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Thread: San Francisco International Film Festival 2010

  1. Walter Salles, Daniela Thomas: Linha de Passe (2008)--SFIFF

    Walter Salles, Daniela Thomas: Linha de Passe (2008)

    Brothers without fathers, in São Paolo

    This collaboration between Walter Salles (Central Station, The Motorcycle Diaries) and previous co-director Daniela Thomas provides a look at the struggles of urban Brazilian youth without melodrama or ultra-violence. (Salles saw Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund's City of God as an impressive film but one that misled the public into thinking every Brazilian kid packs an AK-47.) The texture of the film is gritty, but attractive. Like the boys in Visconti's Rocco and His Brothers, the focus is on the sons in a family who have a natural glamor, but are presented in a neorealist style. Linha de passe is a term for passing a soccer ball from one player to another without its touching the ground. An English language title hasn't been found yet; the French used simply Une famille brésilienne/A Brazilian Family. The film is engaging, if a bit chaotic. The May-through-September time-lined structure helps add organization, but the effort to move constantly back and forth among five different characters and scenes becomes wearying toward the end, though the lack of any resolution certainly is an honest reflection of the protagonists' near-hopeless lives.

    Living in the slums of São Paulo, the country's most populous city, Cleuza (Sandra Corveloni, who won the Cannes Best Actress award in 2008 for this performance) is a hard, spirited woman who smokes, works as a housekeeper, and keeps having sons by different men. Cleuza is an obsessive soccer supporter with four boys, none of whom knows who his father is. She's pregnant again, and when her mistress notices, she edges her out by hiring another woman to replace her. Cleuza's youngest, Reginaldo (Kaique de Jesus Santos), who is black, is intent on resolving the mystery in his own case. He believes his dad is a bus driver and so spends all his spare time riding buses, befriending drivers, and learning how to drive a bus. His final exploit of stealing a bus and driving it off on his own, designed to draw attention to himself and thus lead him to his father, is based on a true story.

    Reginaldo is feisty, handsome, and precocious and his exploit is amazing, but the film excels at balancing its attention among each of the sons. Dario (Vinicius de Oliveira, who when very young starred in Salles' Central Station) is a talented soccer player who wants to make it on a commercial team. But having just reached 18 he is at the limit for hiring of newbies; when he finally finds a coach still interested in his impressive ball handling, shooting and (with prodding) teamwork, he finds out he has to come up with a big "tip" to get the team official to ease him in. Dinho (José Geraldo Rodrigues) works at a gas station, but his life revolves around evangelical Christianity. He's had some badness in his past, but is determinedly righteous now. Dênis (João Baldasserini), the oldest, has a small boy he very seldom sees and cannot provide support for as a motorcycle messenger. He is still paying for the bike. This need for money leads him to crime.

    The settings are real and gritty and the main actors, save Vincius, had no previous experience. All this contributes to the vigor, spirit, and naturalism of a narrative that grounds its drama in sociology. It begins with the statistical fact that a large percentage of São Paulo's children are fatherless. There is little sense of social organization or services here.

    Dênis' momentary turn to theft and carjacking leads the film as far as it ever goes into Hollywood actioner territory. Meanwhile Dinho is having his faith tested and seriously losing his cool, little Reginaldo is moving up to joy-riding a giant bus, and Dario, who earlier went on a dangerous drug and alcohol spree in frustration, is seemingly getting that big break on the soccer field, but his lack of money to bribe the manager may doom his chances. Everyone is moving boldly forward, hopeful in the face of despair. One ends the film feeling wrung out and uncertain. Salles has become seemingly more realistic but also more pessimistic by now than he was when he made the emotionally moving but somewhat saccharine Central Station, and he does not wreathe his ghetto youths in mist as he does the Che Guevara of The Motorcycle Diaries. This is a valiant effort, with many engaging elements, but the final effect is somewhat lukewarm.

    The editing by Gustavo Giani and Lívia Serpa is unfailingly clear; it is not their fault if the focus on five plot lines at the end of the film becomes a little overwhelming, and ultimately numbing.

    Premiered in May 2008 at Cannes, Linha de Passe is still unreeling in various countries. Seen at the San Francisco International Film Festival May 29, 2010. In the dual-theater projection, an unfortunate staple at the SFIFF, the print did not look very good; presumably a fault of the projection and not of highly experienced d.p. Mauro Pinheiro Jr.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-10-2010 at 04:37 PM.

  2. Debra Granik: Winter's Bone (2010)--SFIFF

    Debra Granik: Winter's Bone (2010)


    In search of a wayward father

    Granik's similarly titled first film Down to the Bone, made in 2004 (when it won a Sundance directing award) but shown in New York in 2005, was an intriguingly gritty and gray story about a woman, her men, and her drug addiction and recovery. Drugs figure again this time but the scene moves from Upstate New York to the Missouri Ozarks and the focus, in this second feature based on a novel by Daniel Woodrell, now is on a 17-year-girl whose father, like many in the area, cooks up speed. Fresh-faced and clean living, Ree needs not rehab but the secret of her wayward father's whereabouts. He's gotten released on bail, Ree (Jennifer Lawrence), the girl, learns from the sheriff (Garret Dillahunt), and he put up their homestead to do so. If he doesn't show up for his trial, the property will be forfeited to a bail bond company and Ree and the little family she alone cares for, her near-catatonic mother and her younger brother and sister, will have no place to live.

    What follows is an exploration of the surroundings, a motley landscape of junk heaps and shacks where people live or make drugs. Winter's Bone is marked by rich local atmosphere and flavorful characters who blend into it. Granik again shows skill with her actors and gets kids to be disarmingly and delightfully real.

    Ree is like a private investigator now in some Ozark film noir, except though she has a couple of shotguns she gives her young siblings "survival training" on using, she can't even borrow a car and must trudge around the hills on foot, and getting scant results from asking questions. A kind of omerà prevails among these sinister descendants of moonshiners who've switched to meth. Everybody knows everybody else, but nobody's very trusting. Even Ree's uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) tells Ree to get lost and forget her quest, and others she queries are successively more and more hostile and threatening. Merab (Dale Dickey), a gnarly gatekeeper for some uncooperative relatives, goes beyond threatening and eventually resorts to violence against Ree. Like many a noir detective before her, Ree winds up with a bloody face.

    Eventually things get worked out through a grisly revelation, and both Teardrop and Merab turn out to be friendlier than they had seemed.

    Winter's Bones is rooted in a fascinating and believable world, which it absorbs us into without calling attention to itself; ideally we forget we're even watching a movie. Its action and milieu resemble those of another Sundance winner, Frozen River, but this is more convincing and less preachy. It also reminds one of Lance Hammer's Mississippi family tale Ballast -- but the shift is from southern blacks to southern whites. Winter's Bone may owe something to the films of David Gordon Green, but it's less self-conscious or willfully idiosyncratic. Granik has a way of keeping things simple. You come away with a strong impression of place, and of the protagonist. The focus in on the closely linked and close lipped locals, their faces and clothes and pungent language of a piece with their hardscrabble living quarters, and on young Ree's simple courage and determination. Jennifer Lawrence has given us a new kind of heroine, her works and actions flowing from her as naturally as a Blue Grass song -- and there is one sung at a party right in the middle of the film. Her hopefulness and youthful energy keep the film, despite its milieu of poverty and meanness, from ever falling into the kind of miserablism that hovers over Frozen River.

    On the big screen, the film looks rich and beautiful. Even though cinematographer Michael McDonough largely adheres to a generally low-keyed palate, in the sunlight warm colors bloom in the children's faces and Ree's blond hair.

    This is a winner, and one hopes it will get better distribution and hence a bigger audience than Granik's first film. It is to have a June 2010 release through Roadside Attractions.

    Seen at the San Francisco International Film Festival 2010. Winner of Sundance's Grand Jury prize as well as the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. It won the Audience Award at SFIFF.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-09-2010 at 03:27 PM.

  3. Ounie Lecomte: A Brand New Life (2009)--SFIFF

    Ounie Lecomte: A Brand New Life (2009)

    Sketching a Korean orphanage, with a French touch

    Basing her film on her own experience in a Korean orphanage in the mid-Seventies, first-time writer-director Ounie Lecomte tells a painful, delicate tale of separation, friendship and loss. Lecomte brings much tact and discretion to her work, recounting an experience that is terribly sad without indulging in a single moment of sentimentality.

    We first see 9-year-old Jinhee (the excellent Kim Sae-ron) happily riding her bicycle in a prosperous-looking setting. But shortly her father, who has remarried, leaves her off at a small Catholic orphanage with no intention of returning. Jinhee has been deceived, and is in shock. The scenes that follow show her failure to thrive or adapt. She is befriended by Sook-hee (Park Do-yeon), an 11-year-old who is one of the liveliest girls in the bunch -- at night she likes to cast fortunes with cards -- and the two become inseparable, sharing stolen cake and caring for a hurt bird. Unfortunately an American couple comes looking for a girl to adopt. They like both Jinhee and Sook-hee, but Jinhee won't even answer their translated questions, and soon Sook-hee is adopted and Jinhee left behind. Apart from the orphanage director and the housekeeper, the other notable figure is the unfortunate Yeshin, whose bad leg has kept her from being adopted, is in love with a young messenger, and eventually is taken away, we know not where.

