San Francisco Film Festival 2002

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Film reviews


Takashi Miike: Ichi The Killer
Hayao Miyazake: Spirited Away
Seijun Suzuki: Pistol Opera
Juan Achero: El Bola/Pellet
Bruce Sweeney: Last Wedding
Beto Brant: The Trespasser
Ake Sandgren: Et rigtigt menneske/ Truly Human
Hirokazu Kore-eda: Distance
Zhang Yimou: Xingfu shiguang/ Happy Times
Shohei Imamura: Lukewarm Water Under a Red Bridge
Isao Yukisada: Go (2001)
Director: Musa/ The Warrior
Oxide Pang: One Take Only
Takashi Miike: Ichi The Killer

reviewed by Michael Hanna

The first midnight show of the festival, and a great way to kick its ass into high gear. This is yet another outrageous, phantasmagoric (with emphasis on the gore!) celebration of bloodletting from Japanese director Takashi Miike. I've seen several of his films now, and all of them are noteworthy for their outrageousness and scathing commentary on modern Japanese society. "Fudoh: The New Generation" was the first film of his I saw, and like that one, "Ichi" is also a violent yakuza film. Surprisingly, I have to say that "Ichi the Killer" is one of Miike's more polished films. The cinematography, the soundtrack, the costume design, and the editing are all first rate. I expected an all-out gore fest, but Miike was much more judicious in his use of gore than I expected. But - despite some obviously fake effects in several cases - there are still plenty of VERY disturbing scenes.
A gang leader has been kidnapped or killed, and his right-hand man believes he is still alive and will tear apart the city to find him. This guy (NOT Ichi) is an albino sadomasochist, and is really the main character of the film. What he does to rival gang members in his quest for information about his boss is so shocking that the other leaders of the gang decide to kick him out. To retain his position, he offers to make a sincere apology to them, but is told that just cutting off a finger or two won't do. So instead he proceeds to cut off his own tongue, helpfully wiggling it for the camera to add verisimilitude! (They do of course use a fake tongue.) He then offers his tongue to the gang leader, who is completely revolted but accepts it as atonement.
When the albino guy is trying to pull off a rival gang member's face, that gang member's girlfriend offers to help, sits down opposite him, starts tugging on the opposite cheek and then asks to become the albino guy's girlfriend! After having her punch him out to the point where he is vomiting blood, he decides that she just doesn't cut it and doesn't qualify to be his girlfriend. Oh, the pain of rejection!
What is Ichi up to while all this happening? He's been periodically killing more gang members, leaving plenty of internal organs all over the carpet, and buckets of blood spraying out the doorways (to hilarious effect). It turns out that Ichi is quite a crybaby, and is being manipulated by someone else. He believes that he is killing the people who bullied him when he was growing up. When he starts crying, people start dying! (Could have been a good marketing slogan for the film...)
Ichi is even more messed up than that, however. It turns out (because of another childhood experience that may or may not have been real), that he can only achieve sexual satisfaction by watching women be raped and brutalized. The albino guy's would-be girlfriend (who, interestingly, speaks Japanese, Cantonese, and English during the course of the film) ends up working for the guy who is manipulating Ichi. She tries to get him off by pretending to be someone else and describing the nasty things she wants him to do to her. Naturally, she realizes her mistake too late ("you don't want it, so you really DO want it - I see!"), and so gets her foot cut off and then her throat slit. Oops. [:-)]
Naturally, there is a final confrontation between Ichi and the albino (and a couple of other characters as well), and a somewhat ambivalent ending that makes some allusions to "The Crow" movies.
The above is only a very meagre description of what happens in the film, but much of it is far funnier than the brief outline I gave. A hilarious and thoroughly enjoyable film for those who have strong stomachs. This film deserves two lungs up! [:-)]


