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    San Francisco International Film Festival 2018

    San Francisco International Film Festival April 4-17 2018

    GENERAL FILM FORUM THREAD



    Links to the reviews
    Angels Wear White (Vivian Qu 2017)
    Big Bad Fox & Other Tales, The/Le grand renard méchant & autres contes (Patrick Imbert, Benjamin Renner 2017)
    City of the Sun (Rati Oneli 2017)
    Civilizations: How Do We Look? (Episode 2) (Matt Hill 2018)
    Claire’s Camera/La caméra de Claire (Hong Sangsoo 2017)
    The Cleaners (Hans Block, Moritz Riesewieck 2018)
    Dogs (The Distant Barking of Dogs) (Simon Lereng Wilmont 2018)
    Djon África (João Miller Guerra, Filipa Reis 2018) (ND/NF)
    Godard Mon Amour (Michel Hazanavicius 2017)
    Hale County This Morning, This Evening (RaMell Ross 2018) (ND/NF)
    Half the Picture (Amy Adrion 2018)
    Hal (Amy Scott 2018)
    Human Element, The (Matthew Testa 2018)
    I Am Not a Witch (Rungano Nyoni 2017)
    Judge, The (Erika Cohn 2017)
    Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle/Muchos hijos, un mono y un castillo (Gustavo Salmerón 2017)
    Minding the Gap (Bing Liu 2017)
    My Life with James Dean/Ma vie avec James Dean (Dominique Choisy 2017)
    No Date, No Signature (Vahid Jalilvand 2017)
    The Other Side of Everything/Druga strana svega (Mila Turajlić 2017)
    The Pushouts (Katie Galloway 2018)
    Ravens/Korparna (Jens Assur 2017)
    RBG (Julie Cohen, Betsy West 2018)
    Rescue List, The (Alyssa Fedele, Zachary Fink 2017)
    The Rider (Chloé Zhao 2017) (NYFF 2017)
    Scary Mother (Ana Urushadze 2017) (ND/NF)
    Sower, The/Le semeur (Marine Francen 2017) (R-V)
    ★ (Star) (Johann Lurf 2017)
    Suleiman Mountain/Suleiman Too (Elizaveta Stishova 2017)
    The Third Murder/三度目の殺人 (Sandome no satsujin) (Hirokazu Kore-eda 2017)
    Those Who Are Fine/Dene wos guet gei (Cyril Schäublin 2017) (ND/NF)
    Tigre (Ulises Porra Guardiola, Silvina Schnicer 2017)
    Tre Maison Dasan (Denali Tiller 2017)
    Wajib (Annemarie Jacir 2017)
    The White Girl (Jenny Suen, Christopher Doyle 2017)
    Winter Brothers/Vinterbrødre (Hlynur Pálmason 2017) (ND/NF)
    The Workshop/L'Atelier (Laurent Cantet 2017) (R-V)
    Wrestle (Suzannah Herbert, Lauren Belfer 2018)


    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-03-2018 at 11:59 PM.

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    ANGELS WEAR WHITE/JIA NIAN HUA (Vivian Qu 2017)

    VIVIAN QU: ANGELS WEAR WHITE/JIA NIAN HUA (2017)


    ZHOU MEIJUN IN ANGELS WEAR WHITE

    Vulnerable women in China


    The images in Angels Wear White are pretty and at the center of it is a quartet of delicate young Chinese girls. The scene is a motel, one that's modern and spacious and where the rooms aren't cheap, at a seaside location with large dunes like sculptures - and a giant sculpture of Marilyn Monroe that runs symbolically through the film. Two of the four are very young schoolgirls, twelve years old. Another, Mia (Vicky Chen), is a teenager and a working girl, doing menial chores at the motel. The last is a bit older and more sophisticated, Lili (Peng Jing), a clerk at the motel. Through a surveillance camera Mia sees foul play in a room one night and records the camera information on her cell phone, but she hides what she knows. Lili's wily ways infect her.

    The central event is an ugly one, the sexual exploitation of a young girl, perhaps two, by a middle-aged man, who's never seen directly. Lili and Mia cover this up when an investigation takes place.

    A desultory police investigation proceeds off and on, while the camera follows around the exploited young girl and the teenager. There surely is a good story here somewhere. But it doesn't seem the filmmaker, Vivian Qu, knows quite how to structure her tale. Though never anything but watchable, this film meanders and runs off on tangents, never quite gaining momentum. It is too diffuse.

