For your (even further) consideration: expanded short takes on SFIFF, week two

Pub date April 25, 2012
SectionPixel Vision

Ahoy! Yes, there’s still time to gorge on the 55th annual SFIFF; even if you’re just getting into movie-watching mode today, there’s a full week (plus a day) of festival madness left. Right here on Pixel Vision we’ll be posting reports from the fest as it happens (check out Sam Stander’s post here!); read on if you want to plan ahead to catch some of the best of what’s to come. (Most shows are $13 and venues are the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk.; SF Film Society Cinema, 1746 Post, SF; and Sundance Kabuki Cinema, 1881 Post, SF.)

Polisse (Maïwenn, France, 2011) Comparisons to The Wire are not to be tossed around lightly, but when the Hollywood Reporter likened Polisse to an entire season of the masterpiece cop show packed into a single film, it was onto something. Director, co-writer, and star Maïwenn (the object of desire in 2003’s High Tension) hung out with real officers serving in Paris’ Child Protection Unit, drawing inspiration from their dealings with pedophiles, young rape victims, negligent mothers, pint-sized pickpockets, and the like (another TV show worth mentioning in comparison: Law & Order: SVU). But Polisse (the title is deliberately misspelled, as if by a child) is no simple procedural; it plunges the viewer directly into the day-to-day lives of its boisterous characters, who are juggling not just stressful careers but also plenty of after-hours troubles, particularly relationship issues. Between heartwrenching moments on the job (and off), the unit indulges in massive cut-loose episodes of what amounts to group therapy: charades, dance parties, and room-clearing arguments, most of which involve huge quantities of booze. Watching Polisse is a messy, emotional, rewarding experience; no wonder it picked up the Jury Prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. Wed/25, 6pm; Thu/26, 3pm, FSC. (Cheryl Eddy)

Last Screening (Laurent Achard, France, 2011) A bit of an odd duck, 30-ish, nondescript Sylvain (Pascal Cervo) is in denial over the imminent closure of the small French repertory cinema he’s operated and lived in for years. But that’s hardly his most alarming mental hang-up: in his spare time he frequently goes around stalking and killing random women for a grisly purpose that has to do (of course) with his dear, departed, thoroughly demented mother. The only horror item in this year’s slim SFIFF “Late Show” section, Laurent Achard’s pulseless genre homage tips hat to 1960’s Peeping Tom and other, less obvious cineastic objets d’amour — most conspicuously, Renoir’s 1954 French Can Can, which is playing at Sylvain’s theater — but doesn’t seem interested in suspense, or psychology, or even style. It’s coldly unpleasant yet dull. Wed/25, 9:30pm, FSC. Sat/28, 10pm, Kabuki. (Dennis Harvey)


(Mathieu Kassovitz, France, 2011) The latest polemical film from the director of La Haine (1995) presents National Gendarmerie Intervention Group Captain Philippe Lejorus’ account of his experiences during the 1988 New Caledonia hostage crisis. It’s an election year in France, so all bets are off as to how the unfortunate fiasco will resolve. Striking camerawork distinguishes this tense, morally complex drama, which features Kassovitz as Lejorus, a humane negotiator in the midst of a politically charged battle for hearts, minds, and civil rights. The film is edited to embody its political context, with distancing effects such as voiceover and suddenly reframed shots that emphasize the two sides of a disagreement. Thu/26, 6pm; Tue/1, 9:45pm; May 3, 4:30pm, Kabuki. (Sam Stander)

Crulic — The Path to Beyond (Anca Damian, Romania/Poland/France, 2011) As the graphic novel has made the comic book into an adult art form, so recently the animated feature has increasingly matured toward diverse, weighty, mature themes. Anca Damian’s film is the autobiography of one Claudiu Crulic (excellently voiced by Vlad Ivanov), a Romanian Everyman who recounts his luckless life from the grave. He grows up motherless, shunted around, drifting through jobs, finally scoring halfway decent employment and a girlfriend as a guest worker in Poland. Then he’s arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. Fed up after being kicked like a dog his whole life, he commences a hunger strike for justice. And at that point the hitherto delightfully droll collage of numerous low-tech animation techniques begins to drag a bit, because Damian’s style is too impish to support tragedy, let alone a dirge-like portrait of physical deterioration á la Hunger (2008). But still, this is an impressive stretch of the medium. Thu/26, 6:30pm, PFA. Sun/29, 12:30pm; May 2, 6:16pm, Kabuki. (Harvey)

