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Salsa truly "no tiene frontera" - (to quote a song from the Japanese Orquesta de la Luz) 


By Maya -- Read an Earlier Film Festival Article by Maya.


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 politically correct".
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 balanced.

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 by war. 

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 "outspoken" reporters.

-- Maya/Salsaloca


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