    Boyd van Hoeij commented in Hollywood Reporter at Angels' Venice debut that it's "Luminously filmed but restrained to a fault," and though its final shot packs "an impressive punch," Qu's drama wants to suggest something about the precarious position of women in China, but exactly what "is harder to pin down." That may also have been true of Qu's first film, Trap Street (reviewed on Filmleaf in 2014 ND/NF coverage). That was in Venice's Critic Week, while this feature made it into the main competition on the Lido and later to Toronto; she is making steady progress. The texture of her films is satisfying even if their thrust is vague.

    In some ways Trap Street may have succeeded better with its more complicated, less focused material, which contained many similar elements - hotel rooms, pretty young girls, surveillance cameras, with the added attractions of youthful romance and richer mystery. Angels Wear White touches on today's awareness of sexual harassment and is beautiful to look at.

    Angels Wear White 嘉年华 (Jiā Nián Huá), 107 mins., debuted in competition at Venice 2017 and has played or will play in a total of at least 34 international festivals, including the San Francisco International Film Festival in April 2018, where it was screened for this review.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-06-2018 at 01:34 AM.

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    MY LIFE WITH JAMES DEAN/MA VIE AVEC JAMES DEAN (Dominique Choisy 2017)

    DOMINIQUE CHOISY: MY LIFE WITH JAMES DEAN/MA VIE AVEC JAMES DEAN (2017)


    MICKAËL PELISSIER, NATHALIE RICHARD, AND JOHNNY RASSE IN MY LIFE WITH JAMES DEAN

    Cinema and romance on the Norman coast with a light gay touch

    My LIfe with James Dean is a charming French gay film about love and cinema whose central figure is an attractive young director, Géraud Champreux (actor and birdsong immitaer Johnny Rasse). Géraud - not Gérard; people keep getting it wrong - goes to the Norman coast for a series of showings of his eponymous new film in Calais and several other coastal towns. Not many show up, as is not surprising given the provincial settings and the movie theme, which Variety describes as "a frank Jean Genet-ish LGBT tale of carnal passion" - and Géraud seems all at sea anyway. But he's ready to go with the flow, and things happen.

    At the first showing, in a cinema attached to a casino, only one person shows up. But the cute, young, very tall projectionist, Balthazar (Mickaël Pelissier), falls for him and wants to make him his first gay experience.

    Géraud has left his laptop at home and a kid has stolen his cellphone on the train. He borrows phones and calls the star of his film, Ludwig (Tancredi Volpert), leaving messages in which he promises he's looking for a salle de musculation (a workout room) "to maintain that body you like." Géraud (that is Johnny Rasse) is indeed attractively muscular in his thin, open-collared shirts; his expression is abstracted, a little sad, perhaps missing Ludwig, whose interest in him may have faded.

    Ludwig, at least, is not there. But he does eventually show up, to the disappointment of Balthazar. The sponsor of the first screening, Sylvia van den Rood (Nathalie Richard), wholly misses the screening, because her lover, a married woman, has broken up with her and she is a mess. At the Hotel de Calais, where Géraud is put up by Silvia, the perpetual clerk is Gladys (Juliette Damiens). Is she in love with Géraud? No, there is someone else; but she has memorized Chekhov's Seagull - which seems not inappropriate - and wants to be cast in Géraud's next film.

    Géraud gets a cahier in a bookstore, and, freed no doubt by the lack of computers or cellphones, and, while among people, starts jotting notes in it for his next film, whose title becomes The Maharajah and the Seagulls. It's a Bollywood-Normandy production of which we see the title song in the closing credits.

    No scenes in Choisy's film seem more typical than those where all the main characters are following each other, one after the other, around the town streets, compelled by romantic confusion. They create intertwining intrigues and infatuations, led by Balthazar. Him, Géraud gently rebuffs, saying he is "a child." But when he takes off his clothes, he is not. We meet Géraud's mother, and Balthazar's father. Later some of the principals run off in a van, hiding a handsome, dark young fugitive.

    The thing Choisy's good hearted, airy, film has and never loses is the essential quality Calvino defined, leggerezza in Italian - lightness. Something of that comes from being made away from the responsibility and pretension of Paris, France's cultural and cinematic capital whose weight of tradition and responsibility to be sophisticated and elegant could weigh on a cinéast whose material is as evanescent as this. Choisy

    Born in 1959, Dominique Choisy has worked as an editor for French television, in addition to teaching at the Université d’Amiens in the north of France. After helming a number of short films, Choisy directed his first feature, Modern Comforts in 2000. Also starring Nathalie Richard, Modern Comforts won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Mar del Plata Film Festival. He returned to the director’s chair in 2011 with Les fraises des bois. My Life with James Dean is his third feature.

