Sex, Drugs, Rock 'n' Roll. Korea.

The 41st San Francisco International Film Festival

9:30 p.m.: A Summer's Tale & short (France, 1996)
The latest of Eric Rohmer's seemingly inexhaustible succession of charming films about the intricate dance of courtship and love is one of his best in some time. As in other Rohmer works dating back to the "Moral Tales" era of My Night at Maud's 30 years ago, a clueless man, rendered even more of a sap by his scruples -- which are really a desire to think well of himself -- is batted about by beautiful women as he struggles to figure out which one of them he really wants. The film is a comedy only because young Gaspard (Melvil Poupaud) and his friends are all about 20 years old, which excuses a lot. Even then, though, Gaspard at film's end has cause for regrets for the rest of his life -- because Rohmer recognizes, as few makers of love stories do, just how important one's sentimental attachments are. A beautifully made film, A Summer's Tale is as crisp as a breeze on the Brittany beach where most of the conversations unwind, yet it also packs the sting of the sand that can whip into your eye. With Amanda Langlet as a one-woman sentimental education. (Gregg Rickman)

9:45 p.m.: Following & short (England, 1998)
See Friday 9:30 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive for commentary.

11 p.m.: Gummo (U.S.A., 1997)
Even the prurient interest of Harmony Korine's art-house freak show shrivels within seconds, before we see the first of many tortured and murdered cats. (Selling cat corpses for meat is the anti-heroes' occupation.) The day-in-the-life sort of action (spread out over several days) takes place in the tornado-wrecked town of Xenia, Ohio. (It was filmed around Nashville.) The actors encouraged not to act and the non-actors encouraged to act come together as an ersatz-Fellini dysfunctional-family circus of glue-sniffers, cat-killers, and moral and physical slobs. The two main characters are the narrator, Solomon (Jacob Reynolds), a gnomelike teen, and his partner in feline extermination, the taller, supposedly wiser Tummler (Nick Sutton). Solly thinks that Tummler has the makings of a legend -- he ostensibly has magical insights. But those powers hardly come into play as we watch the boys sell their furry goods to a grocery owner; plot revenge on their cat-killing competition; and take turns with an incongruously primped-up, addled whore. The rest of the dramatis non-personae appear in their own vignettes and then pile up on each other. Korine doesn't invest any of them with the emotional and moral dimensions of full-blooded fictional characters, and they don't come across like the complex people in empathic documentaries such as the raucous, touching Seventeen (1984). What they are is sad or horrifying specimens. (Michael Sragow)

1 p.m. (Castro): Saltmen of Tibet (Germany/Switzerland, 1997)
The dying lifestyle of nomad tribes in the high Himalayas is commemorated in this handsome documentary by Ulrike Koch, which traces four men's monthlong trek to fetch salt from a distant lake. Expecting the clean, sharp image of movie film, I was initially disappointed to see that Koch's crew shot the gorgeous Tibetan plateaus on video; but the transfer is good and the softer video image works to render Tibet otherworldly. The scenery is beautiful and the saltmen are quite evidently fine individuals -- yet their work is obviously a backbreaking, human-wasting effort; this feeling made me perhaps the only audience member at the rapt press screening not inclined to hiss the trucks we glimpse that represent the more efficient technologies rendering the saltmen's lifestyle obsolete. Yet one inevitably appreciates the saltmen's nobility and their relative freedom compared to those of us in a technology-intensive lifestyle. (Gregg Rickman)

4 p.m. (Castro): Tension (U.S.A., 1949)
"The Unvanquished" honoree John Berry's taut thriller starring Richard Basehart and Audrey Totter. See accompanying story, "John Berry: Romantic Rebel."

7 p.m. (Castro): Xiu Xiu (U.S.A., 1998)
The directing debut of S.F. actress Joan Chen (Heaven and Earth, The Last Emperor), an homage to Chinese silent melodramas, is impressive but troubling. It's stunning to look at (shot by Zhang Yimou's cinematographer, Lu Yue), and the performances by newcomers Lu Lu and Lopsang are terrific. Opening in the fairy tale glow of nostalgia, we follow young Wen Xiu to the high plains of Tibet, apprenticed to a lonely horse herdsman named Lao Jin. The film continues on a lovely coming-of-age trajectory for a while, until things turn shockingly sordid when the randy local townies begin "visiting" Wen Xiu. Xiu Xiu then becomes something of a wallow in both the merciless debasement of Wen Xiu, and the agony Lao Jin experiences as helpless witness. Chen is obviously a very talented filmmaker, but she doesn't seem to know when to let up, and skates dangerously close to exploitation. (Tod Booth)

10 p.m. (Castro): Bandits
(Germany, 1997)
It could have been worse. The members of this all-female jailhouse rock band could have gone with their first choice and called themselves the Crazy Motherfuckers. The Bandits rehearse, break out of jail, and get signed to a recording contract. Hey, whoever said the music business was easy? Though they are supposed to be bad girls behind bars with guitars, they seem more like refugees from a Method acting class than real criminal misfits. With a little irony, this first feature from German Katja von Garnier might have been the genre-/gender-bending movie it wants to be, but instead it's a confused cross between Chained Heat and Footloose. These defiant, insolent women on the run are about as threatening as a group of backup singers in a music video, the genre this film most resembles. Let's make pouting a criminal offense and lock them all up. (Sura Wood)

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