Funny Business

Week 2 of the 47th San Francisco International Film Festival


(Chile/Spain/Venezuela, 2003)

This sad film about a teenage girl in rural Chile who encounters a stream of unearned bad luck is buoyed by an effective nonperformance by Manuela Martelli in the lead role of Katty. As in many post-neorealist movies made around the (Third) world, amateurs can look good simply by staring mutely as catastrophes batter them. It's as effective a narrative formula as anything Hollywood has come up with, and no more honest. Director Gonzalo Justiniano seems almost sadistic in contriving fiascos for Katty, although not too much of her saga strains credibility. Eduardo Barril is particularly good as her jailbird father, suggesting Walter Huston circa The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in his scroungy charm. Katty's scenes with this reprobate are the picture's highlight. A good additional undercurrent is an ongoing satire of cheerful optimism -- even in prison, Dad gets lectured on the power of positive thinking. In this world, however, "Be happy" is an injunction that's impossible to follow. (Gregg Rickman)



Through April 29

For festival information, call 931-FILM

For tickets, call (925) 866-9559

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 Century Cinema 16 Mountain View (1500 North Shoreline near Charleston)

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Sunday, April 25, 6 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 26, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Wednesday, April 28, 7 p.m., Century Cinema 16 Mountain View


(United States, 2004)

In 1971, actor/writer/ director Melvin Van Peebles turned down the studio comedies he was being offered and made the low-budget indie Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. His controversial breakthrough hit introduced a kind of defiant, pussy-loving black anti-hero never before seen on-screen, opening the way for John Shaft, blaxploitation, and Samuel L. Jackson's 'fro in Pulp Fiction. Now his son, Mario Van Peebles (New Jack City), has directed an unflaggingly genial and entertaining re-enactment of the making of his pop's milestone. Although the new movie is crammed with social commentary -- Mario is as politically aware as his father -- it doesn't fully capture those angry and chaotic times. (Sweetback was sufficiently uncompromising for the Black Panther Party to endorse it as a "revolutionary masterpiece.") Ultimately, with its jabs at Hollywood and its collection of amusing supporting characters, Baadasssss! fits quite comfortably among the recent batch of self-congratulatory indie films about making indie films. (Michael Fox)

Tuesday, April 27, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Wednesday, April 28, 4:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki

The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan

(England/Afghanistan, 2003)

Everything astonishing and beautiful about this movie is also very sad: Mir, an 8-year-old Afghan boy, takes the filmmaker on a pugnaciously cheerful tour of one year out of his life. It's a year in which Mir and his aged parents and his brother's family are refugees, forced from their village and ending up at the famous UNESCO World Heritage site where the Taliban destroyed what had been the tallest statues on Earth for 1,600 years -- Afghanistan's foremost tourist attraction. Mir's mother asks, "Who would have thought we would end up living in caves?" But there they are, taking up residence in small pockmarks on a giant cliffside, as if to replace the ancient sculptures that are now gone. Americans here are a distant, faceless, airborne presence against the stunning but harsh landscape. There seems no better way than this film to see the effects of war and displacement on an ordinary family. (Frako Loden)

Wednesday, April 21, 9:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 26, 12:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Girl Trouble

(United States, 2004)

Over the course of four harrowing years, local filmmakers Lidia Szajko and Lexi Leban followed three teenage girls who'd run afoul of San Francisco's juvenile justice system. The teens grapple with drugs, pregnancy, screwed-up parents, and abusive boyfriends while mustering a distinctive brand of grit and resilience. By turns heart-wrenching and inspiring, the movie does a terrific job of conveying the girls' nightmarishly complicated situations without demonizing judges and prosecutors or sentimentalizing its subjects. In a just world, this documentary would match Hoop Dreams' epic three-hour duration; instead, its abridged length underscores its key theme that girls at risk get short shrift compared to the boys. This valuable picture also features the remarkable Lateefah Simon, a single mom in her early 20s and the executive director of the locally based Center for Young Women's Development. (Michael Fox)

Saturday, April 24, 7 p.m., Pacific Film Archive; Monday, April 26, 1 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Tuesday, April 27, 4:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki


(Netherlands, 2003)

Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam's droll social satires revolve around sheltered innocents unwillingly thrust into a world of horny, ridiculous predators. In this deadpan Eurofable, the naifs are a brother and sister in their 20s abandoned in the forest by their father. The babes flee the woods for a grimy big city and then the pastel paradise of Spain, where they take up with a wealthy surgeon and his glum sister. We go along with the contrivances of this road movie -- including a pointless side trip to a Western-style ghost town -- only to be let down when the film dribbles to a close, without the revelation and transformation the characters seemed to be heading toward. While van Warmerdam's intentions never come completely into focus, his off-kilter sensibility produces a couple of truly hilarious moments. (Michael Fox)

Tuesday, April 27, 6:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Wednesday, April 28, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki

The Handcuff King

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