ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Absent Iranian filmmakers deliver memorable films at the 55th San Francisco International Film Festival, through May 3, 2012

Pasandide (award winning Iranian actress Negar Javaherian) is about to be married in Reza Mirkarimi's “A Cube of Sugar,” playing at the 55th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 19 - May 3, 2012.

Over the years the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF 55) has showcased some remarkable Iranian films and this year is no exception.  Mohammad Rasoulof’s Goodbye, Reza Mirkarimi’s A Cube of Sugar and Marjanne Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s Chicken With Plums are this year’s offerings— each film screens several times throughout the festival which ends on May 3, 2012.  Sadly, we’ve come to accept that it’s rare for Iranian filmmakers to make personal appearances at film festivals these days but we revel in their creativity and courage and unparalleled storytelling.  What makes the situation so fascinating is that, in present day Iran, filmmakers have no freedom of expression and yet they have managed to become central in its complex social and political discourse, to the point that they are considered serious threats by the Iranian regime.  Working under the constant threat of censorship and imprisonment has forced Iranian filmmakers to express themselves indirectly through metaphor and allegory and they have astounded us with rich stories that are about politics yet transcend politics to reveal what is intimate and poignantly familiar in our human condition.

Goodbye (bé omid é didar)(2011, 100 min)  In 2009, Mohammad Rasoulof (along with fellow filmmaker Jafar Panahi) faced arrest, a six-year prison sentence and a 20 year filmmaking ban at the hands of the Iranian Revolutionary Court, which also prohibited interviews with local and foreign media.  Goodbye, his fifth feature film, and most realistic to date, was smuggled out of Iran and made its debut at Cannes in 2011, where it won the award for best direction in the Certain Regard section.  The film is a gripping indictment of Iran, told through the bleak story of a Tehran activist lawyer, Noura (Leya Zareh), whose legal license has been suspended and who is desperate to leave Iran.  Her husband, some type of political journalist, has escaped authorities and is living low in Southern Iran.  Noura has consulted a fixer whose job it is to help people leave Iran and her pregnancy figures in her exit scheme.  As she quietly prepares to leave her homeland and aging mother, she encounters all sorts of hitches which ratchet up the suspense.  At the same time, just navigating the course of her daily life—always covered, always monitored, always explaining, always navigating tight passages and not having her husband present to authorize things as simple as checking into a hotel, we get a very good feel for the chilling lack of personal freedom afforded Iran’s educated and professional women.  Rasoulof’s previous films include Head Wind (2008), Iron Island (SFIFF 2006) and The White Meadows(SFIFF 2010).  Read ARThound’s review of The White Meadows and about film censorship in Iran here.   (Fri, Apr 20, 2012, 1:30 p.m., Sat, Apr 21, 2012, 1 p.m., Mon Apr 23, 2012, 6:30 p.m., all at Kabuki)

Chicken With Plums (Poulet aux prunes) (2011, 91 min) Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s drama based on Satrapi’s best-selling graphic novel of the same name which, in 2005, won the Prize for Best Comic Book of the year at the prestigious Angoulême International Comics Festival.  Satrapi, who lives in Paris, was born in Iran in 1969 but was sent by her family to Vienna in 1983 to escape the post-Shah fallout, a story she told in her acclaimed book and animated film Persepolis (2000, 2007).  Chicken with Plums is as riveting a portrait of an artist and all his brilliant and disturbing excesses that you’ll find.  Set in 1958 in post-Mossadegh Tehran (deftly filmed in German and France), the winding story captures the last eight days of Nasser Ali’s life. The virtuoso tar player (a Persian string instrument) has resigned himself to die after he runs into his old love, Irâne, who does not recognize him, and then returns home to find that his wife has smashed his prized musical instrument beyond repair.   As he miserably, egocentrically and brilliantly winds down, only his daughter, Farzaneh, his memories, and his favorite dish, chicken with plums, rouse his desire.  Imaginative sets, lighting and animation all enhance the drama. (Mon, April 30, 2012, 6:15 p.m. and Wed, May 2, 2012, 12:30 p.m., both at Kabuki.)

A Cube of Sugar (Ye habe ghand) (2011, 116 min) Reza Mirkarimi’s sublimely beautiful dramatic comedy about three generations of an Iranian middle class family coming together in the old family home as the youngest girl, Pasandide (Negar Javaherian), is about to be married.  Not everything goes as planned and it has something to do with the sweetener.  Traditional family dynamics play out as four sisters gather together to cook, sew, gossip and prepare for the wedding.  The family compound of aged Uncle Ezzatolah (Saeed Poursamimi) proves an ideal site for this reunion with its lush courtyard gardens, labyrinthine parlors and passageways, and erratic electrical system (subject to untimely city blackouts).  Mirikami captures all the proceedings with breathtaking images bathed in glowing light, accompanied by a sensual musical score by Mohammad Reza Alighouli. In 2005, Mirkarimi’s film Too Far, Too Close (Kheili dour, kheili nazdik), which he also co-authored and produced, was Iran’s selection for the Foreign Language Oscar.  Javaherian won the best actress prize in the 2010 Fajr International Film Festival for her role in Gold and Copper (Tala va Mes) (2010) and is likely to deliver a memorable performance here as well. (Sun, Apr 22, 2012, 4 p.m., Tue, Apr 24, 2012, 9 p.m., Wed Apr 25, 2012, 12:30 p.m.—all at San Francisco Film Society Cinema.)

55th S.F. International Film Festival

When: Thursday, April 19, 2012 through Thursday, May 3, 2012

5 Venues: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post Street, San Francisco, S.F. Film Society Cinema, 1746 Post Street, San Francisco, Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street, San Francisco, SFMOMA, 151 Third Street, San Francisco, Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley
Tickets: $11 to $13 for most films with a variety of multiple screening passes. Special events generally start at $20
More info: (415) 561-5000, www.sffs.org

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April 25, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The 34th Mill Valley Film Festival starts Thursday, October, 6, 2011—ARThound looks at the lineup

Glenn Close opens the acclaimed Mill Valley Film Festival this Thursday in “Albert Nobbs,” where she tackles the role of a woman who has skirted poverty in mid-19th Century Dublin by dressing and working as a man. Close is also the subject of a festival Tribute event on Saturday night. Photo: Patrick Redmond

In the world of film and film festivals, each season has its delights.  While there may be as many as a dozen mini-fests set to launch in the Bay Area, October always belongs to the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF).  Now 34 and considered in the top lists of festivals worldwide, its organizers and programmers —Mark Fishkin, Zoë Elton, Janis Plotkin (to name a few)—have hit on a winning formula.   The 11 day festival will  present some 120 films that include Academy Award hopefuls, tributes, emerging talents, documentaries, children’s programming, and world cinema.  MVFF34 all takes place north of the Golden Gate at CinéArts@Sequoia, Mill Valley, and Christopher B, Smith Rafael Film Center, San Rafael, and other convenient Marin locales.

Singing the Praises of WOMEN—actresses, directors, thematically

“When we looked at what seemed strong, it became quite apparent at Cannes that there was an incredible wealth of excellent performances by women,” said Zoë Elton at the festival’s September press conference.  “We have a lot of these Oscar worthy women in the festival.”   The lineup includes films featuring Glenn Close, Michelle Yeoh, Tilda Swinton, Susan Sarandon, Ellen Barkin, Michelle Williams and emerging actresses like Elizabeth Olsen and Antonia Campbell-Hughes.  Ironically, one of the two opening night films, Albert Nobbs, is a gender-bender drama starring Glenn Close as a woman who has skirted poverty in mid-19th Century Dublin by dressing and working as a man—a shy butler.  Close, well-known for her performances in films such as Fatal Attractions (1987) and Dangerous Liaisons (1988) is attending the festival and is the subject of a special Tribute event on festival’s second night.

