Week one - Page 3

Critics' short takes on the first week of SFIFF films
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*The Life I Want (Giuseppe Piccioni, Italy, 2005). Here is the engrossing meta–<\d>love story that fest opener Perhaps Love wants, or rather needs — though that film's clumsy kitsch pageantry would have completely spoiled this refreshingly mature romance, which delicately references both Camille and Day for Night, Visconti and Laura Antonelli. At a screen test, all-too-established actor Stefano (Luigi Lo Cascio) is drawn in by the tremulous magnetism and churning emotions of the troubled, unknown actress Laura (Sandra Ceccarelli). Director Giuseppe Piccioni brings an elegant, hothouse intensity to the on-again, off-again, on-again tryst while speaking eloquently about the actor's life, the hazards of the Method, and the pitfalls of professional jealousy — and giving both actors, particularly the impressive Ceccarelli, a layered mise-en-scène with which to work. 9:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also Mon/24, 8:30 p.m., Kabuki; April 27, 6 p.m., Kabuki; and April 30, 7 p.m., Aquarius (Chun)

Perpetual Motion (Ning Ying, China, 2005). Ning Ying explores the changes Western-style capitalism has brought to Chinese society in a gathering of four privileged, affluent, fictional ladies — played by some of the real-life republic's best-known media personalities and businesswomen. They've assembled for tea at the posh home of Niuniu (Hung Huang), who's got a hidden agenda — she's invited these "friends" over to figure out which one is secretly boinking her husband. There's some interesting political-cultural commentary around the edges here. But it's disappointing that a female director would do what Ning soon does, reducing her characters to campy, bitch-quipping, weeping-inside gorgons in a pocket-sized variation on hoary catfight classic The Women. 6:45 p.m., Kabuki. Also Mon/24, 9:25 p.m., PFA; April 26, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki; and May 1, 9:30 p.m., Aquarius (Harvey)

*Taking Father Home (Ying Liang, China, 2005). In Ying Liang's engrossing debut, urban decay and an impending flood follow protagonist Xu Yun (Xu Yun) around every turn of his doomed search for his absent father. The film — shot on video without the funding, or the approval, of the Chinese government — takes a no-frills approach, its only indulgences being Ying's dark, quirky humor and obvious love of the long shot. Much of his action unfolds from afar, allowing the countryside and industrial wasteland of the Sichuan province to create a surprisingly rich atmosphere for this simple, effective story. 1:30 p.m., PFA. Also April 30, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki; and May 3, 6:15 p.m., Kabuki (Jonathan L. Knapp)

*Turnabout (Hal Roach, USA, 1940). Each convinced they're on the low end of a marital totem pole, Carole Landis and John Hubbard say some hasty words in front of a Hindu deity's statue. Voila! Husband and wife find themselves swapping bodies. This Freaky Friday precursor was a risqué surprise in the censorious climate of 1940 Hollywood and for that reason was denounced by the Catholic Legion of Decency as "dangerous to morality, wholesome concepts of human relationships, and the dignity of man." Why? ’Cause the guy acts femme and the girl acts butch, that's why. Directed by comedy veteran Hal Roach, this seldom revived curiosity is too hit-and-miss to rate as a neglected classic, but it's vintage fun nonetheless. 3 p.m., Castro. Also Sun/23, 6:15 p.m., PFA (Harvey)