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Thread: San Francisco International Film Festival 2012

  1. #1
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    San Francisco International Film Festival 2012

    San Francisco International Film Festival 2012 April 19-May 3

    (Including films seen at NYFF 2011, R-V [Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2012], ND/NF [New Directors/New Films 2012]; FCS [Film Comment Selects]; and in Paris 2011.)

    17 Girls (Delphine Coulin, Muriel Coulin 2011)--R-V
    Alps (Yorgos Lanthimos 2011)
    Back to Stay (Milagros Mumenthaler 2011)
    Bernie (Richard Linklater 2012)
    Bonsái (Cristian Jiménez 2011)
    Chicken with Plums (Parannaud, Satrapi 2011)--PARIS
    Choked (Kim Joong-hyun 2012)
    Crulic -- The Path to Beyond (Anca Damian 2011)--ND/NF
    Day He Arrives, The (Hong Sang-soo 2011)
    Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey (Ramona S. Diaz 2012)
    Dreileben (Petzold, Graf, Hochhäuser 2011)--NYFF
    Farewell, My Queen (Benoît Jacquot 2011)--R-V
    Found Memories (Júlia Murat 2011)--ND/NF
    Giants, The (Bouli Lanners 2011)
    Gimme the Loot (Adam Leon 2012)--ND/NF
    Goodbye (Mohammad Rassoulof 2011)--ND/NF
    Guilty (Vincent Garenq 2011)--R-V
    How to Survive a Plague (David France 2011)--ND/NF
    Hysteria (Tanya Wexler 2011)
    I Wish (Hirakasu Koreeda 2011)--FCS
    Informant (Jamie Melzer 2012)
    Intouchables, The (Eric Toledano, Olivier Nakache 2011)
    Land of Oblivion (Michale Boganim 2011)
    Last Screening (Laurant Achard 2011)--R-V
    Last Winter (John Shank 2011)
    Law in These Parts, The (Ra'anan Alexandrowicz 2011)
    Life Without Principle (Johnnie To 2011)
    Lonieliest Planet (Julia Loktev 2011)--NYFF
    Neighboring Sounds (Kleber Mendonça Filho 2012)--ND/NF
    Okay, Enough, Goodbye (Rania Attieh, Daniel Garcia 2011)
    Oslo, August 31 (Joachim Trier 2011)--ND/NF
    Oversimplification of Her Beauty, An (Terence Nance 2012)--ND/NF
    Policeman (Nadav Lapid 2011)--NYFF
    Polisse (Maïwenn 2011)--PARIS
    Rebellion (Mathieu Kassovitz 2011)--FCS
    Secret World, A (Gabriel Mariño 2012)
    Sleeping Sickness (Ulrich Köhler 2011)--NYFF
    Smugglers' Songs (Rabah Ameur-Amèche 2011)--R-V
    Snows of Kilimanjaro (Robert Guédiguidigian 2011)--R-V
    Step Up to the Plate (Paul Lacoste 2011)
    Summer Games (Rolando Colla 2011)
    Terraferma (Emanuele Crialese 2011)
    Twixt (Francis Ford Coppola 2011)--PARIS
    Waiting Room, The (Peter Nicks 2012)
    Where Do We Go Now? (Nadine Labaki 2011)--ND/NF

    Filmleaf forums thread


    Descriptions of all the films listed alphabetically including an additional 19 out of competition can be found on the San Francisco Film Society website here.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-10-2014 at 01:12 AM.

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    Competition features and documentaries


    Official Selections 2012 New Directors Prize (Narrative Feature) Competition

    Official Selections 2012 New Directors Prize (Narrative Feature) Competition

    Back to Stay, Milagros Mumenthaler, Argentina 2011, U.S. Premiere
    Buenos Aires at the end of summer. Marina, Sofia and Violeta are alone in the family home after their grandmother, who had brought them up, has died. This strange situation will affect their interactions with one another and with the world.

    Choked, Jong-hyn Kim, South Korea 2011
    In a recession-battered Seoul, a young man in the dodgy relocation business must deal with loan sharks and aggrieved parties owed large sums by his vanished entrepreneur mother. Director Kim Joong-hyun gradually turns up the heat and watches his characters boil in this intelligent and nuanced feature debut.

    Found Memories, Júlia Murat, Brazil 2011
    A young photographer drifts into the tiny Brazilian village of Jotuomba, charming the elders with her camera and learning the fine art of baking bread in this disarming meditation on memory, aging and letting go of the past.

    Land of Oblivion, Michale Boganim, France/Ukraine 2011
    This compelling debut feature tallies up the fragile human cost of one of the first truly global disasters, the cataclysm at the nuclear power facility at Chernobyl. Ukrainian Bond girl Olga Kurylenko plays emotionally damaged Anya, one of many unanchored survivors whose memories and ambitions are impacted by the strangely magnetic pull of a desolate hometown.

    Last Winter, John Shank, Belgium 2011
    A young farmer in central France tries to sustain his spiritual connection to the land amid the crushing pressures of modern agriculture in this elegiac drama. Vincent Rottiers is the taciturn Johann, who goes it alone in the landscape he loves, a terrain captured in shimmering cinematography.

    Mosquita y Mari, Aurora Guerrero, USA 2011
    Set in Huntington Park, near downtown Los Angeles, this earnest and beguiling coming-of-age tale follows two Chicana teens in the midst of the delicate dance of self-discovery and sexual awakening as they explore a new friendship and young love.

    Neighboring Sounds, Kleber Mendonça Filho, Brazil 2012
    This magnificently sculpted story about life on an upscale street in the bustling city of Recife encompasses an entire city block’s worth of characters, incidents and encounters. The totality becomes symphonic in its structure and power.

    OK, Enough, Goodbye., Rania Attieh, Daniel Garcia, Lebanon 2010
    A forty-something Lebanese pastry shop owner who looks like an escapee from a film by Judd Apatow and still lives with his mother is the unlikely protagonist of this marvelously crafted deadpan comedy. After his mother skips town, he searches cluelessly for various maternal substitutes.

    Policeman, Nadav Lapid, Israel 2011
    This fascinating journey into Israel’s changing political landscapes doubles as a formally puzzle-like narrative. Story lines involving a counter-terrorism police unit and class-war guerillas merge into a telling picture of a long-embattled region.

    17 Girls, Delphine Coulin, Muriel Coulin, France 2011
    A young girl’s decision not to terminate an accidental pregnancy sets off something like an airborne outbreak of teen reproduction, transmitted via loneliness and peer pressure, in this startling debut feature based on real-life events.

    Valley of Saints, Musa Syeed, India 2012
    Using Kashmir’s picturesque Dal Lake as its backdrop and underpinned by the political unrest in the region, this heartfelt drama explores the relationship between two best friends and the female researcher, studying environmental degradation, who threatens to distract them from their dreams of escape.

    In addition to these 11 first features in competition, the New Directors section of SFIFF55 includes 19 out-of-competition films, which will be announced at the Festival’s press conference Tuesday, March 27.


    Official Selections 2012 Golden Gate Awards Documentary Feature Competition

    Golden Slumbers, Davy Chou, Cambodia 2011
    This exceptional documentary summons the spirits of Cambodian cinema’s golden age, which ended during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror between 1975 and 1979. Blending interviews with surviving filmmakers, classic songs and poetic examinations of former movie palaces, Golden Slumbers is a testament to the captivating power of art in the face of tragedy.

    In My Mother’s Arms, Atia Jabarah al-Daradji, Mohamed Jabarah al-Daradji, Iraq 2011
    In violence-ridden Baghdad, one determined man tries to create a safe haven: an independent orphanage with no government support, where 32 Iraqi boys live, eat, play, sleep and go to school together. It is a fragile ecosystem shielding them from a life of suffering and extreme danger.

    Informant, Jamie Meltzer, USA 2012, World Premiere
    Brandon Darby, liberal activist turned FBI informant turned FOX news commentator and Tea Party darling, tells his side of the story.

    It’s the Earth Not the Moon, Gonçalo Tocha, Portugal 2011
    Filming on the remote Azores island of Corvo, director Gonçalo Tocha aims “to be everywhere at the same time and not miss a thing.” The result is a wonderfully poetic take on the anthropological documentary, the travel essay and the armchair adventure, made with almost naïve sincerity.

    The Law in These Parts, Ra’anan Alexandrowicz, Israel 2011
    This film, winner of the Sundance 2012 World Documentary prize, offers a rare insider’s view of the logic, structure and moral cost of Israel’s parallel military legal system that governs Palestinians under occupation. Interviews with the men who created and uphold these laws, artfully juxtaposed with archival footage, call into question concepts of justice and rule-of-law.

    Meanwhile in Mamelodi, Benjamin Kahlmeyer, Germany 2011, U.S. Premiere
    Set against the raucous backdrop of the 2010 World Cup, this beautifully crafted portrait of a place and a family features stunning cinematography and a lively score, as the Mtswenis’ day-to-day struggles and victories echo the promise of a new South Africa.

    Off Label, Donal Mosher, Michael Palmieri, USA 2011
    An alternatively tragic and bleakly comic road trip through the methods and madness of pharmaceuticals in our culture. Setting personal storytelling against archival and industrial footage, it examines the medicated margins of American life, from the testing, marketing and consumption of pharmaceuticals to the alienation, perseverance and spiritual striving of individuals living in a society that pathologizes our desires for health, happiness and even our sense of identity for profit.

    Patience (After Sebald), Grant Gee, England 2012
    This moving tour through the landscape of W.G. Sebald’s genre-bending novel, The Rings of Saturn, presents a multilayered, many-voiced homage to his discursive, elegiac and perfectly illusion-free style by poets, mapmakers, novelists and acquaintances—admirers haunted and inspired by the voice of the German writer, who died in 2001.

    The Source, Maria Demopolous, Jodi Wille, USA 2012
    An exploration of the controversial Source Family, a ’70s Southern California experiment in communal living whose eccentric leader, Father Yod, championed Eastern mysticism, healthy living and sexual liberation. Using archival footage and interviews with former members, the documentary chronicles the Family from inception through implosion, examining its lasting impressions on pop culture.

    Step Up to the Plate, Paul Lacoste, France 2011
    Hawkeyed master chef Michel Bras is ready to hand the keys to his Michelin-recognized restaurant in rural southwestern France to his talented son. A sublime, contemplative study of artistry, family and tradition calibrated to the turning of the seasons, this lovely documentary is about much more than food.

    The Waiting Room, Peter Nicks, USA 2012
    Dire situations are often illuminated by extraordinary acts of compassion in this intimate and intense day-in-the-life documentary portrait of the patients, doctors, nurses and social workers at Oakland’s Highland Hospital—Alameda County’s busiest medical center for trauma cases, the uninsured and indigent.

    Winter Nomads, Manuel von Stürler, Switzerland 2012, North American Premiere
    800 sheep, three donkeys, and several dogs are led by two shepherds through Swiss fields and suburbs in a film that combines its beautifully photographed images with a keen ear for sound to situate this vanishing profession and lifestyle within a changing environment.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-23-2014 at 11:13 PM.

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    Step Up to the Plate (Paul Lacoste 2011)




    Tradition and creativity in French cuisine

    This translation of its title is a nice pun that you couldn't make in French. The original title of this austere, impressive documentary about tradition and creativity in a French regional restaurant, which opened in Paris March 14, 2012, is Entre Les Bras - La cuisine en héritage, but it's a pun too, because "entre les bras" is like "within reach" or "pass off," but the family of great chefs, father Michel and son Sébastien, is Bras, so the action here is all "among the Bras." The film begins in 2009, when Michel Bras decides to pass on the reins to Sébastien. Michel is a famous French chef. His restaurant in Laguiole, deep in the semi-mountainous Aubrac region of the Hautes-Pyranées in southwest France, has won many awards including Michelin three stars, one of 106 in the world, and 26 in France, to have this honor. The film doesn't tell us any of this; there is no narration or fuss about fame. In the second scene we see Michel create Le Gargouillou, his most famous dish, which is like a painting, revealing his mixture of freshness and complexity, and his incredible knowledge of the local flora and herbs. Later Sébastien will create his own dish, and his father will critique it, multiple times. At the end, Sébastien will cast it aside, and break it down, and we see him, having officially more or less taken over the mantle from his father, presenting three dishes in sequence at the Palais Royal in Paris. They run from savory to sweet. It's like a final exam, that he passes summa cum laude.

    The film, which is organized by a run through the four seasons from spring to winter and back to spring, is austere, handheld, mostly without music, fly-on-the-wall, or often fly-in-the-face, because it closeups on the two men. They are both fit, runners. No smoking or pot belly for them. They are rather alike, both in their lean, craggy faces and in their agelessness. Michel has all his hair, and it's only partly gray. Sébastien is no longer young, but of indeterminate age. Later we meet their father and mother, who ran a restaurant too; Michel began following around in the kitchen, as did Sébastien. Their grandfather was a farmer in the region. The farm is still active. Alban, Sébastien's young son, already works in the kitchen as he father and grandfather did. So we begin to realize why some of the world's greatest restaurants are in far-off parts of France: because their proprietors are deeply rooted in the regions and their cuisine is a flower of the land. Step Up to the Plate could be called Handing Off the Baton. Michel is still running, literally. He is not leaving. He continues to work, closely involved in selecting food at the market each week. "If I stop doing that," he says, "I will be dead." "Their carelessness in making selections," he begins, referring vaguely to his successors, and then he stops and seems to begin to cry.
    Fri April 27, 6:00 pm
    Sat April 28, 3:45 pm
    Sun, April 29, 1:00 pm

    This is a preview. My full review will be available here after the film's US release.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-16-2013 at 07:16 PM.

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    Kim Jong-hyun: Choked (2012)



    Money money money

    Somehow young Korean director Kim Joong-hyun's promising first feature Choked (Kashi) reminds me of early Visconti, though his Asian Alain Delon, Gwon Yun-ho (Eom Tae-gu), with his far-away look and cheekbones for days, isn't a dirt-poor immigrant in Milan but someone trapped at the bottom of his country's economic boom, stuck with his mother's bad debts, an evil job, and a condescending, status-conscious fiancee. Yun-ho (Eom) lives with his ditsy mother Park Hui-su (Gil Hae-yeon), whose diet supplement pyramid scheme involves something she claims made Nancy Reagon start menstruating again. After the delivery of many cartons of this stuff, mom mysteriously disappears in the night, and Youn-hoo is stuck with her debts. The chief investor is another foolish woman, Lee Seo-hui (Park Se-jin), to whom she owes 30 million won ($25,000), and we spend a lot of time following her around, while Yun-ho works for Dobang Construction, his job to help persuade the occupants of a housing block to move out.

    Yun-ho's fiancee Se-gyeong (Yun Chae-yeong) keeps bugging Yun-ho to introduce her to his mother. Needless to say, he can't explain why he can't do this. She also wants them to take a nice apartment. The one he lives in, owned by his aunt's husband, is a dump. Seo-hui is bugging him to pay her what his mom owes. He's also pursued by a loan shark who wants him to sign his life or his body away. Seo-hui is struggling and illegal herself, selling designer knockoffs out of her minivan. She threatens to sue, and presses charges against Hui-su, who gets put in jail for a while when she's found. Yun-ho tries to get a big loan through a bank officer friend. Eventually his efforts to pressure housing block residents for the construction company lead to violent retaliation, just after his mother is released and returns home.

    Wherever you turn in this story, it's all about money. Money brings status (which Yun-ho's aunt is obsessed with like his fiancee) and his supervisor brags that now people can be removed from their housing by payoffs rather than physical force. Seo-hui is divorced, and has to appeal to her ex-husband to put up money to bail her out when she gets picked up by the cops for a violation. He has remarried and her little daughter has switched allegiance to her step-mom, but Seo-hui tries to buy her affection by offering her an expensive video game. Yun-ho tries to hold onto the materialistic Se-gyeong by dressing nicely and showing her nice Seoul apartments. When he shows her, more realistically, a small one, she dumps him.