Unfair World (Filippos Tsitos, Greece/Germany, 2011) Veteran Turkish-Greek actor Antonis Kafetzopoulos stars in this deadpan crime drama about a gullible, alcoholic police officer who falls for a duplicitous cleaning lady after a plan to prove a suspect’s innocence goes horribly awry. While the film quickly establishes a nice black-comic momentum — cop first encounters cleaner while intentionally tripping a security guard chasing her for shoplifting — a muddled storyline and glacial pace soon saps it of any vigor. What could have been a beguiling exercise in absurdity becomes a leaden misfit-character study. Still, the misfits are at least interesting: with his heavy-lidded, hangdog sadness, Kafetzopoulos is a sort of Greek Philip Baker Hall (a good thing), and it’s hard to wholly dislike a movie featuring such bon mots as “I shit on your dreams!” Thu/26, 6:30pm; Sat/28, 6:15pm, Kabuki. Sun/29, 8:15pm, PFA. (Michelle Devereaux)


Where Do We Go Now?
(Nadine Labaki, France/Lebanon/Egypt/Italy, 2011) With very real, deadly sectarian conflict on their doorstep, a group of Lebanese village women are making it up as they go along in this absurdist, ultimately inspiring dramedy with a dash of musical. Once sheltered by its isolation and the cheek-to-jowl intimacy of its denizens, the uneasy peace between Muslims and Christians in this small town threatens to shatter when the outside world begins to filter in, first through town-square TV broadcasts then tit-for-tat jabs that appear ready to escalate into violence. So the village’s women conspire to preserve harmony any way they can, even if that means importing a motley cadre of Ukrainian “exotic” dancers. What results is a postdebauchery climax that almost one-ups 2009’s The Hangover — and a film that injects ground-level merriment and humanity into the headlines, thanks to director, cowriter, and star Nadine Labaki (2007’s Caramel), who has a gimlet eye and a generous spirit. Fri/27, 6:45pm, Kabuki; Mon/30, 3:15pm, Kabuki. (Kimberly Chun)

Pierre Rissient: Man of Cinema (Todd McCarthy, U.S., 2007) Legendary French film publicist, programmer, director, and movie junkie Pierre Rissient gets his own filmic homage in this documentary from Hollywood Reporter critic Todd McCarthy (1992’s Visions of Light). Rissient, who will receive the Mel Novikoff Award at this year’s festival, is certainly a character — the round-faced septuagenarian oozes a puppy-dog cuddliness cut with a formidable intellect and a hint of tart, old-man pervy-ness. But this collection of talking heads interspersed with classic film clips is unfortunately a bit of a snooze. Considering said talking heads include cinematic firebrands like Werner Herzog and the late Claude Chabrol, and with a character passionate as Rissient at its center, that’s surprising. “No one in the world of cinema can tell you what he does,” Chabrol remarks. After watching the film you probably won’t be able to figure it out either. Fri/27, 4pm, FSC. Mon/30, 6:30pm, PFA. (Devereaux)

Patience (After Sebald) (Grant Gee, England, 2011) Grant Gee has compiled a meditation on a meditation — subtitled “A walk through The Rings of Saturn,” his documentary is an extension, if not exactly an adaptation, of the genre-defying travel narrative by the late German author W.G. Sebald. Writers and scholars expound on their particular love for the novel and its author, and the imagery featured on screen frequently echoes the startlingly spare photographs that litter its pages. The approach seems to align with the Chris Marker-esque investigative methods of its subject, traversing networks between fact and fiction, memory and the modern world. This book, as with any beloved artwork, means many things to many people, but Gee manages to capture the peculiar appeal of Rings, even if all it really leaves you with is an intense desire to read or reread the book. Fri/27, 6:30pm, PFA. Sat/28, 6:30pm, FSC. Tue/1, 9:30pm, Kabuki. (Stander)


Somebody Up There Likes Me
(Bob Byington, U.S., 2012) A textbook illustration of what’s so frequently right and wrong with Amerindie comedies today, Bob Byington’s feature starts out near-brilliantly in a familiar, heightened Napoleon Dynamite-type milieu of ostensibly normal people as self-absorbed, socially hapless satellites revolving around an existential hole at the center in the universe. The three main ones meet working at a suburban steakhouse: Emotionally nerve-deadened youth Max (Keith Poulson), the even more crassly insensitive Sal (Nick Offerman), and nice but still weird Lyla (Teeth‘s estimable Jess Weixler). All is well until the film starts skipping ahead five years at a time, growing more smugly misanthropic and pointless as time and some drastic shifts in fortune do nothing to change (or deepen) the characters. Still, the performers are intermittently hilarious throughout. Sat/28, 6:45pm, Kabuki. Sun/29, 9:15pm, FSC. Tue/1, 6:15pm, Kabuki. (Harvey)


Policeman (Nadav Lapid, Israel, 2011) This diptych-structured provocation explores two subsets of Jewish Israeli society — the macho nationalism of a group of police who are also dedicated family men, and the aspirations of a cadre of privileged young revolutionaries who seek to overthrow the Israeli state they see as oppressive. Neither set is particularly likeable, so the political implications of the film are somewhat ambiguous, though still entirely unsettling; the Israel-Palestine issue is a huge neon elephant in the room, occasionally acknowledged but never looked at directly. Certain moments of sudden symbolically rich violence will (and already have, in Cinema Scope) invite comparisons to Haneke, though the overall tone is something different. This is a character-driven film, and despite the unpleasantness of the personalities, the cast is uniformly stellar. Sun/29, 9pm, Kabuki. May 2, 3:45pm; May 3, 8:15pm, FSC. (Stander)


Chicken With Plums (Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi, France/Germany/Belgium, 2011) Steeped in whimsy — and a longing for love, beauty, and home — this latest effort from brilliant Persian-French cartoonist-filmmaker Marjane Satrapi and director Vincent Paronnaud flaunts the odd contours of its eccentric narrative, enchants with its imaginative tangents, sprawls like an unincapsulated life, and then takes off on aching, campy romantic reverie—a magical realistic vision of one Iranian artist’s doomed trajectory. Master violinist Nasser Ali Khan (Mathieu Amalric) is seeking the ineffable — a replacement for his destroyed instrument — and otherwise he’s determined to die. We trace the mystery of his passing, backward, with wanders through the life of his family and loved one along the way in this playful, bittersweet feast. Despite Amalric’s glazed-eyed mugging, which almost spoils the dish, Satrapi’s wonderfully arch yet lyrical visual sensibility and resonant characters — embodied by Maria de Medeiros, Jamel Debbouze, Golshifteh Farahani, and Isabella Rossellini, among others — satisfy, serving up so much more than chicken with plums. Mon/30, 6:15pm; May 2, 12:30pm, Kabuki. (Chun)


Hysteria (Tanya Wexler, U.S./England, 2011) Tanya Wexler’s period romantic comedy gleefully depicts the genesis of the world’s most popular sex toy out of the inchoate murk of Victorian quackishness. In this dulcet version of events, real-life vibrator inventor Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is a handsome young London doctor with such progressive convictions as a belief in the existence of germs. He is, however, a man of his times and thus swallows unblinking the umbrella diagnosis of women with symptoms like anxiety, frustration, and restlessness as victims of a plague-like uterine disorder known as hysteria. Landing a job in the high-end practice of Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), whose clientele consists entirely of dissatisfied housewives seeking treatments of “medicinal massage” and subsequent “parosysm,” Granville becomes acquainted with Dalrymple’s two daughters, the decorous Emily (Felicity Jones) and the first-wave feminist Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal). A subsequent bout of RSI offers empirical evidence for the adage about necessity being the mother of invention, with the ever-underused Rupert Everett playing Edmund St. John-Smythe, Granville’s aristocratic friend and partner in electrical engineering. Tue/1, 9:30pm, Kabuki. May 3, 6pm, FSC. (Rapoport)


MAY 3 (Closing Night)

Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey (Ramona S. Diaz, U.S.) The director of 2003’s Imelda returns with this portrait of a way more sympathetic Filipino celebrity: Arnel Pineda, plucked from obscurity via YouTube after Journey’s Neil Schon spotted him singing with a Manila-based cover band. Don’t Stop Believin’ follows Pineda, who openly admits past struggles with homelessness and addiction, from audition to 20,000-seat arena success as Journey’s charismatic new front man (he faces insta-success with an endearing combination of nervousness and fanboy thrill). He’s also honest about feeling homesick, and the pressures that come with replacing one of the most famous voices in rock (Steve Perry doesn’t appear in the film, other than in vintage footage). Especially fun to see is how Pineda invigorates the rest of Journey; as the tour progresses, all involved — even the band’s veteran members, who’ve no doubt played “Open Arms” ten million times — radiate with excitement. May 3, 7pm, Castro. (Eddy)