SFIFF Report: Sunday

I finally got to the San Francisco International Film Festival yesterday. I saw three movies there.

One major concern–not surprising considering the economy: The place wasn’t as crowded as in past years. The first film I saw played to a near-empty house, and there was no waiting at the concession stand.

Here’s what I saw:

Confessional. The festival second film I’ve seen this year that pretends  to be a young amateur’s early budding work. This one, from the Philippines, is fun, especially in the quirky early scenes and the satisfying climax, but it doesn’t hold a candle to My Suicide. This time around, the young filmmaker (really a guy who makes wedding videos) visits a vacation spot island, with a very different culture, to make a documentary on the big, local festival. But he finds a stranger and more compelling subject-a former politician wanting to confess his sins. The experience slowly and unsurely awakens the instincts of a real documentarian. Interesting and fun, but hardly a must-see. It screens again Wednesday at 4;00, also at the Kabuki.

Sacred Places. Another movie about movies, this one from Africa. Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, holds a major African film festival every year. But Cameroonian filmmaker Jean-Marie Téno turns his camera instead on a little Cine Club in a poor but apparently vibrant neighborhood. We meet the guy who enthusiastically (and occasionally profitably) runs the club, screening pirated DVDs on an old TV in front of a neighborhood audience. Other locals also catch  Téno’s (and our) attention–especially a man who makes drums for a living and clearly has great pride in his work. Commercial world cinema, traditional storytelling, craftsmanship, and the difficulty for Africans to see their own cinema all play a role. It screens again on Wednesday, at 3:30, at the Kabuki.

Bullet in the Head. I like a movie that forces me to meet it halfway, but this Spanish non-thriller doesn’t even make a step in your direction. For the bulk of the film’s 84-minute running time (It seemed longer), you watch a middle-aged man go through a pretty boring life. He eats a midnight snack. He argues with his wife. He goes into a house while a companion parks the car. He engages in many conversations, but we don’t know what they’re about because the soundtrack only contains background noises–mostly traffic. Everything is shot badly with very long lenses, and edited to enhance the boredom. The violent act implicit in the title finally occurs about 15 minutes before the end. Why? Presumably because writer/director Jaime Rosales no longer felt that making real life boring was enough of a challenge, so he had to prove he could make a car chase boring, as well. This is as pointless as cinema gets. Bullet in the Head will screen again–Tuesday at 9:00 and Friday at 2:00, both times at the Kabuki. Savor your additional chances to miss it.