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Sunday, May 28, 2023

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Arts + CultureMoviesCelluloid goodies galore at SFFILM's final week

Celluloid goodies galore at SFFILM’s final week

Tributes to Michelle Yeoh and Trinh T. Minh-ha, plus 'Emily the Criminal,' 'Intregalde,' and a bat mitzvah party bonanza

The second half of SFFILM’s 2022 edition remains full of international celluloid goodness, including “Centerpiece” presentation 892 (covered in our first-half preview last week, here) and in-person tributes to two Asian women who’ve carved their names prominently in the medium’s history in recent decades. Those latter events are, unfortunately, taking place more or less opposite one another on Friday evening, so you’ll have to make a choice.

One is the Castro Theater salute to Malaysia-born, Hong Kong-crowned, globally-acclaimed star Michelle Yeoh, whose career has stretched from HK action movies to being a “Bond Girl” (in Tomorrow Never Dies), though the international coproductions Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Memoirs of A Geisha, and on to the Mummy, Kung Fu Panda, Star Trek, Guardians of the Galaxy, IP Man and Avatar franchises—not to mention the current Everything Everywhere All At Once, as lavish a popcorn showcase as any 60-year-old actor could hope for. She will discuss her career onstage with another beloved performer, Grey’s Anatomy and Killing Eve star Sandra Oh.

The other tributee this Friday night is the Bay Area’s own Trinh T. Minh-ha, who will receive this year’s Persistence of Vision Award for a filmmaker whose “main body of work falls outside the realm of traditional narrative filmmaking.” The Vietnamese emigre has been stretching the boundaries of the documentary form for four decades, mixing elements of the avant-garde, personal essay, and much more into screen sociopolitical inquiries. Her latest, What About China?, weighs that nation’s drastic changes over the last 30 years or so, questioning the impact of global-economy “progress” on ordinary lives and cultural traditions. It will be screened during a program that also includes the director in live conversation with Rizvana Bradley, at BAMPFA—fittingly, since both women are instructors at UC Berkeley.

Other highlights during SFFILM’s concluding days include the world premieres of Deborah Souza Silva’s partly Oakland-focused documentary Black Mothers Love & Resist and Sophia Silver’s indie tween drama Over/Under. Sunday’s programs will mostly be compromised of TBA audience and jury awards winners from the preceding 10 days.

Here’s a few features from coming days that we were able to catch in advance:

Palm Trees and Power Lines 
While there were certainly quirky charms to Sean Baker’s recent Red Rocket, it was more than a bit disconcerting that the film seemed to find so little amiss in a 40-year-old former porn star grooming a teenager as his means of re-entry to that biz. Offering a sort of riposte is Jamie Dack’s first feature, in which underage Lea’s (Lily McInerny) neediness—her father is absent, her mother (Gretchen Mol) a hot mess, her own friends kind of awful—is spied by flattering, insinuating older man Tom (Jonathan Tucker). Though there is nothing graphic about it, this is one of the most unsettling portraits of predation you’re likely to see, even if the expansion of the director’s prior short does stretch a small narrative thin at times. Wed/27, Victoria

Montana Story 
The eclectic directorial team of Scott McGehee and David Siegal (The Deep End, Bee Season, What Maisie Knew) makes another unpredictable turn with this rural drama of family dysfunction. Their father in a coma, tended by home care nurse Ace (Gilbert Owuor), siblings Cal (Owen Teague) and Erin (Haley Lu Richardson) reluctantly turn to the Montana ranch they grew up in. They have not, in fact, had any contact with one another for years, since Erin ran away from serious abuse at the now-dying father’s hands. Needless to say, old wounds resurface during this awkward reunion, whose earnest, talky nature is alleviated by the beauty of the surrounding landscapes. Thurs/28, Victoria

I Didn’t See You There 
An exercise in walking a mile in someone else’s shoes—or rather traveling it on their wheels—this documentary by Oakland-based filmmaker and disability activist Reid Davenport seeks to “show you how I see without having to be seen.” We do not, in fact, ever see his face. But we do see the world from his perspective in a motorized wheelchair, with all its attendant frustrations, accommodations, and obliviousness from the able-bodied majority. The arrival of a circus tent in his neighborhood prompts musings on how being differently abled can make him feel part of “the legacy of the freak show.” While we may get limited insight otherwise, this very first-person missive does provide a vivid and welcome window into the experience of life on another plane of physical access. Fri/29, Victoria, Sat/30 BAMPFA

Radu Muntean’s film is the classic 21st-century Romanian Cinema enterprise in which a small-scale dynamic between a handful of characters grows increasingly discomfiting, with not much “happening” for a long time yet a rising certainty that something terrible surely will. Three 30ish urbanites are delivering care packages of state aid to impoverished residents deep in the Transylvanian countryside. But when they get lost, then stuck in the middle of nowhere, their charitable intentions dissolve in recriminations and fear. Is this the setup for a horror film, a dark comedy of social hypocrisy, or what? I’m not telling. Wed/27 Victoria, Sat/30 BAMPFA

Emily the Criminal 
The always interesting Aubrey Plaza is ideally cast as the title figure, a Jersey Girl transplanted to Los Angeles, where she had hoped to get her career in art going. But instead she’s slaving away in a food-service-industry job, drowning in student loan debt, a couple blots on her record seeming to prevent any progress up the professional ladder. So she’s wary but intrigued when tipped to some well-paying if risky business helping some dudes pull credit-card fraud scams. It’s a slippery slope, natch. But writer-director John Patton Ford’s debut feature is very astute about mixing character study, crime thriller, and critique of a “trickle-up” economic system more and more Americans are finding is fundamentally gamed against them. Fri/29, Castro

Hell hath no fury like a tweenager scorned in this willfully grotesque Finnish mix of body horror and surreal satire of the bourgeoise. 12-year-old gymnast Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) is unlucky enough to belong to a “picture-perfect” family where nothing is ever good enough for her shrewish mother, and her little brother is blatantly favored. When she salvages an egg from the nest of a raven Mom killed, it grows to gargantuan size, and from it hatches a creature that operates like our unhappy heroine’s vengeful Id. If you were looking for a creature-feature cross between John Waters and Eraserhead, director Hanna Bergholm and scenarist Ilja Rautsi’s first feature might well fit that bill. Wed/27, Roxie

Cha Cha Real Smooth 
SFFILM’s official closing-night selection won the Audience Award for Dramatic Feature at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and it is is indeed a crowdpleaser that deserves all the acclaim it gets. Andrew (writer-director Cooper Raiff) is a rudderless recent college graduate back living with his parents, working at a corndog joint, bidding adieu to a girlfriend whose Fullbright scholarship is taking her to Barcelona—and presumably better romantic options than Andrew. Does he have any skill beyond getting the party started?

Well, it turns out that may actually be marketable: After he singlehandedly turns around a moribund bat mitzvah, he finds himself a “designated party orchestrator” duly paid by Long Island’s Jewish mothers to make their ‘do’s a success. He also finds Dakota Johnson, as a warily charmed single mother. Like Raiff’s prior feature Shithouse, this initially feels like familiar feel-good/underdog/comedy-drama territory (particularly reminiscent of The Wedding Singer), but the story introduces considerable nuance and complexity to winningly big-hearted effect. Raiff and Johnson are expected to attend the screening. Sat/30, Castro

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