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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

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Arts + CultureMoviesScreen Grabs: 20th Greek Film Fest celebrates 'the Greek...

Screen Grabs: 20th Greek Film Fest celebrates ‘the Greek Brigitte Bardot,’ more

Plus: Outsider artist Hilma af Klint gets a biopic, 'Everything Went Fine' and the family bond of assisted suicide

Even as SFFILM wraps up its 66th edition this weekend, there’s the overlapping arrival of relative newcomer the San Francisco Greek Film Festival. Its 20th annual program opens Sat/22 at Delancey Screening Room on the Embarcadero with Christos Massalas’ Broadway, an urban fantasia in the cult-cinema mode of DivaWings of Desire, and such, in which a runaway exotic dancer lands in the eccentric company of a group of misfit thieves and performers living in an abandoned theater. As do many of the features here, it plays with a short or two, in this case Amerissa Basta’s prize-winning Not Tomorrow.

The remaining 13 full-length films run a gamut from animation (family-friendly Karagiozis: The Movie) to drama (Pack of SheepThe Clay and the GirlPatchworkListenDog), comedy (Magnetic Fields), romance (Dodo, A Day In the Life of a Teddy Bear), and suspense (Lyvia’s House). Documentaries include the Holocaust-themed My People and statesman profile Venizelos: The Struggle for Asia Minor.

There will also be a rare revival of 1963’s Aliki, My Love, an attempt to expand singer-actress Aliki Vougiouklaki’s huge popularity at home to international audiences in a frothy Never On Sunday-like showcase. It was directed by Rudolph Mate, the famed Polish-Hungarian cinematographer of the European silent era (Dreyer’s Vampyr & Passion of Joan of Arc) and “golden age” Hollywood (GildaCover Girl). His subsequent directorial career—which ended here, as he died the next year—was less distinguished, though it included the original noir classic D.O.A. and sci-fi favorite When Worlds Collide. The film’s failure meant “the Greek Brigitte Bardot” never braved another English-language vehicle. But she remained a much-loved figure in movies, on stage, and on TV for decades to come.

The festival’s closing selection on Sun/30 is Spiros Jacovides’ Black Stone, which has picked up a couple audience-favorite and other awards since premiering last year. It’s a mockumentary of sorts (albeit mercifully without any excess of hand-held camerawork), in which a film crew gets interested in the plight of a hand-wringing widow left alone with a caustic disabled son after her other offspring, a civil servant, goes missing. Did something sinister befall him—or did he simply embezzle funds and flee his burdensome home? Moving from the sour to the sweet, this seriocomedy gradually wins us over to characters who at first glance seem distinctly off-putting.

Like all the aforementioned films, it plays the Delancey venue. There are also an additional nine features and nine shorts available for streaming only during the festival’s course. General info on the 2023 SF Greek Film Festival is available here here, ticket info here here.

Though their travails may not quite assume the grandeur of ancient Greek tragedy, life is not easy for the protagonists in two new European films opening in theaters this Friday.

After the surprising arthouse smash of 1985’s My Life as a Dog (a surprise because that unhappy-childhood drama was such a downer), director Lasse Hallstrom departed his native Sweden for Hollywood. There, he’s made some very good films (particularly What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and The Cider House Rules), plus a lot of middling and sometimes mawkish ones. Hilma is only his second Swedish production in that entire span. While duly shot there, it was made in English, with a largely English and Irish cast—decisions that, like many here, tend to work against the needs of his subject.

That subject is Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), a naval commander’s daughter of exceptional intellectual and existential curiosity who tried to make a career of painting. But her striking, sometimes very large-scale images—which she claimed were guided directly by the “spirits” she explored in theosophic research—were understood by no one, ignored even after other artists began legitimizing abstraction as the 20th century’s leading artistic trend. It wasn’t until long after her death in 1944 that her work was “discovered,” and she finally began to celebrated as a pioneer. Recently her reputation has greatly expanded; a feature documentary (Beyond the Visible, which we reviewed here, was released three years ago.

Hilma is presumably a labor of love, particularly since Hallstrom cast his own daughter (Tora Hallstrom) and wife (Lena Olin) as the title figure in youth and old age. But the visionary eccentricity of Klint’s art and life, which here encompasses speculative lesbian relationships, ends up feeling almost extraneous to a terribly conventional biopic. Sexism is portrayed in hamfisted ways—every single man acts like Torvald in A Doll’s House—and Hilma’s evident mental health issues are pretty much written off in pat “the world couldn’t understand her genius” terms. It’s a handsomely mounted, simplistic, curiously bland tribute to a woman whose ideas and aesthetic were none of those things. It opens at the Smith Rafael Film Center this Fri/21.

If Klimt died unfulfilled—she vainly sought recognition to the end—the character facing death in Francois Ozon’s Everything Went Fine is more than ready to shrug off this mortal coil. Evidently never easy to deal with as a husband or father, retired Andre (Andre Dussollier) does not exactly adapt well to the difficulties he’s saddled with after suffering a stroke. Largely immobilized, speech-impaired, stuck in a hospital for months, he doesn’t take long before making a blunt request of daughter Emmanuele (Sophie Marceau): “Help me end it.” She’s horrified, as is sibling Pascale (Geraldine Pailhas). Their mother (Charlotte Rampling) is too wrapped up in her own bitterness and disabilities to get involved.

Once the sisters come to terms with this demand—which dad won’t back down from—it becomes a matter of orchestrating an assisted suicide. Because that is against the law in France, they must make arrangements involving subterfuge, and input from a Swiss death-with-dignity advocate (Hanna Schygulla). Adding to the stressful overall situation are histrionic, occasionally violent intrusions by Gerard (Gregory Gadebois). He was apparently once Andre’s gay lover, though like all elements here involving the past, that added narrative wrinkle goes rather underdeveloped.

One suspects the source material (an autobiographical novel by Ozon’s late frequent collaborator Emmanuele Bernheim) dug much deeper into these figures’ psychologies and backstories. In its primary present-tense gist, however, Everything Went Fine is a strong drama about euthanasia, with a powerhouse cast etching a relatable gamut of emotions to putting that concept into practice. It is not at all a relentlessly grim take on mortality a la Amour, but one with plenty of room for humor and everyday life-goes-on detail. It opens Fri/21 at SF’s Opera Plaza Cinemas.

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