Thanks to the exhaustive and exhausting Toronto International Film Festival and the equally intense Berlin Film Festival, as well as the more tightly curated Telluride Film Festival, I can happily recommend seven films that are playing in this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival (SFFILM), April 10-23 in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland.
In order of their appearance and the title will link you to the Festival program book description:
BELMONTE (Global Visions, playing on Friday, April 12, Sunday, April 14, and Tuesday, April 16), by Federico Verdi, who directed the award-winning festival favorite A USEFUL LIFE. It is about the midlife crisis of an Uruguayan artist (the attractive, magnetic, annoying Gonzalo Delgado) as he struggles to re-connect with his young daughter and continue to find inspiration for his work.
A FAITHFUL MAN (Marquee Presentations, playing on Friday, April 12, and Wednesday, April 17), directed by Louis Garrel, stars three “axioms of the French cinema” (!), Garrel himself, the son of one of the last filmmakers still living associated with the French Nouvelle Vague, Philippe Garrel; Laetitia Casta, whose image as Marianne, the symbol of France whose bust adorns every French town hall, was one of the most popular in a lineup that includes Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve; and Lily-Rose Depp, the daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis. With this seductive cast, it’s no surprise that a love triangle plays out — over a number of years. Garrel wrote the screenplay with an axiom of world cinema, Jean-Claude Carriere, whose 150 credits, beginning in 1961 and continuing to the present day, include works directed by Luis Bunuel, Louis Malle, Jean-Luc Godard, and Philip Kaufman.
RED JOAN (Marquee Presentations, playing Saturday April 13), directed by the renowned theater and film director Trevor Nunn, is billboarded as “Sloan Science on Screen”). Its one screening is followed by a conversation that features the filmmakers as well as David Holloway, Professor of International History at Stanford, discussing both the film’s historical context and, as the catalogue has it, “the ethics of pursuing scientific discoveries that will have incredible consequence to our collective health and survival.” Judi Dench plays the title character, a scientist who falls into spying for the Russians (and incarnated in her younger years by KINGSMAN’s Sophie Cookson). It’s the type of well-made classical filmmaking sometimes dismissed as “Masterpiece Theater,” which for me is high praise indeed. And how wonderful not only to see it on the BIG screen at the Castro, but in the presence of some of its creative team as well as knowledgeable academics.
WILD ROSE (Marquee Presentations, playing Saturday April 13 and Monday April 15), directed by prolific English film and TV director Tom Harper, is a knowing, very accessible portrait of a hot-headed Glaswegian, Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley, rising Irish actress/singer) who has ambitions of moving to Nashville and becoming a country-western star. Her responsibilities to her two children and her self-destructive history, including a stint in prison, make this dream even more improbable. Julie Walters, as Rose-Lynn’s long-suffering mother, and Sophie Okonedo, unexpectedly cast as an upper-class woman who employs Rose-Lynn as a cleaner, deliver strong performances.
PHOTOGRAPH (Marquee Presentations, playing Sunday April 14), directed by Ritesh Batra, is a worthy follow-up to the director’s hit THE LUNCHBOX (SFFilm 2013). Mumbai street photographer Rafi (prolific Bollywood star Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who also appeared in Lunchbox) – a profession that seems archaic in the age of selfies – enlists a considerably higher-caste young woman to pose (literally and figuratively) as his fiancée so his grandmother will quit pressuring him to get married. A sweet and endearing film that reminds one of Jane Austen’s quote about her “little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush.” (And, in a more ironic way, of her more famous line: “ It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”).
Director Ritesh Batra wrote an article for EDF called “City of Small Miracles” and the photographs in the article were part of the research he was doing for this new film.
His early short film CAFE REGULAR CAIRO can also be viewed here.
MEETING GORBACHEV (Masters, playing Friday, April 19 and Sunday, April 21) premiered, appropriately enough, in the Werner Herzog Theater in Telluride last year. It’s already on the must-see list for fans of its enigmatic and amusing director Werner Herzog. The always-fascinating Herzog (with co-director Andre Singer) fashioned the film from a series of three interviews held with the ailing 87-year-old Gorbachev in Russia. Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, eighth and last President of the Soviet Union, and architect of Glasnost and Perestroika, proves Herzog’s equal as they discuss Gorbachev’s life and legacy. Interviews with other world figures such as Lech Walesa and San Francisco’s own George Schultz, as well as archival footage, is interspersed throughout. (For aficionados of such things, MEETING GORBACHEV is currently 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.)
THE CHAMBERMAID (Golden Gate Award Competitions, New Directors, playing Friday April 19 and Sunday April 21), directed by the young actress Lila Aviles, is a real discovery. In some ways it’s saving the best for last in this short list, because it gives one hope for the future of cinema. It’s won awards at the festivals of Morelia, Minsk, and Marrakech (and that’s only the Ms!) Elegantly shot, it’s the story of a young maid in a glamorous Mexico City skyscraper hotel who aspires to a better life. There are colleagues that are supportive and others who are dismissive, in a narrative of tiny triumphs and big disappointments. I thought of Chantal Akerman’s JEANNE DIELMAN, 23 rue du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, and Sophie Calle’s THE HOTEL, as well as both Kafka and Welles’ THE TRIAL, as I watched this moving film with mounting excitement.
Meredith Brody, a graduate of both the Paris Cordon Bleu cooking school and USC film school, has been the restaurant critic for, among others, the Village Voice, LA Weekly, and SF Weekly, and has written for countless film magazines and websites including Cahiers du Cinema, Film Comment, and Indiewire. Her writings on books, theater, television, and travel have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Interview. She also contributes an occasional column to EatDrinkFilms called “Meals with Meredith,” where she talks about food and film with filmmakers at restaurants in northern California, writes about vintage cocktails and where she eats during film festivals at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. Some of her EDF pieces are found here.
One could describe Meredith as “hooked on cinema” as she attends four-five films a day at many bay area and international festivals each year.