The programming also reflects a strong interest in the portrayal of women in various cultures.  A number of films weave mythology and ritual with the complex contemporary reality of women’s lives. Moroccan director Mohamed Mouftakir won the Golden Stallion (top prize) at this year’s FESPACO (2011) for Pegasus, the story of a young Moroccan woman (Sadia Ladib) who is found on the streets, wounded and with no memories of her past–but with visions, flashbacks, evidence of trauma, and the belief that she has been impregnated by “The Lord of the Horse.”  The fragmented plotline which echoes David Lynch and Iranian director Mohammad Rasolof  (The White Meadows, 2009), weaves her journey to self with the experiences of her therapist, Dr. Zineb, who is treating her and on her own psychic quest. (Screens Friday and Sunday)

SEPCIAL DAYS:  OPENING NIGHT

The festival opens Thursday evening with two films that are sure bets to be included among the top independent releases of 2011.  Albert Nobbs, starring Glenn Close, who will attend, will be screened at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center at 7 p.m.  Jeff  Who Lives at Home will have its U.S. premiere at CinéArts@Sequoia in Mill Valley at 7 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.  This film, which won’t hit the theatres until March 2012, stars Jason Segal and Ed Helms with Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer.  It is the story of Jeff, a sympathetic 30-year old unemployed pot head who lives in his mother’s (Susan Sarandon) basement and rewatches Signs while nurturing anxiety about clues the universe is dropping about his destiny.  The story all transpires over an afternoon of misadventures culminating in a fate-directed universe rattling ah-hah moment.  Directors Jay and Mark Duplass will also be in attendance.  After the screenings, the Opening Night Gala kicks off at the Mill Valley Community Center at 9 p.m. and goes until midnight.

CLOSING NIGHT

Closing Night will feature a special screening of The Artist starring Jean Dujardin (Cannes Best Actor),  Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller and Missi Pyle. Directed by Michael Hazanavicius, who is expected to be in attendance, The Artist is an endearing black and white homage to the world of silent film that tells the story of a silent-film star resisting the transition to sound set in 1927 Hollywood.  Just as his star wanes, another’s starlet’s rises who represents Hollywood’s new direction.  After the film, the Closing Night Party will take place at Albert Park/San Rafael Community Center from 7-10 p.m. 

Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis in “The Lady,” which screens this Saturday at the 34th Mill Valley Film Festival. Yeoh plays Myanmar prodemocracy activist and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and will be the focus of a special Spotlight program. Photo: Magali Bragard © 2011 EuropaCorp – Left Bank Pictures – France 2 Cinéma

TRIBUTE AND SPOTLIGHT EVENTS

In addition to honoring Glenn Close’s career, MVFF34 is celebrating actress Michelle Yeoh and West African director Gaston Kaboré.  On Saturday, October 8 at 7:30 p.m. a Spotlight honoring Michelle Yeoh, one of Asia’s best known actresses, will take place at the Smith Rafael Film Center with a Q&A and screening of her new film, The Lady, already generating quite an Oscar buzz.   The Lady is an intimate chronicle of the life of Myanmar prodemocracy activist and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi who spent 15 years under house arrest before her release last year.  The Lady follows Suu Kyi starting in 1988 when she returned to Myanmar, formerly Burma, to care for her ailing mother and soon became iconic in the battle against the military dictatorship.  The story focuses on her family life–her marriage to British academic Michael Aris and their two sons.  Aris, an Oxford professor, strongly supported Suu Kyi’s decision to stay in Myanmar, raising their children and playing a pivotal role behind the scenes in campaigning for her Nobel Peace Prize.  This decision, for the greater good, entailed years of separation and was a tremendous burden yet it was  mutually agreed upon and seemed to cement their courageous love.  Yeoh attends MVFF with Luc Besson, the film’s internationally acclaimed director and producer.  (click here to watch trailer)  After the program, the evening will continue with dinner at Frantoio Ristorante & Olive Oil Company in Mill Valley.

The first weekend of the Festival culminates on Sunday, October 9 at 4:30 p.m., with an MVFF Tribute to West African director Gaston Kaboré, honoring his remarkable career and contribution to African film including an onstage conversation and rare screening of his 1982 classic  Wend Kuuni (God’s Gift), the endearing story of a mute boy found in the bush and adopted by Mossi villagers whose love and tenderness help restore his voice.  Afterwards, the evening continues with dinner at Acqua Mill Valley, catered by Delicious! Catering. 

