past, but this is a change, because Guillermo Pfening is a well-known TV actor. It's also said (e.g., in the Variety review of Born and Bred by Robert Koehler) that each of Trapero's films has been a complete change from the previous one, and so this may be reflected in the stark contrast between the pristine domestic prelude and the rough Patagonian sequences the follow in Nacido y Criado. However the opening sequence is unconvincing and the Patagonia scenes are atmospheric but too long, so this film can hardly be called a success.


    Shown as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival 2007.

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    CARLOS SORIN: THE ROAD TO SAN DIEGO (2006)

    CARLOS SORIN: THE ROAD TO SAN DIEGO (2006)


    TATI (IGNACIO BENITEZ) AND HIS CARVING

    Innocent pilgrimage to a soccer god

    The Argentinian director Carlos Sorin has staked out a small but secure place for himself in the world of cinema. His gentle road movies have tended to use non-actors in congenial roles to depict wanderings in obscure regions (mostly somewhere in Patagonia or the far south of the country). The most recent Sorin films concerned traveling dog show followers (Bombon, el perro, 2004) and a small collection of minor people whose tales were intertwined (Historias Minimas, 2002). This time his main traveler is more driven, and has a more mainstream mission. He makes it almost all the way to Buenos Aires, and he is, essentially, doing what millions do, or would like to.

    Tati Benitez (Ignacio Benitez) is a fanatical sports fan. What could be more fanatical in Argentina than the need to worship and follow Diego Maradona, the soccer god? There's nothing offbeat about Diego. Tati, a healthy young fellow who has a sweet and honest and innocent and rather pretty face, lives in a remote village in the Misiones jungle with his pregnant wife (Paola Rotela, the actor's actual, and actually then pregnant, spouse). Tati's uniform is a soccer shirt with Maradona's number 10 on it and has a huge 10 tattooed on his back. Fellow villagers joke that he's married to the star. The presentation of Tati's obsession is tongue in cheek, as various villagers tell the camera about it. He's even got two parrots who chime "Maradona."

    Times are tough and Tati has lost his job as a lumberjack. He goes to work for Silva (Miguel Gonzales Colman), an ancient Indian woodcarver who speaks only the guaraní language, learning the trade in exchange for small rewards. His wife is at home expecting the baby. Tati learns all about the kinds of wood. One day in a forest looking for good pieces to carve in a heavy rainstorm Tati finds a big root rising up out of the ground that he thinks is the spitting image of his soccer idol standing with arms lifted in triumph after scoring a goal. Thinking himself blessed by the magical appearance in his path of this symbolic object, Tati lugs the root back and in time Silva brings out the likeness. We never quite get a good look at the whole thing up close, but it's clear the resemblance is largely in the eye of the beholder, and grows in proportion to one's fandom. Eventually, the news comes (this is in 2004, when it happened) that Maradona has had a heart attack and is in intensive care in Buenos Aires. Everyone hangs on watching communal TV's. When he first hears the news, Tati thinks it's just a bad joke. After a few days "El Diego" is reported to have abruptly left the hospital. Later he's reported to be playing golf at a club.

    A youth club has offered to accept the carved root, but after consulting with a fortune teller, Tati, Sorin's rural sports fan everyman, decides he must make the pilgrimage to his idol and present it directly to him. He goes off, the carving wrapped in black plastic secured with a rope. Of course people keep asking what it is and he must unveil it. He meets lost of people along the way, including the main actors in 'Bombon', Juan Villegas, in a camera shop, and Walter Donado, driving an ambulance. Also notable is Maria Marta Alvez as a girl from a roadside brothel and Lila Caceres as a young wife on a pilgrimage to pray to the cowboy saint, Gauchito Gil. Most notable, because they are together longest, is Waguinho (Carlos Wagner La Bella, actually a film producer), a big burly bearded Brazilian driving a giant truck, who when he hears about the sculpture at first refuses to give Tati a ride, Maradona of course being no friend of Brazil, where the god of soccer, in case you didn't know, is Pelé (Edson Arantes do Nascimento), who, dare we say it, is the greatest soccer player of all time. (But it only said "arguably," -- and that was on a Brazilian website.) Waguiho does give Tati a long ride, and his rambling monologues bring home the folkloric aspects of football worship. After all, the big carved root is a kind of idol, and it's clear the common people in Latin America come close to attributing supernatural powers to their athletic deities.

    When Tati finally gets to the place where Maradona's supposed to be, he finds a whole encampment. It's surely no accident that "San Diego" could signify the athlete's sainthood -- though his failings -- drug excess, obesity, sheer unruliness -- do not go unmentioned either -- and Santiago (i.e., San Diego) de Compostela is a famous Christian religious pilgrim's destination. This is the clearest sign that Sorin's work feels more mainstream this time, not only because he is dealing with an object of mass popularity, but because where Tati goes is where, in a sense, everyone in the country wants to be at this moment. And not only that, but there is a kind of accomplishment in the handling of crowd scenes, shots of big trucks in motion full of standing riders, not to mention Tati and the Brazilian in the big cab, all showing more technical ambition this time. There is a kind of propulsive forward energy in El Camino de San Diego that 'Bombon' and 'Historias Minimas' lacked. The love of ordinary folk, of the little guy, the forgotten person, is stronger, more touching than ever this time. Sorin might reach a larger audience with this film. If ever there was a feel-good movie, this is it. There is at the same time a certain sense of loss. Carlos Sorin no longer seems an obscure director one loves in a special way because hardly anyone else knows or cares about him -- but that was really never true anyway.

    Shown as a part of the San Francisco International Film Festival 2007.

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    Pascale ferran: Lady chatterley (2006)

    PALCALE FERRAN: LADY CHATTERLEY


    MARINA HINDS, JEAN-LOUIS COULLOC'H

    Conventional, yet revolutionary


    Lady Chatterley is based on a version of one of the most famous and controversial English novels of the twentieth century. There have already been many screen variations of D.H.Lawrence's story of the wife of a paralyzed and impotent English aristocrat who finds sexual gratification and a new life with her husband's gamekeeper. One can see why this film won the Cesar last year. As they should be, the scenes between Lady C. and the gamekeeper are the unforgettable element, and the heart of the film is the actors. Marina Hinds is radiant, a cross between Ingrid Bergman and Mariel Hemingway in looks but fresher and more authentic than either. When this Lady C. and the gamekeeper make love, it's as real and tender and sexual and quick as you could imagine, or, dare one say, as such things might really be. Jean-Louis Coulloc'h as Parkin is a rather burly fellow, slightly balding, with a sensitive face, taciturn but dignified, and not inarticulate, just tight-lipped. He is not simple and peasant-like. He is manly, but he's a loner, happiest by himself. Hippolyte Girardot as Sir Clifford is not a handsome man, but importantly he is neither angry nor excessively dignified. No one overplays his role -- they play things straight, and that's the overriding virtue of this movie. It lets the elements speak for themselves, and the result is a revelation.

    Surely an essential element of the book Lawrence was trying to write was a realistic sexuality seen directly and tenderly, without embarrassment. But Lawrence saw it differently in the three successive versions he wrote, of which only the third is widely published and known. They are The First Lady Chatterley, John Thomas and Lady Jane, and Lady Chatterley's Lover. As Helen Croom explains, the second version introduces the "sexual healing" aspect not in the first, but is more tender than the third, in which the gamekeeper, his name changed from Parkin to Mellers, has become "hard and bitter" and the relationship has been made more purely sexual, with the addition of purple passages intermingled with a liberal use of Anglo-Saxon sexual "four-letter" words. The second version is simpler and more tender, and so is this film. Croom feels the well known third version really isn't the best. Its fetishizing of sexuality takes us away from what Lawrence really excels at, which is relationships, and the wonderful thing about Ferran's film is how clear and direct the Lawrentian relationships are and yet how every onscreen moment subtly changes them.

    Lady Chatterley takes its time, and in the version shown at the San Francisco film festival, it's three hours long. The spaces between the scenes are as important, and so are the silences, as the scenes themselves for the mood created. As the story begins, Lady Chatterley becomes overwhelmed by lassitude. Her doctor tells her she must get out. This is what leads her to walk around on her husband's estate. She sees Parkin from behind with his shirt off washing up. He's not some aerobicized Natutilus male but a work-conditioned man with a solid, muscular, bull-like torso. She moves away at first and doesn't speak to him, but later it's obvious if not now that a desire has been planted to know what it feels like to touch this body. Later she asks for a key to the "cabane" where Parkin comes to work, and to go there herself. The utter quiet of the place awes her. There's a sense in the shots of big expanses of tree and grass, of immersion in the outdoors.

    What's striking is that there's no tension in this story. One day she's there, and Parkin asks Lady C. if she wants it. She does and then they begin making love there on the floor of the "cabane" regularly. She comes to life. This is when Marina Hinds begins to glow with natural happiness. No one is suspicious, there's never any danger that they'll be caught. Sir Clifford is stiff and uncomfortable, but it isn't overdone and in fact is very subtle. Much of the time it's notable how well he does. At dinner parties he's like anybody else. And Parkin isn't gruff and rough. Nor does he as in the published third version make up little pet names for their private parts.

    Constance Chatterley is a vibrant young woman who needs sexual experience and comes to life when she begins having it; and she's beautiful and the gamekeeper wants her, and he isn't ashamed or afraid of having her. Then she goes away on a trip to Europe that's been planned before, with a lady friend and a man, and that gives her a chance to cover things up. But after the trip, things change. Because this is a Thirties period film set in France, Lady Chatterley and her husband are formal in addressing each other, and she and Parkin don't use the familiar "tu" till she comes back. Parkin isn't a romanticized Noble Savage, some incarnation of the physical. He's physical all right, but he dresses in a shirt and tie.

    The most peculiar thing is that without any apology or explanation all the people and places are English, but everyone speaks French. This is as if to say: This seems very real, but it's a fable, and we're not going to fake it about that.

    There have, as mentioned, been many film versions, and perversions, of Lady Chatterley. Ferran's is an elegant production, in many ways conventional (it was made for television, with a still longer running time), and it's without self-conscious stylistic gestures -- with the one notable exception of the very measured pace. Nothing gets in the way of the actors and the setting -- the big aristocratic house, the great lands around the property. There's not much more to say. If you want to experience a revolutionary moment in twentieth century English fiction that's still quite alive today, you will have to see this. It's a remarkable film. Some boning up on the writer and the period before or after your viewing wouldn't hurt.

    The longer French TV version is to be entitled Lady Chatterley et l'homme du bois (Lady C. and the man of the woods). Kino International is the US distributor and it's scheduled to open in New York June 22, 2007.

    Shown as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, May 2007.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-26-2012 at 10:55 PM.

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    TAKUSHI TSUBOKAWA: ARIA (2006)

    TAKUSHI TSUBOKAWA: ARIA (2006)



    Island histrionics make for a slow, whimsical ramble

    Tubokawa's droll, extremely offbeat little film Aria uses its setting on the island of Hokkaido to examine a hermetic world of Japanese histrionics and quirks--notable among them shyness and determination -- and perhaps shame and deference to ancestors and spirits of the dead. Ota (Masayuki Shionoya) is a recently widowed, and very reticent, piano tuner and the film opens with him at work. By an irregular path this leads to an aged puppeteer named Kuzo (Masao Komatsu) and a mysterious young woman, Kako (Mariko Takahashi) who says she's the puppeteer's daughter, who helps Ota go looking for the piano Kuzo's wife used to use to accompany his performances and at the same time for a special remote beach where Ota's wife wanted her ashes scattered. Ota is burdened with a sense of shame for not having paid any attention to this wish and so having been up to now unable to fulfill it. All he has to go on is a little torn snapshot of the beach, which, of course, looks more or less like any other patch of ocean and sand.

    The grief-stricken Ota has been living with old friend Kojima (Simon Yotsuya), who has a clock collection and repair shop. This is where an initially disdainful Kuzo comes by to leave off his weirdly lifelike doll, "Miss Aria," for repairs. Kuzo's bustling, incompetent apprentice, Senju (Sojuro Kataoka) appears to pick up the puppet and he becomes a part of the story, especially when Kuzo collapses at a performance Ota has gone to, and later dies in the hospital. There is a brief moment of bonding between Ota and Kuzo in the hospital room when the latter confesses he has long ago lost his wife and still misses her. His dying wish was to have the piano found, and it's at this point the film turns from desultory character study to whimsical and mildly supernatural road movie.

    On the little journey around the island's nearly deserted beach areas various individuals are encountered, including an old man who runs a restaurant, who has a map to show where the beach is and seems to know the location of the piano; another old person, a woman hitchhiker who sings about the sea; and the keeper of a shrine surrounded by statues of foxes. Chaplin meets Fellini as Ota livens up a bit, clearly inspired by the young lady, Kako, and Senju puts on a little mustache. Finally it begins to seem that the young woman, rather than the puppeteer's daughter, may be a fox spirit or the reincarnation of the piano tuner's wife. Come to think of it, the puppeteer's hauntingly lifelike doll itself seemed like some imprisoned spirit.