    The film has limited tech credits but, shot by dp Lee Jin-Keun with a red camera, the images are clear and sharp, and the action is mobile, constantly shifting from Yun-ho to Seo-hui and from one of their scenes to another. As Yun-ho, Eom Tae-gu is both neutral and complex. At first his opacity seems a sign of strength, and he can lash out on occasion, and stands up to the loan shark, but the three demanding, crazy women wear him down, and when his mother returns and he's sitting at the kitchen table with her, he momentarily seems her little boy again. But the film is as much about Seo-hui, as emerges clearly when we begin to feel Yun-ho's passivity. A particularly strong and well placed moment comes late in the film when Seo-hui and Yun-ho encounter each other on some steps and he sits smoking and staring into space after she has been cruelly rejected by her ex-husband and sits munching on some of the pastries from his bakery. Choked (whose Korean title actually means "Thorns") is a character-driven drama, and all the main actors are good. The important thing is that Park Se-jin and Gil Hae-jeon as the impoverished divorcee and the mother, never seem pathetic, though the rejected, compromised, and bilked divorcee Seo-hui is certainly struggling. Director Kim avoids that by conceiving them as kooky and trying to reshape the world to fit their own fantasies. Hui-su, once out of confinement, plans to become a truck driver and even gets Seo-hui to give her a lesson on the way home. But she doesn't even know how to shift gears.

    Kim doesn't quite know how to end either, but that works because there's not meant to be any escape from Yun-ho's personal trap of the bullying, snobbism, and materialism of modern Korea that Kim delineates here. One can argue, as Derek Elley does in his Film Business Asia Pusan review, that Yun-ho is too passive and the three women show too little development, making the second half repetitious, but Kim still seems to have an original point of view and his script plays out with determination and restraint, if not with the warmth of the Italians.

    Choked debuted at Pusan in January 2012 and was shown in March at Miami. It was reviewed here as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it will be shown as follows:

    Sat Apr. 21, 1:30 pm
    Sat. Apr. 28, 6:00 pm
    Tue. May 1, 9:00 pm.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-07-2012 at 12:00 AM.

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    Richard Linklater: Bernie (2012)



    The nicest murderer in East Texas

    In the town of Carthage in East Texas, not too long ago, there was an assistant funeral director called Bernie Tiede, pronounced "Teedy" -- like "tedium" without the "um." He sang, played the organ in church, directed local theatricals, including The Music Man. He taught classes to aspiring morticians. He was wonderful with widows. He was nice to everybody and all the town of Carthage liked him, though he had little use for ladies of his own age. In fact, as some acknowledged, he was a little "light in the loafers," in short, closeted gay. Among the widows whom he befriended was Marjorie Nugent, wife of a recently deceased and very mean and rich oil man, who turned out to be even meaner than her husband. Marjorie alienated all her relatives and some of them sued her. She was nasty to everyone who worked for her. But Bernie was so nice to her she began going around with him, taking him on trips, and eventually making him reduce his work load at the funeral home and become her full-time companion, house manager, jack of all trades. Her pampered slave, and sole beneficiary.

    And then she became so bossy and controlling and mean that Bernie, nice though he was, couldn't stand it any more and without intending to, quite, he killed her, shot her four times in the back, and popped her body in the freezer, to await a proper burial. And then he began spending more and more of her money, but always to do kindnesses around the town -- until, after nine months in the freezer, Marjorie's disappearance became too suspicious, and Bernie got caught. This is the true story Texas native Richard Linklater, collaborating with Skip Hollandsworth, the author of an article about Bernie Tiede in the Texas Montly, has endeavorred to present on film, making use of the excellent services of Jack Black as Bernie, in an unusual semi-serious role, Shirley MacLaine as the widow, and Matthew McCaughnhey as the DA who brings Bernie to justice, against the wishes of the Carthagenians, who hated the widow and loved Bernie and declared that they wanted him to go free.

    Linklater tells his story partly as a lighthearted true-crime story, somewhat like a tamer, more claustrophobic verson of what Glenn Ficarra and John Requa did in I Love You Philip Morris, and partly as a choral Christopher Guest-style mocumentary, because there is much focus on the townspeople (played by twangy Texas TV actors) extolling the virtues of Bernie and telling his story. It's been commented with some justice that the mocumentary bits get in the way of Bernie's own tale. If you can forget that this is Jack Black, his scenes tell the story well enough. Though he plays it a bit too fey at times (particularly in the swishy walk) he delivers a nicely modulated performance, half droll, half real. The only thing he cannot capture, because he is too good a comic actor, is the banality of goodness. But Linklater evidently was wedded to the townsfolks' flavorful testimony, and let it flow more than necessary. It is what gets most of the film's laughs, and it's funny, and loaded with telling jokes about Texas Linklater must have been storing up all his life. One speaker in particular gets crude but irresistible laughs by deriding every part of the state but East Texas, and then describing the nearby district the trial's moved to (so the prosecution will have a chance) as nothing but trailer trash retards.

    All this is done with polish. MacLaine is far more restrained than she has been in the past. The character she is playing is extreme enough not to need puffing up. Similarly, Bernie warns his mortuary pupils not to think they make a corpse look more alive by using too much makeup. Matthew McConaughey is as different from his usual roles as Black is in his, as Danny Buck Davidson, the zealous DA, who wants justice done but more than anything wants to get reelected.

    But what are we to make of this movie? It presents us with a moral dilemma. Bernie gets a severe sentence. Should he not have? Is this kind of tongue in cheek treatment a fair way to deal with a real crime story? Jack Black visited the real Bernie in prison and has said, “There’s precedent for films in the past that have helped people get out, but you worry at the time you’re making the film: ‘Wait, if we don’t present the film properly, will it actually hurt his chances of getting out?’” Indeed. That's what I was wondering. And I was also wondering if a "good" murderer is even interesting. We like evil. We don't mind if it's droll, like, say, the wondferful string of murders executed by the Victorian villain Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) in Kind Hearts and Coronet, who knocks off eight relatives, all played by Alec Guinness, in order to gain the title of first Duke of D'Ascoyne. Mazzini's certainly wicked, but his crimes are great fun, because he's self-serving in such a dashing, Macchiavellian way. One wishes Bernie had taken pleasure in doing away with the insufferable Marjorie Nugent -- or at least, as various townspeople opine, he had done the job right, with care and premeditation, so he'd gotten away with it.

    Linklater and his coauthor tell their true story in their own homely, humorous Texas style. It's very effective in its way. And it's more or less true, and doubtless some will love it. But it's curiously unsatisfying and too uncritical and lacking in nuance in its treatment of Bernie and his relationship with Marjorie.

    Bernie was shown in June 2011 at the LA Film Festival, and also at Rio and London. It had a Texas premiere at SXSW in Austin March 14, 2012, and debuted in NYC as part of Tribeca April 23. Screened for this review in San Francisco, it was included in the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it was shown April 21. It goes into limited US release April 27, and expands May 4.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-27-2012 at 02:56 PM.

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    Cristián Jiménez: Bonsái (2011)



    Lies, literature, loves

    We must consider adding to Alicia Scherson (of the lovely Play, SFIFF 2006) and Pablo Larrain (of the superbly creepy Tony Manero and Post Morten, NYFF 2008 and 2010) the name of another younger Chilean filmmaker, Cristián Jiménez. He has chosen for this, his second film, Alejandro Zambra's much-admired eponymous novella (and debut). It begins this way: "In the end she dies and he remains alone, although in truth he was alone some years before her death, Emilia's death. Let's say that she is called or was called Emilia and that he is called, was called, and continues to be called Julio. Julio and Emilia. In the end Emilia dies and Julio does not die. The rest is literature:" Bold opening for a movie to begin with a total "spoiler." In fact this film, too, is literature. It concerns a young man who writes a novel about himself and Emilia pretending to his girlfriend at the time -- it's eight years later -- that it's the (handwritten) manuscript of a well known writer that's he's transcribing Julio (Diego Noguera) has pretended to Emilia that he's read Proust, whom she says she's read. Perhaps she's lying too. Note that and love-making and live punk rock music and symbolic plants, and you've about got the basics about a somewhat vague young man learning to love and to write.