ARThound’s top five:

Coriolanus:  Actor Ralph Fiennes makes his directorial debut a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare’s war tragedy “Coriolanus” set in war-torn Bosnia with chilling urban battle scenes.  Fiennes also stars as Caius Martius, or Coriolanus, a powerful general at odds with the City of Rome, a role that Fiennes played on the London stage.  Coriolanus is a riveting drama about the relationship of authority, power, and the emotions that drive them and should play well reconfigured in the hotbed of the Balkans.  Martius meets his old enemy Tullus Aufidius (a very macho Gerard Butler) on the battlefield and returns to Rome as a hero.  Reveling in his triumph, he is elected to the governing consul but is soon opposed by the citizenry.  His anger at the public’s disfavor leads to his expulsion, and in desperation he turns to his sworn enemy Tullus, with whom he takes revenge on the city.  Vanessa Redgrave is Coriolanus’s iron-willed mother and Jessica Chastain is his trophy wife.  Directed by Ralph Fiennes (UK, 2011) (122 minutes).   Screens: Friday, October 7, 2011 at 9 p.m. at Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton Street, Mill Valley and Saturday, October 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA.  Tickets: $13.50.   www.mvff.org

Granito: How to Nail a Dictator:   Documentary filmmaker Pamela Yates has passionately been involved in investigating genocide and war crimes for over 25 years.  Her 1984 film, When the Mountains Tremble, made when she was just out of college, is one of the only documentary records of the brutal Guatemalan civil war between the U.S.-backed military junta and the indigenous peasant revolutionaries who were systematically killed in a scorched earth campaign.  A few top generals, notably Efraín Ríos Montt and Kjell Eugenio Laugerud García, were behind that slaughter of an estimated 200,000 Mayan and the disappearance of another 40,000 indigenous persons and Ms. Yates interviewed these leaders in 1982.  Granito tells the story of how some 25 years later, Yates was asked to join a team of forensic experts and lawyers and Mayan survivors in a human rights case against Guatemala’s former juntas and how her first film footage became the evidence that led to the indictment of Montt in Spain’s national courts for his attacks on Maya.  The powerful and idealistic film uses the connected stories of five people─they are the “granito,” or tiny pieces of sand─whose destinies all collide around that distant Guatemalan war, to weave an epic tale of justice.  Though somewhat narrowly focused, the film is monumental.   It is also an inspirational look at the career of a brave filmmaker who has dedicated every ounce of her being to seeing that justice is served.  (US, 2011, 104 min)  Screens: Friday, October 7, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. at the Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA and Sunday, October 9, 2011 at 5:45 p.m. at the Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton Street, Mill Valley.  Directors Pamela Yates and Paco de Onis will be present at both screening and will conduct a post-film discussion and Q & A. Tickets: $13.50.   www.mvff.org

In Gao Xiongjie’s “The Butcher’s Wife,“ which has its North American premiere at the MVFF34, the struggle between a new-married Chinese couple about what they should expect from life is a tragic critique of China’s rapid modernization and the tremendous pressures it creates on those not living in urban areas. Image courtesy: MVFF

The Butcher’s Wife:  North American Premiere (China, 2011, 119 min)(Mandarin with English subtitles)  Epic in scale, this new drama tells the intimate story of a newly-married young couple in rural China facing big life decisions against the gripping backdrop of modernization that threatens to leave all but urban dwellers behind.  Months have passed and Liang, a kind and simple butcher, and his wife Qiao have not consummated their marriage because she fears pregnancy will squash her dream of entering college and starting a new life in the city.  She’s already failed the exam three times and feels intense pressure to start the life she imagines she will have.  Lang can’t bear the situation and wants intimacy and, humiliated, sends his wife to stay with her mother.  Qiao leaves for the big city to get her dream underway and it quickly turns into a nightmare.  The fictional film, a parable for any rapidly modernizing society, draws us into the hard and fractured lives of a young couple, both unfulfilled and both with reasonable expectations, for which there seems to be no easy answer.  Through its intimate portrayal of the aspirations and anguish of two individuals, the film asks us to consider what really matters most in this life and what it means when achieving that is not possible.  (contains graphic images of pig slaughter)  Directed by Gao Xiongjie.  (China, 2011, 119 min)(Mandarin with English subtitles) Screens: Friday, October 7, 2011 at 8:30 p.m. at the Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA and Sunday, October 9, 2011 at 3:45 p.m. at the Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton Street, Mill Valley.  Tickets: $13.50.   www.mvff.org  

