Tuesday, April 17, 2018

SFIFF 61: Final Weekend

Those Who Are Fine

A delightful little gem of a movie, this unassuming Swiss feature takes bank fraud as its subject and uses it as the background for an examination of how the combination of automation and capitalism has taken over so much of modern life. People try to have conversations about art or film, but end up sidetracked by discussions of ad campaigns for cellphone service or, most absurdly (yet realistically), recitations of strings of numbers. The film manages the sparest (and most banal) dystopia I've yet seen on screen, while maintaining a sense of dark comedy throughout.

Eighth Grade

Comedian Bo Burnham's directorial debut (he also wrote the screenplay) centers on a 13-year-old girl in her final weeks of middle school, presenting a heartbreakingly faithful portrait of awkwardness, which manages to be simultaneously hilarious and horrifying. Continuing the theme of this festival, it raises questions about the place that smartphones and social media have in our culture, and examines how they specifically affect children. Featuring pitch-perfect performances from the lead (Elsie Fisher), all the involved kids, and a standout supporting role from Josh Hamilton as the father, this film won the audience award at the festival, and deservedly so.

Deep Astronomy and the Romantic Sciences

Not a film, but maybe part of one in the future, this TED-talk-styled parody by Cory McAbee (including songs) is hard to capture in words, but was a welcome left-turn from the rest of the festival.


An Icelandic black-and-white art-piece, this documentary-styled film featuring non-actors going about a series of strange daily tasks (all of them fictional) in an evocative post-apocalyptic landscape was a treat to behold. One of the programmers billed it as "the first science fiction documentary", and that's as good a description as I can muster.

Bisbee '17

My last documentary of the festival was also my favorite. The central story is a lost piece of American history: in 1917, copper miners (many of them immigrants) organized by the International Workers of the World (IWW) went on strike in Bisbee, Arizona. In response, the sheriff deputized hundreds of county residents (some of them closely related to the workers) and forcibly deported the strikers to New Mexico via rail cars. Described in the program as another hybrid doc, I wouldn't use that phrasing. Rather, it's a "normal" documentary that uses its recreations not just for illustrative purposes but reflects upon them to examine how the past retains a hold on the present. This is accomplished by casting locals for all of the roles in the recreations, and treating the filming of the recreations not as "realistic" pieces, but instead as performances by individuals. The result is unexpectedly powerful and emotional, as people take up opposing sides that echo not only the 100-year-old history, but the current political situation.

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot

Gus Van Sant's latest, this biopic of cartoonist John Callahan (based on his autobiography) hit all the right inspirational notes (Callahan was an alcoholic and a quadriplegic), but didn't really connect with me. Joaquin Phoenix is fine as ever, but Jonah Hill steals the show as his AA sponsor.

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