Festivals, of course. The Mill Valley Film Festival continues through the weekend, and the Oakland International Film Festival runs through the week. Plus, the CounterCorp Anti-Corporate Film Festival opens Wednesday, and the Taiwan and Arab Film Festivals open Thursday. I’ve placed Mill Valley screenings at the bottom of this newsletter.
Sadko, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 3:00. I’ve seen this 1952 Soviet fantasy many times, and enjoyed it immensely, but I can’t say I’ve actually seen it. Roger Corman bought the American rights in the 1960s, put a young Francis Coppola in charge of major editing and dubbing, and released it as The Magic Voyage of Sinbad (presumably to cash in on Harryhausen’s 7th Voyage of Sinbad). That already altered version found it’s way to Mystery Science Theater 3000, and I’ve come to love the version with Joel and the ‘bots continuous and hilarious commentary. I have no idea if the original film is any good. Part of the PFA’s series, Envisioning Russia: A Century of Filmmaking.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Clay, Wednesday and Thursday. When we think French New Wave, we imagine gritty, black-and-white stories filled with angst and alienation. Yet Jacques Demy, shooting a completely believable story in real locations, created a lush, colorful and sublimely romantic musical. A movie like few others, with an astonishingly young and beautiful Catherine Deneuve (as opposed to the astonishingly well-aged and beautiful Catherine Deneuve of today).
Belle de jour, Clay, Monday and Tuesday. About as close as one gets to a Luis Buñuel commercial hit, for reasons that probably have more to do with sex than art. Catherine Deneuve plays a bored housewife who starts working in a brothel. At least I think that’s what happens; a lot of the story takes place in her imagination. Although not as profound as it thinks it is, it’s funny and charming and sexy and playful in ways unlike any other movie.
The Bridge On The River Kwai, Castro, Sunday. The longer it’s been since you’ve seen David Lean’s World War II adventure, the better it gets in your memory. That’s because the brilliant story of an over-proud British POW (Alec Guinness) sticks in the mind. But to see it again is to be reminded that the Col. Nicholson story is just a subplot (Guinness receives third billing). The bulk of Kwai is a well-done but relatively conventional action movie with some uncomfortably Hollywoodish elements. Remember the Burmese porters who all happen to be beautiful young women? But when it’s good, it’s excellent, and when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. Part of a series of David Lean epics.
Forbidden Lie$, Rafael, Monday through Thursday. I have mixed feelings about documentaries that recreate scenes with actors, but Anna Broinowski’s doc about author/con-artist Norma Khouri justified them beautifully. None of the events recreated in the film actually happened, and Broinowski reminds us of that by showing us the freshly murdered girl, covered in stage blood, sit up and laugh with her “murderers” after a take. Not only is it just a movie, but it’s a movie about lies. Khouri became famous when she wrote a memoir about the honor killing of her best friend in Jordan. The trouble is that she grew up in Chicago, her real name is Norma Bagain, and she left the US one step ahead of the law after defrauding an old lady. Extremely entertaining, with jokes, old film clips, special effects, and rock and roll. Read my full review.
Humboldt County, Rafael, Monday through Thursday. Movies that start as broad comedies and turn serious seldom work, yet first-time writers/directors Darren Grodsky and Danny Jacobs pull it off beautifully in Humboldt County. They start their film as a hysterically funny fish-out-of-water comedy about an awkwardly shy medical student (Jeremy Strong) dropped into a family of northern California backwoods pot farmers. But as we realize what paranoia is doing to this warm, loving, and almost constantly stoned bunch, the film gets serious. Humboldt County pays loving yet clear-eyed tribute to an unusual lifestyle. Read my full review.
Wall-E, Red Vic, Friday through Monday. Andrew Stanton and Pixar made a courageous movie. When Disney finances your big-budget family entertainment, it takes guts to look closely and critically at such consequences of our consumer culture as garbage, obesity, and planetary destruction. Making an almost dialog-free film also took a fair amount of backbone. WALL-E wimps out in the third act–which is both disappointing and probably inevitable–and while that diminishes Stanton’s achievement, it doesn’t destroy it. Read my full review.
[D] Vertigo, Stanford, Thursday, 7:30. What? I’m not recommending Vertigo? Everyone else thinks it’s a masterpiece, but it tops my short list of the Most Overrated Films of All Time. Vertigo isn’t like any other Hitchcock movie; it’s slow, uninvolving, and self-consciously arty.
Mill Valley Film Festivalal
Tribute to Harriet Andersson: Through a Glass Darkly, Rafael, Saturday, 7:00. While on vacation on an island, a woman thought cured of her mental illness slides back into madness, and her family doesn’t know what to do about it. There are other family problems of course–difficulties with her husband and brother, for instance–but these are soon overshadowed by the pointless tragedy of insanity. Like so much of Bergman’s best work, Through a Glass Darkly illuminates a crisis of faith. More than just a screening, the evening involves a tribute to actress Harriet Andersson.
Lemon Tree, Sequoia, Sunday, 5:45 and 8:30. When the new Israeli Defense Minister moves next door to a Palestinian lemon grove, and his security people decide the grove must be destroyed, the widow who owns the grove (Hiam Abbass) takes the case to court. Filmmakers Eran Riklis and Suha Araf wisely avoid clichés in their Israel vs. Palestine drama, concentrating instead on how the struggle effects the lives of everyone involved. Lemon Tree will probably receive a regular theatrical release in the coming months.
Katyn, Rafael, Saturday, 9:30. In the spring of 1940, Soviet special forces massacred over 15,000 Polish prisoners of war, including the father of future filmmaker Andrzej Wajda. After the war, Stalin’s government insisted that the Nazis were to blame and suppressed the truth. Wajda tells the story of the crime and the cover-up through a handful of fictitious characters in this visually gorgeous yet emotionally shocking historical epic. The second half, set mostly after the war, sags through too many characters you haven’t really gotten to know, but it’s still an amazing recreation of a largely-forgotten atrocity.
Captain Abu Raed, Mill Valley: Sequoia, Friday, October 10, 7:30 (rush only); Rafael, Sunday, October 12, 4:45. This Jordanian tale of a wise and kindly airport janitor who befriends the neighborhood children occasionally steers towards the mawkish and sentimental, but usually skirts the danger zone. Nadim Sawalha is charming and likeable as the widowed protagonist whom the local kids mistake for a pilot (hence the Captain in the title). He begins by telling them stories, but gradually becomes involved in their lives. Although his intentions are good, his interference can have unintended consequences.
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