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SF Int’l Film Festival! pt 3

I’ve been having a fantastic time at the Film Festival. Not that I’ve thought the films are so great… in fact, there have been some amazing gems, but a lot of mediocrity and some outright bombs. Still, amidst a just-broken heat wave and an absolutely iridescent light over San Francisco these past days, it was difficult to keep going indoors, or it would have been if I hadn’t been so lost in the pleasure and rhythm of a full-blown International Film Festival.

I did get a moment to catch up on my ever-rising pile of incoming periodicals and in particular want to recommend to everyone the two-part Curtis White essay in the last two issues of Orion Magazine. I referenced some of his writing a year ago, and once again, he’s come through with one of the most lucid and clearly written repudiations of the basic absurdity and self-destructiveness of modern work that I can recall reading. Check out part two especially.

Anyway, back to my capsule reviews and reactions to films:

The Old Garden
This was a FANTASTIC movie! It will get on to my top 3 or top 5 list for this festival. The plot revolves around a couple, the guy was very involved in the Gwangju uprising in 1980 in South Korea, and a half year later gets caught and imprisoned, before eventually being released two decades later. While on the run he hid out with a gorgeous, feisty, independent woman, a schoolteacher and painter, who angrily watches him leave her after hiding for months, in a rainstorm, they cling, knowing somehow it’s their last moment together… She calls him an idiot as the bus drives away (I fed you, I gave you a place to sleep, a place to hide, I let you fuck me, and you leave… Idiot!). But he’s her true love, and she’s pregnant. The structure of the film jumps back and forth in time, to the massacre, to his return from jail, her death from cancer before his release, numerous episodes among movement activists, arguments then about politics and the military dictatorship; later, one of their close friends is involved in a labor uprising, fired and repressed, after which she suicides through self-immolation. (A reference to the intense class war that continued over the next two decades, that played an important part in bringing South Korea to its present state of modernization.) The personal stories, the wrecked and altered lives admist the big historical narratives that define S. Korea since 1980–fantastic juxtapositions, nuanced portrayal of how personal and political intersect. Beautifully shot, great acting, wonderful editing. When Hoon-yee first comes back from jail to Gwangju he meets an old comrade who has been driven mad. They go to a small reunion banquet which ends in a drunken brawl, one of them saying “Life is long, but the revolution is short!”–towards the end of the film the schoolteacher says the companion line: “Life is long. History is longer!” What a great movie!


The Orange Revolution
A good but not great doc on the Ukrainian “revolution,” somewhat diluted by events after the fact. It’s also not as deep as I’d have liked–no mention of Soros or the U.S. or any NGOs who helped… all those flaws notwithstanding, it’s great to see the blow-by-blow developments of Yuschenko’s victory. It presents a rather gee whiz and civic-democracy-success sort of fantasy of social change, but not surprisingly the outcome of all that hope and courage and “direct action” was merely to elect a president whose coalition disintegrated almost immediately. I bet Ukrainians are severely disillusioned now. A better doc would have gone beyond the “orange revolution” and looked at the larger structures that were manipulating aspirations for democracy and freedom, and still are.

The Road to Saint Diego
An incredibly sweet, upbeat film about a naive rural woodcutter who is completely obsessed with Argentinean soccer megastar Diego Maradona. He finds a tree root that resembles Maradona and after carving #10 on its back and preparing it a bit, and getting a seer’s advice to go, he embarks on a long trip to Buenos Aires, meeting many kind people along the way, esp. a Brazilian trucker with 50,000 chickens aboard… when they encounter a piquetero blockade, even that scene is jolly and friendly–the statue gets them through. It’s painfully sweet, but the interesting angle here is the syncretism between religion and celebrity, with much talk of faith and redemption surrounding the childlike hopes and enthusiasm of the protagonist and his family, friends and acquaintances.

