“First things first,” begins Cheryl Eddy at the top of an interview in the Bay Guardian. “Brand-new San Francisco Film Society Executive Director Noah Cowan’s two favorite movies are 1942 Preston Sturges screwball comedy The Palm Beach Story and 1974 disaster drama The Towering Inferno. Appropriately, our first meeting takes place in downtown San Francisco, where that fictional world’s tallest building (containing Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, and O.J. Simpson, among others) went up in flames.”
The piece accompanies Eddy’s overview of some of the documentaries screening at the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival, opening today and running through May 8 and, of course, the SFBG‘s whopping collection of capsule reviews—Noh Young-seok’s “insidiously clever black comedy-thriller” Intruders, Michael Tully’s “deadpan satire” Ping Pong Summer, Benedikt Erlingsson’s “astonishing directorial debut” Of Horses and Men, Amma Asante’s Belle, “that rare sumptuous costume drama which actually has something on its mind beyond romance and royalty,” and many more.
The SF Weekly‘s collection of previews is far more modest. Agnès Varda: From Here to There sounds promising: “Like a film made of Tweets, a five-part French documentary miniseries about the global art world might not sound inherently inviting. But this one’s from Agnès Varda. Here, the impish French New Wave matriarch purposefully wanders the globe exploring art and cinema, hanging out with (famous) creative friends, and exuding her usual life-hungry, anti-pompous, artful humanity.”
Few have previewed this year’s edition as extensively as Michael Hawley, who, in the past few days and weeks, has posted entries on films from France, the rest of Europe and the rest of the world before one last round of preview capsules. School of Babel, for example: “While Julie Bertuccelli is best known for narrative features such as Since Otar Left and The Tree, is it in the documentary realm where I believe she really shines. Her latest is a compelling and compassionate look at one year in a Parisian ‘reception’ class for 11-year-old immigrants.” It “begins on Day One with each student writing ‘hello’ on the chalkboard in their native language and ends with intensely emotional farewells on graduation day.”
Adam Hartzell is eagerly anticipating all three screenings of Hong Sang-soo‘s Our Sunhi (reviews). He talks about the film in a new podcast (5’58”), reviews it at Koreanfilm.org and, at Hell on Frisco Bay, suggests five approaches to the film.
“Of the festival’s 168 programs, 34 show at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive,” notes Kelly Vance in the East Bay Express. “One the best of those is Robin Campillo’s French drama Eastern Boys, a combination character study/cautionary tale about what happens when an incautious gay man named Daniel (Kevin Spacey lookalike Olivier Rabourdin) picks up a Ukrainian (or is it Chechen?) teenage hustler named Marek (or is it really Ruslan?) in the Gare du Nord in Paris.”
At SF Station, Martin Malloy talks with Rachel Rosen, Director of Programming for both the Film Society and the festival, “about what she does for the festival, how films are selected and what she’s looking forward to this year.”
And at the International Cinephile Society, Erik Anderson picks ten “gems.”
Update, 4/27: For Brian Darr, Paul Clipson‘s Bright Mirror, screening as part of the SFIFF program Shorts 5: Experimental, “feels like a step into new territory for him; though it contains visual trademarks that are unmistakably his, it feels like it hearkens back to a tradition of metaphor and body movement reconnecting him to the psychodramas of Maya Deren, Sidney Peterson and early Stan Brakhage, that dominated the mid-century explosion of avant-garde filmmaking in California. If these sorts of images make a resurgence among up-and-coming experimenters in the coming years, I wonder if we’ll be able to trace it back to Bright Mirror and Paul.”
Update, 4/28: At his new site, Eat Drink Films, Gary Meyer recommends a good number of highlights, including Mohammad Rasoulof’s Manuscripts Don’t Burn, “based on a real-life story of 21 Iranian writers who survived a botched attempt on their lives while traveling on a bus, and there is no attempt to cover up the source of the thriller that ensues. Two men are sent on a mission to retrieve the three existing copies of the draft of a book written by one of the accident’s survivors who is critical of the government’s failed attempt to kill authors. The would-be assassins have their own complex stories that create both tension and absurd realties, giving us reasons to care about all of the characters, even if we don’t like some of them.”
Update, 4/29: Brian Darr recommends Fernando Eimbcke‘s Club Sandwich (earlier reviews) in which Danae Reynaud plays Paloma, a thirty-something mother of a teenage boy named Hector, played by Lucio Giménez Cacho: “[T]here’s nothing more mortifying for a teenage boy than admitting to your mother that you’re a sexual being. But she finally lets her guard down and reveals just how jealous she is of her son’s emergence from family cocooning, in a hilariously and poignantly awkward late night variation on truth-or-dare. It’s a perfect climax to a charming, funny little gem of a film.”
Updates, 4/30: Gary Meyer notes that “several new films have been added to the slate for next week,” including Charlie McDowell’s The One I Love with Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss, Mike Cahill’s I Origins, John Carney’s Begin Again (previously known as Can a Song Save Your Life?) and John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary.
