SF Intl Film Fest Preview, Part 1

Here’s my first collection of San Francisco International Film Festival mini-reviews: five movies appraised from best to worst. Three of them are narratives. The two documentaries, which happen to be the two best in the lot, deal with Haiti, and cover the horrible 2010 earthquake.

A Bending the Arc

If this documentary doesn’t make you feel guilty, you’re probably a sociopath. The film covers more than 30 years of struggle as Paul Farmer, Ophelia Dahl, Jim Yong Kim, and Partners In Health fight tuberculous, AIDS, and Ebola in the poorest places on the globe. They also fight the World Bank and other organizations that have written off whole populations as expendable. With no narration but plenty of on-camera interviews, Bending the Arc shows how altruism, determination, optimism, and a willingness to learn from your mistakes can make a better world. We should all behave like these people.

  • Castro, Friday, April 14, 5:00

B Serenade For Haiti

Judging from this documentary, the Sainte Trinité Music School in Port-au-Prince brings hope and harmony to the children of one of the world’s poorest nations. At first, director Owsley Brown shows us the benefit of a musical education, interspersed with brief lessons in Haitian history. Than the massive 2010 earthquake hits, and it becomes a very different movie. Despite the hardships, the movie manages to be upbeat and inspirational. But I couldn’t help wondering which children are allowed in, and how the school is financed.

B- Marie Curie. The Courage of Knowledge

Director Marie Noëlle seems to be more interested in the great scientist’s sex life than her groundbreaking work. In the film’s first few minutes, Marie and Pierre are so involved in marital pleasures that I wondered when they found time to research radioactivity. Much of the film’s runtime is spend on the widowed Marie’s affair with a married colleague. The film is at its best when Curie is struggling with sexism and xenophobia (she was a Pole living and working in France), but I wanted more science out of a biopic about the first person to win two Nobel Prizes.

C- Discreet

A young man living in his van rolls into the small Texas town where he grew up. His mother provides him with news that he finds shocking; even though it’s completely oblique to the audience. But then, everything this movie is oblique to the audience, and we never get to know the man in its center. He’s obsessed with a woman who apparently lives entirely online. He has sex with anonymous men (I think it’s for the money) while watching straight porn. He starts caring for his invalid grandfather, whom he clearly both loves and hates. The soundtrack suggests that composer Mark Degli Antoni thought he was scoring a horror flick. Maybe he was. Discreet’s best feature: Its 80-minute runtime.

  • Castro, Saturday, April 8, 9:00

D The Death of Louis XIV

The story is exactly what the title says it is. King Louis (not the one who lost his head) is sick and dying. Doctors discuss what they should do, always in calm and controlled tones – even when they’re threatening to throw one of their companions into the bastille as a quack. We never know anything about the king that might make us want to care about him, although I suspect that those who know French history may find it more meaningful. Visually beautiful, but dramatically dead.