Saturday, April 23, 2011

SFIFF Electrifies Film Buffs at the Castro;
'Mysteries of Lisbon' - a Masterpiece

The 54th edition of the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) opened on Thursday evening with a gala screening of the gay-themed "Beginners" at the Castro theater, with the director Mike Mills and his super-cute leading man Ewan McGregor appearing on the stage afterward.

SFIFF press officer Bill Proctor has given me press credentials, and I'm anticipating spending as much time as possible at the Sundance Kabuki multiplex watching movies, focusing on art house pictures and blogging on my festival experience.

I caught a press screening of "Beginners" this week and can report it's full of much good humor, large doses of poignancy and terrific acting by McGregor and costar Christopher Plummer playing his father, a gay man who emerges from the closet in his 70s and refuses to allow a cancer diagnosis stop him from finding love. Repetitive narrative structure got a bit distracting, while the gay political elements stayed at a rudimentary level, but recommended. Opens in the Bay Area in June.

On Friday, after getting credentialed at the press table inside the SFIFF lounge on Webster Street, I went to see the Czech movie that comes with a raft of awards from the local version of the Oscars, "Walking Too Fast." A drably told story of a secret police agent spying on a quarry he resents and covets, with a muted color scheme and melodramatic acting.

Heavily indebted to Germany's "The Lives of Others," which did an infinitely better job of looking back at communist times, this entry from the Czech Republic had me walking quite fast for the exit thirty-minutes into it. The house was packed, so others found it worth the time, and so may you. There are two additional screenings. Get info on tix here.

Saturday afternoon was a warm and sunny San Francisco day, and I happily spent it experiencing the four-and-a-half hour latest film from European-based, Chilean-born auteur Raul Ruiz "The Mysteries of Lisbon." It's a flat-out masterpiece by a director at the pinnacle of his game. Ruiz declared this work to be his last when it premiered last year, and today was the only showing of the festival.

Based on a classic Portuguese book, the story centers around an orphaned boy under the care of a priest and how the boy learns his mother is alive. Full of long takes that allow the audience to get acquainted with the assorted schemers, Counts and passionate lovers, every scene beautifully composed.

"The Mysteries of Lisbon" is a terrific reminder of how entertaining the classic European art film can be, when the money spent on gorgeous costumes, lush estates and high production values up on the screen come together in telling a good story. Worth seeing just for the fantastic tracking shots and over all expressive camerawork that pleased this cineaste's eyes.

Music Box Films has domestic distribution rights, but their site omits details on a North American release. The official site for the film says a fall release rollout is planned in the top-ten North American markets. I'm not sure which cities encompass those markets, but if live in or near one, and you love love movies that deliver on promises of a grand tale well-told, see this one.

For Sunday my plan is to see "A Cat in Paris", an animated feature, followed by a semi-fictionalized account of under-thirty artists and musicians in Alexandria, Egypt, made before the fall of Mubarak, "Microphone". Final film of the day will be the just-over three-hour documentary from Romania "The Autobiography of Nicolai Ceausescu".

See what's playing, when and where, get more info on the films still to be shown. Start here to engage with the festival.

No comments: