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San Francisco International Film Festival Begins with 'Twenty Feet from Stardom,' 'Populaire,' 'The Artist and the Model'

Photo of Meredith Brody By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood April 30, 2013 at 12:49PM

The first screening of the first full day of the San Francisco International Film Festival begins, with Fernando Trueba's "The Artist and the Model," and "Twenty Feet from Stardom."

The Artist and the Model
The Artist and the Model
The first screening of the first full day of the San Francisco International Film Festival: Fernando Trueba's "The Artist and the Model," set in France in 1944, starring the irresistible duo of Jean Rochefort and Claudia Cardinale. I manage to find myself in a good seat, $4 cup o' Kabuki coffee clutched in my hand, and delicious sustenance from the fabulous Nijiya Market, located exactly in-between the two theaters on Post Street in Japantown where most of the festival unspools, secreted in my tote bag, having successfully negotiated the Bay Bridge and found a decent free parking space.  Perfection!

Except they can't get the DCP to work.  Programmer Sean Uyehara patiently explains to us that along with the digital cinema package, they're sent a digital key that will only unlock the print half-an-hour before it's scheduled to play.  Which is when they discovered that the subtitles were out of synch.  So they've requested a new key, or a new DCP, I'm unclear just which.

Half-an-hour passes.  Sean announces that the box office will offer refunds and, in addition, free passes to several of that day's later screenings -- he mentions "Twenty Feet from Stardom," and I yell out that it's a great movie, and Sean says "All of our movies are fantastic," and I say, "some of them are more fantastic than others."

After 40 minutes, the movie begins.  It becomes quickly apparently that, although the subtitles are in synch, we're only seeing a small portion of them. If a translation is long enough to require two lines, we see the top line; if it only requires one, we don't see anything.  The composition of the shots looks like they're showing it in the correct aspect ratio, but I still exit to suggest that they try to see if that's the problem.  

I speak French, so I stick around, but some of the audience does not. I find myself enjoying the movie -- black-and-white, well-acted, not as interesting thematically perhaps as "La Belle Noiseuse" or "Dream of Light," but charming -- right up until its very last shots, when there's a disturbing ending that I didn't feel was justified by what came before.

I have not quite five minutes to get to the New People Cinema across the street to see "Big Blue Lake," the very first American screening of a second feature from a very young female director, Tsang Tsui-Chan, shot in her native village outside of Hong Kong on a budget of $200,000.  

It's a slight tale of a young actress who returns to her small village to find that her mother is experiencing Alzheimer's, but of the most benign sort: she wanders off occasionally, but is soon found, and the main character seems to have lots of time to explore the village she's been away from for a decade. It's shown in a somewhat worn film print, although it was shot digitally. The director seems gratified by the response to the showing, and says she's now shooting a documentary in the same village -- "the line between fiction and non-fiction is blurry for me," a popular sentiment these days, often heard at film festivals and elsewhere (book festivals, for one).

This article is related to: San Francisco International Film Festival, 20 Feet From Stardom, Populaire, Raul Ruiz

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.