The Big Picture

Week 2 of the 49th San Francisco International Film Festival

Backstage

(France, 2005)

The hold-your-breath intensity of the opening scenes in this unsettling saga of obsession and identity sets a new standard, and the needle dips only slightly from there. A pop megastar (Emmanuelle Seigner) freaks out a besotted teenage fan (Isild Le Besco) by showing up at her suburban home for a one-song private performance, courtesy of a reality show. Lucie, the teen, tracks down her idol in Paris, insinuating herself into Lauren's hotel room and life. Neither is what she seems — the icy diva is suffering like an adolescent over her latest breakup, while her innocent admirer is a skilled schemer. Backstage has whispers of All About Eve and Cassavetes' Opening Night, with a contemporary focus on what it means to be touched by a celebrity. Seigner spins on a dime from imperious to conspiratorial to cruel, while Le Besco (who's scheduled to attend the screening) gives off a scent that's equal parts feral cat and Hello Kitty. (Michael Fox)

Backstage.
Backstage.
The Bridge.
The Bridge.

Details

Through May 4

For festival information and tickets, call (925) 866-9559 or visit www.sffs.org

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 Aquarius Theatre (430 Emerson at University, Palo Alto)

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Tuesday, May 2, 7 p.m., AMC Kabuki

The Bridge

(U.S., 2005)

It begins like a tourist's IMAX movie about San Francisco with a gorgeous view of the Golden Gate Bridge you've seen a hundred times. Then: What was that splash? That was no pelican diving! As the horror dawns, you may recall the brouhaha over filmmaker Eric Steel training his camera on the bridge during the daylight hours of 2004, during which he caught on film nearly 20 attempted and successful suicides. Drawing in the viewer with this morbid seduction, The Bridge is ultimately a powerful meditation on sadness in isolation, expressed by bereaved loved ones as well as those who were dissuaded and even survived. Without explicitly arguing in favor of a barrier, it confirms that our most famous landmark is also, mysteriously, the No. 1 suicide lure in the world, even to those who might never contemplate the act otherwise. After seeing this movie, you'll never look at the bridge in the same way again. (Frako Loden)

Sunday, April 30, 2:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, May 1, 1 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Tuesday, May 2, 9:20 p.m., Pacific Film Archive

Brothers of the Head

(England, 2005)

This energetic, intermittently entertaining, and utterly pointless mockumentary about a fictitious '70s rock band — fronted by twins conjoined at the stomach — inspires a single question: Why? As a target, the cliches of the rock 'n' roll flick are overripe to the point of Rotten. As for meatier subjects, the filmmakers (whose previous work was the overrated Lost in La Mancha, about the making of an unfinished Terry Gilliam movie) have nothing novel to say about talent, exploitation, stardom, or youth culture. Needless to say, the gang's all here — the calculating impresario, the spoiled musicians, the abusive and sexually covetous manager, and the girlfriend who inevitably derails the gravy train — but everything means less than zero. Only the sly, vulnerable performances of Luke and Harry Treadaway as the brothers, and the unexpectedly strong songs, save Headfrom being a complete waste of time. (Michael Fox)

Saturday, April 29, 9:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Tuesday, May 2, 6:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Executive Koala

(Japan, 2005)

Salaryman Tamura, working diligently to import Korean kimchi to Japan, is the object of whispering office ladies more because he's divorced than because he's got a huge koala head and paws. Business is pretty good, until his girlfriend is brutally murdered and a detective focuses on him as the killer. Meanwhile, Tamura can't remember anything, and consults his bartender (a frog) while growing more suspicious about the role of his boss (a rabbit) in the whole affair. This mutant hybrid of corporate suspense drama and cute-animal tale — with a nod to the fad for all things Korean — is more of a head-scratcher than an over-the-top debauch, with a bizarre, convoluted plot that unfolds as the viewer is still puzzling out the furry-animal (not to mention the martial arts) angle. But knowing that director Kawasaki Minoru's previous works are Shrimp Boxer and Calamari Wrestler should make you accept this "psychoala horror" (to quote the film's Web site) on its own terms. (Frako Loden)

Friday, April 28, 10:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Tuesday, May 2, 4:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Princess Raccoon

(Japan, 2005)

If Suzuki Seijun, the octogenarian outcast of Nikkatsu Studio known for the cultish Branded to Kill, has been consistent about anything in his films, it's his unpredictability. Who knew his next movie after Pistol Opera would be a tanuki(raccoon dog) musical, a Japanese New Year tradition dating back to 1939? True to the eccentric spirit of these extravaganzas, the heroine (Zhang Ziyi) is a tanukiinvited from "Cathay" (hence her use of Mandarin) who can assume the form of a beautiful woman as well as that of various objects. Her fellow tanukiare party animals — they dance and sing night and day, without a care in the world. That is, until an evil king sends a ninja out to kill his too-handsome son (a limp Odagiri Jo), whom Princess Raccoon rescues and falls in love with. Colorful and quirky but static and deliberately stagey, incorporating Western and Japanese folktales and posing the Buddhist goddess Kwannon against the Virgin Mary, Suzuki puts his own irregular brand on a reliably entertaining form. (Frako Loden)

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