    Aria is a tiny, tiny film but its frailty is not without firm assurance. Here, Hokkaido becomes a setting where Japanese tentatativeness and understatement have their own sense of style and rigor. Tsubokawa uses an appropriately quiet visual manner, with Ozu-like static shots predominating. Tsubokawa's first film was the intriguing Clouds of Yesterday, a silent evocation of bygone cinema, which was even more slow-moving and more in debt to Italian film, but lacked the storytelling ability revealed however obliquely here. It was shown at last year's SFSIFF and I wrote: "Tsubokawa's sadly grainy and hard to follow Clouds of Yesterday is steeped in cinematic sense and may be a rough hint of fine work to come." Only for the patient, Aria nonetheless will utterly charm some with its quiet rewards.

    Shown as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival 2007.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-17-2007 at 11:09 PM.

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    HIGHLIGHTS OF THE FESTIVAL

    HIGHLIGHTS OF THE SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2007


    DREAM WEAVER: OLIVIER DAHAN


    Though nothing I saw except maybe Lady Chatterley was really magical this year at the 50th SFIFF, the general quality was high, and I can think of six that are worth singling out, and quite a few more worth mentioning.

    Lady Chatterley
    will be coming to US theaters. Pacale Ferran, whose film won the French Cesar for best picture this year, based it not on the familiar third version but D.H.Lawrence's second version, which has less blunt sex talk, more tenderness, and more focus on the relationship beyond sex between Lady Chatterley and her impotent husband's gamekeeper. The gamekeeper's called Parkin instead of Mellors, and he's not gruff and harsh or inarticulate, just a loner and a man of few words. Jean-Louis Couloc'h is quite special in this role, not like a movie actor at all. Seen without a shirt by his future lover he has a bull-like muscularity, but he always wears a coat and tie. Balding, a bit stocky, the actor has a quiet assurance and a kindness and patience that make a unique impression. Marina Hinds as Lady Chatterley is equally convincing in her arc from a fading creature almost losing the will to live to a blooming, radiantly happy young woman discovering sexuality and love. Hippolyte Girardot as Sir Clifford, like the other actors, avoids any exaggeration. We feel his helplessness; he need not telegraph it. What's avantgardist in the film is its slow pace; it takes its time to give a full sense of the lifeless house and the vibrant world of trees and grass outside. The sex scenes are the more real for happening fast. This is film that gets a well-known story right as never before. The fact that an English story with English names is all in French gives the whole something of the feel of a fable.

    Veronica Chen's Agua
    , an elegant narrative feature about competition swimmers, Chino (Nicolas Mateo) and Goyo (Rafael Ferro) at two stages of their lives, is stunning for the way the act of swimming is filmed. The sparingly used but unforgettable underwater photography captures the grace and symmetry of the swimmers' bodies, their unity with the water, the sound of heartbeat and breathing that become a meditation. Chen combines adept documentary realism with dramatic sequences that underline these two men's poor adaptation to life outside their obsession. Goyo has just returned after years of hiding following a drug disqualification that cost him the championship in a marathon, and Chino fails to make it to the national team in indoor pool competition and is lost and rudderless. Agua is distinguished by a clear rhythm defined by the contrasts between the silence of the swimming under water and the cacophony of life above water at a big pool or at a meet with a crowd of spectators. Both swimmers in a sense are defeated, but are thus freed to go on with the next stage of their lives.

    Argentinian Carlos Sorin has carved out a place for himself with his little Argentinian road movies mostly using non-actors and filmed in remote Patagonia. His Road to San Diego is his most adept, winning, and mainstream film to date. Its hero is Tati Benitez (Ignacio Benitez), a naive country boy who shares something with billions of others on the planet: he is a huge soccer fan. And his idol is the Argentinian superstar, Diego Maradona, "El Diego." Tati is an out-of-work lumberjack with a pregnant wife living in a little village in the Misiones jungle who carves a huge root to look like his soccer hero. When Maradona has a heart attack, Tati goes on a journey carrying the carved root as a worshipper would make the pilgrimage to the shrine of a saint. He meets various people along the way, including some of the actors in Sorin's previous Bombon, El Perro, about men traveling to dog shows. His main companion paradoxically is a Brazilian truck driver, Waguinho (Carlos Wagner La Bella) whose soccer idol is not Maradona but Pelé. The Road to San Diego is about hero worship and how at some level it blends into folklore and magic. Tati is a sports fan everyman, and Sorin's feel-good saga expresses universal truths through its quirky specificity. The director has never been more accomplished, this time making use of more elaborate shots and crowd sequences and achieving greater narrative thrust. The secret of his quiet mastery is probably going to get out now.

    Edie and David Ichioka's Murch is a simple little 85-minute documentary that gives the legendary American Zoetrope editor Walter Murch a chance to sound off for a while about how he cut and pasted movies like The Conversation and The Godfather and Apocalypse Now into the classics they are, and crafted his remarkable recreation of Welle's Touch of Evil according to the director's fifty-page statement of his original intentions. This is "just" a "talking head" film, but with his clear explanations and colorful metaphors Murch is a head that really knows how to talk, and the Ichiokas illustrate all his references with just the right clips from the films in question exactly when needed. For anyone interested in how films are put together, this is enlightening, inspiring stuff.

    Joachim Trier's Reprise is a youthful New Wave-ish display of wit and cinematic panache from Norway that's a portrait of a recent generation of creative Oslo young people. In the foreground are Erik (Espen Klouman Høiner, a tall blond guy who smiles almost all the time) and childhood pal Phillip (Anders Danielsen Lie), equally presentable and well off, with bright eyes and a crew cut. Both seek to embark on writing careers at the same time, and both idol-worship an outstanding but reclusive older writer called Sten Egil Dahl (Sigmund Saeverud). Phillip gets published first but then hits a snag when a psychotic episode lands him for a while in a sanatorium. Erik comes next with a book oddly title Prosopopeia, and he gets shot down on a TV discussion show for his lack of candor. Girlfriends come and go. Some of the ironies are a bit too obvious, and the debt to Truffaut and more recent French cineastes may be be over-evident, but the way a group of friends is cohesively represented and the energy of the narrative and the adeptness of the editing are exhilarating and fun; it looks like Norway's not short of cinematic talent these days. This is a promising display of brilliance and intelligence.

    Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's Daratt (from Chad) is a powerful film about delayed revenge. The young Atim (Ali Barkai) has lost his father in civil war; he knows who did it. When the government announces a general amnesty on war crimes, his blind grandfather commands him to go to the capital and kill the man. Revenge is a dish best enjoyed cold means it's not a crime of passion but of premeditation. That takes time, and it's not easy for a youth like Atim. Besides, when he arrives in the city, he gets hired by the killer, an austere baker named Naseera (Youssouf Djaoro), and while both of them seem consumed with anger most of the time, Atim experiences satisfaction in learning to do the baking by himself, and up close it may be harder to see a way to do the deed. The strength of the film comes from its tension and suspense, from the accumulating power of things left unexplained. It is never obvious, right up to the last scene, what Atim is going to do. Daratt is one of the most vivid ever portraits on film of prolongued, inarticulate rage. Its intensity, its vividness, its simplicity, even the dry heat of the setting, all conspire to make for a riveting film.

    If none of these absolutely haunted and mesmerized me the way Mexican Ricardo Benet's News from Afar (Noticias lejanas) did last year, or (even more so) Argentinian Lisandro Alonso's Los Muertos did two years ago, on the other hand the general quality of what I saw was higher. Other standouts that gained festival recognition: Pavel Giroud's beautiful, witty The Silly Age, about a pre-adolescent charmer in Havana on the eve of revolution, won the SFIFF's new Chris Holter Award for humor in film. Its wry portraiture and jewel-box look make it a pleasure to watch. Fernando Vargas' The Violin, an atmosphereic black and white film about peasant rebels, focused on an old street musician, and won the SKYY Prize for a first independent feature: it's most notable for its gritty realistic images and convincing depiction of the faces of the rural poor of Mexico. Jeanne Waltz's A Parting Shot, from Switzerland, with young French star Isild Le Besco, won the FIPRESCI international film critics award, again for an outstanding first feature, and is a subtle, economical film about two youthful rebels who're tamed and matured by helping each other under stress.

    There were also very fine films I'd already seen at Lincoln Center and elsewhere: Bruno Dumont's return to form Flanders, depicting the ravages of war; Abderrahmane Sissako's indictment of the rich countries and the WTO in Bamako, Christophe Honore's lively Nouvelle Vague renewal Dans Paris, starring Louis Garrel and Romain Duris; and the dazzling performance of Marie Cotillard as Edith Piaf in Olivier Dahan's La Vie en Rose.

    And I could also mention the family funeral drama from Korean Lee Yoon-ki, Ad Lib Night; Chinese Xiao Guo's clever meta-fiction of a screenwriter and a murderer How Is Your Fish Today?; noted Italian actor Kim Rossi Stewart's very moving dysfunctional family study and directorial debut, Along the Ridge; French Canadian Philippe Falardeau's novelistic depiction of a search for identity, Congorama; and the list could go on. It was a good experience, this festival, again leaving one with a strong impression that filmmaking is alive and well all over the globe and new talent is springing up faster than you can keep track of it. Too bad such a lot of this never makes its way to our theaters at all, or is seen only in TV or Hollywood recyclings.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-31-2009 at 10:34 PM.

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