SCREEN GRABS Apparently much of the local film world was holding its breath until the San Francisco International Film Festival ended—because now that it has, the floodgates have opened to a ton of new arthouse releases and other notable events.
Probably the most acclaimed of the fresh arrivals—and justly so—is Chloe Zhao’s Cannes prize-winning The Rider. Like her prior Songs My Brothers Taught Me, which took place on a Lakota reservation, the China-born director’s second feature is a low-key drama set in hard-scrabble rural South Dakota. Actual former bull-riding star Brady Jandreau plays a fictionalized version of himself as a young man who has a difficult time adjusting to his forced new reality after an accident leaves him with a head injury and a steel plate in his skull. He slowly gets back to the work of training horses (in some fascinating scenes involving no stunt personnel), but even that outlet—let alone going back to rodeo competition—may be closed to him if his condition worsens. Jandreau’s real-life, somewhat ne’er-do-well father and mentally disabled sister also play variations on themselves, as do various of his roping and wrangling cowboy peers.
Whether any of them could—or even should—go on to professional acting careers is anyone’s guess. But the performances Zhao has gotten from her non-professional cast members are remarkable, and The Rider is one of those films that feels utterly, urself-consciously true to a reality not terribly close to the usual mythology of movie westerns. As quietly intense as its leading figure, this is a terse, poetical, moving drama that could well end up one of the year’s best.
Among the films we did not have time to preview are Little Pink House, with Catherine Keener in a fact-based David-and-Goliath tale of average citizen vs. big development that should resonate with local viewers; Ismael’s Ghosts, a triangle drama with Mathieu Amalric, Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourg from Arnaud Desplechin, the talented French director of A Christmas Tale and My Golden Days; I Feel Pretty, an Amy Schumer comedy with the promising conceit that her hitherto-insecure-wallflower character experiences drastic life changes after a head trauma convinces her she’s a fabulously successful knockout; Claire’s Camera, a second playful collaboration between South Korean director Sang-Too Hong and French superstar Isabelle Huppert; and Kodachrome, a road-trip seriocomedy with Jason Sudeikis, Elizabeth Olsen and Ed Harris.
If you’re looking for something free and fun, nothing could be better than the Proxy Spring Series’ Friday night screening of The Road Movie—a hair-raising and hilarious compilation of Russian dash-cam footage—outdoors in Hayes Valley. BYO blanket; beer and food-truck eats will be available for purchase. (More info here.)
Two special events this week celebrate the work of women animators, local and otherwise. SF’s own Kara Herold will host a reception and screening next Thursday at YBCA to support her work-in-progress: 39 1/2, a feature continuing the playful self-analysis of her 2009 Bachelorette, 34 in which she uses elements of documentary, live action, animation and more to ponder the single life (and parental push-back) on the brink of 40. Short works by Lynn Peril, Emily Hubley, Kelly Gallagher and more complete the program. This Saturday, Other Cinema at ATA presents a “veritable mothership of animators” including Gallagher, Ellie Vanderlip, Mary Ellen Bute, Sally Cruikshank and more. A highlight will Martha Colburn’s new Western Wilds, a semi-autobiographical piece that’s also a meditation on the legacy of late Western pulp writer Karl May, German’s answer to Zane Grey.
Kara Herold: An Evening of Films & Storytelling by Women: Thurs/19, YBCA. More info here.
X-Peri-Mental Animation: Sat/21, ATA. More info here.
This quiet but striking new B&W drama by Hungarian director Ferenc Torok is set in the immediate aftermath of WW2. A small village is ruffled by the mysterious arrival of two black-clad strangers in the railway station. What do they want? Conspicuously, they are Jews—and that stirs worry, because this country hamlet (and many like it) had passively turned its Jewish citizens over to the Nazi-aligned authorities and claimed their “abandoned” property for its Gentile populace. Have these men come to reclaim? Accuse? Refusing to hit us on the head with its message, 1945 instead subtly reveals the complicity of “good” people are capable of when outside forces target their neighbors. Opens Friday, Landmark Theaters. More info here.
Those who prefer their fantasy/sci-fi cinema heavy on intriguing ideas rather than CGI effects will be delighted with this third feature by the brainy genre duo of scenarist Justin Benson and co-director Aaron Moorhead. They also star as brothers who fled a rural commune years earlier, the elder believing it was a “UFO death cult” headed toward Jonestown-like disaster. But they’ve floundered in the outside world, and the younger sibling still misses the “home” he has only fond memories of. Begging a return visit for “closure,” they arrive to discover that decade later, the residents haven’t aged a day—among other peculiarities.
This supernatural mystery recalls the likes of Inception or Looper for its toying with time as an “infinite loop” in increasingly hallucinogenic ways, albeit on a tiny fraction of those films’ budgets. Which is all to the good: What The Endless lacks in spectacle (though it does have some FX) it more than makes up in character detail and narrative invention. Some may find there are too many questions left dangling at the end, but getting there is a fascinating journey. Opens Friday, Alamo Drafthouse. More info here.
INFRA-MAN AND HAUSU
You call yourself a cult movie aficionado? Be prepared to turn over your badge in shame if you have never seen either of these demented Asian genre classics, both of which get a showing at the Alamo this week. 1975’s Infra-Man, from legendary Hong Kong producers the Shaw Brothers, is the nuttiest super-hero movie ever—a fever-pitched mix of Godzilla-type monster mash and proto-Power Rangers cartoonish chop-socky. Take the kids and fry their brains! No less delirious is Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 Hausu aka House, in which a group of schoolgirls visiting an aunt’s country home find it chock-a-block with supernatural perils that come off like an LSD trip on amphetamines.
Infra-Man: Sun/22, Alamo Drafthouse. More info here.
Hausu: Tues/24, Alamo Drafthouse. More info here.
SCHOOL OF CHAIRS
In conjunction with the same-named group exhibition showing at 500 Capp St. through June 9, this SF Cinematheque program pulls together an assortment of film and video shorts that explore the “secret life of objects.” Do we own our possessions, or do they own us? The relationship between identity, home and decor is explored in works by Ken Kobland, Julia Dogra-Brasell, Karissa Hahn, Jean-Paul Kelly, Bettina Hoffman, Coral Short, and Dana Berman Duff. Admission to this special on-site screening includes access to the ongoing exhibit at late visual artist David Ireland’s home, which he modified so uniquely and extensively it’s considered a permanent art installation in itself. Thurs/19, David Ireland House. More info here.
Considered one of the most distinctive and original Latin American filmmakers of the 21st century to date, Argentina’s Martel made a splash with her 2001 debut La Cienaga, and has continued to do with each of three features since. Visiting the Bay Area to promote her latest, Zama (which opens commercially April 27), Martel will appear at two Bay Area venues this weekend. She’ll discuss both Zama and 2018’s acclaimed The Headless Woman at the onset of a complete Pacific Film Archive retrospective that runs through May 10. She’ll also present Zama—an experimental take on 18th-century Spanish colonialism—in person at SF’s Center for the Arts this coming Monday.
Fri/20-Thurs/10, PFA. More info here.
Mon/23 YBCA. More info here.
CZECH THAT FILM
Though it may no longer command the international attention it did in the 1960s, when Czechoslovakia was the jewel in the crown of a fantastic Eastern European filmmaking renaissance, the Czech Republic continues to carry on a rich cinematic tradition. The sixth edition of this traveling showcase for new work runs a gamut from the nation’s Oscar submission feature Ice Mother, a contemporary romantic tragicomedy, to WW2 drama Barefoot and sci-fi Accumulator 1. Fri/20-Sun/22, Roxie. More info here.
BY GEORGE: A GEORGE ROMERO TRIBUTE
A very talented director trapped in a subgenre he remained forever ambivalent about, the recently deceased Romero made some of his best movies outside it, like offbeat vampire variation Martin and the Arthurian motorcycle saga Knightriders. Still, to the end he was largely stuck with the thing that launched his career: Zombies. There’s no questioning the greatness of his original Night of the Living Dead or its immediate sequel Dawn of the Dead. But admirably, this three-day Roxie tribute sidesteps all six of his undead features to throw a spotlight on a trio of Romero’s least-seen films.
1973’s The Crazies, about a small town whose residents (accidentally poisoned by a military biological weapon) go homicidally nuts, suffered from poor distribution at the time but eventually became enough of a cult classic to merit a 2010 remake. More uneven if sporadically striking was the prior year’s equally unlucky Season of the Witch aka Hungry Wives, in which suburban Pittsburgh women unwisely get involved with witchcraft. But surely the most obscure of all Romero films is 1971’s There’s Always Vanilla, an aggressively groovy yet essentially sour “romantic comedy” about cynical modern relationships—an annoying movie, but a real time capsule of the Sexual Revolution’s jaded downside. Roxie, Sat/21-Mon/23. http://www.roxie.com/calendar/
THE DEVIL AND FATHER AMORTH AND THE EXORCIST
It’s hard to convey to people who weren’t alive or cognizant at the time what a cultural phenomenon The Exorcist was: Beyond being by far the most commercially successful horror film to date, it sparked some serious religious debate and no small about of paranormal paranoia. The Roxie pairs the “extended director’s cut” (longer than the original release by ten minutes) of that 1973 mega-hit with director William Friedkin’s latest feature.
His first-ever documentary, The Devil and Father Amorth is a rather pulpy inquiry into not just The Exorcist’s history, but also the ongoing reality of exorcisms in the Catholic Church. He brings his camera to Italy, where we’re told a somewhat hard-to-belief half-million citizens are exorcised each year, and where he gets permission to film a woman getting her 9th such attempted spiritual cleansing. It plays rather like tabloid TV (and is the woman’s “possessed” voice been digitally altered, as it sounds?)—but it’s a interesting footnote/prelude to a 45-year-old film that remains mightily impressive.Tues/24, Roxie. More info here.