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Thread: San Francisco International Film Festival 2011

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    San Francisco International Film Festival 2011



    FILMLEAF GENERAL FILM FORUM SFIFF 2011 COMMENTS THREAD

    San Francisco International Film Festival 2011
    ____________


    SFIFF 2011 (April 21-May 5)


    MASTROIANNI AND EKBERG IN LA DOLCE VITA (1960). THE SFFS WILL SHOW A REMASTERED PRINT.

    INDEX OF LINKS TO MY REVIEWS OF THE FESTIVAL FILMS:

    (Including films seen and/or reviewed previously at NYFF 2110, R-V [Rendez-Vous with French Cinema] 2010 or 2011, or ND/NF [New Directors/New Films 2011); some were seen and reviewed after the film festival in regular theatrical release.)

    L'Amour Fou (Pierre Thorreton 2010)
    13 Assassins (Takashi Miike 2010)
    Arbor, The (Clio Barnard 2010)
    Asleep in the Sun (Alejandro Chomski 2010)
    At Ellen's Age (Pia Marais 2010) ND/NF
    Attenberg (Athina Rachel Tsangari 2010) ND/NF
    Aurora (Cristi Puiu 2010) NYFF
    Autobiography of Nicolae Ceauşescu, The (Andrei Uticǎ 2010) NYFF
    Beginners (Mike Mills 2010)
    Better This World (Kelly Duane, Katie Galloway 2011)
    Black Bread (Agustí Villaronga 2010)
    Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975, The (Göran Hugo Olsson: 2011) ND/NF
    Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog 2010)
    Chantrapas (Otar Iosseliani 2010)
    Circumstance (Maryam Keshavarz 2011)
    City Below, The (Christoph Hochhäusler 2010)
    Detroit: Wild City (Florent Tillon 2010)
    Dolce Vita, La (Federico Fellini) (Restored print) (no review)
    Dish and the Spoon, The (Abigail Bognall 2011)
    Foreign Parts (Verena Paravel, J.P. Sniadecki, 2010) NYFF (no review)

    Future, The (Miranda July 2011)
    Green Wave, The (Ali Samadi Ahadi 2010)
    Hands Up (Romain Goupil 2010) R-V 2011
    Hospitalité (Koji Fukada 2010) ND/NF
    I'm Glad My Mother Is Alive (Claude Miller, Nathan Miller 2009) R-V 2010
    Incendies (Denis Villeneuve 2010) ND/NF
    Journals of Musan (Park Jung-bum 2010)
    Let the Wind Carry Me (Kwan, Chiang 2010)
    Love in a Puff (Pang Ho-cheung 2010)
    Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt 2010) NYFF
    Microphone (Ahmad Abdalla 2010) ND/NF
    Mill and the Cross, The (Lech Majewski 2011)
    My Joy (Sergei Loznitsa 2010) NYFF
    Mysteries of Lisbon (Raúl Ruiz 2010) NYFF
    On Tour (Matthieu Amalric 2010)
    Page One: Inside the New York Times (Andrew Rossi 2011)
    Quattro Volte, Le (Michelangelo Frammartino 2010) NYFF
    She Monkeys (Linda Aschan 2010)
    Silent Souls (Alexei Fedorchenko 2010) NYFF
    Sleeping Beauty, The (Catherine Breillat 2010) R-V 2011
    Something Ventured (Dan Geller, Danya Goldfine 2011)
    Tilva Rosh (Nikola Lezaic 2010)
    Tiniest Place, The (Tatiana Huezo 2011)
    Trip, The (Michael Winterbottom 2010)
    Useful Life, A (Federico Veiroj 2010)
    Walking Too Fast (Radim Spacek 2009)

    The San Francisco International Film Festival, SFIFF 54, runs from April 21 to May 5, 2011, and has announced its program today with the usual press conference on the beautiful top floor of the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, with Graham Leggett, Executive Director of the SFFS, presiding in his fifth year at the Society's helm.

    The San Francisco Film Society's full online program of the festival films begins here.

    I will plan to attend and review films.

    There are 189 films from forty-odd countries.

    Opening night film is Mike Mills' Beginners with Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer. Centerpiece is Azarel Jacobs' Terri. Closing night film is Matthieu Amalric's On Tour (Tournée).

    ...........
    OLIVER STONE

    AWARDS.Oliver Stone will be the recipient of the Founder's Directing Award. Special awards are going to legendary screenwriter Frank Pierson; Persist ence of Vision Award to artist Matthew Barney; the Mel Novikoff Award for contribution to public appreciation of film goes to film restorer/showman Serge Bromberg (whose Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno was in the SFIFF last year).


    TERENCE STAMP BEING HONORED AT SFIFF 54

    Terence Stamp will receive the Peter J. Owens acting award. Stamp will also be honored with An Evening with Terence Stamp at the Castro Theatre at 7:30 pm, Friday, April 29, 2011.

    SCREENING TIMES AND LOCATIONS ARE GIVEN FOR THE FILMS AND ARE:
    KABUKI CINEMAS (main festival venue)
    1881 Post Street
    San Francisco, CA 94115
    PFI PACIFIC FILM ARCHIVE (East Bay venue)
    2575 Bancroft Way
    Berkeley, CA 94702
    NEW PEOPLE (near the Kabuki)
    1746 Post Street
    San Francisco, CA 94115
    CASTRO THEATER (special events venue)
    429 Castro Street
    San Francisco, CA 94114-2019
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-05-2015 at 12:00 AM.

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    Agustí Villaronga: Black Bread (2010)

    Agustí Villaronga: Black Bread (2010)



    A boy wades past fascism and rural poverty in a strong Catalan coming-of-age film

    Agustí Villaronga wrote and directed this austerely beautiful Catalan coming-of-age film based on a novel by Emili Teixidor with echoes of Clément's Forbidden Games and Dickens' Great Expectations and a setting -- a child's rural world during the grim days after the Spanish Civil War (1944) -- that links it with Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. But while del Toro's film is Gothic and surreal, Teixidor's, apart dream sequences and flight metaphors, impresses in both its narrative and its imagery with a stark simplicity worthy of Italian neorealism, overlaid with greater layer of moral ambiguity. Again as in Pan's Labyrinth, Sergi López plays the local fascist Alcalde, this time a less clearly sadistic one.

    At the center is 11-year-old Andreu (Francesc Colomer), who at the outset witnesses a shocking crime. He sees a hooded figure kill a man, toss him in a covered wagon, then blindfold the horse pulling the wagon and cast the lot of them all off a cliff with a boy also trapped inside. Andreu's father Farriol (Roger Casamajor) is suspected of this shocking deed, perhaps because he has an anti-fascist background and anyone not fascist is now demonized. Farriol goes into hiding and Andreu is sent to live with his grandmother (Elisa Crehuet) in a houseful of widows. Andreu's lean, handsome father gives his son many inspiring peptalks about keeping the moral high ground, but all the while his own character remains somewhat suspect. Eventually Andreu will also turn away even from his long-suffering mother Florencia (Nora Navas) when he is adopted by a rich, plump Miss Havisham figure, Mrs. Manubens (Merce Aranega).

    At school the teacher is a monomaniacal fascist drum-beater and alcoholic (Eduard Fernandez), who even sleeps with Andreu's feral, maimed but beautiful cousin Núria (Marina Comas) -- her hand has been blown up by a bomb. Yet he is not without redeeming qualities, and Fernandez conveys complexity when he advises Andreu to leave his past behind and seek a better life. Núria and Andreu become frequent companions, and roam the mysterious forest together (this is the Forbidden Games part). Here also he meets an older boy (Lázaro Mur), first spotting him bathing naked in that forest, who has TB, lives in the monastery, and imagines he has angels' wings. The none-too-subtle bird imagery extends to a pet in a red wooden cage kept by Andreu's dad. Obviously Andreu is to fly away, and the comsumptive boy can only dream of it.

    It's Andreu's mother who approaches Mrs. Manubens when Farriol has been found and taken away. Not much comes of that, and Farriol is taken to Barcelona and shot, but Mrs. Manubens warms to the idea of adopting Andreu.