Hayao Miyazake: Spirited Away

reviewed by Michael Hanna

Probably the most important film of the festival. This is another Japanese anime masterpiece from Hayao Miyazake, director of "Princess Mononoke." It was also supposed to be Miyazake's last film, since he has officially retired now. But the producer, who was present at the screening, said that Miyazake wants to do three more feature-length films. I hope that's true.
The first challenge of this movie was getting in to see it; all three performances were sold out! I went to the Castro Theatre on opening night, and managed to get there about two hours before the film to stand in line for rush tickets. There were already ~18 people in front of me, but happily, I did manage to get in. (The rush ticket line and the line for regular ticket holders both extended around the block.) I ate my (very late) lunch while standing in line.
The plot of "Spirited Away" is not as straightforward as that of "Princess Mononoke," since the latter is more of an action film and the former isn't. Young girl Chihiro is being driven to a new home with her parents, and she doesn't want to be moving. (In fact, she is bitchier and more resentful than any character I've seen in a Miyazake film; perhaps a comment on today's disaffected youth.) As they near their new home, the father makes a wrong turn onto a rarely used dirt road. When Chihiro gives voice to her fear that they are lost, her father replies "Don't worry; we have four-wheel drive. We'll be fine." [:-)]
The road comes to an abrupt end in front of an old building with a dark tunnel running through it to the other side. The parents drag Chihiro (unwillingly) through the tunnel, and they emerge into: What? Another world? Or, as the father thinks, an abandoned theme park? ("They built a lot of them in the 1990's." Perhaps a swipe at Tokyo Disney...) After wandering through the empty buildings, they find one place with lots of delicious food. The parents decide to start eating even though they can't find a proprietor, but Chihiro refuses and continues exploring.
As the sun is about to set, she approaches the largest building of all, and finally encounters another person. But this person tells her that humans aren't supposed to be here, and that she must get back to whence she came before the sun sets, or she'll be caught. As she races back to the other buildings, she finds that her parents have turned into pigs. And that ghosts have come out to populate the town. And that they are after her, since they can smell the stink of humans. What seemed like a fairly straightforward situation has suddenly become fearful and absolutely magical. Refusing to believe that the pigs she saw were her parents, Chihiro desperately wishes to go away - and finds her own body turning transparent!
The person who warned her shows up again and takes her back to the big building, telling her that the only way she can survive there is by working for the ghostly inhabitants. He tells her how to get a job there, and goes back to his own tasks. After various tribulations, she gets a job from the grandmotherly matron (with a giant head) who runs the building, and is told that her name is now Sen. It turns out that the building is a bath house, devoted to serving the 8 million gods of Japanese mythology. Sen works hard, but the locals are predjudiced against her, until she gets stuck with preparing for a visit from the Stink God - who resembles a large steaming pile of shit! (I look forward to seeing Disney release this - their contract with Studio Ghibli says they can't cut the films, and they couldn't cut out the Stink God without losing a substantial chunk of the story anyway.) This is the only Miyazake film I've seen that includes projectile vomiting. Maybe they're learning from Hollywood. [:-)]
Anyway, there is much more going on here than just Sen's grunge work. Another inimical god has snuck in with Sen's inadvertent assistance, and wreaks some very humorous havoc as a result of her co-workers' greed. Then she gets wind of some of the machinations among her employers - the one person who helped her is in thrall to the old woman who hired her, and was forced to steal something important from her twin sister. The guy is subsequently attacked while he is in the form of a dragon, and seriously wounded by minions of the Paper God (pieces of paper - based on a real Japanese deity - cut out in the shape of birds, that fly through the air and attack - absolutely stunning to watch).
Sen tries to help her wounded friend, and realizes that she must return the object he was forced to steal. She ends up taking on the journey grandma's Baby (a giant kid that can have a whale of a temper tantrum), and grandma's set of three disembodied heads. The Baby is turned into a small rodent for the journey, and the heads are collectively turned into an even smaller bird, which zips about sounding rather like a mosquito, carrying the rodent from its beak. Sen completes her journey (on a train whose tracks are underwater), appropriate spells are broken, and she finally gets to see her parents again and go home with them. But their car is full of dust when they get back, so did they really make it home?
Again, the above description doesn't begin to do the movie justice. While it's a little more uneven than "Mononoke," once again, parts of the film are absolutely magical and have to be seen to be appreciated. (You wouldn't think that soot balls would make interesting characters, but they are in fact hilarious.) As with Miyazake's other films, don't puzzle over the plot, don't read reviews, just go see it. You won't regret it.


Director: Musa/ The Warrior

reviewed by Michael Hanna

This is a Korean movie, filmed in mainland China. "Musa" is another stunning film, one of the must-see movies of the year. The cinematography is gorgeous, and makes great use of the lavish Chinese landscapes. The soundtrack is also extremely good, as is the editing and costumes. You MUST see this movie on the big screen if at all possible.
The story concerns Korean soldiers escorting a diplomatic mission to the Ming emperor in Nanjing (in the year 1375). Instead of being greeted by diplomatic envoys, the entire group is arrested then sent into exile in the desert. As the group tries to survive its forced march into the desert, they are attacked by Mongol warriors (led by Yu Rong Guang, of "Iron Monkey" etc.), who slaughter their Ming captors but let the Koreans go. The survivors eventually make their way to a town where only the local Bhuddist monk (also Korean, I think) is willing to help them. The leader of the Koreans intends to lead them home. But then he learns that the Mongols have captured a Ming princess - played by Zhang Ziyi - and immediately falls in lust with her. He concocts a plan to get her back, in the hope that the Ming emperor will reward them and allow them to carry out their diplomatic mission after all. They get the princess back, but the Mongols are hot on their trail. They head for an outpost where Zhang Ziyi says they can get aid from the Mings, but the outpost is deserted, and they have to make their last stand there...
I've left out the humor, the internal rivalries among two of the Korean leaders, the recently freed Korean slave who attracts Zhang Ziyi's attention (much to the disgust of the Korean general), the villagers who tag along with the Koreans after the Mongols destroy their village, and of course, the stunning battle scenes. While the action choreography and editing isn't quite up to HK standards, it is made up for by the realism of the fights. It's refreshing to see fight scenes where people using swords actually get cut! It's downright brutal at times, but entirely appropriate to the story.
Neither Zhang Ziyi nor Yu Rong Guang is as well used as they could have been, but they both still give excellent performances, and the result is still a satisfying story. This is one of the best Korean films ever made, and one of the best movies of the year, period.


