SFIFF 2005

San Francisco, in case this hasn’t been said often enough, is a great city, and I spent most of my time there doing all of the touristy things one is obligated to do during a first visit — riding cable cars, walking through Muir Woods, taking pictures of the Golden Gate bridge, browsing through record and book shops, and eating to the point of exhaustion. It’s a particularly great city to visit with other film buffs; we hit almost every stop on the Vertigo tour.

The first week of the ’05 San Francisco International Film Festival was a bit of a disappointment, though. This is what I saw:

  • The Gravel Road [Menon]
  • Profiles of Farmers: Daily Life [Depardon]
  • Innocence [Hadzihalilovic]
  • Revelations [eight short films]
  • La Petite Chartreuse [Denis]
  • Street Angel [Borzage]
  • Dear Enemy [Xhuvani]
  • Pin Boy [Poliak]
  • Edgar G. Ulmer — The Man Off Screen [Palm]
  • The Fall of Fujimori [Perry]
  • L’Intrus [Denis]

I hope to write at length about three of them: Pin Boy, which was the real standout of the lot, Street Angel, which featured a new, live score from the American Music Club, and L’Intrus, which I managed to see again thanks to Rob’s access to press screeners. After a second viewing, L’Intrus may have bumped Cafe Lumiere from the top spot of my 2004 list. Just a great, great film.

Of the documentaries I saw, Depardon’s is the best, though I’ve come to accept the fact that I just don’t know how to write about films like it. It’s a portrait of a dying way of life, beautifully composed and deeply fond of its subjects. And I’m always a sucker for films that allow the elderly an opportunity to tell their stories (several of the farmers are in their 80s). Definitely worth seeing. The documentary about Edward Ulmer, director of The Black Cat and Detour, is enjoyable in a Biography channel kind of way, but it offers little insight into Ulmer’s style and fails to pursue one of its more interesting threads: a questioning of auteur criticism. The Fall of Fujimori has certainly provoked more debate than any of the other films we saw, and, to be honest, I still don’t know what to think of it. Like Fog of War, it allows its subject to craft his own story, for good and bad, through a series of sit-down interviews. I’ll be curious to see if any kind of critical consensus builds for this one.

Of the other narrative films I saw, I can recommend Innocence if only for the incredibly rich atmosphere it invokes. (During the walk back to the subway, I was reminded of Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now.) The film’s allegory isn’t quite substantial enough to maintain the weight of a feature length, though, and at some point I began waiting for it to end. The Gravel Road has all of the faults of a low-budget debut film — frustrating pacing, heavy plotting, hit-or-miss performances — but I found myself unexpectedly touched by its final act. Dear Enemy is a competent comedy of manners that made me laugh out loud once or twice, but I can’t imagine thinking about it again after I finish writing this sentence. As for La Petite Chartreuse, well, I’ll just echo what Doug has already written: Any film that makes Olivier Gourmet utter the line, “Don’t you understand? I can’t cry!” deserves some kind of special raspberry. What a ridiculous waste of a stunning performance.

Oh, and Suzi Ewing’s 14-minute short, Going Postal, is really nice. Definitely my favorite of the Revelations program.