Special Forces
Live cinema performance? Bob Ostertag and a Quebecois guy made an overwrought, frenetic, bombastic “thing” that features images of Lebanon under attack, but mostly is overblown animations run through photoshop filters and channels to make trippy animations. The “music” was mostly a cacophony of pounding layers of video game sounds, too loud; at the end, after, Bob Ostertag said they wanted to comment on the convergence of play technology and war technology. OK, but the experience was very unpleasant, uninspiring, and drove a half dozen folks out. Not impressive.

Love for Sale: Suely in the Sky
Bad movie–another of what I’m beginning to characterize as Cinema Brasileira Tipica. Suely is the woman at the center of the plot, returned to Iquatu from Sao Paolo with her new-ish baby, waiting for her Mateus to come–he disappears instead. She needs money and the big drama is her lame decision to raffle herself off, “One Night in Paradise”. Her prostitution is so uninteresting, and seems so normal as a response to her hopeless situation–the only reaction I could have was “so fuckin’ what?”

Rome Rather Than You
Set in Algiers and a nearby slum on the coast, it’s about a man and woman, the guy trying to get a trip to Europe or the U.S. She works in a clinic and lives with her parents, seems cool to him, but somehow hangs out. Maybe she’ll go too if the opportunity presents itself. She seems hip to the movie’s theme–they’re going nowhere. Bu she’s a fascinating character, very modern, unimpressed, seems to need nothing–not the guy, not to leave. The two of them plus a friend get arrested while trying to find Bosco the smuggler. Great scene of the angry, belligerent undercover cops hassling them in a cafe for no reason, then busting them, threatening to take their (borrowed) car, et al. They get out after some hours but too late to return to Algiers before curfew. The next day, after a long weird drunken night (the woman remains aloof throughout) they return to Bosco’s house and find him (eventually, all scenes in this movie are 5 to 10 times longer than is comfortable, often feeling interminable) murdered in his tub. Kamel and Siri stand on the roof forever, staring at the sea. Seh has found 2 passports and a green card, and gives the card and a passport to Kamel. As they’re leaving, she insists on driving and moments later jihadi shooters attack them, hitting Kamel. She speeds forward, continuing to drive down the road while he’s dying, and last scene, she’s barely checking him out while he’s murmuring and sputtering–she looks towards the camera out the window as he’s dying and spits: “Idiot!!” End of movie!

Everything’s Cool
The companion to Inconvenient Truth, very well edited, good music, upbeat approach to a downer topic. A good effort BUT ends up reinforcing much of what’s terribly naive and anachronistic about U.S. politics. Shellenberger and Nordhaus get a huge play in the film, with a fractional peep of protest about their self-serving, self-referential slanted critique. You would never know there’s been two decades of dynamic grassroots environmental justice activism! Bill McKibben gets big play too, along with Ross Gelbspan–both are good and focused and human… Bill McKibben’s attempt to put the “movement” into the movement against Climate Change produced a march of several thousand across Vermont, culminating in having politicians sign a petition pledging to reduce CO2 emissions. Come on! Nordhaus and Shellenberger hold focus groups which are in the film, trying to shift the discussion to economy and jobs, but are inconsistent with McKibben’s original well-stated point about how our culture naturalizes the economy at the expense of nature. Also, the filmmakers include a whole subplot about a ski slope groomer learning how to make biodiesel, instead of a more broad view, a better intro to the subculture, the caravans, etc. Clearly the filmmakers are working within the logic of Democratic party and electoralism. The films drops the ball repeatedly when it could have really done something radical.

Notes on a Toon Underground
eh… many shorts, most uninteresting with live music–only good ones were Populi and Devil’s Canyon. Populi is a wild iconic archetype of a scuptured head, full of energy and rapid-fire transformations of location, hands holding it, multiple versions as prop in strange locales, etc. Steady rock underbeat too.. Devil’s Canyon was a hilariously laconic send-up of westerns and automation… the rest of the show a snooze…

many more to come…

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