Past Forward

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

6 p.m. (at the CASTRO)
The Last Gasp
See commentary under Thursday, April 24.

6:30 p.m.
* Chronicle of a Disappearance
(Palestine, 1996)

Droll, irreverent, and oblique, Palestinian director Elia Suleiman's extraordinary first feature is a devastating political critique of the state of the people without a state. Using montage grammar from experimental films to explore themes of family and identity favored by personal-documentary makers, Suleiman captures a sunbaked picture of alienation and inertia. Fact and fiction become indistinguishable, even after the filmmaker locates a narrative structure sometime around the film's midpoint. A subtle, rewarding, and utterly atypical view of the Middle East, Chronicle introduces an observant, acerbic, and very, very smart filmmaker. (Fox)

6:30 p.m. (at the PFA)
The River
See commentary under Friday, April 25.

7 p.m.
Me! I'm Afraid of
Virginia Woolf
(England, 1978)

A comedy about a "timid, apprehensive and embarrassed intellectual," part of the fest's tribute to Alan Bennett.

9 p.m.
Noel Field -- The
Fictitious Spy
(Switzerland, 1996)

A documentary on the life of a U.S. diplomat-turned-communist eventually tried behind the Iron Curtain for being a Western spy.

9 p.m. (at the CASTRO)
Black God, White Devil
(Brazil, 1964)

"Mystically stylized and reverberating with malice," the fest says; chosen by Francis Ford Coppola for the fest's "Indelible Images" series.

9:15 p.m.
Nenette and Boni
See commentary under Saturday, April 26.

9:15 p.m. (at the PFA)
(Argentina, 1996)

The festival's program note for the Argentine film Moebius says it is informed by bloody purges by the country's military dictatorship in the 1970s, but it seems more informed by TV's X-Files. A train vanishes into Buenos Aires' labyrinthine subway system. Two-fisted mathematician Daniel Pratt is called in to solve the problem. Ridiculed for his theory that the tunnel system has grown so complex that it has become literally infinite, he must crack the case alone. Moebius is very well-crafted, and it has a terrific, mind-bending climax, but it's too long, and could have used some of Scully's droll humor. (Booth)

9:30 p.m.
Wake Up Love
See commentary under Thursday, April 24.

Monday, April 28

1 p.m.
The Man Who Couldn't Feel and Other Tales
(England, 1996)
Three short films from avant-gardist Joram ten Brink.

1:15 p.m.
The Trap
See commentary under Friday, April 25.

1:30 p.m.
Chronicle of a
See commentary under Sunday, April 27.

3:30 p.m.
It's Elementary (U.S.A., 1996)
"They think it means you're going to explain sodomy to first-graders," says local filmmaker Debra Chasnoff of the resistance she and co-producer Helen Cohen met in filming classroom lessons on homosexuality. In four years of filming, the pair could only find six schools willing to participate. Footage of protests and school board fights, set against reports of gay teen suicide and anti-gay violence, was drawn primarily from news broadcasts. But the politics play out against an insightful series of lively teacher-guided discussions about issues like kids with gay relatives, stereotyping, and discrimination against gays. (Wisner)

4 p.m.
The Land of Leja
See commentary under Friday, April 25.

4:30 p.m.
See commentary under Saturday, April 26.

6:45 p.m.
Goodbye South,Goodbye
See commentary under Saturday, April 26.

7 p.m.
The World of Steve Silver
(U.S.A., 1997)

If audiences didn't know much about Steve Silver before, they still won't after they see Ken Swartz's documentary on the late creator of Beach Blanket Babylon. Swartz takes the tribute route, glossing over the life of a potentially fascinating subject, and makes only passing references to various legal hassles Silver had or the privacy he guarded so fiercely. (Silver freely offered romance advice, says Armistead Maupin, but never discussed his own love life.) There's some footage from BBB's early days at the Savoy-Tivoli and shots of the celebrities, from Queen Elizabeth to Carol Channing, Silver met along the way, but lack of dimension turns this documentary into something like the show itself -- a tourist attraction. (Wisner)

7 p.m. (at the CASTRO)
Autumn Sun
See commentary under Friday, April 25.

7 p.m. (at the PFA)
Drifting Clouds
See commentary under Friday, April 25.

7:30 p.m.
Honey and Ashes
(Switzerland/Tunisia, 1996)

"Three Tunisian women struggle from freedom from the legacy of the harem," the fest reports.

9 p.m. (at the PFA)
Carla's Song
See commentary under Saturday, April 26.

9:15 p.m.
* Swordsman II
(Hong Kong, 1991)

Another dazzling entry in the Hong Kong gender-bender sweepstakes. This one features the great Jet Li as an exuberant lush whose endless attempts to retire from martial arts are thwarted by warring sects and especially by the glorious Brigitte Lin, a "male" cult leader who castrates himself to consolidate power and becomes a woman in the process. The film's dizzying fight scenes are thrilling, but the most seductive elements are the gay and lesbian underpinnings, especially Jet's intense romance with the ultrapowerful Lin, which proves to be her undoing. Selected by director Henry Selick for the fest's "Indelible Images" series. (Morris)

9:30 p.m.
The Man Who Couldn't Feel and Other Tales
See commentary under today, 1 p.m.

9:30 p.m. (at the CASTRO)
Viridiana (Spain, 1961)
The Bunuel classic; chosen by Saul Zaentz for the fest's "Indelible Images" series.

9:45 p.m.
Believe Me
See commentary under Friday, April 25.

Tuesday, April 29

1 p.m.
The King of Masks
See commentary under Saturday, April 26.

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