    Jinhee still wants her father to take her back. She demands that the orphanage director contact him. She's so angry at the place she cuts of the heads of dolls the girls are given at Christmastime. The housekeeper at the orphanage understands her anger and shows her how to vent it by beating the bedding hung up on the line outside. Eventually Jinhee comes to a kind of reconciliation with her lot through a strange ceremony of changing places with the dead bird. She pushes dirt out of her eyes and seems reborn. Rather surprisingly, since we've seen Americans come in a black ford to get children, Jinhee is sent to France, and doesn't even see her adoptive parents until she arrives there.

    Lecomte, 43, is an actress and costume designer who attended the prestigious Femis film school in Paris. Since she has lived most of her live in France, it was necessary to collaborate with Lee Changdong on details of the staging. Viewers have noted with surprise that Jinhee's father, who figures only briefly at the beginning and whose face isn't even seen, is played in the film by one of Korea's better known actors, Sol Kyung-gu.

    A Brand New Life may be said to have a French as well as a Korean touch. It is notable for its elegance, its economy, and its lack of pathos. The feel of the orphanage, the noise of the children, the curtains, the bedding, are vividly there. There's not a wealth of incident or physical detail. That's not what the film is about. Lecomte's object was to fashion a souvenir of her past, and above all to evoke the emotions of that time, rather than to recreate an entire world. The film is most compelling in conveying what it is like to realize that you are effectively an orphan and to be forced to try to make the best of being put up for adoption.

    Introduced at Cannes, May 2009, shown later at Toronto and various other festivals since, including in May at Tribeca as well as the SFIFF, A Brand New Life as Une vie toute neuve opened in Paris January 6, 2010 with a generally positive critical response (Allociné 2.74/52). Seen at the San Francisco International Film Festival 2010.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-06-2014 at 12:29 PM.

  4. Esmir Filho: The Famous and the Dead (2009)--SFIFF

    Esmir Filho: The Famous and the Dead (2009)


    Doom, the Internet, and an iron bridge in Rio Grande do Sul

    Though Esmir Filho is 38, his debut feature The Famous and the Dead feels like the work of a twenty-something still heavily focused on his adolescence. An artistic young man, no doubt, like the film's protagonist, a 16-year-old loner (Henrique Larré) who hangs out with a classmate, Diego (Samuel Reginatto), and lives with his widowed mother (Aurea Baptista). And wanders around what he calls a "sh-t town" in southern Brazil, actually, Teutônia, a municipality in the southernmost state of Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul. A native of São Paulo himself, Filho has won numerous awards, including Best Screenplay at Cannes, for short films in which he rehearsed coming-of-age themes in a lighter mode. He also recently created and directed the Brazilian TV series Tudo o que é Sólido Pode Derreter (All That's Solid Can Melt), all of which helps explain his skill with actors here, as well as the film's assured look, though leaving still unexplained the meandering self-indulgence of the film, which focuses so much more on mood than event or direction that it never acquires a rhythm or sense of purpose. However, whatever the weaknesses of The Famous and the Dead, it's a poetic film whose view of youth is a new one for a Latin American filmmaker. And through the Internet, Filho shows how a youth in a remote area is neither rural nor suburban nor urban but a little of all these, a citizen of depressed teenage cyberspace.

    The protagonist, based on a book by the same name by Ismael Caneppele, has problems that seem like those of Donnie Darko, except that he's not a genius and isn't pursued by a giant rabbit. The action is now, and this brooding adolescent is a child of the Internet. A lot of his world resolves around his blog, Mr Tambourine Man -- also his online handle and the only name we learn for him -- and some mysterious online videos that he keeps coming back to. Yes, obviously, he's also fascinated by Bob Dylan and is thinking of going to a remote Dylan concert. But he's more concerned with his general sense of doom and uselessness at home. And he's haunted by a tall, strange figure -- perhaps there is a Donnie Darko rabbit after all -- Julian (Ismael Caneppele, again) the boyfriend of Diego's dead sister. Reappeared now after an absence, Julian keeps materializing in the edge of darkness, and eventually takes Mr Tambourine Man for a dangerous journey, while the town is all at a big festival given by the Plattdeutsch community (to which his grandparents belong). This jollity appears to Mr Tambourine Man to be empty, and by then we have begun to see why. There is a malaise infecting the whole town, which no amount of festivity can hide. (But due to the film's insistence on making everything ambiguous, it's not entirely certain all this isn't just the teen angst of the protagonist projected onto his surroundings.)