    My LIfe with James Dean/Me vie avec James Dean, 108 mins., debuted in Paris at the Cheries-Cheris Film Festival (MK2 Beaubourg) and continued at Montreal, Brussels, Toulouse, Tours, and Lyon. It was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival. Theatrical releases in France and Germany are scheduled.

    Showing at the same same time in Boston (Cambridge) at the Wicked Queen Festival Apr. 6, 7:30 pm at the Brattle Theater.
    SFIFF showings:
    Thurs. Apr. 5 8:30 Roxie Theater
    Fri. apr. 6 3 pm Creativity Theater
    Sun. Apr. 8 j8:30 pm Vitoria Theater



    THE POSTER FOR THE FILM
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-06-2018 at 02:31 PM.

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    THE DISTANT BARKING OF DOGS (Simon Lereng Wilmont 2018)

    SIMON LERENG WILMONT: THE DISTANT BARKING OF DOGS (2017)


    OLEG AFANASYEV

    Lions at home in danger by a brave photographer


    Danish documentarian Simon Lereng Wilmont went to Hnltove, a mile from the front line of fighting between Ukraine forces and pro-Russian separatists four years ago and made this film focused on a boy of ten whose father chose not to flee the fighting. Like many a great documentary this one starts with extraordinary access. Wilmont's fly-on-the-wall technique means he is present at the most intimate moments but never noticed.

    Not surprisingly, the film Loreng made won top honors in IDFA's "First Appearance" Competition. Just how dangerous this work was, if you wouldn't guess along the way, is shown at the very outset with footage from a car when there's a big explosion a couple vehicles forward of it, blowing everything away and driving the car the photographer is in off the road.

    Oleg is a fiftth-sixth grader, the age of openness, curiosity, good humor. He lives with his grandmother Alexandra, a big tough-minded, warm woman. His father is gone, his mother died years earlier. His aunt Ayosha falls for a soldier who'll take her to a safer place along with her son Yarik, robbing Oleg of his companion for pillow fights and leaving Alexandra and Oleg alone - the more so because most of the village is also gone. There are a few classroom scenes were there were other children - classes on mines and how to be wary of them, what to do if disaster strikes. War is the ever-present thing, with memories of a neighbor who had his head blown off, leaving his wife wandering outside speechless. Alexandra quotes a saying, "Every dog is a lion in its own home." So they are lions who hear howitzers and the distant barking of dogs.

    With the older teenager Kostya Oleg goes swimming in the dark, with firing roaring in the distance, and they make a fire. Wilmont must have pledged, "If they go, I go." threw in his lot with them to make this film. It reminds me of the old Life Magazine. A great Life photographer focused on the most human of human interest stories, weeding out anything trivial, unless, in its triviality, it was tremendous. He took me as a boy to far other worlds I could escape into. But this world I only wish did not exist. Yarik comes back for some reason, and Oleg has his company again. But the situation is wearing everyone down, us too, the viewers, the mood grows darker, and when Kostya brings a pistol, it's dangerous. Oleg gets a gash in the ankle from a ricocheting bullet bullet, then they cruelly shoot frogs in a pool, but Wilmont quietly forbears and observes.

    It was quiet and lovely for a while, then the fighting started up again. It is not over.

    The Distant Barking of Dogs, 90 mins., debuted at International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam (IDFA). Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, April 2018. See the review at IDFA by Neil Young in Hollywood Reporter for further details.

    SFIFF April 6.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-06-2018 at 07:17 PM.

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    CIVILIZATIONS: HOW DO WE LOOK? (Episode 2) (Matthew Hill 2018)

    MATTHEW HILL: CIVILIZATIONS: HOW DO WE LOOK? (EPISODE 2) (2018)



    A glossy update, in a retro documentary style, minus the dominant voice

    According to Vanessa Thorpe in the Guardian, the makers of the ambitious BBC arts series "Civilizations" faced "major hurdles" in filming, with tourists, bureaucrats, security staff and "cultural sensitivities" all "standing in their way." They believe they faced greater obstacles than the 1969 series they were commissioned to update. I looked at one episode shown as part of the SF film festival, number 2, which is about the representation of the human figure from its earliest days till now.

