Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Rest, Two Weeks Late

The festival ended two weeks ago tonight, but I haven't finished my blogging duties for the year. Here are the rest of the feature films I saw at SFIFF 56.

Helsinki, Forever
Another documentary made nearly entirely of existing footage (though in this case with much narration added), this film was part of an afternoon honoring Finnish film historian, preservationist, educator, director, etc. Peter von Bagh. It's at once a history of Finnish film and an introduction to the city of Helsinki. Not a great movie, but a refreshingly unfamiliar slice-of-the-20th-century.

The Mattei Affair
The one archival presentation I attended this year, The Mattei Affair is a sort of mix between Citizen Kane and The Parallax View: a biography mixed with a paranoid thriller. Based on a true story, it follows Enrico Mattei, the head of the Italian state-owned oil company after WWII as he grows his power and tries to set Italy off on a different path than the rest of the West when it comes to dealing with oil-rich states. All of this is told in flash-back, as the film opens with Mattei dying in a plane crash, under mysterious circumstances. Highly recommended, a gem.

The Kill Team
This chilling documentary about US soldiers in Afghanistan who killed innocent citizens (for no better reason than to have killed someone while at war) looks at first to be straightforward, cinematically. Each of the soldiers involved has their standard "talking head" interview, while the family of the would-be whistleblower tries to get prove their son innocent in a military court.

Yet the soldier interviews, especially those of a particularly unrepentant individual, show how powerful the "talking head" format can be with a sufficiently captivating storyteller. Several directors at the festival (of both documentaries and fiction) talked about how important the human face is to film. It seems that the talking head-based documentary may be coming back in fashion. And maybe that's right.

The Strange Little Cat
This well-oiled machine of a film, about one day in the life of a German family, is shot almost entirely within an apartment. It's hard to describe the joys of this piece, but perhaps that's because I can't find much to compare it to. There's almost no story (it seems that the whole family, including grandma, some aunts and uncles, cousins) are coming to dinner. And the preparations for that nearly push the mother over the edge. But nothing explodes.

Hard to describe, but easy to like. And the music, adapted from a piece by a Bay Area native (who happened to be attending my screening), was lovely as well.

Il Futuro
Based on a novel by Chilean author Roberto BolaƱo (sadly, it's not been translated to English), the film follows a pair of teenage orphans as they try to find their way in the world. In Rome, more particularly, whose ruined ruins and derelict Cinecitta studios both point to past glories. Also pointing to past glories is Rutger Hauer, as a one-time film star who's first seen as a mark for a scheme by our protagonist and her brother, but who becomes the voice for the ruins of the city.

Before Midnight
The most recent in what some might call a Richard Linklater's trilogy, but which I suspect is only the third installment of an ongoing franchise, this film catches up with Jesse and Celine nine years after Before Sunset. It takes this one awhile to find its footing: too self-conscious for the first half hour (needing to add exposition about what's happened to our characters in the long time between encounters), the climax, a half hour argument in a hotel room, is pure gold. Painful, of course. But brilliant.

1 comment:

Steve Macfarlane said...

Adam -
Dunno if you remember me but I used to follow you on livejournal in high school, had a variety of names but one was "djfntstque". Was wondering what you were up to and found these incisive reviews! do you have any other social media presence? I'm mostly on twitter nowadays, churning out film criticisms of my own...
Hope all is well.