What to watch

The Guardian staff's short takes on the San Francisco International Film Fest's must-sees

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Kelly Reichardt's new frontier story Meek's Cutoff tilts decisively toward socially-minded existentialism

THURS/21

Beginners (Mike Mills, U.S., 2010) There is nothing conventional about Beginners, a film that starts off with the funeral arrangements for one of its central characters. That man is Hal (Christopher Plummer), who came out to his son Oliver (Ewan McGregor) at the ripe age of 75. Through flashbacks, we see the relationship play out — Oliver's inability to commit tempered by his father's tremendous late-stage passion for life. Hal himself is a rare character: an elderly gay man, secure in his sexuality and, by his own admission, horny. He even has a much younger boyfriend, played by the handsome Goran Visnjic. While the father-son bond is the heart of Beginners, we also see the charming development of a relationship between Oliver and French actor Anna (Melanie Laurent). It all comes together beautifully in a film that is bittersweet but ultimately satisfying. Beginners deserves praise not only for telling a story too often left untold, but for doing so with grace and a refreshing sense of whimsy. Thurs/21, 7 p.m., Castro. (Louis Peitzman)

 

FRI/22

The Good Life (Eva Mulvad, Denmark, 2010) Portraits of the formerly wealthy are often guilty of peddling secondhand nostalgia for some ancien regime while simultaneously stoking schadenfreude toward the now-deposed (just ask Vanity Fair). Eva Mulvad's melancholy character study of 50-something Annemette Beckmann and her aged mother, Mette, avoids both traps even as her subjects — formerly wealthy Danish expats living on the dole in a cramped apartment in a coastal Portuguese town — offer few inroads for sympathy. Narcissistic and petulant, Annemette blames the loss of her family's wealth on the 1974 nationalization of Portugal's then-Communist government, and claims that her cosseted upbringing has made it hard to find a job ("Work doesn't become me," she gratingly protests at one point). Mette, who is more likeable, is a resigned realist whose sole comfort, aside from the pet dog, seems to be her knowledge that she is not long for this world. Comparisons to Grey Gardens (1975) are inevitable here, but the Beckmanns simply aren't as interesting or possessed by as idiosyncratic a joie de vivre as the Beales, making The Good Life a tough slog. Fri/22, 3:45 p.m.; April 28, 6:45 p.m.; and May 1, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki. (Matt Sussman)

Hahaha (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea, 2010) Do you remember a time you behaved badly (not horribly, but bad enough that you felt ashamed) but you didn't really think about it until long after the fact, say, when getting drinks with an old friend? If you can't, than the latest from South Korean director Hong Sang-soo will probably jog your memory. As with many of Hong's films, Hahaha's premise is similar to the above scenario: two 30-something buds get together and reminisce about their recent trips to the same seaside town. Shown in episodic flashbacks, we start to realize that the incidents and players in their separate accounts overlap into one story filled with terrible poetry, domineering mothers, stalker-ish behavior, and poorly made choices. Hong's films are primers in how not to treat your fellow human beings (straight dudes are usually the culprits), so take notes. Fri/22, 9:15 p.m.; Mon/25, 9 p.m.; and Tues/26, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki. (Sussman)