Take 50

Pub date April 24, 2007
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review



*Golden Door (Emanuele Crialese, Italy/France, 2006). Epic in scope, playful in its stylistic shifts and tonal splices, and sumptuous in its painterly framing and use of light, Golden Door looks on an age-old American saga – an immigrant family’s crossing from the Old World to the new – with startlingly fresh, impassioned eyes. Director Emanuele Crialese (Respiro) turns his sometimes wry, sometimes tender focus on a band of illiterate Sicilian peasants drawn from their dirt-poor village by pre-Photoshop pictures of giant chickens and trees laden with enormous gold coins. Led by an intrepid yet ignorant patriarch (Respiro‘s Vincenzo Amato) and a comical spiritual fixer of a grandmother (Aurora Quattrocchi), the group is joined in steerage by a cryptic gentlewoman (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Ellis Island and its proto-eugenic experiments await – along with dream sequences that fluidly transmit the otherworldly magic of the villagers’ forthcoming American mystery tour. (Kimberly Chun)

7 p.m., Castro. Opening night film and party at City Hall, $85-$125


Black Sheep (Jonathan King, New Zealand, 2006). Something is going baaaaaad in Lord of the Rings country. The usual science experiment-gone-wrong results in the usual creature rampage, as sheep go George Romero on humans at a rural New Zealand ranch. This jolly, diverting, ultimately too-silly horror comedy from neophyte writer-director Jonathan King is duly funny. Still, it overstays its one-joke welcome by a bleat or three. (Dennis Harvey)

10:45 p.m., Kabuki

*A Few Days Later … (Niki Karimi, Iran, 2006). Already a star from her appearances in Tahmineh Milani’s overwrought – but much beloved – melodramas, Iranian actress Niki Karimi looked to the grand master, Abbas Kiarostami, for directing inspiration. In this, her second feature, she beautifully captures a specific brand of avoidance and understatement. She plays Shahrzad, a mousy graphic designer who becomes distracted at work. At home her answering machine constantly squawks about her family’s health and well-being, and her annoying neighbor (Behzad Dorani, from Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us) keeps parking his giant SUV in her space. To her credit, Karimi never shows the expected hospital scenes, tearful good-byes, or tense confrontations that seem to be looming. Instead, she retreats inside the character’s head and brings the film to a stunningly private conclusion. (Jeffrey M. Anderson)

7:15 p.m., PFA. Also Sun/29, 12:15 p.m., Kabuki; Mon/30, 6:45 p.m., Kabuki

Murch (David and Edie Ichioka, England/US, 2006). Codirector Edie Ichioka is a disciple of legendary film and sound editor Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The English Patient), so you know this doc will be nothing less than a glowing portrait. But instead of a simple glorification, it is more an embellished interview (complete with jump cuts during the talking head portions), with Murch using an astounding array of metaphors – besides the obvious "editing is like putting together a puzzle," he also works in painters, sock puppets, kidney transplants, and dream therapy, among others – to explain his approach to his craft. As Murch proves, a talented editor can make a good film great and a great film a masterpiece; it all comes down to an intangible combination of technical skill, sense of rhythm, and artistic instinct. (Cheryl Eddy)

9 p.m., SFMOMA. Also Sun/29, 4:15 p.m., Castro; Tues/1, 1 p.m., Kabuki; May 5, 3:30 p.m., PFA

*Slumming (Michael Glawogger, Austria/Switzerland, 2006). Two arrogant yuppie pranksters (August Diehl and Michael Ostrowski) cruise around verbally pigeonholing others, making playthings of them. Meanwhile, a drunken, derelict poet (Paulus Manker) wanders the streets alternately cajoling and ranting at people. When the pranksters find the poet passed out on a bus station bench, they decide to transport him to a similar spot across the border, without a passport. Director Michael Glawogger (Workingman’s Death) and cowriter Barbara Albert achieve a pleasurable quirky quality with their black comedy, carefully guiding it between the precious and the preachy; they sometimes amusingly present a joke’s payoff before the setup. The film passes easily between immaculate cafes and slush-covered highways, but at its center is Manker’s wonderfully cantankerous performance. (Anderson)

9:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also Sat/28, 1:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 5, 8:30 p.m., SFMOMA; May 7, 6:30 p.m., Aquarius


*All in This Tea (Les Blank and Gina Leibrecht, US, 2006). Tea still has an effete connotation in this country, but David Lee Hoffman is an adventurer of the old order. An unabashed partisan of the fair drink, he regularly travels to China to ferret out farmers and distributors, sampling and savoring the Old World leaves. His dedication is total; we’re hardly surprised when Werner Herzog drops by Hoffman’s Marin home for a spot of tea, because the director is a connoisseur of aficionados, explorers, and cranks. Hoffman is capably eccentric but also unassuming, making All in This Tea a friendly primer. Codirectors Les Blank and Gina Leibrecht bring their usual ethnographic grace to this 10-years-in-the-making project. (Goldberg)

1:30 p.m., PFA. Also Sun/29, 4:45 p.m., Kabuki; May 2, 4 p.m., Kabuki

*At the Edge: New Experimental Cinema (various). Experimental showcases are always an Achilles heel for film festivals big on narrative. They’re often shoehorned with tepid concessions to so-called innovation, although sometimes they yield moments of genuine surprise. This showcase has a bit of both. Paul Clipson’s Super 8 trip of blurred urban lightscapes looks through Stan Brakhage’s kaleidoscope but can’t see beyond it. On the other hand, the sleep of reason produces monsters (slavery, social Darwinism) and some beautiful animation in Atlantis Unbound, in which Lori Hiris morphs her black-and-white charcoal sketches – evoking the mystical art of William Blake or Austin Osman Spare – of 19th-century scientists into slaves, merfolk, and other beings from beyond the pale of the Enlightenment. The banality of evil is also evoked in Xavier Lukomski’s static shots of the serene Drina River Bridge, where, as the voice-over informs us, Bosnians dredged up the victims of genocide. When viewed through a long shot, the horrors of history become more pronounced, given their calm surroundings. (Matt Sussman)

8:30 p.m., PFA. Also Tues/1, 6:15 p.m., Kabuki

*Carved Out of Pavement: The Work of Rob Nilsson On the brink of 70, longtime SF filmmaker Rob Nilsson is astonishingly prolific. No less than four work-in-progress features will be excerpted in this tribute program, including some from the nearly completed "9@Night" series of interwoven fictions made with the Tenderloin Action Group. For all his invention and industry in production, Nilsson hasn’t exactly worked overtime getting his movies seen – except at the Mill Valley Film Festival, where you can count on one or two premiering each fall. The MVFF is copresenting this special show, which will have the filmmaker reviewing a career that stretches back to the mid-’70s SF CineAction collective and 1979’s Cannes Camera d’Or-winning Northern Lights, as well as discussing latter-day digital projects with numerous current collaborators, also present. Excerpts from "9@Night" will also be projected on the SFIFF’s Justin Herman Plaza outdoor screen May 1 to 3. (Harvey)

7 p.m., Kabuki

Fabricating Tom Ze (Decio Matos Jr., Brazil, 2006). Though typically grouped with the explosive Brazilian Tropicalismo movement, Tom Ze has always been too much of an eccentric to fall properly into line. It’s a point made abundantly clear in Fabricating Tom Ze (I still haven’t figured out the title), a generally awestruck doc that makes up for its thin content with plenty of Ze’s indefatigable, abundant speech. Between the interruptions, self-mythologizing, and creative suggestions for the film’s director (all of which Decio Matos Jr. takes), Ze spills over with quixotic, brilliant epigrams on creativity and authenticity. "I have to make a small invention every time I have an idea worthy of becoming music," he reports – as if there were any doubting his inventiveness. (Goldberg)

1 p.m., SFMOMA. Also Tues/1, 8;30 p.m., El Rio; May 6, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 9, 6:30 p.m., Aquarius

