Film Capsule Reviews

All Hell Let Loose (Sweden, 2002)

In this prickly domestic drama that veers wildly between inspiration and cliché, the internal tensions of an Iranian family living in Stockholm are thrown into sharp relief when the prodigal daughter returns from America for her sister's wedding. Actress-turned-writer-and-director Susan Taslimi peppers her knowing tale of rebellion and assimilation with sharp comic moments, making the setting both specific and universal. The freshest bits belong to the highly sexual and enthusiastically modern women, who scheme, scrap, and lie to wrest every bit of autonomy they can from the bombastic head of the household. Yes, the father is the heavy, although he gives welcome hints of being ready to join the 21st century -- until, that is, a desperate, misguided attempt to maintain his patriarchal authority explodes in disaster. The chilling nuptial meltdown he precipitates doesn't evoke My Big Fat Greek Wedding so much as last year's superior Israeli entry, Late Marriage. (Michael Fox)

Sunday, April 20, 9:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Sunday, April 27, noon, AMC Kabuki

All Hell Let Loose
All Hell Let Loose
Blissfully Yours
Blissfully Yours
Durval Discos
Durval Discos
Eat, Sleep, No Women
Eat, Sleep, No Women
Eat, Sleep, No Women
Eat, Sleep, No Women
Eat, Sleep, No Women
Eat, Sleep, No Women
Eat, Sleep, No Women
Eat, Sleep, No Women
Fear and Trembling
Fear and Trembling
Goodbye South, Goodbye
Goodbye South, Goodbye
Last Scene
Last Scene
Music for Weddings and Funerals
Music for Weddings and Funerals
So Close
So Close
Whale Rider
Whale Rider
Whale Rider
Whale Rider
Whale Rider
Whale Rider

Blissfully Yours (Thailand, 2002)

For a movie by a filmmaker whose work has been described as "indescribable" by a number of critics, this picture contains plenty of things that can be described -- but descriptions barely approach its effect on someone who actually watches it. Young Thai factory worker Roong has had a hard day, so her Burmese illegal-immigrant friend Min takes her on a long drive out to the Thai-Burmese border for a picnic. This idyllic jungle by a stream is the setting for the rest of the movie -- a paradise of bliss in which the characters pick berries, wade in the waters, and make love, but can't banish worries about work, health, and the future from their minds, much like the red ants that crawl into their food and their shirts. The sex doesn't seem particularly blissful, either. This second feature by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Mysterious Object at Noon) continues his experimentation with semi-documentary narrative and evokes moments of unfulfilled desire for a man who must keep moving and can't be touched, both figuratively and literally. (Frako Loden)

Friday, April 18, 7 p.m., Pacific Film Archive; Sunday, April 20, 6:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Durval Discos (Brazil, 2002)

In Anna Muylaert's breezy, unpretentious answer to High Fidelity, the owner of a São Paulo record shop carries only vinyl, and only, apparently, the best '70s Brazilian pop -- of which, the soundtrack mildly reminds us, there's plenty. The fortysomething Durval (a lanky, big-haired Ary Franta, perfectly cast) doesn't seem to mind living as an anachronism any more than he minds living with his pushy mother (Etty Fraser), until they get stuck looking after an energetic 5-year-old girl. Notwithstanding the trio's occasional impromptu dance parties, tension mounts when Durval's mother stubbornly spoils the girl and, upon discovering that she'd been kidnapped, stalls Durval's efforts to involve the authorities. Here Muylaert flips to the story's B-side, yielding melodic runs of dark humor and absurdity. Her method, as analog as an old record, isn't slick; the tone is shifty, but nimbly so, rather like the affable tunes she uses for punctuation. (Jonathan Kiefer)

Saturday, April 19, 9:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Tuesday, April 22, 4:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Eat, Sleep, No Women (Germany, 2002)

When the elephant scratches his ear, what happens to the gnats on his back? All sorts of tiny yet momentous things, muses German journalist-cum-filmmaker Heiner Stadler, especially when the elephant is the United States and the itch is Afghanistan. This unsatisfying pseudo-documentary globe-hops from a Pakistani sign painter to a French saxophonist to Brazilian gold miners to an Egyptian pop star, weaving fact and invention into an ambitious but nebulous survey of the global village on Oct. 7, 2001 (the day America opened war on the Taliban). Professionally shot and edited, and held together for a while by Stadler's ironic, coy narration, the film sustains a nice tension until it dawns on you after about half an hour that no insights or connections beyond the most tenuous or banal are in the offing. Aiming to bridge the distance between first-person essay and objective journalism, Eat, Sleep skitters into the abyss. (Michael Fox)

Monday, April 21, 9:45 p.m., Pacific Film Archive; Wednesday, April 23, 1 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Saturday, April 26, 1:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Fear and Trembling (France, 2003)