    The film oscillates in neatly organized sections between Julio's college days studying literature in Valdivia, southern Chile, when he was in love with Emilia (Nathalia Galgani), and that eight years later in Santiago, when he's involved, less romantically, with Blanca (Trinidad González). This is when he pretends to be working for the writer, Gazmuri (Hugo Medina), but is really filling up the four blue notebooks himself.

    Diego Noguera plays Julio with confident confusion and poetical blankness. He's a little bit insufferable but he's at the age when being stupid is forgivable. Emilia doesn't necessarily take him very seriously, but after their meeting in the library it's not long before they're in bed every night and, after sex, they read aloud to each other a few pages of a book. If that appeals to you, this lighthearted, bittersweet tale is a movie for you to watch. It's distinctly a young man's film, but it may appeal to young women seeking to understand what makes young men tick.

    Julio raises his hand in class to show he's read Proust, which he hasn't, then gets it from the library and goes to the beach, where he falls asleep with the book on his stomach. He wakes up sunburned with a white rectangle where Swan's Way in Spanish was sitting. This defines him and the novella's humorous, slightly sardonic picture of him. The earlier Julio is a student and a reader; the later one is bespectacled, bearded and longer-haired, living marginally, hoping to become a writer, which leads him to take the typing job for Gazmuri, who quickly fires him when he finds someone in his publisher's office who'll do it more cheaply. His sex buddy eight years later is Blanca, who lives in the little apartment across the hall from him. As he has lied to Emilia that he'd read Proust, he lies to Blanca about the fact that Gazmuri has fired him and the writing in the notebooks is his own. Does she suspect? Her comments suggest that she may, and this perhaps is the sweet, indirect way that Blanca and Julio communicate. But she can't be honest with him either and doesn't tell him she's off to Madrid to get a master's degree till the day she's out the door. ("The boxes were suspicious," Julio remarks. "Yes, a suspicious kind of cardboard," she quips.)

    What do we suspect? That the flashback sections may be lies too, that they're passages from Julio's fake Gazmuri MS that pretend to be his love affair with Emilia, but are a variation.

    There is a Nouvelle Vague playfulness about this tale that makes one wish Jiménez had added more quirky touches like the arrow over Julio's head when he's off in a street scene, so we can spot him on a bike. Witty and sardonic though the story is, one wishes Jiméniz had dared to be a bit more fresh and witty in the cinematic retelling of it; but he may have been deterred by the source novella's near-classic status.

    Jiménez's film (and it's shot on film) has a nice, slightly grungy look (especially shots on the roof trimming and arranging his bonsai tree -- part of the somewhat cutesy plant-bonsai theme). I'm afraid I was a little bit underwhelmed. The film's offbeat hipness and New Wave-ishness may have helped get its inclusion in Cannes' Un Certain Regard last year. It was also at Toronto, and other festivals, and Strand has picked it up for US release. In the meantime it was included in the San Francisco International Film Festival April 20, 22 and 24, 2012. It opened theatrically in Miami (at whose festival it won the popular jury prize) May 18, 2012.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-20-2017 at 12:12 AM.

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    Peter Nicks: The Waiting Room (2012)



    Life and death and the long wait in a big city emergency room

    The title, The Waiting Room, is a little misleading. This documentary was made in the large anteroom to a big city ER, Highland Hospital, in Oakland, California, a place seething with suffering and need. It was also made in the hospital rooms and trauma units inside, where the people are waiting to be admitted. The film only lasts 81 minutes, but it's an emotionally exhausting watch, and it feels like six hours, as it should: the staff work long days and the patients often wait all day to be seen. The Emmy Award winning Bay Area director Peter Nicks' film is simple but selfless and tireless. The result is a tough experience and a vital one. The Waiting Room is an TV documentary film and social media project. The latter designation pertains to its use as part of "The Storytelling Project," "a "community engagement initiative that aims to improve the patient experience," and this comprises much information and oral testimony that goes beyond the film's contents. In the film, which has no narration, patients and some staff in voiceover talk about what was going on when we watch the close ambulatory coverage here of many who came into or worked in the Highland ER, the busiest in Alameda County during a 24-hour period.

    This is first of all a raw slice of life, an intense look at human experience. The film depicts social and economic problems, but as Nicks writes, it primarily shows "how our common vulnerability to illness binds us together as humans." We see a young girl with a serious strep throat whose mother is afraid it's a cyst. She and her estranged husband have lost a small child two years ago, and the father is terrified just to be in a hospital again. An aging carpet layer who has spinal bone spurs that are giving him such intense pain he can't sleep, but he must go on working to pay his mortgage. He has nothing in the bank and $80 in his pocket. A man who needs dialysis but who hates the process so much he would rather (expletive) die. A drug addict who comes in twice a month, but is really okay; he's just overtaxed his damaged lungs. Another man who has a bullet in his leg that may be causing delayed damage. A forty-ish man who's recently had a stroke, and keeps falling down. A fifteen-year-old in a trauma case who can't be saved and apparently dies of a bullet wound. (There are so many around him trying to save him it's hard to see.) We also repeatedly observe the efforts of the staff to get people in need of the most care to doctors or into beds; but there are not enough. Everyone has a story, but there is one story that emerges from all of them. We know this, but here it is in knowing, specific terms. The American medical system cannot and does not adequately provide for the poor, the out of work, for those who cannot pay for medical insurance and do not have Medicaid or Medicare. If you're American living in America and you're not rich, this could some day be you.

    Or course anyone in a serious accident -- or a gun battle -- has to come here, and this is the best place to treat such traumatic injuries. But many patients are here because they could not afford the regular care of a physician or clinic that could much more economically detect illness early or provide treatment and medication for chronic problems. Most of us know this too: that ER's are overburdened because so many go to them as their only source of medical care. They even go there for dental problems, because they have not been able to pay for a dentist, so they have an abscess or an infected jaw, that, with regular dental care, would hardly ever happen. They are diabetic, and they have run out of insulin. Or they were not referred for surgery through the proper channels. A young man without enough money for medical insurance has gone through the private Kaiser system to get urgent surgery for a testicular tumor. Somehow he got all the tests and was set up for surgery before the staff realized he was not a member of Kaiser and abruptly cancelled his surgery the day before it was scheduled. Luckily, he has all the data on a disc, and eventually seems set up for surgery again via public medicine before the film is over. But in many of these cases, from the girl with the strep throat to the twenty-something with the tumor, the patients' problem has worsened because due to lack of funds or insurance they didn't have access to regular outpatient care. This is the big waste of the privatized American system. But the film also is a minute-to-minute picture of America's economic crisis, because the waiting room is full not just of the indigent and the chronically poor but of the newly poor and newly unemployed, who have only recently lost health insurance or the ability to pay for it.

    The Waiting Room doesn't make these generalizations. It provides a lot of live dialogue, along with occasional voiceovers from patients and staff. Besides providing pictures of many individual cases, Nicks gives us a good picture of the problems of the ER -- all the ways it isn't able to get people through fast enough, because it's overloaded -- and the staff's best efforts to deal with them. He need not generalize. This is the best kind of documentary: one that speaks through very specific and very human details. Life in the raw. An essential companion piece to Michael Moore's Sicko. Nicks does not point fingers. The hospital staff members we see, the most prominent ones, are models of compassion and efficiency -- not an easy or obvious combination, by the way.

