The San Francisco International Film Festival dominates this week (and next) for Bay Area cinephiles. I placed my SFIFF capsules at the bottom of this newsletter.
But even if you eschew the Festival, there’s plenty to see:
A- Teenage, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, opens Friday. Using a combination of archival footage and dramatic recreations, Matt Wolf’s documentary explores British, German,and American youth from 1904 through 1945. Through excerpts from diary entries, read by young actors, we get to know the adolescents who fought two world wars, the flaming youth of the 20s, sub debs, swingers, help cats, Hitler Youth, and Rosie the Riveters. Driven by Bradford Cox’s art-rock musical score, Teenage documents not facts but emotions, tracking the feelings of those stuck between carefree childhood and adult responsibility.
A Rome Open City, Lark, Saturday, 8:15; Sunday, 12:30. Roberto Rossellini helped create Italian neorealism in this dark tale of the German occupation. Gritty and at times horrifying, it vividly recreates the physical dangers and mental strains of living under Nazi rule. Technically, I suppose, it shouldn’t count as neorealism, since two major parts are played by established stars: Anna Magnani takes the central role of a pregnant woman who discovers that her fiancé is working for the underground, and the usually comic Aldo Fabrizi takes on a rare dramatic role as a priest who finds he has to administer more than just souls. Part of a brief series, Viva Italia!
A- Patton, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. George C. Scott was never better than in this character study disguised as a historical epic. As Scott portrays him, General George S. Patton is a super-strict, vain warmonger who’s willing to risk other men’s life for his own glory. But he’s also a poet, a principled soldier willing to argue with those who outrank him, and a man who feels out of place in his own time. Director Franklin Schaffner paints this story on the very broad canvas of 70mm filmmaking, creating a thrilling and immersive setting for the exploration of a warrior’s soul. One of the last and one of the best of the large-format roadshow pictures. Francis Ford Coppola co-authored the screenplay. Karl Malden plays Omar Bradley as the voice of reason.
Watership Down, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. I haven’t seen this animated parable since it was new in 1978. I don’t remember it very well, but I do remember being very very impressed with this story of wild rabbits setting off to find a new home. I also remember that, for a PG-rated cartoon with fuzzy, talking animals, it really isn’t appropriate for young children.
The Bicycle Thief, Lark, Friday, 8:15; Saturday, 6:00; Sunday, 5:30. I haven’t seen Vittorio DeSica’s neo-realism masterpiece in at least 20 years, so I’m officially unqualified to recommend it. But I remember something stunning and moving, and probably relevant to our economically uncertain times. Another part of a Lark’s brief series, Viva Italia!
C- Hitchcock homage double bill: The Bride Wore Black & Obsession, Castro, Wednesday, 7:00. François Truffaut loved Hitchcock’s work, so it’s inevitable that he would eventually try to make something like The Bride Wore Black. But there’s no real rooting interest, and therefore no suspense, in this story of a young widow (Jeanne Moreau) out for revenge. New 35mm print. In Brian De Palma’s Obsession, Cliff Robertson plays a wealthy man who, 16 years after the deaths of his wife and daughter, meets a woman who looks exactly like his wife (Geneviève Bujold). Before you can say Vertigo, you have a pretty good idea where things are going. With Bernard Hermann’s last and probably worst score. Read my longer discussion.
A- Comedy Short Subject Night, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. If all four of these films as the first two, I’d give this collection an A+. "The Cure" is arguably the funniest of Charlie Chaplin’s Mutual shorts, with his rich drunk character (an alternative to the usual tramp) causing pandemonium. And Buster Keaton’s "Cops" is deservedly considered one of his short masterpieces. Laurel and Hardy’s "We Faw Down" is quite funny and has one fantastic sequence, but overall isn’t amongst their best. I haven’t seen the Charley Chase vehicle, "Many Scrappy Returns," but I like his work so I’m optimistic. ‘Frederick Hodges will accompany everything on piano.