Amelie, a young Belgian woman (Sylvie Testud) not to be confused with the perky heroine of the recent French blockbuster, gets a job as an interpreter in a Japanese megacorporation in Alain Corneau's film of an autobiographical novel. Violating all of the corporation's hierarchical rules is a disaster for this spunky do-gooder, who runs afoul of a string of bosses, the lot of them stupid, petty, and/or sadistic. In particular, Testud is caught up in a love-hate relationship with her immediate superior, Fubuki (Kaori Tsuji), for whom Western-style sisterhood has no charms, even as Amelie moons over her "fiery beauty." A workplace comedy with appeal to beleaguered underlings of any culture, Fear and Trembling presents a particularly harsh portrait of the Japanese corporate world, where "to make the screaming stop I'd invade Manchuria." (Gregg Rickman)

Saturday, April 19, 9:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 21, 4 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Goodbye South, Goodbye (Taiwan, 1996)

In this terrific rereading of several combined gangster genre films, ranging from the yakuza pictures of Takakura Ken to Mean Streets, aging enforcer Kao (Jack Kao, so good in Millennium Mambo and at moments a dead ringer for Takakura himself) ventures into one dubious business project after another as he struggles to control his hot-tempered brother gangster. Their womenfolk pester them with their own overseas dreams and instabilities as the men drive all over creation with one eye constantly on the rearview mirror. A movie deserving to be seen again, Goodbye South, Goodbye by Hou Hsiao-hsien (Flowers of Shanghai) is this year's Mel Novikoff Award recipient, critic Manny Farber's choice for one of his past decade's favorites. (Frako Loden)

Monday, April 21, 5:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Last Scene (Japan/Korea, 2003)

The first scene of Last Scene, with its stormy night, madwoman, and dangling fetus, suggests one of Nakata Hideo's horror films (Ring/Ring 2, Dark Water) but is actually a 1960s movie set on which actor Mihara is about to kiss his career goodbye as a result of his popular co-star's retirement and his own whiskey-addled egotism. Jump ahead 35 years, and the gaunt, long-retired widower Mihara (played by jazz musician Johnny Yoshinaga) returns to acting as a dying geezer in an inane hospital melodrama staffed by a young, movie-ignorant television crew. Sly references to horror filmmaking and the asininity of Japanese TV "trendy dorama" give this ultimately sentimental paean to the '60s era of Japanese cinema a satiric edge, enhanced by the performances of a minimalist Yoshinaga and a no-nonsense Aso Kumiko (Dr. Akagi) as a demoralized prop manager. (Frako Loden)

Saturday, April 19, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Wednesday, April 23, 9:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Music for Weddings and Funerals (Norway, 2002)

The slow recovery of novelist Sara Abrahamson (Lena Endre) from grief over the death of her son is delayed by continuing demands on her emotions from Peter, her frosty genius of an ex-husband, in Unni Straume's intelligent and gripping Norwegian drama. Peter (Bjorn Floberg) torments Sara in the Bergman-esque first part of this film, in just the way icy Gunnar Björnstrand used to torment Liv Ullmann in Ingmar Bergman films made 40 years ago. Straume trumps Bergman by coming up with a way to exorcise this petulant control freak that Ingmar never dared, and brings in a hotblooded Serbian musician (Goran Bregovic, producing the same Gypsy tunes viewers may recognize from 1995's Underground, et al.) to lead Sara back to the land of the living. This movie, if released domestically, might do very well in Marin County or Palo Alto, where modernist buildings created by immodest architects like Peter proliferate, as may immodest architects and their stressed-out spouses. (Gregg Rickman)

Friday, April 18, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 21, 7 p.m., AMC Kabuki

So Close (Hong Kong, 2002)

So close -- or, as the repeated playing of the Carpenters' song on the soundtrack implies, so close to you-- is this brazen hired-killer sister act, and yet so hard to catch. My fanboy friends who love the Hong Kong actress Shu Qi (Millennium Mambo) will thrill to her first fighting role as the glamorous big sister who executes hits while her cute little sister, played by Mainland China actress Zhao Wei (Shaolin Soccer), navigates remotely by next-generation computer tracking devices. Their nemesis is a young cop played by Karen Mok (Fallen Angels); also a genius, she's determined to track them down with the help of a male sidekick who clearly knows who's the boss of ass-kicking. It's a wacky world of bubble baths and birthday cakes interrupted by attacks of the lethal Wall of Hair and killer high-heels -- probably the most fun you'll have at the film festival this year. (Frako Loden)

Friday, April 18, midnight, AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 21, 4:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Sunday, April 27, 9 p.m., CinéArts

Whale Rider (New Zealand/ Germany, 2002)

Niki Caro's feel-good movie for bright preteen girls plays more briskly than John Sayles' quite similar The Secret of Roan Inish, and doesn't insult its audiences the way a Hollywood version might. A splendid child actress, Keisha Castle-Hughes, effortlessly compels attention as Pai, the strong-willed granddaughter of a New Zealand tribal chief, whose gender prevents her from assuming the role of community leadership she so obviously deserves. A charismatic but absent father, a wise grandmother, a boy pal she can best in competition, and a whale whose distress she can sense complete Pai's supporting cast. Properly promoted, this nicely cast, shot, and mounted movie could be very popular here, a tweener-girl Black Stallion. (Gregg Rickman)

Saturday, April 19, 9 p.m., Castro; Tuesday, April 22, 1 p.m., AMC Kabuki

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