SFIFF: Sunday at the PFA

I spent Sunday at the Pacific Film Archive, watching the East Bay edition of the San Francisco International Film Festival.

I caught three films, two great, one lousy. Oddly, the two great ones both centered around women who could reasonably be described as sociopaths.

One problem with the PFA: Since food and drink are banned inside, you have only the short, 30-minute intermissions to buy and consume nourishment and/or caffeine. That can be a challenge when you’re watching three movies.

And here’s what I think of what I saw:

Forbidden Lie$
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 ever actually happened, and when Broinowski shows us the freshly murdered girl, covered in stageblood, sitting up and laughing with her “murderers,” she reminds us not only that it’s just a movie, but that 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, wanted for defrauding an old lady. Extremely entertaining, with jokes, old film clips, special effects, and rock and roll, Forbidden Lies takes on a journey with, and about, one hell of a con artist. Several times, even late in the picture, a new revelation would have me thinking “Maybe there is some truth behind what she said,” only to discover that no such truth exists.

You can still catch Forbidden Lie$ at the Kabuki on Wednesday, April 30 at 12:45 and Sunday, May 4, at 8:45, and at the Clay on Friday, May 2, at 6:30. There are no plans for subsequent showings.

Latent Argentina
If you printed Latent Argentina’s subtitles on paper, they’d make a decent magazine article. But you could read that article in a third the time it takes to watch the documentary; less if you skip the boring parts. Writer/director Fernando E. Solanas has a point to make about how his beloved Argentina must revitalize it’s once-powerful economy and place its resources into the hands of the people, but he doesn’t offer a compelling way to tell it. An occasional interview subject livens things up, but for the most part the picture just drags, with the narrator telling you about Argentina’s wonderful past and potential, and talking heads pretty much confirming what he said. The standard-def video presentation robs the occasional scenic landscapes of their beauty and power.

If you don’t believe me, you can catch Latent Argentina Monday, April 28 at 4:15 and Wednesday, May 7, at 4:00. Both showings are at the Kabuki. There are no plans for commercial distribution.

Leave Her to Heaven
Gene Tierney’s “woman who loves too much,” in her obsessive desire to be the only person in her husband’s life, reminded me a bit of Norma Khouri/ Norma Bagain from Forbidden Lie$. But this woman’s behavior would make Bagain appear like a saint. This isn’t the typical film noir femme fatale, seducing men to their doom in her quest for material ends. She doesn’t need material things, but she needs her man (Cornel Wilde) so desperately she can’t bear the thought of sharing him with friends or family. And she’s willing to do anything to keep him to herself.

Tierney gets top billing, but the real star of Leave Her to Heaven is Technicolor. Set mostly in scenic locations (New Mexico, rural Maine, and others), the film shows three-strip Technicolor at its best. I often found myself enjoying the color of a chair or Tierney’s eyes, without that enjoyment ever detracting from the story. (On the other hand, I did wonder about that bright red lipstick that never smeared or left her lips, whether she was kissing, swimming, or getting out of bed.) Oddly, the bright Technicolor works well with this particular dark story. Twentieth-Century Fox recently restored the film from a faded and badly-registered color composite negative, and they did a wonderful job.

Unfortunately, I saw the last Leave Her to Heaven screening in the Festival. Unless a local rep house books it for a night or two, your only option is seeing it on DVD.