Monday, May 16, 2016

SFIFF59: Walked Out of Eight Disappointing Films

For a number of different reasons, the recently concluded 59th edition of the San Francisco International Film Festival had the highest number of walkouts for me.

A combination of faults with what was offered on the big screen and the crush of cinematic offerings throughout the day and evening brought on festival fatigue. Some of these films, seen outside of the intensity of the festival, might have kept me in my seat till the end.


Not to be confused in any way with Alfred Hitchcock's film of the same title.

This "Frenzy" is a grim social realist film from Turkey about a low-level criminal released early from prison, in a deal that requires him to spy on his neighbors and family.

The protagonist and his brother, who's apathetic at his relative receiving parole, spend much time brooding over their economic and personal troubles, as demonstrations against the current political leaders breakout.

Every scene was gloomy and filmed with dull compositions, all heading toward emotional explosions. "Frenzy" didn't hold my attention visually and the narrative was predictable. I lasted fifty-minutes before exiting the screening.


I've seen only one film by Hong Sang-soo, "In Another Country" starring Isabelle Huppert and found it delightfully charming and quirky, but his latest work, "Right Then, Wrong Now", captivated me for only its first half.

A male director of arty films meets a woman painter before he delivers an obnoxious lecture to a local movie festival, they spend a day and evening together with a lot of chattering, then the tale is twice-told but from slightly different angles and with minor plot changes.

The French New Wave elements - heavy cigarette smoking, voice-over narration, mundane banter, awkward social encounters - add entertaining diversions, while long takes and minimal camera movement - many zoom-ins - raised my expectations for a more satisfying film.

What drove me out of the theater a few minutes into the second version of the same story was hearing the same overly-analytical conversations and knowing the basics of what would happen next.


Director Otar Ioselliani's new rambling and frustrating French film rather quickly wore out its welcome, got stuck in a narrative rut and made no pretense of a plot and forget about making sense of the onscreen antics.

My memory of his other works shown at previous editions of the San Francisco International Film Festival is of films with just-enough of a story or mini-outlines within the larger narrative, that made those films charming. Like spending a few hours with an urbane, well-traveled raconteur who entertains without pretense.

"Winter Song" displayed its absurdism proudly with a Revolution-set head-chopping and perhaps audiences in France mistake the surreal scenes as compelling, but I found myself bored silly after only thirty-minutes and made a quick departure. Ioselliani hit a creative brick wall with this flick.


From Canada hailed "The Demons," an intimate French-language young male coming-of-age tale. I was riding its enchanting low-key vibe until director Philipe Lesage staged the third scene with the same slow-zoom in as the boy has a tender encounter with older folks, and poignant theme music played on the soundtrack.

What was enjoyable was the camera's position mostly at the lead's eye-level, maybe four-feet from the ground, giving us his view of the world. Kudos to the lead young male for a performance that avoided cuteness. A scene about who may be gay among the lead's older brother's teenage friends gently illustrated his innate cool-with-it-all attitude.

Walked out one-hour into the story feeling if it had only been 90-minutes instead of two-hours, I would have stayed for all of it.


My high expectations for the gun-control advocacy documentary "Under the Gun" to deliver goals and idea to prevent violence from firearms weren't met, and that is fine with me even though I exited after forty-minutes.

Narrated by Katie Couric, we revisit many recent mass-killings across America and a swift history of the NRA and how its warped the Second Amendment and our political system, bringing up too many troubling emotions for me, especially anger. Excellent balance of stats, laws, maps and archival news clips engaged the eye and mind.

This longtime advocate for stricter regulation of firearms believes this film is best seen by viewers either apathetic about gun violence and deaths, and responsible gun owners whose views are not represented by the rifle association's lobbyists.


From writer and director Michel Gondry comes a French story following two young teenage boys from the same class who study together, talk about girls and build a motorized camper that the drive in the countryside during their summer break. "Microbe and Gasoline" are their nicknames.

The boys get lost, almost get laid at a massage parlor, one is mistaken for a girl and goes along with the charade of being female, and the slapstick got tired. One of their mother's tries to start a conversation about masturbation that is a hilarious.

It had some terrific biting dialogue, though. One of the boys argues with his older brother whose joined a punk band and demeans his new look: "But last month you had dreadlocks!" More: "You're rebelling - against what?"

I probably would have stuck around more than hour if the episodes weren't so short before it's on to the next quirky episode.


The last of my walkouts was this French movie, "Suite Amoricaine," where a female art history professor on the verge of middle age leaves Paris and returns to home region of Brittany to at the college she attended years ago.

Old friends and rivalries surface and a subplot involving one of her male students with a troublesome mother unfold as characters spout and debate philosophy or holding on to whatever good they have in life.

While the compositions and photography were pleasing to the eye, and the star Valeria Dreville gives her character a brilliant understated resiliency and doesn't play for easy emotional connections with the audience, the scenario left me feeling cold.

After just over an hour, I took my leave.

In addition to these six flicks, I also early-exited the too-melodramatic and under-written "The White Nights" featuring Vincent Lindon from France and Belgium, and master Italian director Marco Bellochio's very disappointing costume drama "Blood of My Blood," bringing my total of walkouts to eight. That's the highest number of any previous year's festival.

As always, I'm grateful to the programmers and underwriters of the San Francisco International Film Festival even when the movies they present don't tickle my cinematic fancy. The reason I carved out much time for the festival is for the rare opportunity to see these works that won't show otherwise on Bay Area screens.

Previous coverage of the 59th SFIFF is here, here, here and here.

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