Filmed on the Body

The 44th annual S.F. International Film Festival gets sexy, with women on top -- and just about everywhere else

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (U.S.A., 2000)
Hedwighas a wonderfully absurd setup, as any self-respecting musical should: Hedwig (writer/ director John Cameron Mitchell) is the transsexual lead singer of an obscure glam-rock band, and the angry inch is his penis, mutilated during a sex-change operation gone horribly awry. Abandoned and brokenhearted, Hedwig channels his anxiety into Ziggy Stardust--type songs (written by Michael Trask) and chases after his young doppelgänger/ex-lover/ protégé Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt), who's stolen those songs and achieved superstardom while Hedwig languishes in obscurity. Hedwig -- adapted from Mitchell's acclaimed off-Broadway musical -- is supposed to be about Hedwig's search for love and inner peace despite his, er, shortcomings, but we never get a fix on exactly what's driving him. His sexuality? His lack of fame? His capacity to love? All of the above? Mitchell bogs things down in empty animated segments, an East Berlin back story, thin characters, and artsy scene-setting, so by the time Pitt's pale, thin Gnosis enters to solve the puzzle, it's much too late to care whether Hedwig is the Second Coming or just the grandest drag queen ever to hit Jackson Cove, Mo. It's best to settle for the evocative, unconfused scenes set during Hedwig's national tour of seafood restaurants, where it's great fun to see him bitch and strut his way around retirees hunched over their cracked crab. (Mark Athitakis)
Saturday, April 21, 10 p.m., Castro

Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale (U.S.A., 2000)
This documentary written and directed by the brother-and-sister team of David and Laurie Gwen Shapiro profiles one Tobias Schneebaum, a former New York painter whose claim to fame is that he once went on a hunting raid with Peruvian Indians and then took part in cannibalism. Later, he wrote a book about his experiences that attracted a minor cult audience. Still more years later, he went to Indonesia and took a homosexual lover among the Asmat tribesmen of New Guinea. Clearly, the Shapiros see Schneebaum, now 80 and ailing, as a romantic adventurer. But they constantly allow the lurid Ripley's Believe It or Not! elements of his story to overwhelm the intended Seeker of Wisdom and Truth elements, and we begin to see them as exploiters. "How do people taste?" a Barnard student asks Schneebaum. "A little like pork," the former rabbinical student answers, without irony. And with that we rest our case for seeking out an alternative form of movie entertainment. (Bill Gallo)
Wednesday, April 25, 4 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Thursday, April 26, 6:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Landscape (Slovak Republic, 2000)
A century in the life of a Balkan village unfolds like a series of folk tales in Martin Sulik's wry, haunting film. Each vignette is as captivating and as serpentine as an Andersen fable: the mute goatherd who swallows a snake; the always-hungry beggar who "even sniffs at rocks"; the brute with the bad disposition, the manipulative mother, and the fondness for nose-wrestling; the regretful widow who saves her old hair. The film's ironic whimsy assumes darker hues as the outside world makes its presence known via three entr'actes: the Nazi roundup of the village's Jews, the Soviet closure of the village's churches, and reports of the 1968 Prague invasion. (Matthew Stafford)
Friday, April 20, 7:10 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Sunday, April 22, 1 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Friday, April 27, 7 p.m., PFA

Gaea Girls
Gaea Girls
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Details

April 19 to May 3

For festival information call 931-FILM or visit www.sffs.org

For tickets, call (510) 601-8932

AMC Kabuki 8 Theater (1881 Post at Fillmore)

Castro Theater (429 Castro near Market)

Pacific Film Archive (2575 Bancroft at Bowditch, UC Berkeley campus)

Landmark's Park Theater (1275 El Camino Real near Valparaiso, Menlo Park)

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The Luzhin Defence (England, 2000)
Dutch director Marleen Gorris (Antonia's Line) tackles an early Nabokov novel, with mixed results. At its best this is a vivid portrait of a modern mind in crisis -- the mind of a shabby, deeply disturbed Russian émigré chess master, Alexander Luzhin (John Turturro), who stumbles upon first love at the world championship in Italy in 1929. At its worst it's Rocky for the art-house crowd, complete with a competing chess heavyweight (Fabio Sator), a loyal girlfriend from da neighborhood (Emily Watson), and a crooked fight manager (Stuart Wilson). What it cannot be is a representation of Nabokov's genius -- his sensual language, his fascinations with illusion and distortion, his skill at constructing multiple realities. Why not watch this as a story, then head for the library to get a transcendent taste of the real thing. (Bill Gallo)
Monday, April 23, 7 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Tuesday, April 24, 4 p.m., AMC Kabuki

"Shirin Neshat Unveiled" (U.S.A., 1998-2001)
Screening amid the admirable Iranian narrative features at the festival are the shorter works of a hot new video artist in self-imposed exile from her native country. Among the three new pieces that have world premieres here, Shirin Neshat's latest work, Passage, includes the music of Philip Glass, an artist she might not have met if she weren't now living in New York City. Three earlier works I was able to preview all stage their images elaborately in the same diptych form: dozens of white-shirted men on the left and black-robed women on the right. In Turbulent, Neshat re-creates a literally black-and-white world of gender division in an auditorium, where a man sings passionate poetry to a roomful of men while a woman performs wordless vocal pyrotechnics to empty seats. In Rapture, men standing on ramparts watch as women drag a boat to the seashore and float away. Fervor enacts a tragic geometrical dance of love, in a world where men and women kept apart are inexorably drawn to each other. Though the films are simplistic, the imagery is hypnotic. (Frako Loden)
Saturday, April 21, 4 p.m., PFA; Sunday, April 22, 5 p.m., AMC Kabuki

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