Sunday, April 27, 2014

SFIFF57: Over Two-Days, Five Films Including Fabulous 'Queen Margot'

Try as I did to keep up my energy for a three films on Friday, I was able to see only two and they were both satisfying and a great way to start off the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival.

From Romania, "When Night Falls on Bucharest, or Metabolism", was a droll look at a manipulative (is there any other kind?) director in the middle of shooting his latest film. Told in long takes, after opening scene explaining why scenes can only be 11-minutes long, the action is mostly talking leavened with sly humor and the camera rarely moves. Occasionally, it pans slightly to the left or right, but this is very much a film with a proud gazing stare and actors worth watching.

After that I saw the quite unique documentary "Manakamana", which is a holy shrine in Nepal and destination of people on pilgrimages or those visiting for the soaring beauty. A camera and microphone were stationed in the cable cars that hoist people, or in one instance half a dozen goats, up to the shrine or villages dotting the mountain, and the camera never moves.

What makes this film wonderfully cinematic is the faces of pilgrims in the cable cars, their reactions (or blase stares) to the scenery and length of the trips up or down the mountain, and the vast forests they soar over. This is one documentary I would see again.

On Saturday, I managed a triple header, something I have not done in years. I started with finally seeing the late opera and film director Patrice Chereau's restored director's cut of his 1994 epic "Queen Margot", starring a radiant and fantastic Isabel Adjani, pictured. Chereau was an out gay artiste and he fills the screens with the most handsome 25 to 30 year old supporting actors and extras, that add to the overall sumptuous production design.

Warring French Catholics and Protestants, royal intrigues and betrayals, human and animal blood and gore, operatic coronation stagings, the most eye-pleasing costumes and decors, fast-paced editing that does not lose the audience with numerous subplots, and top-notch acting all around but the great '60s Italian siren Virna Lisi steals every scene she's in. "Queen Margot" is being distributed by the Cohen Media Group and it is one movie that requires a big screen with a great sound system.

Next up was the new film from Greece "Standing Aside, Watching" that held my interest well-enough but needed a stronger script and clearer motivations explained for several of the characters. The Greek economic crisis forces a young women to leave her life in Athens and return to her seaside home town. One female friend engages in self-destructive behavior such as shoplifting at the same store and suffers physical and mental abuse from a sometime lover, without any explanation. Engaging camerawork and I expect the director Yorgas Servetas to expand his storytelling skills with his next film.

I closed the evening watching a terrific Estonian-Georgian film titled "Tangerines". During a regional war in 1992-1993, a nearly empty Estonian village contains two farmers who remain growing and harvesting a tangerine orchard. A skirmish between Estonian soldiers and Chechen mercenaries fighting on behalf of the Georgians leaves two young wounded fighters in the care of one of the farmers.

An allegory for the larger political situation, the soldiers despise each other and vow fatal revenge on the other once they are restored to health, but they come to an understanding that shows their common humanity and soon some of the hostility melts. Even with a tragic deadly climax, "Tangerines" still concluded with a small and well-earned note of optimism.

Click here for all the necessary info about the films and plots, dates and times of screenings and how to purchase tickets. See you at the San Francisco International Film Festival!

(All images courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society.)

No comments: