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Thread: SFFILM: San Francisco Film Festival 2019

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    SFFILM: San Francisco Film Festival 2019

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-21-2019 at 11:01 PM.

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    ASAKO i & II/寝ても覚めても (Ryusuke Hamaguchi 2018)

    RYUSUKE HAMAGUCHI: ASAKO I & II/寝ても覚めても NETEMO SANTEMO ("At all hours") (2018)

    (Originally published for the New York Film Festival, 2018.)


    ERIKA KARATA AND MASAHIRO HIGASHIDE IN ASAKO I & II

    Wavering

    The director had made seven features and documentaries since 2007 when his five-hour Happy Hour (ND/DF 2016) three years ago gained him international attention, and that helped him jump right into Competition at Cannes with his new film, Asako I & II. Adapted from a novel of the same title by Tomoka Shibasaki, it's about about a young woman torn between two identical-looking young men, one rakish and wild, the other reliable and conventional. The contrast is itself a very conventional one. A similar theme was treated (in a sexier, more provocative way) last year by François Ozon in Double Lover. Ozon was playing to a grownup taste in thrillers and S&M. Depending on how you look at it, Hamaguchi's take is delicate and mysterious, or bland YA rom-com stuff.

    There is fun in observing the game either way, Ozon's way or Hamaguchi's way, of a woman being pleased or tormented by an attractive man. In Ozon's case it's the elegant former model Marine Vacth and the seasoned Belgian actor Jérémie Renier, who got his start with the Dardenne brothers. In Hamaguchi's, it's the tall, thin, delicately handsome Masahiro Higashide, who plays both the sexy, undependable Baku of Osaka and the conventional, reliable, less exciting Ryohei.

    It's fun to admire Higashide's looks in both roles, and the two performances are in more subtle shades of difference than those imposed on Jérémie Renier by Ozon. Not that Higashide doesn't look quite unlike Baku when he turns up as Ryohei. Baku has a wild mop of hair and bohemian attire of jeans and flip flops; also, according to Maggie Lee's Variety review, as Baku he speaks in a broad Osaka dialect (they meet there; she meets Ryohei in Tokoyo). Ryohei is a young salaryman (he works for a brewery) in standard suit and tie uniform. The different look makes all the difference. The actor does a good job with it.

    The trouble is that Asako, as played by Erika Karata, is the same passive, doll-like young thing with both men, and her indecision, which Lee calls "banal," just seems silliness, or very poor judgment. If only she were in the grip of something complex and compelling; but she doesn't seem to be. A less recognized unwisdom, we might say, is that of Ryohei, who gathers early on that Asako's attracted to him because of his resemblance to another guy, but goes on despite this to fall in love with her. We may want to forgive him because he's basically a a decent and reliable chap. But Asako isn't the only foolish one.

    We don't really see much of Baku - he isn't around for that long - and some audience members, seduced by his attractiveness, may find him dreamy, as Asako does, but he can easily be seen as a narcissistic doofus - which his later reappearance turned into a supermodel does nothing to dispel. Asako's friends warn her right off that he's an unreliable seducer. The trouble is telegraphed to us right away when he goes out for bread and doesn't come back till the next day.

    Nonetheless they fall in lust, with heavy kissing, even after they've crashed a motorcycle and are lying sprawled on the highway. Months later, the affair ends when he goes out to buy shoes (to replace those flip flops, no doubt) and disappears. She's so devastated she moves from Osaka to Tokyo. With Ryohei, it really lasts, Asako sets up domestic life in an apartment overlooking a river, and they're together that way for five years. But her "thing" for Baku never goes away, it turns out.

    As in Happy Hour, what's interesting is the ensemble scenes, when Asako is with friends, or friends of friends. There's a notable exchange - also maybe a sign of Hamagushi's tendency to go off on a tangent - when Ryohei brings Kushihashi (Kôji Seto), a work associate, to Asako's to meet her best friend Maya (Rio Yamashita), who is an actress. Kushihashi (turning out to be a frustrated actor himself) launches into a vehement, pointedly rude attack on her acting style, which he then abjectly apologizes for. Hamaguchi interpolates a sequence of the massive 2011 Japan earthquake (not in the novel; but he made a 2012 documentary about it, The Sound of Waves). These surprises add interest, as do the secondary characters.

    But the film keeps coming back to the conventional contrast between the two men and Asako's immature behavior. Stephen Dalton in his Hollywood Reporter review calls her an "annoying airhead" who "would not pass even a basic Bechdel Test." That is to say, all she ever talks to other women about is men. Anyway - and this criticism applies to Ozon's Double Lover - the whole story hinges on a fantastic conceit and the focus becomes the conceit - or how Masahiro Hirashige plays the two contrasting roles - rather than on human relations. The kind of keen, specific observation we got in Happy Hour is too often missing here. Let's hope Hamaguchi will go on to better justify his new international recognition.

    Asako I & II/寝ても覚めても NETEMO SANTEMO ("waking or sleeping"), 119 mins., debuted in competition at Cannes; eight other international festivals including Taipei, Toronto, Vancouver, and the New York Film Festival, where it was screened for this review 7 Oct. 2018. Metascore 62.

    Now showing in the San Francisco Film Festival.
    SFFILM showtimes:
    Sat, Apr 13 at 3:30 pm Creativity Theater
    EVENT HAS PASSED
    Wed, Apr 17 at 8:30 pm YBCA
    Tue, Apr 23 at 3:30 pm Victoria Theatre
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-15-2019 at 07:00 AM.

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    ASK DR. RUTH (Ryan White 2019)


    DR. RUTH WESTHEIMER IN ASK DR. RUTH

    (Published on Filmleaf earlier)

    BRYAN WHITE: ASK DR. RUTH (2019)

    Everybody knows about Dr. (Ed.D.) Ruth Westheimer, this tiny (4 feet six inches) popular media figure, I guess, but I knew little and was glad to be informed. This gives her whole story, her escape from the Holocaust via a Swiss orphanage, but loss of both loving parents. Her time in Israel on a kibbutz, studying psychology at the Sorbonne, emigrating to the US, working as a housekeeper, three husbands, two children, multiple grandchildren, Ed.D. from Teachers College, Columbia University. Her whirlwind media career began in 1980 on WYNY where they hid her away at midnight on Sundays. She was a pioneer in sex education, and her good humor, positivity, very idiomatic English but heavy German accent, her outspokenness made her irresistible. As I hate Elizabeth Holmes of Teranos, as I am ambivalent about Toni Morrison, I LOVE Dr. Ruth. She comes across to me as an adorable and good person. Amazingly, she is now 90, and the film ends with her birthday celebration. Debuted at Sundance, also (like Toni Morrison) Magnolia, to be released theatrically 3 May and on Hulu 1 June. Watched on a screener Mar 24-25, 2019.