Oxide Pang: One Take Only

reviewed by Michael Hanna

With its driving industrial/techno soundtrack and miasma of disturbing images, "One Take Only" offers a vision of Thailand's urban core as a place where ordinary people have to turn to crime just to survive. Bank is a small-time drug dealer eking out his existence by making deliveries to his network of friends. Som is a prostitute who uses her body to earn her daily bread and support her mother in the countryside. Both are basically decent people who are just trying to earn a living and who, at least in small ways, try to help some of the people around them. Even the madam that Som works for is portrayed as a reasonably friendly person who is willing lend Som money.
Bank has a friend who gets repeatedly beaten by the same group of bullies. One day he tries to aid his friend by attacking the bullies himself, but quickly finds himself on the losing end of the fight. Som sees what is happening and comes to Bank's rescue by hitting the attackers with her backpack - into which she had placed some convenient chunks of concrete.
Som and Bank become good friends, and it is only after their relationship blooms that Bank learns that Som is a prostitute. This puts a damper on his enthusiasm, but he soon decides that he wants to be involved with her anyway, and tries to discourage her from continuing her work. Bank carries out a larger drug deal, which goes well, and allows him to buy Som the cell phone she has always wanted. When he gets offered an even bigger deal by the same customer, Som offers to help out, since it's easier work than prostitution. Bank, Som, and the intermediary who arranged the deal make the second delivery, but this time the customer tries to rip them off by opening fire with a gun. The intermediary is killed, Som is shot in the abdomen, and both Som and Bank have to run for their lives, losing both the drugs and the payment in the process. Things quickly go downhill from there, since the drug supplier wants his money and the police are looking for everyone involved. Bank and Som soon meet the unhappy fate of every pair of star-crossed lovers.
Despite the main characters' sad but inevitable fate, the movie ends on a note of optimism. Som often watched a young girl trying to sell garlands of flowers to passing car drivers. The girl rarely made a sale and was so poor she didn't even have a pair of shoes, having to walk barefoot on the blazingly hot asphalt. Before Som met her fate, she borrowed the garlands from the girl, and used her good looks and outgoing manner to sell them all, turning the money over to the young girl. At the end, Bank carries out Som's last wish by using the remainder of her money to buy the girl a pair of shoes.
The film is rich in ironic symbolism, often provided by the English-language T-shirts worn by the actors. The opening scene of the film features a "D.A.R.E. to Keep Kids Off Drugs" T-shirt, but the protagonist is a drug dealer. Prostitute Som has a framed cover of "Small Business Opportunities" magazine on her apartment wall, with the headline "Get Rich in 1998." When Bank is driving to his big drug deals, a plastic skeleton dangles from the car's rear view mirror. As Bank attacks the supplier who is beating him, he is wearing a "rage against the machine" T-shirt.
The official description of the film makes it sound like an action film, but it isn't really. Rather, "One Take Only" is a meditation on what the poor have to do to survive in a capitalist economy that provides no safety net, and on how even the poorest among us can still have compassion for our fellow man. As the disparity between rich and poor grows ever larger, it is good to be reminded that the poor are just as human as any of us.


Isao Yukisada: Go (2001)

reviewed by Michael Hanna

Sugihara is a teenage boy born of a Korean father and Japanese mother, living in Japan. In the opening scene, he endures taunts and humiliation from the fellow members of his high school basketball team. When he can take no more, his rage erupts in a spree of martial mayhem, as he beats up the entire team, along with the coach. Then the film screeches abruptly to a halt, and Sugihara's narrative voice tells us "This is my _love_ story." A perfect start to a well-paced and cleverly edited film. The basketball scene appears in at least two later scenes, each time illuminating another aspect of the story.
Japan is still a closed and racist society, and those of Korean descent are looked down on by many Japanese. This film chronicles the experiences of one such 'foreigner,' an outcast in the country of his birth.
Since Sugihara is of Korean heritage, he attends a North Korean school to learn about his father's culture. The Korean school seems to be just as viciously competitive as the Japanese school system, if not more so. It includes a regular 'self-criticism' class, in which students turn each other in for speaking Japanese when they should be using Korean. The teacher then makes sure that each student can express his ideas properly in Korean; e.g., "Where can I buy a pornographic magazine?"
Sugihara's father taught him boxing, and beats him regularly, so taking on all comers at school is easy by comparison. Sugihara's father also changes his citizenship to South Korean just so he can get a visa to take his family to Hawaii, though Sugihara doesn't understand at the time that his father is trying to give him more opportunities than a Korean-born Japanese would normally get. Unfortunately, the tough-love approach of Sugihara's father doesn't always work, as he learns when his feisty Japanese wife leaves him. Their on-again, off-again relationship is represented by the ever-increasing number of holes that are punched in the wall of their house. Even when they are together again, his wife doesn't hesitate to crush him in a game of chess.
Sugihara eventually decides to attend a Japanese school, and is immediately branded a traitor and beaten by the school's teacher, but the school's female director respects his decision. He is of course treated badly by many of the Japanese students, leading back to the basketball brawl of the opening scene. Sugihara's best friend is almost his opposite, a soft-spoken excellent student. When he is stabbed while trying to protect a girl from a Japanese thug, Sugihara's Korean friends want to take immediate revenge. But Sugihara stands his ground and insists on no revenge, since he knows his friend wouldn't have wanted that. And ends up being hated by some of the Koreans as well.
Things take a turn for the better when Sugihara meets a Japanese woman and gets along well with her. Each of them refuse to tell each other their first names (which would have revealed their nationalities), but pursue a relationship anyway. The woman eventually invites Sugihara to spend the night with her, but as they are about to consummate their relationship, Sugihara feels compelled to confess to her that he is in fact of Korean descent. She, having been indoctrinated at an early age by a racist parent, blames him for ruining her 'first time.' Months later, she has reflected on the error of her ways, and there is the prospect of a happy ending.
Whether having a boxing match with his drunken father (refereed by their taxi driver) or having his girlfriend become upset by unexpectedly seeing a meteor while a male was present, Sugihara spends his life learning to expect the unexpected. "Go" is a movie with a strong and timely message against racism, and it is lively, humorous, and creative enough to make deliver its message in a delightfully palatable way.


Seijun Suzuki: Pistol Opera

reviewed by Michael Hanna

In 1967, Seijun Suzuki made the film "Branded to Kill" (available on Criterion DVD). The studio wanted a conventional film, and when they saw what Seijun delivered, they immediately fired him. He made a zany and bizarre yakuza film, in which the No. 3 killer tries to become the No. 1 killer. Filmed in lavish wide-screen black-and-white, it was a very quirky and infamous film.
Now, 35 years later, Seijun Suzuki has done a "sequel," if anything he does can be labelled with such an unoriginal term. This movie is in color, but in a very narrow aspect ratio; I suspect it was actually made for Japanese TV. But fear not; the Japanese have no qualms about showing programs on TV that would get an NC-17 if you could see them in U.S. theatres at all. Not that this movie is that extreme; it would probably get a mild R, for a few bits of nudity, hints of lesbianism, and cartoon-style violence where people get shot but don't bleed.
Instead, this movie is extreme in other ways. The mesmerizing cinematography uses a palette of vivid contrasting colors and makes full use of the almost square format. Many of the scenes are as artfully composed as a Kurosawa film. And the hip soundtrack and cool editing keep up your interest even when you're not sure what the hell is really going on.
The star of "Branded to Kill" plays an older (and crippled) version of the person he played in the first film, but is really only a secondary character. The story once again revolves around the current No. 3 killer, a woman known as the "Stray Cat Killer." She has a fetching cat-face logo embroidered on her kimono, and looks quite fetching herself. She gets assignments from an agent of the killer's guild who looks like a Japanese version of Angelica Huston. Due to internal squabbles in the guild (quite probably instigated by the agent who hands out assignments), Stray Cat ends up taking out a number of her fellow killers, including Teacher, who does his job from a wheelchair. After murdering Teacher, Stray Cat is followed by a strangely upbeat young girl (perhaps an associate of Teacher), who asks Stray Cat to teach her how to kill. Stray Cat refuses, but lets her hang around anyway. Later, she kills The Surgeon, an American killer who can't feel pain. She convinces him to stab himself in the heart. [:-)] Then there is the big showdown with the No. 1 killer, Hundred Eyes, which takes place in a sort of funhouse (more like a Japanese house of horror). But was he really No. 1? Maybe not, which gives a good excuse for Stray Cat to have a final confrontation with the old killer from "Branded to Kill."
The poster for the movie uses the tag line "Killing with style" and that's really what it's all about. The film is a visual feast, and while it may be more style than substance, it is exactly the kind of story that film critics and college English professors love to deconstruct. There is more symbolism than in the Unicode character set; from the delivery boy bringing parcels on (of course) a Suzuki motorcycle, to Stray Cat's feline mannerisms, to the mysterious agent who loves to wear a veil over her face, to the Alice-In-Wonderland-like tea party, where the Victorian-costumed young girls start swearing at each other in hilariously bad English, to the final confrontation with Mt. Fuji in the background. You may be left wondering what really happened, but with this film, the journey is the reward; you won't care too much about the destination. A fitting comeback for a man who insists on not being ordinary.


Juan Achero: El Bola/Pellet (2000)

reviewed by Rodney Leng

Juan Manas Amyach, better known to most of us as Achero, received a Best Short Film Award in 1997 for "Cazadores" (Hunters), as well as many other awards for his work as a writer and director of two other short films: "artificial Paradises" and "Metro".

"El Bola" (Pellet), was the greatest surprise in the 2001 Goya Film Award ceremony. It managed to get 4 awards from its 5 nominations: Best Film, Best New coming Director, Best New coming Actor and Best Original Script.

"El Bola" is his first full-length feature film.

