Thursday, October 21, 2010

2010 Mill Valley Film Festival

The 2010 Mill Valley Film Festival ran from October 7 to 17.

I saw six films at the festival. I had a ticket to a seventh film but missed it due to the mother of all traffic jams. I took me three hours to get from Golden Gate Park to the Golden Gate Bridge.

2010 Mill Valley Film Festival
Love Crime starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier; directed by Alain Corneau; French with subtitles; (2010)
Red Hill; (2010) - Official Website
Cast Me If You Can; directed by Atsushi Ogata; Japanese with subtitles; (2010) - Official Website
Kung Fu Chefs starring Sammo Hung; Cantonese with subtitles; (2009) - Official Website
The Queen of Hearts starring and directed by Valérie Donzelli; with Jérémie Elkalîm; French with subtitles; (2009) - Official Website
A Somewhat Gentle Man starring Stellan Skarsgård; Norwegian with subtitles; (2010)

The film I missed was The Reverse, a 2009 Polish black comedy about "a meek publishing clerk in Stalinist-era Warsaw [who] believes her fortunes have changed when a handsome stranger emerges-literally from the shadows."

I saw three films at the Sequoia Theater in Mill Valley, two films at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael and one at the Century Cinema in Corte Madera. I was unaware that the Century Cinema even existed. It's a cavernous theater which seats 800.

I don't get up to Marin County very often. I was able to grab a bite to eat at Pearl's Phat Burgers in Mill Valley and Sol Food in San Rafael. Sol Food is highly touted Puerto Rican restaurant which had a line out the door everytime I drove past it. I was able to get a seat at their "Small Place," a takeout joint with limited seating a block away from their "Big Place." I had a decent Cubano sandwich. I wanted to try their Niño Pobre (Po' Boy) Sandwich but my appetite wasn't up to the challenge. The Phat Cheeseburger was very good at Pearl's and was served with some of the most garlic infused garlic fries I ever had.

I read in Wednesday's Chronicle that Pearl's is opening a location on Market Street near 6th Street. That's neighborhood has a different vibe from E. Blithedale Avenue in Mill Valley but the opening is part of the Mid-Market Revitalization Plan and with the help of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency.


I enjoyed three films at the festival.

A Somewhat Gentle Man was my favorite. The Finnish film Hellsinki was my favorite film last year. The year before that, the Swedish film Let the Right One In played at MVFF although I saw it Bruce Fletcher's Dead Channels. Maybe Scandinavian films are closely aligned with my tastes.

The film is a dark comedy about an ex-con who is trying to live his life on the outside but keeps getting nudged towards his old lifestyle by his old gang. Stellan Skarsgård who I am most familiar with as the math professor in Good Will Hunting plays Ulrik, the likable and easy going ex-convict.

The running gag throughout the film is that every woman he meets want to have sex with - his battle-axe landlady (who also happens to be his boss' ex-wife), his slutty looking ex-wife and eventually the secretary at the garage he works at. Ulrik also has a grown son whom he is estranged from. He has told his girlfriend that his father is dead so when Ulrik arrives unannounced, he tells her that Ulrik is his uncle who has been away traveling.

The film let Ulrik move from situation to comedic situation while slowly ratcheting up the stress in his life. Ulrik's landlady softens towards his as their carnal encounters become more frequent. For his part, Ulrik would rather watch TV or eat dinner but his landlady won't accommodate him. The secretary at work takes a liking to Ulrik after he beats up her abusive ex-husband. Ulrik is also looking forward to becoming a grandfather as his son's girlfriend is pregnant.

An ex-con's life is difficult and as his life falls apart, he is drawn back to a life of crime. He is tasked with murdering the man who testified against him. I won't give away the ending but will say that the movie felt like a comedy throughout. It's hard to imagine Ulrik as a murderer but he shows a few flashes of his old self.


Love Crime is French drama which starts off like The Devil Wears Prada. Christine, an older female executive (Kristin Scott Thomas) mentors Isabelle, a young up-and-comer (Ludivine Sagnier). The relationship is complex. Initially Christine dominates the relationship but after being betrayed and with some encouragement from her assistant (Guillaume Marquet who makes the most of a small role), Isabelle decides to go on the offensive. The film sets up to be a cross between Working Girl and The Devil Wears Prada but a murder throws the film off kilter.

I thought the murder and subsequent investigation was too much and changed the tenor of perfectly enjoyable movie. The film made obvious the intentions of the murderer so the suspense was limited. The murder was so far out of character as to seem implausible.

Despite that, I still enjoyed and recommended the film. The performance of Thomas, Sagnier and Marquet were outstanding & the first half of the film was compelling drama. Even the second half kept my attention although I correctly predicted the outcome (as most of the audience likely did).


The third film I enjoyed was a low budget comedy from Japan called Cast Me If You Can. Starring Tôru Masuoka as Hiroshi, an actor who makes his living in supporting roles on television and film. Constantly being mistaken for someone else, Hiroshi lives under the twin shadows of his anonymity and his father who is a famous playwright. Hiroshi has a goal of starring in a Japanese remake of a unnamed Woody Allen film. The role is taken from him due to a scandal where he is mistaken as the lover of the wife a Diet member. The one good thing that comes into his life is perpetually upbeat Aya (Hiromi Nagasaku). Also an actor but not as accomplished, Aya correctly recognizes Hiroshi from his roles. Aya has ambition but strangely seems attracted to the modestly accomplished and somewhat unfriendly Hiroshi.

The plot is really just a vehicle for the misadventures of Hiroshi & Aya in the professional and personal matters. The two actors give spirited comedic performances and the film as a whole is sweet-natured comedy that I enjoyed.


The Queen of Hearts, a similar low-budget comedy from director/screenwriter/star Valérie Donzelli missed the mark slightly but merits a paragraph. Donzelli plays Adèle, a young woman rebounding from a harsh breakup. As she pulls her life back together, she interacts with three men (all played by Donzelli's husband Jérémie Elkaïm). One is a student at an art college, the other is the husband of her employer and the final one is her love at first sight although she may want to take a closer look. The film is kind of goofy; Adèle doesn't know how to use a cell phone and her cousin has some eye problem which requires her to wear bandages over her eye when she sleeps). A cute soundtrack and playful nature nearly save the day. My attention drifted towards the end and I dozed for a few minutes.


Red Hill and Kung Fu Chefs round out the film lineup. I was expecting a gritty Australian action drama in Red Hill but it seemed more like a cut-rate Hollywood action film. Kung Fu Chefs - the title says it all. It could have spoofed martial arts and gastronomy but the humor was largely flat and the action scenes ho-hum. I'd skip both if I had it to do over again.

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