SCREEN GRABS The recent passing of great screen actor Bruno Ganz reminded that he’d appeared in person before a screening of Downfall in 2005, his onstage modesty a contrast to his most famous role as, well, you-know-who. That was just one among many highlights logged to date by Berlin & Beyond, the festival of German-language cinema now entering its 23rd year. This week’s Castro Theatre festivities will, as usual, encompass films from Austria and Switzerland as well as Germany (plus a few multinational co-productions).
The opening night feature is Markus Goller’s 25km/h, about two estranged middle-aged brothers who reunite at their father’s funeral, and decide at last to realize their youthful dream of a cross-country trip on mopeds. The “Centerpiece” selection is Lars Kraume’s The Silent Revolution, depicting an act of mild protest that brings harsh consequences in 1956 “Red” East Germany. The closing film is by Veit Helmer, whose dedication to gently fantastical comedy in films like Tuvalu and Absurdistan makes him a sort of Teutonic Wes Anderson. His new The Bra sounds like a delight: A Cinderella-esque whimsy with a train-driver Prince Charming in the lead, and the titular piece of underwear replacing the glass slipper.
There will also be spotlights on new Swiss and youth cinema, in addition to the usual range of recent features spanning a range of genres. Among the more promising are two biopics, 3 Days in Quiberon and Gundermann, about celebrated film star Romy Schneider and a fabled East German singer-songwriter, respectively; and The Waldheim Waltz, a documentary chronicling the ugly public battle over what the late UN Secretary General did or didn’t do as a Nazi intelligence officer during WW2. There will also be a reprise screening of last year’s arthouse hit The Cakemaker, a very fine drama about a pastry chef who travels to Israel after his lover’s death—to meet that man’s wife, who had no clue about his “secret life.” Berlin & Beyond runs Fri/8-Sun/10 at the Castro Theatre, then Mon/11 at Berkeley’s Shattuck Cinemas, then Tues/12-Thurs/14 at SF’s Goethe Institut. More info here.
Also of interest is the 15th International Ocean Film Festival, which will be held at Fort Mason’s Cowell Theater Thurs/7-Sun/10. (There are also screenings Sat/9 at the Roxie and Fri/8-Sat/9 at the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.) The various programs of shorts and features spotlight pressing environmental issues around the globe, in and out of the water. There will also be panel discussions, a virtual reality program, a student film competition, and other educational events. Info: http://intloceanfilmfest.org
Among the numerous openings this week, there are a couple significant disappointments: Michael Winterbottom’s The Wedding Guest is a muddled quasi-thriller with Dev Patel as a British national involved in increasingly pointless intrigue in Pakistan and India. Acclaimed documentarian Ondi Timoner’s first narrative feature Mapplethorpe is a strangely by-numbers biopic of that envelope-pushing late photographer (played by Matt Smith). His controversial nudes and other graphic images are here, yet the film itself feels conventional and tepid.
Unavailable for preview by deadline was Captain Marvel, which has ignited one of those social media wars by fanboys who WILL NOT STAND!! for their lives being ruined by a superhero movie starring someone with lady parts (Brie Larson plays the title role). Actual grownups may be more interested in how a big-budget film directed by the very indie duo of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Sugar) turns out. There’s also J.K. Simmons starring in his wife (and former Oz co-star) Michelle Schumacher’s drama I’m Not Here, in which he plays a recluse recalling the events that put his younger self (Iain Armitage, then Sebastian Stan) on the road to alcoholic isolation. It opens at the Roxie on Friday.
Woman at War
One of the most original directorial debuts in recent years was Icelandic actor Benedikt Erlingsson’s 2013 Of Horses and Men, a bracing, darkly funny series of interlocking tales in which equine behavior came off considerably better than that of humans. His second, tonally similar feature isn’t as impressive, but it’s still worthwhile.
Middle-aged Haila (Halldora Geirharosdottir) is a rural choirmaster with a big secret: She’s the “terrorist” going around sabotaging power lines to stop a proposed China-connected industrial development she believes will have disastrous environmental consequences. As the authorities close in on this manifesto-posting “Mountain Woman” and her alleged threat to national security, she faces an ill-timed second dilemma: After years on a waitlist, she’s finally eligible to adopt a foreign child.
This eco-warrior fable is a little too cute, especially in its incessant over-milking of a device in which an on-screen oompah band accompanies the action. Still, it’s scenically striking, and in the end a good combination of adventure, intrigue, and timely political messaging. Opens Friday, Opera Plaza. More info here.
Another lone woman kicking against the pricks, if without initially intending to, is the heroine of Wolfgang Fischer’s stripped-down drama. Rieke (Susanne Wolff) is a German paramedic who escapes her grueling job for a solo sailing trip. After barely surviving a major storm, however, she discovers a disabled fishing trawler in her vicinity—full of panicked refugees screaming for her help. When she contacts the Coast Guard, they tell her not to intervene until they get there…if they ever do. But people are dying on that boat (and her own is too small to save more than a handful), so what is she to do?