    The Waiting Room, which is Nicks' feature documentary debut, obviously benefits from full access to the ER and most of the people in it. It features some time-lapse photography from above to show the constant ebb and flow of waiting room occupants. It clearly is well served by the editing staff headed by Lawrence Leres, aided by David O. Weissman and Michael Godier. Nicks is the chief photographer. The film has been likened to Frederick Wiseman's Hospital, but it seems warmer and more "character driven" (Nicks' word) than Wiseman's work. There is a Waiting Room Project Flickr photostream of the film, richly supplied with stills, that tells us who the compassionate lady is who logs in most of the patients during the time of the film. She was Certified Nurse Assistant Cynthia Johnson, and the chief physician on view is Resident Dr. Doug White. The patients we get to meet are also identified. The film was shown at the CUNY School of Public Health in November 2011, and at the documentary True/False Film Fest in Columbia, Missouri in early March 2012. The film is scheduled to air on PBS' Independent Lens in the Fall of 2012. It is a contender for the Best Documentary Feature Prize at the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it will be shown at the following times and places:
    Sat, Apr 21, 2012 3:50 pm
    Mon, Apr 30 1:00 pm
    Tue, May 1 6:30 pm

    The film's website provides access to the Storytelling Project side of the Highland ER effort.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-23-2014 at 11:19 PM.

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    Milagros Mumenthaler: Back to Stay (2011)



    Indolent grieving

    From Argentina, this film is called Abrir puertas y ventanas in Spanish, "To Open Doors and Windows." And indeed the first time director, Milagros Mumenthaler, has a fixation on these two apertures: the camera is always catching a window or a door being gone through, opened, slammed. As has been remarked by others, it is the visuals that appeal in this slow-moving, delicate film. Less appealing and not deeply explored are the protagonists -- three sisters, though they don't resemble each other. Marina (Maria Canale), a college student and the most responsible one of the three, doesn't want anything to change. The irritable and uncooperative Sofia (Martina Juncadella) is an obvious contrast, constantly changing outfits and rearranging or disposing of the decor. The listless Violeta (Ailin Salas) lies about scantily clad, most of the time too lazy even to get fully dressed. Something is off, but it takes a while to find out what -- their grandmother and guardian, a university professor, has recently died of a heart attack. Hanging around in their comfortable house and troubled by family secrets, the sisters appear to have few friends and no other family. Though Maria occasionally goes off to school, they all seem largely immobilized, it would seem as much by laziness, the heat, and boredom as by grief; or they may need to express grief and lack the energy to do so. They can't be bothered to go to a video shop and merely telephone to order a movie to be delivered -- "A comedy," "Something that's not Argentinean."

    "Visuals are attractive," as Jay Weissberg of Variety wrote when the film debuted at Locarno, "and Martin Frias' gently gliding camera conveys some of the melancholy attached to the house and its inhabitants. How it circumscribes space, and the way individuals function within their own spaces, ultimately becomes more interesting here than any narrative development."

    Narrative development takes a good while to get going, though eventually there is some. The process was a little too delicate for Weissberg, and it was pretty delicate for me. The script Mumenthaler has penned provides little initial movement, even psychological. Interactions between the sisters are minimal, and information is withheld. It's nearly a third of the way in before a phone conversation reveals the grandmother's death, and details about the house and inheritance are barely mentioned. The film toys with narrative possibilities -- the departure of one sister, the possibility that another was adopted -- but everything is kept a little mysterious. It's a way of working that may seem real or intriguing to some viewers, and merely careless or uninteresting to others.

    The girls -- not unusual for teenagers, but these are twenty-somethings -- aren't much good at expressing their feelings to each other. In what is, for the lack of anything better, an emotional highlight, the three sit side by side, pressed close on a sofa, to listen to and sing along with the song "Back to Stay," Marina weeps while Sofia and Violeta look sad. This is as intimate and emotionally raw as they get.

    Later there is a love interest that develops, news of a sort comes from the missing sister, and the two remaining ones seem reconciled to each other and to change. But these developments, while pleasing, may come a little late for some of us. Mumenthaler's almost fetishistic minimalism, and the not terribly resonant door-window motif, seem unpromising. But sometody likes it: Back to Stay won the Golden Leopard at Locarno, having had Cannes support for the writing, and was realized with Hubert Bals Fund support. Mumenthaler achieves a distinctly non-commercial, independent, stylish approach. But I would have to agree with Weissberg that this is a "self-conscious, ultimately slight debut." Mumenthaler seems not up to the caliber of such recently notable Argentinean directors as Fabian Bielinsky, Carlos Sorin, Lucrecia Martel, or Pablo Traperoo. But in her way she already shows a very sure touch, and time will tell.

    Back to Stay/Abrir puertas y ventanas was also shown at Toronto, Vancouver, London, Rotterdam and Hong Kong, showing a festival reputation acquired already by the director. It was screened for this review as part of the 2012 San Francisco International Film Festival, where it is a New Directors Prize contender, and is having its North American debut. It's an Argentina-Netherlands-Switzerland co-production. It is scheduled to be shown as follows:

    Sat, Apr 28, 2012 8:50 pm
    Mon, Apr 30 4:00 pm
    Wed, May 2 9:30 pm
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-14-2012 at 07:40 PM.

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    John Shank: Last Winter (2011)



    Welcome to hard times

    John Shank is an American from the midwest who studied filmmaking in Belgiun and has settled there. His distinctive, austere debut feature film is set in the rough, elevated Aubrac region of the French Massif Central, cattle range country, with the riveting, intense Vincent Rottiers (of I'm Glad My Mother Is Alive and In the Beginning) embodying the central role of a quiet loner whose working of the isolated family farm is his burden and his joy after his father has died and passed the farm and the ways on to him. His stubborn devotion to the old ways spells his doom in a world where the economic realities call for compromises he won't make. This is a good role for Rottiers, who looks like a mixture of Marlon Brando and Bob Dylan, though he doesn't get to say much. Johann, his character, has a girlfriend, Julie (the lovely Anaïs Demoustier), with whom he makes quiet, soulful love, but he is alone a lot with his cattle. Or a boy, PIerre (Théo Laborie), someone else's son who likes to hang around and do chores, an acolyte in a field that may be dying. The first quarter hour of the film sets a style of poetic naturalism that's reminiscent of Terrence Mallick. But the film has some Claire Denis in it, the Denis of The Intruder (and this has Michel Subor, who starred), the way the forces of nature run right through you as you watch, and people sometimes take on a feral quality.

    Then things get tough, and Johann holds out mistakenly, doggedly, against business concessions the cooperative wants even though he's suffered a crippling barn fire and the insurance won't pay. He asks for loans from a well off friend, Frank (Hélier Cisterne), whose father was a cattleman but who left what he thought was a doomed occupation. Frank says no. Johann takes back his sister, Marie (Florence Loiret Caille) who has mental problems, either because he can't pay for her to be cared for or because he wants company. He begins to hide, casts out Julie and Pierre. Hélier (Subor), the rich local cattleman who was to save the struggling cooperative, suddenly grows ill and dies. (His widow is Aurore Clément.) It all leads to a brooding finale, in which one feels Johann is a sacrificial hero who represents a whole dying class of traditional, independent rural ranchers.

    Besides Malick and Denis, there is something of the classic John Ford kind of Western, of Bresson, Bruno Dumont, even Bela Tarr. Though it's been some years since film school, Shank is still perhaps a little bit more an amalgam of his cinematic masters than an individual voice. The film is stifling and full of itself. Does Shank both mythologize and demonize the rural cowboy life too much for our times? Nonetheless this is a striking, assured and deeply committed debut feature. The images by Hichame Alaouie and Antoine Paroutyare are superb. Vincent Rottiers impressively takes on the protagonist's burden of stubborn hopelessness, his face saying it all, and the other performances are fine. Co-scrpting is by Vincent Poymiro. Music by the Belgian group DAAU is restrained but strong.

    Last Winter/L'hiver dernier debuted at Venice and was shown at Roterdam and other festivals, and opened theatrically in France in February and Belgium in March and comes to the Netherlands in May. In France it got fairly good reviews (Allociné 3.1), many recognizing this as a strong directorial debut. But as the Variety critic noted, it's is strictly an art house film -- one for those patient with understatement. It is also included in the San Francisco International Film Festival and a contender there for the New Directors Prize. SFIFF showings:

    Sat, Apr 28 3:15 pm
    Mon, Apr 30 6:45 pm
    Wed, May 2 6:30 pm
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-23-2014 at 11:24 PM.

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    Bouli Lanners: The Giants (2011)



    Funny boys

    In The Giants/Les géants, an alternately hilarious and dark little French language tour de force from Belgium, two brothers, Seth (Martin Nissen), 15, and Zak (Zacharie Chasseriaud), 13¾, are abandoned for the summer by their mother in the home of their deceased grandfather. They run out of money and have to live by their wits. They team up with Danny (Paul Bartel), another 15-year-old, for a mixed bag of adventures, including renting the house to a drug dealer and various rides in stolen vehicles, fun, drollery, and some hard knocks. These are filmed sometimes with astonishing realism, sometimes arch caricature. There is a lighthearted sense of fun, but also sad, lost moments, discomfort, and black humor. Lanners' direction of the boys is brilliant and they seem remarkably authentic, though never far from a laugh. Martin Nissen, as Seth, has a deadpan manner that works particularly well. The few adults who enter the scene tend to be a bit more broadly drawn. Boeuf (Didier Toupy), the drug dealer, is rather louche, with rolling eyes and a twitchy face, and Danny's violent brother, Angel (Karim Leklou), who beats him, has one foot in a horror movie. Lanners likes rolling landscapes with feathery grass, which add a pictorial quality, as if this concrete naughtiness was too good to be true and was all happening in a fantasy dreamland. This is a celebration of every boy's dream to be on his own, to go on a fun escape with his best pals. It's Stand by Me meets Mark Twain with a dash of Ken Loach. Or maybe it's just about the mood of early adolescence.

    Mark Twain is in the ascendant for sure at one late late point. The trio have all bleached their hair and gotten sick after a drunken night in a posh summer house. Their granddad's house has been emptied out and taken over by the drug dealer Boeuf in exchange for a pittance. And low and behold, they head down river in a rowboat and take up residence in a Huck Finn cabin on the water. That leads to disaster and retreat and later a return to the water. It's not an easy journey. When last seen the trio are in a boat again, lighting out for the territory. A defiant gesture on Zak's part suggests he and his brother and their new friend have decided to be permanently on their own. Lanners typically keeps reminding us that the world is often a sad place where people will cheat you and beat you up, especially if you are just a kid. This is standard, but still strong, coming of age stuff. But how the hard times could be permanent for these middle-class boys accustomed to well stocked kitchens and frozen pizza is a little hard to see.

    Some of the scenes, like the ones early on with Seth driving a stolen car through a field, ending in a cool shot/reverse shot sequence spotlighting Danny's evil brother, are very nicely filmed and edited. There is real pro work here. However structurally the film is loosely episodic, not to say aimless, reflecting how lost the boys are in the larger world and how vague their aims are. Not only is there no established goal on the boys' part than to stay amused and escape getting caught. Seth and Zak's awareness (and ours) of the why and their how and the what of their being abandoned by their mother is never undefined. Is it just Zak's paranoid fantasy? We have nothing to go on but a broken-off cell phone conversation early on in which we don't hear mom's side, and later a call he refuses to answer.

    If you relax and go with the flow there are some moments of chemistry and hilarity that are delightful, and maybe that's enough. The boys are great, their naturalness and interactions lovely. Despite the dark humor, Lanners' fantasy doesn't cut down all the way to the sadness, lostness, and desolation around the corner for these boys if they're really as abandoned and goofy as they seem. The lack of a distinctive story line means there's no real emotional hook. This might have some links with Stand by Me, but it hasn't the solemn theme or writing and acting of the same caliber. The Beligian's approach is more wispy and light. I thought of Shane Meadows, but Lanners lacks Meadows' sweetness and intensity. He is better at capturing shifting moods -- and at visuals, especially landscapes -- than at telling a story. The rotund, bearded director is primarily an artist and an actor with 56 credits. This is his fifth film and third feature.

    The Giants debuted at Cannes and was at the BFI London festival and various smaller ones. It opened commercially in Belgiu, France and the Netherlands late last year. France it got a fair critical reception (Allociné 3.1). Screened as part of the San Francisco Internatinoal Film Festival, where it will be shown at these times at the main SFIFF venue only:

    Fri, Apr 20, 2012 6:15 pm
    Sat, Apr 21 4:45 pm

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    Hont Sang-soo: The Day He Arrives (2011)


    Kim Bo-gyeong and Yu Jun-sang in The Day He Arrives


    Droll preview on YouTube.

    There's nothing more enjoyable for the inveterate cinephile than a film in which nothing happens -- where everything is self-reflective: a movie about movies and movie-making. And that is what the Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo provides. His films concern filmmakers. There's nothing solemn and pretentious about this. On the contrary, it's all pretty humble, anecdotal, even jokey. Hong's filmmakers are not making films. They are by themselves, or with lovers, or getting drunk, or among students. They're looking foolish. Hong looks at himself as an ordinary man whose reputation comes back to haunt him -- because he's just a man. But Hong Sang-soo's films aren't confessionals. They're a refraction of "reality." His protagonists aren't him but guys who might be him in an alternate universe. Looking at his films is looking at how films see things, how they distort them beyond recognition. But that sounds pretentious, meta-meta talk, whereas Hong Sang-soo is a maker of social comedies. His movies are down to earth. His scenes are simple encounters, dialogues in a room, a cafe, or the street, like the films of Eric Rohmer, one of his models, though his obsession with drunken, overbearing, womanizing filmmakers is his own. If Eric Rohmer was like that, he kept it out of his films.

    On the other hand though Hong's film directors may be losers, or no longer making films, like Seong-jun (Yu Jun-sang) in his new The Day He Arrives, they're usually better looking, sexier, younger, and thinner than he is himself. Seong-jun may be goofy, drunk, weepy at times, and lacking in self-awareness, but there's also something dashing and cool about him. He made four films once, but doesn't any more, he lives in the provinces and teaches. It doesn't sound impressive. But he's fine in the here and now. To make things more hermetic, he goes back to a former girlfriend Gyeong-jin (Kim Bo-gyeong) who still pines for him, and then keeps going back to the same bar, Novel, with his one friend in Seoul, Yeong-ho (Kim Sang-jung), where the owner looks like the girlfriend (and is played by the same actress). In the street he keeps running into the same actress friend (Park Su-min), the same three film students, and so on. Round and round it goes. Is this his imagination, his failing memory, fate? Or Hong taking pure pleasure in the game of screenwriting, its ability to reflect itself? By some lights, this is a slight effort, but I'd say Hong juggles the roles of artist and entertainer with a sure hand here (the translator could have produced a better version of the title). Making the film in black and white and setting it in a very specific milieu, the rather old-fashioned Bukchon district of a wintry Seoul area having its first snow, makes everything even more cozy, self-reflective, and cinematic. Hong's last two films, Like You Know It All and Hahaha, seemed off form. Now he's back. And the acting by all the principals is fine, whether it be in bedroom, street, or bar.

    The Day He Arrives debuted at Cannes last year and included in various other festivals, with a South Korean theatrical release in September 2011. Cinema Guild bought the US rights and ti will be released in NYC April 20, 2012. It was screened as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival for this review. Public SFIFF screenings were at two venues, the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas in San Francisco and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, Apr. 20 and 23 and Apr 25, 2012.

    The film was released in NYC April 18. It will be shown in a limited theatrical release at the SF Film Society Cinema, 1746 Post Street , May 4–10, 2012, 3:00, 5:00, 7:00, 9:00 pm. Some further showings have been announced by its US distributor, Cinema Guild here.

    I've relied on Derek Elley's review in Film Business Asia for name transliterations, as I did for Lee Kwang-kuk's Romance Joe (ND/NF 2012).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-28-2013 at 11:53 PM.

