Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 14

It's the penultimate day. I can't believe it's almost over.

First up I saw 17 GIRLS...and then I saw a movie, ha ha ha! (Yes, it's that time in the festival I make lame jokes like that. I'm surprised it hasn't happened earlier.) While the film was made and set in France, it's actually based on real events that happened in Massachusetts, where an epidemic of teenage pregnancy broke out. I don't know the details of the real case, but in this movie it starts when the most popular girl, Camille (Louise Grinberg) gets pregnant. Rumors swirl, and after a little thought and discussion she decides to keep it. She has all these romantic notions that far from ruining her life, it'll give her something to live for. She'll live 200% and have someone who will always love her for the rest of her life (that reminds me, Mother's Day is coming up soon. Everyone go get your mommy something nice.) Soon enough the unpopular, annoying girl who is always trying to get into the cool girls' clique announces she's also pregnant. And that does get her into the clique but also sets off something of a chain reaction, with all the girls intentionally getting pregnant so they can raise all of their kids together in some sort of Utopian commune. And if that seems incredibly naive, that's nothing compared to the parents, who can't for the life of them figure out what's going on. At one point their discussion even goes so far as to blame the unique conditions of the city--a combination of old, crumbling construction and the new, which causes the girls to...no, I don't get what they're thinking either. And that's kind of my only issue with the movie. It's well made and well acted, but I can't really understand what anyone is thinking. I know from the script and performances that peer pressure and naive thinking is the main part of it, but I suppose since I've never been a teenage girl I don't really understand that degree of peer pressure (back in school, I was just told about peer pressure in relation to doing drugs, but I was never even cool enough to be offered drugs.) I'm sure this movie speaks more to people other than me, as it was I got a well-made movie that adds up to something of a mystery.

Next up, a short and a feature. The short was POSTCARD FROM SOMOVA, ROMANIA. Scenes of life--goats, a dog, a cat, a horse, garbage. Eventually a couple of guys show up and ride away with the horse and cart. Then more shots of garbage. And why the heck were there so many shots of that horse's vagina?

Well, that was the lead in to TOKYO WAKA, a "city poem" about Tokyo (of course.) And more to the point, it's about Tokyo's crows. It's funny how we reflexively think of nature as intruding on a city instead of vice-versa. But you can't keep nature out, and in Tokyo that means crows. Crows eating the garbage, building nests out of coat hangars, cracking walnuts under car tires. Oh yeah, these crows are damn smart. They build hooked tools out of twigs, they know how to operate drinking fountains (as an aside, I was a bit disappointed to learn in the Q&A that some of the crows-being-clever footage was bought or licensed from other sources, they didn't always just find crows doing brilliant things in the city.) I guess there are also people in the movie. People who love crows, people who consider them pests, even people whose job it is to trap and exterminate (humanely, through CO2 asphyxiation) crows. But honestly, I was so taken by the crows that I was a bit bored and impatient when there were only humans on screen. Especially when they were talking about something other than crows.

Then I caught another short + feature program, this time animated. We start with the short AND/OR, a visual exploration of an artists struggle with finding inspiration, and how awesome it is when it happens just right.

Then the feature, the brutal and disturbing CRULIC - THE PATH TO BEYOND. We open with Crulic's death, and his uncle in Romania reclaiming his body from the Polish authorities to return him for burial. Crulic was only 33. We then learn a bit of his childhood and growing up, and finally his false arrest and imprisonment in Poland. Although he had travel documents proving he was in Italy on the day in question, a judge insists that he and his girlfriend were the Romanians who stole his wallet. When the legal system doesn't work for him (the prosecutor rejects the whole "here's the travel agency I used, they'll confirm I was in Italy" line of investigation as "irrelevant") he goes on a hunger strike. This is, eventually, what kills him. Turns out that an inept, possibly racist (I got that sense but not knowing the racial tensions in Eastern Europe I don't know for sure) system that falsely imprisons you isn't necessarily going to be very good at responding to a hunger strike and saving your life. In fact, for months psychological reports claim he's fine (although he's hovering just above 50 kg) and force-feeding is unnecessary. Well, since he dies in the beginning you know how it will end. But what's also interesting is the multi-layered use of animation. Photographs, collage, watercolor, stop-motion animation. It paints a bleak but surprisingly beautiful (or at least moving) world. I've decided if I ever live a life (or suffer a death) worth retelling, I want it to be told by Eastern European animators.

And finally, we ended the night with the new cult (soon to be) classic from Don Coscarelli, JOHN DIES AT THE END. It's a whacked-out story of crazy drugs, alternate dimensions, demons, ghosts, unlikely heroes, and a doorknob that turns into a penis. David Wong (Chase Williamson) relates his story to journalist Arnie (Paul Giamatti) who is skeptical of its truth but at least appreciates a good story. And he spins a tale with all the bizarre, absurd elements I listed above, plus some. Dave and his best friend John (who actually dies in the middle but is still talking to him because the drug "Soy Sauce" either makes him live outside of time or allows David to talk to the dead. I'm not really clear on that) encounter the drug and shortly afterwards all the demons of which it's a harbinger. You know...I give up on trying to retell the story. It's crazy, it takes a surprise turn every few minutes, and dissecting the story would kill the fun of the insanity. In fact, the core of the fun is watching Dave go from freaking-out incredulity to taking it all in stride as part of his new role as a reluctant cross-dimensional hero. Damn, that was fun. And in the Q&A afterwards Don hinted that not only would he (and the whole cast) like to also make the sequel (the book's sequel, This Book is Full of Spiders, is due out soon) but he teased his fans with a little hint that there might be news about a new PHANTASM movie soon. Here's hoping, on both those counts. And while we're at it, how about BUBBA NOSFERATU?

And that was the penultimate night of SFIFF. I caught the bus just in time to make it to BART and home (avoiding a two hour bus ride) so I'm bright and rested for the big closing night with Journey tonight.

Total Running Time: 348 minutes
My Total Minutes: 282,978

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