Friday, April 13, 2018

SFIFF 61: Days Seven & Eight

The Cleaners

It's hard to imagine a more timely documentary viewing, coming the same week as Mark Zuckerberg's testimony before Congress. Named for the thousands of Filipinos who review social media posts, images, and videos, that story is only a jumping-off point for a broader examination of the challenges brought to modern society by the technology of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, et al. What should be allowed? Who should decide? Like the previous day's Purge This Land, this film raises more questions than it answers, though it comes in a much flashier package than that somber piece (stylistic quibbles are my only real complaints with it, e.g. a repeated visualization of tweets whose purpose is unclear).

I Was Born, But… (with Blonde Redhead)

This was my first experience of an Ozu silent film, and I was legitimately blown away. I'm not much of a silent film connoisseur, but this was perhaps the most I've enjoyed one. With spare use of intertitles, Ozu tells a rich story of power and class, through the lens of two young boys and their family. As for the live music attached to this screening, I'm a fan of the band, so I enjoyed it. But this was not an "original score"; it felt more like watching a silent film and putting on a mixtape of Blonde Redhead songs in the background.

Sorry To Bother You

The "centerpiece" film of the festival, this was the Bay Area premiere of an Oakland-made film from first-time director Boots Riley, and it was great to feel the energy at the Castro (there was a parallel event at Oakland's Grand Lake). The movie tells the story of a telemarketer (Lakeith Stanfield) who rises through the ranks with a dream of becoming a "power caller". It was quite a bit of fun, wrapping a social satire with appropriately contemporary touches, and featuring a bevy of fine supporting performances from Tessa Thompson, Terry Crews, Danny Glover, and Armie Hammer. What struck me most, though, was the theme of labor organizing at its center. So while the comedy didn't always have me rolling on the floor, I'm happy for a film with such explicit themes of collective action to be reaching a (hopefully) broad audience when it sees release in July.

Jupiter's Moon

From Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó, who made one of my all-time favorite SFIFF sleepers (Delta), this sci-fi/supernatural take on the Syrian refugee crisis, and Hungary's role in it, is visually stunning. Taking cues from the work of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men, Gravity, The Revenant), it features several exhilarating long takes (or computer constructions which appear as such). But the plot at its center feels downright silly (and more than a little reminiscent of Children of Men), focusing not on the refugees but on a corrupt doctor who's lost his faith. At 129 minutes, it's also at least 20 minutes too long, with several redundant scenes whose appearance in the finished product feels likely to be related to how much they cost to put together, not on dramatic necessity. Yet for fans of Mundruczó's (or Lubezki's) work, it's worth seeing, especially on a big screen (this played at the Castro immediately after Sorry To Bother You, with maybe 50 people in attendance).

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