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SFIFF 55: Judy Davis, 'Women with Cows,' "The Giants,' Rissient on Hawks

Thompson on Hollywood By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood April 30, 2012 at 3:21PM

I have viewed myself into a corner; there’s practically nothing playing this afternoon that I haven’t already seen. I have prepared for this by checking out press screeners, despite my internal script that runs: “you don’t go to film festivals to watch movies on DVD.” So I choose either talking heads docs or movies with less than epic sweep.
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"Women with Cows"
"Women with Cows"

I have viewed myself into a corner; there’s practically nothing playing this afternoon that I haven’t already seen. I have prepared for this by checking out some press screeners, despite my insistent internal script that runs: “you don’t go to film festivals to watch movies on DVD.” So I try to choose either talking heads documentaries or movies with less than epic sweep.

So I begin with “The Anabasis of May and Fusaku Shigenobu, Masao Adachi, and 27 Years Without Images," a long title for a film with a 66-minute running time. It’s exactly the kind of project that one would never see outside of a film festival or an archive, combining period and contemporary footage and film clips over voiceovers from one-time Japanese New Wave screenwriter and director Masao Adachi, who abandoned filmmaking to join the revolutionary Japanese Red Army in exile in Beirut, and May Shigenobu, daughter of the group’s founder Fusaku Shigenobu. I don’t always find the Super 8mm images compelling, although the story is; I do enjoy the film clips from Adachi’s career, which as usual make me want to see the movies they’re from.

Occasionally, I admit, I pause the film to check the internet for more information on Adachi’s career and the filmographies of his collaborators (including Nagisa Oshima and Koji Wakamatsu), and background info on the political actions described. (If I’d seen the movie on the big screen, I would have headed to the Internet as soon as I got home, as I did for example – really! – after I saw both the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s amazing presentation of Abel Gance’s “Napoleon” and the SFIFF’s opening night film “Farewell, My Queen.” I’m old enough, kiddies, to still find it marvelous that so much information is to be found at our fingertips within seconds.)

Next up is a Swedish documentary with the oddly pleasing title “Women with Cows,”  which has intrigued me with a sentence in the catalogue entry: “ ‘Grey Gardens’ with cows.” Although the two sisters of the title are locked in a folie à deux, neither of them demonstrate the mad facility with language that helps make “Grey Gardens” so unforgettable nearly 40 years after the fact (not to mention the glamorous Jackie Kennedy connection). The crux of the madness is that one sister, painfully bent double by age and injuries, insists on keeping and milking many cows, despite the inherent difficulties and financial folly, while the other seems unable to dissuade her. The bucolic Swedish countryside, beautiful in spring and summer and forbidding in winter, is a seductive backdrop to a story that seems padded at 93 minutes. Its ending contains a mild surprise (hint: that’s why they call them enablers).

The last entry in my homemade triple bill is a Belgian/France/Luxembourg co-production, “The Giants.” Young brothers (15 and 13, though they seem even younger), left to their own devices without family or resources in the home of their dead grandparents in the countryside while their mother works elsewhere, get into increasing trouble when a pal introduces them to predatory drug dealers. Things briskly go from bad to worse.  This modern-day fairy tale straight out of the Brothers (very) Grimm features an unexpected cameo star turn of a not-quite-fairy-godmother, who unexpectedly does not save the day. The indeterminate ending, very Huck Finn, begs a sequel: "The Giants Part Deux."

My homemade triple bill leaves me just enough time to get over to a restaurant in the Castro, Canela Bistro Bar, where the Festival is hosting a reception for Judy Davis. I arrive to find Festival Mel Novikoff honoree Pierre Rissient holding court at a corner table, and I join him. As a satellite, I thereby become the unexpected beneficiary of not only plates of hors d’oeuvres (delicious flatbreads, sausage, and Spanish tortilla omelets, which are good enough to prompt a possible return visit to the place), brought to the table rather than snatched on the fly, and, even more delightful, when Davis arrives, she joins Pierre, who has known her since “My Beautiful Career” premiered at Cannes.

This enables me to tell her, with complete honesty, that she’s one of the film artists whose presence alone is enough to make me go see a movie. She demurs, gracefully, and says “That’s quite a responsibility,” but I tell her she’s never let me down. Close up, she looks considerably younger than her 57 years (it’s two days after her birthday), as well as untouched by the surgeon’s hand. She’s wearing a tricky sleeveless black dress that suggests an avant-garde Japanese designer, and a similarly arty twisted silver necklace; they’re her clothes, one feels, not some stylist’s idea of Festival glam. She’s brought her tall, long-haired, fourteen-year-old daughter, Charlotte, to San Francisco, who cheerfully admits that she intends to go into acting.

This article is related to: Festivals, Festivals, San Francisco International Film Festival, Guest Blogger, Genres, Features


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Thompson on Hollywood

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.