New takes on John Ford, William Shakespeare, & brotherly love: Tuesday at SFFilm Festival

Today (Wednesday) is the last day of the San Francisco International Film Festival. But yesterday, Tuesday, was my last day there.

I saw three films Tuesday, all of them on their last SFFilm screening. None of them had filmmaker Q&As.

Maliglutit (Searchers)

I was looking forward to this rethinking of John Ford’s classic western – even though I consider the original highly overrated. This version is set in Canada’s far north in the early 20th century. All of the characters are native Inuk, living in a desolate, frozen environment.

The story is simple. A very bad man and his cohorts attack a family, kidnapping the wife and daughter. The surviving men set out to rescue their womenfolk.

Since all of the characters are of the same ethnicity, Maliglutit lacks the racial or cultural clashes of Ford’s original. It’s just about good guys and bad guys, and none of these guys are fleshed out as interesting people.

Most of the action sequences (with some major exceptions) are badly staged and shot. It’s often difficult to see who’s doing what to who. The fact that everyone’s wearing huge fur coats with hoods doesn’t help.

But Maliglutit provides a close-up view of far-north life a hundred years ago. These are people living in harsh, desolate environment, living in igloos, and eating frozen, raw meat. But bits of western technology – kerosene lamps, metal knives, metal cups – show some western influence.

I give this movie a C.

Hermia & Helena

Lightweight and narratively unfocused, this mild comedy manages to be only reasonably entertaining. A young scholar (Agustina Muñoz) from Buenos Aires comes to New York city to translate A Midsummer Night’s Dream into Spanish. She juggles boyfriends and looks for a secret from her past. Flashbacks show her with another boyfriend back at home. There’s little connection between the movie and the play she’s translating. In fact, there’s very little about Dream in the film. I kept hoping someone would why they need another translation, and whether this one would be prose or verse.

I give Hermia & Helena a B-.

Heaven Sent

A man, thought dead by his family, walks out of the mountains, and all hell breaks loose. This dark comedy from Lebanon finds absurd humor everywhere. Someone gets a rocket launcher as a get-well gift – complete with a nicely-tied ribbon. When a character wants to learn German, someone else recommends he read Mein Kampf. The story is told from the point of view of no-longer-dead man’s brother, a professional bodyguard who takes his brother in and nurses him to health. But the bodyguard needs considerable nursing himself, considering his dangerous job. Meanwhile, their dad sits and watches TV with volume blasting and assures everyone that Lebanon beat every invader that hit it (and maybe some that didn’t). The humor is bizarre, ridiculous, and usually understated.

I give it a B+.