So far, I’ve been able to preview two films (both documentaries) that will play at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival. Here’s what I think of them. I’ve also included capsules of two classic films that will be screened.
B+ Women with Cows, Kabuki, Saturday, April 21, 3:30; Pacific Film Archive, Monday, April 23, 8:45; Kabuki, Thursday, Apr 26, 1:00. Britt, now in her late 70s, never married and has always worked on the family dairy farm. She no longer sells the product of her milking labors, but keeps her cows and bulls as pets. She bends over so badly that when she stands, her face almost touches her knees. Her younger and more practical sister Inger, who has led a far more conventional life, comes by as often as she can and helps with the chores, but she realizes that the current situation can’t last. This touching, atmospheric, and beautifully-shot documentary could have been significantly shorter, but it’s still a moving story of family conflicts and bonds. And unless you’re a dairy farmer yourself, you may never get this intimate with cows.
C- Golden Slumbers, SF Film Society Cinema, Saturday, April 28, 9:00; Pacific Film Archive, Tuesday, May 1, 6:30; Kabuki, Thursday, May 3, 5:00. The Cambodian film industry was only 15 years old when the Khmer Rouge took over the country and closed it down. Few filmmakers and no movies survived the four-year genocide. That’s a great story, but Davy Chou manages to make it all but lifeless in this dull documentary. He devotes most of the running time to the nostalgic reverie of former filmmakers and fans, with occasional studies of former theaters and modern recreations of lost scenes. None of this is shot or edited in a compelling way. In the final third, some of the subjects talk about their experiences under the Khmer Rouge, which is far more moving, but still badly presented. One big question is never even considered: What happened to the Cambodian film industry after Pol Pot, and why didn’t any of these people take part in it?
A+ The Third Man, Castro, Saturday, April 28, 1:00. Classic film noir with an international flavor. An American pulp novelist (Joseph Cotten) arrives in impoverished, divided post-war Vienna to meet up with an old friend who has promised him a much-needed job. But he soon discovers that the friend is both a wanted criminal and newly dead. Or is he? Writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed place an intriguing mystery inside a world so dark and disillusioned that American noir seems tame by comparison. Then, when the movie is two thirds over, Orson Welles comes onscreen to steal everything but the sprocket holes. This screening is a tribute to Bingham Ray, who died earlier this year only months after his appointment as Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society.
B+ House by the River, Castro, Saturday, April 28, 4:00. A struggling novelist and all-around cad (Louis Hayward) attempts to rape his maid and accidentally kills her. Then he tricks his decent and semi-crippled brother (Lee Bowman) into helping him dump the body. Fritz Lang was a master of film noir (would film noir even exist without M?), and you can see that in this low-budget thriller. The story centers on the conflict between the brothers–one reacting with moral horror and the other seemingly beyond such feelings, and both worried about being caught. Jane Wyatt plays the writer’s initially loving wife, who begins to suspect that something is wrong before it becomes clear just how wrong everything is. House by the River screens as part of the tribute to this year’s Mel Novikoff Award winner, Pierre Rissient, who helped rediscover this minor work or a major filmmaker.