Argentinean Director Paula Markovitch’s “The Prize” coaxes an emotionally rich performance from Paula Galinelli Hertzog, as Ceci, a 7 year-old girl on the run with her mother from Argentina’s repressive military regime. The film won the prestigious Silver Bear award for outstanding artistic achievement at the 61st Berlinale (Berlin International Film Festival). Image courtesy: MVFF

The Prize:  Argentinean Paula Markovitch’s impressive autobiographical feature debut is about vivacious 7 year-old Cecilia, (Paula Galinelli Hertzog) who is asked to keep a big secret about her family but can’t possibly understand the implications of that secret.  It’s the 1970’s and Ceci and her mom are living out of suitcases at a desolate and ramshackle abandoned beach town, hiding from Argentina’s repressive military and what will come to be called its “dirty war.”  If asked, Ceci is instructed to tell people only that her mom is a housekeeper and her dad sells curtains.  Ceci soons befriends her schoolmate, Lucia, but it becomes very difficult for her to particpate in activities like writing a school essay about her family and, when she does, she comes close to jeopardizing everything.  Paula Galinelli Hertzog delivers an astounding performance as a young girl trying to understand what she can believe in the adult world and struggling to feel secure in the certitude of her mother’s love when everything else seems to be shifting.  (Mexico/Germany/France/Poland, 2011) (103 minutes) In Spanish with English subtitles. Screens: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 8:30 p.m. at the Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA and Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 5:45 p.m. at the Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton Street, Mill Valley.  Tickets: $13.50.   www.mvff.org

Old laws clash with the modern world in Joshua’s Marston’s “The Forgiveness of Blood” staring Albanian actor Tristan Halilaj as 17 year-old Nic who is trapped inside his home in rural Albanian because his family is embroiled in a blood feud. Beautifully photographed on location by cinematographer Rob Hardy. Image courtesy MVFF.

 The Forgiveness of Blood:  A mesmerizing drama from Justin Marston, the producer of Maria Full of Grace (2004) shot entirely on location in rural Albania that explores that small Balkan country’s insular clan culture through the story of a teenage boy and his sister.  When Mark (Refet Abazi) gets embroiled in a land rights squabble that escalates to his killing his neighbor, legal justice takes a backseat to Balkan oral code of the Kanun.  This traditional Albanian law, pre-dating the 15th century, states that when a murder is committed, the family of the deceased are warranted to get retribution by taking the life of a male in the offending clan’s family.  Mark goes into hiding but his 17 year-old son, Nik (Tristan Halilaj),  is essentially doomed to indefinite confinement at home, the only place considered safe ground.  Nic leaves his high school life of video games and flirting and becomes a volatile and stir-crazy prisoner at home while his resourceful 15-year-old sister, Rudina (Sindi Lacej), takes over her family’s bread delivery business but is soon knee deep in threats herself.   As Nic feels increasing pressure to find a solution to this blood feud, his actions escalate such that his entire family is jeopardized.  In Albanian with English subtitles, the film boldly contrasts the resurgence of antiquated traditions with the lives of young people in the country’s first post-totalitarian generation, whose bright future is put at risk by these practices.   Directed by Joshua Marston (2011) (109 minutes)  Screens: Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 4 p.m. and Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 12:15 p.m. at Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton Street, Mill Valley.   Tickets: $13.50.   www.mvff.org

Details:  Presented by the California Film Institute, the 34th Mill Valley Film Festival runs October 6-16, 2011 at the CinéArts@Sequoia (25 Throckmorton Avenue, Mill Valley), Chrisopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael) and other venues.  Tickets are $13.50 (CFI Members, $11), unless otherwise noted, and may be purchased online at mvff.com.  Additional information:  www.mvff.com  or call 877.874.6833

October 5, 2011 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BYOF—build your own festival: Pick across the many film festivals in San Francisco right now and explore a topic or country in depth

