SFIFF Saturday: Koreans in Japan, Geek Nostalgia, and a Surreal Documentary

Here’s what I saw Saturday at the San Francisco International Film Festival

B Our Homeland
For second-generation ethnic Koreans living in Japan, going "home" was once very important–even though "home" was the living nightmare of North Korea. In this calmly imageheart-breaking drama, a man in his early 40s who migrated to a Korea he’d never known 25 years earlier, returns to Japan and his family for a three-month medical leave. He’s withdrawn and frightened, perhaps because of the tumor eating his brain, but more likely because he’s spent most of his life in a place where there are choices and doubt are not allowed. He must adjust to his family–including his true-believer Communist father–and they must adjust to him.

Autobiographical, Our Homeland is told through the eyes of his much younger sister, Rie–a stand-in for writer/director Yang Yonghi.

But many of the film’s cultural and political aspects are opaque to those not already in the know. I wasn’t even sure what year–or decade–the film was set.

You’ve got one more chance to see Our Homeland at the festival: Monday, 1:00, at the New People Cinema. There are no plans for a regular American release.

B- Computer Chess
This reasonably funny mockumentary follows a computer chess tournament in 1980. imageAssorted geeks and nerds (including one "lady") show up at a hotel to test their hardware and software’s chess skills. The winning algorithm will then face an actual human chess master. To add color, a bizarre new-age group has its own gathering at the same hotel. The whole thing is shot in standard-def black-and-white; it looks awful but that’s the point. The jokes range from the clever to the obvious, and I have to admit that most of the audience laughed more than I did.

I saw Computer Chess’  last festival screening. However, it’s on the list of films that "have secured U.S. distribution or are in negotiations with a U.S distributor," so you may have your own chance to decide how funny it is.

A The Search for Emak Bakia
In 1920, surrealist artist Man Ray made a short film called  Emak Bakia. In the Basque language, that means something like "Go away!" or "Leave me along!" Far more recently, Oskar Alegria set out to discover the short’s history, inspirations, imageand locations. (As I write this, I have yet to see Man Ray’s original; I intend to fix that soon). The result, The Search for Emak Bakia, is an appropriately surreal documentary. In addition to conventional detective work–such as looking for a house with the right columns in the front–he follows a plastic glove blowing in the wind and turns his research to clowns on what could only be described as a irrelevant (but interesting) whim. Amongst the more conventional detective work, he finds an old woman who lived in the house as a young girl. The result is much more than informative; it’s magical.

After the film, Alegria stepped in front of the screen for Q&A. Some highlights:

"I loved the mystery [of the original film’s creation]. If you see Man Ray films, you can’t see where they were made. I love mysteries, and mysteries have to be good if you want to make a long film."

"This is my first film and my last. I’m a journalist."

"When I was following the plastic glove, that’s not being a journalist. I had to put aside the journalist and be guided by chance."

About the woman: "We were trying to find the same house at the same time, using the same method, without knowing each other. And now we have become friends. She’s now 95 years old."

On its commercial prospects: "This is not a commercial film…I don’t want to make money with it."

"My mother taught me to have faith in magic."

You’ve got two more chances to see The Search for Emak Bakia this week. It plays the Kabuki Monday at 8:45, and the New People Cinema Thursday at 3:30. Since you’ll probably never get another chance to see this picture, I’d make it a top festival priority.

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