More of a short story than a novel in terms of narrative complexity, Styx doesn’t ultimately pack quite as much punch as one might like. But still, it finds a unique way to make an interesting statement about our responsibility towards the kinds of people that “nobody wants”—those fleeing poverty, war, or injustice that the First World doesn’t view as valuable enough to rescue. By the way, don’t worry about that title: You won’t hear “Babe” here. Opens Friday, Roxie. More info here.
Delphine Seyrig: Reluctant Muse
A classic beauty with a penchant for experimental theater, so connected to various elite intellectual scenes that her first screen credit was in the legendary Kerouac-penned “beat” film Pull My Daisy, Lebanese-born French actress Seyrig became perhaps the first movie star who could make you aware she was playing the idea of a movie star—her glamour was always ironical and complex.
An outspoken feminist, she was particularly supportive of women directors, esp. Chantal Akerman, Marguerite Duras, and Ulrike Ottinger (who’s getting a simultaneous PFA retrospective). Rarely accepting purely commercial assignments, she also worked with such major figures as Losey, William Klein, Resnais (who gave her her breakthrough role in Last Year at Marienbad), Truffaut, Bunuel and Demy, while films she directed herself included a prescient 1977 documentary (called Be Pretty and Shut Up) about sexism in the film industry, and an adaptation of Warhol shooter Valerie Solanis’ notorious SCUM Manifesto.
It was an extraordinary, adventurous career cut short by lung cancer in 1990. This PFA series assembles ten of her most representative vehicles, including Akerman’s 1975 Jeanne Dielman, one of cinema’s ultimate “the personal is political” statements—three and a half hours of Seyrig’s housewife performing domestic chores, caught in an institutionalized gender trap from which she sees only one drastic exit. Fri/8-Sat/April 27, Pacific Film Archive. More info here.
Giant Little Ones
Writer-director Keith Behrman’s Canadian feature may tread very familiar ground as a seriocomic coming-out story (sorta) set amidst the usual stresses and sillinesses of middle-class high school life. But it refreshes that terrain with some good comic and stylistic ideas. Franky (Josh Wiggins) is a popular freshman with a girlfriend, though probably his primary social relationship is with BFF Ballas (Darren Mann), who also has a g.f.
It’s Ballas who initiates some drunken “experimentation” when the two boys land in one bed after a birthday celebration. But it’s also Ballas who experiences “homosexual panic” the next morning, running off to inform seemingly the entire school that his own bestie is “a gay” who “hit on him.” Franky becomes a pariah overnight, a situation not eased by the awkward fact that his own father (Kyle MacLachlan) left his embittered mother (Maria Bello) for another man.
Is Franky, in fact, gay? Even he doesn’t know, not yet. While there are some heavy-handed and overdone aspects to this lively tale, Behrman wisely emphasizes that it doesn’t really matter “what” Franky “is,” or will be—what matters is that he get the space and peace to figure it out for himself. This is a likable movie that would be a particularly good discussion spur for teens, as it addresses general issues of bullying and peer pressure as much as sexual identity. Opens Friday, Kabuki 8 and Shattuck Cinemas.
The Mystery of Picasso
In 1956, fresh from his suspense masterpieces The Wages of Fear and Les Diaboliques, French director Henri-Clouzot turned his camera to the non-fictive subject of painter Pablo Picasso—two famously “difficult” men alike enough in their single-mindedness to be friends, more or less.
The result was this famous documentary, which depicted the artist’s process in unique terms. Most notably, Clouzot deployed translucent “canvases” (i.e. glass plates) so the spectator could actually watch Picasso as he “painted the screen”—creating new works before, and for, our eyes (with some additional help from stop-motion animation). Winner of a special Cannes jury prize at the time, Mystery has ever since been considered one of the greatest of all films about art, and is being shown at the Roxie in a new 4K restoration. Opens Friday, Roxie. More info here.
In Focus: Hirokazu Kore-eda
From the standpoint of international audiences at least, the leading Japanese director of the new millennium is Tokyo-born Kore-eda, whose edgier early films (Maborosi, After Life, Nobody Knows) have since given way largely to beautifully warm domestic dramas, often involving parent-child relationships: Still Walking, I Wish, Like Father Like Son, Our Little Sister, After the Storm, and the recent Shoplifters. He’s like a slightly more accessible, sometimes more sentimental Ozu for our era, a superb observer of human need and forgiveness at his frequent best. This PFA retrospective will present seven of his features (including atypical suspense mystery The Third Murder), each introduced and discussed by local film historian and teacher Marilyn Fabe. Wed/13-Wed/April 24, Pacific Film Archive. More info here.