    All this happens with a kind of precipitous energy fueled by the intense but simple cinematography, the understated, compelling acting, the emotional scenes, and the prevailing sense of fear and moral ambiguity in which Andreau remarkably, with the innocence and determination of a boy, sails through unharmed, or at least capable of accepting adoption and going to a good school that will change his future.

    It's not necessary to undermine the rich accomplishment of Pan's Labyrinth to praise Black Bread, but it does shine forth precisely because of its simplicity and completely lack of the kind of baroque flourishes del Toro relishes. There is some strong handheld camera work, but also long tracking shots. The cinematography of Antonio Riestra is classic and the editing by Raul Roman is smooth and swift.

    According to Jonathan Holland's review in Variety (and I take his word), this is Villaronga's "most mainstream film" but still "retains his trademark subversive edge." Holland also points to the way "as a depiction of rural poverty" the film is "impressive: The darkly lit, richly textured interiors seem to be an extension of the beautifully lensed natural landscape." Something about the simple dignity of the people offsets the danger and moral uncertainty of events and gives one a sense of humanistic tradition even in a world where all's gone mad and main characters like Andreu and his parents reject the comforts of religion.

    Black Bread/Pa negre, whose sense of style is timeless, understandably won many awards, an unusual number for a film in Catalan, both at its San Sebastián festival debut and with nine Goyas after Spanish theatrical release including best picture and best director and prizes to most of the main actors. Both Francesc Colomer, who plays the young lead, and Marina Comas, who plays his cynical pal Núria, won "most promising" awards. Colomer, who is in nearly every scene, has a limpid confidence that stays with you as a memorable presence long after the final scene.

    The film showed earlier this year in the US at the Palm Springs festival. Seen and reviewed as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival 2011.

    SFIFF Screenings
    Fri, Apr 29 3:00 / Kabuki
    Mon, May 2 6:00 / Kabuki
    Wed, May 4 9:15 / Kabuki
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-04-2015 at 11:50 PM.

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    Clio Barnard: The Arbor (2010)

    Clio Bernard: THE ARBOR (2010)


    MANJINDER VIRK IN THE ARBOR

    Documentary and realism seamlessly blend in the portrait of a working-class playwright

    Location shots, real people, and actors are deployed in a seamless amalgam in this recollection of of the talented but short-lived alcoholic working-class playwright Andrea Dunbar, from Bradford, West Yorkshire. Filmmaker Clio Barnard first spent two years recording interviews with Dunbar's family and friends,. Then she staged actors lip-synching the interviews as monologues, sometimes in a group scene -- a technique known as "verbatim theater" that arguably works more seamlessly because of Bernard's use of filmed settings. Barnard also staged parts of one of Dunbar's plays out near "The Arbor," ther part of the Yorkshire housing estate where Dunbar grew up and of which her plays speak. This is also the name of Dunbar's first play. Another one, Rita, Sue and Bob Too, was made into a reportedly excellent film. After a while, thanks in part to the excellent editing of Ole Birekland, you don't know who's the real person and who's an actor (because vintage footage of the people is there too). This creates a kind of Brechtian "Alienation Effect" that paradoxically makes it all more real and memorable. In the course of compensating mentally for shifts of format and perspective, you wind up projecting yourself into Andrea Dunbar's world.

    It's a tough trip. Dunbar grew up in the Butterfield Estates during the decline of the textile mills, writing her first play at fifteen. She was already experiencing the prevailing racism, alcoholism and domestic violence. Eventually, by the time she died at 29 of a cerebral hemorrhage, she'd had become a heavy drinker and had three children by three different fathers. The eldest, Lorraine, played here by the sad-eyed, insinuating Manjinder Virk, was a dark-skinned, pretty girl whose dad was of Pakistani origin. She was to write no plays, but otherwise would duplicate her mother's unfortunate model of children by different fathers, drug addiction instead of alcoholism, and imprisonment for the causing the death of her child by extreme negligence.

    Editing is a key factor here, but all elements are so smoothly handled you become unaware of the many layers and modes at work. Over-titles identifying the main speakers when the first appear also help to create the desired confusion. In news footage where the family is interviewed after Andrea's first London success, her real dad bears a quite striking resemblance to the father in the staged play. At the play, many people, presumably current residents of the estates, stand around to watch -- another way boundaries are broken. Ronnie Schieb calls this "a must-see entry in the ongoing evolution of cinematic formalism," but this "formally inventive" and "socially revelatory" exploration, neither formal nor abstract in the playing out, never seems anything but real, down to the sometimes almost impenetrable accents of the recorded speakers whose voices flow through the scenes. Very good foreground and ambient sound contributes to the seamless effect, of course. Credit here to Dolby Digital sound designer Tim Barker and re-recording mixer Richard Davey.

    There is a Rashomon-like aspect as one gradually watches Andreas's story unfold from multiple sources, including the various fathers of her children, and the most personal moments come with Lorraine's unfolding confessions. As Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian wrote about the film last spring, Barnard's "technique produces a hyperreal intensification of the pain in Dunbar's work and in her life," and this pain becomes most vivid as we realize that in Lorraine's life Andrea's tragedy "was replicated, almost genetically." Bradshaw makes another good point: Dunbar's story, and her success as a teenage playwright in Max Stafford-Clark's Royal Court, challenges a lot of what we assume about gritty realist theatre or literature from the tough north," because the plays are usually produced "by men whose gender privileges are reinforced by university." They become stories of how they got out. But Dunbar never got out.

    The Arbor, Barnard's debut feature, got a raft of nominations at BAFTA and the London Critics Circle, and two actual awards, one at Sheffield's documentary festival (Innovation Award) and the British Independent Film award for Best Achievement in Production. It's not a cheerful watch, but it's a very compelling one and a remarkable accomplishment by Clio Bernard -- as well as by the principal actors, Manjinder Virk, Christine Bottomley, Neil Dudgeon, Monica Dolan, Danny Webb, Kathryn Pogson, Natalie Gavin, Jonathan Haynes, Jimi Mistry, George Costigan. Try as you may, you will not spot their lips out of sync.

    The 94-minute The Arbor won Barnard a best new documentary filmmaker prize at 2010's year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Seen and reviewed as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, April 2011. Limited US theatrical release by Strand began April 27, 2011. The UK release was October 22, 2010.

    SFIFF Screenings
    Sun, Apr 24 8:45 / PFA
    Sun, May 1 7:15 / Kabuki
    Wed, May 4 7:15 / Kabuki


    The Arbor was released April 27, 2011 at Film Forum in New York. Online the NYTimes review by Jeannette Catsoulis is accompanied by a filmed interview with the filmmaker, Clio Barnard.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-04-2015 at 11:47 PM.

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    Radim Spacek: Walking Too Fast (2009)

    Radim Spacek: Walking Too Fast (2009)


    ONDREY MALÝ IN WALKING TOO FAST

    1980's meltdown of a secret police sociopa

    Radim Spacek's Walking Too Fast has been described as a "political thriller," but its agenda is different. It has an abstract, absurdist quality that undercuts the suspense and excitement necessary to a thriller. Its mood is deliberately alienating, unlike Von Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others, where we are drawn into the most minute details. There are similarities between the two films. Here too there is an intellectual under investigation, Tomás (Martin Finger), a dissident writer, a big, long-haired man with a nice house full of books, a wife, and a mistress, Klara (Kristina Farkasova), a confident and pretty ginger-haired factory-worker. There's not much about what he writes, though, or who his friends are. But he's repeatedly menaced and beaten, his adultery revealed to his wife, who kicks him out. He's offered the opportunity to leave the country with his family, which he initially refuses on moral grounds. There's little about the actual process of surveillance that is so central to Von Donnersmarck's film.

    This movie seeks primarily to show how the system of repression (it's set in 1982) destroys the people who enforce it, and it does that through a single compelling but repellent character, Antonín (Ondrej Malý), a star operative of the secret police (StB). He falls for the writer's girlfriend Klara, a useless passion that seems to lead to his ultimate meltdown, but most of his time is occupied with senseless violence and menace. Malý is a little, wiry, ferret-like man who resembles an Eastern European Matthieu Amalric. He has Amalric's face with the life and the handsomeness drained from it. He has Amalric's manic intensity but none of his warmth and vulnerability. Instead there's something genuinely scary about him. The film's "suspense" is watching to see what he will do next. Malý, who's in nearly every scene, is the chief reason for watching this movie, which may mean more to Czechs otherwise than to anybody else. They can read worlds into it. Outsiders will miss a convincing story, some excuses for what is going on, for how we get from point A to point B. The movie's structure is solely the structure of Antonín's downward spiral, spurred by discontent with everything, growing physical and psychological problems and his obsession with Klara. As one reviewer, Jason Pirodsky, put it, Antonín is "a Travis Bickle-like sociopath." But instead of being an alienated loner, he's part of the state machine, and he's running off the rails.

    Walking Too Fast (whose original title Pouta means "The Ties That Bind") systematically robs the secret police's intelligence-gathering process of all logic. When he pulls in Tomás to an empty, low-ceilinged interrogation room, Antonín says, "Do you know why you're here?" but he doesn't, and Antonín doesn't tell him. We see Antonín and a group of his cohorts getting drunk together -- another stage for unnerving, mad behavior -- and it shows they are afraid of him but don't admire him. Eventually he beats up a lot of people, singlehanded, onscreen. But he also has panic attacks, and after burning one man with a cigarette he burns himself too. He carries a plastic bag to breathe into to ease the panic attacks. At least one of these attacks occurs in the middle of beating someone. No doubt about it, Antonín isn't having a good time.

    Walking Too Fast has some of the qualities of a film noir or a whodonit, though its loser protagonist brings his troubles on himself and earns no shred of sympathy from the audience. However this is where Malý's cold intensity as an actor comes in. He makes Antonín an inexplicable force of nature, a man possessed by an energy that's destroying him.

    Though the beatings are repeated without the sense of a buildup to anything, there are good scenes in Walking Too Fast. The ones where Antonín forces his wife to move out and uselessly corners Klara and proposes an affair are particularly memorable. There's good work from all the cast. Lukas Latinak is fine as Antonín's mellower, tricky Slovak cohort and so is Lubos Vesely as a timid intellectual forced to play informant. I particularly liked the Eighties-ish electronic score by indie musician Tomas Vtipil, which sets up the uneasy mood of the scenes and provides an unsettling jauntiness to the closing credits. The cinematography of Jaromir Kacer is impeccable. I just wish the writer, Ondrej Stindl, had put a dash more humanity and three-dimensionality into the script. Writing ultimately makes or breaks a film and here a little more story logic would have expanded the potential audience.

    Pouta took home a raft of honors at the Czech version of the Oscars. It has appeared in half a dozen international festivals and opened theatrically in the Czech Republic in February 2010, but it sold fewer than 17,000 tickets. It may have a better life as a DVD when viewers can take breaks from its 142-minute length. Seen and reviewed as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, April 2011.

    SFIFF Screenings
    Fri, Apr 22 8:45 / Kabuki
    Sun, Apr 24 3:00 / Kabuki
    Mon, May 2 8:30 / PFA
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-04-2015 at 11:42 PM.

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    Ali Samadi Ahadi: The Green Wave (2010)

    Ali Samadi Ahadi: The Green Wave (2010)



    A tragic first chapter in the Middle Eastern revolts which awaits a sequel

    Iranian expatriate Ali Samadi Ahadi's documentary concerns a crucial moment in recent Middle Eastern history: the so-called Green Wave (also known as the Green Revolution) was the reform movement in Iran among intellectuals and young people in the spring and summer of 2009 that hoped to take out President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and replace him with reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi through democratic elections. There was a promise of a new blossoming of democracy. Thousands braved the streets, like demonstrators in Egypt in January 2011. When Ahmadinejad won by a landslide, indicating a fixed election, the strong negative response was brutally repressed. Though it failed, this movement, with its reliance on new media like Twitter and Facebook, may have been the first strong example of the spirit of revolt against repressive regimes that is currently sweeping across the Arab world. Ahadi integrates Facebook reports, tweets and videos posted on the Internet into the film along with drawings and animations as well as archival street footage of the cell-phone kind often seen on Al Jazeera and talking heads, which include young dissidents beaten and imprisoned during the uprising -- and in a formal interview among many, Shirin Ebadi, the stolid but forceful Iranian Nobel Peace Prizewinner.

    Despite all this The Green Wave, not entirely through the fault of the filmmaker perhaps, is both essential and disappointing. It is not only an anguished cry of despair but lacks the seeds of new hope, and there's more weeping than shouting, so you wonder where the courage went and what can be and is being done now.

    The format arouses comparisons with Ari Folman's Waltz With Bashir, the vivid Israeli film that combined animation with documentary, as well as Persepolis, Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi's animated summing up of her graphic novel autobiography. The Green Wave's drawings and animations may show some stylistic debt to both of these, but this film is not as involving and strong as they are, nor, despite the use of so-called "real-time" Twitter or Facebook entries, is it as innovative.

    Nonetheless Ahadi does his conventional job of describing the events of 2009 in Iran well, with many voices heard from and a day-to-day account of the main events. The disappointment is in the context of more recent revolts, the failure to delve deeper into the movement's orgins, its leadership, its organization, and its current status. Mostly this film turns out to be a lament, one long wail, underlined by the frequent use of a cello background. There are many tears, and much hopelessness. And there is no great subtlety in the emotional propaganda. As Variety critic Leslie Felperin <a href="http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117944137/">notes,</a> "Characters in the animated material, for instance, are often posed in such heroic stances they recall propaganda posters from the Soviet era," and Ali N. Askin's string-heavy score "attempts to milk the tear ducts with such ferocity, some [audiences] may feel bullied by the string section."

    The most memorable segments are the excerpts of blogs voiced by actors Pegah Ferydoni and Navid Akhavan and brought to life with animations by Ali Reza Darvish in as style like that of a graphic novel. Two of the accounts (neither identified by name) are by a youthful protester who was later arrested and tortured, and a young female supporter of who works for opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi's election campaign. The film establishes what is already well known: that polls indicated Moussavi would win by a wide margin and that the negative reaction to his questionable defeat was brutally repressed, with the blessing of Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei. The shot of Khamenei putting the seal on Ahmadinejad's fake reelection with a kiss is one of the most repellent in the film.

    Also interviewed, besides Shirin Ebadi, are journalist and Green Revolution eyewitness Mitra Khalatbari; law professor Payam Akhavan; human rights lawyer Shadi Sadr; journalist/blogger Mehdi Mohseni; and Shiite cleric Mohsen Kadivar -- all strong opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Some may need to know that Ahmadinejad is unpopular and, like the Arab leaders, is a despot. Most who follow world events will be aware of this, and may want a little more searching reportage than Ahadi provides. It might be more interesting just to know how he made this film, and where. He lives in Germany, where the film was produced.

    The most hopeful note we get comes toward the end of the film when former UN prosecutor Payam Akhavan, calls the Green Wave as “seismic shift, the democratic tidal wave” and says that eventually the oppressors who quashed it, whose actions are recorded here and elsewhere, will be brought to justice. "They have to understand that their crimes are being documented, are being recorded, and a day will come when they have to answer.” Yes, but where, how, and when? When will the predominantly youthful population of Iran have a voice?

    The Green Wave debuted in Germany, where it had a theatrical debut in February 2011. Its US debut was at Sundance 2011. Seen and reviewed as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, April-May 2011.

    SFIFF Screenings
    Sat, Apr 23 4:00 / PFA
    Sun, Apr 24 2:45 / Kabuki
    Mon, May 2 6:15 / Kabuki
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-04-2015 at 11:41 PM.