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    Tanya Wexler: Hysteria (2011)



    Women in need of stimulation

    In Hysteria, using a screenplay by Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa Dyer, Tanya Wexler has taken the story of the Victorian-era invention of the electronic dildo, a landmark in product development and women's control over their own pleasure, and turned it into a wink-wink romantic comedy featuring Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Report has it that Sara Ruhl's play The Next Room a year or so earlier took the same topic, setting events in America, not England, and made something much more subtle and intelligent about it. Wexler instrad goes for easy laughs and audience-pandering. Hysteria's treatment of the mind-bogglingly off-kilter attitudes toward women's sexuality held in the West in the late nineteenth century is disappointingly superficial. The film provides easy, glossy entertainment. Sets and costumes are good, and the cast, though largely wasted, includes, besides Hugh and Maggie, the likes of Felicity Jones, Rupert Everett, Jonathan Pryce and Gemma Jones, who deliver acting of quality even if they don't get to do much of interest. But important changes in human self-knowledge are turned into the story of how a London couple used the marketing of an electronic stimulator to find romance and build up a charity settlement house. The audience loves it. Not the critics, though. This film opened in France last December and no reviewer had anything good to say about it. Costumed anachronisms don't fly so well where people have a sense of history. (The French title is-- double-entendre perhaps? -- Oh My God!)

    In the film, Dr. Mortimer Granville (Dancy) is a talented young doctor who keeps getting fired because he so strongly advocates modern hygiene and germ theory. He winds up working for Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Pryce), who treats "hysteria" -- basically sexual frustration and attendant psychological discomfort -- by manipulating women behind puppet-show curtains till they reach orgasm. This is purely clinical, of course, and he believes women don't feel sexual pleasure. It's called a "paroxysm." The women flock to him on a regular basis, so he needs an assistant, and Granville is soon up to be his partner, successor, and to marry his favorite daughter, the prim, demure Emily (Felicity Jones) But in the background is his obstreperous, annoyingly suffragette older daughter, Charlotte (Gyllenhaal, having a great time but overacting extravagantly), who is, obviously, going to win Granville's heart because she's more interesting, and carries the film's (unnecessary) social reform subplot about funding a settlement house -- which her father strongly opposes.

    This plotting creaks but the scenes of the posh middle-aged women coming in to be serviced are mind-bending. Did this really happen? The related cluelessness about sex is interesting but too little contemplated here. Things relax and become more droll whenever Rupert Everett is onscreen as Lord Edmund St. John-Smythe, Granville's (vaguely gay) very rich roommate, son of his lifelong benefactors and an inveterate dabbler in new inventions involving machinery and electricity. It's his creation of a motorized feather duster that will lead -- according to this fanciful version -- to the first electric portable vibrator when Granville discovers cranking up the voltage on the feather duster soothes his carpel tunnel syndrome from giving women "patients" so many hand-jobs.

    All this sounds better than it is. The rom-com action, Gyllenhaal's overacting, the irrelevant settlement house subplot, and the simplistic audience pandering all get in the way of what might have been an enlightening and wonderfully strange story. At the end the credits hint that Queen Victoria herself might have become a client of the wildly popular new invention that made Lord St. John-Smythe and Granville rich, and as details of cast and crew roll we get to see models of vibrators up through to recent decades, with their colorful names. But the story of a cultural phenomenon and complex changes in attitude to sex and women are blurred by the "delightful" screenplay. Variety's prediction is this film will fade quickly unless it earns unwarranted "sleeper success." Lukewarm reviews seem likely in the US. A waste of good production values and a talented cast.

    Hysteria debuted at Toronto and released in many countries in late 2011 and early 2012. It is a part of the San Francisco International Film Festival and comes to US theaters May 18, 2012. SFIFF showings were May 1 and 3, 2012. [The eventual Metacritic rating was a mediocre 53.]
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-28-2013 at 11:55 PM.

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    Eric Toledano, Olivier Nakache: The Intouchables



    French elegance and feel-good highs

    The Intouchables (2011), which has become the second biggest box office success in French movie history, evidently providing a hungered-for sense of ethnic and class unity, runs the risk of seeming more cultural phenomenon than film. It is not the bad movie its opponents claim. Even if it were, its elegant look, buoyancy and good acting would make it hard to resist. It sets the stage for fun and hijinks from the opening, a high-speed chase wild enough to recall Claude Lelouche's famous short film of an insane ride through Paris at dawn. It maintains energy and high spirits throughout. This is the kind of movie that sweeps you away. After the chase it is continually dominated by its two protagonists. They are Driss (Omar Sy, who won the Best Actor César and acted in the writer-director's 2009 Tellement Proche), a big, elegant, vibrant young black man from the ghetto "banlieue," not long out of prison and on welfare, and Philippe (François Cluzot of Tell No One), a super-rich quadriplegic. Driss becomes Philippe's caretaker and procedes to surprise and charm him and liven up his life. It's all heightened, though this is, sort of, a true story.

    Indeed, this is feel-good stuff. Several American critics have already damned it as a mass of clichés and racial stereotypes. They seem not to consider that it embraces these things and overrides them. Though this is in some ways a fantasy, it is a wise and pleasant one, like Beinix's Diva or Renoir's Boudou Saved from Drowing. The Intouchables is well made and well cast. Omar Sy so dominates the screen--and Cluzot is so skillful in his deadpan mime--that you don't have a chance to think. Intouchables is almost a continual high of a movie--with its speed and defiance of rules and and every so often a literal high when Driss fires up a big doobie and passes it back and forth with Philippe. A joint eases the panic attacks or breathing troubles Philippe has in the night, and it eases the phantom pain he feels, and just lets him live a little. The speed chase in Philippe's Maseratti with Driss at the wheel is the first high. They also go hang gliding late in the film, and a hang gliding accident is how Philippe got this way.

    This cause of the injury hints that Philippe is not an uptight prissy dud in need of some Senegalese soul. He however verges on that when he exchanges long flowery poetic letters with a female with whom he's conducting a purely epistolary romance. Driss makes sure he talks to her and then meets her in person. Despite his wealth Philippe's life requires enormous courage and he sometimes falters (but mostly not). Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, with which this invites comparison, depicts a more complex and daunting existence. Its protagonist is totally paralyzed: he cannot even speak. Philippe is a lucky guy!

    Far from being cliché-ridden, The Intouchables is about leaping over stereotypes. Driss' primary value for Philippe is that he makes no allowances, is not at all in awe or afraid of his disability, and sometimes completely forgets it. The well trained, conventional caretakers Philippe has had never, never let him forget he's handicapped. Driss and Philippe become pals. And yes, they exhange cultures. Driss plays Earth, Wind and Fire and gets everybody dancing at Philippe's birthday party, and Philippe teaches Driss about fine art and makes him realize many musical classics are already familir to him. The Variey reviewer Jay Weissberg did some serious head-shaking when he saw the movie at its San Sebastian debut: "The Weinstein Co., which has bought remake rights," he wrote, "will need to commission a massive rewrite to make palatable this cringe-worthy comedy about a rich, white quadriplegic hiring a black man from the projects to be his caretaker, exposing him to 'culture' while learning to loosen up. Sadly, this claptrap will do boffo Euro biz." You may cringe; I did not. Driss isn't just a quick study who livens things up. He also is generally useful because of his aggression and forwardness, not hesitating to smack the daughter's snotty boyfriend or a man who blocks the driveway, or to flirt with female staff members and make them feel attractive. His value is not as an "earthy" stereotype but as a strong and vital person.

    It's hard to condemn this movie without ignoring the infectious way Omar Sy possesses and enlivens it. The film's critics may need to do some loosening up. This is really a story about having fun--whatever the challenges to doing so. On the other hand for Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, the original of Philippe, who has given many interviews, the thing that drew him and "Driss" together was that they were two men who were both outsiders and alone (the meaning of "untouchables" in the title), and the public applauds the film "in the dark" because they realize they too are not alone. He also hopes that this will make the public see the handicapped as people and 'open the door' to them.