    In between the fog-drenched landscapes and blurry images and a rural-suburban space worthy of David Lynch filmed in handsome wide-screen format there are moments of cunning naturalism. The boy's relations with his mother are both warm and condescending; they play off each other beautifully even as he expresses a typical youth's impatience with her. He refuses to visit his father's grave or go to the festival and he makes fun of his mom for talking to her dog as if it were a person. His scenes with Diego always feel just right, and a pot-smoking scene early on where the two boys laugh and lose track of their conversation, though familiar, is charming and has never been done better. The festival is the real thing. It's shrill, canned ethnicity has an edge of desperation indeed in the film's created context, and when the lights go out at a power station and under the festival's big tent, its as if Julian has brought down doom on Mr Tambourine Man's world. A dream-like sequence when Mr Tambourine Man is united with Diego's lost sister Garota (Tuane Eggers) beside Julian has the quality of an epiphany, as do the protagonist's returns to an iron bridge at night. Here, it turns out, is where Garota drowned herself, and the place seems to have a dangerous pull for him and for the community.

    The Variety reviewer Jay Weissberg has pointed out that Filho's view of adolescence as richly, if ambiguously, explored here is much darker than that of "the other Latin American chronicler of teen spirit," Alexis Dos Santos, of Glue and Unmade Beds. It's also much different from the work of the young Mexican director Che Sandoval, whose You Think You're The Prettiest, But You're the Sluttiest depicts a much more social, sexual, and garrulous young man whose existence is exhausting, but free of fog and angst. One also thinks of Gerardo Naranjo (Drama/Mex, I'm Gonna Explode) and, for the treatment of adolescent danger and the Internet, the young American Antonio Campos' Afterschool. For adolescents on film, a computer becomes like a murder weapon. When teen angst is traded online, suicide warnings go up. (But the ending of The Famous and the Dead is characteristically ambiguous.)

    The cinematographer was Mauro Pinheiro Jr., who also recently filmed Salles' Linha de Passe. The Famous and the Dead was the winner of the FIPRESCI Prize and Best Film at the Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival. It has been shown at various Latin American festivals aw well as Locarno and Berlin. Seen at the San Francisco International Film Festival 2010, the film's US premiere.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-10-2010 at 01:10 AM.

  5. Kolaskaya, Nekrasov: Russian Lessons (2009)--SFIFF

    Kolaskaya, Nekrasov: Russian Lessons (2009)


    Bold but confusing documentary about Russia and Georgia post 1989

    Andrei Nekrasov and his late wife Olga Konskaya teamed up during fighting to expose Russia's ethnic cleansing of Georgia and reveal the complicity of international media, particularly the BBC, in perpetrating what they assert to be Vladimir Putin's distorted version of the facts and the Russian army's disinformation campaigns without challenge. The couple assert that after the fall of the Soviet Union Russia took violent action to suppress Georgia's aim of joining the West. What they went to cover was a second "war" that took place, in South Ossetia in 2008, with Georgian land troops and Russian bombs. Because Konskaya is approaching the beleaguered region from the north and Nekrasov is in the south where the refugees are and they send their digital footage back and forth, he is able to show the refugees images of their destroyed houses. Afterwards they take their footage home to their native St. Petersburg where their editing process also becomes a part of the film.

    The title comes from a school workbook the filmmakers found on a ruined living room floor, but obviously the "lessons" are not just linguistic but political, and the film has much instruction to offer. Ultimately though it succeeds more as a demonstration of raw on-the-scene journalism -- with interesting footage of the couple working together and trading information back and forth -- than as an analytical documentary. The filmmakers plunge into their investigation, filming the destruction, interviewing refugees and survivors about conditions before and after both the 1991 attacks and recent ones, before the unspecialized viewer has gotten a clear idea of the historical background or identity of the parties involved. A coverage of the immediate aftermath of bombings may not be the best way to present the issues.

    Midway in the 110 minutes the filmmakers shift their focus to an exploration of the origins of the atrocities in the 1990's, and the "pragmatism" that led western powers to make nice with Putin whatever he might be doing in his backyard. It is a bit late for that by then. In fact all this would have worked far better at the beginning,not half way through. The result is that material that would be heart-wrenching in the right context gets somewhat lost in the presentation. Nonetheless there are powerful current and archival images, including dead and maimed Georgian children and a planeload of refugees about to be shot down by a Russian fighter plane. We know Nekrasov, and especially his wife, who was terminally ill, are brave and intransigent reporters, but this material would work better in the context of a wider ranging, better organized Russian lesson that established its historical background at the outset. Still, Nekrasov's image-by-image analysis of news stories vs. actual footage to show how Russian, German, and BBC reporting distorted the recent Russian-Georgian battle of South Ossetia is extremely telling and valuable. He points to Milesovic-like crimes perpetrated on Georgians and other minorities by Russia in the past two decades. With its vivid images and first-hand accounts of atrocities, this film will have you walking out wanting a good stiff drink.

    Olga Konskaya and Andrei Nekrasov's prior documentary, Rebellion: The Litvinenko Case, about the mysterious assassination by poisoning of Russian KGB/KSB officer turned dissident, Alexandr Litvinenko, who had fled to London, has been banned in Russia. Russian Lessons was introduced to the American audience at Sundance, where it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema - Documentary category. Seen at the San Francisco International Film Festival 2010.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-16-2010 at 01:44 PM.

  6. Amy Glazer: Seducing Charlie Parker (2010)--SFIFF [ Moderator Control Panel ]

    Amy Glazer: Seducing Charlie Parker (2010)


    How can you know so much and so little at the same time?

    In this witty little social comedy Charlie, an out of work New York actor who lives with (and off) his successful TV producer wife, falls into a downward spiral when he becomes involved with Clea, an air-headed but tempting blonde recently arrived from Ohio. What results provides a sharp portrait of the ways and wiles of show biz in the Big Apple and the moral choices some personalities are more comfortable with than others. This second feature by Glazer, who is a San Francisco Bay area theater director and drama teacher, is adapted from the play by the same name by Theresa Rebeck whose 2007 production at the Second Stage Theater in New York was very favorably reviewed by Charles Isherwood in the NYTimes. The film has two of the main virtues of a good play -- sharp dialogue and well-structured scenes. But on screen, without the energy of live actors and a live audience, the effect of the material is somewhat brittle and slight.

    Charlie (Stephen Barker Turner) is at a party given by Nick, an old college friend, a producer who could give him an acting job, when he's distracted by Clea (Heather Gordon), whose riff on an interview she recently had with a TV producer turns out to be making fun of his wife. No matter that Clea is superficial, cruel, stupid, and a little crazy. She is pretty, or at least sexy, or at least stylish. Well, at least she's outspoken, blonde, and, as certainly becomes clear later, highly sexed. She's a little pretty, a little sexy, a little stylish. She's also young, attractive, and very toxic. She babbles on annoyingly in the vernacular of a high school girl, but with those looks and that delivery, the men's sneers keep morphing into leers. The grumpy, hard-to-please Charlie and his best friend Lew (David Wilson Barnes), also on hand at the party to meet and ogle her, are equally disgusted and aroused by Clea. Clea's remarks are dumb and vapid, but there's something arresting about the things she says. "How can you know so much and so little at the same time?" Charlie says to her later. Charlie winds up ignoring Nick, possibly missing a chance to act in his new pilot.

    Stella (Daphne Zuniga), who is everything Clea isn't, wise, mature, accomplished, sensible (and who wants to adopt a Chinese baby, a move Clea has mocked at the party), is disapproving of Charlie's allergy to job hunting, but she carries him indulgently. Or would do. Except that after running into Clea at Lew's just when the latter is putting the make on her Charlie plunges into an increasingly risky affair with the young woman, even to having sex at his own apartment. Stella comes in on them, and is appalled, but again would be indulgent. Except that the baldfaced Clea, whose mouth never stops moving, begins talking for Charlie, insisting to Stella that he's bored with her -- and Charlie allows this to be said and goes off later to a party Clea's attending. Charlie's rejection of Stella is a dangerous, economically fatal move. And needless to say the treacherous and selfish Clea will not keep him for long.

    It's interesting that this playwright and the director are female and the story concerns a young women who is such a demon. She is a classic seductress, existing for Charlie only to take him to bed and ruin his marriage and his life. Lew calls her a "succubus." And if Clea is the perfect vagina dentata, Charlie is a perfect victim for her to use and throw away. He lacks the seriousness of motivation to resist Clea or the resources to survive her damage. Stella, on the other hand, is almost perfectly good, wise, and nice -- and probably ultimately better looking too -- and it's no surprise that Lew has always desired her and moves in when Charlies leaves her. The film/play defines each of its characters to leave no edge of doubt. They have little nuance and less ambiguity. But this makes for sharp, witty dialogue and a neatly constructed play. (The film works well enough on screen but feels unmistakeably like a play from the start.)

    Seducing Charlie Parker depicts its characters as both symptoms of and victims of the moral laxity and soullessness of the society they inhabit. In the film, the action moves outdoors toward the end. I'm not sure how it differs from the play (which I have only read about) in this respect. Charlie seems to have been given a second chance, in the film. But his rescue also seems on a moment's reflection to be both ironic and provisional.

