Recovering From SFIFF 51

For the two weeks leading up to the 51st San Francisco International Film Festival and the two weeks of the festival itself, I practically killed myself watching and writing about movies, and I still came up a couple films shy of my personal festival record (having a 2-year-old in the house doesn’t help; he makes it much harder to eat, sleep and breathe the festival). Amazingly, the festival is much like going to regular movies over the course of the year. I saw a few great ones, a few terrible ones and a whole bunch of forgettable, mediocre ones. Here’s the list of my 10 favorites:

1.     Still Life ( Jia Zhang-ke, China)

2.     The Man from London (Bela Tarr, Hungary)

3.     Fados (Carlos Saura, Spain/Portugal)

4.     In the City of Sylvia (Jose Luis Guerin, Spain/France)

5.     Secret (Jay Chou, Hong Kong)

6.     Alexandra (Alexander Sokurov, Russia)

7.     A Girl Cut in Two (Claude Chabrol, France)

8.     You, the Living (Roy Andersson, Sweden)

9.     Mother of Tears (Dario Argento, Italy)

10.  Go Go Tales (Abel Ferrara, USA)

… with an honorable mention for Alex Gibney’s Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, the best documentary I saw.

I should add that the Argento was simultaneously the worst and the most enjoyable movie I saw.

The most pathetic films were Ballast and Brick Lane, both of which have U.S. distributors. They are lazy, boring entries that are designed to charm film-festival juries but have no life outside the festival circuit. I didn’t finish watching Black Belt, an absolutely abysmal, clumsy martial arts film from Japan. The Korean murder mystery Shadows in the Palace was completely incomprehensible. The biggest letdown, however, was the new one from French master Eric Rohmer, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, a complete misfire. Rohmer excels in love stories based on intellectual connections, and this one depended on bawdy, below-the-belt activities. So it comes across as particularly whiny, embarrassing and annoying, with many poor actors lost and confused in the shuffle. (It also has a distributor, of course.)

As for the rest of the mediocre ones, I’ve already forgotten them. I’ve already moved on to Indiana Jones …

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