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Thread: San Francisco International Film Festival 2013

  1. #1
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    San Francisco International Film Festival 2013

    San Francisco International Film Festival 2013 April 25-May 9



    Links to the reviews:

    Act of Killing, The (Joshua Oppenheimer 2012)
    After Lucia/Después de Lucía (Michel Franco 2012)
    Artist and the Model, The (Fernando Truba 2012)
    Before Midnight (Richard Linklater 2013)
    Chimeras (Mike Matilla 2013)
    Cleaner, The (Adrian Saba 2012)
    Cold War (Longman Leung, Sunny Luk 2013)
    Computer Chess (Andrew Bujalski 2013)
    Ernest & Célestine Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar 2012)
    Eight Deadly Shots (Mikko Niskanen 1972)
    Fill the Void (Rana Burshtein 2012)
    Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach 2012)
    Futuro, Il (Alicia Scherson 2012)
    Habi, the Foreigner (María Florencia Álvarez 2012)
    Hijacking, A (Tobias Lindholm2012)
    In the Fog (Sergei Loznitsa 2012)
    Juvenile Offender (Kang Yi-Kwan 2012)
    Key of Life (Kenji Uchida 2012)
    La Sirga (William Vega 2012)
    Last Step, The (Ali Mosaffa 2012)
    Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Peravel 2012)
    Memories Look at Me (Song Fang 2012)
    Museum Hours (Jem Cohen 2012)
    Nights with Théodore (Sébastien Betbeder 2012)
    Night Across the Street (Raul Ruiz 2012)
    Patience Stone, The (Atiq Rahimi 2012)
    Pearblossom Highway (Mike Ott 2012)
    Penance (Kiyoahi Kurosawa 2012)
    Present Tense (Belmin Söylemez 2012)
    Rosie (Marcel Gisler 2013)
    Sofia's Last Ambulance (Ilian Metev 2012)
    Something in the Air (Olivier Assayas 2012)
    Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley 2012)
    Strange Little Cat, The (Ramon Zürcher 2013)
    Tall as the Baobab Tree (Jeremy Teicher 2012)
    Thérèse Desqueyroux (Claude Miller 2012)
    What Maisie Knew (David Siegel, Scott McGehee 20113)
    Youth (Justine Malle 2013)

    SFIFF56 Opening Night: What Maisie Knew

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

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

    SFIFF56 Centerpiece: Inequality For All

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

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

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

    Closing Night film: Richard Linklater's BEFORE MIDNIGHT

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

    They're still the same romantic, articulate and gorgeous couple that met on a train in Linklater's Before Sunrise (1995), but now, nearly 20 years on, Jesse and Céline (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) are approaching middle age and facing questions of commitment, family and, as ever, the staying power of love. Before Midnight, with a funny and touching screenplay cowritten by Linklater and his two lead actors, is that rare sequel (rarer still: a sequel to a sequel) that not only delivers the charm and energy of its antecedents but adds layers of poignancy, standing firmly on its own as a mature observation of love's pleasures and discontents. With Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Jennifer Prior, Charlotte Prior.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-03-2015 at 11:09 PM.

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    Fernando Trueba: THE ARTIST AND THE MODEL (2012)



    Which is the model?

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

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

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

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

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

    Opened in NYC August 2, 2013. Metacritic rating 49.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-03-2015 at 10:24 PM.

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    Alicia Scherson: IL FUTURO (2012)



    Orphans in Rome

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

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

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

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

    Il Futuro debuted at Sundance, and a week later at Rotterdam. Theatrical releases are set for Italy 6 June and Germany 12 September 2013. It was screened for this review as part of the SFIFF (showing May 7-8-9, 2013 ).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-03-2015 at 10:25 PM.

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    María Florencia Álvarez: HABI, THE FOREIGNER (2012)



    Running away and joining a mosque in Buenos Aires

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

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

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

    Habi, la extranjera was co-produced by Walter Salles. As mentioned it debuted at the Berlinale, 12 February 2013, and it has shown at several other festivals. It was screened for this review in connection with the San Francisco International Film Festival, 25 April-May 9, 2013.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-03-2015 at 10:26 PM.

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    Jem Cohen: MUSEUM HOURS (2012)



    Art and life in Vienna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-14-2015 at 07:57 AM.

