The first full day of offerings, with four movies or events scheduled to choose from at any one time in the Kabuki. (Across the bay, at Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive, the choices have been made for you; the festival screens two movies a night on weekdays, and four a day on weekends.) Screenings begin at 12:30 p.m., belying one of the Festival’s evocative slogans, “From sleep to dreams,” that’s emblazoned across the 208-page catalogue and occasionally the screen – I always find the most dreamlike screenings occur early in the morning or late at night, when cinemas are usually not open.
But I know that very soon, once firmly ensconced on the festival express, getting to a noon screening will feel like rolling directly out of bed – even when it entails being alert enough to drive across the unpredictable bridge that separates the East Bay from San Francisco, and find a parking space. There are still all-day spots to be enjoyed within a few blocks of the Kabuki (my mantra: “I only need one”), a walk that feels very short during the day and rather longer and film-noir-ish at night. Today I stumble across the heretofore-unknown-to-me Fillmore Farmers Market, just closing down at 1 p.m. and therefore rife with bargains. I hastily purchase marked-down cheddar chive biscuits and a huge cinnamon bun, a pound of tangerines, and bundles of baby bok choy and gailan, perhaps in unconscious anticipation of the first two films I’m going to see, both set in Asia.
I begin at 1:45 with A Brand New Life, a South Korean-France co-production, a contender for the New Directors prize, an unknown quantity, since it’s the first film from a young Korean. And an autobiographical one, or semi-autobiographical, since Ounie Lecomte’s bio reads that she was abandoned by her grandparents in an orphanage, and the character in the film is left there by her father. The first-time director coaxed believable performances from her young cast, especially the lead, whose face managed to communicate several layers of sullenness and confusion. I was never entirely touched by the narrative – my mind drifted away to Ponette, a French movie (Jacques Doillon, 1996), where an even younger child (and genius actress) copes with the death of her mother. At the end, when the girl is flying to Paris with her new parents, I thought “well, that’s a lucky break,” – and that was even before I knew the movie was autobiographical, and that the character would grow up to direct movies.
Afterwards I segue to Nymph, an eery, atmospheric Thai film about the disappearance and mysterious re-appearance of a husband from a camping trip with his adulterous wife from Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, one of the New Wave of Thai filmmakers with famously difficult names to pronounce. Programmer Sean Uyehara, who introduces the film, alludes to Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who goes by Joe (really), when he says that Ratanaruang also has an American nickname, Pete. But we won’t get to use it, since an even more difficult name, Eyjafjallajokull, that pesky volcano in Iceland, has played merry ned with travel plans. Director of programming Rachel Rosen breathed a sigh of relief, she told me, when the day before, Son of Babylon arrived at 10 a.m. on the day it was scheduled to screen (“I love FedEx!,” she beamed). Anyway, neither of my screenings today has benefited from the presence of the director (though both movies, I note, feature dead birds). I couldn’t have stuck around for the Q and A, anyway, since I have to jet down the corridor to hear A Conversation with T-Bone Burnett, conducted by critic Elvis Mitchell.
The gifted musician-producer-composer (and music supervisor for the movies) was curiously laconic when accepting his multiple awards for the soundtrack of Crazy Heart, but he’s charmingly loquacious in person. Mitchell begins by asking him about his collaboration with Bob Dylan (on the Rolling Thunder Revue and the doomed Renaldo and Clara), and he says “It’s all been downhill from there.” Not so, as clips from The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou, Walk the Line, and Crazy Heart soon prove. (I think, seditiously and sadly, that those are the best movies I’m going to see during the festival. They knock what I’ve seen so far out of the park, anyway. I’m also reminded of how much I enjoyed The Ladykillers, though I’m pretty much alone on that one.)
I’m perplexed by a very, very brief clip from Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood until somebody more cynical than I am reminds me that Burnett and screenwriter-director Callie Khouri are now a couple. Coincidentally Khouri was onstage in this very theater a few hours before for a conversation about directing and screenwriting. An eclectic set of clips Burnett chose of his influences includes Rita Hayworth singing “Put the Blame on Mame” (and mis-fingering the guitar) from Gilda (reminding Burnett that in Cat Ballou Nate King Cole was playing a banjo with no strings), Hoagy Carmichael and an Andy Williams-dubbed Lauren Bacall from To Have and Have Not, and a sexy, blue-jeaned, hip-swiveling Elvis (the King, not Mitchell) from Loving You. A shout-out from both Mitchell and Burnett to Jeanette Etheredge in the audience lets me know that the clan will be gathering afterwards at her Tosca bar in North Beach.
And I imagine Lauren Hutton, recent honoree on April 17th at the Sonoma International Film Festival, is headed there, too; standing in line behind me for the restroom, she strikes up a conversation about how great T-Bone was. I can only agree. But I stick around the Kabuki for the 8 p.m. screening of Cracks, written and directed by Jordan Scott (daughter of Ridley, niece of Tony, and sister to Jake, whose Welcome to the Rileys -- with James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo
Patricia Clarkson, and Kristen Stewart -- I saw in Berlin this year). Once again, the auteur is not present. Rosen’s introduction gives hommage to the British and “their class system, which gave rise to so many movies.” This one, set in a girls’ boarding school where a charismatic teacher (Eva Green) mesmerizes a group of girls until a young Spanish noblewoman shows up, is a mash-up of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Lord of the Flies. It also follows the Chekovian drama principle: when an asthma inhaler shows up in the first act, can an asthma attack be far behind? Even if predictable, it’s the most commercial film I’ve seen today, and the usual period movie pleasures (clothes, sets, impeccable performances by a bevy of English actors, both young and venerable character) abound.
I can’t remember, despite the torrent of publicity when she was Daniel Craig’s first Bond girl, just which French movie star Eva Green is the daughter of. Afterwards techie and ex-Stanford Theater employee Martine Habib tells me it’s Marlene Jobert, “and her father acted for Bresson in Au Hasard Balthasar!” I’m impressed by her knowledge until she confesses she accessed imdb.com from her smartphone a few minutes before. I find out that father Walter Green, like so many other Bresson discoveries, left showbiz and became a dentist. (Well, most didn’t become dentists. They just didn’t act again.)
I head back to the East Bay with my Asian vegetables. Back to the Kabuki in a dozen hours.
[Images of SF Festival party, A Brand New Life, and Cracks]