Here’s my final preview batch of San Francisco International Film Festival mini-reviews. Hope they help you choose what to see. When the Festival opens next Wednesday, I’ll start writing about films as they screen for paying audiences – a much better way to see a movie.
You can read all of my coverage of this years’ SFIFF, including all of my mini-reviews, in a special section of Bayflicks.
As usual, I’ve listed the films from best to worst.
A The Student
Almost overnight, teenaged Venya (Pyotr Skvortsov) becomes a deeply religious Christian, quoting the Bible (always the cruelest parts), and objecting to school curriculum and procedures. He starts by insisting that girls not wear bikinis in swim class, then moves on to destroying sex education. Eventually he’s contemplating murder. Only one teacher has the smarts and courage to go against him. All this happens in a high school with Putin’s portrait on the wall. Kirill Serebrennikov’s strong, suspenseful, and disturbing drama shows, on a small scale, how religious fascism can take over a community.
- Roxie, Thursday, April 6, 3:30
- Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Sunday, April 16, 5:30
- Victoria Theatre, Tuesday, April 18, 9:00
A The Cinema Travelers
This beautiful cinema vérité documentary looks at itinerant showmen who bring movies to rural parts of India. Often staying with carnivals, they lug 35mm projectors, prints, and circus-sized tents from place to place. The movie also celebrates the mechanical ingenuity found in poor countries, where replacing a projector is almost never economically possible. (And not just projectors; the movie has the oldest truck I’ve ever seen.) In the second half, they begin the inevitable transition to digital – a bittersweet change that makes their lives easier but destroys a remarkable skill.
A- Bill Nye: Science Guy
You probably already know about Bill Nye – the silly-looking guy in the bowtie who talks about science. This sympathetic documentary puts the engineer-comedian-science evangelist in a pleasing light, while showing him as a flawed human being. The film covers his 90’s children’s TV show, his controversial debates with creationist Ken Ham (which probably helped Ham more than it helped the cause of science), his arguments with climate change denier Joe Bastardi, and his work as CEO of The Planetary Society. We even find out about his problems with intimacy and why he never had kids.
- Victoria Theatre, Monday, April 10, 6:00. Nye and the filmmakers will be in attendance.
- New Mission, Tuesday, April 18, 9:00
C+ A Dragon Arrives!
This Iranian supernatural thriller follows three men who uncover a strange phenomenon: When a body is buried in a remote, ancient cemetery, the earth violently shakes. But unlike a normal earthquake, it’s extremely localized. More weird things happen, as well. The movie partially plays as a fake documentary, with the now-aged survivors discussing their experience. Another narrative trick has a scary government agent interviewing of the main characters soon after their experiences. By setting the story in the 1960s, when the Shah was in power, the filmmakers could show the cruelty of an oppressive government without offending the oppressive government they live under. Occasionally confusing, with over-dramatic music telling us that something important is happening even when it isn’t.