If it weren’t for some idiot in Wuhan eating a bat, I’d be at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival right now. And yet, surprisingly, film festivals are starting up again. Of course, they’re virtual film festivals, which aren’t anywhere near as fun as the real kind. There’s one this week. More to come.
Bay Area virtual theaters
Special online events
DocLands, discussion Sunday, 4:00
The DocLands film festival isn’t happening for obvious reasons. So in its place, the California Film Institute and Variety have set up an event to bring nine not-yet-released documentaries to your attention. On Sunday afternoon, you can take part (or at least listen to) a discussion about these films. The docs include Citizen Penn, Gather, and Socialism: An American Story. They all look interesting.
Thrillville Movie Club: Rumble Fish, New Parkway, Saturday, 3:00
First, watch Rumble Fish before the event. Then Saturday at 3:00, join the discussion. You can stream it, as a pay-per-view, at Amazon, Youtube, Google Play, Apple, and Vudu. I must confess that I’ve yet to see the movie.
New films available
A Sword of God (2018), Alameda, available Friday
Religious conflict breeds anger, hysteria, and violence in this powerful, Polish tale. Set on a northern island in the early middle ages, Bartosz Konopka’s frightfully striking film pits Christianity against a more humane pagan tradition. Two men from the mainland arrive in a small boat. Their intent: to convert the “heathens.” One is the sort of fanatic who sees violence as a religious tool. The other is gentle and unsure of his faith. Eventually, they will have to go their separate ways. Read my full review.
B+ Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2020), Rafael, available Friday
I can’t tell you how many documentaries I’ve seen about economic inequality. But this one is different. It’s kind of fun while it makes you angry. The movie is filled with clever visuals, including clips from old and relatively new Hollywood movies, and lively, popular music. And it’s not just about America; it covers multiple nations, world wars, and the one percent as a worldwide phenomenon. Read my full review.
B+ Nuestras Madres (Our Mothers), Lark, opens Friday
Ernesto is a young, handsome, and very committed government investigator trying to identify the bones of the many buried in mass graves. The military and guerilla fighters fought each other for decades in what can reasonably be called genocide. Not surprisingly, the indigenous people in their farming villages took the worst of it. While helping a widow trying to find her husband’s body, Ernesto finds a thread to his own missing father – a guerilla who disappeared before Ernesto could get to know him. Nuestras Madres is a very short, stripped-down feature; only 78 minutes long – but effective. Read my full review.
Recommended and available
A- Beanpole (2019), Balboa, Vogue, Lark
Within minutes after this Russian film starts, the extremely tall title character (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) commits something horrifically evil. We’re never really sure why she did this unspeakable act, but director and co-writer Kantemir Balagov clearly wants us to figure things out on our own. Set in Stalingrad only months after the war, life is still difficult, and Beanpole’s work in the hospital is a daily reminder of victory’s cost. Her best friend Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) wants a baby but can’t conceive one, so she insists that Beanpole do it for her. On the whole, everyone is miserable in Stalingrad, but small acts of kindness help. Cinematographer Kseniya Sereda finds unusual ways to look into the Russian soul.
A- What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael (2018), BAMPFA, Rafael
Kael was the most important film critic of her time. She celebrated well-made trash and panned overly self-conscious art. She attacked the auteur theory and almost single-handedly made Bonnie and Clyde an important film. Director Rob Garver’s enjoyable documentary, filled as much with movie clips as with interviews, entertains as it informs. I left this documentary wanting to read more of Pauline Kael’s movie reviews. I wonder how Kael, who died in 2001, would have reviewed this film.
A Rififi, BAMPFA, available now
The best caper movie I’ve ever seen. Four Parisian criminals – including two loving husbands, one of whom is about to become a father – take on an exceptionally complex heist. Of course, having someone to love can be dangerous in this kind of work. The heist itself belongs in any list of great extended sequences: some 30 minutes with neither dialog nor music as the thieves go through their carefully choreographed crime. But even with the most competent professionals, things go wrong.
B+ Strange Culture (2007), Roxie, available through Sunday
This documentary/narrative hybrid mixes scripted drama performed by professional actors with the real-life people those actors are playing. Steve Kurtz woke up one morning to find his wife dead. Then he was arrested as a bioterrorist. The terrorism charges have been dropped, but as of the time the film was completed, he was still awaiting trial for mail fraud (although no one was defrauded). It’s hard to go wrong with so powerful a story, and writer/director Lynn Hershman Leeson makes an effective piece of agitprop.
B+ Thousand Pieces of Gold (1991), Cerrito, Elmwood, Lark, Rafael
This low-budget Chinese western succeeds in making you feel good, while reminding you how badly Asians were treated in 19th-century America. A young woman (Rosalind Chao) is sold by her father and shipped to America. She lands in a small mining town in Oregon, where she’s essentially a slave. Slowly she gets on her feet and becomes her own person, thanks to her willpower and the help of a few new friends, the main one played by Chris Cooper. The low budget is easily visible, but it doesn’t really hurt the movie much. Based on a true story.
B Band of Outsiders (1964), BAMPFA
I don’t think this Jean-Luc Godard picture would work at all without Anna Karina. She’s not only beautiful, but she has a youthful innocence that overcomes her less-interesting two male co-stars (Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur). The film is at its best when they’re just fooling around with the energy of youth; the dance scene in the restaurant is a great moment in cinema. But we all know from the start that Band will eventually become a crime story, and here it’s that Godard turns it into another type of movie altogether.