Animated by Dr. Freud (Various)
Jim Trainor's peculiar The Fetishist is clearly the centerpiece of this program of animation for grown-ups, devoting 38 minutes to its deadpan tale of a deeply disturbed adolescent, drawn from an actual 1947 case study. The boy's features in this hand-drawn instant classic mutate shot-to-shot from unhappy and freckled to Beavis and Butt-head to twisted and sad, reflecting the way the character's own soul is racked and roiled. Of the remaining films, Richard Reeves' Linear Dreams and Jeff Scher's Yours are delightful abstractions, Pixar's cutesy Geri's Game quite out of place, and the Bolex Brothers' Keep in a Dry Place and Away from Children is quite similar to what the nasty kid in Pixar's Toy Story might have directed had he taken up animation. The program's last half-hour, Lewis Klahr's Calendar the Siamese, is a modern fable, not to all tastes, with really ugly cutout animation. (Gregg Rickman)

Monday, May 4, 9:45 p.m., Kabuki; Thursday, May 7, 7:15 p.m., Kabuki

Chile, Obstinate Memory (Canada, 1997)
Pure in focus and vigorous in attack, this 58-minute documentary achieves poetic intensity with spare, unmannered means. Returning to his homeland with his long-banned epic The Battle of Chile (1976) under his arm, Patricio Guzman sets out to explore the import -- and the fragility -- of memory in politics. He jars loose painful recollections of Salvador Allende's "Popular Unity" government and the bloody coup that toppled it, and ends up asking (like Langston Hughes): What happens to a dream deferred? This film combines heartbreaking reminiscences and provocative confrontations with eerie visitations to the scene of political crimes, like the Santiago stadium that became a post-coup torture center and prison camp. In the most extraordinary sequence, Guzman films the reactions of men and women in the street to hearing the Unidad Popular anthem. We seem to witness nothing less than the awkward rebirth of collective memory. (Michael Sragow)

Sunday, May 3, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki; Monday, May 4, 1 p.m., Kabuki

Cocksucker Blues (U.S.A., 1972)
The Rolling Stones tried to suppress Robert Frank's documentary of the band's 1972 Exile on Main St tour, supposedly because it made them look like disgusting rock stars consumed by drugs and surrounded by cheap groupies and a debaucherous crew of ancillary creeps. The film unquestionably does that, but it's really threatening to the Stones in a different and more insidious way: It makes rock 'n' roll look boring. The transient spaces -- the hotel suites, the private jets, the dressing rooms -- are all cold blue lights and distant, echoey audio. The concert footage, '70s arena sound systems heard through a transistor radio, consists of brief coke-fueled color-saturated episodes coming between shots of "juicy pussy" and the Stones' traveling shooting gallery. Mick Jagger sidesteps interview questions. Keith Richards nods. Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, and Tina Turner blow through but never say anything. Yawn. Don DeLillo, who titled a 100-plus-page section of Underworld "Cocksucker Blues," nailed the often-bootlegged film in one sentence: "It's the same show, the same city, the same motherfucking band of emaciated millionaire pricks and their Negro bodyguards." (Jeff Stark)

Wednesday, April 29, 9:45 p.m., Castro

The Disappearance of TiSoeur: Haiti After Duvalier & short (U.S.A., 1997)
For the average citizen, the name "Duvalier" in pre-Aristide Haiti inspired the same kind of terror that "Marcos" did during his heyday in the Philippines. Loyalist troops and spies were everywhere, waiting to exact the ultimate penalty on anyone who dared to complain about the Duvalier dynasty's looting and near-destruction of the country. Using interviews and news clips, Harriet Hirshorn's 1997 documentary paints a grimly effective picture of how an imperialist legacy can outlast individual despots, but also offers grounds for hope in its bracing scenes of masses of Haitians taking back their streets. (Gary Morris)

Monday, May 4, 9:15 p.m., Kabuki

Every Little Thing & short (France, 1996)
Keeping his camera at a respectful distance from his subjects, filmmaker Nicolas Philibert tracks the patients of a French psychiatric hospital as they prepare to stage a surreal operetta that in some ways mirrors the minor daily dramas of their own lives. "The lines are completely illogical," says one patient-turned-actor of the production. "It comforts me." This disarmingly sweet documentary captures the essence of hospital life in the slightest of details, like the hearty laughter that erupts in the forested clearing where rehearsals are held, or the very French attendant who doles out pills with a cigarette dangling from his lips. Plays with Egypt, a fascinating black-and-white short on deaf Austrian children and adults who tell stories in sign language. (Heather Wisner)

Monday, May 4, 6:45 p.m., Kabuki; Tuesday, May 5, 4 p.m., Kabuki

The Farm: Angola, USA (U.S.A., 1998)
The most disturbing image of this 1998 documentary, directed by Jonathan Stack and Elizabeth Garbus, is also its most pervasive one: the picture of black men incarcerated at a Louisiana prison, America's largest, that was once a slave plantation. Shots of these men working the fields suggest there's little difference for them between 19th-century slavery and its present-day counterpart. "Everybody at Angola works," says the smug white warden; one of the guards brags that this minicity, which employs thousands, is "the safest place in America." The haunted faces of the six men the film focuses on -- most too poor to mount an appeal -- are as eloquent as their words on the subject of a society that seems hellbent on their destruction. (Gary Morris)

Saturday, May 2, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki; Monday, May 4, 1:30 p.m., Kabuki

Fragments * Jerusalem (Israel, 1997)
One of the festival's major events, Ron Havilio's six-hour personal history of the mysterious and mythic Holy City is fascinatingly hallucinatory and frustratingly slippery. A secular Israeli Jew who spent five pivotal childhood years in Paris, the filmmaker pokes and probes for Jerusalem's soul (and, perhaps, his own) by tracing the threads of his family history through old drawings and photographs, newsreel footage, and anecdotes. Havilio's is a search for his roots, rather than an all-encompassing account of the city's evolution from backwater mecca to international battleground. Riveting chronological narratives -- such as his mother's ancestors' 1812 journey from Poland to Jerusalem -- occupy long chunks of the film, but Havilio is too peripatetic and too concerned with the present to surrender completely to linear storytelling. A jigsaw puzzle with some of the pieces omitted, this is a marvelous film in which to get lost -- a meditation, a daydream. Havilio's Jerusalem exists as much in memory as in reality, and as such is timeless, distant, and forever elusive. (Michael Fox)

Screened in two segments -- Cycle 1: Saturday, May 2, noon, PFA; Sunday, May 3, noon, Kabuki; Monday, May 4, 3 p.m., Kabuki. Cycle 2: Saturday, May 2, 3:45 p.m., PFA; Sunday, May 3, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki; Tuesday, May 5, 3 p.m., Kabuki

Green Fish (South Korea, 1997)
For its first half-hour or so, Lee Chang-Dong's Green Fish is a gas, a funny, disarming, intriguing debut feature that looks like the start of a major career. It's a take on an old subgenre -- the young-guy-coming-of-age-in-the-mob story -- and so fresh it doesn't feel quite like anything you've seen before. As our hero settles into his role as a mobster, though, the film settles into something more routine. It's never less than good, and manages to stay surprising with its vividly drawn cast of characters, but doesn't quite keep up the sparkling pace of its opening. Highly recommended, all the same. (Tod Booth)

Saturday, May 2, 9:45 p.m., PFA; Monday, May 4, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki; Wednesday, May 6, 9:15 p.m., Kabuki

In My Father's House & short (Netherlands, 1997)
"A deflowered woman is like yesterday's couscous," an old Moroccan man declares. He adds, speaking for many in his society, "It turns my stomach." In this documentary, renegade Arab filmmaker Fatima Jebli Ouazzani tries to reconnect with a culture, and specifically her father, that rejected her because she dared to go out into the world at age 18. Another telling quote: "A woman leaves home only twice in her life: once to be married and once to be buried." Ouazzani's confrontation with her past is painful to watch, but most extraordinary is a series of increasingly bitter exchanges between her aged, embittered grandparents -- the old man screaming for her to serve him, and she screaming back, "Get stuffed!" (Gary Morris)

Monday, May 4, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki; Tuesday, May 5, 12:45 p.m., Kabuki; Wednesday, May 6, 7 p.m., PFA

Laughing in the Lowlands: Lodewyk Crijns (Holland, Various)
Sparkling comedy isn't what Dutch director Lodewyk Crijns is after: If there's one element linking the three short films in this collection, it's black humor. The Bloody Olive spoofs film noir with a series of over-the-top homicides committed by people with a cartoonish imperviousness to death. Brother's Keeper meets Crumb in The Red Rag, the bleak but often painfully funny tale of two misanthropic middle-aged brothers who bicker constantly with one another and their live-in mother when they're not vying for the attentions of the young woman who shares a house with them. The program closes with the funniest of the three, Throwing Out the Baby, about a junkman named Willem and his mother, whose wretched lives in a squalid Dutch trailer camp change after Willem finds a baby in a box on his daily rounds. Filmed with a fish-eye lens and off-kilter comic sensibility, Baby illustrates the universality of basic pigheaded meanness with poignancy and wit. (Heather Wisner)

Wednesday, April 29, 2 p.m., Kabuki; Tuesday, May 5, 10 p.m., Kabuki

Long Twilight (Hungary, 1997)
"Open air landscapes are the most threatening," Alfred Hitchcock is supposed to have remarked. An elderly professor (longtime Hungarian star Mari Tsrocsik) who decides to walk across some bucolic pastures on a whim finds this out in this mildly disturbing film by Attila Janisch. The bus she gets on is unpleasant, the strangers she encounters baleful, and the hotel she winds up in is out of The Shining. This film gets out and walks several stops short of Stephen King territory, however, based as it is on a story by his milder predecessor, Shirley Jackson -- the horrific nightmares that keep threatening to burst out remain discreetly off-screen, and the film's resolution settles nothing. Tsrocsik, whose rubbery face suggests a blond Harvey Keitel after a night in the rain, does wonders with her underwritten part. (Gregg Rickman)

Wednesday, April 29, 7:15 p.m., Kabuki; Friday, May 1, 2 p.m., Kabuki; Sunday, May 3, 2 p.m., Lark

Modulations (U.S.A., 1997)
The follow-up to last year's cult-hit subculture documentary Synthetic Pleasures, Iara Lee's Modulations bravely takes on the daunting task of telling the history of electronic music in the 20th century, from John Cage's noise experiments to Prodigy's chart-topping techno rock. Much like the music she covers, Modulations is a cut-and-mix job, her camera leapfrogging across the planet -- from Mount Fuji to Detroit to Chicago to Berlin -- to snag interviews with some of the music's major players from the past and present: LTJ Bukem, Robert Moog, Can, DJ Spooky, even S.F.'s own local turntable maestros Invisibl Skratch Piklz. Interspersing the interviews with some Koyaanisqatsi-style shots of urban landscapes, the film has an appropriately ambient, pleasant feel to it. However, while Lee's juggling of history -- moving from Kraftwerk's '70s to Atari Teenage Riot's '90s to John Cage's '40s -- might be intriguing for viewers familiar with the artists, those looking for a straightforward introduction to the so-called "electronica" world might be left with more questions than answers -- and wondering if in the end it's really anything more than, as Moog puts it, "the hot-rodding of the '90s." (Mark Athitakis)

Wednesday, May 6, 4:15 and 9:30 p.m., Kabuki

Moment of Impact (U.S.A., 1998)
The body as battleground is the subject of Julia Loktev's absorbing documentary, shot in the rare medium of black-and-white video. In 1989, her father Leonard was struck by a car and left a paraplegic incapable of speech or much movement. Inexplicably rejected for home health care, Leonard is watched over by his increasingly unraveling wife Larisa. Moment of Impact shows every grueling detail of the Loktevs' lives, from Larisa giving her husband a bath that drags on for two hours to Julia's unsettling demands that her father speak. There are frequent bizarre touches and plenty of gallows humor. But much of the film is taken up with philosophical conversations between Julia and Larisa, both trying to make sense of a life narrowed to the vanishing point by a single unforeseen moment. (Gary Morris)

Friday, May 1, 4:30 p.m., Kabuki; Sunday, May 3, 7:30 p.m., Kabuki; Wednesday, May 6, 9:15 p.m., PFA

Motel Cactus (South Korea, 1997)
Not even the candy-colored, crazily kinetic cinematography -- done by Christopher Doyle -- can make this aimless directorial debut by Park Ki-Yong come to life. It's set in one room of the titular motel, as a procession of four young and attractive heterosexual couples check in, have sex, moon and mope around, have sex, and check out. It's not like any Korean film you've ever seen but, thanks to the wild, hand-held camera style, it is like a lot of recent Hong Kong films. Doyle's work is pretty much the whole show here, which makes it worth at least a look. (Tod Booth)

Friday, May 1, 4 p.m., Kabuki; Tuesday, May 5, 9:45 p.m., Kabuki

Murmur of Youth (Taiwan, 1997)
Lin Cheng-sheng's workload -- he has two films in this year's fest, had one in last year's, and has been acting as well -- doesn't seem to be having a negative effect. He's one of the great new Taiwanese filmmakers. Murmur of Youth is a delicate, meticulous study of two very different young women, each named Mei-li, who meet as ticket sellers in a movie theater. The film is remarkably intimate, thanks in no small part to the extraordinary performances of the two girls. It's a pure, crystalline dose of urban teen-age girl life, in all its charm and ennui. Definitely a festival highlight. (Tod Booth)

Friday, May 1, 9:15 p.m., Kabuki; Monday, May 4, 12:45 p.m., Kabuki; Tuesday, May 5, 7 p.m., PFA

Off Season (Germany, 1997)
This German documentary about life in what's left of Yugoslavia employs a conventional "talking heads" format, as angry Croats and Muslims dicker about what to do with the ruined city of Mostar. The answer is "not much," as the city settles into seething east and west blocs akin to Berlin's own divide in the Cold War. Shot between 1994, two months after the last house-to-house battles, and 1996, when a U.N. administrator struggling to reunify Mostar finally despairs, this film would be instructive to diplomats, strike negotiators, and marriage counselors -- it'll be grindingly depressing to everyone else. Directed by Pepe Danquart and Mirjam Quinte. (Gregg Rickman)

Sunday, May 3, 12:30 p.m., Kabuki; Thursday, May 7, 1:15 p.m., Kabuki

Once We Were Strangers (U.S.A., 1997)
This breezy, lighthearted comedy owes a lot to Woody Allen with its Manhattan backdrop, jazzy score, and intertwining tales of romantic travail. Rather than focusing on the well-heeled denizens of the Upper West Side that Allen is partial to, director Emanuele Crialese tracks a couple of striving young immigrants as they make their way through a romantic thicket. If Crialese does not yet have Allen's mastery of interweaving parallel story lines, his fresh first feature is nonetheless packed with gentle delights, from Antonio (Vincenzo Amato), an Italian king of love given to such pronouncements as "Beautiful women are for men with no imagination," to the chain-smoking bartender who sprays seltzer water on an overheated couple making out at the bar. (Sura Wood)

Thursday, April 30, 7 p.m., Kabuki; Friday, May 1, 1:30 p.m., Kabuki; Saturday, May 2, 7 p.m., Lark

Perfect Circle (Bosnia/France/Netherlands, 1997)
Bosnia's a blank for most of us, but director Ademir Kenovic brings it to life in this striking feature, shot in Sarajevo starting in 1992 and finished five years later. The plot is classic neo-realist: Against a wartime background, aging poet Hamza is abandoned by his wife and daughter, but finds another human connection when he adopts two urchins who've been bombed out of their home. Kenovic has a keen eye and his imagery is most powerful when it plays off what is obviously real: a bus with a huge hole in it careening through the town, a wounded dog with part of a wagon attached to its back racing down an empty street, a crowd of crazed citizens tearing down a small birch tree in a frenzy of self-destruction. (Gary Morris)

