FILM FEST FUN
Wanna know what the San Francisco Film Festival is all about? Just read its
promo in the beginning of each screening. It lists some human emotions
including longing, fear, rage and even faith. The very first one is lust -
but no love. What does it tell ya?
In spite of many limitations I managed
to see quite a few films this year (SF festival is tough on its reporters,
maybe that's one of the reasons why this oldest North-American cinema showcase
never made it to the top). I concentrate on foreign films trying to spot a gem
without an American distributor. One particular picture shown at the Toronto
Film Festival a few years ago comes to mind. A Polish futuristic
comedy/farce/parody, THE SEXMISSION was wildly popular in Europe, but never
made it to this continent probably due to its potential to offend "the
Not that I discovered a future classic, but some films were quite memorable.
Remember SHINE? One of this year's potential Oscar contenders might be
another Australian coming-of-age story of a teenager and her frustrated mom in
LA SPAGNOLA (The Spanish Woman) A nominee for the SKYY Prize, Steve Jacobs'
first feature is set in a small Australian community of Italian and Spanish
immigrants in the 60s. Lola Marceli's passionate portrayal of a desperate
mother who, unable to cope with the cruel reality, vents her anger on her
teenage daughter, is outstanding. This film joins an impressive but short
line-up of pictures from "Down-Under" - including MURIEL'S WEDDING and
STRICTLY BALLROOM - that we've had a chance to see. One other "quiet"
Australian find from the past that never made it here is THE QUIET ROOM, a
must-see for all the divorcing parents. (You might find it as a rental) If you
like serious movies dealing with the tough realities of life you will
appreciate the Mexican film STREETERS (about kids trying to survive on and
under the streets of Mexico-city), the Spanish EL BOLA (about an abused boy
from a "model" home finding solace and safe haven in an unconventional family)
and the Russian SISTERS forced to unite and help each other in the face of
danger from gangster kidnappers.
Several documentaries are worth seeing. If they don't come out in theaters
they might be shown on PBS in the future. THE PINOCHET CASE, made in France
by Patricio Guzman, scrupulously documents the pain and suffering of the
dictator's victims and the history of events that lead to his attempted trial.
What we don't see is the conclusion of this historical chain of events and the
reasons behind Pinochet's allies' (including Margaret Thatcher) efforts to
exonerate him. It would make this outstanding film more objective and
Another dictator's memory is alive and well in his home republic of Georgia
as demonstrated in STALIN: RED GOD directed by Frederick Baker. CHINA 21
shows the daily life and aspirations of ordinary Chinese citizens. Very
poignant and human is THE INNER TOUR which follows a bus of Palestinian
tourists visiting Israel. DAUGHTER FROM DANANG documents a reunification of
an americanized Amerasian woman with her birth mother in Vietnam and
demonstrates how different social and psychological differences in world
cultures breed mistrust and hostility, even in family members separated
And finally, on a lighter note, a treat for all the fans of Cuban music,
LOS VAN VAN, LET'S PARTY shows music clips and interviews with the past and
present members of the popular Cuban band Los Van Van.
As usual, the festival programmers chose a large number of French films for
the local audiences fascinated by everything French. And, as usual, ardent
fans are rarely disappointed watching "un film français". This year was no
exception. More often than not, a good dose of entertainment will be provided
in French movies that seem to follow a recipe for a well-done motion
picture: a psychological character portrait, a pinch of action, a handful of
suspense, a hint of humor, a tidy creative plot and voila - a successful
money-making production is born. A perfect example is READ MY LIPS by Jacques
Audiard, a story of a plain, hearing-impaired girl longing for love and
falling for an ex-on, who involves her in his criminal endeavors and gradually
warms up to her devotion.
Another French drama, VIVANTE, deals with rape and a girl's attempt to cope
with its devastating consequences. THE LADY AND THE DUKE, a costumed flick by
Eric Rohmer is set in Paris at the time of the French revolution. The
digitally recreated scenery is obviously fake, yet, strangely enough, it
recalls some paintings of the period.
Ever had a chance to see THE LOVER, a hot and steamy story about a love
affair based on a novel by Marguerite Duras? Well, now the author herself,
played by the grande dame of the French cinema Jeanne Moreau is the main
heroine of a May-September romance entitled CET AMOUR-LÁ. Moreau is
magnificent playing the controversial, influential, capricious and difficult
figure, but we never really get a chance to understand and fully appreciate
why a young man 40 years her junior would sustain his romantic involvement
with her over the years.
A well-made South-Korean melodrama FAILAN is an example of sweet innocence and
gratitude melting a hardened criminal's heart.
Human kindness and compassion are the main topics of another feel-good
comedy/drama from China, HAPPY TIMES, by Zhang Yimou.
Young people will enjoy GO, a story of a North-Korean teenager born and
raised in Japan, but faced with discrimination in by Japanese society.
One more Japanese film WARM WATER UNDER A RED BRIDGE, by a master
filmmaker Shohei Imamura, might amuse some and offend some. You've got to
see it to find out why.
A Cuban farce, NIGHTS OF CONSTANTINOPLE, reminds me of some old Russian
movies in trying to present the decay and the idleness of the aristocracy
after the revolution. That's probably how this comedy was publicized at home
in order to come out at all. It's way too decadent for a Communist society
and the director Orlando Rojas is too sympathetic towards his characters.
It's a fun film to watch, especially if you're a Fellini fan.
Why are so many dance films flops? Remember STRICTLY BALLROOM? This was a
rare film on the dance theme that was also a work of art winning prizes at
several film festivals. Its Japanese version SHALL WE DANCE and the American
one DANCE WITH ME don't even come close. Another dance movie, TANGO LESSON,
could bore you to death if not for its tango numbers.
Unfortunately, here comes one more from Hong-Kong, DANCE OF A DREAM. This one
takes the prize for its capacity to rot your teeth with its sweetener coated
stupidity. One nice tango number and a few pleasing salsa sounds cannot
compensate for the time wasted watching it.
And the winners are…
SKYY Prize to a new filmmaker was awarded to THE WILD BEES, reflecting
pathetic lives of small-town Czechs in a Moravian village. This film does not
make the same impact as LA SPAGNOLA or even STREETERS (also nominated), but as
the SKYY Prize is given for "unique artistic sensibility and vision" this
choice seems appropriate.
The winner of the Audience Award, an animated feature from Japan SPIRITED
AWAY, was the bestseller of all times in its homeland. SF viewers seem to
agree. Big on entertainment value fairytales with technical wizardry and
special effects that appeal to your eyes and not to your brain or heart, do
not attract me, so you'll have to judge for yourself when this film comes out
later this year.
The runner-up was ELLING, a comedy from Norway about two men trying to adapt
to real life after spending time in a mental institution. I did not get a
chance to see it, but it sounds promising.
There are a lot of Golden Gate Award winners given to local filmmakers. (4
printed pages of winners, to be precise. It looked like just about everybody
who participated got something - an award or a certificate of merit) Among
the winners are some of the above mentioned films, THE PINOCHET CASE, STALIN:
THE RED GOD, and DAUGHTER FROM DANANG - all documentaries.
Almost wrote "until next year", but had to stop short. We'll see if this
festival can tolerate negative reviews and reissue accreditation to