On day 12 of the San Francisco International Film Festival, Meredith Brody reports back on her French triple bill (Hands Up is the stand out), Tilva Rosh, Ulysses, and finishes the day off right with English rock/jazz band Tindersticks playing excerpts from their film scores for Claire Denis movies.
Amazingly, after getting stuck into CNN-land for two hours of repetitive Osama Bin Laden-chat last night, I still manage to watch the two DVDS of Festival movies that I brought home: I’m Glad My Mother is Alive, by the father-son duo of prolific Claude Miller and his son, neophyte Nathan Miller (giving nepotism a good name). Again something of a message picture (since I’d started the day with Roman Goupil’s Hands Up), about mayhem that ensues when an angry young adoptee finds his biological mother and insinuates himself into her new family (the title means one thing for the first two-thirds of the movie and then tips off its ending, alas).
Then I watch Living on Love Alone (pictured above), the second film of Isabelle Czajka, a thin story about two pretty young people trapped in another example of France’s continuing cinematic fascination with Bonnie and Clyde. I guess that’s better than a continuing fascination with vampires – not that I don’t love a good vampire movie. Or TV show. Or breath mint. I didn’t manage to fit Stake Land, the SFIFF’s entry from the current vampire obsession, but reading its mini-guide blurb made me feel like I’d seen it all before: “Martin and Mister are two of the few remaining survivors of a global apocalypse caused by rampaging (and ravenous) vampire zombies. Pursued by crazed cultists and marauding monsters, they try to make their way to a rumored encampment of remaining humans in this visually gritty dystopian take where human beings are even worse than the beasts running amok.”
I did see a charming new take on the beasts-running-amok theme, The Troll Hunter, at a press screening before the festival. College students convince a disgruntled Norwegian troll hunter – he thinks the government owes him time-and-a-half – to allow them to film his secret role in keeping the country’s trolls contained in remote mountain outposts where they won’t destroy animals, property, and people.
Of my French triple bill, Hands Up made the greatest effect on me, and I don’t think it was only because I saw it on the big screen. Those children were amazing. I just remembered another French moment in a rather French day: before Hands Up started, a young volunteer – who I could tell was French – attempted to excavate me from a seat that the theater manager had already told me I could stay in. OK, she shrugged, Gallically. In order to change the subject, I asked her if she’d seen anything she liked in the festival. Her response: her favorite was Love in a Puff, my own least favorite. Sisters!
My program today is decided by counting backwards from an irresistible festival event that I have been looking forward to since I heard it announced: a concert at the Castro by Tindersticks, the English rock/jazz band, playing excerpts from their film scores for Claire Denis movies, at 8:30pm. And counting forwards from a long-scheduled lunch with a Australian friend who now lives in Mexico, leaving SF tomorrow, which eliminates the 1pm. screening of The Journals of Musan, a South Korean film about a North Korean defector by Park Jung-bam from contention.
After an amazing lunch at Out the Door on Bush, sister restaurant of famed The Slanted Door – the first real sit-down meal I’ve had during the festival, and soul-satisfying - I head off to see a Serbian film about disaffected youth (is there any other kind?), Tilva Rosh. Said youth spend their time making Jackass-inspired videos to post online. Oy! I am reminded that when I foolishly took my nine-year-old nephew to see Jackass 3D last year – his idea, not mine – he asked me if we could leave after three too many scatological scenes (and the sympathetic theater manager said to me “Lady, I only lasted fifteen minutes myself,” as he gave us free passes on our way out).
I like Tilva Rosh (named after the bleak location, a hill with an abandoned copper mine), myself, but the audience is voting with their feet. I count ten walkouts during a long, long, long scene – one shot! -- of a drunken boy repeatedly telling his companions that they don’t understand why he loves skateboarding. Tour de force of improvisational acting or terminally annoying? You decide!
I join the New Directors jury members Daniela Michel, founder of the Morelia Film Festival, and Nick Adams, editor of Sight and Sound, at Ulysses, about the quotidian life of a rather opaque Peruvian immigrant, once, he says, a professor of history – though he seems like an unreliable narrator – who is now doing unskilled labor in Chile. It reminds me of the experience I had watching The Salesman, a slightly less opaque film about the quotidian life of a car salesman, with the same duo the day before: I try to make myself like the movie more than I do, by referencing others in my mind while watching it – 2009’s Gigante, from Uruguay, for instance. And afterwards I am constrained by film festival etiquette neither to ask my friends what they thought nor tell them what I did. It turns out we were also in the same screening of Tilva Rosh, unknowingly, and I feel it’s safe to bring up the number of walkouts, “I was warned about the cheese grater scene,” Nick said, cheerfully.
After a Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride across town, I slide into my seat with moments to spare, having missed the Festival introduction. I’m happy that it’s a full house: I’d heard dire mutterings of lagging ticket sales earlier in the week. (The man I find myself sitting next to has flown in from New York for the occasion. “I thought they were doing a concert in NY,” I said. “No,” he replied, “only LA and here. Then back to Europe.”)
It’s a magical evening. The nine musicians and their assorted gear cover the big Castro stage – the keyboardist even has to be relegated to an adjacent floor space on the right. Clips of the Denis films (White Material, 35 Rhums, L’Intrus, Vendredi Soir, Trouble Every Day, and Nenette et Boni) loom over them on the massive screen. I have found myself joking over how many times the word “dreamlike” appears in the SFIFF catalogue (and yes I know I’ve overused the words “slow” and “witty” my ownself, recently), but the atmosphere tonight is indeed dreamlike.
A Denis retrospective just played across the bay at the Pacific Film Archive, my home away from home. I didn’t attend a single screening – having seen them all before, most more than once – and now, of course, I want to see everything again. Oh well.
I am invited to join a Festival group at the Latin-American Club in the Mission afterwards, but I decide that, as with the Oscar nominations, it’s an honor just to be invited. I want the dreamy calm that Tindersticks has induced in me to last a little longer, not dissipate in a dark noisy room, shouting at friends, clutching a drink.