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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

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Arts + CultureMoviesScreen Grabs: Slip into something more—or less—comfortable

Screen Grabs: Slip into something more—or less—comfortable

HUMP! Fest, more Magic Mike, Pratibha Parmar, Parisian economic anxiety, Palestinian border trouble, more movies

It’s an unusually sexy weekend at the cinema, with the return of Dan Savage’s HUMP! Film Festival of indie porn to the Victoria Theater running Fri/10 through Sat/18. As ever spanning a wide range of preferences and peccadilloes, the program this year (judging from the trailer) encompasses fetishizing of everything from clowns, bubbles, mud and muscle to corn on the cob. The opening show was already sold out at press time, so you might want to get on that thing by consulting the schedule right now here.

In a much more mainstream mode, there’s also the wide-release arrival of Magic Mike’s Last Dance, the belated third entry in a series that began in 2012. Director Steven Soderbergh (who skipped 2015’s Magic Mike XXL) and writer Reid Carolin are back, as is Channing Tatum—but not any of the latter’s hunky fellow-male-stripper costars (Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, Matt Bomer, etc), so enthusiasm may rest on just how much you fancy those bouncing Tatum tots. Offering a different set of curves for oglers (though in playing a “wealthy socialite,” she presumably keeps more of her clothes on) is Salma Hayek, who replaced Thandie Newton partway through filming. It hadn’t been seen yet by the time of this writing, so no idea whether it’s more like the first one (i.e. good), the second (not), or somewhere in between.

Though hardly a sexploitationist, sexual identity and sexual issues have been a frequent focus for Kenya-born, UK-raised filmmaker Pratibha Parmar. Since the mid-1980s, she’s used the documentary form to explore communities she belongs to (feminist, LGBTQ, subcontinental Indian heritage), as well as cultural figures from poet Suniti Namjoshi to Jodie Foster, and topics from female genital mutilation to colonialism.

A sometime Bay Area resident, she’ll be at BAMPFA for two public screenings: On Thurs/9, 1991’s A Place of Rage, about leading African-American feminist intellectuals Angela Davis, Alice Walker and June Jordan (shown with the shorts Sari Red and Khush); and on Thurs/23 My Name is Andrea, which reconsiders the still hotly-divisive influence and legacy of late radical anti-patriarchal writer Andrea Dworkin. For further details on this brief Pratibha Parmer in Person series, go here.

Films available for preview opening this Friday are a diverse lot, but pretty much share one characteristic: Their characters have precious little time for or interest in sexual matters.

Full Time
Indeed, the sole moment when Laure Calamy’s heroine expresses a flicker of erotic or romantic longing is when her single mother Julie impulsively kisses a fellow parent after a children’s birthday party—an awkward error in judgment one can chalk up to her perpetually frazzled exhaustion. Julie is stretched so thin it’s a miracle she hasn’t already snapped. She works long hours as head chambermaid at a five-star hotel in Paris, where she and her fellow housekeepers are under relentless pressure by their exacting manager and guests.

She has a very long commute to that gig from the suburban home she shares with two small children, the youngest hyperactive, whom she farms out for daycare to an elderly neighbor whose tolerance is wearing thin. Julie’s mortgage payment is overdue, her ex-husband’s alimony check likewise. She’s trying to sandwich in interviews for a job that would advance the “real” career (marketing research) she left behind to have kids. As if this all weren’t quite enough, there’s a transit strike going on, so her already-hectic schedule is a daily torture in which she must sometimes resort to hitchhiking.

With its pulsing synth score, writer-director Eric Gravel’s film is a bit like Run Lola Run without the criminal or mortal threats—but that hardly makes it less tense. In fact, Julie’s heroically contained (for the most part) exasperation and resourcefulness under incessant pressure are enough to give the viewer high blood pressure in sympathy. It’s a very good movie with a very good performance by Calamy, who’s as un-humorously harried here as she was humorously so as the screwball heroine of last year’s comedic gem My Donkey, My Lover & I. It may land well on the “unpleasant” side of the “relatable” scale, but Full Time is a portrait of everyday economic anxiety (on top of all the other types) that has a firm grasp on many people’s familiar zeitgeist. It opens Fri/10 at the Opera Plaza Cinemas.

Let It Be Morning
Returning to local screens six months after closing last year’s Jewish Film Festival is this latest from Eran Kolirin, best known for The Band’s Visit. Like that film, this is a bittersweet fiction about being stranded—one maybe more bitter than sweet this time. Sami (Alex Bakri) has supposedly “made it,” escaping his beleaguered Palestinian village to find a white collar job, a trophy wife and other accoutrements of success in Jerusalem. But when an Israeli Army roadblock prevents their return from a family wedding, cracks in his “success story” facade begin to show.

This different kind of lockdown reveals not only Sami’s unhappiness, but the whole community’s accumulated dysfunctionality after years and years of existential stress. Similar to writer-director’s prior hit (which later became a successful stage musical), this is an elegantly crafted, low-key, deadpan, melancholy sort of comedy. Though as the characters’ crisis mercilessly drags on, their mood grows ever more sour, and you won’t be laughing much, either. Let It Be Morning also opens at the Opera Plaza Cinemas on Fri/10.

Millennium Mambo
While the central figures in both Full Time and Morning are doing everything they can to get to work, the protgonists in Hsiao-Hsien Hou’s 2001 film are pretty much allergic to employment. Narrating from a presumably wiser as well as older stance a decade on, Vicky (Shu Qi) recalls her dawn-of-the-21st-century stint shacking up with Hao-Hao (Chun-hao Tuan), whom she met at a club. Speaking of herself in the third person because, well, why not, Vicky recalls “she started fooling around at age 16,” drinking and drugging and shagging.

Those appear to constitute the primary activities of the couple in their subsequent cohabitation, but by now even such reliable thrills now appear to have dulled. She’s bored and disinterested at nearly all times, even when he’s going on down her; he’s a volatile tantrum-thrower whose DJ aspirations appear not have made it past the apartment door yet. When Vicky’s finally had enough, she splits, pursued by Hao-Hao. She falls into the arms, or at least the vicinity, of Jack (Jack Kao), an older man who seems much more stable, but is also a somewhat shady “businessman” of likely international underworld connections.

Though given a somewhat mixed reception when it premiered, following several Hou features that highlighted Taiwan’s 1980s and ’90s New Wave, Mambo is now more highly regarded as a final panel in his “urban youth trilogy.” The original criticisms remain valid: Our heroine is a pretty, passive blank of no apparent personality (though the actress would subsequently become her director’s muse), whose doings hardly add up to a storyline. Even after Hou sliced 15 minutes from the Cannes premiere cut, the film remained amorphous, a dreamy, liquid, basically plotless mood piece.

Of course that’s intentional, though the depth and meaning of it all may elude viewers not attuned to the particular malaise of a culture and generation depicted. Newly restored Millennium Mambo is best experienced as a warm sensory bath, mostly neon and nightclub colors (particularly electric blue) that hum in the cinematography by Hou’s frequent collaborator Mark Lee Ping-bing, who at the time had just shot Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love. It offers a sort of visual junkie chic: An addicting lusciousness that portrays (and encourages) inertia, immersive and hypnotic.

Hou’s output has drastically slowed down since: In the last 15 years he’s only completed 2015’s elaborate wuxia epic The Assassin, and as he’s now past 75, one doubts much more will be coming. So get it while you can in this newly restored feature’s Roxie Theater engagement, starting Fri/10.

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