    Now showing in the San Francisco Film Festival.
    San Francisco Film Festival showtime:
    Sun, Apr 21 at 3:00 pm Castro Theatre
    To be released theatrically 3 May and on Hulu 1 June.


    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-15-2019 at 07:02 AM.

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    THE BEAST IN THE JUNGLE (Clara van Gool 2019)

    CLARA VAN GOOL: THE BEAST IN THE JUNGLE (2019)


    DANE HURST AND SARAH REYNOLDS IN THE BEAST IN THE JUNGLE

    A version of the Henry James novella by a Dutch director who interprets it as a dance film

    This film presumably relates to last year's Vineyard Theater production, unless great minds just think alike. Both are free versions of Henry James's novella about a man who thinks himself destined for some great thing, who proves more successful in business than love, and has recurrent encounters with a woman over a long span of time. The New York stage version, by director-choreographer Susan Stroman, composer John Kander and writer David Thompson had lots more characters and a richer plot. The Dutch Clara van Gool’s film is stingy with the dancing at first, and stingy with other characters throughout. From current evidence, and what reviews say, neither of these efforts was really successful.

    The film is beautiful and haunting. It's also repetitious, intentionally so. The same refrains are repeated over and over. There is a circular effect. This man and this woman (Sarah Reynolds and Dane Jeremy Hurst) literally are dancing around each other - whether in turn-of-the-century clothing, dressed for WWI, or dancing the Twist. I liked seeing the pretty young gentleman and severe, dancerly woman in old-fashioned dress; the English country estate; the beautiful Italian places; the handsome cars are handsomely photographed, often in a dim, haunting light. But over time one wearies of the mixture of dialogue with dance, without the dialogue's counteracting the essential abstractness or impressionism of dance. And in the weird repetitious dialogue and inexplicable shifts of place this becomes Henry James meets Last Year at Marientbad.

    Given its Dutch creative origin and its oddity, the film's s Rotterdam premiere was doubly logical. It came my way as part of the San Francisco Film Festival. Juno Films will premiere the film in New York later in 2019 and is planning a rollout to theaters across the US. Prepare yourself for aesthetic pleasure, extended a little beyond the allowable attention span. If you crave a look for an experimental use of classical dance in a beautiful film setting, this may interest you. Warning: this is more like an art piece than a conventional film. Logically, it shows at a museum.

    The Beast in the Jungle, 87 mins., debuted at Rotterdam; also showed at Göteborg. Opened in the Netherlands 14 Mar. 2019.

    SFFILM showtimes:
    Tue, Apr 16 at 6:00 pm SFMOMA
    Wed, Apr 17 at 8:45 pm Creativity Theater
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-10-2019 at 12:08 AM.

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    Belmonte (Federico Veiroj 2018)

    FEDERICO VEILOJ: BELMONTE (2018)


    GONZALO DELGADO AND OLIVIA MOLINARO EIJO IN BELMONTE

    Portrait of fatherhood in crisis, and the strength of a child

    I reviewed Veiloj's 2010 A Useful Life first, at San Francisco. His 2015 [I]The Apostate [/I]came my way via New Directors. On the second go I concluded this director's aim is "to make minorness interesting, and somehow significant." He also likes to star people he knows, who aren't really actors. Let's note how Jonathan Holland defines what's new in this third film in his Hollywood Reporter review. It has "greater emotional range," "also less playful, more austere and generally more forbidding.". As a common thread, though, one might mention (Holland again) his "engagingly fastidious and quirky directorial style. That's key to the aim I see of making minorness interesting, and somehow significant.

    Belmonte (Gonzalo Delgado) is tall, like Veiroj himself and his other friend-actor-protagonists, with a serious, Latin, European face, handsome in a pleasingly worn way, weary eyes, lined brow, swaths of brown hair, effortlessly, casually stylish in jeans and shirt and aged leather jacket. He's an artist (as is Delgado in real life, and the work really his own, which I, as an artist, find unusual and quite a good thing). His artwork is doing alright, apparently. He sells two of his big paintings, male nudes, bought by a husband for his wife (Cecilia Jeske), who comes on to him when he delivers them. He withdraws. He has a smart and beautiful daughter, Celeste (Olivia Molinaro Eijo), a schoolgirl, he'd like to spend more time with but his estranged wife Jeanne (Jeannette Sauktesliskis), a scholarly-looking printer, won't let him. His parents own one of those pleasing anachronisms Veiroj likes, a refrigerated storage for fur coats, and they keep visiting it though they're supposed to be retired and leave it alone. The setting, Uruguay in the first film, Madrid in the second, now is back in Montevideo, Uruguay, but Belmonte has a show coming also in Buenos Aires.

    His artwork is figurative, and how: big fleshy semi-classical figures, mostly outlines, sometimes reminiscent of William Blake, tormented, a touch of Cy Twombly. Half way through, the crack appears in Belmonte's world halfway through the movie when, in the middle of the night, Celeste cries and demands to be taken back to her mother, who is pregnant with a boy, soon to be born. His world is incomplete. He's moody, unhappy, is seen mooning among an artfully arranged group outdoors listening to a singer of a sad song by (Leo Masliah). A beautiful young pianist at a concert hall (Giselle Motta) discreetly but oh-so-attractively throws herself at Belmonte, as did the wealthy older woman. All this not very fashionable right now, but Veiroj certainly does not try to be trendy. Belmonte has only a little to give the pianist, and protests to friends that he wants and needs no further relationship. Is he self-sufficient, or merely unable to function outside his work? In the end, when his wife's new child is born, he goes off to see the boy (named by Celeste Eusebio), carrying a large painting: his art is all he has to give.

