The Mill Valley Film Festival, now celebrating its 22nd anniversary, has grown to become one of the country's most respected venues for new cinema. This year, four major features -- Random Hearts, Mansfield Park, Ride With the Devil, and the much-anticipated Snow Falling on Cedars -- also premiere at the festival, joining independent films like The Sterling Chase and Valerie Flake. And as always, the MVFF's international selections are particularly exciting; highlights include cult Austrian director Niki List's satirical Heroes in Tyrol, Fruit Chan's The Longest Summer, and the first U.S. showing of Isao Morimoto's Ichigensan. Finally, there are several special programs at this year's festival, including a tribute to Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career; Mrs. Soffel; Little Women; Oscar and Lucinda), which will feature the Australian director in conversation following a screening of the latter film.
Films reviewed here screen at the Sequoia Twin Theaters, 25 Throckmorton (at Blithedale) in Mill Valley, or at the Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St. (at A Street) in San Rafael. Tickets are available at all BASS ticket centers, online at www.basstickets.com, or by phone (through Oct. 6 only) by calling 380-0888. The Film Festival Information Line (383-5346) offers updated ticket and sellout information.
The Children of Chabannes
In the early years of World War II, 400 Jewish children from throughout occupied Europe were sent by their parents to Chabannes, a village in central France. There, an enlightened school director and his extraordinary teachers created an aura of stability for their charges and, ultimately, saved all but six from deportation. This diligent American production reminds us that heroic acts are often the natural behavior of decent, strong-willed and non-ideological people, and that Jewish kids were in no way naive about the Nazis' murderous designs. The reunion between survivors and their French guardians that caps the film -- the obligatory cliché of this subgenre of the Holocaust documentary -- here brims with genuine affection and emotion. (Michael Fox)
Sunday, Oct. 10, 2:30 p.m. at the Sequoia
Heroes in Tyrol
The hills are alive with rock and Tyrol. Viennese wacko Niki List treads territory covered by Mel Brooks and John Waters, but takes time along the way to smell the Austrian kitsch -- wallow in it, actually. Rocker/ecologist Max Adler (Christian Schmidt) has a consuming affection for Emma (Elke Winkens), but their love must wait: The town of Helden ("heroes") is under attack from the evil bürgermeister Steiner (I Stangl). He wants to pave the whole place over to bring in the tourists. Fart jokes, talking crucifixes, schnapps-drinking, lederhosen, disco-polka, and much Alpine rutting ensue. (When Max and Emma consummate their love, they yodel as they thrust.) It's Heidi on X. Like Waters and Brooks, List isn't really a filmmaker -- half the jokes fail and the film is a good 20 minutes too long -- but the high-spirited musical lunacy climbs every mountain and fords every stream. (Joe Mader)
Saturday, Oct. 9, 7 p.m. at the Rafael; Tuesday, Oct. 12, 7 p.m. at the Sequoia
In his feature film debut, director Isao Morimoto almost accomplishes something his predecessors have consistently failed to do: Portray the literate outsider's experience in Japan. In this case, a young European man (Edward Atterton) tries to write his thesis at a Kyoto university while falling in love with a blind Japanese girl (Honami Suzuki) to whom he reads books. The girl boldly questions his assumptions about Japan and argues for her right to as full a life as a Japanese woman can expect. The film's tendency toward prettiness and a studiedly meditative quality is balanced by its open-minded honesty about Japanese attitudes toward the "new customer" (one translation of the title) who shows up in its most exclusive city. (Frako Loden)
Friday, Oct. 8, 6:30 p.m. at the Rafael
The Longest Summer
Fruit Chan's eagerly awaited follow-up to Made in Hong Kong is a depressed caper film trying for an energy jolt from footage of the 1997 hand-over of the former colony to China. Nominated for numerous domestic awards, it follows five members of the disbanded Hong Kong Military Service Corps as they try to find their places in a new society that has left them behind: Should they become security guards, goons for an inept gangster boss, or take the money and run? Sam Lee fails to ignite as the brash younger brother of one of the soldiers, and the whole production feels like rehearsal segments for a later, more accomplished, analysis of the rootlessness and disaffection of Hong Kong's citizens. (Frako Loden)
Monday, Oct. 11, 8:15 p.m. at the Sequoia; Saturday, Oct. 16, 4:30 p.m. at the Rafael
The tone of the vast majority of Holocaust documentaries is one of overwhelming sadness, but a relentless, simmering anger powers this blistering Polish film. While sanctifying the memory of the dead -- by displaying ID photos of Jews presumably gassed in Auschwitz -- filmmaker Dariusz Jablonski also aims to inscribe the names of the guilty. A Nazi accountant and amateur photographer named Genewein took hundreds of color slides of the Lodz Ghetto. These detached, dispassionate images (found in a Vienna bookstore in 1987), combined with ledger-book evidence the filmmaker uncovered of Genewein's profiteering from Jewish labor, are evidence of the banality of one evil, opportunistic man. As a corrective to Genewein's benign "historical" photos, Lodz survivor Dr. Arnold Mostowicz relates his horrific experiences. (Michael Fox)
Saturday, Oct. 16, 2:30 p.m. at the Sequoia
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