Midweek Festival Report

I spent the weekend at the San Francisco International Film Festival. I’ll tell you more about it in my regular Friday newsletter. But I thought I should let you know about some movies you’ll have an opportunity to see at the festival before Friday.

I’ve listed them in order of quality, from the best to the not-so-great.

I wrote this in a hurry and I’m not taking the time to look over what I write. So please excuse any rough edges; consider them the price of timeliness.

Recommended: Adam’s Apples, Kabuki, Monday, 9:45. The plot sounds like vapid, Hollywood, feel-good drek: A hate-filled neo-Nazi (Ulrich Thomsen), fresh out of prison, must spend time living in a church as part of his parole. With the help of a minister who sees the good in everyone and a couple of oddball eccentrics, he learns the virtues of virtue. But Adam’s Apples is Hollywood uplift, but the blackest of black comedies from Denmark’s Anders Thomas Jensen. This loving and forgiving minister is dangerously insane, the two oddballs should probably be locked away, the parish doctor has the worst bedside manner since Groucho Marx practiced medicine in Day at the Races, and the neo-Nazi is the sanest person around. On one hand, this is a profoundly religious picture, built on redemption and filled with miracles ranging from a Bible that always opens to the Book of Job to a man who just won’t die. On the other, I never laughed so hard at a man shooting a cat. The best film I’ve yet seen at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Recommended: Iberia, Kabuki, Tuesday, 9:45; Thursday, 2:45. Dance. Pure, simple, graceful, and beautiful, and without any story-filling dialog scenes to get in the way. Carlos Saura brought together great dancers, choreographers, and musicians to bring to life the work of composer Spanish Isaac Albéniz. There’s little artifice; Iberia was shot on a near-bare soundstage, with just some screens and projections to set the stage. The dancers often (but not always) seem to be wearing their street clothes. The dances are plentiful and short; in the unlikely event that you don’t like one, something wonderful is only a few minutes away.

Recommended: Play, Kabuki, Wednesday, 4:00; Friday, 6:30. This quiet Chilean study of alienation and attachment doesn’t reach out and grab the audience; you have to meet it halfway. But it’s worth the effort. Play follows two lonely people through Santiago. Cristina (Viviana Herrera) is a young native American whose left her home for the big city; she spends her free time walking and playing video games. Then she finds a lost satchel, and becomes fascinated with its owner. That would be the severely depressed Tristán (Andrés Ulloa), who isn’t even trying to get over the end of his marriage; his wife has left him for a much sexier man. He returns to live with his mother, who’s also shacked up with a much sexier man. Writer/director Alicia Scherson paints a modern world in which technology separates us but human nature brings us together; where people wearing headphones and listening to different music can still flirt with each other.

Recommended, with Reservations:  Obaba, Kabuki, Tuesday, 6:30, Friday, 4:00. No, it isn’t a typo in the name of Illinois’ junior senator. The title of Montxo Armendáriz’ latest is a small town in an out-of-the-way corner of Spain. A college student (Bárbara Lennie) visits Obaba (a fictional place that doesn’t exist outside of this movie) to interview people for a school assignment. She finds old rivalries, a man who loves lizards, a great-looking guy for her to fall for, and flashbacks to an earlier time when everything was shot with golden light. There’s much to like in Obaba, including the story of a scandal-ridden teacher (Pilar López de Ayala) and some truly scary moments involving those lizards. But much of the film is silly and sentimental, and in the end, it just doesn’t add up.