Wednesday, April 29, 1 p.m., Kabuki; Thursday, April 30, 9:15 p.m., PFA; Friday, May 1, 6:45 p.m., Kabuki; Sunday, May 3, 7 p.m., Lark

Season Five & short (Iran/France, 1997)
This excellent Iranian film traces a feud that refuses to die after a wedding feast involving two warring clans is disrupted by the groom's cold feet. The jilted bride (the wonderful Roya Nonahali) takes charge of her family's revenge. When the groom starts offering villagers rides to the big city in a shiny new van, one suspects political allegory is on director Rafi Pitts' mind, given comments about the land's financial potential and the symbolic role of Western-built transport. But the heart of the tale is the feud's emotional toll, which plays out in surprising and at times quite funny ways. The fact that Pitts tells his story with harmonious mastery of screen composition and dramatic pacing helps enormously. Screens with a beautiful slow-motion sunrise shot by Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami, The Birth of Light. (Gregg Rickman)

Monday, May 4, 9:15 p.m., PFA; Wednesday, May 6, 7:15 p.m., Kabuki; Thursday, May 7, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki

So There, (France, 1997)
The marvelous French actor Michel Piccoli (Contempt, May Fools) steps behind the camera with defiantly unexpected results. His willfully offbeat study of an oversexed and chaotic extended French family living under one roof is alternately biting and bemused, impatient and contemplative. That's not necessarily surprising for a septuagenarian making his debut as a director; what's odd is the tone of woozy farce, suggesting an English domestic drama, that opens the picture. An array of fascinating performances from an outstanding ensemble carries the show when the plot drifts out of sight; Piccoli rations information about his characters in oblique snippets that's the antithesis of Hollywood spoon feeding. All in all, a perverse, confounding, and utterly fascinating slice of life. (Michael Fox)

Sunday, May 3, 9:15 p.m., Kabuki; Thursday, May 7, 9:15 p.m., Kabuki

The Spider's Stratagem (Italy, 1971)
Prime Bernardo Bertolucci: voluptuous, iconoclastic, and almost alarmingly original. Just before he made The Conformist, the precocious director, only 30, turned a brief Borges short story ("The Theme of the Traitor and Hero") into this political Oedipal saga in which the hero's father's eyes are symbolically plucked out and painted over. Giulio Brogi (who looks like a matinee-idol version of American comic actor Joe Bologna) plays the son of a militant anti-Fascist murdered in 1936 while attending a performance of Rigoletto. Brogi plays the father, too -- and as he scours his ancestral town for the real story behind the killing, he keeps running in and out of his sire's shoes. This movie is like an entire film festival rolled into one bracing 97-minute package: The town is called Tara; the father's frozen-in-time mistress (Alida Valli of The Third Man) is a juiced-up version of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations; there's a nod to the motorcycle messengers of death in Cocteau's Orpheus; and the whole setup bears a resemblance to Bad Day at Black Rock. Bertolucci's references to the opera and drama of Verdi and Shakespeare are just as specific -- and, what's crucial, just as expressive. For within the framework of a modernist narrative that could be called Deconstructing Daddy, Bertolucci captures the befuddlement of youth trying to wrest a usable legacy from past politics and culture. (Michael Sragow)

Wednesday, April 29, 7 p.m., Castro

Sweet Degeneration (Taiwan/China, 1997)
A deep dive into modern alienation (seemingly a specialty among Taiwanese filmmakers) -- so much so that Sweet Degeneration daringly risks alienating the audience, too. Lin Cheng-sheng's film takes its sweet time telling parallel stories, slowly and enigmatically revealed layer by layer in Egoyan-esque fashion, centering on a brother and sister whose twisted family relationships have derailed their lives. It's frankly frustrating for a while trying to figure out who's who, but the film gains terrific power as the stories spill into each other. The cumulative effect is potent indeed, but terribly bleak. (Tod Booth)

Thursday, April 30, 9:15 p.m., Kabuki; Tuesday, May 5, 9:30 p.m., PFA; Thursday, May 7, 4 p.m., Kabuki

Taafe Fanga & short (Mali, 1997)
"The skirt has defeated the pants" is how one villager describes the transformation of a Mali village in which women and men reverse social roles after an overburdened local woman impersonates a god and issues an ultimatum. But one clearheaded little girl stubbornly refuses to play by the new rules, and director Adama Drabo uses her resistance to illustrate how a direct flip-flop of power doesn't lead to any kind of real equality, although the consternation it creates sparks much-needed debates among both sexes about the delegation of power and responsibility. With traditional griot storytelling, African music, and the stunning clay-colored cliffs of Mali as a backdrop, Drabo weaves an engaging tale highlighted by bits of truly magical cinematic imagery. (Heather Wisner)

Friday, May 1, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki; Saturday, May 2, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki

Whatever (U.S.A., 1997)
Susan Skoog's film is packed with great rock 'n' roll, songs by the Ramones, Siouxsie & the Banshees, and the Pretenders peculiar to its early '80s setting. Anna is a high school senior who doesn't know what she wants. Her single mom is dating an icky married guy, her best friend Brenda is coping with familial trauma by getting wasted and sleeping around, and her artistic ambitions are undermined by both nagging uncertainties and the untrustworthy advice of an older guy who just wants to sleep with her. Actress Liza Weil is entirely persuasive as a confused and pissed-off Anna trying to keep her cool, offering viewers an acute reminder of all the turmoil that age can bring. Skoog pays strict attention to details of time and teen-age life, right down to the bong hits from a hollowed-out apple, and turns in a likable tale of a girl on the scary but liberating brink of adulthood. (Heather Wisner)

Tuesday, May 5, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki; Wednesday, May 6, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki

WR: Mysteries of the Organism
(Yugoslavia/West Germany, 1971)
Dusan Makavejev starts this amusing 1971 period piece as a biography of Wilhelm Reich, renegade Freudian and creator of the notorious "orgone box," an alleged cancer-curing device that landed Reich in prison, where he died. But Makavejev's tribute to this still-misunderstood character expands generously to become itself a series of tableaux illustrating Reich's imagined sexual utopia, complete with plaster-cast cocks, hard-core footage, and visual quotes from an imaginary Yugoslavian film about sex and revolution. A comic ensemble of countercultural icons -- Tuli Kupferberg from the Fugs, Warhol superstar Jackie Curtis, sex artist Betty Dodson -- acts out Reich's still-resonant mantra of "Enjoy, Feel, Laugh." And few would quarrel with typical Reich pronouncements like "Fascism is the frenzy of sexual cripples" or my personal favorite, the incomparably terse "Fuck freely!" (Gary Morris)

Thursday, April 30, 7 p.m., Castro

* Most screenings are at the Kabuki, 1881 Post (at Fillmore). There are also shows at the Castro, 429 Castro (at Market); the Pacific Film Archive, 2625 Durant (at College) in Berkeley; the Clay, 2261 Fillmore (at Clay); and the Lark, 549 Magnolia (at Dougherty) in Larkspur.

* Tickets are now $9 ($7.50 for Film Institute members, seniors, and students) unless otherwise noted. Weekday screenings until 5 p.m. are $5.50 and $5. Tickets are available at the door to each film, but it's smart to buy in advance, at the main box office in the Japan Center Kunokuniya Building, 1825 Post (at Webster), next-door to the Kabuki; or downtown on the second floor of the Union Square Macy's Men's Store, Stockton & O'Farrell.

* You can charge by phone at 441-7373 noon to 7 p.m. daily.
* Fest info by phone is at 931-3456; the San Francisco Film Society also has a schedule and more on the Web, at www.sfiff.org.

Show Pages
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 

Now Showing

Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

Powered By VOICE Places

Box Office

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!

©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.
Loading...