Past Forward

For its 40th year, the San Francisco International Film Festival boldly goes where it has gone before

9:30 p.m. (at the PFA)
The Second Time
See commentary under today, 2 p.m.

10 p.m.
* Just for Laughs!
(France, 1996)

Nouvelle vague mascot Jean-Pierre Leaud, shrunken by age into a wrinkly wraith, has lost none of the buoyancy that made his flyweight apparitions in Masculine-Feminine or Day for Night so appealing. As a cuckolded househusband in this amusing film, he mopes, dithers, and schemes, shuttling back and forth -- like the film -- between bedroom farce and affecting drama, often hitting both registers within the same scene. Director Lucas Belvaux demonstrates an impressive ability to keep many different moods and plot elements afloat at the same time in a film that's inventive and surprising throughout. (Rickman)

10 p.m. (at the CASTRO)
* Dream With the Fishes
(U.S.A., 1996)

Screenwriter Finn Taylor's debut behind the camera is refreshingly subversive and authentically amoral, unlike the pseudo-nihilistic attitude-copping in too much independent film these days. Fishes also boasts a stressed, overexposed look in the early scenes (which are set in San Francisco) and an accent on character over plot that recalls the risk-taking, rough-hewn films of the early '70s. As the mismatched duo on the run from death, responsibility, and nutritional food, David Arquette and Brad Hunt gradually and imperceptibility mold a bond strong enough to keep the film aloft. (Fox)

10:30 p.m.
* The Trap (Japan, 1996)
The third in a very popular detective series starring Japanese film sensation MasaToshi Nagase. Writer/director Kaizo Hayashi lovingly reinterprets film noir for the benefit of his hip, enthusiastic Japanese audience. The Trap is fascinating and at times creepily perverse, particularly given Nagase's dual role as savvy detective Maiku and a sad retarded boy named Mikki, around whom terrible things seem to happen. Aficionados of the trilogy say The Trap is the weakest of the three, but it's nonetheless well worth seeing. (Maher)

Saturday, April 26

1 p.m.
Hands Over the City
(Italy, 1963)
See sidebar, "The Subject Is Rosi."

1:15 p.m.
Drifting Clouds
See commentary under Friday, April 25.

1:30 p.m.
Nightjohn
See commentary under Friday, April 25.

1:30 p.m. (at the CASTRO)
* The Matinee Idol
Frank Capra's rediscovered comedy The Matinee Idol (U.S.A., 1928) wasn't previewed in time for a review, but is recommended sight unseen if only for the half-hour of shorts that precede it, two silent comedies by and with one Charles Bowers, Now You Tell One and Egged On (both U.S.A., 1926). The phlegmatic, tousle-haired Bowers clearly patterned his comic persona after Buster Keaton's, save that his roles as a single-minded inventor incorporate trick photographic effects far different than Keaton's usual insistence on photo realism. Bowers goes to the other extreme of creating impossible gags -- mice that fire guns, rubberized eggs that can't be broken, trees that grow so fast they crucify the unwary. (Rickman)

2 p.m. (at the PFA)
Donka: X-Ray of an
African Hospital
(Belgium, 1996)
A documentary about a poor hospital in Guinea, West Africa.

3:15 p.m.
* Marketa Lazarova
(Czechoslovakia, 1966)

Sculpted from snow and blood by director Frantisek Vlacil, this 1966 Czechoslovakian epic of 13th-century Bohemia has been likened to Bergman and Kurosawa in their medieval modes. A better reference point might be contemporaneous films by Andrei Tarkovsky (Andrei Rublev) and Sergei Paradjanov (Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors), works like this one bedizened and barbaric by turn. Robbers and barons, their faces carved from turnips, skirmish over rocks and sleet, propelling a compelling narrative forward, even as the film takes the time to incorporate timeless passages of a maiden's erotic deliriums and a mad monk's ravings about his sheep. With great cinematography by Bedrich Batka, this may be the gem of the festival. Watch out for the wolves. (Rickman)

3:30 p.m.
* Hamsun
(Denmark/Norway/Sweden, 1996)

Jan Troell's movie about the Norwegian novelist Knut Hamsun, starring Max von Sydow, is a shattering experience. Hamsun, Norway's national hero and a Nobel Prize winner, drifted into Nazism and, after the war, became a national disgrace. Troell's movie gets inside Hamsun's skin and makes us understand that most disturbing of paradoxes: the fascist artist. There are sequences, such as Hamsun's audience with Hitler in his Alpine aerie, that are as chilling as anything ever put on film. (Rainer)

4 p.m.
La Rencontre
(France, 1996)

"A different kind of love story," says the fest -- filmed in video, and refilmed off a TV monitor by director Alain Cavalier.

4:30 p.m. (at the CASTRO)
Jour de Fete
See commentary under Thursday, April 24.

4:30 p.m. (at the PFA)
The King of Masks
(Hong Kong, 1996)

A rural tale of a street performer in China in the 1930s who adopts a small boy -- who turns out to be a girl.

5:45 p.m.
... And the Moon Dances (Indonesia, 1995)
Garin Nugroho's "sensuous," "enigmatic" portrait of three spiritual seekers. "There is little explanation and no judgment, no catharsis, no resolution," says the fest.

6:45 p.m.
Carla's Song (England, 1996)
Leftist Brit director Ken Loach (Raining Stones, Land and Freedom) is normally a reliable, astringent observer of moral conscience in the midst of social indifference and political corruption. But he succumbs to reheated agitprop and mawkishness in this North-meets-South tale set amid the U.S.-supported war on the Sandinista government. Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting's Begbie) plays an insubordinate Glasgow bus driver who unaccountably falls for a pretty but unresponsive Nicaraguan exile. The romance isn't convincing; it's a device to get the gringo (and the audience) to Nicaragua to experience firsthand the peasants' righteousness and the Contras' cruelty. Loach's not-so-hidden agenda overwhelms the drama. (Fox)

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