French Cinema Now, starts Wednesday and offers a week of the best new French film, at San Francisco at Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinema
When it comes to French film, nothing beats French Cinema Now, the San Francisco Film Society’s annual October homage to Francophile cinema. This year, the week-long festival screens 10 films and begins on Wednesday, October 24, and runs through Tuesday, October 30, 2012. Programming runs in the evenings on weekdays and starts in the afternoon on Friday through Sunday.
Opening Night kicks off with Noémie Lvovsky’s comedy Camille Rewinds (Camille redouble), the wry French reply to our Peggy Sue Got Married, which has stressed out 40-something Camille being informed by her husband of 25 years, Éric (Samir Guesmi), that he’s done with their marriage. When Camille passes out drunk, she wakes up in a hospital room back in 1985 and appears to everyone as a 15-year-old girl but she has the consciousness and memories of her 40-year-old self. She revels in being reunited with her deceased parents and finds high school a hoot (walkmen but no cell phones). Despite knowing everything that will happen and should be avoided, like a fist kiss with her first love, her husband to be, this gentle comedy has her going ahead anyway. Director Noémie Lvovsky will attend. Following the screening, the festival officially opens with a party at Credo, open to the public.
The festival closes with French-Swiss director Ursula Meier’s Sister (L’enfant d’en haut), the winner of the Silver Bear at the 2012 Berlin International Film Festival and Switzerland’s official nominee for Oscar consideration. The film set in Le Valais, a French-speaking part of Switzerland where the mountains serve as a seasonal retreat for affluent skiers and the village below the poor who are supported by tourism. Scrappy 12-year-old Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) supports himself and his older sister Louise (Léa Seydoux) by stealing ski equipment on the slopes and re-selling it. Meir, who directed young Klein in a supporting role in Home (2009), excels at family dynamics and coaxes naturalistic and interesting performances out of Klein and Seydoux, who for all purposes seem a screwed up sibling match made in heaven. While Seydoux needs no introduction after starring next to Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) , her riveting performance as a palace servant to Diane Kruger’s Marie Antoinette in Benoît Jacquot’s lush historical drama Farewell, My Queen, (Les adieux à la reine) (2012) (screened at SFIFF 55) demonstrated her emotional resonance as one of France’s leading young actresses. This young woman, capable of mesmerizing glances, is not to be missed. But in all fairness, the film gains all its pop from young Kacey Mottet, who plays the hustling young urchin with such intensity and bravado, you’ll want to go home and watch him as a 9-year-old in Home (Maison) on Netflix, for which he won the Swiss Film Award for best Emerging Actor. Meier will be in attendance.
Donoma: Haitian-born, Paris-based filmmaker Dijnn Carrénard’s breakout first feature, rumored to be shot with 150 euros (and a lot of goodwill) is one of the reasons this film festival exists—it captures the French cinema right now. Winner of the prestigious Louis Delluc Prize (Prix Louis-Delluc) for 2011, it has a fascinating storyline that dissects love, faith and identity through a series of intersecting multicultural relationships of teens and youngish twenty-somethings, all teetering on implosion. If Sister sounds good, this gem offers an equally dark, but far more raw portrait of modern life that takes place outside the confines of family. And there’s something very intriguing about the intimacies transgressed upon.Opening the film is a young couple who at first seem pretty normal—Salma’s (Salome Blechmans) the daughter of rich parents and Dacio (Vincent Perez) is poor and they get into it when he comes on to her and she refuses him. We soon discover she’s got problems that money can’t solve—disturbing visions about crucifixion. There’s a teacher (Emilia Derou-Bernal) in a Spanish foreign language school who comes on to Dacio, who is her student and third story involving a shy photographer and recent immigrant from Ghana (Laura Kpegli) who uses her camera voyeuristically to fall in love. A lot of the dialogue, conducted in Gallic inner-city slang— 30 minutes of which could be cut—feels improvised but it’s very real and gets right into the gritty mess of human communication and emotions which can flip back and forth on a euro. The up-close camerawork itself feels fresh. Rich color saturation and graininess heighten the drama of these intensely human moments. Anyone who’s ever crashed and burned and then done something stupid to add further fuel to the fire (and who hasn’t?) will find something to relate to. (2010, 140 min, in French and Spanish with English subtitles) To watch a great trailer, click here. (Screens Wednesday, October 24 at 6:30 p.m.)
Details: All films screen at Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Center, San Francisco. Tickets are $13 per film general admission; $12 student/senior/disabled. Click here to buy tickets online. Advance ticket purchase recommended as the festival is very popular. Park at One Embarcadero Center for up to 4 hours for $2, with validation from cinema. Otherwise $3/hour from 5 p.m.- midnight. Garage entrance will be on your immediate left-hand side, right after crossing Sacramento Street. If crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, allow ample time for southbound traffic congestion leading up to GG bridge and to get to destination and park.
When it comes to French film, nothing beats French Cinema Now, the San Francisco Film Society’s annual October homage to Francophile cinema. This year, the week long festival screens 9 films and begins on Wednesday, October 24 and runs through Tuesday, October 30, 2012. Programming runs in the evenings on weekdays and starts in the afternoon on Friday through Sunday.
New Italian Cinema prequel: acclaimed Italian Filmmaker, Daniele Luchetti in conversation at Italian Cultural Institute Saturday, November 12, 2011
The Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco will host a special event with acclaimed Italian filmmaker Daniele Luchetti on Saturday, November 12, 2011 at the Italian Cultural Institute, located at 814 Montgomery Street in San Francisco. Luchetti’s film My Brother Is an Only Child (Mio fratello è figlio unico, 2007, 108 min., in Italian with English subtitles) will screen at 3:00 pm, then at 5:00 pm, Luchetti will be interviewed by Rod Armstrong, programmer for the San Francisco Film Society, to discuss the film as well as the broader scope of Luchetti’s work. This special event with Luchetti is a rare opportunity to hear about the filmmaker’s experience in a more intimate setting, just prior to the the 2011 edition of the New Italian Cinema festival, which celebrates Luchetti with a three film tribute.
New Italian Cinema opens Sunday, November 13, 2011, in San Francisco at Landmark’s Embarcadero Cinema with Luchetti’s latest film Our Life (La nostra vita, 2010, 98 min) and runs through November 20, 2011. The other two films in the Luchetti tribute are It’s Happening Tomorrow (Domani accadrà,1988, 87 min), a philosophical Western set in Tuscany’s Maremma region and Ginger and Cinnamon (Dillo con parole mie, Italy 2003, 103 min), a romantic comedy of flirtation, sex and errors set on the Greek island of Ios.
Now in its 15th year in San Francisco, New Italian Cinema runs every October and is an excellently curated taste of the best new Italian filmmaking. In addition to the Luchetti opening night film and tribute, this year’s porgramming will feature eight additional new feature films by up and coming filmmakers who are all vying for the City of Florence Award, as well as the closing night film, Habemus Papam (2011), by acclaimed director Nanni Moretti who was an influential mentor for Luchetti. The films in this year’s program investigate topics including corporate malfeasance, office politics, rural life and war, as experienced by Italians from every walk of life. All filmmakers are expected to be in attendance at the Embarcadero for lively Q&A’s with their audiences. The festival concludes with a fabulous closing night party at Fior d’Italia in North Beach, one of America’s oldest Italian restaurants, established in 1886.
New Italian Cinema is presented by the San Francisco Film Society, New Italian Cinema Events of Florence, Italy and the Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco. Tickets, a full scheule, and further information on New Italian Cinema are available at www.sffs.org
About Daniele Luchetti: Daniele Luchetti was born in 1960 in Rome. He first worked as an actor and later as an assistant director to Nanni Moretti. The first film of his own that he directed, Domani accadrà, received a David di Donatello as best debuting film. He went on to make Il portaborse (1991), featuring Silvio Orlando who is pressed into becoming a lackey speechwriter for a ruthless politician, played by Nanni Moretti. The film was seen as a forecast of the “Mani pulite” corruption scandal that struck Italy the following year, and won four David di Donatello awards. Luchetti is the recipient of dozens of other awards and nominations, including a Nastro d’Argento for best screenplay for My Brother Is an Only Child, and a David di Donatello for best film for Our Life, which was also the only Italian film in competition at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. Luchetti’s skill as a filmmaker lies in his ability to draw in the viewer and forge a direct relationshiop with his audience through the narrative and characters of his films.
My Brother is an Only Child: (Mio fratello è figlio unico), 2007, 108 min: Winner of four David di Donatello Awards (Italian equivalent of an Academy Award)—Best Actor (Elio Germano), Best Supporting Actress (Angela Finocchiaro), Best Screenplay, Best Editing—My Brother is an Only Child, is a hit in its native Italy and screened at the Cannes and Toronto film festivals. The film reunites director Luchetti with longtime collaborators Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli, screenwriters of the highly-acclaimed epic The Best of Youth (La meglio gioventù) 2003.
Set in a small Italian town in the 1960′s and 70′s, the film tells the story of two brothers who want to change the world — but in completely different ways. Manrico (Riccardo Scarmaccio), the oldest, is a handsome, charismatic firebrand who becomes the prime mover in the local Communist party. Accio, (Elio Germano), the younger, more rebellious brother, finds his own contrarian voice by joining the reactionary Fascists. What starts as a typical tale of sibling rivalry becomes the story of the polarizing and paralyzing politics of those turbulent times and, the rift between the brothers is further intensified when Accio realizes that he loves his brother’s girlfriend, Francesca (Diane Fleri) who, like everyone else, is blind to Manrico’s increasingly dangerous ideas. Addressing the dreams and disillusionments of the 60′s and 70′s, My Brother is an Only Child is set in the exact era of the groundbreaking early classics of Bernardo Bertolucci and Marco Bellochio. Not only does Luchetti pay explicit homage to those films — “Before the Revolution,” “Fist in the Pocket,” and “China is Near” — he comes very close to matching their beauty, intelligence, and youthful exuberance. (THINKfilm)
About the Italian Cultural Institute: The Italian Cultural Institute (Istituto Italiano di Cultura, or IIC) of San Francisco promotes Italian language, culture and the best of Italy by disseminating information about Italy, offering scholarships, and presenting cultural events including art exhibitions, film screenings, concerts, lectures, book presentations, poetry readings, round table discussions and other events. Its goal is to foster mutual understanding and cultural cooperation between Italy and the United States. The Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco presents a rotating exhibition schedule, video and book libraries containing Italian books, cds, dvds, journals and newspapers; and information and documentation on cultural matters in Italy.
The IIC moved in September 2010 to its current location at 814 Montgomery Street, in the historic Jackson Square District of San Francisco. For further information on the IIC and its events, www.iicsanfrancisco.esteri.it.
Details: Saturday, November 12, 2011, screening of My Brother is an Only Child at 3:00 pm and conversation at 5:00 pm at Istituto Italiano di Cultura, 814 Montgomery St., San Francisco, (415) 788-7142. www.iicsanfrancisco.esteri.it Tickets: $10/general, $5/members of the IIC. Please RSVP to 415-788-7142 ext 18
New Italian Cinema: Tickets, a full scheule, and further information on New Italian Cinema at www.sffs.org.
Love Art? The 54th San Francisco International Film Festival is screening 6 new films about art, starts this Thursday, April 21, 2011
The 54th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF54) which starts this Thursday and runs through May 5, always brings a wide range of exceptional foreign films to the Bay Area. Organized by the San Francisco Film Society, SFIFF54 offers 191 films from 48 countries in 33 languages and a multitude of special events and visitors. In this year’s the line-up are 6 new films about artists, art movements, and art collecting that are so innovative in both their storytelling and in the technology they employ to bring their stories to light that you won’t want to miss them.
Sharpening our eyes to the mysteries and techniques of painting by old masters are three special films that have already received rave reviews in critical circles. Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog’s 3D descent into the Chauvet cave in the south of France, home of 30,000 year old charcoal images, the oldest art known to man leads the way, followed by Polish filmmaker Llech Majewski’s The Mill and The Cross which allows the viewer to actually live inside Pieter Bruegel’s bustling Flanders landscape as he creates his 1564 masterpiece The Way to Calvary. Amit Duda’s Nainsukh examines 18thcentury Indian court artist and miniature artist Nainsukh amidst breathtaking dream-like shots of Indian life.
