After the Festival, I sent the following email to Sean Uyehara, the programmer I know best at the Film Society:
Standing in line, I was often asked, “What’s your favorite film so far?” I would usually answer, “The last one I saw.”
I just want to let a programmer know how much I enjoyed the Festival this year. I saw 18 films plus 4 Tributes (including films). Of all those, I there was only one that I really didn’t like (Woman on Fire…).
The four Tributes and their attendant films were outstanding (Hertzfeldt, Salles, Duvall, Ebert); and I considered seven of the other films I saw outstanding, with many runners-up.
WAY OF NATURE
MOTHER AND CHILD
SEDUCING CHARLIE BARKER
BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK
Please convey my appreciation to Rachael, Rod and Joe; and of course, Graham.
Until the fall season…
So here are the descriptions and MY TAKE for my favorites. Film descriptions are from the Program Guide or from Scoop du Jour, the daily chronicle of Festival activity.
WAY OF NATURE
Documentaries – Sweden, 2008, 107 minutes
A mostly wordless meditation on the seasonal ebb and flow of life’s rhythms on a remote Swedish farm, where the sights and sounds build to create an elegantly subtle drama of biodiversity and sustainability in action.
MY TAKE – Fabulous. And beautiful. Way better than Sweetgrass (which was really good), as this film concentrates on the farm and the animals, with the sole purpose of vividly showing a year-in-the-life. My favorite scenes were near the beginning, of big draught horses and their young galloping in the snow. The family farm raises – from what I could see – heritage breeds of horses, dairy cattle, sheep, turkeys and chickens. Milk and eggs are sold in bulk, and they make butter and cheese and mow their own hay. The 107 minutes flew by and I wanted more. *****
I’ve been to two 12:30 films… that’s fun, and I’m home before 3. Maybe I should do that more often.
World Cinema – Canada, 2009, 88 minutes
From Scoop du Jour:
Cairo & Clarkson Captivate_Her first visit to Cairo at age 16 “left an imprint in my brain that I couldn’t shake,” Canadian writer and director Ruba Nadda explained to the audience after Wednesday’s screening of her rapturously received film Cairo Time. “It sort of chipped away at your North American guard, and I promised myself that one day I’d return and set a story there.” The resultant romance is her nod to “the restraint of something like a Jane Austen book that I find missing in films these days.” Nadda has created a work of aching sublimity, a siren song to reverberate in the heart, mind and soul. Speaking to festival-goers alongside Nadda, actress Patricia Clarkson described her character Juliette as “this beautiful, spare, distilled, exquisite woman—a woman I would like to be,” and a departure from her previous film roles. While Clarkson’s luminous performance left big shoes to fill for the portrayal of Tareq, former Star Trek: Deep Space Nine actor Alexander Siddig embodies the character so fully that it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the part. The pair’s glinting, shimmery on-screen chemistry fills in any blanks behind Clarkson’s quip that, “I’ll never look at a pyramid the same way.” —CD
MY TAKE: Carol saw it and loved it. She too, was reminded of her short visit to Cairo. *****
World Cinema – France/Italy, 2009, 104 minutes
Alain Resnais is deservedly classed among the masters of world cinema, but “mastery” might be the wrong term to describe his method: Almost 50 years after Last Year at Marienbad, Resnais remains dedicated to experimentation, imagination and games of chance. Wild Grass, based on the novel L’Incident by Christian Gailly and titled after those stubborn weeds that erupt from cracks in the pavement, is an ode to uncontrolled impulse and the possibilities—effervescent or ominous, sublime or absurd—that arise from accident. The triggering incident is fairly ordinary: A woman goes out shopping for shoes and has her purse snatched; a man goes out to buy a watch battery and stumbles upon the woman’s red wallet. Out of these chinks in everyday routine grow a tangle of unruly emotions, as the man, Georges (André Dussollier), develops an inexplicable obsession with the woman, Marguerite (Sabine Azéma), a dentist and amateur aviatrix. Is Georges a melancholy romantic, an aging husband in the throes of some ongoing midlife crisis or a dangerous psychotic? Is Marguerite, with her staring eyes and blaze of scarlet hair, an endearing eccentric or has she entirely taken leave of her senses? Is Wild Grass a thriller, a screwball comedy, a love story? With false starts and false endings, sudden shifts of palette and a mood-swinging score, Resnais plays it as all three, and as something else entirely. As the weirdly omniscient narrator reminds us, “After the cinema, nothing surprises you. Anything can happen.”
MY TAKE: Wild Grass, forcing its way up through cracks in the sidewalk, unwanted, unneeded, yet neither trimmed nor killed. Why did she call? What did he expect? Why did she call again? Why did she insist his wife go flying with them? She has a pretty cool car. Love? Resolution? There’s none of that. Brilliant, funny, perplexing. Walter Sellas said that a great film leaves something to your imagination, doesn’t tie things up neatly with a bow. Dis is dat. *****
MOTHER AND CHILD
Mother & Child
Rodrigo García 2009
Run time: 126 min. | U.S.A., Spain
From the Sundance Film Festival catalog:
Destiny plays a part in the lives of three women—a 50-year-old physical therapist (Annette Bening), the daughter she gave up for adoption 35 years earlier (Naomi Watts), and a woman looking to adopt her first child (Kerry Washington). In this exploration of one of nature’s most basic instincts, their pasts intertwine, inform, and evolve to reveal their innermost desires.