It seems like each March brings an explosion of film festivals to the Bay Area and shifting through the programming can be time-consuming.  By mixing and matching programming across festivals though, you can BYOF—build your festival…and it’s well worth it!   Right now, the 29th annual San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF) is screening 108 feature films, documentaries and videos from all points of the globe Asian and across town, San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is offering the Human Rights Watch Film Festival every Thursday evening in March and Iran Beyond Censorship from March 20-27, 2011.  By combining programming from these three festivals, you can meet very specific intersts.  Here’s a small sample of  what’s available for consumption this weekend and in March:

Let’s say you have an interest in Cambodia.   By catching “Resident Aliens” (SFIAAFF) at 7:30 pm on Saturday, March 13 you can see the shocking true story of three twenty-something Cambodian Americans whose American dream crumbled when they became young adult felons and, after serving out prison terms in the U.S., were deported back to Cambodia.  Ross Tuttle’s 2010 documentary tells how these three young adults immigrated to the United States as children during the Cambodian genocide.  All three were eligible for citizenship, but remained resident aliens.  Through visits back to the neighborhoods where they grew up,  primarily poor Cambodian communities in inner-cities, it’s easy to see how they fell into into crime.  When Tuttle meets up with them in Phnom Penh, they are virtually alone without family or the language skills to assimilate back into their native culture. Tuttle follows his subjects as they take different approaches to establishing a new life all while struggling with the fact that they can never return to the United States.

Turning to the YBCA’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival, you can then catch “Enemies of the People” on Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 7:30 PM at YBCA which takes a riveting look back at the country’s past through the eyes of a very intrepid journalist.  Winner of the Sundance World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Prize, Enemies of the People  (2009) follows the intensely personal project of Mr. Thet Sambath, whose parents and brother were among the approximately two million people who perished during the mass killings from 1975 to 1979 at the hands of Cambodia’s Communist Khmer Rouge regime, which was responsible for the deaths of nearly a quarter of the small country’s population.  With unprecedented access achieved patiently over years, he gently coaxes groundbreaking confessions from Nuon Chea, the notorious ‘Brother Number Two,’ (Pol Pot’s second in command) and from numerous grassroots killers, now frail seniors living out their final days.  As Sambath juggles between objective reportage and his intense personal desire for healing and understanding, he uncovers terrifying personal explanations for the genocide.  Somehow, operating like a one man Cambodian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he manages to listen calmly to the perpetrators speak casually about slitting throats and extracting and eating human gall bladder.  When he finally does share his truth, the results are healing but ultimately he has lost almost everything dear in life to him.

Who doesn’t love Iranian film?  SFIAAFF29 offers three new films Amin, Dogsweat, and Gold and Copper while YBCA’s Iran Beyond Censorship offers Offside, Close-up, Crimson Gold and The White Meadows. 

Let’s say, within the genre of Iranian film, you are very interested in storytelling.  Homayoun Asaian’s Gold and Copper has garnered much acclaim from audience and critics alike for its poetic rendering of a story involving Seyed, a man studying to be a mullah, and his family who have just relocated to Tehran.  The family game plan is wildly interrupted when they learn that Sayed’s young wife has MS (multiple sclerosis) and is soon to be completely paralyzed.  Sayed has to juggle his studies and the very untraditional tasks of child-care and home management. Screens: Saturday March 12, 2011 at 12:15 PM (Sundance Kabuki) and Sunday March 13, at 7 PM at Viz Cinema.

Looking for something with more edge?  SFIAAFF29 also offers Hossein Keshavarz’s provocative Dogsweat, shot clandestinely throughout Tehran before the 2009 elections.  Using the urgency of cinéma vérité, the lives of six teenagers intertwine in contemporary Iran.  Misunderstood by their families and oppressed by conservative Islamic society, they act out their desires behind closed doors.  A feminist finds herself involved with a married man; new lovers seek out a place to be intimate; a gay man faces an arranged marriage; a female pop singer risks exposure and a grief-stricken son lashes out against fundamentalists.   Dogsweat uses the rich tapestry of storytelling to show Iran the way it truly is right now.  Screens: Saturday March 12, 2011 at 6 PM (Sundance Kabuki) and Wednesday March 16 at 6:45 PM at Viz Cinemas.

