Wednesday, March 25, 2015

2014 San Francisco International Film Festival

The 2014 San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) ran from April 24 to May 8.  I saw 19 films but had tickets to 20.  I skipped the screening of Dear White People due to general fatigue.  I was secure in the knowledge that Dear White People was getting a limited/general release.

I saw 16 films at the Kabuki and 3 films at the Viz.  The "Viz" is getting to be an anachronistic term.  Confused about the screening location of one of my films, I asked a SFIFF volunteer "What film is screening at [insert time] at the Viz?"  The young man was perplexed by my location reference.  Eventually, I realized he only knew the location as New People Cinema.

Hellion starring Josh Wiggins & Aaron Paul; directed by Kat Candler; (2014) 
Tip Top starring Isabelle Huppert & Sandrine Kiberlain; directed by Serge Bozon; French with subtitles; (2013) - Official Website
Queen Margot starring Isabelle Adjani & Daniel Auteuil; directed by Patrice Chéreau; French with subtitles; (1994)
Norte, The End of History starring Sid Lucero, Angeli Bayani & Archie Alemania; directed by Lav Diaz; Tagalog with subtitles; (2013) - Official Facebook
Stray Dogs; directed by Ming-liang Tsai; Mandarin with subtitles; (2013)
Young & Beautiful starring Marine Vacth; directed by François Ozon; French with subtitles; (2013) -  Official Website
Blind Dates; directed by Levan Koguashvili; Georgian with subtitles; (2013)
Coherence starring Emily Baldoni; directed by James Ward Byrkit; (2013) - Official Website
Tamako in Moratorium starring Atsuko Maeda; directed by Nobuhiro Yamashita; Japanese with subtitles; (2013)
Abuse of Weakness starring Isabelle Huppert & Kool Shen; directed by Catherine Breillat; French with subtitles; (2013) - Official Facebook
Manila in the Claws of Light starring Hilda Koronel & Bembol Roco; directed by Lino Brocka; Tagalog with subtitles; (1975)
Intruders starring Suk-ho Jun & Tae-kyung Oh; directed by Young-Seok Noh; Korean with subtitles; (2013)
Tonnerre starring Vincent Macaigne & Solène Rigot; directed by Guillaume Brac; French with subtitles; (2013)
Firestorm starring Andy Lau; directed by Alan Yuen; Cantonese & Mandarin with subtitles; (2013)
Club Sandwich starring Lucio Giménez Cacho, María Renée Prudencio & Danae Reynaud; directed by Fernando Eimbcke; Spanish with subtitles; (2013)
Ping Pong Summer starring Marcello Conte; with Lea Thompson, John Hannah, Amy Sedaris & Susan Sarandon; directed by Michael Tully; (2014) - Official Website
No No: A Dockumentary; directed by Official Website
Harmony Lessons starring Timur Aidarbekov; directed by Emir Baigazin; Kazakh & Russian with subtitles; (2013)
Trap Street starring Yulai Lu; directed by Vivian Qu; Mandarin with subtitles; (2013)
Manos Sucias starring Jarlin Martinez & Cristian Abvincula; directed by Josef Wladyka; Spanish with subtitles; (2014)  Official Twitter

I cannot even pretend to give these films the space they deserve on this blog.  I am so far behind.  I have to crank these entries out before I fall one year behind.

François Ozon's Young & Beautiful caused quite a splash upon its release and has stuck in my memory.  Marine Vacth gives a stellar performance as a teenage girl who budding sexuality morphs into prostitution.  Exhibiting a laissez-faire attitude towards underage prostitution and statutory rape, the film presents this extraordinarily nuanced view of this girl's coming of age.  From virgin to hesitant lover to self-confident prostitute, Vacth's Isabelle covers the gamut.  In particularly, she has a special bond with a client old enough to be her grandfather.  When he dies during sex, her life is turned upside down.  Inherently, we know Isabelle is at physical & emotional risk but she pushes the boundaries of social norms in satisfying her sexual needs.  In doing so, it made me question those norms & customs.  Stripping away the social taboos, Young & Beautiful is about a young woman stumbling her way through young adulthood.

In the same vein (albeit less sexualized) is Tamako in Moratorium.  The protagonist is a young woman, feeling her way through life with decidedly less than satisfactory results.  Tamako is a recent college graduate.  Unemployed, she moves back to her small hometown to live with her father who is divorced and runs a sporting good store.  Although an indulgent father, Tamako's many frustrations are taken out on him.  Unsure of what the next phase of her life will be and secretly harboring a desire to in an all-girl pop band.  This is an inside joke as Atsuko Maeda, the actress playing Tamako is famous in Japan for previously being in AKB48.  As Tamako's divorce father begins dating a woman, Tamako feels threatened but is ultimately forced to move on with her life.  A comedy with some poignant moments, Tamako in Moratorium was a surprise film for me.

