5 more movies on the big first Saturday of the festival. No time for dilly-dallying (well, maybe just time enough for dillying, but no dallying) let's get right to the movies
First up was a really cool, really funny switched-lives comedy from Japan, KEY OF LIFE. Kimura is so forlorn he tries to kill himself. Failing even at that, he goes to a bath house (because the attempt made him all sweaty) where in a series of wacky events a perfect stranger Kondo ends up in the hospital with a severe head injury and amnesia. So Kimura kinda...switches lives with him. But little does he know (and soon enough he finds out) that Kondo is actually a legendary hitman-for-hire in the yakuza underworld. So Kimura hilariously tries to fill Kondo's obligations while Kondo in his natural meticulous manner pieces together the life he must have been living as Kimura. Hilarious and delightful, with some excellent twist surprises.
The one unwelcome surprise was the fire alarm that went off with about 15 minutes left in the film. We all had to exit the theater, wait for the fire department to get there and check everything out (kudos to the SFFD for their amazingly rapid response!) and then get everyone back inside to finish the film. Of course, all films in the Kabuki theater were delayed. But my next film was just up the street at the New People Center, and they didn't delay that. So I had to do something I hate--walk out of a movie right when the end credits start. And I know that's not done in Japan (the credits are considered part of the movie), and so usually I'll sit through credits of a Japanese movie even if I'm just thinking 'I don't understand the words on screen or the song that's playing.' Anyway, that's a long way of offering my apologies to director Kenji Uchida for walking out early at the end of his film. You made a wonderful movie, and deserved better than having it interrupted like that, and I'm sorry but I just had another movie I had to run off and see.
And that next movie was DOM: A RUSSIAN FAMILY, continuing the festival's focus on gangster films. Set on an isolated farmhouse on the grand steppes, in the opening scene we see a sharpshooter taking out a she-wolf who has been harassing the farm. This is a bad omen, and it looks like things won't bode well for the patriarch's 100th birthday party. The whole clan is coming in, many of them haven't seen each other for years, but Grigori is determined that his father's party will go off well (his father, for his part, is wheelchair bound, stays in his room, and can barely even speak.) Once the family arrives bickering starts right away. The only cool head seems to be the eldest son, Viktor (Sergei Garmash who won the Nika Award for Best Actor for this role. The Nika is the Russian equivalent of the Oscar.) But Viktor is so cool because he's actually the head of an organized crime outfit. He has been away for 25 years, and is actually out at the party kind of hiding from a revenge killing. Of course, after many days of bickering and backstabbing, the guys looking for Viktor show up, and all hell breaks loose in one of the most gorgeously shot extended gun battles I've ever seen. The whole last 30 minutes or so is just awesome!
Then to the lounge for a quick beer (thank you Grolsch, my official favorite beer during the festival). And then I caught a guilty pleasure, Joss Whedon's light, hilarious, and modern take on Shakespeare's MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. I call it a "guilty pleasure" simply because it has a release date (June 7th in limited release, which will include the Bay Area) and I usually avoid those at film festivals in favor of movies I'll never have another chance to see. But I also always seem to stick a couple of these guilty pleasures in my schedule, so this is just one of them this year. Before the show the stars Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof introduced the film, and called Joss on a cell phone to let him make a few comments. His first comment was how much he hated San Francisco, then when Alexis told him he was on speaker phone with the whole audience he quickly switched and said he meant San Diego. I have no idea if that was scripted (I kinda suspect it was planned a little bit) but it was still pretty funny. Of course, they didn't call Shakespeare because the director always gets the glory and the writer is usually forgotten.
So this film was a quick little side project that Joss Whedon shot in his home. Making it a modern party and letting references to "princes" and "wars" just roll by without explanation (making this less of a "modern" update than an "alternate universe" update--an alternate universe where Southern California is ruled by a prince and there's some unexplained war going on.) But that's what it takes to be true to Shakespeare's words. Although more important than getting the words exactly right, they totally got the fact that it's supposed to be a comedy, and actually made it funny for modern audiences (as much as I like Kenneth Branagh, his version of the same play has more of a feel of "this is what audiences at the time would think is funny.") I forget where I heard it, but I once heard an actor in an interview say that the important word is "play"--when you're doing a play (or I suppose, even a screenplay) you're supposed to be having fun. And that's clearly what's happening here. It can maybe best be described as "Joss Whedon and a bunch of his friends fool around with Shakespeare and it actually works!" Oh yeah, and Nathan Fillion as Dogberry, the inept chief of the watch absolutely nailed the comic relief (importantly, in the part of the play where the story actually gets pretty bleak and could easily veer into tragedy.) About a million times better than Michael Keaton in Kenneth Branagh's version (sorry, Mr. Keaton, I love you but you kinda sucked in that role.) And there's just something that tickles me pink to be able to say, "Nathan Fillion, who has acted in Shakespeare..." Lot's of fun all around.
So then back to the lounge for a couple of beers and back for the excellent and fascinating documentary THE ACT OF KILLING. In the mid 1960s Indonesia underwent a violent revolution, which included death squads exterminating all communists. Of course, you didn't have to believe in communism to be labeled a communist--just cross the wrong guys, be a farmer who doesn't own his own land, be ethnic Chinese, whatever. It was a pretty horrible genocide. And yet, when the filmmakers met some old men who had been executioners at the time, they saw no remorse. Instead, they saw people who were kind of eager to speak shamelessly--if not proudly--of their deeds. And they were heavily influenced by American gangster movies in their execution methods (wire around the neck was a favorite.) So director Joshua Oppenheimer and his crew took them on a bit of an adventure. They would reenact the killings, sometimes changing roles so the executioner would be executed, and record not just the process but the outcome of the process.
So I was warned before I saw it that this is probably the most disturbing film in the festival. But when I saw it...I wasn't disturbed, I was fascinated. Fascinated by how many people were so willing and eager to make a movie, even a movie about horrible events. Fascinated by how the lead executioner was so sure this would be the best movie ever because the fake executions were being done by real executioners. Fascinated by the blurring of reality and fiction, which leaves children crying and executioners comforting them. Fascinated by the breakthrough, when the executioner feels what it was like to be strangled by a wire and ends up throwing up while trying to describe his reactions. I don't know that it gives any profound insight into how men kill. And perhaps that's the disturbing part--there is no answer, there is no monster within. Some people, for whatever reasons, end up killing. And then life goes on (except, I guess, for the victims.)
And finally, speaking of killing, I ended the night with YOU'RE NEXT. Adam Wingard's (POP SKULL, A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE) foray into hopefully actually making some money making horror films. A family gathers in a secluded house in the woods to celebrate the parent's 35th anniversary and the father's retirement. Many of the children haven't seen each other in years, and don't exactly get along. They're really horrible, selfish people. So absorbed in their own squabbles that when a crossbow dart flies through the window and into one's skull, it takes them more than a few seconds to notice. And then, quickly enough all hell breaks loose in the form of a gang of animal-mask wearing psychos who are apparently out for a little thrill-killing. I don't want to spoil anything, but I will say there is a motivation behind simple thrill-killing, and one of the characters turns out to be a survivalist. Ah hell, I'll even spoil that the survivalist is a female. Just because I love strong females who can fight back in a horror film. Chicks who kick ass...uhh...kick ass! And so does this movie.
And that was the first Saturday at SFIFF 2013.
Total Running Time: 557 minutes
My Total Minutes: 325,285