Week Two: San Francisco International Film Festival

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WEDNESDAY, MAY 2

The Last Days of Yasser Arafat (Sherine Salama, Australia/Palestine, 2006)
When Australian filmmaker Salama finally does get to sit down with Yasser Arafat, she remarks that it’s the second-generation Palestinians who come back to their ancestral homeland. Salama, in any event, can’t seem to stay away; Last Days chronicles her two months-long attempts at interviewing Arafat in his Ramallah compound. The filmmaker has a weakness for stating the obvious and her visual style is nil, though her plight does open up a starkly comic portrait of Palestinian bureaucracy. Last Days is most compelling in its final minutes, when, without the voice-over, Salama documents Arafat’s coffin touching down in Ramallah, the helicopter swarmed by a startling crowd of thousands. 1:15 p.m., Kabuki; Sun/6, 6:15 p.m., Kabuki. (Max Goldberg)

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The Last Days of Yasser Arafat

THURSDAY, MAY 3

Fresh Air (Agnes Kocsis, Hungary, 2006)
Director Kocsis's debut film shares with Kontroll, 2003's big Hungarian import, unmitigated success in capturing the beauty of the Budapest Metro system. But where that earlier film dove head first into the shallow pool of hipster affectation and nearly cracked its head open, Fresh Air wades in only occasionally before returning to deeper waters. Smirking set-pieces (including the deadpan schmaltz of a singles dance performance, and a parody of an American-style revival meeting that must pack more punch to Hungarians for its exoticism) cede attention often and generously to the quietly strained cohabitation of a lonely subway bathroom attendant and her daughter, an aspiring fashion designer. What's most remarkable is that Kocsis takes a taciturn script about emotionally reticent people in drab circumstances, like Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll's Whisky, and wraps it in the giddy compositions and popsicle palette of Jane Campion's Sweetie. You'll be hard pressed to remember that most of the action takes place in a low-rent apartment, a hospital, and a toilet. 9:30 p.m., Kabuki; Sat/5, 6 p.m., Kabuki; Tues/8, 9:05 p.m., PFA. (Jason Shamai)

The Key of G (Robert Arnold, USA, 2006)
Gannet is a 22-year-old San Francisco native with Mowat-Wilson syndrome, a developmental disability that severely impairs his ability to assimilate or communicate information. Local filmmaker Robert Arnold documents Gannet's move from his mother's house into a Mission apartment where his caregivers will also be his roomies. It's a great subject for a film, but The Key of G sometimes feels like the polite version of the story. Gannet's daily routine is undoubtedly difficult and frustrating for him and the people he lives with, so quick and painless sequences pulled from that routine don't convey how the household must really operate. (See 2003's My Flesh and Blood for an education in the trials of a caregiver.) Gannet's roommates clearly take pleasure in their work, and the film is at its best when it lets the camera linger on its subjects and we're allowed to see how the relationships have learned to function through alternative means. Some great shots of the Mission, too. Key of G plays with Outsider: The Art and Life of Judith Scott, about a successful local sculptor with Down Syndrome. 1:30 p.m., Kabuki; Sat/5, 12:45 p.m., Kabuki. (Shamai)

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The Key of G

Orange Revolution (Steve York, USA, 2007) While the rest of the world was marveling at the state of 2004 Ukrainian presidential candidate Victor Yushchenko’s face - which went from handsome to disfigured seemingly overnight after he was mysteriously poisoned - his supporters were mobilizing to defeat the establishment’s sabotage of their candidate. Election fraud doesn’t even begin to describe what was going on here - let’s just say America’s hanging chads seem rather insignificant by comparison. If you follow world politics, you already know the outcome, but as Orange Revolution traces the tense days surrounding the vote, the mass protests mounted by team Yushchenko supply hope that “power to the people” remains a phrase with some practical merit. 3:45 p.m., Kabuki; Sun/6, 8:45 p.m., Kabuki; Thurs/10, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki. (Cheryl Eddy)

Revolution Summer (Miles Matthew Montalbano, USA, 2007)
Local filmmaker Montalbano dresses up his debut with bold Godardian intertitles, though the interspersed scenes themselves aren’t nearly so punchy. They monotonously unfold as two-person dialogs, overstuffed with pregnant pauses (more screenwriting stopgaps than evocative silences) which slow this portrait of restless youth to a halt. Revolution Summer features some appealingly gritty camerawork, and one can’t help but admire its young director’s attempt to revive French New Wave technique and jump-start some kind of homegrown chronicle of life during Iraq, but Montalbano’s characterizations are simply too blunt—the naïve, fast-talking revolutionary; the “live-fast-die-young” vixen; the heart-of-gold, head-in-the-sand innocent—to take root. 9:15 p.m., Kabuki. (Goldberg)