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    Lisa Aschan: She Monkeys (2010)

    Lisa Aschan: She Monkeys (2010)French


    LINDA MOLIN AND MATHILDA PARADEISER IN SHE MONKEYS

    Rivalry and friendship between budding girls on a sports team

    Swedish first-timer Lisa Aschan's She Monkeys is like Céline Sciamma's 2007 French coming-of-ager Water Lilies (SFIFF 2008), about two girls who bond around a challenging female sport, in Water Lilies water ballet, and here, equestrian gymnastics. There is a popular, or more confident, girl, and the more timid newcomer, though the distinction gets twisted along the way when the strong girl turns out not to be invincible. Here it's introverted Emma (Mathilda Paradeiser) and more experienced equestrian Cassandra (Linda Molin), who become playful friends, and later when Emma turns out to be strong and promising, rivals. This is different from the French film in that the two challenge each other to more real wrongdoing, and Emma has a seven-year-old sister Sara (Isabella Lindquist), whose desire to become a woman and precocious lust for her babysitter cousin Sebastian (Kevin Caicedo Vega) leads her to extravagances of her own. In fact when the energy begins to fade in the Cassandra-Emma relationship, Sara comes in handy by providing comic relief that also pushes boundaries a bit.

    In Water Lilies, Marie (Pauline Acquart) isn't on the water ballet team, but thinks she wants to be. She admires Floriane (Adele Haenel), a popular girl on the team who has the boys running around after her. She Monkeys provides some scenes of the equestrian training, but Cassandra and Emma hardly seem interested in boys, who aren't really around much, as they are at Water Lilies' swim center. Floriane is a big flirt, though it's just a pose; another girl, Marie's former friend, is closer to really getting laid. In both of these films, one of the girls turns out to desire the other sexually.

    She Monkeys may push boundaries a bit more, but it is less successful at showing its two "girlfriends" in a real social context than the French film is. Nonetheless She Monkeys clearly establishes that Lisa Ashan, whose first feature this is as Water Lilies was Sciamma's, is a talent to watch with a distinctive style.

    Apflickorna (the original title) is the fifth and last of a series of low budget first films chosen by competition for the Swedish Film Institute's Rookie Project. It won the Gothenberg, Sweden festival's Nordic film prize and critics' award. Seen and reviewed as part of the San Francisco film festival of 2011, this debuted in the US at Tribeca in 2010.

    As Tribeca wrapped it was announced She Monkeys won the Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature. This included $25,000 in award money and the "art award" of a painting by Robert De Niro, Sr. entitled "Anna Christie Entering the Bar, 1965-1967."

    SFIFF Screenings
    Mon, Apr 25 7:15 / Kabuki
    Tue, Apr 26 8:45 / Kabuki
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-04-2015 at 11:39 PM.

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    Federico Veiroj : A Useful Life (2010)

    Federico Veiroj : A Useful Life (2010


    JORGE JELLINEK IN A USEFUL LIFE

    Film library abandoned for movie-going -- possible romance?

    Federico Veiroj's succinct (67-minute) feature was shot in color and converted to black and white to suggest old movies -- which are the chief concern of Jorge (played by film critic Jorge Jellinek), the protagonist. He is a big, tall, amiably nerdy, pear-shaped man with tinted glasses, out of style like his clothes. He is the manager of the Cinemateca Uruguaya of Montevideo, Uruguay, and he has been doing this for twenty-five years, but it's beginning to look like that may soon come to an end. He and the director confer, trade film series to watch, go over the declining fortunes and physical plant of their operation. The film library may be disintegrating. Ticket sales are not brisk. The projectors are in need of multiple repairs. Even the seats in the auditoriums are giving out. The director's and manager's weekly radio broadcasts are charming, smooth, but rather dry. The director uses a microphone to broadcast live translations in Spanish into the auditorium of the English subtitles for von Stroheim's Greed. For a while this movie looks like it's going amiably nowhere, though its loving contemplation of outmoded technologies -- tapes, faxes, telegrams, pay phones, Russian projectors with special lights no longer replaceable -- has the atmospheric charm of a world where people are excited about Italian films of the Sixties; The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; or the way Prokofiev's music shapes the battle sequence of Alexander Nevsky and the structure of Citizen Kane becomes clear only after multiple viewings. Then outside the Cinemateca Jorge meets an old friend called Paola (Paola Venditto), who has come for a screening. He gives her a comp ticket. He waits patiently for her to come out and invites her for coffee. No, she says, she has too many exams to grade. But she shows interest. Suddenly a little flower opens up.

    And a big flower closes. The corporation that has been supporting the Cinemateca announces to Jorge and his boss, the director (Manuel Martínez Carril, actual former Cinemateca director) that it can unfortunately no longer support organizations that do not show any profit. Meanwhile the landlord threatens eviction within a few days because the rent has not been paid for eight months.

    A Useful Life turns gradually around after the Cinemateca is closed. Jorge does a little dance, literally and figuratively. He gets an expensive haircut, one so elegant you can hardly tell his hair has been cut at all, though it's been beautifully washed and combed. He skips up and down some big marble steps, as if remembering a Fred Astaire routine. Then he goes to the university, where he enters a classroom along with the students and gives an impromptu and surprisingly fluent little lecture on the nature and necessity of lying -- till the real professor comes in and he departs. Finally he waits outside the university buildings until he finds Paola coming out of her class, and asks her: Would you like to go to the movies? "The movies?" Paola asks, pausing. Why yes, she would. And with old movie music playing in a montage of classic finales, Paola and Jorge go off into the magical darkness of the streets of downtown Montevideo as evening falls. It is a beautiful and hopeful ending.

    Veiroj is working with things he knows and people he knows. The actors are not far from their real selves, and unlike some cases of that, they fit into themselves comfortably. Veiroj himself worked at the Cinemateca. (It has not, in reality, been forced to close.) But above all the film captures a slow pace and gentle end-of-the-world melancholy that perhaps only Uruguay, or the Patagonia of Carlos Sorin, can evoke. Special kudos to the director for his skill in using non-actors, in particular the way he makes Jorge Jellinek come alive and seem, after all, an attractive man. The fancy hairdresser brings that out: middle-aged though he may be, Jorge has beautiful thick head of glossy black hair. His radio talks and impromptu university lecture show his silver tongue. And his towering height, as the dance up and down the stairs shows, is both impressive and nimble.

    Una vida útil is a simple but accomplished film, a short-short story rather than a novel. It develops its milueu and its characters with a sure touch. You might want to contrast this with Davide Ferrario's more commercial and elaborate After Midnight/Dopo mezzonotte (2004), starring Giorgio Pasotti, a film in which the magical Mole Antonelliana (the cavernous Museum of Cinema in Turin, Italy) is the setting for a very unlikely love story. Not as economical by a long sight (the plot gets a bit complicated at the end), but the setting is remarkable.

    Shown as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival of April-May 2011. The film opened in Uruguay in August 2010, in Canada and Spain in September. It had a brief run in New York in January 2011 and was a New York Times Critic's Pick when reviewed by Jeannette Catsoulis. Global Film Initiative is the distributor.

    SFIFF Screenings
    Sun, Apr 24 12:00 / New People
    Mon, Apr 25 7:00 / PFA
    Sat, Apr 30 3:45 / Kabuki
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-04-2015 at 11:35 PM.

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    Kwan, Chiang: Let the Wind Carry Me (2010)

    Kwan, Chiang: Let the Wind Carry Me (2010)


    MARK LEE PING BING by dalobeee

    A great cinematographer from Taiwan

    Kwan Pun-leung and Chiang Hsiu-chiung have made a documentary that celebrates one of the most significant cinematographers today, Mark Lee Ping Bing, who has worked extensively with Hou Hsiao-hsien, Wong Kar-wai, and other great Asian directors like Tran Anh Hung and Hirakazu Koreeda, as well as some European ones. Mark Lee's passion for light and color emerges as rapidly as does his striking appearance. He's a gnarly, beaded, handsome, macho guy but wait... there's something not right, because he's such a workaholic he completely neglects his wife and kids, and only occasionally has done justice to his beautiful, smiling, youthful mother, now 80, who raised him after his father died young. Mark Lee is admired and beloved, but he is a solitary wanderer, perpetually on the road, who when he received notice that he had won his native Taiwan's highest cultural honor, was terrified that the 20 phone messages meant something dire had happened to his family, and kept the great news of his honor when he opened the messages to himself. What kind of man is this? Well, an artist, certainly, maybe a great one, who is as subtle and dedicated as he is open and willing to share his secrets with newcomers to the craft he represents so impressively -- but whose dedication takes its toll on his personal life. We never see Lee's California-based wife at all, and we see his son Jason telling how when as a boy he saw his dad getting an award on TV, he went and turned the set off, because he was angry to be reminded his father was always away. "Now that I'm older I understand better," he says. But this kind of father takes a lifetime to come to terms with. At another time fires endangered his family in California, but Lee knew little about it.

    Lee is in almost every frame of this film, describing his formation and his passions, and we see images from Hou's A Time to Live and a Time to Die, Goodbye South, Goodbye and Three Times as well as Flowers of Shanghai. Hou's and Lee's battle over the lighting of the latter was a turning point, Lee says. Lee fought to have an enhanced version of candlelight, while Hou wanted scenes simply to be shrouded in darkness. Lee's concern is always to celebrate light in a natural way, but light, not darkness. His sense of nature has a Taoist quality. He goes with the flow (one subtitle actually has him say that) and if it rains when they meant to shoot in sunlight, they must change the scene to rain. If it snows in the desert, they must capture that -- the story behind a striking sequence in Jiang Wen's "The Sun Also Rises,. The movement of leaves in the wind can have a special grace (in Tran Anh Hung's atmospheric and beautiful The Vertical Ray of the Sun). Nature always comes through, Lee says.

    Somehow things became easier in the ongoing combative relationship between Hou and Lee after Flowers of Shanghai, and they went on to make Millennium Mambo and Flight of the Red Balloon together. There are sequences showing the shooting of Red Balloon in Paris, and a lot of the interview footage was shot there (allowing several French contributors to come in, including Romain Duris, Grégoire Colin, and a French director, scenes of Lee partying with film crews and reminiscing about his early days, and Lee's endless rambling, which entertains, but blurs a sense of the chronology of his career.

    Director Silvia Chang describes Lee's apprenticeship years in Taiwan as teaching him to be fast and accurate. Wong Kar-wai speaks only briefly, though with great admiration. The word "stability" occurs more than once. It's quality the Chinese crews look for and that Lee supplies. He's solid, reliable, quietly passionate. Wong suggests that if Christopher Doyle, his most famous cinematographer collaborator, is a sailor, Lee is a soldier. There's some focus on In the Mood for Love, particularly the final sequence. Wong says when Lee is given wide open spaces to shoot, he is in his element.

    This is a documentary drenched in cinematic charisma, but not a technical treatise. The nature of Lee's style as a cinematographer is only suggested by comments and clips. His talk of color and light is fascinating, and we can appreciate what he means when he says he learned emotion from Hou. Unfortunately though there are clips of some of the most known of the 50-odd films Lee has worked on, Variety reviewer Russell Edwards notes that many are not sampled at all, and "the poor quality of some of the clips betrays poor Asian archiving standards and suggests limited access to original prints..." The film arouses mixed emotions. It evokes awe at the Asian cinematic greatness of the Eighties and Nineties to which Lee significantly contributed, but there is doubt about where things are going now, and this seems only a fragment of a larger survey. Edwards concludes: "Lee may have been responsible for some of Asia's best-looking cinema of the past 20 years, but the presentation proves Quentin Tarantino's adage that "the projectionist gets final cut."

    Seen and reviewed as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, April-May 2011.

    SFIFF Screenings
    Fri, Apr 29 6:15 / New People
    Sun, May 1 1:30 / Kabuki
    Wed, May 4 3:45 / Kabuk
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    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-04-2015 at 11:32 PM.

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    Pang Ho-cheung: Love in a Puff (2010)

    Pang Ho-cheung: Love in a Puff (2010)


    Miriam Yeung Chin Wah and Shawn Yue in Love in a Puff

    Smoking restrictions lead to urban romance

    The girl has mauve hair, an indication of the hipness of this couple who first meet on a smoke break in a Hong Kong alleyway. He's in advertising; she sells cosmetics. And his shirt is the same color, signaling an affinity this movie seeks to explore. A Hong Kong ordinance prohibited smoking in all indoor areas. Employees began gathering in cliques they called "hot pot packs" to smoke outdoors, talk, and have fun. That's the starting point. There's much camaraderie and banter -- liberally laced with profanity -- among the "hot pot pack" that includes a man with round glasses, a girl with a knit cap, a Pakistani pizza man, a little uniformed hotel bellman -- and the couple-to-be, Jimmy (Shawn Yue) and Cherie (Miriam Yeung Chin Wah). The movie begins with a dramatization of a shaggy dog story about a man locked in car trunk in a parking lot who turns out to be a ghost. There's a lot of joking round, and things stay very light, becoming just a little romantic when Jimmy joins Cherie at a costume birthday party at a Karaoke bar -- except Cherie turns out to have a boyfriend, KK (Jo Kuk).

    Eventually he finds out about Jimmy (and we see how much fun he and Cherie are having together) and he gets jealous. Love in a Puff shows how romantic text messaging can be -- and how it can give away secrets if spied on. And when Cherie decides to switch to Jimmy's network so her SMS fees aren't too high, Jimmy's cohorts at work say she's too aggressive. Jimmy has just had a breakup with a girlfriend at work, and Cherie is older. These are the givens that do nothing but fuel the mutual attraction.

    This movie excels in its constant interplay of lightness and seriousness, in the way the milieu and the social world is sketched in, and in the great chemistry between Yeung and Yue. Their dialogue is breezy and sometimes touching. Dialogue in group scenes is feisty and provocative by sometimes strict Hong Kong standards; Love in a Puff caused some controversy, which could add to its hip gloss for locals. Some of the whimsy recalls romantic moments in Wong Kar-wai; it's all more mundane, but enough to show that Wong's tropes are far from unique and sometimes come from Hong Kong pop culture.

    If only Pang had taken more breaks from the sit-com charm and stepped back a little, he might have created a bit more magic. There is a hint of that in a silhouette-and-full-moon sequence of Cherie at the 80-minute mark, when the story reaches its make-or-break get-serious point. At film's end, the couple come to some kind of commitment, with Jimmy's Land Rover stalled on an overpass, appropriately enough by making serious plans to both give up smoking, and focus on each other.

    The apparent triviality of the subject matter, along with the modern urban couple's difficulty with communication (despite multiple platforms) is offset by wit and keen observation of little details every step of the way. This light, cinematic, amusing movie is appealing and fresh -- and has an assured polish, along with casual touches, like the little small-screen 16mm interviews that serve as occasional commentary. All in all, Love in a Puff is a delightful little piece of fluff, as casual as its lovers try to be. An online critic, listing this as one of his top movies of 2010, characterized it as "forgettable in an unforgettable way," and that's about right. Not all will like this; Asian film critic Derek Elley called it "peculiarly pointless" and "progressively boring." Local commentaries say the film won't work dubbed in Mandarin because its Cantonese profanities are untranslatable and had the audiences in stitches throughout. Subtleties apart, the English titles give a fair sense of this pungency. Some little SMS tricks emerge too: for instance, if you type "i n 55!W !" it looks like nonsense or code, but turn the phone upside down and it reads "I MISS U!" Of such details are Puff's flavor and charm made.

    After its initially rocky debut in Hong Kong due to its profanity and heavy nicotine use, Love in a Puff has breezed along the festival route, appearing in Seattle, Melbourne, Tokyo, Palm Springs, landing in April 2011 at the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it was screened for this review. The original Chinese title is Chi ming yu chun giu/志明與春嬌 which means simply Jimmy and Cherie. I was not previously familiar with the work of this prolific 2000's Hong Kong director.

