61st SF International Fim Festival

More than 150 films were screened at this year’s SF International Film Festival in 8 theaters throughout the city without a central location where audience and filmmakers would always find each other. Traveling from one place to the next by bus or train or bike was doable but better would be a place with several screens (in addition to Castro and Roxie and Victoria) functioning as home of the festival. I saw a dozen or so films, most of them small foreign productions that might not find a distributor in the US. Of course my eyes were on the German-language films but I found only one THOSE WHO ARE FINE /Dene wos guet geit in Swiss German. The film premiered last summer in Locarno, the biggest festival in Switzerland known for embracing arthouse/low budget films like THOSE WHO ARE FINE. At the center of the film is a young woman working by day as telemarketer for a scam operation and in her spare time she cheats old ladies out of their savings. Police in riot gear mill around doing spot checks here and there. Soulless office interiors, modernist architecture, generic plazas are the backdrop for conversations that focus on numbers, passwords and wifi codes. The filmmaker portrays his country as a grey, cold, utterly alienating place that, according to annual surveys, is among the happiest in the world. The Swiss are not a happy people, according to my travels in that beautiful country, but they content with what they have and protect it vigorously by being  diligent, law abiding, correct, and close-minded. The filmmaker’s approach is very Swiss, tightly structured following his own strict laws in developing and shooting the disconnected story lines which makes it hard for me to digest this film. The only Austrian film in the program titled Star (announced only with the symbol) is an assemblage of film scenes with night sky and stars. No dialogue except for the snippets that go with the scenes. Perhaps inspired by THE CLOCK, a twelve-hour- masterpiece tightly composed around the moving hands of the clock the stars in this film are not structured by anything. Nothing is holding the 99 minutes together, the film could as well have ended after 20 or so minutes without having lost any impact.  RAVENS (see still in 1st row on the left) a first feature from Sweden by Jens Assur. It depicts a taciturn family on an isolated farm which triggered memories of my own upbringing on a farm in North-Germany with  a taciturn father. On the Swedish farm milk was served for supper – as in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “My Struggle” that could have inspired this film – but my father drank beer for supper. And my farm life was a bit more joyful – my father did not pressure his three girls (no boy, alas) to take over the farm. The elder boy in RAVENS, however, knew what his severe father expected of him – to continue in his footsteps, a burden that the teenager tries to shake but his father loaded more and more heavy  weights on his shoulders until the son seemed to surrender – or did he? Intense, slow, dark, quiet  (except for some unnecessary, imposing music at the end) a beautifully rendered story of coming of age the hard way. Much more light hearted and vivacious  is TIGRE, a first feature from Argentina that also depicts a family of several generations about to lose their beloved house in the jungle. The matriarch is a colorful older woman who is able to let go of what she loves most in a dramatic finale. Holding on to the past was also a Leitmotif in THE WHITE GIRL, a film from HongKong. A beautiful old mansion in a fishing village on the outskirts of the city is about to fall into the hands of real estate developers. But that is only one of the many storylines that are neither developed nor well acted in this pretentious film that has one thing going for it: amazing cinematography by Christopher Doyle. I’m following my photo gallery above. Iceland is next with CARCASSE an experimental film that felt like a documentary until I realized that the scenes are staged. I just visited the island in February (see on my blog a bit further down) when it was cold and snowing as in this film. Deserted landscapes not even sheep just a few horses when I was there. We passed by an airplane wreck in the middle of nowhere, like in CARCASSE, only then surrounded by lots of tourists. There are no tourist in this film where wide snowy planes of the north-eastern part of Iceland are the backdrop or the main player for a dilapidated steel tower, a car cut in half and pulled by a dog, a  peat house from the distant past and strange activities involving women and dead animals. A stilted meditation in black and white on nature, mankind, animals and industrial waste. Another hybrid between narrative and documentary DJON AFRICA shot mostly in Cape Verde turned out to be tightly scripted according to the filmmaker whose comments diminished some of the magic that I felt while watching the film. In search for his father he has never known Miguel leaves Lisbon for Cape Verde where he encounters a rich melange of faces culminating in an old farmwoman who lives with her goats in the middle of nowhere. Beautiful landscapes and intoxicating music for a roadmovie that did not need a detailed script with a cheeky ending: in real life the protagonist had found his father but in the film he ended up becoming a father. Finally a few comments about films that will be or are already released in the US. GODARD, MON AMOUR recalls the turbulent events of May 68 when Godard was already a famous, controversial filmmaker. “La Chinoise”, his contribution to the maoist turn of French youth culture starred the 19 year old woman he fell in love with and married in 68 (the film is based on her memoir). She gladly takes the role of his muse and erotic ideal as she finds his grumpiness charming and his intelligence sexy. Louis Garrel, a formidable actor, plays Godard expertly with a slight lisp, big glasses that keep breaking as a running joke, with monologues about marxism and the end of filmmaking under capitalism (Cannes was cancelled in 1968), he is jealous, possessive, domineering even melodramatic when his wife is ready to leave him. A biopic of Godard with satirical touches more suitable for SNL than for a cultural hero who is searching for answers to the political urgency of the time. If  you don’t know much about Godard and France 68 you will know less when the film is over, says the review of the NYT. Not true. Director Michel Hazanavicius does not dig deep into this crucial year of Godard’s life but touches upon the changes and challenges that arouse from the political upheavals. Seen through the eyes of the young wife the director, known for his Oscar winning crowd pleaser “The Artist” has turned her short marriage into another light affair that Godard would hate, if he ever saw it. But be assured, he won’t. SEARCHING picked up by Sony Classics at Sundance is a film told entirely through computer screens. All characters communicate with each other via phone or email, never in person, and to accelerate the plot TV commentators take over occasionally.  A gimmick that works for a while but then needs a boost, like a thriller story, to carry the viewer through 101 minutes. A father is looking for his 16 year old daughter who disappeared suddenly. Lots of twists and very unexpected turns will keep young audiences, thrilled by this innovative approach to filmmaking, glued to the screen. Not me, the concept became forced and too gimmicky although charismatic John Cho (the father) tried hard to make it seem  convincing. Communication via screen is at the center of THE CLEANERS, by German filmmakers Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck. They traveled to Manila and in search for the workers  who clean social media, especially Facebook and Youtube of images that are morally, sexually and politically incendiary. Done through outsourcing by Filipinos who are not allowed to identify themselves or their work places, the job is grueling. 25000 horrific images per day have to be either deleted or restored. Many suffer from PTSD, get paid minimum wage and no benefits. Did Mark Zuckerberg see the film? It was sent to him before the premiere in Sundance with a request for comment that was supposed to be read at the screening. But FB did not sent a reply. Is our addiction to the screen and to the thrill that comes from violent images beyond repair? Can the genie be pushed back into the bottle or will our children and grandchildren will live with the damage being done daily? In the Q & A following the screening those and other questions were raised but no one dared to predict the future.

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