Rodrigo García once again reveals himself as a master storyteller with an uncanny understanding of the psyche of his unique characters. With strong directorial vision, he dares us to go to uncharted territory in a way that is both effortless and beautiful. The nuanced performances by this stellar cast let you into the fractured existence of these women, each motivated by a deep longing that holds them prisoners in their own fate. Moving and profound, Mother & Child exposes the complex layers of life’s challenges while remaining poetic and ethereal, yet painfully real on all levels.
MY TAKE: Surely a melodrama, played with some humor midst the tear-jerks… and all about women, though men comfort them in their time of need (Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits).
Too well acted to lapse into soap opera and too well written and warm to resemble a chick-flik. I think Graham said it’s opening next week. I told C that it would be perfect is she and Sarah and Paula go together. *****
New Directors – Mexico, 2009, 73 minutes
Winner- New Directors Award
Seemingly fused together with salt spray and sunlight, Alamar floats and bobs along with the rhythms of the surf as two men and a boy fish, prepare food, eat, sleep, work and talk (barely) along the water. Seagulls hover and flap inches from their heads, crabs and turtles dart and scurry along the beach, sunsets and sunrises come and go, tides rise and fall—and a father, son and friend watch the summer go by. If it sounds simple, it is, but such is the beauty of a film that casually draws together nature and man, documentary and fiction, as if the art of moviemaking were the most innate, heartfelt act in the world. In today’s contemporary cinema landscape, Alamar’s purity of spirit and form comes as a revelation. “I was inspired by the simplicity of happiness,” says director Pedro González-Rubio of this effortlessly beautiful work, set amid the Mexican Caribbean’s spectacular natural beauty and sleepy coastal villages—the Mayan fishing communities of the country’s fabled Banco Chinchorro (home to the world’s second-largest coral reef). Alamar is a crowning example of the renaissance in Mexican independent film, and a memorable testament to the fact that cinema still can draw inspiration from, and dare to capture, the simplicity of happiness.
MY TAKE: All the SFFS folks I asked said, “You must see this film, it is so beautiful.” Guess what? It is so simple and beautiful. There is a simple and beautiful story, as well. A Mayan man and Italian woman meet in the Caribbean, fall in love and make a boy. After 3 1/2 years, they realize that she is only happy living in a city – Rome – and he is only happy at at sea. In this summer, the 5 year old boy visits his father where he lives with the boy’s grandfather in a fishing community at the Banco Chinchorro Reef.
Miguel said it is his favorite film of the festival. *****
SEDUCING CHARLIE BARKER
Cinema by the Bay – USA, 2009, 89 minutes
Tossing aside his best friend, his wife Stella (Daphne Zuniga), his career and his sanity, out of work actor Charlie (Stephen Barker Turner) pursues his own self-destruction at the hands of a modern-day succubus, Clea (Heather Gorden), who insists on her own innocence—she has just arrived on the streets of New York from, she tells us, Ohio—while she slices through the lives of everyone she meets.
A fierce contemporary comedy, Seducing Charlie Barker presents the distortions of contemporary culture as the poisonous sea we all swim in, emasculating men, demeaning women and leaving us all wondering… How Is That Surreal?
Amy Glazer’s second feature wryly dissects the vacuous nature of the New York entertainment scene with salacious zeal and dark wit, mercilessly skewering the ruthless politics, spirit-crushing resentment and utter loss of dignity that goes hand in hand with art.
MY TAKE: Charlie is a good actor, but he refuses to suck up to a high school acquaintance, Nick-the-producer, he considers beneath him (but Nick has power), thus Charlie is out of work. Meanwhile Stella, a successful producer of a highly rated talk show – who hates her work – supports him. He meets Clea at a party; she throws her fabulous body at him, brilliantly comedic scenes ensue as he succumbs. Stella throws him out… Clea throws him out ‘cause he has no money. Poor Charlie finds himself living on the street while his best friend moves in on his wife and Clea gets a job with Nick, ultimately saving Charlie’s ass.
