55th San Francisco International Film Festival Gets Under Way: 'Farewell My Queen,' 'Trishna,' 'Twixt'

Festivals
by Meredith Brody
April 21, 2012 12:15 PM
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Diane Keaton in Lawrence Kasdan's "Darling Companion" Sony Pictures Classics
A perfect example: last year’s “Silent Souls,” wherein a man travels with a friend to cremate the remains of his wife, which still resonates in my memory. The heretofore unknown-to-me director, Alexey Fedorchenko, was returning to the festival with a segment of the three-part fim “The Fourth Dimension,” alongside Harmony Korine, of whom I’m wary, and Jan Kwiecinski, another unknown. Pleasurable anticipation mixed with pain.

I was also looking forward to the skillful documentarian Kirby Dick’s “The Invisible War,” about covering up military sex crimes, and Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney’s look at hockey enforcer Chris “Knuckles” Milan, “The Last Gladiator, ” as well as other non-fiction entrants, including “Step Up to the Plate,” about famed French chef Michel Bras, and a study of the performance artist “Martina Abramovic: The Artist is Present”. SFIFF’s documentary lineup is generally quite strong.

Among the fiction films, famed auteurs are not in abundance, having seen the Coppola, Winterbottom, and Johnie To films: the new Kassovitz and Guedigian appeal to the Francophile in me, but those are not exactly marquee names. Star power seemed reserved for the tributes to Judy Davis and Kenneth Branagh (the British -- and Australians -- are coming), but even those names are somewhat subdued in celebrity culture terms.

In celebrity culture, Marie Antoinette is still, it seems, hot news: in Benoit Jacquot’s “Farewell, My Queen,” she’s incarnated by the appropriately Germanic Diane Kruger, attended to by the beauteous Lea Seydoux and Virginie Ledoyen. I was reminded of a New Yorker cartoon of one man greeting another: “Hiya, Rubens, painter of fat women!”, which I would paraphrase as “Hiya, Jacquot, photographer of breasts!” A questioner during the Q-and-A put it more delicately: “I read that your films are about women who are on the verge of a personal epiphany” – a personal epiphany, on Lea Seydoux’s part, accompanied by beautifully-framed (by both the camera and her dress) downy upper slopes of breasts. (Later satisfyingly revealed unclothed, as were Virginie Ledoyen’s, whose sleeping body obligingly turned over to reveal equally pleasing buttocks). Seydoux is an ideal subject for Jacquot: even her teeth have cleavage.

Not to imply that this was a flesh show a la David Hamilton: just another pleasure, as is the inevitable period display of lavish costumes and sets. Did Marie Antoinette have female lovers?  Jacquot, devilishly arching his eyebrows, resolutely refuses to say during the Q-and-A, though it’s clear where his preferences lie: “I don’t think that they sleep together, but I think it’s quite a pity…I think it’s always better when people sleep together.”

The period piece provides a bit of inspiration for the afterparty, held at Terra under the looming Bay Bridge: saucily costumed actors parade through the two-level space. This year’s party seems sparser than last, which allows for startlingly easy access to the food and drink on offer. But after an hour, having glimpsed Kitchen Sister Davia Nelson, film publicist Karen Larsen, and Susan Oxtoby and Steve Seid from the Festival venue the Pacific Film Archive, Fandor’s man-about-town Jonathan Marlow, director Barry Jenkins (who succeeds in shocking me by confiding his new vegetarianism), and assorted other SF luminaries (though not the ones sequestered in the VIP room), I head eastward, having snagged a ride with Telluride Film Festival co-director Gary Meyer. He and wife Cathy are full of stories from last weekend’s TCM Classic Film Festival in LA, and are en route for work reasons to NY, where they will also see theater and art.

I try not to be envious.  Who knows what surprises the next two weeks hold? Maybe another “Silent Souls.”  I’m just a woman on the verge of a personal epiphany.

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