Real to Reel

Week 2 of the 46th San Francisco International Film Festival

Bus 174 (Brazil, 2002)

This documentary of a Rio de Janeiro bus hijacking and its back story exposes a stinging irony: the ubiquity of real-time and retrospective media attention lavished on its central figure, who on that day waged the final act of a lifelong "battle against invisibility." As a boy, Sandro do Nascimento witnessed his mother's murder, a trauma compounded by its having propelled him into the fold of the city's many hapless street kids. Director José Padilha strives to reveal the context of the eventual hijacker's ill-fated formative milieu, in which poverty is rampant and variously destructive, and police are both brutal and incompetent. However thoroughly extrapolated and politically charged the culminating incident is, though, Padilha's account doesn't seem all that different from one of the many true-crime shows now available on cable TV; it can feel too teased out. As an effective eye-opener, however, it rebukes viewers for romanticizing Rio's urban energy. (Jonathan Kiefer)

Wednesday, April 23, 6:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Thursday, April 24, 2:30 p.m., Castro; Sunday, April 27, 6 p.m., Pacific Film Archive

Bus 174
Bus 174


Through May 1

Screenings take place at the AMC Kabuki 8 Theater (1881 Post at Fillmore); the Castro Theatre (429 Castro near Market); the Pacific Film Archive (2575 Bancroft at Bowditch, UC Berkeley campus); and the CinéArts at Palo Alto Square (3000 El Camino Real at Page Mill, Building 6).

For festival information, call 931-FILM, and for tickets, call (925) 275-9490; for either, visit

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Extraño (Argentina, 2003)

Santiago Loza's debut feature comes across with impressive surety, demanding that we tolerate its nonverbal mysteries. And we do. A gliding, palpably quiet event, Extrañois a film, its maker explains, of fragile silence. But too much explanation is unnecessary, and would break the spell: The movie raises intriguing questions about its characters in part by deliberately saying nothing to answer them. Axel (Julio Chávez), a surgeon who's prematurely retired for unstated reasons, lives in a kind of waking hibernation in his sister's house. Axel's nephew joins him in feigning the responsibilities of adulthood, nonchalantly smoking, perusing pornography, and, of course, not saying much. By chance, Axel meets a young woman (Valería Bertucelli) who's as pregnant as the movie's pauses; they form a relationship whose only salient feature is the fact of no longer being strangers. Superbly articulated by his cast, the director's preference for muting his rich material is a feat of cinematic intimacy. (Jonathan Kiefer)

Monday, April 28, 3:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Wednesday, April 30, 7:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Iran, Veiled Appearances (Belgium, 2002)

Veteran Belgian documentarian Thierry Michel structures his essential survey of contemporary Iran as a parable of authority and opposition. The unsettling opening half-hour centers on the fundamentalist Shiite Muslims (of both sexes) who pushed Ayatollah Khomeini to power and fervidly back his successor. Easily controlled by their religious leaders (like the devout everywhere), they're encouraged to mourn and idolize "martyrs" (such as relatives who died in the lengthy war with Iraq) while condemning all secular attitudes as Satanism. Nonetheless, advocates of reform and progress -- most of them under 30 and many of them women -- abound, notably at the universities and cheerfully congregating in the mountains outside Tehran. Michel, who's best described as a pragmatic optimist, leaves us smiling, hopeful but unconvinced that Iran's legions of disaffected and impatient youth can wrest control from the zealots. (Michael Fox)

Saturday, April 26, 11 a.m., AMC Kabuki

The Last Train (Uruguay/Argentina/Spain, 2002)

The high concept here arises with plans for a Uruguayan locomotive to be sent to the United States for use in a Hollywood film. The 33, as it's known locally, is "a jewel of national heritage," and a few old lefties from the Friends of the Rails Association won't let it go without a fight. So they steal the train. The fine cast certainly pulls its weight, and the 33 becomes a character in its own right. Director Diego Arsuaga doesn't say much about the movie in which the locomotive had been cast, and doesn't need to, but in its shrewdest moments, his film itself suggests a subversive take on that old American saw, the traveling-fugitive buddy picture. Arsuaga's gang of aging romantics, tracking through their country's forlorn rural landscape and outfoxing cops along the way, can't help but appeal to American moviegoers, especially in these parts. (Jonathan Kiefer)

Sunday, April 27, 6:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Tuesday, April 29, 12:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki

L'auberge espagnole (France/ Spain, 2002)

An economics student's postgraduate year in Barcelona is the peg for Cédric Klapisch's slick ensemble comedy, which plays as a sitcom Bildungsroman about a not especially appealing young man. Klapisch, whose When the Cat's Away did a nice job of showing the network of neighbors that comprises life in a quarter of Paris, gives us a tourist's Barcelona -- once we're past the first dull half-hour, as we wait for our protagonist to leave his girlfriend (Amélie's Audrey Tautou) behind and get there. The movie hits every single beauty spot I recall from my own visit, but tells us nothing of the people of that city. The focus is on Xavier (Romain Duris, a Steve Guttenberg for our time) and his wacky fellow students in a grubby apartment building, each of them from a different Common Market country. (The movie is less French than "Euro-pudding," which is one slang meaning for its title.) Many of these players are quite entertaining, so much so that we lose interest in Xavier in favor of wanting to know more about the artistic English girl, her doofus brother, or the lesbian from Belgium. Ultimately, alas, we don't, and we finish off stuck with the predictable conclusion of Xavier's semi-mental education. (Gregg Rickman)

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