Short takes: SFIFF week two - Page 2

Prince Avalanche, Computer Chess, The Strange Little Cat, Waxworks, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and more picks from the huge fest

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Computer Chess

Salma (Kim Longinotto, England/India, 2012) Kept like a prisoner in her in-laws' house for more than two decades, Salma is more than the most famed woman poet writing in the Tamil language. She's also an archetypal South Indian woman of her time and place: married as a teen despite her desire to read and write poetry, her body controlled by her husband and family, and her freedom constricted to the point where she was once forced to write on scraps of paper in the toilet and to smuggle her verse out to have it published. What follows is the stuff of fairy tales, as Salma evolves into a politician and heroine who speaks for those otherwise muffled by their burkas and smothered by circumstance. Documentarian Kim Longinotto keeps a close eye on the oppressive culture that once harbored the writer — and inspired her to express herself — yet also takes the time to notice Tamil Nadu's many small instances of beauty, in mutable pink and purple skies, a gold-flecked green sari, and showy weddings that mark both the beginning, and end, for so many young girls. Documentarian Longinotto whets one's appetite for more of Salma's words, while upholding her story's relevance amid rising consciousness concerning the rights of all women in India. Thu/2, 6:15pm, Kabuki; Sat/4, 2pm, PFA; Sun/5, 3:45pm, New People. (Chun)

Computer Chess (Andrew Bujalski, US, 2013) Mumblecore maestro Andrew Bujalski (2002's Funny Ha Ha; 2005's Mutual Appreciation) makes his first period picture, kinda, with this stubbornly, gloriously retro saga set at an early-1980s computer-chess tournament (with a few ventures into the freaky couples-therapy seminar being held at the same hotel). The technology is dated, both on and off-screen, as hulking machines with names like "Tsar 3.0" and "Logic Fortress" battle for nerdly supremacy as a cameraman, wielding the vintage cameras that were actually used to film the feature, observes. Tiny dramas highlighting the deeply human elements lurking amid all that computer code emerge along the way, and though the Poindexters (and the grainy cinematography) are authentically old-school, the humor is wry and awkwardly dry — very 21st century. Keep an eye out for indie icon Wiley Wiggins, last seen hiding from Ben Affleck's hazing techniques in 1993's Dazed and Confused, as a stressed-out programmer. Thu/2, 9pm, and Sat/4, 4pm, Kabuki. (Cheryl Eddy)

The Cleaner (Adrián Saba, Peru, 2011) An austere take on substitute-parental bonding dressed in apocalyptic sci-fi clothing, Adrián Saba's Peruvian feature finds the world ending not with a bang but with a sickly whimper. (If you've ever breathed the toxic air or looked at the shit-brown sea around Lima, you'll find this pretty credible.) A middle-aged loner (Victor Prada) tasked with cleaning up the death sites of citizens felled by a fatal epidemic finds a surviving young boy (Adrian Du Bois) in one such apartment. Their forced, awkward pairing — because the death toll is so high city services can no longer taken in another orphan — is poignant and terse in what's a minimalist companion to the underrated 2008 adaptation of José Saramago's plague saga Blindness. Sat/4, 6:15pm, Kabuki; Tue/7, 8:40pm, PFA; May 9, 8:30pm, Kabuki. (Harvey)

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