A heartbreaking story about Pablo (Pellet), a quiet respectful 12 year old who hangs out with a bunch of friends who like to play a dangerous "grab and run" game in front of an oncoming train. At first appearances, Pellet is seems to have a stern, but caring father, who owns a hardware store, where he helps out. Enters Alfredo, the new kid at school. Looking a bit disheveled and physically a bigger boy than Pellet, he appears more the problem child. He even gets caught in the yard smoking by a teacher. Pellet is curious about this new boy and decides to follow him and they confront each other and they introduce each other. Although Pellet has a group he hangs out with, he admits that he has no friends. Achero unbalances us by pitting what we consider a stable, secure family unit against one that at first to a contrarian one. Pellet's family are traditionalists, old-fashioned, stagnant. Both parents are older generation, submissive wife, aging grandmother who needs assistance and their apartment is conservative. Whereas Alberto's parents are progressive: Younger, Jose, the father is a tattoo artist, mother is attractive, an adorable infant brother and dog. They live in a new apartment, decorated with artwork and colorful. Yet we learn quickly that Alberto's family is truly warm and kind-hearted, and Alberto is quite an intelligent and happy child.

What our first impressions of Marino, Pellet's father, was even-handed, like an onion, the layers are quickly peeled back, and his violent temper is revealed and startling. The bond between Pellet and Alberto is touching and Juan Jose Ballesta, who portrays Pellet, shows an amazing acting range and wins the audience over with his affectionate and emotional face. A deeply moving and finely crafted film, through love, courage and support, Pellet finds the strength he needs to overcome his situation.


Bruce Sweeney: Last Wedding (2001)

reviewed by Rodney Leng

Bruce Sweeney's first film, Live Bait, won the Best Canadian Feature Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in 1995. His second feature, Dirty, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and went on to screen at both the Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals. Sweeney won the Telefilm Award for Best Emerging Filmaker at the Vancouver International Film Festival in 1998. Last Wedding is his third film.

The story revolves around three thirty-something relationships, two happily stable, and the third in a questionable state doomed to marital disaster. The men are all buddies: Noel, a manager at a weatherproofing company that sells "membranes". Peter, Noel's best friend and best man, a college literature professor with a perverse side, and Shane, an anti establishment architect who detests modern architectural firm. Their relationships are interesting counterparts and confronts their securities and insecurities. Leslie, a librarian, is outspoken and against the Internet. "What can you get on the Internet that you can't get in a library?" she posits. "Porn" is Peter's response.

Sarah is a graduating architecture student with a less than hopeful outlook in finding a job. Living together in Shane's modern apartment, he opposes her modern architectural thesis preferring classicism. And the bride, Zipporah is the improbable aspiring country western singer which we never hear her perform.

Although the dialogue is smart and funny, character development was lacking notably in our main couple, Noah and Zipporah . As quickly as Zipporah gets her cd rejected at the record studio, she regresses to couch potato television watcher and withdrawing from everyone one including the increasingly frustrated Noah. Both characters are either too even-tempered or wooden to warrant sympathy from the viewer.

Peter's sexual urges come to fruition when Laura, an attractive student, offers to read "One Stop, Love Shop" an erotic story she had written. Later he feels compelled to go visit her at the dorms but rejects the intimate contact, feeling ashamed. Frustrated for reasons we don't truly understand, and Leslie's constant accusations of misdeeds, he admits to the inconsequential affair. Sarah's new job threatens Shane's security and isolates him and he feels inadequate, unimportant. Molly Parker as Sarah, is wonderful in this role as she expertly conveys her own frustrations at Shane's lack of support for her and her job. The relationship disintergrates after Shane is left humiliated that Sarah did not tell her collegues that he is an architect.

Sweeney offers to us a look at the nature of disintegrating relationships however as the movie ends, we ask ourselves "Okay I laughed, and the point is?"


Beto Brant: The Trespasser (2001)

reviewed by Rodney Leng

Beto Brant was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He made his debut with the feature-length film, Belly Up (1997), which exhibited at the Toronto International Film Festival. Friendly Fire (1998), his second film, screened at many international festivals, including the 1999 Sundance Film Festival. His film, The Trespasser, was included in the 2000 Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab and winner of the Best Film -Latin American Jury -2002 at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.

Two business partners, Ivan and Gilberto, in a construction firm, make the decision to eliminate the third and major partner, Estevao, using a hired professional killer, because he wanted to break up the partnership. What they didn't expect was the killer, Anisio, to invade into their lives.

Director Beto Brant initially chooses to focus our attention to the emotional turmoil of guilt-ridden Ivan who is never as cool and indifferent to this matter as Giba(Gilberto) is. The city of Sao Paulo sets the undertone of the inner city class struggles depicted by the protagonists.