    The question title, "How Do We Look?" is misleading in its suggestion of a personal, self-conscious sense of the culture of the visual. Actually, the representations of human form through history come from sources we mostly know very little about, other than what we see. Did ancient Egyptians really see themselves as stiff and upright, or were they just waiting for artists to come up with another way of drawing, like the fascinating, and engaging Roman funerary portraits on top of Egyptian-style coffins in the Fayum Mummy Portraits? This is a rapid survey, not a deep delving, but it could have delved deeper.

    Just as we still owe a lot to the beautiful idealized forms devised by the Greeks and the Romans and their incorporation into modern sculpture promoted by the influential 18th-century archaeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann, so this glossy, handsomely realized documentary hour owes an awful lot to the traditional ceremonial style of the docs it's updating. In fact it comes on initially very much like the "Encyclopedia Britannica films" shown in US schools in the Fifties, which droned on in a singsong fashion so we'd know we were being lectured about important things, and could zone out.

    In the effort to keep us from doing that, a string of impressive and appropriate experts are shown, British whenever possible, with nicely lit, sharply focused sculptures. Toward the end, the film skips from classical style modern sculpture to an African American painter who does updates of people found on the street in a style adopted from "high art" he's viewed at the Met. Particularly noticeable, and amusing, is chief "presenter" (one of three in the series) Cambridge professor Mary Beard, resplendent in a big orange scarf (to unify multiple appearances over time, perhaps), whose toothy, over-emphatic style of delivery, striving for a sense of dramatic revelation, has been compared, not without reason, to Margaret Rutherford, as Vanessa Thorpe notes.

    Starting with Mexican Olmec sculpture, none of the usual highlights are missed in a survey that privileges western classical art because, it shows, the world has done so. Something new to me is the information that even traditional Buddhist sculpture was influenced by the Greco-Roman (along with the Lincoln Memorial in Washington).

    One thing that's missing here is a defining individual voice. What made the 1969 series so memorable was the aristocratic, establishment tones of its ever-present showpiece spokesman, Sir Kenneth Clark. That assurance Clark had, his regal authority, is lacking here. So is this really an update, or a dusting off, with something important, the unifying element of a strong sensibility, missing? The old one, note, dared to call itself "Civilization." Now it's safely pluralistic, not one but many "Civilizations." Timid and PC, but you can't get away with a white male presenting mostly western art as "civilization" anymore, you need females, people of color, and a bIt more exotic stuff. (Still slighted: Africa, which remains largely invisible.)

    Of course there have been some new discoveries, which are incorporated, and these are always of immense value. One thing undoubtedly new is the more recently discovered Chinese Han dynasty tomb figures, with a representative of the beautiful new Asian Art Museum of San Francisco to talk about them, its Director Jay Xu. But they do not seriously alter our understanding. Is it surprising that sculptures were made by and to celebrate the rich and the powerful? One was hoping for some more pungent observations and keener insights. Perhaps a more overt critique of Sir Kenneth's version would have helped us see the value of an update.

    Civilizations,"How Do We Look?", 64 mins., debuted 24 Apr. 2018, no. 2 of nine one-hour episodes, BBC Two, PBS, presented by Simon Schama, Mary Beard and David Olusoga, a series of documentary films on the history of art. Viewed as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival on a PBS Press Room video (of which the sound fell out in the last ten minutes).

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-03-2018 at 11:56 PM.

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    HAL (Amy Scott 2018)

    AMY SCOTT: HAL (2018)



    A director's biography

    [Capsule review]

    Hal Ashby is less of a household word among the iconic Seventies "New Hollywood" directors than Lucas, Spielberg, Scorsese or Coppola but also important. Amy Scott has made a documentary re-introduction. His key work of the period, often created in non-stop stoned editing sessions, includes The Landlord, In the Heat of the Night, Harold and Maude, Shampoo, The Last Detail, Being There and Coming Home, movies all made in the nine years from 1970 to 1979. He died at only 59, of pancreatic cancer. Some said the studios killed him by their opposition. L.A.-based Scott was trained in Oklahoma, became an editor, and was head digital archivist and assistant to Studs Terkel in Chicago. Owen Gleiberman has reviewed her documentary for Variety suggesting it has more clues to his work than his life. For an avaluation of his work read Pauline Kael's review of Coming Home in The New Yorker.

    Hal, 90 mins., debuted Jan. 2018at Sundance, screened for this review as part of the April 2018 San Francisco International Film Festival.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-07-2018 at 11:57 AM.

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