Modern Cinema Festival Previews

Want to know what classic films you should catch at the upcoming Modern Cinema festival? Here are six movies I can recommend, along with three others that I vaguely remember liking.

All of the films will be screened at SFMOMA‘s Phyllis Wattis Theater.

A+ Lawrence of Arabia, Sunday, February 18, 1:00

Lawrence isn’t just the best big historical epic of the 70mm roadshow era, it’s one of the greatest films ever made. Stunning to look at and terrific as pure spectacle, it’s also an intelligent study of a fascinatingly complex and enigmatic war hero. T. E. Lawrence – at least in this film – both loved and hated violence, and tried liberating Arabia by turning it over to the British. No, that’s not a flaw in the script, but in his character. This masterpiece requires a very large screen for full effect, and I don’t think the Phyllis Wattis Theater can do it full justice – even with 4K DCP projection. For more on Lawrence, read The Digital Lawrence of Arabia Experience and Thoughts on Lawrence of Arabia.

A+ Ran, Saturday, February 17, 1:00
William Shakespeare created his saddest, most hopeless tragedy in King Lear. Almost four centuries later, Akira Kurosawa loosely adapted it into his saddest, most hopeless film. And also his last great masterpiece. Kurosawa altered the story considerably, and not only by changing the three daughters into sons. Ran tells us that the sleepy, vain, senile king (Tatsuya Nakadai) was once a cruel and merciless warlord who built an empire on strict obedience and heartless violence. Fate punishes the wicked in Ran, but the virtuous suffer just as badly. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry and my Shakespeare adaptation article.

A Late Spring, Friday, February 16, 6:00

As people grow, the way they relate to their family inevitably changes. Some fight the change, and others accept it. In Yasujirô Ozu’s 1949 masterpiece, a young woman wants to stay with her widowed father, but he senses that it’s time for her to make a life without him. Her father and his friends work hard to find a suitable husband for her, but she’s not interested. She’s already chained to a man she loves – her father. Late Spring is shot and edited in Ozu’s patented simple, elegant style, with the camera only a few inches from the ground. You see the whole room and how everyone reacts to each other. Read my full report.

A- White Material, Saturday, February 17, 5:00

Europeans in Africa, exploiting the people and their land, can’t quite accept that their days of power are over. Isabelle Huppert plays such a character in this riveting film by Claire Denis. She runs a coffee plantation in an unnamed African country falling into civil war. Most of the white people have evacuated, and the locals are running for their lives. But it’s harvest time, and Huppert’s character insists on staying behind (along with her family) to bring in the coffee beans. She’s clearly delusional, and those delusions get worse as the situation disintegrates – both for her and the people around her. A sparse musical score helps create the sense of a world gone mad.

A- Paris, Texas, Saturday, February 3, 2:30

Harry Dean Stanton gives a masterful, understated performance as an amnesiac who walks out of the desert and back into the lives of his family. Missing for years, he’s taken in by his brother’s family, which now includes his own son. As the man’s memory slowly returns, he becomes obsessed with earning his son’s love, and finding out, not the mystery of his own disappearance, but that of his wife’s. Wim Wenders’ first American film.

B- Wings of Desire, Sunday, February 11, 3:30

Wim Wenders’ fantasy about angels in Berlin offers a view of the city as a land of interior monologues. Two angels (Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander) watch over the people, listen to their thoughts, and comfort them in their pain. Then one of them falls in love with a trapeze artist and finds himself longing for mortality. Wenders couldn’t have known it when he made the film in 1988, but he was capturing the last months of a divided city; the wall seen in the film would soon come down. With Peter Falk as a strange version of himself.

And here are three films I’ve seen and liked long ago, but I haven’t seen them recently enough to really tell you much: