Highway 51

A road map to week two of the 51st SF International Film Festival

Pixel Vision blog: Additional SFIFF movie reviews, and daily reports by Jeffrey M. Anderson


I Served the King of England (Jirí Menzel, Czech Republic, 2007) The sheer delight of this typically spry, witty film by Czech master Menzel is enough to remove the sting from the fact that it's been 14 years since his last feature. The story presents the dizzy rise and fall of a resourceful waiter during the Nazi occupation. Only Menzel could make a chronicle of such amoral ambition so funny and charming without trivializing the underlying themes. (Dennis Harvey)

6 p.m., Kabuki. Also Sat/3, 9 p.m, Kabuki

Vasermil (Mushon Salmona, Israel, 2007) Salmona's feature debut threads the stories of a few disaffected adolescents — one an Ethiopian Jew, another a recent Russian immigrant. Asshole fathers and cruel, amateur gangsters abound in this dystopia. Salmona's skilled handling of nonprofessional actors brings across the script's twin-toned slice of prejudice and menace. (Max Goldberg)

6:30 p.m., PFA; Sun/4, 1 p.m., Kabuki; Mon/5, 6:45 p.m., Kabuki; May 7, 7 p.m., Kabuki


Valse Sentimentale (Constantina Voulgaris, Greece, 2007) With this infuriatingly pessimistic yet haunting film, the daughter of acclaimed filmmaker Pantelis Voulgaris tries her hand at feature filmmaking. The story is set in the Athenian neighborhood Eksarxia. There, misfits Stamatis (Thanos Samaras) and Electra (Loukia Mihalopoulou) struggle to come to terms with each other. (Maria Komodore)

1:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also Sat/3, 6:30 p.m., Clay; May 7, 9:15 p.m., Kabuki


All Is Forgiven (Mia Hansen-Løve, France, 2007) All Is Forgiven might be compared to Olivier Assayas' 2004 Clean for its autumnal portrait of one character's drug abuse, but it avoids that film's flat reading of an addict's self-absorption. Unlike most other movies about drugs, it isn't exclusively about the user. The era-evocative soundtrack selections within Hansen-Løve's subdued melodrama are emblematic of the film's assured flow. (Goldberg)

9:30 p.m., Clay. Also Sun/4, 3 p.m., Clay; Tues/6, 9 p.m., Kabuki; May 8, 4 p.m., Kabuki

The Art of Negative Thinking (Bård Breien, Norway, 2007) A big fuck you to self-help culture, this amusing black comedy is as coarse, antisocial, and ultimately soft-hearted as its protagonist. A stoner recluse who seeks solace in Johnny Cash records, spliffs, and his gun, he instigates a mutinous program of catharsis through hard partying. By the end credits, though, the Harold Pinter–esque dinner party has given way to Farrelly Brothers comedy. (Matt Sussman)

9:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also Sun/4, 3:45 p.m., Kabuki; May 8, 8:15 p.m., Clay

Linger (Johnnie To, Hong Kong, 2008) Johnnie To is a one-man HK film industry, and his finely honed skills allow this romantic ghost story to at least occasionally step over puddles of sentimental goop. Li Bingbing stars as a student who loses new boyfriend Vic Zhou in a car accident. The story overstretches, but To's strikingly clear and vivid compositions — full of nature, architecture, and light — help his film breathe. (Anderson)

8:30 p.m., Kabuki; Sat/3, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki; Mon/5, 3:15 p.m., Clay


Flower in the Pocket (Liew Seng Tat, Malaysia, 2007) Marred only by a wafer-thin Casio score, Flower in the Pocket is one of those slice-of-life revelations that makes you wonder why there aren't more promising auteurs. The broken flowers here might well be the film's two neglected, elementary school–age Chinese brothers — adrift after the disappearance of their mother and barely able to speak Malay. Director-screenwriter Liew has an acute eye for detail and a way of teasing poetry out of throwaway interludes.

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