    The New York production starred Tony Shalhoub, an older, plainer, grumpier, frumpier man than Stephen Barker Turner, as Charlie. The latter not only seems closer in age to the 20-something Clea, but retains a certain dash even when he's become utterly down and out. The cast members are actors whose experience has been more in TV than film. The only thing wrong with the film is that there's not much to it, a quality underlined by an O. Henry-style ending that makes it seem even smaller and less ambitious.

    Seen at the San Francisco International Film Festival 2010. Also included in the Cannes Independent Film Festival, the Method Fest (Calabasas, California) , and the Geneva Festival (Illinois) all in May 2010, Seducing Charlie Parker seems destined for an active festival life, if not a commercial one.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-06-2014 at 12:26 PM.

  7. Mohammad Rasoulof: The White Meadows (2009)--SFIFF

    Mohammad Rasoulof: The White Meadows (2009)

    Rituals and allegories of repression and loss

    This is a new film by the Iranian director of the 2005 Iron Island . Rousoulof is a filmmaker with a very unique vision whose allegorical storytelling method buries its political references generally deeply enough to justify pondering and avoid obviousnessness. This time he focuses on Rahmat (Hassan Pourshirazi), a traveling collector of people's tears who rows around an island region of Iran full of salt deposits. It's a magical, primitive world worthy of Jodorowsky, or some other maker of fabulous myths on film. It's all in the images here, and the solemn rituals. Working amid the bleached out, haunted looking islands and salt formations of Iran's Lake Urmia Rasoulof has again made remarkable use of authentic looking local people whose ancient faces and clothes evoke Italian neorealism with a Middle Eastern touch.

    Rahmat rows his small boat from one community to another where he encounters weeping women and formally gathers their tears in a tiny retort and funnels them into a flask. All the people he encounters are burdened with suffering and sadness, their tears echoing the salt everywhere in the environment. First Rahmat finds a community mourning the death of a young women, but they say it was for the best because she moved so provocatively and even looked men in the eye -- a plain enough reference to fundamentalist Islamic repression of women. In another place men tell their woes into jars which they shut. The jars are tied around the body of a dwarf Khojatesh (Omid Zare) and then-- filled with fear and trepidation -- he is lowered into a well to please a fairy at the bottom of it. At another place, the most beautiful girl in the community is dressed as a bride and sent out to sea to appease the gods who have withheld the rain. Her corpse is then given to Rahmat to take away. But when he pulls off the shroud, curious to see the girl's face, he finds a living boy, Nassim (Younes Ghazali), who has stowed himself away because he wants to seek his lost father, a shepherd who went off to sea. Rahmat allows him to come along on his rounds with the proviso that when they're around other people he must pretend to be deaf and dumb -- in part so women will feel free to spill out their woes. Later the boy is stoned for his curiosity and taken away on the boat nearly dead. His wounds hurt him and his mouth is dry, but Rahmat says if he drinks he will die.

    In an allegory that is perhaps a bit too blunt, Rahmat encounters an artist buried up o the neck in sand, who is subsequently punished and sent into exile because he doesn't see colors as others see them. He has painted the sea red, and he must learn to see it as blue. When one cure fails he is treated with blinding monkey urine to make his eyes see right. A bearded and long-haired guardian with a lookout hut high on a tiny salt hill receives this prisoner off of Rahmat's rowboat. He also receives the boy Nessim, who turns out the next morning to have died. The bearded one afterward spends his days tormenting the artist, making him run up and down a hill and chanting "the sea is blue, the sea is blue." An episode of a monkey bride seems far-fetched and a little silly, but continues the fairy-tale strangeness of the mood.

    With its focus on the wandering collector of tears, a kind of primitive practitioner of group psychotherapy, and its haunting background of salt-soaked land and seascapes, The White Meadows has more poetry and beauty of images than Iron Island but, I think, less power. The new film lacks the previous feature's raw immediacy and sense of collectivity, qualities achieved through the rough setting of the decaying ship and the sunni ethnic Arab Bandaris non-actor cast. I also miss the ambiguous relationship between the ship's arbitrary captain and his crew or citizenry. It would have been nice if Rahmat's healing function were made more ironic in White Meadows, if his relationship to the people he services had more tension in it. However the new film is a feast of images to wander in and ponder and come back to, and its tactile sense in the minute, careful actions Rahmat performs with the tools of an evidently ancient trade focus beautifully on the ambiguity of ritual as both healing comfort and numbing distraction. The White Meadows is visually splendid and its bizarre inventions make a strong impression that may outlast contemporary political allegories. The narrative has been linked with the Odyssey, but one might do better to think of the Thousand and One Nights.

