San Francisco International Film Festival Preview

I’ve now viewed four films that will get their local premiere at the San Francisco International. Film Festival. Here’s what I thought of them, starting with the best:

A- What Maisie Knew, Castro, Thursday, April 25, 7:00. Opening night. This family drama follows the aftereffects of a very angry, messy, and vindictive image_thumbdivorce–as seen through the eyes of their young daughter. We see nothing that she doesn’t see, or hear anything she doesn’t hear. Of course we realize, even if she doesn’t, that both of her parents are jerks. Julianne Moore plays Maisie’s monster of a mother, an aging rock star incapable of relating to another human being as anything other than an extension of herself. Maisie’s art dealer father (Steve Coogan) fights for joint custody not out of love but revenge. Luckily for her, there are better adults in her life, but they may not be enough to make up for her lousy parents.

B+ Youth, Kabuki, Wednesday, May 1, 6:45; Friday, May 3, 6:45; Saturday, May 4, 1:30. Justine Malle–the daughter of Louis Malle–makes her narrative feature debut in this openly autobiographical feature. Juliette (Esther Garrel) is the 20-year-old imagedaughter of a great and respected filmmaker, coming to grips with sex, romantic love, and her father’s slow death from a degenerative disease. That’s pretty much what Justine Malle went through in the mid 1990s. Like her father–who also made at least two autobiographical narratives–she handles the story with direct and intimate camerawork, and with love and compassion for the characters. Her protagonist doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life, but watching her father slowly die is not on the top of her list. My major complaint: At 75 minutes, it’s too short. I wanted to spend more time with these people. Bob Dylan’s "I Want You" will never sound the same.

C Cold War, Kabuki, Monday, April 29, 6:45; Tuesday, April 30 9:30; Thursday, May 2, 2:00. A police van with five cops in it mysteriously disappears. With all of the imageradios and GPS devices inside, that’s virtually impossible..unless it’s an inside job. In this fast-paced Hong Kong thriller, two high-ranking police officers battle each other as well as the bad guys through explosions, gun fire, and a lot of very fast, very serious dialog. Cold War never pauses enough for us to get to know a character, or care about one. The result is visually kinetic, but dead in the center–as devoid of character as the sleek Hong Kong skyscrapers in which most of it is set.

C- Nights with Theodore, Kabuki, Sunday, April 28, 6:45; Monday, April 29 3:30; Sunday, May 5, 9:30. Here’s a great idea for a supernatural thriller: Two young people meet at a imageparty, leave together, sneak into a large city park officially closed for the night, and make love. But instead of starting a conventional romance, they keep returning every night to the park, which becomes an obsession for them. The man seems particularly effected, developing mental and physical problems whenever he’s outside the park. It’s a great idea, but writer/director Sébastien Betbeder fails to build empathy, suspense, dread, or any other appropriate emotion. The film just lays there. At least, at 67 minutes, it’s short. I’m hoping that someone more talented will buy the remake rights.