SFIFF: Shots in the dark

Short takes on SFIFF
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THURS/23

La Mission (Peter Bratt, USA, 2009) A veteran S.F. vato turned responsible — if still muy macho — widower, father, and Muni driver, 46-year-old Che (Benjamin Bratt) isn't the type for mushy displays of sentiment. But it's clear his pride and joy is son Jess (Jeremy Ray Valdez), a straight-A high school grad bound for UCLA. That filial bond, however, sustains some serious damage when Che discovers Jes has a secret life — with a boyfriend, in the Castro, just a few blocks away from their Mission walkup but might as well be light-years away as far as old-school dad is concerned. This Bratt family project (Benjamin's brother Peter writes-directs, his wife Talisa Soto Bratt has a supporting role) has a bit of a predictable TV-movie feel, but its warm heart is very much in the right place, and the affectionate location shooting makes this an ideal SFIFF opening-nighter. (Dennis Harvey) 7 p.m., Castro.

FRI/24

It's Not Me, I Swear! (Philippe Falardeau, Canada, 2008) Ten-year-old Leon Dore (Antoine L'Écuyer) is a Harold without a Maude, forever staging near-fatal "deadly accidents" that by now no one blinks twice at — whether they're expressions of warped humor, cries for attention, or actual (yet invariably failed) suicide attempts). Mom and dad are forever at each others' throats, while their older son pines for a domestic normalcy that ain't happening anytime soon. One day mom simply announces she's splitting for Greece to "start a new life," pointedly without husband and children. This event rachets Leon's misbehaviors — which also encompass theft and vandalism — up a few notches. Set in kitschily-realized late 1960s Quebec suburbia, director Philippe Falardeau's adaptation of two linked novels by Bruno Hebert is a very deft mix of family dysfunction, preadolescent maladjustment (or maybe budding sociopathy), and anarchic comedy. (Harvey) 5:45 p.m., Sundance Kabuki. Also Sat/25, 2:45 p.m., Sundance Kabuki; Tues/28, 1 p.m., Sundance Kabuki.

SAT/25

Adoration (Atom Egoyan, Canada/France, 2008) When orphaned teenager Simon (Devon Bostick) writes a paper for French class in which he imagines himself as the son of real-life terrorists, his teacher (Arsinée Khanjian) tacitly encourages its being taken for fact. The resulting firestorm (largely taking place on the Web) raises questions about the boy's actual parents, free speech, religio-political martyrdom, and so forth. This is the first Atom Egoyan feature based on his own original story — as opposed to literary sources or historical incidents — in 15 interim years. While his fame has certainly risen in the interim, some of us haven't liked anything so well since that last one, 1994's Exotica. Adoration recalls such early efforts in the cool intellectual gamesmanship with which characters and technologies are manipulated toward a hidden truth. Yet provocative as it is, there's something overly elaborate and ultimately dissatisfying about his gambits that makes Adoration less than the sum of its parts. (Harvey) 6:15 p.m, Sundance Kabuki. Also Mon/27, 6:30 p.m., PFA.

Tulpan (Sergey Dvortsevoy, Kazakhstan/Switzerland/Germany/Russia/Poland, 2008) Possible new genre alert: the docu-comedy. Documenatarian Dvortsevoy turns his camera on his native Kazakhstan, and nothing depicted suggests anything Borat might've broadcast. The country's stark, southern steppes form the backdrop for a family of nomads, including married-with-children Samal and Ondas, and Samal's brother Asa, who returns from his Russian naval service longing for his own flock of sheep.

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