    This fourth feature (I missed Acné , the first) is more elegant and sad and less quaint. It has a loose, casual style that shows confidence. But by the same token it's less resolved: this hero both idealized and shapeless. The European-style elegance makes it enjoyable perhaps for a cinephile (or festival-goer) to watch, but less likely to be remembered. But I can't guarantee I won't recall this real artist doing his real art, this stylish film with its nice songs and color-drenched images that Screen Daily's Jonathan Romney notes (Belmonte's show catalog cover's red will knock your eye out) and compares to Vittorio Storaro.

    Belmonte, 75 mins., debuted at Toronto, with eight other international festivals listed on IMDb including San Sebastián, Zurich, Montevideo, Mar del Plata, Rotterdam, Göteborg and the Neighboring Scenes festival at Lincoln Center. Also now coming in SFFILM's San Francisco Film Festival, as part of which it was screened for this review.

    SFFILM showtimes:
    Sun, Apr 14 at 8:00 pm Creativity Theater
    Tue, Apr 16 at 6:15 pm YBCA
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-09-2019 at 11:47 PM.

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    THE CHAMBERMAID/LA CAMARISTA (Lila Avilés: 2018)

    LILA AVILÉS: THE CHAMBERMAID/LA CAMARISTA (2018)

    [PREVIEW ONLY]


    GABRIELA CARTOL IN THE CHAMBERMAID

    A look at the working environment of a chambermaid in one of Mexico City's most luxurious hotels can be a counterpart to Cuaron's "Roma"

    In her feature debut, theater director Lila Avilés turns the monotonous work day of Eve (Gabriela Cartol), a chambermaid at a high-end Mexico City hotel, into a beautifully observed film of rich detail. Set entirely in this alienating environment, with extended scenes taking place in the guest rooms, hallways, and cleaning facilities, this minimalist yet sumptuous movie brings to the fore Eve’s hopes, dreams, and desires. As with Alfonso Cuarón’s ROMA, set in the same city, The Chambermaid salutes the invisible women caretakers who are the hard-working backbone of society. A Kino Lorber release.
    -NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS festival listing. Jonathan Romney's Screen Daily review points out "Eve seems to be suspended in an eternal daytime present, as if she never actually leaves the premises." A slowly immersive film that leads you into quiet desperation (self submerged by routine, hope suppressed by low status) and, perhaps , back out the other side.

    The Chambermaid/La camarista, 105 mins., debuted at Toronto; half a dozen other festivals including New Directors/New Films and San Francisco, screened as part of the latter, where it received the GGA New Directors Award with a $10,000 cash prize.

    SFFILM showtimes:
    Fri, Apr 19 at 6:00 pm Roxie Theater
    Sun, Apr 21 at 3:15 pm Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-22-2019 at 01:35 PM.

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    CLOSE ENEMIES/FRÈRES ENNEMIS (David Oelhoffen 2018)

    DAVID OELHOFFEN: CLOSE ENEMIES/FRÈRES ENNEMIS (2018)


    REDA KATEB AND MATTHIAS SCHOENAERTS IN CLOSE ENEMIES

    Deeper ties

    In contrast to the admirable but relentlessly unfun La camarista, it was tempting to say of this film that it's far too much fun to be in a festival. But seriously, its inclusion by SFFILM is justified by its superior quality. Even though this French polar (crime thriller) classifies superficially as a conventional police-drug actioner, there is excellence in every aspect. The whole package, writing, directing, image, pared-down score, is sleek and functional. The acting is fine starting with the leads, Matthias Schoenaerts and Reda Kateb. This is not stylistic greatness; another Jean-Pierre Melville hasn't come along. But enjoyment is justified by quality.

    The theme is of two men who grew up in the same rough Paris cité but went to other sides, Manuel (Schoenaerts) into drug trafficking and Driss (Kateb) to detection and prevention of same, having just been promoted to stupe (the police narcotics division). We're not hit over the head, but the action starts off early and, above all, the sense of togetherness of the drug dealing clan, who first appear joyously greeting one of their number just released from prison, and a dad plays football with his tousle-haired kid, the only male in sight not wearing the look du jour, crewcut and tight leather jacket.

    Barely more than twenty minutes into the film comes a sudden violent attack on Manuel and two of his associates in the back of a car. Manuel escapes, fairly shaken, but his two comrades, including Imrane Mogalia (Adel Bencherif), a man who was a mole for the cops, are taken out, as is the drug shipment. This crisis bonds Manuel and Driss once more, because it is a giant blow for both. The assailants are so far unknown as we follow the two men home where their loved ones sense they're shaken. More disturbing is the scene where Driss goes to tell his informant's wife that he's gone, so well done it gave me a catch in the throat.

    The traumatic disruption obliges Driss to force Manuel to cooperate, but that leads Driss to feelings, perhaps, of betrayal. When he revisits his parents, he who has denied earlier to someone that he even knows Arabic, speaks to them in Arabic, recalling that the wallpaper he and his father put up together. He always found it ugly, he says. And then he switches to French, "Maintenant il me manque," "Now I miss it," the shift signaling his split personality and life. They do not even know where he lives now. A deft, heartfelt scene.

    Close Enemies is an exploration of a classic dramatic theme: the way deeper ties emerge when individuals who have made their way into a certain profession or world are brought to the brink. We see at the outset how Manuel has been made an honorary member of an Arab drug clan, but after he almost dies and two of his closest frères, his affective brothers, have been wiped out on either side of him he is symbolically isolated, and as he flees what he thinks is certain death thereafter, he remains increasingly hidden and withdrawn inside his dark hoodie. Driss' own parents, still living in the poor banlieue, think him a danger to themselves now that he is with the police and elevated to the department whose aim is to fight the people he formerly was associated with. His role is ambiguous, conflicted. His female police superior thinks him a danger, and his old comrades think him a traitor, even as they may admire the mainstream success he has come into, however dubiously.

    All this, in a French polar, constitutes satisfying and complex character development. It's been pointed out, though, that the two leads' families aren't much developed. And for all its excellence, I can't claim that Close Enemies transcends its conventional genre, because that's not what writer/director David Oelhoffen and co-writer, Jeanne Aptekman have set out to do. (see Boyd van Hoeij's admiring and eloquent review in Hollywood Reporter.) David Oelhoffen previously directed Viggo Mortensen in the 2014 Camus adaptation Far from Men/Loin des hommes.