I also enjoyed Club Sandwich (pun intended), a Mexican film about a single mother who struggles with her adolescent son's budding sexuality as it relates to their relationship (or lack thereof).  As the boy becomes infatuated with a teenage girl while on vacation, the mother feels threatened by the changes it portends for their relationship.  Unable to continue treating him like a young boy and unwilling to treat him like a sexualized young man, Club Sandwich is a coming of age comedy told from the reluctant mother's point of view.

Tonnerre is notable in that it stars a French actor who is becoming one of my favorites.  I have seen Vincent Macaigne in three films - Tonnerre2 Autumsn, 3 Winters and Age of Panic.  In Tonnerre (the name of a small town in the Burgundy region of France), Macaigne is a failed musician who returns to his hometown to live with his widower father.  While in town, he begins a relationship with a younger woman.  Mismatched in age, appearance and attitude, the affair is a rebound fling for the woman but for Macaigne's character, it become an all-encompassing obsession which is ratcheted up when he assaults her ex-boyfriend and kidnaps her.  It's a tense story which is highlighted by Macaigne and Bernard Menez's (as the father) performances.

These four films were the cream of the last year's crop at SFIFF for me.


A cut below were the following films which may have suffered from the extreme delay in writing this post.

Hellion - SFFS funded film about a troubled teenage boy; nice performance by Josh Wiggins in the lead role but the plot bordered on a predictable.

Queen Margot - based on historical events involving French Catholics and Huguenots, I had a hard time keeping the characters straight.  Telling the story of the  St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of 1572, the film quickly became a jumble of blood letting and duplicity.  Perhaps more familiarity with the events would helped me sort out the characters.

Norte, The End of History - Lav Diaz's loose but measured adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.  Like the Russian author's novels, Norte, The End of History was long & complex to its own least from my perspective.  I felt like I was in high school again, laboring away at some long Russian novel assigned in English class.  At 4+ hours, the film may have benefited from some editing but I can't complain about it too much because the ending tragedy was haunting indeed.

Coherence - a clever science fiction film about quantum mechanics and Schrödinger's Cat Paradox played out at a party on a night when comet flies by.  I remember liking this film when I left the theater but now I recall the plot more than the performances which must be a tacit criticism of the actors.

Abuse of Weakness - semi-autobiographical film about director Catherine Breillat.  Isabelle Huppert portrays a film director who has recently had a stroke.  While recovering, she sees con man Kool Shen on a television talkshow.  Ostensibly interested in making a documentary about him, Huppert/Breillat quickly allows the man into her life.  Although he is able to get several thousand Euros out of her (in real life Breillat alleged she was conned out of nearly  €1 Million).  However, the relationship is more complex than criminal and victim as the power shifts between the couple several times during the film.  Her victimhood seems less a matter of weakness than poor judgment.  This made the film a little too muddy for me; more confusing than ambiguous.

Manila in the Claws of Light - this 1970s film by acclaimed Filipino director Lino Brocka was social commentary dressed up as a tragedy.  Two young lovers from the countryside are reunited in the big city with tragic consequences.  They encounter the whole panoply of marginal characters - pimps, gay hustlers, homeless, etc.  

Intruders - a clever murder mystery/dark comedy about North Korean agents infiltrating a remote South Korean town.

No No: A Dockumentary - a documentary about 1970s MLB pitcher Doc Ellis who allegedly pitched a no-hitter while under the effects of LSD.  The film is replete with anecdotes from the wild 1970s.  This film was preceded by the short film The High Five - a 10 minute film about Glenn Burke, the first openly gay man to play in the MLB.  The film focused on an incident between Burke and former San Francisco Giants manager Dusty Baker.  During his playing days with the Dodgers, Baker hit 30 home runs one year.  As he approached home plate after belting out his 30th, Burke ran onto the field to congratulate him.  He held his hand over his head.  Baker was unsure what the gesture meant but spontaneously decided to slap his hand.  This incident has been credited as the first "high five."

The High Five; documentary; directed by Michael Jacobs; (2014)

Harmony Lessons - a bleak Kazakhi film which showcases the remoteness of the region.  A schoolyard drama about a bully and the boy who stands up to him with dire consequences.  Critical of ingrained corruption with Kazakh society, the film dresses it up with a character study of young men and some horrific prison/detention scenes.

Manos Sucias - this was the last film I saw in the festival and by this time I was exhausted.  I remember Gary Meyer sat a row or two in front of me.  Set in Colombia, two brother mule a drug shipment (in a torpedo?) up river for delivery.  It was a bit like Apocalypse Now in that as they work they way closer to their final destination, they encounter stranger & more dangerous individuals.  I dozed off for a bit but this film left a depressing shadow.


Everything else left me less than impressed.  Called out for its particularly unwatchable quality is Stray Dogs, a Taiwanese film with limited dialog.  The finale featured a (seemingly) 10 minute shot of a man's and woman's faces as they reacts to artwork on a wall (which the audience has not seen).  The fact that I can even remember that scene a year later gives me pause.

One of the films from last year's festival (Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter) is opening at the Landmark Theaters Opera Plaza in a few weeks.

No comments: