What’s Screening: January 3 – 9

This week in Bay Area movie theaters: A Jew disappears in England; previews of two very similar upcoming dramas; shorts from Sundance, and classics by Hitchcock, Varda, and Goddard. Also, a festival preview of foreign Oscar possibilities.


New films opening

C+ The Song Of Names, Clay, opens Friday

A young violin virtuoso fails to show up at the concert that would make him a star. Everything after that is either a flashback or a flashforward. The film works beautifully when it follows two young stepbrothers – one English, the other a Polish Jew who lost his family in the Holocaust. Unfortunately, that’s not what the movie is about. The main story, which lacks urgency and feels extremely unlikely, concentrates on the now middle-aged Anglo man searching for his Jewish stepbrother. Read my full review.

Preview screenings of upcoming movies

A Clemency (2019), Embarcadero Center, Thursday, 7:00 & 9:35

Clemency starts with a botched execution, and it’s one of the most intense experiences I’ve seen on the screen. Alfie Woodward plays the warden as a bureaucrat who’s good at her job. But the executions are ruining her emotionally. She drinks too much. She’s remote to her husband (Wendell Pierce). She’s emotionally close to a younger man who works for her. Meanwhile, a man who may or may not have committed murder is heading for his execution after 15 years on death row.

A- Just Mercy, California (Berkeley), Thursday, 7:00

Can true justice prevail for a black man in rural Alabama? Maybe, but you’ll need a gifted, well-trained, intelligent, and altruistic lawyer. Michael B. Jordan plays that lawyer in this riveting, based-on-a-true-story courtroom drama. Jamie Foxx plays the convict on death row who finds new hope thanks to the lawyer’s work. But clear evidence of innocence doesn’t mean much in Alabama courts.

Promising events

2019 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour, Roxie, Friday through Monday, plus Wednesday

A selection of short films – narrative, documentary, animated, and whatever else that can fit into a small package. I haven’t seen any of these shorts, but from past experiences, there are likely to be several gems.

Recommended revivals

A+ Rear Window (1954), Cerrito, 7:00

Alfred Hitchcock at his absolute best! James Stewart is riveting as a news photographer temporarily confined to his apartment and a wheelchair, amusing himself by spying on his neighbors (none of whom he knows) and guessing at the details of their lives. Then he begins to suspect that one of them committed murder. As he and his girlfriend (Grace Kelly) investigate, it slowly dawns on us (but not them) that they’re getting into some pretty dangerous territory. Hitchcock uses this story to examine voyeurism, urban alienation, and the institution of marriage, as well as to treat his audience to a great entertainment. Read my A+ Appreciation.

A Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962), SFMOMA, Thursday, 7:00

One of the best films of the French New Wave, Agnès Varda’s Cléo From 5 to 7 follows a young woman as she wanders through Paris on a summer evening. But it isn’t simply a joyful lark; she’s waiting for the results of her cancer screening. Shot mostly in black and white with some surprising uses of color, Cléo meditates on life from the point of view of a young woman who may not have a lot of it left. There’s even a silent movie tribute starring Jean-Luc Godard. You can read my longer report, but you’ll have to scroll down a bit. Part of the series Modern Cinema: Agnès Varda.

A- La Pointe Courte (1955), BAMPFA, Thursday, 7:00

35mm! Ever admire an artist for their daring, original work, and then discover who they stole it from? I experienced that revelation over and over again while watching Agnès Varda’s first feature– arguably the first film of the French New Wave. Set in a small, somewhat impoverished fishing village, it introduces us to fishermen worried about government health inspectors, a family with the very sick child, a teenage girl with an over-protective father, and mostly two young lovers visiting the man’s childhood home. Varda shows an instinct for camera setup that rivals John Ford’s. Part of the series Agnès Varda: An Irresistible Force.

B+ Vivre Sa Vie (1962), Castro, Saturday

35mm! Very formal in structure, this early Jean-Luc Goddard feature uses intertitles to separate its 12 “scenes.” Together, they explore the main character’s journey from music store clerk to prostitute. Occasionally charming, funny, sexy, and informative, Vivre sa vie can also at times be quite boring. You develop an attachment to the lead character, but you don’t get to know her in depth. Goddard seems completely neutral here, without the didactic political preaching that would mar his later works. On a Goddard double bill with Band of Outsiders, which I’ve never seen.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics