SF Int’l Film Festival! Part 1

I’m completely immersed in the Film Festival… here are a bunch of capsule review/reactions to some of the 18 films I’ve seen so far after the first week:

Remarkable film set in Mali, depicting an almost mythical trial pitting African “civil society” against the World Bank and IMF. Brilliant speeches, smart critique of neoliberalism, great acting, esp. by a woman writer and the final two jurists, a white Frenchman and a black Malian woman… meanwhile a gorgeous nightclub singer brackets the film, singing a haunting tune, first with pleasure, and last in tears. Her husband is a taciturn observer, brooding and increasingly depressed through the film, who finally suicides at the end, after early on ruminating with a videographer friend that death is better than life. The stats and facts are compellingly presented while daily life unfolds in the courtyard/courtroom… the old white lawyer defending the World Bank and globalization is very well presented, too, avoiding the easy cliche of a stupid proponent of the ideas under attack. A brilliant movie, works on so many levels!

Strange Culture
Lynn Hershman’s latest, a one-hour documentary on the Critical Arts Ensemble and Steve Kurtz’s chilling story, busted by overzealous Buffalo police after the sudden heart attack death of his wife. Not a great cinema experience–they were clearly starved for B-roll–but such a creepy and compelling story that I still liked it. Curious juxtaposition of actors and the real subjects of the story, with allusions to the corporate targets of the CAE’s work being not exactly responsible but intersted in suppressing Kurtz’s work. But mostly it’s about the DoJ and the local prosecutor’s obsessive efforts to advance politically by carrying through this insane prosecution.

Really creeping story with great acting from Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney, about some Aussie working class guys who go fishing, find the murdered body of a young aboriginal woman (the murder starts the movie) but rather than reporting it and dealing with it immediately, they carry on fishing for four days. When they come home and report it, the whole area is scandalized, and the dysfunctional fissures in all their lives grow worse, nearly shattering their already fragile accommodations. Painful to watch, very well presented, typical “moderns” who are bitter, frustrated, lost, in denial, and out of touch with their basic humanity. Flashes of humanness erupt throughout, like lightning illuminating a dark landscape of alienation.

Golden Door
Opening night film, sumptuous and gorgeously shot, a charming tale of Sicilian farmers emigrating to the U.S. around 1913, landing in Ellis Island with a mysterious British woman played by Charlotte Gainsborough, attaching herself to them. Captured well the sheer confusion of uprooting a family from its normal life to emigrate, so often repeated, but the film is too sweet to have anything bad happen, instead flying into surreal dream sequences. The never exit Ellis Island by the end of the movie…

Great documentary on Walter Murch the film editor who has worked a lot with Coppola and Lucas, on Apocalypse Now, Godfather, the Conversation, the English Patient, etc. Really fun and funny, his long-time assistant made the film, adding many jumpcuts and sound effects to hilariously underscore Murch’s descriptions of how he makes movies. I loved it.

Black Sheep
Sure to be a cult classic, the tale of an evil sheep farmer cum genetic engineer who Frankenstein-like inserts his own genes into his sheep with the help of some funny mad scientists. Crazy vegan eco-saboteurs steal a vial holding a failed experiment and when it breaks a miserable freak sheep attacks and bites the guy, setting in motion a frenzy of direct biting and transferrence of madness (it also makes the humans become oversized erect sheep–28 Days meets Pan’s Labyrinth… or not!).. Great send-up of New Age vegetarian PC politics; gross visual jokes on meat and meat preparation, overall a bad movie, very silly and shallow.

A Few Days Later…
A somber Iranian film centered on a woman, working professionally as a graphic designer, who is stuck, indecisive about 3 or 5 major issues confronting her–her ex-boyfriend wants to reconnect, her father is dying, the handicapped son of her ex- needs to be moved to a new institution, she’s stressed out with overwork, her only friend, a photographer she works with, is making advances apparently unwanted. Through all this she drives back and forth, her apartment is ripped up at the beginning as she gets a new bathroom, everything is very modern and chaotic and in the middle she’s paralyzed by depression, unable to decide anything. She’s caught in a quintessentially modern woman’s life–competent and busy at work, extremely isolated and lonely in big city life… this film resonated even more loudly after I saw Broken English, below…

Desperately Seeking Images
A bunch of shorts, mostly not very good. Highlights: “We are Everywhere” from Mexico, in which 2 upper-middle class young men get cleverly and nonviolently mugged by a slick street tough, then just as cleverly turn the tables. A Romanian short wherein a father adn son spend the film carrying their old b/w vacuum tube TV over hill and dale to a cty to get it reparied. After much ado, the father drops it on the way home in pouring rain but they get it to work, making the boy happy–very charming. “Balkan Erotic Exhibit” by Marina Abramowicz was a weird and successful meta-doc about making an exhibit that tries to portray genitals as weapons, as tools, as healers… men fucking the ground, women baring breasts and vaginas, all presented while we see the directing and shooting–ultimately it appears in an art show in Belgrade I think. An American woman who lives in southern Austria that I spoke with afterwards assured me that Serbs and Yugoslavians realy are that weird and open about sex and sexuality, whic his what the director explained at the outset of the film, attributing it to the many years of Yugoslavian life–“food and sex were very good, even if everything else was fucked up!” “Striptease” was a hilarious, low-production value send-up of online stripping… a voluptuous woman receives increasingly wacky instructions via her chat client. She tries to be accommodating so it escalates from “find a banana” to “make a smoothie” “drink it” “dress like Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers” all of which she does. Eventually he somehow gets her to light something on fire which catches on her bed. Now he asks her, “do you have fire insurance?” Then he pitches a particular package and she’s panicking, trying to put out the fire, yelling to her roommate offscreen: “Dammit Jane! It’s that fuckin’ telemarket again! He made me set the bed on fire again!” Hilarious!

All in This Tea
Les Blank’s latest, typically charming investigation of David Hoffman’s business importing Chinese tea. Very beautiful, very sweet, very informative, very inspiring. Makes me wish I liked tea better. It’s a completely Slow Food movie about tea, but just as much about Hoffman’s commitment to soil health and healthy sustainable agriculture, showing him all over rural China, sampling teas, arguing with Tea factory bureaucrats, etc.

I’ve already got notes on another nine movies, but I have one in a half hour and two more after that…. so next installment tomorrow morning…

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