B+ Inequality For All, New Parkway, Saturday, 3:00. I suppose I should be raving about this wonderful documentary, if only because it speaks truth about one of the most important issues of our time. Well, it does speak truth, and I agree with just about everything that the film’s subject, economist Robert Reich, says here. But the simple fact that it confirms my existing beliefs doesn’t make it great art. And since very few people who don’t already agree with it will ever see it, its impact on society will be minimal. But Reich is an engaging person–funny and self-effacing, and very intelligent–resulting in an entertaining movie. Presented by the Appreciating Diversity Film Series
A- The Princess Bride, Lark, Sunday, 3:00. William Goldman’s enchanting and funny fairy tale dances magically along that thin line between parody and the real thing. The then-young and gorgeous Cary Elwes and Robin Wright make a wonderful set of star-crossed lovers, and Mandy Patinkin has a lot of fun as a revenge-filled swashbuckler. There’s no funnier swordfight anywhere, and who can forget cinema’s greatest acronym, ROUS (rodents of unusual size). On the other hand, some of the big-name cameos really grate on your nerves. Part of the Lark’s Family Films series.
A Happiness, Kabuki, Sunday, 12:15, and Wednesday, April 30 at 1:00. This anthropological documentary puts you into a society you probably don’t know–a remote, mountainous portion of Bhutan–and shows you how it’s changing with the times. And it does this almost entirely through the viewpoint of a young boy. Peyangki wants to go to school, but his widowed mother can’t afford it, and sends him instead to a small nearby monastery–with the intent that he will become a monk. He studies Buddhism, but he also plays, burns excess energy, makes friends, and acts like the utterly adorable child he is. Meanwhile, electricity–and with it TV and the Internet–are coming to town, where they will change everything. Thomas Balmès’ camera makes few obvious comments, and generally sits back and observes a way of life in transition. Touching, visually beautiful, with a slow, stately pace that matches the subject matter. A real gem.
A- Bad Hair, Kabuki, Thursday, 9:15. Ten-year-old Junior (Samuel Lange) bewilders, confuses, and worries his widowed mother (Samantha Castillo). Not only is he mischievous and occasionally thoughtless–hardly surprising for a boy that age. He obsessively hates his curly hair, does everything he can to straighten it, and behaves in ways that don’t measure up to his mother’s ideas about masculinity. Meanwhile, Mom–horrified that she may have a gay son–struggles to get her job back and make ends meet with little or no money. Both Lange and Castillo give great performances in this unique drama about poverty, race, and homophobia.
B Young & Beautiful, Kabuki, Monday, 9:30, Thursday, 3:45. François Ozon’s almost-unwatchable drama about a 17-year-old girl takes a major turn at the halfway point, suddenly becoming a good film. In the first half, she goes from virgin to whore without explanation or visible motivation. We watch her have sex with older men over and over, but we can’t figure out why (she doesn’t seem to enjoy it and she doesn’t need the money). Then her mother finds out, conflicts arise, and we begin to understand what’s really going on. It’s a close call, but I’d say that getting to the second half is worth sitting through the first.
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, Castro, Tuesday, 8:00. I haven’t seen this program, but I want to. Thao Nguyen and her band, the Get Down Stay Down, will accompany a selection of silent shorts, including Chaplin’s "The Pawnshop" and the famously bizarre Robert Florey/Slavko Vorkapich collaboration, "The Life and Death of 9413: A Hollywood Extra" (which I have not yet seen).
C+ When Evening Falls on Bucharest Or Metabolism, New People Cinema, Friday, 3:45; Kabuki, Saturday, 6:30; Pacific Film Archive, Monday, 8:30. This extremely low-key exercise about a film director and an actress has the matter-of-fact look and feel of early Jim Jarmusch; the camera just sits there recording what’s going on in front of it. I don’t believe there’s a single cut within a scene. And most of those one-shot scenes use a completely static camera. Slowly, and seemingly almost by accident, you get to know a bit about these two. But you don’t get to know much about them. And besides, they just don’t seem all that interesting.
D- The Militant, New People Cinema Saturday, April 26, 9:00; Kabuki Sunday, 3:15; Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 8:50. Ariel (Felipe Dieste) is unquestionably the most boring student radical that ever went on strike–although, to be fair, his comrades in this movie aren’t exactly fascinating, either. In the course of this slow and dull film, he leaves an occupied college to attend his father’s funeral, deals with his father’s estate, joins another group of radicals, goes on a hunger strike with some meat packers, and works as a cowboy because his father owned cows. He also has a disability, which no one ever mentions, even when it raises legitimate safety concerns. Unbearably dull, with little to say.