My favorite scene is when Stella comes home early from work to find Charlie fucking Clea in the master bath. Stella is, of course, outraged; Clea is miffed because Stella interrupted them, as she calmly gets her things together, berating Stella for being a nazi bitch and Charlie for having no spine. Brilliant, surreal, dark comedy; I loved it! *****
BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK
Documentaries – USA, 2010, 88 min
“We all get dressed for Bill,” says Anna Wintour about Bill Cunningham, the 80-year-old photographer and unlikely man-about-town. Bill Cunningham has two weekly columns in the Style section of the New York Times: On The Street, in which he identifies fashion trends as he spots them emerging on the street; and Evening Hours, his ongoing coverage of the social whirl of charities that benefit the cultural life of the city. The result is far from simple picture taking—it is cultural anthropology. Still, no one knows a thing about Bill Cunningham, the man himself. Intensely private and averse to any kind of attention, it took filmmaker Richard Press and producer Philip Gefter seven years to convince Cunningham to be filmed. Using only small prosumer HD cameras and no crew, Bill Cunningham New York has the intimacy and immediacy of a home movie. It chronicles a man who is obsessively interested in only one thing: the pictures he takes that document the way people dress. Bill has lived in the same small studio above Carnegie Hall for 50 years, never eats in restaurants and gets around on a worn-out bicycle—his sole means of transportation. The contradiction of his monk-like existence and the extravagance of his photographic subject matter is one aspect of his private life revealed in the movie. A sartorial Weegee, habitually dressed in a blue work jacket, Bill Cunningham has tried to live his life as an unencumbered man. He wants only his independence to be able to point his camera when beauty crosses his path. With this singular goal, he has managed to create a poignant and ongoing chronicle of the intersection of fashion and society in New York over 50 years—in effect, a portrait of New York City itself.
MY TAKE: Just great! It was the penultimate film of the festival; with the filmmakers in attendance before a packed house, and nobody wanted to leave. Just one note: The filmmakers, both NY Times editors, followed Bill’s bicycle around New York on an oversize tricycle for the filming. *****
What I saw
I saw all except the ones marked (Carol)
We both saw the ones marked (b)
DON HERTZFELDT PERSISTENCE OF VISION AWARD
An Evening with Don Hertzfeldt *****
Life, Death and Very Large Utensils *****
NYMPH (Nang mai) World Cinema Thailand, 2009, 94 minutes ***
MY DOG TULIP World Cinema USA, 2009, 82 minutes **** (b)
CRACKS New Directors England/Ireland, 2009, 104 minutes *** (b)
WAY OF NATURE Documentaries Sweden, 2008, 107 minutes *****
A DRUNKEN EVENING WITH DEREK WATERS AND WHOLPHIN
Live & Onstage 70 minutes *** (b)
YELLOW SHEEP RIVER Huang Yang Chuan
Documentaries Taiwan, 2009, 94 minutes ***~
WALTER SALLES FOUNDER’S DIRECTING AWARD
In Search of On the Road (a Work in Progress) *****
CAIRO TIME World Cinema Canada, 2009, 88 minutes ***** (Carol)
WILD GRASS World Cinema – France/Italy, 2009, 104 minutes *****
ROBERT DUVALL PETER J. OWENS AWARD
An Evening with Robert Duvall ***** (b)
GET LOW Tributes USA, 2009, 102 minutes ***** (b)
ROGER EBERT MEL NOVIKOFF AWARD
An Evening with Roger Ebert & Friends ***** (b)
JULIA ***** (b)
MOTHER AND CHILD
Members Screening – USA, Spain – 126 minutes *****
PIANOMANIA Documentaries – Austria/Germany, 2009, 93 min ****
Winner – Best Documentary Feature
ALAMAR New Directors – Mexico, 2009, 73 minutes *****
Winner- New Directors Award
MARWENCOL Documentaries – USA, 2010, 82 minutes (Carol) ****
SEDUCING CHARLIE BARKER
Cinema by the Bay – USA, 2009, 89 minutes *****
LAST TRAIN HOME
Documentaries – Canada/China, 2009, 87 minutes **** (b)
Winner – Best Investigative Documentary Feature
WOMAN ON FIRE LOOKS FOR WATER
World Cinema Malaysia/South Korea, 2009, 97 minutes **
THE HIGH LINE Shorts, 74 min ****
BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK *****
Documentaries USA, 2010, 88 min
MAKING PLANS FOR LENA
World Cinema – France, 2009, 107 minutes (Carol)
“There seem to be an awfully lot of ***** in there,” you might say. I might say, “You’re right.” But the fact is, these films were carefully selected for the festival, and then I carefully selected the films I thought would suit my taste from the programmers’ selections. So one might say, “Why isn’t every film ***** ?”
If you’re interested in any of the films listed, I’ll send you MY TAKE.
SFFS Post Festival Press Release
San Francisco International Film Festival Wraps the Best Fifteen Days of the Year for World Cinema Lovers
Longest-Running Film Festival in the Americas Enjoys a Spectacular 53rd Year with Superb Programming, Numerous Special Guests and Many Memorable Sold-out Events
San Francisco, CA – The San Francisco Film Society wrapped its 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival (April 22–May 6) with 293 screenings of 181 films from 46 countries, with 188 filmmakers and 104 industry guests from 23 countries in attendance and more than 75,000 filmgoers.
The Festival sold out 92 screenings during its 15-day run, including five sellouts of the 1,400-seat Castro Theatre (An Evening with Roger Ebert & Friends, An Evening with Robert Duvall, world premiere of All About Evil, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with Stephin Merritt and Micmacs), underlining the strong demand for the unique programming that the Film Society brings to the Bay Area.
“Once again we have been thrilled with the enthusiasm and spirit with which our audiences embraced the Festival,” said Graham Leggat, SFFS executive director. “Director of Programming Rachel Rosen brought a wonderful new energy to the program through such choices as an increased number of Live & Onstage events—truly making the Festival a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”