    The White Meadows/Keshtzar haye sepid (in Farsi) received its North American premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, whose program notes, "On March 2, 2010, Mohammad Rasoulof was arrested in Iran along with prominent filmmaker Jafar Panahi and 14 others as part of the recent crackdown in response to post-election disputes." But Rasoulof has been released, while Panahi remains behind bars. Rasoulof's previous film, Head Wind (2008), documenting the uncertain fate of satellite disks in Iran, was a commentary on repression of contact with the outside.

    Seen at the San Francisco International Film Festival 2010.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-04-2010 at 03:21 AM.

  8. Dorothée Van Den Berghe: My Queen Karo (2009)--SFIFF

    Dorothée Van Den Berghe: My Queen Karo (2009)

    Growing up in an Amsterdam squat, vintage 1974

    There's no getting around it: "open" marriages are tough on young kids. And not so good for the marriages either. That's the lesson of this surprisingly lighthearted, visually beautiful 1974 coming of age tale by writer-director Dorothée Van Den Berghe about a 10-year-old girl called Karo (Anna Franziska Jaeger) who accompanies her parents from Belgium to a communal squat in Amsterdam. Karo's dad, Raven (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a smiling pretty boy, and a jerk. Her mom, Dalia (the beautiful Déborah François of the Dardennes' The Child) is a sensitive soul, who takes offense right away when Raven brings home another woman he met and kissed at a free housing demo. Raven's move to bring Alice (Maria Kraakman) and her two kids to live with them is a really selfish action thinly disguised behind utopian ideals. Lucky Karo has Jacky (Rifka Lodeizen), a sensible Hungarian refugee and former swimming champ, who lives downstairs. Jacky explains to Karo the importance of grades at school and times in a race and begins coaching her at a pool, inculcating into her the importance of goals and rules and all the things her parents' and their commune cohorts have thrown out the window. Jacky pays for swimming lessons for Karo too -- an especially valuable gesture since Karo's no longer the center of attention at home, where everything is becoming more and more chaotic, She has only her pet hedghog, "Iglo," to cuddle with and confide in as the free love, always in plain view in the big loft space where they live, becomes more and more confusing to Karo.

    Raven is a jerk, but he's a determined idealist. Dalia moves behind a wall and uses money from making costumes to pay the building owner to keep the water on. When Raven finds out, he's furious and throws her costumes in the canal. Karo goes on. She gets her diploma at the pool after training as a lifesaver. She's so good, she can even dive in the canal and save the costumes. The situation has put her essentially on her own, and she's become fiercely independent.

    When Karo goes off to visit Alice's ex, Franz (Dragan Bakema) and the two kids, Daniel (Samuel du Chatiniier) and Tara (Cezanne Q. Cuypers), who lived at the squat for a while and became like family to Kara, they drink soda pop and watch a kiddie dance program on TV and she has a swell time. She's also in love with Daniel. On her way home the next day she sees on TV that the squat has been destroyed and the inhabitants driven out by police. Over the debris she meets her mother and father, who are going to split now. She will go with her mother. Raven will go to another squat. Karo will be with him too, when she wants.

    Anna Franziska Jaeger is utterly convincing as Karo, determined, independent, matter of fact. Matthias Schoenaerts remains charismatic. You realize he has a valid cause that he's true to; it's just not very compatible with raising a family. My Queen Karo is an excellent depiction of growing up in the 70's -- deep in the 70's -- and of all the practical issues of 60's and 70's counterculture life, as really lived by people. Clearly the ultimate test of a utopia is how it affects children. Van Den Berghe's excellent writing and direction keep things moving forward and nicely balance the chaos with the sense of outside structure just as these things are balanced in Karo's life. The film is unusually bold and honest about showing the sexual situations and nudity witnessed by children, because there are no walls and everybody sleeps on a big round piece of foam.

    The film is graced by Jan Vancaillie's free-flowing cinematography and lighthearted music by Peter Vermeersch. Art director Gert Stas undoubtedly contributed a lot with costume supervisor Bernadette Corstens to have the squat and its inhabitants looking just right. Amsterdam looks good too.

    Introduced at Toronto 2009, My Queen Karo has been in various film festivals, including Rotterdam and Tribeca 2010, where the director was present. Seen at the San Francisco International Film Festival 2010.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-06-2014 at 12:26 PM.

