Top pic picks - Page 5

SFIFF: Short takes on festival flicks

14-18: The Noise and the Fury

Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno (Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea, France, 2009) A painstaking craftsman who left nothing to chance, French suspense master Clouzot (1955's Diabolique, 1953's The Wages of Fear) decided to push his own envelope a little in 1964. He cast Serge Reggiani as a resort innkeeper who becomes pathologically, paranoically possessive of his gorgeous wife (Romy Schneider). Convincing himself she's having an affair, he gradually snaps tether — and the film itself would reflect that downward spiral by increasingly illustrating his mental stage in distortive image and sound. Unfortunately, the project also drove Clouzot mad in a way, as his grapplings at a new filmic language ran counter to the kind of creative discipline that normally storyboarded everything within an inch of its life. Shooting endless footage, spending endless money, he finally admitted defeat and abandoned ship. Never completed, the film's surviving pieces were restored for this absorbing unmaking-of documentary — even if the original clips, daring then but now looking like psychedelic kitsch, suggest Inferno would likely have been no masterpiece but a fascinating, instantly-dated failure. May 2, 1:45 p.m., Kabuki; May 5, 6:15 p.m., Kabuki. (Harvey)

Presumed Guilty (Roberto Hernández and Geoffrey Smith, Mexico, 2009) A fan of true crime TV programming, I all but take for granted that little coda at the end of each episode reminding viewers that the suspects shown are innocent until proven guilty. I sometimes forget that such rights are not the case in all countries, such as in Mexico where the criminal justice system employs a reverse practice requiring the accused to prove themselves innocent. In Presumed Guilty, filmmakers, lawyers, and UC Berkeley students Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete use rarely-seen, up-close footage of the Mexican trial process in their effort to exonerate a young Mexico City street vendor who is falsely accused of murder in 2005. The proceedings, which require the defendant to stand for hours on end and are performed sans jury, is riveting stuff for fans of those A&E true crime shows and is sure to ruffle the feathers of a few sympathetic humanitarians. May 2, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 3, 6:30 p.m., PFA; May 6, 3:15 p.m., Kabuki. (Peter Galvin)

Lebanon (Samuel Maoz, Israel, 2009) "Das Boot in a tank" has been the thumbnail summary of writer-director Samuel Maoz's film in its festival travels to date, during which it's picked up various prizes including a Venice Golden Lion. On the first day of Israel's 1982 invasion (which Maoz fought in), an Israeli army tank with a crew of three fairly green 20-somethings — soon joined by a fourth with even less battle experience — crosses the border, enters a city already halfway reduced to rubble, and promptly gets its inhabitants in the worst possible fix, stranded without backup. Highly visceral and, needless to say, claustrophobic (there are almost no exterior shots), Lebanon may for some echo The Hurt Locker (2009) in its intense focus on physical peril. It also echoes that film's lack of equally gripping character development. But taken on its own willfully narrow terms, this is a potent exercise in squirmy combat you-are-thereness. May 2, 9 p.m., Kabuki; May 5, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki. (Harvey)