“Tsai’s films have long developed recurrent themes of home and rootlessness,” writes Brian Darr, “but with Stray Dogs he uses these to create his rawest, bitterest attack on Taiwan’s inequalities thus far. His first digital feature employs surveillance-style footage of his actor fetiche Lee Kang-sheng and two youngsters tramping through and setting camp in locations ‘stolen’ whether by crew or characters. It culminates in a fourteen-minute take that’s simultaneously unforgiving and about forgiveness.” Earlier: Reviews from Venice and Toronto.
Meredith Brody has sent a first dispatch into Thompson on Hollywood with notes on the opening night film, Hossein Amini’s The Two Faces of January: “Even if this wasn’t [Patricia] Highsmith at her most iconic, the twisted and shifting allegiances among the sexy movie-star trio of Viggo Mortenson, Kirsten Dunst, and Oscar Isaacs, set against the seductive and glamorous locales of Greece and Turkey, kept me engaged and occasionally enthralled.”
Sean Gillane at the Playlist: “We Come as Friends, director Hubert Sauper’s follow-up to his 2004 documentary Darwin’s Nightmare, is a painful record of contemporary colonialism, capturing the realities of life within Sudan (now Sudans, as South Sudan seceded in 2011) via personal portraits of the Sudanese people as well as those present to ostensibly help those that are suffering.”
Update, 5/1: Meredith Brody‘s dined with Hubert Sauper and several other distinguished guests.
Updates, 5/3: This has been a tough year for Michael Guillén, who, as he explains at the top of his entry on his first week at SFIFF, is “convinced more than ever that films are never seen in a vacuum; that our subjectivities—however affected by the crises in our lives—influence how we perceive and interpret the frenzy on the wall, which is in essence the symbiotic thrill of the cinephilic experience.”
“On Thursday,” writes Anne Thompson, “San Francisco Film Society Awards went to Pixar chief John Lasseter, rewarded after decades of Bay Area stardom; Austin writer-director Richard Linklater, who then screened his Sundance hit Boyhood to a standing ovation at the packed Castro Theatre on Friday night; screenwriter Steve Gaghan (Syriana) and veteran actor Jeremy Irons. One sign of the deep roots of this well-funded organization was the number of people acquiring expensive $25,000, $10,000 and $5000 tables at the black tie dinner.” Good Lord. At any rate, a full report follows.
For Brian Darr, Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz (1979) “is easily his cinematic masterpiece. Too-often ignored in accountings of the great films of the 1970s, this highly-personal work, something of a dance-film extension of the themes of Fellini’s 8½, is one of the great films about artistic creation in the face of physical and creative roadblocks.”
“Writer and critic David Thomson will be awarded the Novikoff Award by the San Francisco Film Society on Sunday,” so Eat Drink Films is running an excerpt from Thomson’s latest book, Moments That Made the Movies. And this one’s from Kubrick’s The Shining (1980).
Meantime, the Film Society is blogging away.
Update, 5/5: At the Playlist, Sean Gillane reports on Friday night’s presentation of the Founder’s Directing Award presented to Richard Linklater. “During a hilarious on-stage interview by actress Parker Posey, the two reminisced about the production of Linklater’s Dazed and Confused which Posey performed in. Speaking on the roots of his reliance on collaboration, Linklater revealed, ‘I remember holding the script and saying, “Hey, we do this script as written, the movie is gonna suck. Fire the writer.” Even though I was the writer.’ After circling the memories of their shared film, Posey prompted the director to open up about his decades-long career as a filmmaker.”
Updates, 5/7: For the SFBG, Jesse Hawthorne Ficks recommends a good handful, including Lukas Moodysson’s We Are the Best!, “which takes place in the early 1980s and is based on wife Coco Moodysson’s graphic novel [and] allows the all-grrrl band to blossom into real-life punk rockers. Evoking passionate punk portrayals like 1980’s Times Square and 1981’s Ladies & Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains (fun fact: Moodysson was unaware of the latter film until I interviewed him!), this drama seems to capture Stockholm circa 1982 in perfect detail.” Earlier: Reviews from Venice and Toronto.
And from Brian Darr: “Eventually every film lover who digs deep enough into the most remarkable and unusual treasures of film history comes across [Tod Browning’s] The Unknown , a circus-set tale of obsession, blackmail, and revenge. It’s best if he or she knows as little as possible about the plot specifics before watching it for the first time however. But I don’t think it’s a spoiler, or a risk of overselling it, to say that it contains Lon Chaney‘s most remarkable physical and emotional performance, and that I consider it one of the great cinematic works of the late 1920s.”
Updates, 5/8: The winners of the Golden Gate Awards and New Directors Prize have been announced. Our own Jonathan Marlow’s served on the New Directors jury with Ella Taylor and Filmmaker editor Scott Macaulay. Their decision: Benjamín Naishtat’s History of Fear. And Special Jury Recognition goes to Noaz Deshe’s White Shadow and Claudia Sainte-Luce’s The Amazing Catfish.
Here in Keyframe, Glen Hefland looks back on some of his highlights.
Update, 5/15: Michael Guillén looks back on the highlights of the second week, including Boyhood. Posting a walloping last round of capsule reviews, Michael Hawley wraps it up as well. And David D’Arcy‘s posted his overview at Artinfo.