More Festivals

The holidays are over and the film festivals are starting up. Assuming you’re reading this on Friday, Noir City and the Rafael‘s For Your Consideration series start tonight, while Berlin and Beyond opened last night.

Berlin and Beyond plays a variety of German-language films through Wednesday at the Castro, most new and not readily available in this country. The two conspicuous exceptions are The Nasty Girl and The White Rose, part of the festival’s tribute to filmmaker Michael Verhoeven. Also in the tribute is a documentary on his family and Verhoeven’s early anti-Vietnam movie o.k. You’ll find details of particular festival presentations below.

Noir City has nothing new. Most of the films scheduled for this two week-long wallow in the dark side of Hollywood are more than 50 years old. The program includes rare prints, personal appearances, a jazz concert and a book reading, plus 15 double bills filled with cynical cops, femme fatales, and hard-boiled dicks. The Palace of Fine Arts is hosting most of the festival, which moves to the Balboa for its last four days. I’ve only seen one of the scheduled films, but I’ll do my best to tell you about some interesting shows below.

Finally, the Rafael‘s For Your Consideration series presents 19 films up for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar consideration. (In case you’re not familiar with the Academy’s bizarre rules, a film only qualifies for this award if its country of origin submits it to the Academy. A special group of Academy members screen the submitted movies and vote for the five nominees. The entire Academy selects the winner.) Since I haven’t seen, or even heard of, any of these films, I can’t say anything about them below.

Speaking of which, you’ve reached that point in the newsletter referred to above as below.

Recommended: Strangers on a Train, Palace of Fine Arts, Friday, 7:00. One of Hitchcock’s scariest films, and therefore one of his best. A rich, spoiled psychotic killer (isn’t that the worst kind?) convinces himself that a moderately-famous athlete has agreed to trade murders. The athlete soon finds himself hounded by suspicious cops who think he’s killed his wife and a psycho who thinks the athlete owes him a murder. The Noir City festival is showing Strangers on a Train on a double-bill with They Live By Night, a film which, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve never seen.

Noteworthy: The Maltese Falcon (1931), Palace of Fine Arts, Saturday, 1:00. The first of three film versions of Dashiell Hammett’s novel, and, from what I’ve heard, the sexiest (it is after all, pre-code). But I’ve never heard anyone suggest that this version is better than John Huston’s 1941 masterpiece. Also known as Dangerous Female. On a Noir City double-bill with City Streets, the only story that Hammett wrote directly for the screen.

Recommended: Truth or Dare, Castro, Saturday, 4:30. The 2005 Audience Award Winner at the Kinofest Lunen Festival speaks of youthful alienation, frustration, and, most of all, dishonesty. 18-year-old Annika (Katharina Schüttler) flunks out of school, but doesn’t have the heart to tell her parents. As the months go by and her “graduation” approaches, the lie grows out of control, alienating her not only from her parents but also from those entrusted in keeping her secret. Part of the Berlin and Beyond film festival.

Noteworthy: The Nasty Girl, Castro, Sunday, 2:30. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Michael Verhoeven’s 1990 drama about a young German woman who pokes too deeply into her home town’s Third Reich past. I remember liking it without being overwhelmed; certainly not overwhelmed enough to trust my memory. But I can tell you that the American title is a misleading translation of the German original, Das Schreckliche Mädchen. According to my German-speaking wife, a more accurate translation would be “The Terrible Girl.– That’s also a more accurate description of the film. Not as commercial, of course. Part of the Berlin and Beyond film festival.

Not Recommended: Netto, Castro, Sunday, 6:30. A loser dreams of a successful career in security. His 15-year-old son, suspicious of his mother’s boyfriend, suddenly moves in and starts teaching his father about job interviews. It’s a good idea, but neither writer/director Robert Thalheim nor his cast find a way to make us care about these two. Part of the Berlin and Beyond film festival.

Noteworthy: People On Sunday, Castro, Tuesday, 7:00. An early film by Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, Billy Wilder, and Fred Zinnemann? Yes, this 1929 German silent exploration of the working class at play was written and directed by people destined for Hollywood greatness. I haven’t seen it yet, but I hope to. As part of Berlin and Beyond, Dennis James will accompany People On Sunday on the Castro’s Wurlitzer organ.

Noteworthy: Ben Hecht Tribute, Palace of Fine Arts, Tuesday, 7:30. Ben Hecht is my favorite screenwriter of studio-era Hollywood. Among the movies graced by his typewriter are Scarface, Notorious, Design for Living, and The Black Swan. He also tried his hand at directing, without the commercial success he enjoyed as a writer. Noir City is presenting two films he directed in the 1930’s, Crime of Passion and The Scoundrel. I haven’t seen them.

Recommended: Silentium, Castro, Tuesday, 8:30. Evil priests, perverted opera singers, and sadistic killers dominate Mozart’s home town of Salzburg in this Austrian neo-noir. Josef Hader stars as a down-and-out private eye hired to look into a suspicious “suicide.– What he finds, of course, is a lot worse than one little murder. Silentium is suspenseful, sardonic, violent, and sacrilegious. It also contains the funniest Hitchcock homage I’ve ever seen. Part of the Berlin and Beyond film festival, although it would be right at home at Noir City, as well.

Recommended: Time Bandits, Parkway, Tuesday, 9:15. What would you do with a map of the universe’s flaws? For a band of unruly dwarves, the answer is easy: Make it the guide for a time-traveling crime spree. Unfortunately, Evil Incarnate believes that the map will give him unlimited power, and the Supreme Being wants it back. Terry Gilliam takes the children’s fairy tale for a ride in the movie that turned Monty Python’s animator into a major filmmaker.

Noteworthy: The Short Films of Georges Méliès, Alliance Française, Thursday, 7:00. More than a century ago, stage magician Georges Méliès invented movie special effects. His short “trick– comedies were among the first films to tell stories, and he can reasonably be called the first important artist of the cinema. This collection, which includes his best-known film, “A Trip to the Moon,– will be musically accompanied by The Ahl-I Nafs.