In terms of contemporary art, our own Bay Area filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson’s !Women Art Revolution (WAR) profiles the war women artists waged for recognition in the old boy establishment art world through the stories of leading women artists. The film has already been screened at the Berlin, Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals and has received rave reviews. Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint 17 continues on a project that Barney, born in San Francisco, began as an undergraduate at Yale which explores the relationship between self-imposed resistance and creativity. Barney has also been selected to receive this year’s Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award which honors a filmmaker working outside the traditional realm of typical narrative filmmaking. Barney, who considers the screen an extended canvas, has been consistently innovational, merging film with sculptural works, uber athleticism and his own bizarre yet prescient radar. Yves Saint Laurent L’Amour Fou provides a fascinating and highly personal story of the life of fashion designer and art collector Yves Saint Laurent as told by his lover and business partner, Pierre Berge, who co-organized the famous three day “sale of the century” auction that raked in an astounding $484 million for the couple’s art collection. What follows are capsule reviews of these films. Full reviews will follow when the films open in the Bay Area.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Director: Werner Herzog, USA, 2010, 95 min, documentary)
Renegade German filmmaker Werner Herzog again reaches remarkable heights in a film that literally goes underground to illuminate the place where it seems that art itself was born—the remarkable Chauvet Pont d’Arc caves in the South of
France. He and a minimal crew were allowed into the extraordinary cave, named after French explorer Jean-Marie Chauvet, who in 1994 made a Tutankhamen-level art find–hundreds of pictures of animals drawn with detail and sophistication by early man an estimated 32,000 years ago. Not only are its walls decorated, but the cave also contains the fossilized remains of animals now extinct and the cave floor is marked with the footprints of animals and early humans. Highly subject to erosion, the cave is closed to the public. Herzog shoots in 3D to accentuate the massive, sculptural forms and brings to life what was captured previously in a series of static portraits. He also interviews the various experts who are allowed down there with him: paleontologists, archaeologists, art historians, and a perfume specialist, who talks about the smells of resin and wood that might have prevailed way back then. Herzog’s filmic voice is unmistakable and this grand project seems to have completely enthralled him. At one point, he says that the positions of various legs in the ancient drawings are “proto-cinema” and as he crawls and points, we too feel the magic of this prehistoric artistry. (Screens: Monday, April 25, 7 p.m. and Tuesday April 26, 9:30 p.m., Sundance Kabuki Theatre)
Our approach to art history will never be the same after this enthralling film by Lech Mjaewski which invites the reader to literally enter the mind of Flemish master Pieter Breugel and glean the deeper meaning of his 1564 painting “The Way to Calvary.” A first that we can only hope sets a precedent, Majewski uses Breugal’s preparatory drawings, computer generated blue-screen compositing, 3D imaging, a huge painted backdrop as well as on location shooting to invite the viewer into the craggy landscape where all the rituals of daily life unfold. What you’ll learn is that against the backdrop of the brutal Spanish Inquisition, Breugel had to be clever and he imbedded his work with a series of symbols that tell a compelling crucifixion story. There are more than 500 figures in the panoramic painting, including an array of villagers at different stations in life and the red-caped invading horsemen who butchered and then suspended them on huge wheels for all to see. Rutger Hauer plays a Breugel who imparts wisdom about life and art that makes us hunger for more. Charlotte Rampling delivers a Virgin Mary whose suffering is palpable. The film is based on Michael Francis Gibson’s novel bearing the same name. (Screens: Saturday, April 23, 12:30 p.m. SFMOMA, Wednesday, April 27, 9 p.m. Sundance Kabuki Cinemas)
Nainsukh (North American Premiere) (Director, Amit Dutta, India, Switzerland, 2010, 82 min, in Hindi and Punjabi with subtitles)
Amit Dutta has established himself as one of India’s most talented experimental filmmakers whose works oscillate between Indian mythology and highly personal narrative. Nainsukhis Dutta’s second feature film and it very poetically explores
the life and art of Nainsukh, the 18th miniature painter from Guler in the northern hills of India who became the court artist of Rajput Princes of Jasrota. Shot on location in Jammu and Kashmir, Dutta re-constructs Nainsukth’s miniatures through compositions set in the actual ruins of the Jasrota palace and its surrounding landscape. Nainsukh, played by Manish Soni, a well-known miniature artist, trains at his father’s celebrated painting workshop. In 1740, he moves on to create delicate masterpieces that elaborate on daily court life with a palpable naturalism he gleaned from Mughal painting. Because he was given rare entry into the common routines of the prince’s life, and was able to accompany him on such activities as tiger hunts, Nainsukh was able to translate all this into a body of art that far exceeded the normal artistic output of the day which was produced in workshops. The film reveals how Nainsukth renders his figures in very individual and personal ways with exceptional vitality and truthfulness absent the idealized beauty typical of royal court paintings. The film’s slow meditative pace pulls you into another era. (Screens: Friday, April 22, 9:15 p.m. at New People, Sunday, April 24, 2:30 p.m. Sundance Kabuki and Sunday, May1, 7 p.m., Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley)
!Women Art Revolution (Director: Lynn Hershman Leeson, USA/Canada, 2010, 83 min, Documentary)
“!Women Art Revolution” “WAR” is Lynn Hershman Leeson’s documentary about women artists who spearheaded the feminist art movement and a shocking visual primer for the oft-repeated statement “Well behaved women seldom make
history.” ”WAR” tracks early feminist artists like Judy Chicago, Nancy Spero, and the Guerilla Girls through a montage of archival footage, much of it taken by Hershman Leeson herself over the past 35 years. The conclusion: women artists have been doing important work all along but they have been ignored, underrepresented, sidetracked and underpaid in the art world’s male-dominated upper echelons. Impact: marginalization, no one knows much about the pioneering women artists who decided to challenge the system. Hershman Leeson, who spoke to me from her San Francisco studio, said she made the film “to show a history that’s never been written or documented, that makes the known history obsolete.” The film establishes the importance of this movement in contemporary art but is really addressing the broader cultural history of America, the history of freedom of expression and equality starting with late 1960’s and going forward—it really shows the prejudices that fuel discrimination.”