Over at YBCA’s Iran Beyond Censorship, Mohammad Rasoulof’s mesmerizing The White Meadows, set in Iran’s mysterious and remote Lake Urmia region, is an allegorical tale about a boatman who travels the salt islands collecting tears in a glass vial.  In the end, all is for not, as the tears collected so carefully are used to bathe the feet of a dying man and then tossed into the sea.  As an allegory for contemporary Iran, a society pressured to empty its very soul and aware of the sad farce imposed upon it, this film does its work.  Rasoulof, 38, from Shiraz, was recently among more than 100 prominent Iranian political figures and activists who were put on a mass trial in Tehran following the crackdown on opposition supporters claiming President Ahmadinejad fraudulently won the June 2009 election.  Rasoulof was imprisoned in March of this year and released March 18, 2010, just before the New Year holiday on March 21, 2010. Despite his and other prominent Iranian filmmakers’ tricky relationship with the post-revolutionary powers that be, the Iranian film industry manages, under extreme repression, to produce over 60 films annually and you can see three of them at the Yerba Buena Center later this month.  The White Meadows screens March 29, 2011 at 4 PM at YBCA screening room.

Details: 

29th annual San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival:  Screenings are at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Viz Cinema, Landmark Clay Theatre, Japantown Peace Plaza, Castro Theatre and VIZ Cinema in San Francisco, and in San Jose at Camera 12 Cinemas and in Berkeley at Pacific Film Archive.  Tickets for most events are $10 to $12.  For details, call (415) 865-1588 or http://caamedia.org/  

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Human Rights Watch Film Festival at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission Street, (across the street from SFMOMA), San Francisco, CA 94103.  Several reasonably priced parking garages are located within one block of YBCA.   Human Rights Watch Film Festival screens Thursday evenings, March 10-31, 2011.  Tickets: $8 regular; $6 students, seniors, teachers and YBCA members.  Same day gallery admission with film ticket.  For more information visit http://www.ybca.org, or call (415) 978-2787. 

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Iran Beyond Censorship:  March 20-27, 2011 at YBCA at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission Street, (across the street from SFMOMA), San Francisco, CA 94103. Several reasonably priced parking garages are located within one block of YBCA.   Iran Beyond Censorship screens March Human Rights Watch Film Festival screens March 20, 25, and 27 at various times. Tickets: $8 regular; $6 students, seniors, teachers and YBCA members.  Same day gallery admission with film ticket.  For more information visit http://www.ybca.org/iran-beyond-censorship#overview  or call (415) 978-2787.

March 12, 2011 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SFIFF 53 review: In Iranian Mohammad Rasoulof’s disturbing new film “The White Meadows,” allegory abounds as villagers cry their tears into bottles…what exactly are we watching?

The White Meadows (Keshtzar haye sepid)(Iran, 2009, 93 min)

In Mohammad Rasoulof's new film "The White Meadows" people living on the remote salt islands of Iran's Lake Urmia cry their tears into bottles. Courtesy of San Francisco Film Society.

Mohammad Rasoulof’s “The White Meadows,” set in the Iran’s remote Lake Urmia region near Azerbaijan, is a surreal poetic fable that addresses the messy topics of sin, guilt, judgment and confession.  In fact, the story has such a strong Biblical feel to it that it’s difficult to discern the Muslim factor but there are several veiled references to contemporary Iran.  The story concerns an old boatman Rahmat (Hasan Pourshirazi) who travels among the desolate salt islands and waterways of Iran’s Lake Urmia (the third–largest saltwater lake in the world) and ceremoniously collects people’s tears in a glass vial and mysteriously takes them away, only to later pour them into the sea.  What the precise role of this man is, we never know, but he is entrusted to hear secrets.  As people unburden their sorrows to him, somehow, they are cleansed.  It all sounds simple and beautiful but in Rasoulof’s world, this shaman is powerless to intervene or give advice against the vast injustices he encounters. 

Rasoulof, 37, from Shiraz, was recently among more than 100 prominent Iranian political figures and activists who were put on a mass trial in Tehran following the crackdown on opposition supporters claiming President Ahmadinejad fraudulently won the June 2009 election.  Rasoulof was imprisoned in March of this year and released March 18, 2010, just before the New Year holiday on March 21, 2010.  Despite his and other prominent Iranian filmmakers’ tricky relationship with the post-revolutionary powers that be, the Iranian film industry manages, under extreme repression, to produce over 60 films annually.  A rigorous vetting process entails censorship that begins with the script and follows a film through distribution.  The result is a rich set of low-budget films with an allegorical bend that offer some means of exploring social, political and religious codes within Muslim society.  “The White Meadows” carries on this tradition by offering a fable that can have as many real world applications as a poem–or–it can be taken as just as a story about strange people living in a strange land with stange customs.