Despite Ivan's change of heart to cancel the whole thing, Giba insists that the wheels are in motion and there is nothing they can do. Besides, it was Giba who did the arrangement and even he is hiding a side business such as a whorehouse from Ivan as he discovers when they go and celebrate after Estevao fails to show up for a morning business meeting. Ivan continues his downward emotional spiral becoming more withdrawn and nervous. Blaring music, loud heavy metal, for this particular scene when Estevao's mutilated body is found by the police in the middle of the night, adds to the surreal mood, as Giba puts on an emotional display when they see the bodies. Finally we met Anisio, the killer, showing up unannounced at the office. Looking a bit stretched, scrawny and with that addict-look, he enters Ivan's office and Giba is quickly called in. Payment is made and hopefully the last they will see of him. He returns later and tells them that he wants to be part of the firm and thus begins his invasion into their business and the start of his courtship with Marina, the young, attractive free-spirited girlfriend of Estevao, who lives a life of carefree luxury. The drug-filled romance and street cruising gives us glimpses into the slums and neighborhoods of Sao Paulo, as we are taken into his underworld. Anisio represents the lower class and has captured his "princess". Becoming suspicious with Giba, he confronts him about a secret meeting behind his back and grows to distrust him. One night at a disco, Ivan meets an attractive woman, Claudia, and begins an extramarital affair with her. The film balances between these two classes of Anisio and Ivan, the rich and the poor. Always outside of the viewing frame, the under privilege of Sao Paulo is always lurking. Becoming further suspicious of Giba, Ivan gets a pistol. He confesses to Claudia that he wants to leave everything behind, his job, his wife, the city and wants her to escape with him. Throughout the film, scenes intercut from Anisio, Giba, and Ivan, and later, looking for Claudia at night, Ivan, searching, and knowing little about her, finds her apartment and when she doesn't answer, he resorts to breaking in and discovers in the answering machine that Giba has been paying her off. Furious and delirious, he goes looking for Giba. It was Giba who had been planted Claudia to calm him down. Giba talks to Anisio who is feeling at ease in Marina's house and tells him that it is his problem now and he doesn't do any of that work anymore. Desperate and alone Ivan confesses to the police and the final scene proves to us that corruption and deceit is everywhere in this multifaceted city.

Using mostly a hand-held camera and available lighting, the edgy, in-your-face shooting and grainy quality of the film heightens the viewer's proximity to the action unfolding and tension coupled with a riveting soundtrack that draws you into the underbelly of Sao Paulo. Beto has crafted a gritty emotional ride into the pathos of one man, the opportunistic desires of another, and finally the greed of another.


Ake Sandgren: Et rigtigt menneske/ Truly Human

reviewed by Lisa Lejeune

Truly Human is a sobering look at an upper middle class Danish family and their dysfunctional life. The husband is a shoe sales man consumed with work and his secretary mistress, Anna. Christine, his wife works for Parliament and is engulfed in her career and her lover, one of her husband's friends. Husband and wife are part time parents of an adorable little girl, Lisa. She spends her time in the protection of her bedroom and in the company of her imaginary or not so imaginary invisible big brother who lives in the wall. Lisa talks to him by candlelight and tells him about her lonely world. Meanwhile, her parents have a not so happy dinner party downstairs with friends, on the eve of their home's demolition and their move to a new apartment complex with a view. Having had too much to drink, Lisa's parents and their friends, begin the demolition early - tearing at the walls and the doors. This destruction is symbolic of the breakdown of their relationship and their family. During the course of this drunken dinner party, Lisa's parents admit that they aborted a son years ago and confess that if they had it to over again, they would have aborted Lisa too. Lisa overhears this ugly revelation and decides to make their wish of being childless come true. The next morning as the couple head to work, Lisa insists on sitting in the front passenger seat, which is equipped with an air bag known to be fatal for children in the event of an accident. Then as the couple fight over who has to get Lisa from school, her father almost rear-ends a car, and the air bag explodes instantly killing Lisa. Yet, Lisa 's death makes it possible for her brother to emerge from the walls of their demolished home. Lisa's death and her brother's desire to be a real human bring him to life. He emerges with a teenager's body but an infant's mind. Though unable to speak, he is curious, playful and completely innocent of the new world in which he lives. The director inserts an extremely heavy handed pro-life view at this moment and throughout the film, which takes the form of a choir of young boys who accompany Lisa's brother as he struggles to become a real boy. The implication is that the boys are the souls of other aborted children whose parents like Lisa's got rid of them for the sake of convenience. Alone in this strange new world, Lisa's brother seeks out the only parents he has ever known. He wanders on the streets outside his parents' new apartment and takes shelter beneath the family car. Lisa's father drives to work in the morning unaware of the passenger he carries until Lisa's brother struggles out from underneath the moving car and falls onto the highway. Lisa's father does not recognize his son. Unsure of what to do, Lisa's father brings his injured son to work to mend his wounded hand and then drops him at a nearby refugee camp. Again, the director illustrates, how Lisa's parents and society in general, possess a view of children and people in general, as easily disposable when inconvenient. In the camp, Lisa's brother takes a name, Ahmed, and begins to learn the Danish language and culture. Eventually, Ahmed finds a job as a clerk at a shoe store and he obtains a home in the apartment complex where his parents live. Ahmed begins to establish a relationship with his parents, who still do not recognize him. Through Ahmed's desire to be a real human, his parents re-discover their humanity and grieve the loss of their daughter, Lisa. Yet, Ahmed's child like innocence and desire to play with other children like himself lead him astray with the adults in his neighborhood who mistake his love of children for pedophilia. Ahmed loses his job at the shoe store and the neighbors have Ahmed arrested on charges of child molestation. Even though the children clear Ahmed of all charges, the neighbors attack Ahmed vigilantly style in the night and brutally beat him, mark him with a blue P, and dessert him on the highway. Having lost his job, his home, and his humanity, Ahmed retreats back into the crumbling walls of the demolished home, from where he first emerged. Unaware of his existence, workmen nail Ahmed back into the coffin-like wall. Yet, Ahmed's death makes Lisa's life possible and Lisa and Ahmed once again exchange places. As Lisa's parents head to work, with their newly discovered humanity, Lisa's father almost rear ends yet another car while talking on the cell phone, and Lisa emerges alive and well from the air bag that killed her - implying that it is only through death that we learn what it means to be truly human.