    Close Enemies/Frères ennemis, 111 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2018 and played at over half a dozen other festivals, including Busan, Warsaw, Göteborg, Cleveland, and the San Francisco Film Festival, where it was screened for this review.

    SFFILM showtimes:
    Sun, Apr 21 at 4:30 pm
    Victoria Theatre

    Mon, Apr 22 at 6:00 pm
    Victoria Theatre
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-12-2019 at 10:43 AM.

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    A FAITHFUL MAN/L'HOMME FIDEL (Louis Garrel 2018)

    LOUIS GARREL A FAITHFUL MAN/L' HOMME FIDÈLE (2018)

    (Review originally written for the 2018 New York Film Festival.)


    LOUIS GARREL AND LAETITIA CASTA IN L'HOMME FIDÈLE

    Love and death: a quadrangle with a wise child

    Louis Garrel's second film as director, co-scripted by the legendary Jean-Claude Carrière, is about a man (played by Garrel) whose girlfriend Marianne (Laetitia Casta) marries his best friend, then returns to him after her husband dies, but with the accompanying problems of a son who doesn't like him and troubling rumors about the husband's death.

    In the opening, set earlier, Marianne gives Abel the bad news that his best friend Paul is the father of the child she's pregnant with, and she is choosing him over Abel. Abel walks out of her life not to return till nine years later.

    Now Paul is dead, died in his sleep, it's said, and Marianne invites Abel - who's available - to come and see her. He meets her son, the nine-year-old Joseph (Joseph Engel). A pretty, self-assured boy he at once takes Abel aside and tells him "My mother killed my father." "How?" asks Abel. "Poison," says Joseph. This is a very choice scene, a little triumph that will stick in your mind.

    Abel looks bemused, and we may laugh, but it's an arresting conversation that conjures up Highsmith filmed by Chabrol - or Hitchcock, whose murders often have humorous moments. You may say Joseph says this stuff to scare Abel away and have his mother to himself. But wait till you learn more about Joseph. The boy is an expert at solving mysteries and crime is his chief hobby. He's spent time with actual police and learned from them. Maybe he will grow up to be Chabrol, or Ozon. Or maybe this is just a joke. But not to Abel, who when Marianne serves him a hot tizane, eyes it nervously and only takes a sip.

    The conversation between Joseph and Abel goes further. Marianne's own doctor, we learn, filled out the death certificate for Joseph's father without ordering an autopsy. Why was that? Abel asks Joseph. "My mother slept with him," he replies. He, Joseph, can't remember the doctor's name but it's the name of a flower, beginning with P. It takes Abel a while to think of the right flower, peony. And he goes and talks to Doctor Pivoine, who tells him that he is gay. Pivoine is not gay, Marianne says, and Abel sees Pivoine with a girlfriend. Another droll and provocative sequence.

    Did Marianne sleep with Pivoine? We never find out. But it's evident Joseph doesn't like Abel. No secret about that. He says so. Nonetheless Marianne takes Abel in to live with her, so Abel "steals" Joseph's mother, as he puts it to Abel later.

    The film pitches us a new curve ball: Paul's younger sister, Eve (Lily-Rose Depp), who enters the picture to tell her story in voiceover. She talks of nothing but her love for Abel, who she says she's been mad about since she was a girl, carrying photos of him everywhere and thinking of him constantly. Now neither a girl, nor an adolescent, nor a virgin, she presents herself to Abel and declares her lust for him. She asks, and he admits, "physically" he indeed finds her very pretty.

    Marianne herself suggests that perhaps Abel should try Eve, sleep with her a few times, just to see whom he prefers. This turns out to mean taking his things to Eve's little student apartment-room: Abel can't be coming back to Marianne's place every night during the process. It goes on for a while.

    Till Joseph steps in again. He had reassured Eve earlier of her good prospects with Abel by telling her his mother and Abel were not having sex that much. He could prove it. He made recordings of them under the bed with his iPhone.

    But then he turns Eve off to Abel with one of his little jaw-dropping pronouncements: "My mother told Abel to come to you," he says - which is true, of course. When Abel returns to Eve's flat he finds his things packed up and stacked outside the door.Things were not going that well anyway, for Eve. Whenever she had sex in the past, she always fantasized Abel. But when she has sex with Abel, who can she fantasize? She thinks the sex was better when it was inspired by Abel than is has been with Abel.

    A discussion between Abel and Marianne reveals that she was sleeping with him and her late husband at the same time, and she doesn't know who the father of Joseph really is. Moreover, she really loved Abel more, but she wasn't able to choose between the two men and to do so, flipped a coin, and Abel lost. She regretted that, but the die was cast.

    This a film as classically, quintessentially French as you could ever want, and Louis Garrel, who became a star with other directors, notably as the muse of Christophe Honoré, is steeped in French cinematic tradition with an actor grandfather and director father. Yet as Garrel has said, he does "terrible things" in this film. Isn't it taboo to mimic the French New Wave? Yet here in L'homme fidèle he has voiceovers, apartments, two women and a man, coffee - all the Nouvelle Vague stuff Godard, Truffaut, et al. are known for.

    But he has this excellent cast, including himself, and this precocious boy of nine. Garrel himself is handsome in a very special way, is photographed as flatteringly as ever in his own films, and brings sexiness and wit and a light touch to his performance here that centers the film. Laetitia Casta, his real-life wife, is a memorable beauty with shimmering pale blue eyes. (In the Gainsbourg biopic she played Brigitte Bardot.) Lily-Rose Depp is the daughter of a famous French beauty and Johnny Depp. Here she is as fresh as a flower blooming in the rain.

    The star of the show is Joseph Engel, though. Joseph is the pivot-point and premise of the film. It is his provocations that start the reverberations. Moreover, he isn't just a preternaturally wise, Shakespearean-style child - though at one point Abel declares that he doesn't know how to talk to children. Talking to them like adults isn't right. But when he talks to them like a kid that doesn't work either. In other words, he is no ordinary child. But he is a piece carved out of Louis Garrel's own past. Laugh if you want, it wasn't so funny for little Louis at the time.

    At the New York Film Festival Lily-Rose Depp, Laetitia Casta, and Louis Garrel were all present for the Q&A, and Garrel talked a blue streak. His English was a bit halting years ago but now he is fully able to "se débrouiller," as the French say, he can "get by" very well, while a certain remaining roughness seems to free him to say franker or funnier things than might come out in French. At Lincoln Center, he was full of ideas and funny, and revealing, especially talking about himself as a child of divorced parents acting in one of his father's films when he was six, where his mother was in a scene sleeping with another man, and his father with another woman, and he wasn't dead certain what was fake and what was true.

    About Joseph, Garrel said you need to remember that at nine a boy already "knows everything." He also admitted that he himself recorded his mother under her bed - like the boy in the film, to see if she was having sex.

    L'Homme fidel is in some ways simpler, fresher, and more playful than a Nouvelle Vague film. It's also more precisely constructed and carefully paced than Garrel's directorial debut Two Friends, which had more frenetic activity and more improvisation. This is a puzzler that alludes to Marivaux, and also delves into Freudian aspects of childhood, while delighting in leaving questions unanswered. Its final scene, a silent one, has that aspect of classic comedy in that the three adults are all united, holding hands behind Joseph. He had disappeared, and is found again. This is a fluent, splendidly economical, elegant and delightful film that fulfills all the promise of Garrel's directorial debut and goes beyond it. Next perhaps as Jordan Mintzer says in his Variety review penned at Toronto, he should break free a little further from tradition and introduce more elements purely his own.

    A Faithful Man/L'homme fidel, 75 mins., debuted at Toronto 9 Sept. 2018, also showing at San Sebastién, Zurich, and the New York Film Fesival, where it was screened for this review 7 Oct. 2018. It comes to French cinemas the day after Christmas.

    The Metascore (but only on the basis of 6 reviews) is 64%, a slur from anglophone critics, while the AllCiné press rating is 3.7, showing the French appreciation, especially considering a high rating comes from the hard-to-please Cahiers. Nicolas Schaller of Le Nouvelle Observateur wrote, "At once light and profound, always elegant." There you have it.

    SFFILM showtimes:
    Fri, Apr 12 at 6:30 pm Roxie Theater
    Wed, Apr 17 at 6:00 pm YBCA - AT RUSH!
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-17-2019 at 01:02 PM.

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    FIRST NIGHT NERVES/八個女人一台戲 (Stanley Kwan 2018)

    STANLEY KWAN (Jinpang Guan): FIRST NIGHT NERVES/八個女人一台戲 (2018)



    Unusually detailed IMDb summary HERE.

    Audiences looking for the next “Crazy Rich Asians” might take some delight in Stanley Kwan’s diva-licious “First Night Nerves,” a “Feud”-like behind-the-scenes rivalry which forces center stage all the drama between high-maintenance Hong Kong actresses Yuan Xiuling (Sammi Cheng) and He Yuwen (Gigi Leung). Set during the final week of rehearsals for a new play called “Two Sisters,” the film feels soapier than a broken dishwasher, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for audiences who relish the chance to watch actresses display their full range of emotion in a movie that gives even the smallest female parts more dimension than most movies offer their ostensible leading ladies.

    One of Hong Kong’s only openly gay directors, Kwan has crafted a movie that’s nearly Almodóvarian in the appreciation and respect it showers upon ladies of all classes — not just the city’s Ferrari-driving super-elite, but also the loyal assistants who cook and console our dueling stars.
    -Peter Debruge, Variety

    People often say that the heyday of Hong Kong cinema is gone. The Hong Kong film here refers to films made in Cantonese language, through Hong Kong studios, directors, and subsided by Hong Kong capital. The directors and actors who led the Hong Kong film industry have headed to Hollywood or started their new journey in mainland China, not their home, after finishing their mission.

    Stanley Kwan, who once was a symbol of Hong Kong cinema and who led Hong Kong’s New Wave movement, questions this common notion. He talks about a new way of making films that Hong Kongers can go to with his film First Night Nerves.
    - Marie Lee, Asian Movie Pulse

    First Night Nerves, 100 mins., debuted at Busan Oct. 2018; also shown at Singapore Dec. 2018. Now included in the San Francisco Film Festival.

    SFFILM showtmes:
    Thu, Apr 11 at 8:00 pm BAMPFA (EVENT HAS PASSED)
    Sat, Apr 13 at 7:30 pm SFMOMA Phyllis Wattis Theater (EVENT HAS PASSED)
    Fri, Apr 19 at 1:00 pm YBCA - AT RUSH!
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-15-2019 at 07:16 AM.

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    HARVESTERS, THE/DIE STROPERS (Etienne Kallos 2018)

    ETIENNE KALLOS: THE HARVESTERS/DIE STROPERS (2018)


    ALEX VERMEULEN IN THE HARVESTERS

    [PREVIEW ONLY]

    A brooding Afrikans debut

    South Africa, Free State region, isolated stronghold to the dwindling Afrikaans white ethnic minority culture. In this conservative farming territory obsessed with strength and masculinity, Janno is different, secretive, emotionally frail. One day his mother, fiercely religious like the whole family, brings home Pieter, a hardened street orphan she wants to save, and asks Janno to make this stranger into his brother. The two boys start a fight for power, heritage and parental love. The film got a standing ovation at its debut in Un Certain Regard at Cannes. In the lead as Janno, beefy and rugby-playing but soft-faced youth Alex Vermeulen is a feat of perfect casting, and as his sudden opponent Pieter, Alex van Dyk isn't far behind. The Greek-descent director, who grew up in the Free State, and has won awards for shorts, returned home for this moody debut with its unique grand, harsh landscape and minimal music. This strange world reminded me of Carlos Reygadas' Silent Light (NYFF 2007). For some background see here; for aVariety review by Guy Lodge, here.

    SFFILM showtimes:
    Sat, Apr 20 at 6:30 pm Roxie Theater
    Sun, Apr 21 at 3:45 pm Roxie Theatre



    ALEX VAN DYK AND ALEX VERMEULEN IN THE HARVESTERS
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-12-2019 at 03:46 PM.

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    HONEYLAND/ Медена Земја (Tamara Kotevsk, Ljubomir Stefanov 2018)

    TAMARA KOTEVSK, LJUBOMIR STEFANOV: HONEYLAND/ Медена Земја (2018)

    Review originally published for New Directors/New Films (Apr. 3 & 5)


    HATIDZE MURATOVA IN HONEYLAND

    No matter how remote, your environment is in danger

    Austere but rich, Kotevsk and Stefanov's Honeyland is one of the most immersive and atmospheric documentaries you will see this year. No narration is necessary. This film has only the limitation of its restrictive life. At the center of it, living in an abandoned Macedonian village, is Hatidze or Atidze Muratova, a small, tough birdlike woman of 55 with an easy smile, lined face, and big crooked teeth who tends her bee colonies with expertise and respect and her mother, with whom she lives, out of love and duty. Her mother Nazife is 85, not planning on dying, "just making your life misery," she says, declaring she's become a tree. She is half blind and does not stretch or go outside.

    Hatidze is busy. What she does is wild beekeeping, or bee hunting, in hives she finds behind slabs of stone. Her easy skill with bees is clear, her respect for the sustainability of her task. She removes the combs like books from a shelf, easily, gently. She is cooperative, non-invasive. Look how she is with her skinny graceful dog at the very end of the film. She has a knack for nature that's almost elegant. She is good also with people, trading fairly and confidently to shopkeepers in the market in the capital, Skopje, touting the healthy and medicinal quality of her honey. Hatidze is a good person.

    What a bare life this is. Comforts are dye for Hatidze's hair, tying it up with a nice scarf with rocky village chic, favoring yellow and green, a fan for her mother, and a little transistor radio hooked up once to a small speaker atop a pole she tries to broadcast music, but she gets only snatches of a song here or there. Herself, she sings. She cries and calls and sings to the bees when when she is working them.

    The film is the result of three years of shooting by this team. As will happen with diligent documentarians, the reward of a significant event arrives: new neighbors appear with a dinky, antique trailer, seven unruly kids, and a bunch of calves. The man, Hussein Sam, takes up bee keeping too, but despite Hatidze's advice, never learns the way of it, or will not, because he is greedy for instant rewards and has not the necessary patience and respect that nature requires. We learn from Hatidze that you take half the honey and leave the other half to the bees. This maintains the balance. Take too much, and the bees will die, or attack Hatidze's bees. Sam takes too much, and both things happen.

    One of the boys bonds with Hatidze. He understand them and respects her way with them. "If I had had a son like you. . . " she says. But his family doesn't understand the balance. But the neighbors are a nightmare. They are lazy and quarrelsome and the do serious damage. Their rampages cause the destruction of a lot of Hatidze's bees, their own, and, finally many of their young calves die due to the fat wife's carelessness. All goes wrong, angering even Hatidze's quiet mother. "May God burn their livers" is one of her last declarations. And then, after all their damage, they pick up and leave. Perhaps nature will regain its equilibrium again somehow. At the end, Hatidze's seen looking forward, alone, hopeful, strong.

    This simple film is nonetheless superb and hard to improve upon. Kudos to the cinematography of Fejmi Daut and Samir Ljuma with its naturally gorgeous compositions of rocky hillside, animals, and ruined village architecture, the deep color of the clothes and gnarly skin in the market, the clear natural light. Much respect also to the filmmakers Tamara Kotevsk and Ljubomir Stefanov for their personal human sense of the observational documentary style, which makes this film so memorable.

    Honeyland, 85 mins., debuted at Sundance (reviewed there by Guy Lodge for Variety and by Shiri Linden for Hollywood Reporter). Reviewed for New Directors/New Films, now showing in the San Francisco Film Festival.

    SFFILM showtimes:
    Sat, Apr 20 at 1:30 pm - BAMPFA- AT RUSH!
    Fri, Apr 19 at 6:00 pm Victoria Theatre - AT RUSH
    !


    HATIDZE MURATOVA IN HONEYLAND
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-12-2019 at 05:43 PM.

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    IN MY ROOM (Ulrich Köhler 2018)


    HANS LÖW IN IN MY ROOM

    Muddling toward heroism

    While I had trouble getting a grip on Köhler's previous film, the 2011 Sleeping Sickness (NYFF), this everyman-in-the-apocalypse tale, inspired, the director says, by three books,* goes down very easy, strange though it is. And after all, you want a last-man-living tale to be strange; otherwise why bother to make another one? We're with the Berlin School here, and Köhler's wife is Maren Ade, whose Toni Erdmann was one of the School's films recently celebrated at Cannes, as was this, and hValeska Grisebach's Western. These have all been included in NYFF's, by the way.

    What's fresh here to start off with in the first of three segments, the slouchy protagonist, Armin (Hans Löw), doesn't do things that are going to seem meaningful or ironic when he wakes up and there's no living other soul on earth to be found. He's a tall, slightly slobby boychild, approaching middle age but a flop as a freelance TV cameraman covering local politics. He's so bad, the wittily absurd opening segment is a lengthy clip of jerky footage where he was confusing the "on" and "off" buttons of his telecamera and would up turning it off when the politicians gave their speeches and on when nothing was happening. He seems to make the dance club scene and he fails miserably to stage a one night stand with a lady his age. No wonder: he's a slob.

    Armin takes a break (an autobiographical moment, Köhler has said) in the country helping his father take care of his dying, bedridden grandmother. Köhler delivers an almost alarming degree of banality-plus-specificity throughout all segment. It also goes on a tad too long by the standards of setups for conventional sci-fi apocalypse tales. This heightens our sense of the banality, and the suspense (assuming we know the genre we're watching).

    Then comes the middle section, with its stunning leap. After Armin wakes up and can't find anybody alive, he flails aroudnd for a while, exploring empty shops, breaking into grandma's house. Her corpse is there and he finds a radical solution to that. He gets drunk. Most notably, he has an inspiration and a solitary moment of grand wildness. He steals a Lamborghini painted with racing insignias and drives at breakneck speed through all the winding streets of the town dodging scattered cars. Here production designers Jochen Dehn and Silke Fische excel, providing a wealth of motorcycles on highways scattered like dead beetles, big trucks diagonally abandoned, all sorts of signs of sudden disappearance of humanity.

