SFIFF opening night and Love & Friendship

I attended the opening night program for this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival Thursday night. The introductions, the movie, and the Q&A were all appropriately funny.

But as usual for festivals’ big nights, the reserved seat problem annoyed a lot of people. Unless you like to sit very close, very far back, or off to the side, your favorite seats were sectioned off for various forms of VIPs. Luckily for me, I like sitting in the front. I got a good seat in the 4th row; the 5th was already sectioned off.

The show started at 7:15 with the festival trailer, which we’ll all be bored with by the end of the week.

Then Executive Director Noah Cowan took the stage to announce “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” Then he talked about the new venues, and thanked the sponsors (an inevitable necessary evil).

Then Director of Programming Rachel Rosen came on to praise volunteers and thank filmmakers. She promised that the movie would be “pure entertainment.”

Next came Whit Stillman, director of the night’s movie, Love & Friendship. “Everyone is thanking people, so I’ll get in the act.” He preceded to thank Jane Austen (the film is based on one of her lesser-known works), Amazon (which produced it), and Roadside Attractions, which will release the film theatrically in May.

The movie started at 7:30, which was remarkable (the event officially started at 7:00). Opening talks often run nearly an hour; these were about 15 minutes.

Love & Friendship

Pretty much everything is played for laughs in this adaptation of one of Jane Austen’s least known works (Lady Susan). The leading character, Lady Susan Vernon (a wonderful Kate Beckinsale) is evil, scheming, and thoroughly horrendous. And from the audience’s point of view, tremendously entertaining. A widow in need of a rich husband (or son-in-law), she digs her claws into the handsome young brother of her sister-in-law, while trying to arrange for her daughter to marry a rich idiot that the daughter despises. Tom Bennett’s idiotic aristocrat is one of the funniest performances I’ve seen in years.

I give the movie an A.

Love & Friendship will open in Bay Area theaters on May 20.

After the screening, Stillman and Beckinsale came on stage to take questions from Rosen and the audience.

Some highlights:

  • Stillman: It’s Austin’s funniest book.
  • Beckinsale: I usually play naughty Jane Austin characters, but this was the naughtiest.
  • Stillman: What I liked was that there were no cellphones in those days.
  • Beckinsale: It was pleasant shooting this in that backlot of period films: Ireland. It was far easier to recreate the 1780s than the 1980s. (Stillman and Beckinsale worked together in Last Days of Disco.)
  • Beckinsale: [Stillman] is very in the moment and incredibly precise with the script.

There was a party afterwards, but I couldn’t attend.