Only three movies on Sunday, but that started with a 3 hour, 40 minute silent film, so that was cool.
The lead in to that was the presentation of the Mel Novikoff Award--named after the legendary San Francisco exhibitor and bestowed upon an individual or institution whose work has enhanced the film-going public’s appreciation of world cinema--to Lenny Borger. Mr. Borger is a film translator, historian, scholar, and hunter of "lost" films. He's also a funny man, who tells stories about how difficult most archivists are to work with. Or about how he learned French because he watched French movies with subtitles and wanted to know what the songs said too (now I'm paying attention to songs in foreign films and whether or not they are subtitled.) And my favorite part, where he talked about film translation bloopers, like in a war film where an American soldiers points to an advancing battalion on the horizon and yells "Tanks!" and the French subtitle reads "Merci!" Awesome.
So on to the movie, MONTE CRISTO (1929): I have to confess, I've never actually read the Dumas story, nor (now that I think about it) have I seen any of the screen adaptations. Yet somehow it's just such a part of the ether that it feels familiar. Man is wrongly imprisoned. In prison he learns of a fortune. He escapes, finds the fortune, and returns under a different identity to aid his friends and get revenge on his enemies. And this adaptation is full of grandiose splendor from the apex of the silent era. Massive sets, great acting (Jean Angelo as the hero, Gaston Modot as the villain, Lil Dagover as the love interest...at least at first) and a lavish running time split with an intermission. Director Henri Fescourt had previously made LES MISERABLES as a ~6 hour serial, and the intention was to do the same with this story, but public tastes required it be "cut down" to a two parter, 218 minutes in total. And it was awesome (although to be honest, if I were to watch it all in one sitting, it would be a bit exhausting. It's not quite the masterpiece of NAPOLEON)
As Lenny Borger is still working on the subtitles for an eventual English language release, we got to see this with French intertitles and him reading his English translations from offstage. Which for the most part worked pretty well. But he is getting up there in years, and by the end it was clear he was pretty tired. And just as his voice was fading, the score was reaching the triumphant climax and drowned out his voice. Kind of a shame, but it was still easy to follow the action and I enjoyed it nonetheless. Looking forward to owning this one with English subtitles.
Then after a beer or two, I made my way up to the Clay theater for ADVANTAGEOUS. Made with local talent and set in the near future, it's an exploration of advantage, who has it, and what they're willing to do to keep it. Jacqueline Kim plays Gwen Koh, a single mother and the face of Center for Advanced Health and Living, a company specializing in "safe" and "non-invasive" alternatives to plastic surgery. She's been a huge asset to the company and is looking for a raise, but she is getting on in years (I checked Kim's IMDb page and was shocked to learn she had just turned 50, I would've guessed she was in her 30s) and marketing is looking for a new, younger face to attract a more desirable demographic. This causes major problems in getting her daughter Jules (Samantha Kim) into the best school. That's the main thrust of the film, and a risky procedure might give her the chance to get everything for her girl. And while that's a great story in and of itself, it's the smaller parts of world-building that I really enjoyed. Jules casual knowledge that due to...I forget what in the atmosphere, her eggs will die before she's 20 and she'll be infertile. No problem, she can just adopt from a less advantaged region. Or the homeless person lying in the bushes and urging her to take whatever opportunity she can--clearly the back story is she was once successful herself. Or the occasional bomb explosion in one of the corporate mega-structures. This is a dystopian future hellscape, but shown from the point of view of someone living at the top. Or rather, near enough to the top to be comfortable, but no high up enough to be secure. I.e., like the entire freakin' middle class right now.
And then I ended the night, and the weekend, with a very, very strange film (I seem to be saying that a lot this festival,) MAGICAL GIRL. It's an intricate, multi-layered story, but focuses on a little Spanish girl who is suffering from leukemia. She and her friends are into anime, and one of her great wishes is to have a Magical Girl dress from her favorite show. But it's too expensive for her father, who is desperate to get the money to give his dying girl her wish. Meanwhile, a disturbed married woman is torturing herself, cracking a mirror with her forehead, and making her husband (if I recall correctly, he's a psychiatrist) miserable. And then there's an older man who...looks after her, in his own way. Their paths cross, and dark, violent, sexual twists ensue. I've made it seem like there's a linear narrative here, and there is. But it's an incredibly complex and surprising one. This really is a movie where I can say I couldn't guess what would happen next. And even when I didn't agree with some of the twists, I could say the constant surprises were engaging and beautiful.
And that's the last of the final weekend of SFIFF. Just four days left to go.
Total Running Time: 442 minutes
My Total Minutes: 395,880