Films by and loved by Jia Zhangke at SFMOMA

Somehow, I either missed or didn’t receive notice of SFFILM and SFMOMA‘s latest Modern Cinema series, which celebrates filmmaker Jia Zhangke. A reader brought it to my attention today (thanks, Frances). Here’s a very quick preview of the festival, which opens tonight.

Modern Cinema: Jia Zhangke runs through February 24. It will include eleven of Jia’s films plus seven films that inspired him. All of the films will be shown a SFMOMA’s Phyllis Wattis Theater.

I can only comment on three films in the series, and none of them are directed by Jia. The others I either haven’t seen or saw long ago. Here are the films I can recommend:

A Tokyo Story, Friday, February 15, 6:00 (tonight!)

A great film about family in all its troubling complexities. An elderly couple travel to Tokyo to visit their busy and overworked adult children. Everyone greets them with the proper respect, but only a widowed daughter-in-law offers real warmth. Mortality hangs in the air. You can appreciate the life changes in Tokyo Story without having experienced them. But eventually, you will experience them. Read my Blu-ray review.

A Rome, Open City, Sunday, February 17, 5:30

Roberto Rossellini helped create Italian neorealism in this dark tale of the German occupation. Gritty and at times horrifying, it vividly recreates the physical dangers and mental strains of living under Nazi rule. Technically, I suppose, it shouldn’t count as neorealism, since two major parts are played by established stars: Anna Magnani takes the central role of a pregnant woman who discovers that her fiancé is working for the underground, and the usually comic Aldo Fabrizi takes on a rare dramatic role as a priest who finds he has to administer to more than just souls.

B+ Wendy and Lucy, Thursday, February 21, 6:00

Wendy (Michelle Williams) hopes she can find work in Alaska, but first she has to get to Alaska. Traveling with her dog Lucy, she sleeps in her car and watches every penny. In other words, she can’t afford disaster. And when her car breaks down in a small Oregon town, one disaster leads to another. A sobering film for economic hard times. Read my full review.