The film isn’t angry or bitter in its approach—it instead profiles a determined and very intelligent group of women who love what they do and used their resources shrewdly to get attention. History isn’t what happened in the past; it is what later generations choose to remember. Thanks to Hershman Leeson for this vital work documenting women’s candid stories of WAR. Hershman Leeson, whose works are in the public collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, chairs the Film Department at the San Francisco Art Institute and is internationally acclaimed for her pioneering work in new media technology. (Screens, Saturday, April 23, SFMOMA and Monday April 25, 8:40 p.m., Pacific Film Archive)
Drawing Restraint #17 (North American Premiere) (Director Matthew Barney, Switzerland, 2010, 32 minutes)
Drawing Restraint continues on a project that conceptual artist Matthew Barney began in 1987 while an undergraduate at Yale which explores the relationship between self-imposed resistance and creativity. Barney’s theory is that
encumbrance can be used to strengthen an artist’s output, much as resistance is used by athletes to build muscle. Barney’s latest film in the series uses the architecture in and around Basel, Switzerland as a key player in the film. Basel is home to the Schaulager Museum for which the piece was commissioned. Split-screen sequences incorporate Goetheanum, a center for the study of “spiritual science” (designed in the 1920’s by architect/thinker Rudolf Steiner), a woman digging in soil rich with worms and a tram ride to the Schaulager Museum (designed by (Herzog & de Meuron). The main action occurs inside the museum where Barney portrays an artist supervising the construction of a sculpture made form rotting wood beams. This site becomes a metaphoric wormhole. (Screens: Saturday, April 30, 5 p.m. Sundance Kabuki Cinemas) Combined with this year’s Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award presented by critic and curator Glen Helfand, who will also interview Barney before the audience. Admission to the interview and screening is $25.
Yves Saint Laurent L’Amour Fou (Director: Pierre Thoretton, France, 2011, 100 min, in French, Documentary)
When iconic designer Yves Saint Laurent died of brain cancer in June 2008, at the age of 71, he left behind a substantial fashion legacy: he had popularized the pantsuit for women as well as the safari jacket, had democratized fashion by offering more affordable prêt à porter (ready to wear) lines, and had launched Opium, a scandalous perfume that many women considered their second skin in the 1980’s. He also left behind one of the world’s greatest art collections, 700 plus pieces ranging from Egyptian artifacts to important works by Brancusi, Matisse, Degas, Manet, Duchamp, Ingres, Warhol, and many other leading artists assembled over 50 years with his lover and business partner Pierre Bergé.
Pierre Thoretton’s Yves Saint Laurent L’Amour Fou tells Laurent’s story and the story of the couple’s great art (and furniture) collection through both historical and present-day footage. As Bergé bids farewell to the collection in the famous three day auction orchestrated by Christies at Paris’ Grand Palais on February 23-25, 2009, you’ll see and hear how the couple lived and acquired their collection which they displayed in their exquisite homes in Morocco, France and England. Mondrian’s 1922 painting “Composition in Blue, Red, Yellow and Black,” which inspired the designer’s groundbreaking 1965 Pop Art chic day dress wasn’t his when he designed the dress but Saint Laurent acquired it later. In Studio 54’s heyday, Saint Laurent befriended artist Andy Warhol who did his portrait sans the signature glasses. A very rare early 3 foot tall sculpture in wood by Constantin Brancusi “Madame LR,” was thought to be one of roughly 30 known wooden Brancusis executed between 1913 and 1925. Throughout the film, it’s clear that Laurent was inspired by beauty in many forms but happiness was illusive. The film culminates in the frenzy of the famous three day auction of the collection that brought in $262 million on its first night with the Brancusi fetching a record fetched $36,792,835, the Mondrain $27, 191,525 and Matisse’s “Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose” $45,264,579. (Screens: Tuesday, May 3, 2011 and Thursday, May 5 at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas)
SFIFF 54 Details:
Complete program information: http://fest11.sffs.org/films/
Where: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Pacific Film Archive
When: April 21 to May 5, 2011
Tickets: $8 to $13 regular screenings, $20 to $25 for Matthew Barney screening and on stage discussion at Persistence of Vision Award. Purchase www.sffs.org/tickets
film review: SFFS New Italian Cinema In “18 Years Later” (18 anni dopo), two estranged brothers embark on an Italian road trip in a classic Morgan to lay dad’s ashes to rest
This year’s New Italian Cinema series, November 14-21, 2010, at Landmark’s Embarcadero Cinemas, by the San Francisco Film Society and Istituto Italiano di Cultura di San Francisco showcases new films by seven emerging young Italian filmmakers, most of whom you’ve probably never heard of but all of whom will be making personal appearances at their screenings to discuss their work. The annual mini-festival is sponsored by the San Francisco Film Society and Istituto Italiano di Cultura di San Francisco highlights new trends in Italian cinema. Established director Turkish-born Ferzan Ozpetek was honored at the series’ opening night last Sunday with a screening of his new film “Loose Cannons” and a retrospective of three of his classics which screened on Sunday and Monday. Paolo Verzi closes the festival this Sunday, November 21, with “The First Beautiful Thing,” Italy’s official submission for the foreign-language Oscar.
Being a European vintage car buff and an Italian film aficionado, Edoardo Leo’s “18 Years Later” (18 anni dopo) stood out in the program as a potential gem—showcasing a gorgeous vintage Morgan 4+ or 4-4 roadster in classic British racing green and a road trip through the Italian countryside–a journey that stands to reunite two estranged brothers. The film screens this Thursday and Sunday. If you are a car buff, this finicky Morgan will keep you entertained. And even if you can’t tell a Morgan from a Fiat Dino, the film is definitely worth seeing for the touching tale it weaves about a broken family. Its members have suppressed the truth and their feelings for so long that they each have became stuck in toxic patterns that have drained them and those around them of life. When a tragedy occurs, the added grief is nearly insurmountable.
Italian brothers Mirko (director Edoardo Leo) and Genziano (co-writer Marco Bonini) haven’t spoken since their mother died 18 years ago in a car accident. Genziano moved to London after the accident and buried himself in work–becoming a successful merchant banker. Sweet stammering Mirko stayed at home in Rome helping out in the family’s auto repair garage until he lost sight of himself, got swallowed up in debt and faces losing his wife who sees him as a shadow of the man he once was. His speech impediment seems directly related to his repressed emotions.
When their father dies, Genziano returns to Rome for a 24 hour visit and spends most of his time on his iphone orchestrating a complex futures sale that is to go through the moment he returns to London. He is nervous, distracted, unable and unwilling to connect emotionally with the family he left behind years ago.
When Mirko discovers that their father’s last wish was to have his ashes put to rest beside those of their mother in Calabria some 300 miles away, and that the two brothers are to accomplish this delivery in the Morgan roadster in which their mother mysteriously died, he is beside himself. He also learns that their father secretly rebuilt the wrecked Morgan and stored it in the garage awaiting his death when it instead could have been sold to get the family out of hock.
Barely speaking, the two brothers reluctantly embark on their journey with their dad’s ashes in the back seat. Predictably, they experience a number of setbacks—including encountering a pretty hitchhiker who manages to break their silence, a breakdown, and losing the Morgan and their dad’s ashes.
There is comic relief at the film’s midpoint when the two brothers are forced to hitchhike and encounter all sorts of characters and situations that bring them together.
The car carries as much symbolic weight in the film as the actors. It knows the truth about the past but cannot speak it and suffers a breakdown that sets the stage for the truth to surface. Why an Italian would buy a Morgan, over a classic Italian car in the first place is a puzzler, but it seems the father and mother lived in London at one point and were wealthy enough to buy the luxury British roadster and returned to Rome to raise their family and brought the car with them.
In terms of Morgan design features that figure in the film’s plot—the convertible requires a good half hour of wrangling to get its top erected, which involves manually attaching a canvas roof cover to a metal frame and then positioning that frame over the car—an awful task in the rain. It’s even more terrible for two brothers who aren’t speaking and who are transporting dad’s remains in a not so leak-proof ash tray in the back seat. That the electrical system implodes on this first long run in years is almost a given. Morgans are notoriously finicky. This sets the stage for stuttering Mirko to shine as he uses his mechanical skills to finesse some bastard repairs while the impatient financial whiz Genziano appears useless.
A subplots unfolds in Rome involving their grandfather, played wonderfully by Gabriele Ferzetti, who reveals what he knows about his daughter’s death to Mirella (Sabrina Impacciatore), Mirko’s loyal but very frustrated wife. She is biding the time that Mirko is away by sorting through old photos, looking for clues as to how her husband–silent about the past–arrived at his sorry state.
The ending is magical, proving there no one who knows you like a brother who is near your age and who you have grown up with. This is a slow-paced film that rests on the solid acting of Leo and Bonini who initially seem as different as night and day but sink into their roles credibly as the film progresses.
108 minutes, in Italian with English subtitles
Director: Edoardo Leo
Producers: Guido De Angelis, Nicola De Angelis, Marco De Angelis for DAP Italy
Writers: Edoardo Leo, Marco Bonini, Lucilla Schiaffino,
Cast: Edoardo Leo, Marco Bonini, Sabrina Impacciatore, Eugenia Costantini, Gabriele Ferzetti, Tommaso Olivieri, Vinicio Marchioni,
Screens: Thursday, November 18, 6:00 pm & Sunday, November 21, 3:00 pm, Landmark’s Embarcadero Cinema. Tickets: $12.50, www.sffs.org
SFIFF 53 — 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival, April 22- May 6, starts Thursday with an Impressive Line-up of Global Cinema
It’s film festival season again and nothing beats the San Francisco International Film Festival for exceptional global cinema. The festival, now in its 53rd year, runs April 22-May 6, 2010 and offers 177 films from 46 countries in 31 languages with 9 North American premieres, 5 world premieres and one international premiere. I am especially attached to SFIFF because the programming is wonderfully diverse offering narrative features, feature documentaries, works from new directors, and shorts from all over the world that can loosely be divided into over 20 niche causes– animals, the arts, civil liberties, environment, family issues, human rights, science and technology, world culture, war, youth, and Cinema by the Bay (locals). All screenings include engaging audience Q&A with the directors, actors, and film crews.
The festival always includes a number of “big nights” with special gala screenings and events. This year, the opening night film at the Castro theatre is Amelie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s MicMacs, a David and Goliath story about extracting revenge from weapons manufacturers who have reeked havoc in the life of man with a bullet lodged in his head.
The centerpiece screening on May 1 is Happythankyouplease, the feature debut film by Josh Radnor, star of the CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.” The story involves a struggling Lower East Side writer who strikes up a touching friendship with a lost child he meets on the subway and whose orbit includes an engaging group of twenty-somethings whose lives exemplify a generational shift for post-9/11 Manhattanites. The festival closes on May 6 with an appearance by the amazing Joan Rivers and a screening of Joan Rivers–A Piece of Work. At 76, this unflappable, courageous, quick-witted dynamo has been entertaining us for 55 years and is not about to abdicate her role as America’s reigning queen of comedy.
The Film Society Awards Night on Thursday April 29, 2010 honors achievement in acting, directing and screenwriting. Robert Duvall will receive the Peter J. Owens Award for brilliance in acting. His latest film Get Low (Dir. Aaron Schneider, USA, 2009, 102 min) screens on Friday, April 30 and is sure to garner Oscar attention.
This year’s Founder’s Directing Award goes to Brazilian director Walter Salles whose trademark semi-documentary style was honed in memorable films like Central Station (1994) and The Motorcycle Diaries (2004). The festival will screen his most recent film Linha de Passé (2008) and In Search of the Road, a work in progress based on Kerouac’s On The Road on Wednesday April 28, 2010. James Schamas will receive the coveted Kanbar Award for screenwriting and his 2009 Director’s Cut of Ang Lee’s Ride with the Devil will screen on May 1, 2010.
Chicago film Critic Roger Ebert, who has been commenting on and championing movies professionally for over 4 decades will receive the Mel Novikoff Award recognizing his enhancement of filmgoer’s appreciation of world cinema. An Evening with Roger Ebert and Friends at the Castro Theatre on May 1, will include a screening of Ebert’s 2009 fav—Erik Zonka’s thriller Julia, starring Tilda Swinton as a boozed-up abrasive kidnapper who attempts a double-cross but finds herself overwhelmed.
SFIFF takes place in San Francisco (Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Castro Theatre, and Landmark’s Clay Theatre) and Berkeley (Pacific Film Archive). Most of these films sell out, so buy your tickets in advance.
Here are my must-see flicks, biased by my interest in global politics, human rights, environmental concerns and penetrating storytelling. I will be posting full reviews of several of these films in coming days.
The Wind Journeys (Dir. Ciro Guerra, Columbia/Netherlands/Argentina/Germany, 2009, 117 min) Every year SFIFF offers a must-see “journey film”—an inspiring and unforgettable road trip through cloud-capped mountains in a remote and mystic locale. The Wind Journeys takes us on a final trek with elderly Columbian juglar (migrant musician) Ignacio who, after his wife’s death, sets out to return his accordion to his mentor before he dies. He travels through Columbia’s mountain villages and spectacular forests with Fermin, a pesky and unwelcome young follower who hopes to become his apprentice and successor but lacks musical talent. When tragedy strikes, the two men discover they actually need each other. Aside from its beautiful music and rich ethnographic context, this slow moving but perfectly-paced film is infused with references to sorcery–Ignacio’s accordion is said to be cursed. Screens: Sunday, May 2, 8:45 PM, Kabuki Theatre, Tuesday May 4, 8 PM, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, May 6, 5:15 PM, Kabuki Theatre.
Marwencol (Dir. Jeff Maimberg, USA, 2010, 82 min) As a result of a brutal beating in April 2000, Mark Hogancamp awoke brain-damaged with no memory of his life before the attack, unable to walk, speak or rely on his motor skills. As something to pass the time while nursing himself back to health, Hogancamp began to build
Marwencol, a 1/6 scale fictional Belgium WWII era town in his backyard. Populated with life-like Barbi dolls who he has painstakingly and tenderly given identities, Hogancamp plays out scenes from life and WWII and then photographs them. The result is an amazing collection of gripping photographs that would hold their own next to any war photojournalism. This engrossing documentary takes us into the brilliant creative mind of a remarkable man whose play therapy has captured the attention of the fickle art world. I had the pleasure of watching this with my 85 year-old step-father, a veteran, who was so moved by the enactments and Hogancamp that he began to share his own remarkable war stories. Screens: Saturday May 1, 4:10 PM, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday May 2, 6:45 PM, Kabuki Theatre, Tuesday May 4, 4:15 PM Kabuki Theatre.
Constantin and Elena (Dir. Andrei Dascalescu, Romania, Spain, 2008, 102 min) Only if we could all be so lucky to reach our twilight years with the love, energy and genuine affection of Constantin and Elena, a Romanian couple who have been married happily for 55years. This delightful documentary feature film, made by their grandson Andrei Dascalescu, follows them over the course of a year as they live simply but richly side by side–making sausage, weaving carpets, milking cows, going to church, nurturing each other and bursting into song and laughter. Not that they don’t bicker but they do so lovingly. They talk constantly about everything, even death– which they accept is coming but oh to keep living because they’ve got things to do. Screens: Friday April 23, 4:15 PM, Kabuki Theatre, Sunday April 25, 12 noon, Kabuki Theatre, Tuesday, April 27, 6:45 PM, Kabuki Theatre, Saturday, May 1, Pacific Film Archive.
Ordinary People (Dir. Vladimir Perisic, France/Switzerland/Serbia, 2009, 80 min) An unforgettable and utterly numbing debut film that about a group of young soldiers, including Dzoni (Rejila Popovic)
a twenty something recruit played by, taken on a bus ride to a remote locale–unstated but presumably somewhere in the Balkans—where their horrific task is to execute a large group of civilians. As the act gets underway, the characters various responses to it will stay with you for days. Dzoni refuses at first and fails at his first kill–a shot to the back of a bound man—but before our eyes, he slowly evolves into a brutal killing machine with hardened features to match. The film explores the familiar ethical defense that in war soldiers cannot always be held responsible for their actions when they are obeying orders. In this case, the secretive slaughter of civilians violates international law and all moral codes. We realize that these young men have been so brain-washed by their military training and their need to be accepted by their comrades that they will blindly follow any order. In the end, they come to treat the act of killing as drudgery. While this excellent film depicts an abstract massacre, it should spark an interest in the genocide trials now going in The Hague where actual heinous acts are being prosecuted. Screens: Friday April 30, 9 PM, Kabuki Theatre, Monday, May 3, 8:55 PM, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, May 5, 7:15 PM, Kabuki Theatre.
The Music Room (Dir. Satyajit Ray, India, 1958, 100 min) Every year, SFIFF offers a restored classic. One of the greats of Indian cinema, this lovely slow film is based on Bengali writer Tarashankar Banerjee’s novel of the same name. It tells the story of a turn-of-the-century zamindar, an Indian semi-feudal landlord in Bengal, whose wealth is dwindling but who continues to spend lavishly on concerts in his opulent jalsaghar (music room). There is excellent footage of Hindustani classical vocal and instrumental music by Vilayat Khan, Asis Kumar, Robin Majumder, and Dakhin Mohan Takhur, as well as classical dance. The iconic lead actor Chhabi Biswas delivers a stunning performance—of a man hell-bent on preserving his image of grandeur as he recklessly spends it all on one last musical orgy. Satyajit Ray’s work occupies a special place in the history of SFIF. Ray’s first film, Pather Panchali, had its U.S. premiere at the very first SFIFF in 1957. Since then, the festival has screened more of his films than those of any other director. Screens: Saturday May 1, 2:30 PM, Castro Theatre, Sunday, May 2, 6:15 PM, Pacific Film Archive.
Get Low (Dir. Aaron Schneider, USA, 2009, 102 min) Robert Duval plays Felix Bush, a elderly recluse who has exiled himself in the back woods for 40 years, crippled by a tragic event that has kept him in a prison of his own making. Stirred by the death of a one-time friend, Bush makes a rare trip to town and discusses plans to “get low” or make funeral plans. He wants a funeral party where everyone who has a story to tell about him will have a chance to speak and he wants to watch it all go down. Co-starring Bill Murray as the greasy funeral home director and Sissy Spacek, as a jilted love interest, this story will leave you thinking twice about self-imposed baggage we all carry with us through this life. Screens: Friday April 30, 7:30 PM, Castro Theatre.
Tickets are $12.50 Online: sffs.org By phone: 925-866-9559 (Monday–Friday, 9:00 am–5:00 pm)
In Person: Main Ticket Outlet: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post Street (at Fillmore)
Pre-Festival: April 1–22, 3:30–7:30 pm
During the Festival: April 23–May 6, open one hour prior to the first screening of the day.
Review “The Vanished Empire” winner of Russian Academy’s Golden Eagle Award for Directing (Ischeznuvshaya imperiya, Russia, 2008) October 23-29, 2009
Restless Moscow teens seek girls and all things Western as a vast empire starts its long crumble (Ischeznuvshaya imperiya, Russia, 2008)
The setting for Russian director Karen Shakhnazarov’s latest film “The Vanished Empire” is 1973 Brezhnev-era Moscow as seen through the eyes of a restless group of university freshmen. The title hints at a profundity that the film never achieves but Shakhnararov does offer amazingly realistic period props and media clips and a melancholic coming of age story. The film shys away from direct political analysis but manages to convey the rights of passage for Moscow youth in a tightly-controlled society.