    Love in a PUff, 101 mins., opened in Hong Kong 24 March 2010.It was screened for this review as part of the 2011 San Francisco International Film Festival, where it showed 28 and 30 April 2011.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-05-2015 at 12:54 PM.

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    Park Jung-bum: The Journals of Musan (2010)

    Park Jung-bum: The Journals of Musan (2010)


    PARK JUNG-BUM IN THE JOURNALS OF MUSAN

    Study of an outcast

    Park Jung-bum served as assistant director on Lee Chang-dong's outstanding recent film, Poetry (NYFF 2010). In this strong directorial debut he focuses on the plight of a North Korean refugee from Musan in the South Hamgyeong Province struggling to scrape together an existence in South Korea. Jeong Seung-chul (Park Jung-bum himself), who has just emerged from eight months in a resettlement camp, lives at the edge of a demolition pit in the sprawling outskirts of Seoul. The 125 prefix on his ID card number tells potential employers he's a defector from up there, and hence undesirable. All Seung-chu can find to do is put up sex show posters for a sleazy promoter, a job that takes him to dangerous neighborhoods where he risks beatings. In contrast to Seung-chu is his roommate Kyung-chul (Jin Yong-uk)), who embraces the capitalist life with ease, getting high commissions on money deals and dressing in the latest Nikes. Meanwhile Seung-chu plods around in the grim gray Seoul winter with his bowl-cut hair and his hunched-over posture. The result is a powerful film but one so relentlessly downbeat (and over-long) that it sometimes undercuts its own purpose -- to delineate a personality and a social situation. But one won't soon forget this protagonist.

    It is impossible for those of us who don't know Park and haven't seen him in person to know how much of his impersonation of Seung-chul is performance and how much is his natural given physicality. He has said he had to take the role because only he knew perfectly the mannerisms of the defector friend he based it on. Shots of his rounded, large back are very expressive in themselves. It could be the upper torso of a body-builder gone slack. The meekness is not without a hint of danger, as with Lennie in Of Mice and Men. In the film, Seung-chu wanders hopelessly, meeting up periodically with Kyung-chul, who tries to help him but also feels contempt for him. Perhaps his only friend is the little white mongrel dog he adopts, whose fate is as uncertain as his. The place where they live itself is symbolic of deprivation. As Jay Weissberg of Variety describes it, it's "on the hilly outskirts of Seoul next to a no-man's-land of semi-wrecked buildings toppled to make way for cookie-cutter housing projects." It's a vast, desolate and steep wasteland, not unlike the scene of some Italian neorealist films, which may be a point of reference for Park, as well as the Dardenne brothers. Even here Seung-chu finds a little Christian church and takes unsteady refuge there. He feels like an outsider, and meets no one, but is attracted by a pretty choir member, Sook-young (Kang Eun-jin).

    He finds that Sook-young works at a Karaoke bar, and takes a job there himself, which only leads to her discomfort, because she is embarrassed as a devout Christian to be working in such a place. This work leads to his humiliation and yet another beating, this time by drunken customers outraged when he shows moral disapproval of their revelry. Perhaps Seung-chu is a fool of God. On the fringes of modern capitalism, even a saint appears like a cretin and a fool. Is Seung-chu's behavior a sign of moral fervor or simply of an inability to thrive, as the venial, brash Kyung-chul does, in this cutthroat environment? Seung-chu loses both the poster job and the karaoke job; but Kyung-chul gets in bigger trouble: he has lost $25,000 of other people's money.

    Eventually more truths emerge about Seung-chu's inner rage and his reason for defecting from North Korea. The narrative is well-paced. As Weissberg says, Park has done a great directing job and created a remarkably memorable, even archetypal, protagonist; yet at 127 minutes the film is loaded with fat crying out to be trimmed off, including a good 10 minutes past where the story really ends. Still, this is a memorable piece of work, distinguished by raw acting and cinematography that is always detached, but sometimes surprisingly light and beautifully pastel in color. There is only ambient sound and music.

    The Journals of Musan has been presented and been well received at various festivals, including Pusan (where it debuted in October 2010), Marrakech (where it won the top prize), Berlin, Rotterdam, Hong Kong, Tribeca -- and at the San Francisco International Film Festival of April 2011, where it was screened for this review. At Tribeca Park Jung-bum was awarded the Best New Narrative Director prize, along with a total of $75,000 in award money.

    SFIFF Screenings
    Fri, Apr 29 9:15 / Kabuki
    Sun, May 1 8:30 / New People
    Mon, May 2 1:00 / Kabuki
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-05-2015 at 12:02 AM.

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    Lech Majewski: The Mill and the Cross (2011)

    Preview

    Lech Majewski: The Mill and the Cross (2011)


    RUTGER HAUER AS PIETER BRUEGEL THE ELDER IN THE MILL AND THE CROSS

    A sixteenth-century Flemish painting and its world brought to life on screen

    Rutger Hauer, Michael York, and Charlotte Rampling are among the luminaries involved in the making of this strikingly beautiful as well as emotionally shattering art film recreating the making of a great painting. It's Pieter Bruegel the Elder's 1564 "The Procession to Calvary" (also known as "The Way to Calvary"), a panoramic vision showing both the Crucifixion of Christ and the brutalization of Bruegel's Flemish homeland by its contemporary Spanish occupiers. The Polish director Majewski uses state of the art techniques, including high-definition digital visuals, to bring the viewer, and his large cast in period costume, into the painting. The effect, says leading Variety film critic Dennis Harvey, may be enough (if the film is seen by the right audiences) to carry the director into the kind of international prominence enjoyed by Alexei Sokurov with his celebrated museum tour deforce, Russian Ark. Like Sokurov's single-take wonder, The Mill and the Cross isn't exactly a documentry, or an art piece, or a feature film; it's sui generis. On the other hand, some who saw this film at its Rotterdam screening felt that it "cried out for the 3D treatment" and without that "falls flat." This is the view of Hollywood Reporter's Neil young, who does, however, give the film, a Polish/Swedish co-production spoken (perhaps unfortunately) in English, credit for providing viewers with the full historical context of the painting.

    Some of us are not passionate fans of the master Sokurov's museum tour de force to begin with, and there may be something initially distracting about the use of English and Michael York's initial voiceovers, which bring to mind his parodic turn in Austin Powers. But it's highyl debatable whether any screen situation ever cried out for the 3D treatment. Ultimately what happens here is just fine. The imaginative transfer of an artist's life on film has some of the luminosity of Peter Webber's Vermeer story, Girl With Pearl Earring, and some of the life and imagination of Derek Jarman's Caravaggio. (These are staged in English too, and the succeed because of their visual imagination.) However while it recreates the cruelty of the Spanish militia, who punish a supposed heretic by beating him mercilessly, strapping him to a wheel, and hoisting him high on a pole to have his eyes pecked out by crows, and dramatizes Bruegel's own household with a dozen wicked children dancing about in bedclothes, this film's primary and compelling focus in on the creation of this single painting.

    Majewski has already established the menace of the Spanish militiamen with the horrific torture to death of the protestant. Now the danger they represent feels doubly real as the martyrdom of Christ is staged. Shooting in four different countries, Majewski builds up his scene with awesome verisimilitude and a brilliantly original sense of the particular detail. A triumph.

    This film was shown at Rotterdam, and debuted at Sundance in January 2011, where it was well received. Seen and reviewed here in connection with the San Francisco International Film Festival, April 22-May 4, 2011.

    SFIFF Screenings
    Sat, Apr 23 12:30 / SFMOMA
    Wed, Apr 27 9:00 / Kabuki
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-04-2015 at 11:13 PM.

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    Dan Geller, Dayna Goldfine: Something Ventured (2011)

    Dan Geller, Dayna Goldfine: Something Ventured (2011)


    JOBS AND MARKKULA: THE FIRST CHECK.

    The beginnings of venture capital and historic West Coast startups

    Venture capital and its key role in tech startups over the past four decades are the topics of this little documentary. It describes the first venture capitalists, who funded funny little companies like Apple, Intel, Google, Genentech, Cisco, Tandem and Atari. This is the seventh film from the documentary team of Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller (previous efforts have concerned Sundance, Isadora Duncan, and the Ballets Russes).