FRIDAY, MAY 4

Cold Prey (Roar Uthaug, Norway, 2006) The chilly reception is literal for doomed protagonists in Roar Uthaug¹s Norwegian slasher pic, which makes excellent widescreen use of spectacular snowy mountain-range locations. Five gonzo skiers venturing into virgin backcountry take shelter at a seemingly abandoned lodge. Surprise! Somebody is indeed home, and he tends to greet uninvited guests with a lethally heavy hand. This is pure Halloween redux yet again, but the likable performers, convincing crises and unique setting heft it a bloody cut above the genre¹s mediocre norm. Midnight, Kabuki; Tues/8, 1:30 p.m., Kabuki. (Dennis Harvey)

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Cold Prey

Punk’s Not Dead (Susan Dynner, USA, 2006) “Punk rock died when the first kid said, ‘Punk’s not dead,’” sang the Silver Jews, but Susan Dynner’s doc would really like to convince you otherwise. After blazing through Punk History 101 (basically an annotated version of last year’s American Hardcore, but with UK bands as well), Punk’s Not Dead segues into second- and third-generation bands. While the doc dares to argue that groups who play the corporate-supported Warped Tour aren’t really sellouts, it earns points for counterbalancing coverage of today’s Hot Topic-flavored, radio-friendly brand of pop-punk with stories of crusty veterans who’re still living by their principles, including the Subhumans’ Dick Lucas. But I’ll be a snob anyway: I don’t want ketchup on my steak, and I don’t want Good Charlotte (interviewed here) anywhere near my punk rock. 6:30 p.m.; Kabuki; Tues/8, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki (Eddy)

SATURDAY, MAY 5

A Walk to Beautiful (Mary Olive Smith, Ethiopia/USA, 2006)
If five percent of all births require assistance, than you can only imagine the number of damaged mothers out there who endured an endangered childbirth without medical attention. The women in A Walk to Beautiful suffer from obstetric fistula – a tear between the vaginal wall and bladder that leaves them perpetually incontinent. Believing “Nothing worse can happen,” they journey towards the Addis Ababa fistula hospital, where they find a community of similarly afflicted women and begin healing. This is a strikingly poignant film about rebirth with an oddly conservative reliance on the idea of natural order. It is not as feminist as you might expect, but certainly eye opening. 1 p.m., PFA; Sun/6, 12:30 p.m., Kabuki; Wed/9, 3 p.m., Kabuki. (Sara Schieron)

SUNDAY, MAY 6

Sugar Curtain (Camila Guzman Urzua, France/Spain, 2006) A documentary about the decline of socialist Cuba, Sugar Curtain is not what you might expect. Children in the golden age of Cuba had a blessed elementary education. When the Soviet Union separated, these “Builders of the Future” faced major cuts in the national resources. The golden generation was highly programmed (as are we) by a political philosophy tinged with mythos; and they too call their philosophy freedom. As the filmmaker’s classmates have largely left Cuba for more fertile pastures, this film leaves you with the feeling that emigration could be Cuba’s future. It’s challenging to see this anguished and affectionate film end on that note but the complications of caring for a nation that can’t care back is a big part of what makes this film so engaging, and ultimately, so tearing. 3 p.m., PFA; Tues/8, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki; Thurs/10, 3:45 p.m., Kabuki. (Schieron)

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Sugar Curtain

MONDAY, MAY 7

The Rape of Europa (Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen, and Nicole Newnham, USA/France/Italy/Austria/Germany/Poland/Russia, 2006) This classy documentary by a trio of Bay Area filmmakers investigates the devastation World War II wrought on Europe’s art treasures - everything from priceless paintings to culturally iconic architecture. The story of Klimt’s gold portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer - appropriated by Nazis from the Jewish family that commissioned it, then kept by the Austrian government post-war - bookends a detailed, thought-provoking film filled with vintage footage, eyewitness accounts, the insights of historians, and unprecedented museum access. The few stories of restitution do little to counterbalance the astonishing realization of all that was lost, much of it to Hitler’s cronies, but a good amount to Allied bombs as well. 6:30 p.m., Kabuki; Tues/8, 12:30 p.m., Fri/4, 2:45 p.m., Kabuki. (Eddy)

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The Rape of Europa

TUESDAY, MAY 8

Times and Winds (Reha Erdem, Turkey, 2006)
Writer-director Reha Erdem uses the five daily calls to prayer to structure his thick coming-of-age portrait set in the bucolic reaches of his native Turkey. Times and Winds is concerned with those things which always color these kinds of stories—awakenings, accidents, and the cruelness of fathers—but with a such a majestic sense of the quotidian that it feels a cut above. Erdem plays the humdrum of rural life against sweeping widescreen panoramas (shot in golden glory by Florent Herry) and orchestral swells, and while the floating camera sometimes seems needlessly baroque, we remain acutely attuned to the film’s trials of adolescence. 8:30 p.m., Kabuki; Wed/9, 6:15 p.m., Thurs/10, 7 p.m., PFA. (Goldberg)

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