Sunday, April 29, 2012

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 11

It was the big marathon Sunday--6 films.

First up, the super-secret member's screening. All we knew was it was supposed to be ~100 minutes, so we would have time to catch the first regularly scheduled shows. Well, it turned out to be LIBERAL ARTS, written, directed, and starring Josh Radnor (HAPPYTHANKYOUMOREPLEASE.) He plays a 30-something English major working in New York. When his professor from Ohio calls up and invites him to his retirement party, he returns to campus. And he meets a girl who is way too young to be so into him, meets a young but troubled alleged genius, and Zac Efron actually impressing me as a pseudo-wise stoner. It's a story of revisiting youth, and growing up. It's pretty telling of my generation that our coming-of-age stories are about 35 year olds. It's got laughs, charm, and a light-hearted moral about learning to improvise and enjoying life for what it is instead of cursing it for what it should be.

And now, as an engineer/physicist, I just have to go off-topic and explain his muddled thinking re: age appropriate relationships. He's right that as a 35 year old he shouldn't get involved with a 19 year old. But he's wrong to just calculate the 16 year age difference. The important thing isn't absolute age difference, it's half your age plus 7 years. He shouldn't get romantic with her because 35/2 + 7 > 19. But what he should calculate is that when he's 46, she'll be 30 and just in his age range. So maintain a platonic friendship, subtly sabotage her romantic relationships, and in 11 years when she's in the appropriate range--pounce. Physicists get this, I don't know what's wrong with English majors that they try to complicate things.

Anyway, then I bounced over to the New People Center to catch the kid's shorts program The Storyteller's Show. Just adorable and charming.
THE STORYTELLER:A grandpa tries to tell the story of how the coconut got its face, but his memory is failing and his granddaughter knows the story better than he does.
KEENAN AT SEA: An animated musical video about getting lost at sea, hunger, and stinky feet.
PLAY LUNCH: A charming Australian short about big lunches, (Australian rules football), friendship, and fitting in.
LITTLE BOAT: The adventures of a little boat around the world twice--once getting torn apart and once getting rebuilt.
PANYEE FC: The amazing true story of the first football club from a tiny Thai village of Panyee. They're a floating village with no room for a pitch, so they built a floating pitch out of scrap wood. Out of bounds is water, and it turns out the cramped field actually made them excel at their footwork, and when they went to a tournament on the mainland they vastly exceeded expectations.
THE BOY IN THE BUBBLE: Magic, love, heartache, and the protection of a bubble and a hard heart. Narrated by Alan Rickman.
THE VACUUM KID: A documentary about 12-year old Kile Krichbaum and his amazing collection of and obsession with vacuum cleaners. Now 15, he's the youngest owner ever of a vacuum dealership.
PAPER PIANO: The story of El Sistema, a youth orchestra organization in Caracas, Venezuela, as seen from a young girl in the program navigating the dangerous city to make it there.
THE GIRL AND THE FOX: An animated tale in a snow-covered forest. About hunting, danger, and natural foes becoming friends.
ORANGE O DESPAIR: A hilarious story about a little orange who dreams of being a pineapple. They just look like they have so much more fun.

Then the next three shows I saw constituted the DREILEBEN program. Originally made as German TV movies, three different directors tell the stories of thee different lives (aka Dreileben) that all take place in the fictional forested town of Dreileben and all deal in some way (some more tangentially than others) with a police drama about an escaped convict. In the first one DREILEBEN: BEATS BEING DEAD, young male nurse intern Johannes accidentally lets the convict Frank Molesch escape while he's viewing his dead mother's body. But that's not the real story. The real story is his tumultuous romance with Ana. Actually, let's back up a bit. Johannes is friends with the head doctor at the hospital. The doctor, in fact, would probably like Johannes to date his daughter. But the daughter has other plans. So Johannes hooks up with Ana, a girl he helps out after watching her get attacked and left behind by the bikers she was rolling with. They end up having quite a bit of sex, apologizing a lot to each other, and studying English in hopes of Johannes winning a scholarship to Los Angeles. But perhaps fate has other plans, and there's an escaped psychopath roaming the woods.

Then part 2, DREILEBEN: DON'T FOLLOW ME AROUND. I should mention that they're presented in this order, but each can stand on its own, and I think it would be interesting to watch them out of order and see if you pick up on different things. Now we get a little bit more into the manhunt for Molesch. Specifically, we see it from the point of view of Johanna--a police psychiatrist brought in to aid in the hunt. The police seem incapable of catching the guy, and perhaps even a little uninterested (the third movie turns this on its ear quite a bit). But they really show surprisingly little of the police work. It's more of a police non-procedural. It's more about how she stays with her old friend Vera who happens to live in town with her husband. Her presence, while they insist is welcome, seems to draw some wedge between them and muddle up their seemingly perfect relationship. Particularly when Johanna and Vera realize they have a remarkable coincidence in their past. Ultimately, when her work in Dreileben is done, Johanna will return to her absolutely adorable little daughter greatly changed.

And finally, we get Molesch's point of view in DREILEBEN: ONE MINUTE OF DARKNESS. We see his escape (with a brief cameo by Johannes from the first movie) and the manhunt closing in on him. Stefan Kurt is brilliant as Molesch, escaping and then inhabiting the woods in a kind of wide-eyed stupor that is alternately paranoia and wonder. Secrets from his past are revealed, and the minute of darkness in the title is revealed as the crucial minute of security video footage when he allegedly killed a woman. In fact (as contrived as this is,) the tape went dark just at the wrong (or right) moment and so he was actually convicted on circumstantial evidence and might be innocent all along. Innocent, but still crazy.

So I liked all three films, and I think I liked them in this order with increasing appreciation for each one. But I also think that's because I like the process of seeing things from other points of view and how that changes what happened before. There's actually surprisingly little of that here--it's not so much intersecting stories as much as simultaneous stories that intersect as little as possible. But what there was, I enjoyed quite a bit. But I can't help but wonder if I saw them in a different order would I have a different opinion.

And finally, I ended my marathon day with Johnnie To's latest, LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE. Some people had warned me that it's a bit of a departure for To, as it focuses very little on his trademark violence and more on the drama. Personally, I've always thought the violence in To's movies (as expertly and excitingly choreographed as it always is) is often the least interesting element. There are hundreds of filmmakers who can film violence (many of them also working in Hong Kong), but To always captured something more--be it revenge, loyalty, camaraderie, desperation, etc. In fact, LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE is a departure for To, not because there's only a little bit of violence, but because it's so aggressively, in-your-face political. It's set against the global banking crisis and the Greek bailout, and interweaves the story of a mid-level investment manager for a bank with an incredibly loyal mid-level organized crime gopher. The underlying message--there's no difference between the banks and the triads--is simply unavoidable. It's often steeped in banking jargon about products, markets, risk levels, etc. If it leaves the audience a bit bewildered, that bewilderment is reflected on the blinking, twitching face of Panther (Lau Ching-wan,) the triad flunky who seems to constantly be trying to raise money to bail his boss out of jail, or bail his brother out of debt with his creditors. He even thinks he's found the pattern in the stock market and knows when it will rise. Of course, it does have to have some trademark violence in the end, and To delivers, but never in a way that will overshadow the plot or the message.

And that was Sunday at SFIFF. Now on to the final drag through the week, ending with the closing night on Thursday.

Total Running Time: 536
My Total Minutes: 281,888

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