    The film gets a shot of adrenaline with its little sudden jump forward to Robinson Crusoe Armin, pot belly gone, tan and buff and flat-bellied, out at a farm he has set up in what he later explains is the area where he grew up, with livestock, chickens and a horse and at work on setting up a hydroelectric generator on a local stream, though somewhat inexplicably, there seems to still be water and light freely available from the usual public supply. Now, Armin not only looks good. He has a purpose in life, and seems happy. Just as Köhler reveled in his protagonist's humdrum urban quotidian, he now delights in the classic gestures of self sufficiency in nature. And this is obviously a choice. Armin could have survived on the edge of leftover civilization, off the abundance of consumable products, off canned food. But no. He will dig up potatoes, raise hens, shoot game.

    In the last segment, Kirsi (carefully chosen Italian actress Elena Radonicich) appears, driving a small camper. Though Armin still has a car, he seems to prefer cultivation and travel via his trusty workhorse. She's attractive. And now, Armin is attractive too, both in his physical looks and in the machismo of his functionality in this new world. So here they are, Adam and Eve, and they look good. But of course it doesn't turn out that way. Köhler has said he chose Radonicich because she seemed like a woman who has lived alone independently for five years. They have sex, plenty of it. But when Armin suggests they make a baby, Kirsi balks. "Would you want to bring a child into this world?" she asks. "I love this world," he answers (a wonderfully resonant line, richer than it looks in print). "You don't," Kirsi says, "you just love fucking!" So gradually ends the idyll.

    The New York Film Festival blurb last fall spoke of this film's "meticulous details and sly, subtle ironies," and its the interplay between the two that makes this a fresh and resonant work. It's also essential somehow that most of these Berlin School films tend to go on "too long." They create their own real time pace, as was notably the case with Maren Ade's Toni Erdmann. I have the feeling that I missed the point of Sleeping Sickness, an essence the judges got at Berlin that year to award it the Silver Bear. Here, I'm pretty sure rewatching would yield plenty of awards. The main actors are very interesting.

    __________
    *He has cited Arno Schmidt's Black Mirror, Marlen Haushofer's The Wall, and David Markson's Wittgenstein's Mistress as inspirations.

    In My Room, 119 mins., debuted at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard) 17 May 2018, and showed in at least a dozen other festivals including Karlovy Vary, Munich, Jerusalem, New York, Busan, Göteborg, Rotterdam, and San Francisco, as part of which it was screened for this review.

    SFFILM showtimes:
    Sat, Apr 13 at 8:15 pm BAMPFA
    Sun, Apr 14 at 8:00 pm SFMOMA Wattis Theater
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-13-2019 at 12:37 AM.

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    THE LOAD/TERET (Ognjen Glavonić 2018)

    OGNJEN GLAVONIĆ: THE LOAD/TERET (2018)

    (Originally published for New Directors/New Films)


    LEON LUČEV IN THE LOAD/TERET

    A Serbian trucker's grim ride: a stoical look at an ambiguous journey

    This atmospheric, wintry road movie by Ognjen Glavonić concentrates on a truck driver who must convey sensitive cargo along a treacherous path, from Kosovo to Belgrade during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Reference to Henri-Georges Clouzot’s classic Wages of Fear of Friedkin’s remake Sorcerer is obvious but so is the difference: this driver has an unknown load, and papers permitting him to pass without opening it up to authorities. This is not a high tension journey with deliciously unbearable suspense, but rather one of slow, brooding, tedious nerve-wracking-ness and the growing sense that Vlada (Croatian actor Leon Lučev), the driver, has gotten involved in some unspecified but considerable evil. The oblique but insistent reference is to an atrocity, a late Kosovo war massacre, that Glavonić meticulously documented earlier in his 2016 non fiction film, Depth Two. Ognjen Glavonić is a person in intense pursuit of secrets his countrymen want to forget.The director has said "every country is built on crimes that they don’t want to talk about." The load: the very burden Vlado carries is weighted down with metaphorical conceit that, despite the minimalism of the style, feels lugubrious and heavy-handed.

    On the journey not much happens but each small incident is magnified. Vlada picks up a young hitchhiker (Pavle Čemerikić) on his way to Munich. He stops to rest several times. He telephones to his wife, who's having hospital tests. He gets his cigarettes and what turns out to be a historic lighter stolen during a brief absence from the truck. The camera briefly leaves Vlada, following the hitchhiker to an abandoned playground where his name is painted (a goodbye to his youth, perhaps?) watched two young petty thieves examine the stolen lighter.

    At the end of the film, Vlada meets with his son, Ivan, and tells him a wartime grandfather Leka cigarette lighter story that's less colorful, but may remind you of the gold watch story told by Captain Koons (Chris Walken) in Pulp Fiction. In a Film Comment interview with Eric Hynes, Glavonić says everything must lead up to the father's opening up to his son in this sequence. A nice touch, the walnut tree that grew out of the fallen Leka's pocket. There was actually a medal, a watch and a lighter awarded posthumously to Leka after WWII.

    The ending is hopeful, with the teenage Ivan liking his dad's "friend's" band tape and sharing with his sister the thought that he needs to form a band of his own. But he won't escape the burden of these days he doesn't yet know about - not if Ognjen Glavonić has anything to say about it.

    The Load/Teret 98 mins., debuted at Cannes in Directors Fortnight May 2018; over 1 5 other festivals including Toronto, Vancouver and Rotterdam. Reviewed at Cannes by Jessica Kiang for Variety (she calls this feature debut "harshly intelligent and uncompromisingly spare"), and by Stephen Dalton for Hollywood Reporter. Dalton comments pointedly that this film "should find a keen audience among the the misery-porn masochists who program and attend film festivals," but will be only "very niche commercial prospect, especially for non-Balkan viewers." A pessimistic view of a well-crafted film in which, indeed, not enough finally happens. Screened for this review as part of the 2019 MoMA-FSLC New Directors/New Films Series.

    Now showing as part of the 2019 San Francisco Film Festival.