    When the movie was about to be shown to those attending the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York in February, Stephen Holden of the Times was equally disapproving. He wrote that Intouchables "exploits every hoary stereotype" and is "a crass escapist comedy that feels like a Gallic throwback to an ’80s Eddie Murphy movie." Sy in fact has been called a French Eddie Murphy, but the character he plays here is more open hearted, and this Trading Places works its magic with more panache and taste, more smiles and fewer laughs. With its handsome settings (and well-filmed banlieue sequences) it feels much too elegant and French for direct comparison with an "'80s Eddie Murphy movie" -- though the condescension in that comparison seems pointless. I strongly doubt that a "massive rewrite" by Weinstein & Co. will be an improvement.

    It is sad to say that a film that is so hopeful is escapist, but its dream of unity between rich and poor, white and black is one that is as remote from being achieved collectively in Sarkozy's France as it is from coming to Obama's "post-racial" USA. The French have been understandably soothed by this classy and technically polished feel-good movie, and Harvey Weinstein is literally banking on Americans needing it too.

    The Intouchables/Intouchables debuted at San Sebastian in September 2011, opened in France in November and in a dozen other countries in late 2011 and early 2012. French critics loved it as much as the public (Allociné 3.7), but the most hip and sophisticated ones (as usual, Cahiers du Cinéma, L'Humanité and Les Inrockuptibles) shook their heads, like Weissberg and Holden. First shown in the US at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in February, it goes into limited US release May 25, 2012. It is also part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, and will be shown there twice:

    Tue, Apr 24, 2012 6:00 pm
    Thu, Apr 26 3:30 pm
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-30-2012 at 09:25 PM.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    Rania Attieh, Daniel Garcia: OK, Enough, Goodbye (2010)



    Man abandoned by mom

    "OK, Enough, Goodbye" is a literal translation of Tayyib, khalus, yalla/طيب، خلص، يلا which is a common enough way of ending a conversation in Arabic. It doesn't mean anything special, though in English it may sound as if the speaker is fed up. On the other hand, the protagonist of this flavorful little film often is fed up, and wholly pushed outside his comfort zone. This is a coming of age movie about a forty-year-old.

    Alas, poor Tripoli (Tarablis in Arabic), once a pretty town with scent of oranges wafting through the streets, now a homely, uninteresting skyline of jumbled apartment buildings shown in the opening shots of this film (with Rania Attieh's ironic travelogue voiceover), the second largest city in Lebanon, 500,000 people, mostly Sunni Muslims. Okay, Enough, Goodbye is a completely homemade film, though the short films of the couple who've made it, Tripoli-born Rania Attiah and American Daniel Garcia, have made waves at film festivals. They shot this debut feature film on HD themselves, using Attieh's familiy and friends as cast members. The result is an astonishingly real and intimate portrait of this guy who lives with his mother and the various people in his life, and of the whole homely, ordinary world he and perhaps many of the 500,000 live in.

    Nobody has a name but a little neighbor's boy called Walid (Walid Al-Ayoubi). The main character played by Daniel Arzrouni is just Man, and his Mother is played by Attieh's grandmother, Nadime Attieh. Man's world is bound by the small pastry shop he runs and his day to day existence with his mother, who does the housekeeping. He has given up the idea of living independently. But one day she goes to Beirut and stays there, without warning, leaving a larder well stocked with labeled packages of food. But her son is for the first time challenged to try life on his own.

    He has plenty to eat in the house, but what is he to do? His world was so circumscribed that his planned vacation in Egypt was to have been with his mother, and when she refused to go he had to cancel the trip, and was stuck with the tickets. Alone, he meets a neighboring businessman, and an old friend (Theodore Hakim), who prods him to find a woman. As the film unfolds he sees a prostitute (Nawal Mekdad), whom he meets via text messages. He hangs out with little Walid, first an annoyance, momentarily a companion, whom he takes to a closed amusement park. At his friend's urging he impulsively hires an Ethiopian maid (Sablawork Tesfay) through a slick, brutal contractor played by Rania's father, Nazim Attieh. But the maid is sullen and doesn't speak a word of Arabic.

    One of the things that emerges is how maids in this part of the world are virtual slaves, kept locked in. An obvious but nonetheless richly symbolic sequence has Man adopt a caged bird when the maid escapes. Who is the prisoner here now? Another lesson is that such is the closeness of the family that living with one's mom in one's late thirties is not abnormal here, and the Man, though a bit nerdy, isn't really weird, or lacking in confidence or authority, or at least the facade of them.

    The texture of the film is naturalistic and documentary, the latter effect enhanced by brief video-shot diaries in which various characters briefly talk to the camera about their lives. It is perhaps appropriate that the scenes with younger women, the prostitute and the maid, are the most uncomfortable, because Man seems unlikely to get married. Each character comes forth vividly, even the brief cameo roles. All are non-actors, well used.

    The filmmakers capture the local atmosphere and the life there so well that, though not a great deal happens, this film doesn't look or feel like any other. The Man's lack of activity enhances the strong focus on place. The camera is kept unobtrusive.

    Okay, Enough Goodbye debuted at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival in October 2010, and has been in five other fests through 2011. It was screened for this review at the 2012 San Francisco International Film Festival, where it is in the New Directors competition and is scheduled as follows:

    Fri, Apr 20 6:30 pm
    Sun, Apr 29 12:00 noon
    Tue, May 1 8:50 pm
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-30-2012 at 09:28 PM.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    Gabriel Mariño: A Secret World (2012)



    Runaway adventure

    The talented young Mexican filmmaker Gabriel Mariño chooses a sexually adventurous girl's road trip across northern Mexico as the subject of his handsomely shot and engaging debut feature. María (a compelling Lucía Uribe) is 18, middle class, urban, a loner who has unenjoyable sex with random boys. It's graduation time and instead of going to the celebrations of her school, disgusted with herself, without telling her mother (Claudia Ríos), whom she keeps at a distance, she stuffs a backpack and boards a bus. The photography, which captures Mexico City's raw diagonals and the blurs of the countryside with flair, is a strong aspect of the tale. Things away from María are often fuzzy at first. She has no soulmate or girl pal to share secrets with. These she confers upon a journal with drawings and descriptions of herself in the third person. Mariño easily achieves the essential: María is clear in our eyes and we feel close to her, even though she's mysterious.

    After being hosted by a chatty, poor young mother (Olivia Lagunas, excellent) whose husband has gone to the States to work, and sleeping with a man met in an all night cafe, María meets a sweet, dark young man, Juan (Roberto Mares) headed also to the States for work, the innocent lover she may have been longing for. His touchingly painful shyness is a compliment to her loneliness. This is yet perhaps too easy and obvious and her final moment reaching a dream location near the Pacific may be obvious too, but what has come before has felt too authentic and real for these fumbles to mar the whole

    Mariño has experience as a cinematographer, documentarian, writer, and editor, and this shows in a strong sense of narrative and pacing and images that continually sing without being distracting: visual poetry is an essential part of any loner's experience on the road.

    I liked this film a lot -- the way it slowly unearths buried emotions in its protagonist. However it has tough competition in other Latin American journey films with visual magic and more radical adventures, such as Ricardo Benet's 2005 News from Afar (whose hero is a Juan, actually called Martín, who goes in the opposite direction, to Mexico City), or Lisandro Alonso's strange, riveting Los Muertos. The voyage into strangeness and real danger is something this generation of Spanish-speaking filmmakers does particularly well. But the comparison is a little unfair and Mariño may understand his middle class girl more intimately, and Uribe is terrific.

    Un mundo secreto debuted at the Berlinale in February 2012; Robert Koehler reviewed it favorably at Guadalajara for Variety in March and spoke of "excellent word of mouth combined with these [European festival screeningss]" and a Cartajena showing "set up the film for buyers on various platforms." The film is represented by Shoreline Entertainment, Los Angeles for International sales. It was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival (April 19-May 3, 2012), as part of the New Directors series. SFIFF showings at the PFA (Berkeley) and Film Society Cinema and Kabuki (San Francisco) are as follows:

    Sun, Apr 29, 2012 3:20 pm
    Mon, Apr 30 6:30 pm
    Wed, May 2 6:00 pm
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-21-2012 at 01:34 PM.

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