The old boatman arrives to gather tears when tensions are most high—first, at a funeral for a young woman who has died suddenly and was buried in a mountain of preservative salt until he can transport her body off the island.  The male elders of the village mourn her but declare all is for the best because she was a temptress “to beautiful to live among us.”  Even the presence of her corpse on the island would cause men to dig her body up.   After collecting their tears, he takes her wrapped body off the island and then sneaks a forbidden peak.  He discovers that a fraud has been played out and that he is transporting a young boy Nassim (Younes Ghazali “Among the Clouds”) who intends to escape this bleak island life to find his father who also left the island.  An arrangement is made whereby the young man can accompany him by pretending to be his deaf and mute son. 

Remembering that tears turn into pearls, the boys steals a jar full while the old man sleeps and it is just a matter of time until he is caught.  They arrive next at an island where a young virgin is about to be cast out on a raft and offered as a bride to the sea, destiny unknown–the perfect metaphor for the unpredictable route that Iranian women travel.  Despite her mother’s pleadings, the old man does nothing to stop this act and the more tears that flow, the faster his vial fills.  Before the girl is carried off, the male elders certify publicly, one by one, that she is an undefiled virgin, worthy of sacrifice.  It is soon discovered that the boy has set out to rescue her but has been intercepted.  He is barbarically stoned to a bloody pulp by the village elders.  He survives but the old man proves to be more interested in protecting his position as confidant than in protecting the boy.  At this point, we glean another reference to contemporary Iran– a group of men in power are dictating the terms of societal behavior to their own advantage and ignoring universal moral rules.  

The next village is even more bazaar…inhabitants whisper their secrets into glass jars and then tightly cap the lids.  The crippled village dwarf (Omid Zare) is chosen to deliver these secrets to the fairies deep in a well before daylight.  With dozens of jars tied to his body, and carrying the symbolic weight of an entire village’s woes, he moves slowly through the crowd and down into the dark well.  When it is feared he will not make it in time, his rope is cut and he perishes.  This sacrifice allows the secrets of others to be assuaged but he leaves behind a young bride who will surely face a horrible future alone and ostracized.

In Mohammad Rasoulof's new film "The White Meadows," screening at SFIFF 53, a painter is punished for using red instead of blue paint for the sea. Courtesy of San Francisco Film Society.

On the next island, a painter is buried up to his neck in sand and left to bake in the sun for the crime of painting the sea “red” instead of “blue.”  He refuses to alter his reality to avoid punishment and the tear gatherer transports him and the boy to an island penitentiary. And on it goes…the tension builds into a set of heart-piercing scenes and bizarre circumstances where ritual and senseless judgment, have more importance than compassion or real justice.  In the end, all is for not, as the tears collected so carefully are used to bath the feet of a dying man and then tossed into the sea.  As an allegory for contemporary Iran, a society pressured to empty its very soul and aware of the sad farce imposed upon it, this film does its work.  

Some viewers may be put off by the lack of clarity and slow meandering tempo of the film.  Those who can pace themselves and handle high levels of ambiguity will be mesmerized by images that are both picturesque and eerily disturbing.  Ebrahim Ghafouri’s camerawork makes the film—much is shot from a distance, capturing darkly clad and covered women moving across the barren salt flats with some close-ups that provide clues for elements that come full circle at the close of the film. The sound is handled simply but eloquently enhancing the sense of isolation in a remote setting.  Extemporaneous guttural wailing has haunting power.  On one level, this is an exceedingly simple film expressing a human dilemma that should be comprehensible to all but whose solution remains incomprehensible… this about sums up contemporary Iran.

Screens: Friday April 23, 6:30 PM, Kabuki Theatre, Saturday April 24, 9:30 PM, Kabuki Theatre, Sunday April 25, 8 PM, Pacific Film Archive

April 24, 2010 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment