Funny Business

Week 2 of the 47th San Francisco International Film Festival

(Finland/Sweden, 2002)

Dad's a layabout, Mom's a nag, and Grandpa's a mute veteran of the Winter War against the Soviets whose idea of a good time is to sit in the cockpit of a crashed plane in the woods. It's no wonder a teenage Finn who lives near the Swedish border in the mid-1970s becomes obsessed with replicating Harry Houdini's escape acts in this humorous coming-of-age saga. Full of period details like Super 8 movies (its protagonist is the same age as director Arto Koskinen would have been at the time), The Handcuff King offers modest pleasures that make it unlikely to be taken up by the international audience that embraced the similar but more affecting My Life as a Dog. Yet that's appropriate, as that film was Swedish and much of this one is built on the rivalry between Finns and Swedes, who look down on each other as yokels and cowards, respectively. (Sweden was neutral during the war, as no one ever forgets.) Like its hero, The Handcuff King charms, even if it doesn't escape the mundane world's rules. (Gregg Rickman)

Sunday, April 25, 9 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 26, 7:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Tuesday, April 27, 6:45 p.m., Century Cinema 16 Mountain View

The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of 
The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan.
Girl Trouble.
Girl Trouble.
The Handcuff King.
The Handcuff King.
The Newcomers.
The Newcomers.
Raghu Romeo.
Raghu Romeo.
Save the Green Planet.
Save the Green Planet.
What the Eye Doesn't See.
What the Eye Doesn't See.


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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The Newcomers

(Chile, 2003)

A slick crime thriller from Chile about two country boys caught up in Santiago's underworld, The Newcomers is at one with narrative experiments around the world, from Irréversibleto Memento, in telling its tale out of sequence. First we follow the teenager's experiences, then his older brother's, and finally those of their beloved, mistress of the local crime boss. Unlike, say, 21 Grams, in which the tale out of order didn't gain from the shuffling, this movie succeeds thanks to director Andrés Waissbluth, who makes the gimmick work by increasing our understanding of events with each new layer of the fiction. Waissbluth also draws uniformly good performances from his cast (which includes Eduardo Barril, the dad in B-Happy), although he's shameless in piling on the T&A, even for a film that takes place largely in a strip joint. As the female lead exploited by everyone (including her director), Antonella Rios gets extra credit for making us care about her character's fate, even past the too-abrupt ending. (Gregg Rickman)

Saturday, April 24, 9:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 26, 6:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Raghu Romeo

(India, 2003)

I had little hope for Raghu Romeo from reading the description, but I ended up liking it quite a lot, mainly because of its beaky but charismatic star, Vijay Raaz from Monsoon Wedding, who plays a sad-eyed, pure-loving bar waiter who idolizes a TV-melodrama heroine. Someone in the Bombay underworld is trying to kill the actress, so he kidnaps her and secludes her -- to her great annoyance, and the resentment of the bar dancer who's fond of him. The musical numbers aren't as lavish as their Bollywood counterparts, but they're extremely funny, especially a hip hop sequence with the lyrics "I am a hero! This is bliss! I am a rajah!" with Raghu in the plausible guise of Indian heartthrob Shahrukh Khan. The story moves between a crowded working-class Bombay and the rarefied, exclusive world of movie sets and gossipy TV reporters, so the waiter's identification with a persecuted actress becomes more of a social statement than a Nurse Betty-type fixation. (Frako Loden)

Friday, April 23, 1:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 26, 9 p.m., Century Cinema 16 Mountain View

Save the Green Planet!

(South Korea, 2003)

Dozens of recent films have dealt with the problem of violence in our culture, but none like Save the Green Planet!, an overactive Korean genre-blender that pops chunks of horror, science fiction, policier, and revenge tale into a blender and presses "purée." A young beekeeper who's had a rough life is convinced that aliens are responsible for Earthly evil, so he kidnaps the smug CEO of a chemical company, certain that the businessman is a "royal DNA" match for the "prince from Andromeda," due to arrive at the next lunar eclipse. Much torture, mayhem, and screaming ensues -- if you keep thinking of it as a comedy, you might be able to handle the gore -- between hilarious montage sequences and references to everything from Misery to Swarm to Psycho to 2001 to Planet of the Apes-- hell, maybe even a foreshadowing of The Passion of the Christ. It's a roaring good story about the only species that enjoys hurting its own kind. (Frako Loden)

Thursday, April 22, 10 p.m., Pacific Film Archive; Friday, April 23, midnight, AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 26, 4:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki

What the Eye Doesn't See

(Peru, 2003)

The lives of a dozen major characters interact over the weeks of Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori's fall in this nonmusical Nashville (a better comparison point for this film's scope and political emphasis than the example of Magnolia offered by its publicity). Unlike a Robert Altman, however, the tone of Francisco J. Lombardi's opus is largely humorless, with a large cast meeting disparate fates as the regime collapses in a welter of corruption charges. While many of the details are specific to Peru, almost all of them can be easily understood by viewers unsteeped in the country's history, since so much of the political maneuvering (and, for that matter, the background of violent repression) is familiar to us in the United States. With excellent performances and clear storytelling throughout its 149 minutes, What the Eye Doesn't See falters only in some of its narrative contrivances: its too-repulsive comic-relief character (a nerd slightly more self-centered than more successful villains), and a dwelling on the bad guys' monstrous self-pity as their pet government crumbles. (Gregg Rickman)

Thursday, April 22, 6:30 p.m., Pacific Film Archive

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