    This begins with Arthur Rock, a Wall Street banker, in 1957, who funded "the Traitorous Eight," a group of engineers in California who broke away from William Shockley, the Nobel winning semiconductor guy, who was hard to work for. Rock seems to have invented the idea of venture capital, and the idea of a breakaway group of smart young guys starting their own company, both new ideas at the time. His bank's Wall Street wealthy weren't interested in investing in California, and a lot of big companies turned Rock down. But a a wealthy entrepreneur called Fairchild came up with the $1.5 million Rock was looking for, and Fairchild Semiconductor was born, in Mountain View. It was the beginning of Silicon Valley.

    Maybe the next really significant story, after a lot of venture capital and startups and the growth of Silican Valley, is Kleiner Perkins in the late Seventies achieving success with Tandem Computers. (KPCB, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers, begun by Eugene Kleiner, Tom Perkins, Frank J. Caufield, and Brook Byers in 1972, is the world's largest venture capital firm.) Tandem Computers broke away from the dominance of IBM and developed foolproof computers that are still used by Wall Street, airlines, credit card companies -- settings where computer breakdown and loss of data are not acceptable outcomes. Tandem became a Fortune 500 company. Kleiner Perkins began with an investment of $1.4 million in 1974, and sold Tandem to Compaq for $3 billion in 1997.

    Next comes Atari and the eccentric Nolan Bushnell and "home Pong," the first compact non-coin operated computer game, which finally got going through Sears in 1975 after a hard time finding investors. Computer games now account for a third of all consumer entertainment spending in the US. Next big story: venture capitalist/promoter Bob Swansan and scientist Herbert Boyer and Genenech, the beginnings of genetic engineering, soon to be used to produce drugs on a vast scale and save hundreds of thousands of lives. And of course make tons of money. This is another thing of Kleiner Perkins, and the debonair, elegant Tom Perkins is one of the main narrators of the film's story. Genentech began with an investment of $250,000 (they kept it low by subcontracting the labs) in 1976, and ended for Kleiner Perkins when they sold Genentech to Roche for $47 billion in 2009.

    These stories are all great and there's just one after another. Next, again 1976, the two Steves, Wozniak and Jobs, a scruffy, arrogant pair who tended to turn off investors, find Mike Markkula, retired at 32 from Intel, who comes out of retirement to find a tiny investment to get Apple started with a home computer. Arthur Rock, our starting point venture capitalist, is called in. Initial investments: Mike Markkula, $142,000, Arthur Rock, $57,000, and Don Valentine, $150,000. The 2010 market value of Apple? $220 billion. Nice return, eh?

    Okay, but venture capital investments often fail, or bring only mediocre return, or just sit there and eat up investors' time and energy. Thus Power Point presentation software lost its backers, one guy took it on, and he and a few others sold it later to Microsoft. Their big mistake? The could have taken the buyout in Microsoft stock, but took cash, losing an untold amount of wealth they'd have gained if they'd taken shares in Bill Gates' company. Oh well.

    Cisco Systems is an Internet story and a restructuring drama. The company run by a couple at home ran routers, which in 1984 didn't yet mean anything. Cisco is an example of the necessity of firing heads of companies for them to move forward. The founding couple were hard to deal with, and for the structure, the many vice presidents, to continue, they had to go, and they did. They went away, in their mid-thirties, with $170 million, but they have never forgiven the venture capitalists who okayed their removal. Sandy Lerner (the Cisco wife) went on to create a lot of other companies through investment. Cisco began with an investment by Sequoia of $2.8 million in 1987. It's 2010 value was $150 billion.

    The stories are simple. And the conclusion is simple. Venture capital is nothing without entrepreneurship. But new things don't get started as well, or maybe not at all, without men with money willing to take chances on new ideas. Since 1960 the filmmakers figure venture capital has invested over $450 billion and started over 27,000 companies. As Atari founder Nolan Bushnell puts it, without venture capitalists, "the future wouldn't get started nearly as quickly." That's the useful message of this succinct 85 min. film. Something Ventured doesn't go into deep analysis of its stories. What about other personal computer ideas besides Apple, for instance? What about other venture capitalists besides its leading figures? But the film provides a straightforward survey of some of the major tech company startups and the role played by money in getting them going.

    Seen and reviewed as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, April-May 2011. A Zeitgeist Films release. This film debuted at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. (Film website here.)

    SFIFF Screenings
    Sun, Apr 24 2:00 / PFA
    Sun, May 1 3:00 / Kabuki
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-26-2016 at 11:23 AM.

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    Mathieu Amalric: On Tour (2010)

    Mathieu Amalric: On Tour (2010)


    AMALRIC AND AMERICAN STRIPPERS IN ON TOUR

    On the road, adrift, in France with American strippers

    Big French star Mathieu Amalric's fourth directorial effort is an assured and atmospheric chronicle of a down-on-his luck TV emcee taking a group of American burlesque stars to lesser venues in France. The meandering On Tour/Tournée, with its nods to Robert Altman and Cassavetes' Killing of a Chinese Bookie, uses its hilariously voluptuous, past-their-prime American "New Burlesque" divas as its true mise-en-scene: the dismal French ports like Le Havre, Toulon and La Rochelle, anonymous hotels, and car and train interiors are as colorless as the dreary elevator music the impresario tries in van to have turned off. As Joachim, the beleaguered, distracted would-be producer, who can't get anybody to lend him a venue in Paris (or any other major French city, for that matter), sporting slick hair and a mustache, Amalric is a nattier, more durable, yet somehow less appealing version of the amiable neurotics he has played for director Arnaud Desplechin.

    Because the mix doesn't entirely cohere, it's somewhat a mystery why the French critics have been universally ecstatic about On Tour. Its combination of sleazy urban French venues with the American accents and bodies of the burlesque queens may have woven a more special magic for them. It somehow served as a metaphor for the French fantasy relationship with the US. The French critics were also fascinated by the concept of "New Burlesque," in which the ladies capitalize on the quaintness and charm of their tantalizing art and weave inventive new acts that combine pasties with giant diaphanous balloons and adopt quasi-feminist stances, claiming they're women performing for women. They are Mimi le Meaux (Miranda Colclasure), Kitten on the Keys (Suzanne Ramsey), Dirty Martini (Linda Marraccini), Julie Atlas Muz (Julie Ann Muz), and Evie Lovelle (Angela de Lorenzo). The real live performance moments, which have a touch of Fellini and blend titillation with performance art, are all too brief. Mostly, and less successfully, divas merely play themselves off stage as they wait around, party late at hotels, pack up, or ride the train, and in those scenes they're not particularly interesting. Though Mimi le Meaux emerges as more verbal than the others, and also understands a bit of French -- slightly undercutting the general non-communication between Joachim and the girls -- even Mimi's scenes are merely background.

    Half the screen time however, and gradually more and more of the attention, is devoted to Joachim's disheveled personal life, even though he barely has one and we never know quite how to take him. Former associates and ex lovers he approaches in Paris looking for a venue are angry and resentful, alternating between being vicious, passive-aggressive, and remote. A particularly painful love-hate relationship is with his brother François (played by director Damien Odoul). Heavy-handed viciousness comes from a theater owner (TV series creator Pierre Grimblat). A final appeal is to an ex girlfriend, now a cancer patient (Florence Ben Sadoun), a detail that lays it on a bit thick. Joachim's two cute sons (played by Simon and Joseph Roth), whom he takes on the road for a while but then neglects, are quite unimpressed by him. He makes love to the burlesque stars verbally once in a while, sometimes with drippy sentimentality. But he mostly neglects them as well, partly excused by their demand for artistic independence. Whatever the excuse, he is always off dealing with some new problem of his own. He repeatedly phones them on his mobile to explain his absence as they must pack up on their own along with male team member Rocky Roulette (Alexander Craven) and assistant Ulysse (Ulysse Klotz).

