Bees, detectives, abortions, and more more bees: Saturday at the San Francisco International Film Festival

I caught three films, all narrative features, Saturday at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Two of them were by woman directors; that is, but shouldn’t be, unusual. Two of them were about beekeepers. which really is unusual.

B+ Mr. Holmes
What a life! This weekend, I got to see the newest Sherlock Holmes feature film—which won’t get into theaters until summer. Then, in a few weeks, I get to see the first Sherlock Holmes feature film, which no paying audience has seen for almost 100 years.

The screening provided some excitement that wasn’t intended. About half an hour in, the movie was interrupted by a fire alarm. Everyone had to evacuate the Kabuki and wait outside until the fire department declared that the popcorn was done (or something of that nature). I think we lost about half an hour .

Now on with the movie:

Ian McKellen plays Sherlock Holmes as an old man and as a very old man—mostly the later—in this entertaining but not too deep drama. Retired from solving crimes, Holmes is now a 90ish beekeeper (the film is set in 1947–about 20 years after Doyle wrote his last Holmes story), living with a widowed housekeeper and her young son, who bonds with Holmes–the only man in his life. Holmes is in a race against time, trying to write down the true story of his last case—to correct Watson’s exaggerations—before senility sinks too deep. For Holmes fans, and I’m one of them, this is a wonderful gift. For everyone else, it’s still an enjoyable day at the movies.

After the film, we had Q&A with producer Anne Carey and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher, who spent 10 years getting this film off the ground. That’s considerably longer than director Bill Condon’s involvement. Some highlights:

  • What attracted them to the novel: “It provided a great part [for an actor], and a great setting. And the theme: Don’t wait too long before you go after what’s in your heart.”
  • On writing screenplays: “You can be a bit dry in how you write a scene because you know that the director and actors will add color.”
  • “The trick is to never push the audience to like the characters. Let it just happen.”

Mr. Holmes will play once more during the festival, Wednesday, May 5, at 2:00, also at the Kabuki. Miramax will release the film in theaters this summer.

B Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere
This Vietnamese drama succeeds in producing an atmosphere, and makes us care about the main character. But her repeated poor choices can wear you down as you watch. The film follows the misfortunes of a young, immature, broke, single, pregnant college student who can’t seem to get around to having the abortion she says she wants. Her even less mature boyfriend has a good job, but he’s a gambling addict (cock fighting) and is totally unreliable. Her transgender roommate appears to be her only true friend.

If nothing else, the film is a surprising look at Vietnam today. Hanoi looks like a capitalist city. And I didn’t think that the government would allow a film about poverty, sex, and prostitution.

This is the first film I’ve seen at this year’s festival that didn’t have filmmaker Q&A.

A- The Wonders
Mexican magical realism clearly influenced this Italian comic drama about a struggling family of farmers and beekeepers. Nothing happens that is physically impossible, but writer/director Alice Rohrwacher creates an atmosphere where you feel that anything can happen. Money is tight for this family, but the real problem comes from the short-tempered father, constantly screaming and rejecting anyone else’s idea. One gets the impression that he moved to the country to raise his family in the the peace and quiet of the simple life, and he’s NOT GOING TO LET ANYTHING GET IN THE WAY, DAMMIT!!!!

But it’s Maria Alexandra Lungu as the eldest daughter who really brings the magic. She’s so attuned to the bees that she lets them crawl on her face and even into her mouth.

There’s a television contest  involved, as well. And a boy working on parole.

You’ve got two other chances to see The Wonders. It plays at 1:00 Sunday afternoon at the  Kabuki (rush seats only) and Wednesday, 6:30, at the Pacific Film Archive.