Filmed on the Body 2

Week 2 of the San Francisco International Film Festival

The Claim(U.S.A., 2000)

There's a majesty and a terrible, icy chill to Michael Winterbottom's new film. Winterbottom, the director of the wrenching Jude -- based on Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure -- has shifted the locus of that author's fierce, beloved English west country to the much fiercer Sierra Nevada mountains of Northern California. Set 20 years after the Gold Rush of 1849, The Claim (based on Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge) focuses on the tiny town of Kingdom Come -- from its glorious vistas to its ramshackle structures, its shifty lackeys to its two-bit chippies -- where self-appointed mayor Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullan, star of My Name Is Joe and director of Orphans) is clearly established as the law. When the Central Pacific Railroad sends young Mr. Dalglish (Wes Bentley) and his crew into town, an easiness drifts in beside them. Dalglish finds himself instantly enamored of saucy Lucia (Milla Jovovich, simultaneously conveying radiance and exhaustion), who works triple duty as madam, cabaret singer, and Dillon's love-slave. Complicating matters, a young lady named Hope (Sarah Polley) has floated into town and taken an almost immediate shine to Dalglish. After some requisite explosions, avalanches, and romantic subplots -- as well as the substitution of Michael Nyman's melodramatic score for the lilting Leonard Cohen songs of Robert Altman's similar McCabe & Mrs. Miller -- the plot thickens. Hope's mother, a strange, sickly woman named Elena (Nastassja Kinski), has attracted the undivided attention of Dillon, setting in motion a chain of events that will forever transform Kingdom Come. To say the least, The Claim is a tremendously ambitious project, but it feels just a little bit distant, even emotionally aloof at times. Like much of Hardy, its drama is forced and manipulative (functional only in an alternate universe in which women agree to be sold as property), but thanks to luminous frames from cinematographer Alwin Kuchler it's as rich as some of the author's most sensuous passages. (Gregory Weinkauf)

Thursday, May 3, 7 p.m., Palace of Fine Arts

Come Undone
Come Undone
Southern Comfort
Southern Comfort

Details

Through May 3 For festival information call 931-FILM or visit www.sffs.org For tickets, call (510) 601-8932
Screenings take place at the AMC Kabuki 8 Theater (1881 Post at Fillmore); the Castro Theater (429 Castro near Market); the Pacific Film Archive (2575 Bancroft at Bowditch, UC Berkeley campus); and Landmark's Park Theater (1275 El Camino Real near Valparaiso, Menlo Park)

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Come Undone(France, 1999)

A smart, if slight, meditation on gay relationships, Come Undone(Presque Rien) is the story of Mathieu (Jérémie Elkaïm), a nervous and quiet 18-year-old spending the summer in Brittany taking care of his ailing mother. On the beach he meets Cedric (Stéphane Rideau), a free spirit and one-time hustler, who brings Mathieu out of his shell both emotionally and physically. Like a lot of gay-themed coming-of-age films, this one's got a fair bit of what-will-the- folks-think hand-wringing, but director Sébastien Lifshitz is more interested in setting a mood than playing up obvious conflicts. Shifting back and forth in time between Mathieu and Cedric's romantic summer (shot in gleaming yellows and oranges) and the following fall when they separate (cold blues and grays), the film is merciless in its close-ups of Elkaïm as Mathieu's story gathers details. Lifshitz wants to capture every nuance of Mathieu's journey -- from fear to love to damage to something that, by the end, might count as emotional maturity. Unfortunately, the nonlinear approach muffles the story as often as it tells it. Yet Lifshitz is on to something -- Undone is so good at presenting emotional wreckage that it doesn't have to bother showing the wreck. In French. (Mark Athitakis)

Wednesday, April 25, 7:20 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Thursday, April 26, 3:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Friday, April 27, 7:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Divided Loyalties (U.S.A., 2001)

The island of Cyprus is pockmarked with invasion, conquest, and ethnic carnage at the hands of the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Venetians, British, and Turks. Sophia Constantinou's oral history focuses on the years since World War II, when oppressive Brit-ish colonialism collided with attempts at Greek reunification and the rise of Turkish nationalism. The island's cur-rent ethnic makeup -- roughly one-third Turkish, two-thirds Greek -- has made it a hotbed of internecine bloodshed and divided loyalties since independence was established in 1960. The documentary employs family photos, talking heads, and an evocative soundtrack of Eastern Mediterranean folk music to put a human face on Cyprus' tumultuous recent history. The results are occasionally perfunctory but often involving. (Matthew Stafford)

Saturday, April 28, 2:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki

The Gleaners and I(France, 2000)

"Glean" is a word not often used in English, except in the context of gleaning information. But in French it has a more common, more specific use -- to pick up produce or other foodstuffs left behind by the harvest. In the mind of veteran filmmaker Agnès Varda, it has a far broader application. In her new documentary, she roams around France interviewing all manner of gleaners. The first 10 or 15 minutes of Varda's film suggest a work of "social commentary" -- a look at the extreme poor, à la last year's best documentary, Dark Days. But this is misleading: The Gleaners and I is far from a plain call to action. In some ways, it is structured almost as a work of free association, as Varda (toting a digital video camera) seeks out a wide range of scavengers and stumbles upon types she never anticipated. Varda makes no secret of the fact that the form of the film follows its subject matter. She is the central gleaner here, scouring for people and images, finding oddball bits and pieces that would be ignored by more focused investigators. Any film organized in this way eventually becomes a portrait as much of its author as of its subjects. Varda, still pixieish in her early 70s, is having fun here. Looking at an exhibition called "Trash Is Beautiful" organized to teach kids how to make low-budget art, she asks, "Where does play end and art start?" The dividing line is nebulous, both in life and in Varda's film. (Andy Klein)

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