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    Sébastien Betbeder: NIGHTS WITH THEODORE (2012)



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Les nuits avec Théodore, only 67 mins., a TV movie, whose original title IMDb lists as Je suis une ville endormie, was shown at the Turin Festival, which gives detailed information. It is roughly his fourth short feature; his longest is 81 minutes. It opened in Paris 13 March, receiving fair reviews (the Allociné press rating is 3.1 based on 11 reviews). It played in Film Comment Selects at Lincoln Center, NYC, 22 February 2013. It was screened for this review in connection with the San Francisco International Film Festival, 25 April-May 9, where it received the FIPRESCI Award.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-24-2017 at 11:08 PM.

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    Atiq Rahimi: THE PATIENCE STONE (2012)



    Kabul monologue

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

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

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

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

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

    i]The Patience Stone/Syngué Sabour[/i] debuted at London and played at many other festivals including Toronto, opening theatrically in various countries including France 20 Feb. 2012 (Allociné press rating 3.6). This was Afghanistan's Best Foreign entry for the 2013 Oscars. It will show in the San Francisco International Film Festival, for which it was screened for this review. Release (Sony Pictures Classics): 14 Aug. 2013. Metacritic rating: 58.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-02-2016 at 07:30 PM.

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    The sins of the parents

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

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

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

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

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

    See also reviews by Korean blog critic Seongyong Cho and Asian film expert Derek Elley.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-03-2015 at 10:37 PM.

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    Adrian Saba: THE CLEANER (2012)


    Víctor Prada, Adrián Du Bois in THE CLEANER

    Man and boy on the edge of dying Lima

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    .......................................___________ _________________________________ ADRIAN SABA AND ADRIAN DU BOIS
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-03-2015 at 10:51 PM.

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    David Siegel, Scott McGehee: WHAT MAISIE KNEW (2013)



    Where are the grownups?

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What Maisie Knew debuted at Toronto in Sept. 2012. Screened for this review as part of the SFIFF where it was the opening night film 25 April 2013. Limited US release begins 3 May.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-03-2015 at 10:56 PM.

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    Ali Mosaffa: THE LAST STEP (2012)



    Death and the maiden

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

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

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

    Peleh Akhar (the Farsi title), 88 mins., opened in Iran 11 Feb. 2012, and has shown at some festivals. It won the FIPRESCI Prize at the 2012 Karlovy Vary film festival and Hatami won the Best Actress award. It was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it shows 4,8, and 9 May 2013.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-03-2015 at 10:57 PM.

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    Mikko Niskanen: EIGHT DEADLY SHOTS (1972)



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

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

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

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

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

    Kahdeksan surmanluotia (Finnish title), 316 mins., released in 1972, won Best Actor and Best Director Jussi awards. Screened for the review in the four-part version as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, showing 5 and 7 May 2013.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-03-2015 at 10:57 PM.

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    Kenji Uchida: KEY OF LIFE (2012)



    Role reversal, for a while

    Preview. Full review will come later with local release.

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

    "Kagi-dorobô no mesoddo" or Key of Life, which weighs in at a hefty 128 mins., scored for its chessboard intricacy by winning Best Screenplay at the Shanghai Film Festival. A good festival run includes Toronto, London Cleveland, Hawaii, and Taipei. It opened in Japan 22 September 2012. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival (27, 28 April, 5 May 2013 showings). Film Movement has acquired Key of Life for US distribution.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-03-2015 at 10:58 PM.

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    Aubier, Patar, Renner: ERNEST & CÉLESTINE (2012)


    Inter-species love, happy poverty, sweets

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

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

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

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

    Ernest & Célestine debuted at Cannes Directors Fortnight May 2012, opening theatrically in France 12 December after appearing in six or eight other festivals. Universal acclaim in France (Allociné ratings, both viewers and press, of 4.3) and the 2013 César for best animated film. Its US premiere apparently was the San Francisco International Film Festival, when it will show 28 April. Screened for this review in connection with the SFIFF.​​ First released Feb. 2014 (IFC Center, NYC)..
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-03-2015 at 10:58 PM.

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    Richard Linklater: BEFORE MIDNIGHT (2013)



    Flirting turns to squabbling

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

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

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

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

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

    Before Midnight, 108 mins., debuted at Sundance in January 2013 and was in the Berlin, Istanbul and Tribeca festivals. It is the closing night film (9 May 2012) at San Francisco, screened there for this review. It opens in the US 24 May, the UK 21 June.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-03-2015 at 10:59 PM.

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