    SFFILM showtimes:
    Thu, Apr 18 at 6:00 pm - Roxie Theater
    Sun, Apr 21 at 6:00 pm - BAMPFA
    Mon, Apr 22 at 3:30 pm - Victoria Theatre
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-15-2019 at 07:21 AM.

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    LORO (Paolo Sorrentino 2018)

    PAOLO SORRENTINO: LORO (2018)


    TONI SERVILLO IN LORO

    Berlusconi squared

    So here it is, Paolo Sorrentino's latest masterpiece, a feat of glorious filmmaking, and it's a grotesque portrait of Silvio Berlusconi, the ultra-rich, charming, crooked several-time PM of Italy, who's currently jockeying for reentry into the corridors of power in Italy, surrounded by scandals and crimes and eighty years old. And this is another incredible performance in the lead role by Sorrentino's long-time collaborator, Toni Servillo, and one of his most amazing. It may rival his work in the earlier Il Divo and The Great Beauty/La grande bellezza.But this is a "visceral, grotesque and graphically vulgar portrait" of Berlusconi (Deborah Young, Hollywood Reporter).

    I love he texture scene-to-scene of this extravaganza, which is every bit up to the standard of the director's previous efforts. But it's also a a bit of a mess, or arguably, giving its ambition, a big mess. To begin with, there were two parts, Loro I and Loro Ii, and this is a blend and a reduction, resulting, in the view of some, in an augmentation of the worst aspects of each of the two parts (Deborah Young thinks so). There is also the moral issue, or the point of view. Like that tasteless critique of wealth, Crazy Rich Asians, this is a movie in love with the very things it set out to criticize. Secondo Deborah, this truncated version clarifies each of the two main narrative threads, Berlusconi's breakup with his wife of 26 years, Veronica Lario (played by Elena Sofia Ricci), vs. the effort of a businessman, Sergio Morra (Riccardo Scamarcio, excellent) to line up "il presidente" with a bunch of bikini-clad, coke snorting champagne quaffing young ladies - a crass modern seraglio, in effect a specialized custom prostitution ring. But at the same time the shorter version only underlines that these two don't have much to do with each other and the movie as a whole isn't going anywhere.

    I'd also like to comment on the frequent linking of Sorrentino with Fellini, who's said to be his inspiration and master. Fellini may have lived in better times. But Fellini would not make a movie anything like this. He created fantasies, full of inspiration and personal style. His work is fundamentally brimming with humanity. Instead, there is a cold, hard edge to Sorrentino's work that is utterly un-Felliniesque, despite the similarly elaborate, carnivalesque, and very Italian texture. Watching Loro with one's head full of Fellini is an amazement and a sadness. With its constant scenes of the exploitation of young women's bodies, it could also be totally indigestible to advocates of the #MeToo movement, not to mention all the drugs and excess, which might disgust anyone - though one swallowed that in the glorious ronde of La Grande Bellezza, because it all had a point, as the representation of an addiction to pleasure and distraction.

    Nonetheless, this shows that Italians can still make amazing cinema. The acting is superb. Servillo is astonishing (that face, that grin! those endlessly complicated speeches to the lady he sells the apartment to, to prove he's still the greatest salesman in Italy), but Scammarcio is a surprise. If you thought he was just an aging pretty boy, wow! He embodies the crooked, addicted, greedy, star-struck young man with the bevy of prostitutes he's out to sell with utter conviction. The score is a delight. The southern Italian songs - sung by Servillo, too! and all the music, including opera. The production values are awesome. The scanty costumes of the babes! The splendid villas! the TV in SB's living room, giant and set in a handsome golden frame! Every scene is a new potential astonishment. But - this has been an issue before with Sorrentino - there is the issue of the structure, and the question, What the heck is all this supposed to be saying? Does anybody know? I'm not saying this is porn; and so what if it were? But remember Crazy Rich Asians. He comes to satirize and stays to celebrate.

    Perhaps this viewpoint is explained in a summary of the film by Sorentino himself which says it describes a "synthetic view of things" by Berlusconi that "potrebbe definirsi amorale, decadente, ma straordinariamente vitale" - "could be described as amoral, decadent, but extraordinarily vital." Absolved.

    Loro I opened in Italy 24 Apr. 2018, Loro II 10 May; Loro, 13 Sept.]shown in various festivals, including Toronto. The combined version to be shown as part of the San Francisco Film Festival, where it was screened for this review.

    SFFILM Showtimes:
    Sat, Apr 20 at 3:00 pm Castro Theatre
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-17-2019 at 12:43 AM.

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    MIDNIGHT TRAVELER (Hassan Fazili 2019)

    HASSAN FAZILI: MIDNIGHT TRAVELER (2018)



    [PREVIEW ONLY]

    The long way out, on cell phones

    When the Taliban put a bounty price on the Afghan director and "Art Café" owner Hassan Fazili's head, he was forced to flee with his wife and two young daughters. Denied asylum when in Tajikistan, deported back to Afghanistan, they decide fo flee to the West. This is how he shot his two-year journey o Europe with his wife and three young children, using only three cell phones to do the camerawork. The elder of the two girls, Nargis, is full of verve and imagination, wife Fatima Hussaini is a filmmaker too and a tough and vibrant woman. At some point they lose their patience and weep or burst with anger but the children still manage to play and be happy. Iran is a brief relief. Turkey a way-station. Bulgaria is ugly: there are attacks on refugees. A long stay in Serbian camp. (In between countries and camps they're on the run, and they have a horrible experience with a people-smuggler.) Some of the images are beautiful, many hum-drum. Fazili's professionalism and stamina as a filmmaker with such limited means are impressive throughout this long and patient slog. As a Hollywood Reporter review notes, there are lacunae and "seams" showing, and Fazili him self is somewhat absent as a personality.

    Midnight Traveler, 90 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2019; also Berlin and CPH:DOX, and the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it was screened for this preview. At the San Francisco awards, Midnight Traveler won the McBaine Documentary Feature Award with a $10,000 cash prize.

    SFFILM showtimes:
    Wed, Apr 17 at 6:30 pm SFMoMA
    Thu, Apr 18 at 3:00 pm Creativity Theater
    Fri, Apr 19 at 5:30 pm Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-22-2019 at 01:28 PM.

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