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SFIFF Review

Film Festival Highlights

As quickly as it came, the San Francisco Film Festival is gone, yet the memories still linger. Some films wowed, and some didn’t, but for two weeks San Francisco was at the center of global cinema.

Every film that was screened was celebrated, and a few films were singled with Golden Gate Awards. They are all worth seeking out.

The New Director’s Award for a narrative feature film was given to Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio’s Alamar, which chronicles a father and son relationship during one summer in Mexico. Pianomania, a film all about pianos and the people who play them, won the Documentary Feature award. The biggest honor, however, is the Investigative Documentary Feature award, which was given to Last Train Home. It’s an illuminating look into the trials and tribulations of a contemporary Chinese family.

Of course, it’s not San Francisco without some Bay Area pride, and locals Roberto Hernandez’ and Geoffrey Smith’s Presumed Guilty, about a young Mexican man wrongly convicted of homicide, was awarded the Golden Gate for Bay Area Documentary Feature.

Fortunately, these were just a few of the great films. Here are a few more great films to look out for:

Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s (Amelie, A Very Long Engagement) third film opened SFIFF with a bang. Like the fantastical Amelie, Micmacs feels like a dream you never want to wake from. Except this time instead of falling in love, the premier French director does his take on the crime genre. Danny Boon (a director in his own right) is Bazil, who lost his father to a landmine as a child and was recently hit in the head with a stray bullet, leading him to lose his job and apartment. He soon comes across a group of quirky trash dwellers that seem more like a traveling circus from a Fellini film and who each have their own special attributes. Deciding to seek out and punish the makers of the landmine and bullet that devastated his life, it’s a film wholly original unto itself. The long lost cousin of Terry Gilliam’s nightmarish 12 Monkeys, Micmacs is the fantasy you crave. A live-action cartoon at times, a circus film at others mixed with elements of a mystery crime drama, it’s something only Jeunet could have pulled off. Just as endearing as Amelie, it’s another immediate classic from the celebrated auteur.

The Loved Ones
This Australian horror hits all the right notes of adolescence. Brent (Xavier Samuel) recently swerved his car to avoid hitting a ghostly figure, only to kill his father in the resulting accident. While his mother has turned into little more than a zombie fearful of cars, Brent’s consumed with guilt and lungs full of pot. Despite his internalized retrospection, he appears to be like any other teenager. It’s the eve of the school dance and he’s going with a girl who’s madly in love with him. Unfortunately, so is the loner girl of his grade. After rejecting her invitation to the dance he finds himself kidnapped by her father and soon becomes the target of her torture and maniacal desires. The film may feel like nothing more than torture porn, but The Loved Ones addresses the growing pains all teens go through, and sees one lost soul finding his desire to live again and letting go of the past.

You may not know Leland Orser’s name but you probably know his face. A prolific character actor in hits like Saving Private Ryan and Taken, Orser has picked up the pen and gone behind the lens. He casts himself and real-life wife Jeanne Tripplehorn as a couple grieving over the recent loss of their son. It’s a subtly painted picture of the two as they both independently deal with the sudden loss. Alice (Tripplehorn) leaves her husband, Mark (Orser), and finds herself wandering through tears as her pushy friend Mary (Julie White) attempts to take care of her. Mark is left home alone eating cereal from their son’s bowl and playing with his toys as he slowly descends into near madness and despair. Mourning may seem like a more apt title for this piece and while it meditates on one of the most harrowing experiences two people can go through, it’s ultimately about reaching that light at the end of the darkened tunnel.

Animal Heart
Paul (Olivier Rabourdin) and his wife Rosine (Camille Japy) run a remote farm in the Swiss Alps. There are long stretches of silence only interrupted by Paul’s short outbursts and orders for Rosine. Far from town, she is relatively kept captive in the abusive relationship until Paul hires Eusebio (Antonio Buil), or “Spain” as he refers to him, as a farm hand for the season. While Paul seems unable to connect with any human being around him, he has the utmost patience for his farm animals and treats them with the tenderness Rosine can only look on with a sense of longing. With Rosine suddenly suffering from a serious illness and Eubesio’s cheery outlook, we start to see Paul not as a monster but as a damaged man in need of some serious human connection.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Documentary filmmakers Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg decided to forgo their usual investigative work into serious social and cultural troubles and instead filmed one of the best and most prolific women comedians of all time. Joan Rivers isn’t much more than the butt of plastic surgery jokes these days, and she’s the first to point that out, but many forget that she was (or is as Joan would say) one of the most celebrated comedians of her time. Sterna and Sundberg decided to follow the workaholic Rivers as she attempts to get back on top, at the ripe age of 75. Not satisfied with anything she’s ever done, Rivers is still in top form and working 24/7 to be the best. She has a play, 2 books, a Comedy Central Roast, a pilot, Celebrity Apprentice and live dates to fill in any holes. It’s truly amazing all that she accomplishes in her 75th year. But the film shows a woman who isn’t arrogant or above taking work for the money. In the end , Rivers is a woman who knows what she wants and works her ass off to get it. If you weren’t a fan already, you’ll miss her once the curtain falls.