Hirokazu Kore-eda: Distance
Zhang Yimou: Xingfu shiguang/ Happy Times
Shohei Imamura: Lukewarm Water Under a Red Bridge
Festival's website

The Masters


Hirokazu Kore-eda: Distance
** Sat 4/20 Pacific Film Archive 9:00 DIST20B
Mon 4/22 AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres 6:30 DIST22K
Tue 4/23 AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres 3:00 DIST23K

Zhang Yimou: Happy Times
4/27 AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres 6:00 HAPP27K
4/28 AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres 12:15 HAPP28K

Hou Hsiao-hsien: Millennium Mambo
** Fr 4/19 Pacific Film Archive 9:15 MILL19B
Su 4/21 AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres 12 PM MILL21K
Mo 4/22 AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres 9:15 MILL22K

Seijun Suzuki: Pistol Opera
Sa 4/20 AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres 10:00 PIST20K
Mo 4/22 AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres 4:15 PIST22K

Luiz Fernando Carvalho: To the Left of the Father
4/20 AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres 3:30 LEFT20K
4/22 AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres 3:00 LEFT22K

Shohei Imamura: Warm Water Under a Red Bridge
4/26 AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres 9:30 WARM26K
4/27 AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres 1:00 WARM27K

Ann Hui: July Rhapsody
4/23 AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres 9:30 KARM23K
4/25 AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres 4:00 KARM25K
4/30 Pacific Film Archive 9:45 KARM30B

Ake Sandgren: Et rigtigt menneske/ Truly Human
4/27 Pacific Film Archive 4:45 TRUL27B
4/29 AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres 9:45 TRUL29K
5/1 PAR 7:00 TRUL01P

Jean-Luc Godard: In Praise of Love
4/26 Pacific Film Archive 7:00 INPR26B
4/28 AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres 9:15 INPR28K

Eric Rohmer: Lady and the Duke
4/19 AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres 10:00 LAST19K
4/20 AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres 4:45 LAST20K

Mika Kaurismki: Sound of Brazil
4/19 Castro Theatre 10:00 SOUN19C
4/21 AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres 9:30 SOUN21K
4/23 Pacific Film Archive 9:15 SOUN23B

Pier Paolo Pasolini: Teorema
4/21 Castro Theatre 6:30 TEOR21C

Festival's press release

This year's Opening Night Feature is THIRTEEN CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ONE THING, which stars Matthew McConaughey, John Turturro and Alan Arkin and is directed by Jill Sprecher (CLOCKWATCHERS), who will be in attendance.

This year's Closing Night Feature is Woody Allen's HOLLYWOOD ENDING. Woody Allen writes, directs and stars, playing a film director trying to resuscitate his faltering career in this comedy of manners set in the world of Hollywood moviemaking. Following Allen's tradition of using large and eclectic casts, HOLLYWOOD ENDING also stars George Hamilton, Ta Leoni, Debra Messing, Mark Rydell, Tiffani Thiessen and Treat Williams.

Films to be World Premiered this year include: Nasser Saffarian's THE MIRROR OF THE SOUL from Iran; International Premieres include Nasser Saffarian's THE GREEN COLD and Kiseki Hamada's SOMEWHERE ON EARTH; North American Premieres are Catherine Breillat's BRIEF CROSSING, Andrew Lau's DANCE OF A DREAM, Song Hye-Sung's FAILAN, Khaled Ghorbal's FATMA, Heddy Honigmann's GOOD HUSBAND, DEAR SON, Zhang Yimou's HAPPY TIMES, Ann Hui's JULY RHAPSODY, Sven Taddicken's MY BROTHER THE VAMPIRE, Oxide Pang's ONE TAKE ONLY, Stefan Tolz's ON THE EDGE OF TIME: MALE DOMAINS IN THE CAUCASUS, Laura Betti's documentary PIER PAOLO PASOLINI, Mika Kaurismaki's SOUND OF BRAZIL, Hayao Miyazaki's SPIRITED AWAY, Frederick Baker's STALIN - RED GOD, Matthew Ginsburg's UNCLE FRANK, Marie de Laubier's VELOMA, Anand Patwardhan's WAR AND PEACE, Bohdan Slama's THE WILD BEES; U.S. Premieres include: Luis R. Vera's BASTARDS IN PARADISE; Ruby Yang's CHINA 21, Wang Guangli's GO FOR BROKE, Fosco Dubini's THE JOURNEY OF KAFIRISTAN, Bruce Sweeney's LAST WEDDING, Kim Sung-Su's MUSA (THE WARRIOR), Patricio Guzman's THE PINOCHET CASE, Orlando Rojas's NIGHTS OF CONSTANTINOPLE, Hur Jin-Ho's ONE FINE SPRING DAY, Manoel de Oliveira's OPORTO OF MY CHILDHOOD, Thomas Riedelsheimer's RIVERS AND TIDES and Philip Hoffman's WHAT THESE ASHES WANTED.