The plot revolves around a trio of young men, the most interesting and dynamic of whom is Sergey (Aleksandr Lyapin) a restless 18 year old whose ambition is channeled towards scoring contraband blue jeans and hot rock albums from the Stones and Deep Purple which figure heavily in his cool factor and his seduction ploys with girls. He probably models himself after what he’s heard about Mick Jagger but he lacks authentic charisma. Still, he manages to pick up girls and to pull off bad boy behavior, disappointing those who are most important to him. His friend Kostya (Ivan Kupreyenko) is on a quest to become an authentic rocker and when he scores a bass guitar, he quickly assembles a band and is soon performing at rave-like gatherings, high on weed. Stupya or Stephan (Yegor Baranovsky), is a quiet follower, but figures late in the film as a rival to Sergey’s romantic interest, Lyuda (Lidiya Milyuzina), who shines as the naïve good girl. Indeed it is sweet and trusting Lyuda who brings some real warmth to this story.
When it comes to thinking the consequences of this actions through, Sergey, like most teen boys everywhere, seems to have mush for brains and he keeps repeating his mistakes. He epitomizes the self-seeking individual, obtaining money for his contraband Western Wrangler jeans, Stone’s records and foreign film-festival tickets by stealing and then hawking his bed-ridden grandfather’s (Armen Dzhigarkhanyan) precious books. He also persuades his friends to join in the action and start transforming their family libraries into cash.
The most engaging aspect of this film is free-wheeling Sergey’s growing entanglement in the responsibilities of adult life, which he fights almost as strongly as his mother battles cancer. When he lies to his freinds and cheats on his girlfriend, his betrayals breed unforeseen consequences and his care-free life is over. His behavior epitomoizes all that lay ahead for the society–a national epidemic of corruption.
Sergey’s relationship with his grandfather, the father figure, is strained. The old man is a celebrated archeologist who discovered and excavated the ancient desert City of the Wind, all that remains of the ancient 5th century BC Khorezm civilization (in central Uzbekistan). He knows exactly what his grandson is up to but turns a blind eye.
In a fascinating travel sequence, first presented as a hallucination on a drug trip and then as a real-life journey, Segey fulfills his grandfather’s request and treks through the sandy plains of central Uzbekistan to the desolate City of the Wind, an oasis of crumbing grand ruins immersed in sand along the tributaries of the Amu-dar’ya River. These are the remains of the ancient Khorezm people, who survived the dessert climate by building an intricate system of damns that became a bustling center of commerce. Eventually, everything crumbles, civilizations and boys who misbehave, but there are actions that hasten the fall.
The brief snippets of Soviet-era life are gems—a history class devoted to Lenin, centralized government-run media blaring on about the American imperialists in Vietnam and the coup in Chile and Leonid Brezhnev’s reports to the people about productivity gains in the empire….it all sounds like ideological blather.
Written by Sergey Rokotov, Evgeny Nikishov. Photographed by Shandor Berkeshi. With Alexander Lyapin, Lidiya Milyuzina, Ivan Kupreyenko, Yegor Baranovsky. In Russian with English subtitles. 100 min. Distributed by Kino International Films.
Screens Sundance Kabuki Cinemas October 23-29, 2009 at 1:45 pm, 4:35 pm, 7:10 pm, 9:30 pm.
review “Headless Woman” (La mujer sin cabeza) a complex head-tripper from Argentina, San Francisco Film Society, September 18-24, 2009
Somehow, the corpse always surfaces at the most inconvenient moment. In Lucretia Martel’s newest film “The Headless Woman,” we are given a puzzle—there is a hit and run accident in rural Argentina…but what, or who, was hit isn’t clear. We are then slowly fed the pieces in scenes that are richly layered with clues but, even then, they do not add up to coherency, rather frustration. A corpse surfaces–an indigenous child. The woman driving has lost her head, better said…her memory fails her because it is just too hard to look. At its core, the film is a metaphor for the country of Argentina and its convenient miasma around the lost generation of those who protested the dictatorship and went missing. If you block something out, does it mean you didn’t do it? If you clean up all the evidence, does it mean it didn’t happen at all? In Martel’s film, issues of class and social responsibility cloud what seem obvious answers to those of us who have an absolutist sense of justice.
The film is set in the same region of northwestern Argentina, near Salta, as Martel’s previous two films, “La Ciénaga” and “The Holy Girl.” The movie opens with four indigenous boys and a dog playing in a deep canal that runs along a stretch of isolated rural highway. A car is heard in the distance and the kids scamper. Verónica or “Veró,”(María Onetto), is a put-together 40ish bottle blonde—her hair communicates immediately who she is and what class she is from. She is driving along in her Mercedes on this rural road and her cell-phone rings and, as she reaches for it, she hits something and is jerked abruptly in her car. Rattled, she stops the car. Just when it seems natural to glance back in the mirror to see what she has run over, she instead puts on her dark sunglasses and doesn’t look back at all. The afternoon glare reveals two mysterious small hand prints on the driver’s window of her car. A camera shot to the back reveals a mass in the road, like a big animal or a body. Veró continues driving and then stops because her car is being pelted by heavy rain. A big storm is starting to unleash itself.
She is next seen in a medical clinic for the poor, getting her head x-rayed and acting very disoriented. She leaves abruptly when she is identified as the sister of a doctor. She then proceeds, disconnectedly, to a spartan hotel room where she meets her lover, Juan Manual (Daniel Genoud). Once at home, after more disconnected behavior, she tells her husband Marcos (César Bordón) that she thinks she hit something, a dog. She worries increasingly that it might have been someone, not something, and finally tells Marcos that she thinks she killed someone. He tries to convince her that, in the heavy storm, it could have been anything. She says she had the accident before the storm. Her car is badly dented. Her lover, Juan Manual, who it turns out is a cousin of her husband, arrives and agrees to use his connections to see if there have been any accidents by the roadside. He tells them not to worry and receives a report back–no.
But a week later, as Verónica and family members are driving on the same road, they come upon a crew dredging the canal, which has filled with water from the storm. A body has been found blocking a pipe and the smell causes them to roll up their windows. The corpse has surfaced. At the same time, a buried fountain or pool has been unearthed at the edge of Veró’s garden by her landscaper—a dual metaphor for the pool of blood that once flowed in Argentina, was buried but later unearthed and for what is unfolding in this upperclass family.
As the film moves forward, we become less sure of Veró’s credibility. Martel keeps the action focused solely on her, so we have no context, no way to sort this out than to study her. We begin to wonder if it’s an act and she knows exactly what has happened (in the way she keeps her lover separate from her husband) or if she has sommoned her amnesia as a means of convincing herself that she is not at all connected to what transpired.