    In his role as the protagonist Amalric winds up like the girls teasing the audience, offering little moments of charm (such as his flirting banter with a gas station attendant well played by Aurelia Petit) -- and the actor's trademark winsomeness, yet, through the sleazy outward surface, remaining essentially undefined. An essential crisis moment seems missing-- left out, perhaps, to give the burlesque performers the primacy the director insisted on at Cannes when he won the Best Director prize, and brought them all up on stage to accept it with him. Amalric seems throughout this film to accept his accustomed role of dominating the screen. But there needed to be a director to direct the director in his performance as protagonist, as well as a writer (despite four being listed) to define and focus the narrative. Cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne adeptly creates an effect that's half feature-half documentary, alternating closeups and wind-angle vérité-style long shots.

    Tournée debuted at Cannes in May 2010, winning Amalric the Director's Prize. Apart from critical acclaim and respectable box office in France, the film has been shown at various festivals, with theatrical releases in many countries in Europe and elsewhere. It is also variously released on DVD. The San Francisco International Film Festival (May 2011) may be its last festival showing. Seen and reviewed in connection with the SFIFF.

    SFIFF CLOSING NIGHT FILM:
    Thu, May 5 7:00 / Castro
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-04-2015 at 11:21 PM.

  14. #14
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    Miranda July: The Future (2011)

    Preview

    Miranda July: The Future (2011)


    MIRANDA JULY AND HAMISH LINKLATER IN THE FUTURE

    Existential decisions spurred by a wounded cat

    Miranda July, whose 2005 Me and You and Everyone We Know had many admirers, is back with a grimly whimsical existential tale of a terminally tentative couple of thirty-five-year-olds, played by July herself and Hamish Linklater. July certainly has a distinctive style, a blend of the surreal and the mundane that seems to suit very well this story about quiet desperation in Los Angeles spurred by the doomed decision to adopt a cat that makes the pair separately revamp their lives.

    Sophie (July) teaches dance to children, but isn't much of a dancer. It's about all she can do to slowly lift a bent leg with one arm extended. Jason (Linklater), whose uncertainty is balanced by a grounded manner and a deep voice, gives tech advice on the telephone, a job he’s willing to part with. The cat adoption is a major step for this wispy couple, who've been together five years. And the cat is special, a wounded, sick stray at the vet's called Paw Paw with perhaps six months to live, perhaps five years, depending on how much love and care he gets from his new masters. In the film’s most terminally whimsical streak July indulges in, Paw Paw has a running narration throughout, a monologue of brave desperation voiced by a squeeky-toned July. Archie and Mehitabel would hardly understand, but today's marginalized American middle class might get it and also understand the couple’s drift toward nowhere.

    Sophie and Jason, who make a pretty cute couple despite their lack of focus or energy, and whose conversation often verges on the metaphysical, both quit their jobs. She has an affair with an older man who sells banners for conventions and who has a preternaturally articulate little girl who likes to dig trenches in the back yard. Jason takes a job canvassing for an ecology group selling trees door to door. He also befriends an old man who fixes electronic gadgets, and whose house seems full of the same objects he and Sophie have in their apartment. When Sophie starts to tell Jason about her affair, he freezes her on the floor and asks the moon for advice. All this seems pretty random, and you have to be a July-ite to like it. But July proceeds with bold assurance from one capricious inspiration to the next, and if you wind up deciding you've been had, it won't hit you right away, because the trajectory is quite inventive.

    The Future debuted at Sundance in January 2011 and was in competition at Berlin and showed at SXSW. It opens in France in July, November in the UK. Seen and reviewed as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, April-May 2011.

    SFIFF Screenings
    Sat, Apr 23 6:15 / Kabuki
    Sun, Apr 24 9:15 / New People
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-04-2015 at 11:27 PM.

  15. #15
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    Florent Tillon: Detroit: Wild City (2011)

    Florent Tillon: Detroit: Wild City (2011)


    STILL FROM DETROIT: WILD CITY

    A Frenchman's images of America's most devastated city

    Obviously as the former center of the thriving American automobile industry earlier in the 20th century, Detroit, Michigan was once the most industrialized city in the United States, a symbol both of organized labor and of the wealth of great factory overlords. It also had racial and economic problems right from the beginning. And its reliance on a single industry sowed the seeds of its downfall in recent decades as America has outsourced labor and become increasingly post-industrial. The city's once-grand train station was closed long ago, along with its art-deco dance halls, and its residential neighborhoods fell into decline. Now, Detroit is the most dramatically devastated of all American cities. About half its population has fled. The automobile industry is largely dormant. Asphalt gives way to grass.

    In French filmmaker Florent Tillon's neutral, quietly observant documentary about the present physical, financial, and psychic state of Detroit, the city appears clearly on the edge, either of rebirth or annihilation. He uses archival footage to hint at the city's former prosperity; his own camera explores the emptiness and decay and he interviews a few articulate observers who like to explore the ruins and remember what they once were. Some people take delight in the way the near-abandoned city's vast number of empty and decaying vacant lots, factory buildings, and residential neighborhoods stand as a model for a post-apocalyptic world. Others drive in and out of town on the freeway, going to work in the fortress-like Renaissance Center (built unsuccessfully to revitalize the city in the Eighties) and having no other contact with Detroit itself. Still others work in urban farms raising herbs and vegetables and dream of the return to a viable agrarian subsistence life. In the "wild city" Detroit, there are chickens and goats. How this will revitalize the whole town remains unclear. It's also not exactly clear how the work of "Blight Busters," whose young volunteer crews rush around the city demolishing derelict buildings at some risk to their own health, will lead to urban renewal.

    The city garden projects reflect a hope that in the largely empty shell of the once-proud and vibrant Motor City ("Motown") there can be basic urban renewal. These urban pioneers are recreating life among the ruins. But this is only one narrative of the city. For the majority poor, black, and unemployed of Detroit, the present situation is hardly a hopeful one. On the other hand, there are people who see the rock bottom status of Detroit as fertile ground for new capitalist enterprise. The latter, however, Tillon eschewed as not reflecting the "poetic" view of the city he wanted to convey.

    Detroit: Wild City neither analyzes nor intrudes, though it certainly edits out. Statistics are not presented, nor is the role of government, either local or national, taken into account. Whether the film is a portrait of disaster or rebirth ultimately remains ambiguous. The film is at its best when the camera merely surveys buildings and freeways, or follows individuals who like to explore the devastated factories or the long abandoned train station. For Tillon Detroit is not a plan or a statistic. It's a poetic landscape that may represent the future of capitalism, or the outcome of all human endeavor in the great scheme of things: dust to dust, back to the earth, as new insects and birds move in to occupy a changed eco-system. Though only partly shown here, Detroit now (according to the film's blurb) contains "vast urban prairies, populated with a diverse array of wildlife including falcon, deer, and coyote," which "have replaced what once had been working- and middle-class neighborhoods."

    Tillon is a keen observer with a fine and poetic eye. But while Tillon's documentary focuses on the city as an entity by itself, his approach is obviously highly selective, and somewhat arbitrary. He might have presented a more thorough account of his urban story, but he chose not to do so. It's an interesting fact, but not one given here, that nine of Forbes' list of the 400 richest Americans live in Michigan; but none of them is named Ford. As a visual meditation this Parisian's visit to the ruins of Motor City may inspire conclusions and even action, but there is no attempt to place Detroit in the larger context of American cities, some of which, like Baltimore, for instance, suffered similar declines for similar reasons but have been brought back to life. The ruins of a city are still a city. It can hardly turn into something else. What are the chances that Detroit can be restored -- and how? At least without more detail and more energetic coverage and interviewing, Tillon's picture of the agrarian back-to-nature movement in Detroit offers only the most wan of hopes. The rest seems a romanticizing and aestheticizing of poverty.

    Seen and reviewed as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival 2011.

    See also the 2012 Detroit documentary Detropia.

    SFIFF Screenings
    Fri, Apr 29 7:00 / Kabuki
    Sun, May 1 2:45 / New People
    Wed, May 4 8:40 / PFA
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-13-2017 at 11:10 PM.

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