Celebrating our 45th year and as the oldest U.S. film festival, we are pleased that our programming team, made up of Carl Spence, Linda Blackaby and Roger Garcia, along with our International Advisory Board and myself, have selected a strong array of films from around the world that reflect the integrity of the Festival while also broadening its scope, said Roxanne Messina Captor, Executive Director of the San Francisco International Film Festival. 3We are thrilled with how the Festival has come together and cannot wait for all of San Francisco to enjoy these wonderful films.

Among this year's honorees are Warren Beatty, who will receive the Akira Kurosawa Award for lifetime achievement in film directing; Kevin Spacey who will receive the Peter J. Owens Award, honoring an actor whose work exemplifies brilliance, independence and integrity; and Fernando Birri who will receive the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award, honoring the lifetime achievement of a filmmaker who works in forms other than features. David Francis, a longtime film archivist and preservationist, will receive the Mel Novikoff Award, which is bestowed on an individual or institution whose work has enhanced the filmgoing public's knowledge and appreciation of world cinema. The late Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini will also be celebrated in what would have been his eightieth birthday year with a screening of his classic, award-winning film TEOREMA and Laura Betti's documentary PIER PAOLO PASOLINI.

Asian films make up a big part of the program this year, partly due to the influence of Guest Programmer Roger Garcia, a former director of the Hong Kong International Film Festival and an Asian cinema expert. Hong Kong will be represented by the work of several well-known filmmakers including: Johnnie To and Wa Ka-fai's FULL TIME KILLER and Andrew Lau's DANCE OF A DREAM. Also slated are a choice selection of some of the best new films from up and coming Japanese filmmakers like Isao Yukisada's GO and Kiseki Hamada's SOMEWHERE ON EARTH; works of world-recognized filmmakers like Hirokazu Kore-eda's DISTANCE, Shunji Iwai's ALL ABOUT LILY CHOU-CHOU and Shinobu Yaguchi's WATERBOYS; and films from long-established masters such as Shohei Imamura's WARM WATER UNDER A RED BRIDGE, Hayao Miyazaki's SPIRITED AWAY, and Seijun Suzuki's PISTOL OPERA.

3We1re excited by the broad range of films from many countries, said Carl Spence, Director of Programming. 3We are equally excited by the addition of our OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT movies, which expands and develops new festival audiences.

This collection of edgy and in-your-face movies includes ICHI THE KILLER directed by cult favorite Takashi Miike, Shinsuke Sato's action/special effects extravaganza PRINCESS BLADE, Lucky McKee's clever hybrid of camp horror and psychological thriller, MAY, and Stacy Peralta's skatepunk documentary DOGTOWN AND Z-BOYS.

The Festival brings together the best of contemporary French cinema, including Andre Tchin's FAR AWAY, controversial filmmaker Catherine Breillat's BRIEF CROSSING, Eric Rohmer's THE LADY AND THE DUKE, Alain Gomis's L1AFRANCE; Jose Dayan's CET AMOUR-LA, Sandrine Ray's VIVANTE; and TIME OUT from Laurent Cantet. Reflecting a surge of fresh new voices as well as work by established artists, Latin American and Spanish films are front and center at the Festival this year, with Mexican master and Festival regular Arturo Ripstein (winner of the Akira Kurosawa Award in 1999) returning with THE RUINATION OF MEN; Luis R. Vera's BASTARDS IN PARADISE and 25 WATTS from Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll.

The 45th San Francisco International Film Festival, which runs April 18th through May 2nd, is presented by the San Francisco Film Society, a nonprofit arts organization whose goal is to lead in expanding the knowledge and appreciation of international film art and its artists by showcasing the most compelling, thought-provoking international films, special tributes and major restorations, and today's brightest stars.


Instructions for reviewers:

  • Each review shall begin with Director: Title (Year). If you don't know who made the film, probably the film is not worth reviewing. The Title shall be both the original title and the English translation. The year shall be the year of release (not the year you saw it). Eg: Ake Sandgren: Et rigtigt menneske/ Truly Human (2001).
  • Each review's second line shall read: "reviewed by X Y".
  • Each review shall contain a detailed summary of the plot (beginning to ending). Most reviewers only mention the beginning of a film because that is all they saw. We provide the entire synopsis. If the synopsis is in the way of your analysis, write the synopsis at the bottom of the review.
  • A short introduction to the director is always welcome. Actors are negligible. It's the director who makes the film. The actors work for the director. If the actors did a good job, credit the director, not the actor (a great actor with a bad director will give a lousy performance, a bad actor with a great director will give a terrific performance).
  • Lots of references to other films and directors are always welcome, as they help the reader figure out what kind of film this is (and increase your credibility as a reviewer :-).