As more time passes,Veró relaxes back into her comfortable life as a dentist and even volunteers to treat impoverished school children with dental problems. As she councils their parents, we see the huge divide between the classes in this country. She is respected, has some power, and seems above reproach. She dyes her hair dark brown, signaling her tacit complicity to try to put what happened as a blonde behind her.
When she returns back to the hospital to pick up her x-rays, and clean up any trail, there is no record of them having been taken. When she goes to the hotel, where she met Juan Manuel, she finds there is no record of her having been in the room or at the hotel. The men in her life have apparently protected her by erasing any evidence of her whereabouts the day of the accident; even the car has been repaired in a distant city, leaving no connection to her.
Near the end of the film, two of the boys from the opening scene reappear as assistants to a landscaper that Verónica has hired. When she learns later that one of the boys did not show up for work and later, that his body was found, she seems worried. Has fate brought this boy into her life after she has tried so hard to distance herself from the accident? To assuage herself, she offers the surviving boy some food, a bath and a bag of used t-shirts to pick-over.
Nothing is certain in this disturbing film as clues are dropped about a crime that is never solved—all that is made clear is that Verónica is from a family and a social class that has the means to make it all disappear on the surface. Interestingly, not knowing, leaves those of us who are compulsive to keep churning over the pieces we have been fed. Martel said in an interview with Chris Wisniewski “Like my other films, The Headless Woman doesn’t end in the moment that the lights go up, it ends one or two days later.”
Screens Sundance Kabuki Theatre, September 18-24, 2009: 1:45 pm, 4:20 pm, 7:15 pm, 9:25 pm. Saturday and Sunday matinees at 11:25 am
review–”The Beautiful Person” (“La Belle Personne”) even the angst of teen love plays better in French, San Francisco Film Society, Sept 4-10, 2009
“The Beautiful Person,” set in Paris, in an upscale high-school, made me contemplate the unthinkable—if I ever had to do high-school over again, how would it go? How would I react to the various opportunities—amorous and otherwise– that unfold? Loosely inspired by the scandalous 17th century novel La Princesse de Cleves by Madame de La Fayette, director Christophe Honoré (“Ma mère,” “Love Songs”) continues his exploration of French romantic intrigue. Instead of Parisian aristocracy in the court of Henry II, Honoré and co-writer Gilles Taurand set their action in contemporary Paris in an upscale high school. The students are interesting, beautiful, and unkempt– the teachers too–and they explore love and passion while trying to stay engaged with what seems a very loosely regimented but awesome program of poetry, humanities, Italian, English and math. Junie (Léa Seydoux, “The Last Mistress”) is the new girl at school, a transfer student, who has come to live with her cousin Matthias just after the death of her mother. Voluptuous, alabaster-skinned, with a tragic air, she becomes the object of male attention and is quickly welcomed into Matthias’ clique of school friends.
Mild-mannered Otto (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet), falls hard for her and their first conversation sets up a loose plot. Otto tells her that Junie is also Néron’s tormentor in Racine’s 17th century tragic play “Brittancus” and they discuss how it ends badly for Junie who takes vows and never marries. Later, egged on by his friends, Otto professes his love to Junie. She tells him what she needs “Don’t lie to me and look after me, always.” Otto agrees. Junie French kisses him publicly in the school hall and the two become an item. Junie is bursting with magnetic mystique ..she is photographed in the hallway by a student who is an amateur photographer; she is noticed by women as well. At one point in the film, an evocative song on a jukebox plays lyrics that compliment what is going on throughout the film– ”She was so pretty that I didn’t dare love her.”
When newbie Junie arrives in Italian class, a student is in the midst of a presentation about Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lammermoor. Junie sits down by the teacher Mr. Nemour (Louis Garrel) and the two eye each other nervously. She abruptly walks out, in tears, during Maria Callas’ spellbinding aria, leaving her books behind. After this brief encounter, Mr. Nemour too falls hard for Junie and even steals a picture of her from her notebook. Nemour, a dark-eyed dreamy lothario, who barely looks like he is out of high school, is in the midst of two affairs–one with a colleague (Florence Perin) and the other with a student Catherine (Anaïs Demoustier). Nemours breaks it off with both women and confesses his love for Junie to his colleague who advises him that “loving a student is too easy.” “Not this one” Nemours replies “I’m a total love-sick mess.” To which his friend insighftfully replies “You seem more disappointed in love than in the concept of love at first sight.” Indeed the complexity, no mess, that ensues is overwhelming.
We get subtle hints that stalwart Junie is falling for Nemour but trying hard not to. She is terribly afraid of giving in to what she assumes will be a grand, once in a life-time love and denies herself Nemour but snacks on safe love with endearing Otto. Meanwhile, a subplot emerges involving a love letter that is passed around and mistakenly thought to be Nemour’s but really involves Junie’s cousin Matthias (Esteban Carvajal-Alegria) and his affair with fellow student Martin (Martin Siméon). Mathias has hidden his homosexuality and, in addition to Martin, has carried on with another student Henri (Simon Truxillo) who is in love with him and very vindictive. The letter threatens to expose everything if the correct author and intended recipient are revealed. But it’s all a mess. The letter changes hands several times and when Junie reads it, she assumes that Nemour has written it to her and takes actions that push this volatile group into certain doom.
This has all the makings of a great drama but falls short. The performances of the lead characters lack real depth and it’s very hard to get inside their heads, with the exception of Otto. Léa Seydoux and Louis Garrel are enthralling to look at…and, based on looks alone, we can certainly envision them in bed together, but how would that happen? Their conversation is basically flat and they fail to connect naturally or with any tenderness…time after time. Junie is cold or indifferent, sending Nemour into confusion after confusion. By the time they finally come to an understanding, it is too late. And even when it is too late, we don’t get any feeling of implosion. Junie’s constraint, fear of succumbing to her passion, is what needs to be further explored. The potential is there but there’s no spark. Nicole (Chantal Neuwirth), a maternal and wise older woman who works at the local café where they all hang-out, takes a shine to Junie, and delivers one of the most authentic, but too brief, performances in the film. The cinematography is marvelous, capturing gray, drizzly Paris and some candid close-ups. The sountrack ranges from opera to Nick Drake , the lyrics tracking or accentuating the action in the film.
Screens Sundance Kabuki Theatre, September 4-10, 2009: 2:05 pm, 4:05 pm, 7:15 pm, 9:35 pm. Saturday and Sunday matinees at 11:40 am.