*Hana (Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan, 2006). Hirokazu Kore-eda’s gentle deconstruction of that venerable institution of Japanese film the samurai movie isn’t too much of a departure from his previous features. Hana also focuses on the small, unexpected sense of community that arises out of idiosyncratic responses to tragedy or, in this case, the public’s hunger for it. It’s 1702, and like other underemployed samurai during peacetime, Sozaemon Aoki (Okada Junichi) is restless, as is the general population, which gorges itself on violent revenge plays and romanticized notions of honor. The pensive Sozaemon is bent on carrying out his duty to avenge his father’s death, even if he seems more at home tutoring the kids in the hardscrabble but lively tenement where he lives. His neighbors, who initially tease him about his lack of guts, eventually rally round his failures – and their own lowly status – and celebrate the humble resolve. To paraphrase resident dimwit Mago (Kimura Yuichi), when life gives you shit, make rice cakes. (Sussman)

4:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 2, 6:45 p.m.; and May 5, 5:45 p.m., PFA

*The Island (Pavel Lounguine, Russia, 2006). Not to be confused with Michael Bay’s jiggly, blow-’em-up, organ-harvesting gesture toward Logan’s Run. If Andrei Tarkovsky’s movies were lit by God, then The Island sets God to work creating an austere black-and-white landscape of unforgiving snow, rocky shores, hills of coal, and blighted driftwood. By all appearances a mad monk but in this reality a truth-talking, faith-healing saint of sorts, Father Anatoly is doing penance on the island for a wartime act that most reasonable deities would excuse. No such luck for this Russian Orthodox overseer – wearisome monastery politics and the teary negotiations of the sick and injured occupy the sooty savant in this elegantly wrought parable, which puts cheesy stateside Biblesploitation big-budgeters such as The Reckoning to shame. (Chun)

4:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 2, 6:45 p.m., Kabuki; May 3, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki

Once (John Carney, Ireland, 2006). A genuine sleeper at Sundance, this small Irish indie charmer will be spoiled only if you swallow all advance hype about its purported brilliance. Sometimes nice is quite enough. Real-life singer-songwriters Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova play struggling Dublin musicians, one a native busker still living above Da’s vacuum repair shop, the other a Czech emigre supporting her family by selling flowers on the street. Their slow-burning romance is more musical than carnal, climaxing in a studio recording session. Writer-director John Carney’s film manages to play like a full-blown musical without anyone ever bursting into song. Instead, the appealing original folk rock tunes played and sound-tracked here come off as vivid commentary on a platonic (yet frissony) central relationship. (Harvey)

7:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 6, 9:30 p.m., Clay

Protagonist (Jessica Yu, US, 2006). Jessica Yu, the Oscar-winning director of the 1996 short documentary Breathing Lessons (she also made 2004’s In the Realms of the Unreal, a haunting look at outsider artist Henry Darger), returns with Protagonist, an initially confusing but ultimately fascinating doc about four men who couldn’t be more dissimilar on the surface. How can the themes of classical Greek tragedy link a Mexican bank robber, a German terrorist, a reluctantly gay Christian, and an aggro martial artist? Yu uses puppet interludes, revealing interviews, and a keen eye for detail as she traces their shared stages of provocation, rage, doubt, catharsis, and so on – proving the journey of an antihero has little to do with setting, be it ancient or modern. (Eddy)

6:15 p.m., SFMOMA. Also Mon/30, 4:15 p.m., Kabuki; Tues/1, 9:15 p.m., Kabuki

*Strange Culture (Lynn Hershman Leeson, US, 2006). The duly strange, as yet unresolved case of SUNY Buffalo art professor Steve Kurtz has spurred local filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson’s best feature to date, a documentary-dramatization hybrid. With the man himself still legally restrained from discussing his circumstances, Thomas Jay Ryan plays Kurtz, who as a founding member of the multimedia Critical Art Ensemble had long made work focusing on social justice issues and the intersection between science and government. To create an exhibition on biotechnology, he acquired for carefully safety-measured display some bacteria samples readily available online. When wife of 27 years Hope (played by Tilda Swinton) unexpectedly died of heart failure in her sleep, emergency medical personnel grew suspicious of these unusual art supplies. Soon FBI personnel evicted the distraught widower from his home, quarantined the entire block, and accused him of possessing bioterrorist weapons of mass destruction during an incredibly cloddish investigation. Kurtz’s real-life colleagues and friends were interviewed in a free-ranging yet pointed feature whose actors also step out of character to articulate their concern about the government’s post-9/11 crackdown on dissent, even the rarefied gallery kind. (Harvey)

6 p.m., Castro. Also May 4, 8: 45 p.m., SFMOMA; May 8, 7 p.m., PFA


The End and the Beginning (Eduardo Coutinho, Brazil, 2006). Picking a small town at random and making a film about its residents can be brave filmmaking. It can also be plain lazy, as is the case with Brazilian filmmaker Eduardo Coutinho’s directionless profile of rural Aracas, in the state of Paraiba. Unsurprisingly, people being people, he finds great interview subjects, but he doesn’t bother to connect them to one another or to the town. Only their highly region-specific Catholicism provides any unifying thread. And though Coutinho’s not exactly condescending (beyond some slight Kids Say the Darndest Things baiting of his loonier interviewees), there’s an unspoken mandate to keep things simple: his response to one woman’s enticing hint at her failed law practice is to ask about her sewing. (Jason Shamai)

7:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also Tues/1, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 3, 4 p.m., Kabuki

*Singapore Dreaming (Yen Yen Woo and Colin Goh, Singapore, 2006). With their second feature, Yen Yen Woo and Colin Goh have their hearts in the right place while their eyes are on the prize of capturing a postcolonial city-state clutching at the global economy. The gently humorous, humanist realism of Edward Yang comes to mind while watching this husband-and-wife directorial team’s warm, witty depiction of the everyday lives of a working-class Singapore family who live, dream, bicker in pidgin English and Mandarin, and inhale vast quantities of herbal tea in their high-rise project. Pops buys lottery tickets, hoping to move into a slick new condo. Back from his studies in the States, the pampered son is discovering that in go-go Singapore his degree isn’t quite as covetable as it once was, and the beleaguered daughter is in her final trimester, coping with a demanding yuppie boss and a slacker hubby who yearns to be in a carefree rock band and pees in his father-in-law’s elevator. When disaster strikes, no one is thinking about the matriarch, whose only seeming desire is to properly feed and water her brood, but she ends up providing some unexpected feminist substance, rather than sustenance, under the movie’s wise gaze. (Chun)

8:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 4, 1 p.m., Kabuki; May 5, 3 p.m., Kabuki

12 Labors (Ricardo Elias, Brazil, 2006). Part Black Orpheus, part 400 Blows, 12 Labors is a Brazilian feature that revisits the myth of Hercules through the story of a motorcycle messenger’s rehabilitation. A kid from a rough part of Sao Paulo, Heracles gets out of juvie and tries to start a new life. To land a job as a motorcycle messenger, he has a trial day with (you guessed it) a dozen jobs to complete. An artist who never knew his father, he also writes origin stories in comic book form, which mystify his coworkers. Though Heracles’s experiences seem tinted with divinity, he inspires worry on the part of the viewer. Since all good myths have moral purpose, this one finally addresses the very current social issue of juvenile delinquency and rehabilitation in urban Brazil. (Sara Schieron)

9:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also Mon/30, 7 p.m., Kabuki; May 5, 4:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 7, 9:15 p.m., Aquarius


*Broken English (Zoe Cassavetes, USA, 2006). "I don’t think Hollywood knows what to do with me," Parker Posey recently opined, despite having a prominent role in Superman Returns. Fortunately for us, Amerindie cinema does still know what to do with her. The SFIFF is hosting a double bill of the pushing-40 actor’s latest, reprising the title figure in Hal Hartley’s Henry Fool sequel Fay Grim and starring in Zoe Cassavetes’s feature debut. Posey is perfect as director-scenarist Cassavetes’s superficially cheery but highly insecure NYC hotelier. Some may think this low-key seriocomedy paces pat single-gal-searching paths – from Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl to Sex and the City – but in its thoughtful nature and serious treatment of a clinical-depression interlude it roams well outside stock terrain. Even if the fade-out waxes a tad improbably happily-ever-after, Posey’s nuanced performance will make you root for it. (Harvey)

6:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 2, 2 p.m., Kabuki

Fay Grim (Hal Hartley, USA/Germany, 2006). A decade ago Hal Hartley made his best movie, the practically epic – by this miniaturist’s standards – Henry Fool. By most estimates it’s been downhill ever since. They love him in France – but perhaps he should never have left Long Island. So it was heartening news to hear he was returning to the world of Henry Fool, better still to know the sequel would revolve around the title character’s scrappy, vulnerable abandoned wife, Fay, who provided one of Parker Posey’s finest hours. She’s still good here, natch, but Fay Grim is all over the map – literally. The convoluted story line journeys from a mild farcical take on espionage thrillers to a murkily serious commentary on world politics. It’s watchable, but once again one gets the sense that with Hartley, the wider his focus, the blurrier it gets. (Harvey)

9:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 3, 9:10 p.m., PFA


Congorama (Philippe Falardeau, Canada/Belgium/France, 2006). Quebec writer-director Philippe Falardeau’s story of a revolutionary electric car and a sticky-fingered inventor is part of that ever-widening army of films that plant fairly obvious and poorly integrated details into the first act so that later, when the story is retold from another perspective, they reappear with more context to click Aha!-ingly into place. Though some of the big, unwieldy reveals are a lot of fun in a Lost sort of way, they distract from the more prosaic but more satisfying concerns of the film’s smartly drawn characters. The inventor, for instance, is a not particularly likable person who still has a believably loving, humor-filled relationship with his family. Now talk about a novel concept! (Shamai)

6 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 2, 9:15 p.m., PFA; May 6, 6:30 p.m., Aquarius

Private Fears in Public Places (Alain Resnais, France/Italy, 2006). Alain Resnais’s 17th feature is dreamy and sometimes enchanting, though it doesn’t warrant comparison to the knife-sharp moral plays made during his prime, such as Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad. Adapted from a play by Alain Ayckbourn (the two previously collaborated on Smoking and No Smoking), Private Fears in Public Places weaves the love(less) stories of a half dozen Parisians; plotlines intersect, but in light brushes rather than the solemn collisions of Babel and Crash). The artifice Resnais imposes on his film is poetic in miniature – the camera, for example, periodically floats above the set, filming actors as if they were in a dollhouse – but the sum total is stultifying, unhinging an already-adrift narration and making Private Fears in Public Places seem needlessly opaque. (Goldberg)

7 p.m., PFA. Also May 3, 6:15 p.m., Kabuki; May 7, 4 p.m., Kabuki

*Rocket Science (Jeffrey Blitz, USA, 2006). Promising to be the next best coming-of-age cultie with its sure-handed, sharp performances and Freaks and Geeks-like sobriety, Rocket Science finds new agony and indie rock-laced ecstasy in one miserable adolescent’s progress. Or to be specific, one stuttering, 98-pound weakling’s marked, often laugh-out-loud funny lack of progress. The high school years for Hal Hefner (compulsively watchable frail cutie-pie Reece Thompson) seem to be going from bad to sexy once he gets recruited for the school debate team by scarily driven, Tracy Flick-esque champ Ginny (Anna Kendrick). But his travails never quite end even as he attempts to extract nerd revenge and literally find his voice, accompanied by vintage Violent Femmes and hand-clapping quirk pop by Eef Barzelay of Clem Snide. Tapping memories connected to a speech impediment, Spellbound codirector Jeffrey Blitz turns tongue-tied prince Hal’s articulation struggles into the perfect metaphor for every awkward teen’s gropes toward individuation. (Chun)

4 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 4, 6:15 p.m., Clay