  9. Sebastian Junger, Tim Hetherington: Restrepo (2010)--SFIFF

    Also published on Cinescene.
    Sebastian Junger, Tim Hetherington: Restrepo (2010)


    A closeup of US soldiers fighting in Afghanistan

    One platoon, one year, one valley goes this documentary's impressive slogan. Such concentrated focus is truly a selling point. This is vivid, intense, unvarnished stuff, and the two filmmakers won the Grand Jury Prize for documentary at Sundance this year for their troubles. Hetherington also won World Press Photo of the Year 2007 for an image of one of the soldiers resting at Restrepo, an outpost named after medic Juan Restrepo, one of their first casualties upon arriving at this dangerous place of daily combat, Afghanistan's Korangal Valley. The two embedded journalists, Sebastian Junger (of The Perfect Storm, with a contract from Vanity Fair for coverage) and distinguished British war photographer Tim Hetherington, are both filming the platoon off and on all through its 15-month deployment. They don't analyze or look at a wider context. They're in effect in the foxholes, where there are no atheists, and this time no military strategists either. What they show, and show well, is the camaraderie of this American Army unit, the Second Platoon, Battle Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade, their bravery, hard work, humor, and love of one another, and, less emphatic but also constant, a deteriorating relationship with the local citizenry. If you are going to make a narrative feature about how contemporary American soldiers in daily combat look and act, this is a good place to go, and the images are superb, and bravely shot, at the cost of physical injury and at the risk of getting shot like the soldiers. The film has no structure other than the actions of the platoon, their two big projects being building OP Restrepo, a 15-man outpost above the outpost that restricted the enemy's movements, and a foray dubbed Operation Rock Avalanche, during which the troops came under the heaviest fire; some of them still have nightmares from Avalanche.

    The Korangal Valley is a scene in the middle of nowhere with no escape, as the soldiers saw it on arrival, with multiple daily engagements with a hidden enemy of snipers and pro-Taliban locals. Strategically, this place looks like it was useless. The Korangal Outpost was closed in 2009 after six years, hundreds of US wounded, and 50 US soldiers dead (and heavier losses on the less well equipped Afghan side). Some US military actually think the Korangal Outpost -- and the outpost of the outpost, O.P. Restrepo where most of the action takes place -- only increased local sympathy for the Taliban.

    This is one "context" thing we get a glimpse of, because the film shows moments from a few of the weekly "shuras" when the platoon leader, Captain Keaney, met with local "elders," scrawny men of indeterminate age, often with brightly hennaed beards. He swears at them freely (safe, since they don't know English) and replies unceremoniously to their complaints. He's a combat officer, not a negotiator. At one point one of the locals' cows gets caught up in concertina wire (we do not see this) and the troops have to kill it (and eat it, from what we hear, and a very tasty meal it was). Elders come specially to complain about this, and demand a payment for the lost animal of four or five hundred dollars. Permission is refused for this from higher command and the elders leave with only the promise of rice and grain matching the weight of the cow. It looks as if the Afghans lose face in these "shuras," but the Americans don't gain anything.

    Of course there is the inevitable clash when the Americans push so close they kill some Afghan civilians and wound some children. As with all wars against partisans or insurgents, the locals are all implicated. Captain Keaney is chagrined. But the captain -- he and a handful of the soldiers are shown interviewed later throughout the film, commenting on the experience and the major projects of the platoon -- is proud of the job they did, nonetheless. They gave the enemy a harder time than their predecessors. OP Restrepo, their initiative, gave them a strategic advantage in the valley. And the men were brave, even when they were scared, and they' were kind and loyal to each other.

    Restrepo illustrates the Chris Hedges line that opens Kathryn Bigelow's similarly intense, visceral, but unanalytical fiction film, The Hurt Locker, "The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug." Soldiers are shown hooting with excitement and saying that being fired upon is "better than crack," and they don't know if they can go back to civilian life after living day to day with such an adrenalin rush as the Konragal Valley and Operation Rock Avalance gave them.

    The festival enthusiasm is not the end of it because Restrepo will be broadcast globally by National Geographic. But, reviewing the film at Sundance, Variety reviewer John Anderson argues, with some reason, that this documentary "needs a story, much like the war. The roaring lack of public interest in what the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan is largely due to a failure of storytelling: Tell us what it's about, and then we'll care." Will we? What the story of the US in Afghanistan looks like is being stuck in one place, fighting a pointless war, on varying pretexts, in impossible conditions, like Vietnam. Here we don't see the drugs and demoralization of Vietnam, though they may be there. The interviews give only a glimpse or two of the damage this deployment did on the 29 or so men -- as well as of what a very fine bunch of men they are. Michael Levine, the film's editor, who cut Venditti's great little doc Billy the Kid, deserves much credit for bringing some order to a wealth of chaotic material.

    Seen at the San Francisco International Film Festival.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-06-2014 at 12:27 PM.

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