Short takes on SFIFF 2012, week two
Last Screening (Laurent Achard, France, 2011) A bit of an odd duck, 30-ish, nondescript Sylvain (Pascal Cervo) is in denial over the imminent closure of the small French repertory cinema he's operated and lived in for years. But that's hardly his most alarming mental hang-up: in his spare time he frequently goes around stalking and killing random women for a grisly purpose that has to do (of course) with his dear, departed, thoroughly demented mother. The only horror item in this year's slim SFIFF "Late Show" section, Laurent Achard's pulseless genre homage tips hat to 1960's Peeping Tom and other, less obvious cineastic objets d'amour — most conspicuously, Renoir's 1954 French Can Can, which is playing at Sylvain's theater — but doesn't seem interested in suspense, or psychology, or even style. It's coldly unpleasant yet dull. Wed/25, 9:30pm, FSC. Sat/28, 10pm, Kabuki. (Dennis Harvey)
Rebellion (Mathieu Kassovitz, France, 2011) The latest polemical film from the director of La Haine (1995) presents National Gendarmerie Intervention Group Captain Philippe Lejorus' account of his experiences during the 1988 New Caledonia hostage crisis. It's an election year in France, so all bets are off as to how the unfortunate fiasco will resolve. Striking camerawork distinguishes this tense, morally complex drama, which features Kassovitz as Lejorus, a humane negotiator in the midst of a politically charged battle for hearts, minds, and civil rights. The film is edited to embody its political context, with distancing effects such as voiceover and suddenly reframed shots that emphasize the two sides of a disagreement. Thu/26, 6pm; Tue/1, 9:45pm; May 3, 4:30pm, Kabuki. (Sam Stander)
Pierre Rissient: Man of Cinema (Todd McCarthy, U.S., 2007) Legendary French film publicist, programmer, director, and movie junkie Pierre Rissient gets his own filmic homage in this documentary from Hollywood Reporter critic Todd McCarthy (1992's Visions of Light). Rissient, who will receive the Mel Novikoff Award at this year's festival, is certainly a character — the round-faced septuagenarian oozes a puppy-dog cuddliness cut with a formidable intellect and a hint of tart, old-man pervy-ness. But this collection of talking heads interspersed with classic film clips is unfortunately a bit of a snooze. Considering said talking heads include cinematic firebrands like Werner Herzog and the late Claude Chabrol, and with a character passionate as Rissient at its center, that's surprising. "No one in the world of cinema can tell you what he does," Chabrol remarks. After watching the film you probably won't be able to figure it out either. Fri/27, 4pm, FSC. Mon/30, 6:30pm, PFA. (Michelle Devereaux)
Somebody Up There Likes Me (Bob Byington, U.S., 2012) A textbook illustration of what's so frequently right and wrong with Amerindie comedies today, Bob Byington's feature starts out near-brilliantly in a familiar, heightened Napoleon Dynamite-type milieu of ostensibly normal people as self-absorbed, socially hapless satellites revolving around an existential hole at the center in the universe. The three main ones meet working at a suburban steakhouse: Emotionally nerve-deadened youth Max (Keith Poulson), the even more crassly insensitive Sal (Nick Offerman), and nice but still weird Lyla (Teeth's estimable Jess Weixler). All is well until the film starts skipping ahead five years at a time, growing more smugly misanthropic and pointless as time and some drastic shifts in fortune do nothing to change (or deepen) the characters. Still, the performers are intermittently hilarious throughout. Sat/28, 6:45pm, Kabuki. Sun/29, 9:15pm, FSC. Tue/1, 6:15pm, Kabuki. (Harvey)
Hysteria (Tanya Wexler, U.S./England, 2011) Tanya Wexler's period romantic comedy gleefully depicts the genesis of the world's most popular sex toy out of the inchoate murk of Victorian quackishness. In this dulcet version of events, real-life vibrator inventor Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is a handsome young London doctor with such progressive convictions as a belief in the existence of germs. He is, however, a man of his times and thus swallows unblinking the umbrella diagnosis of women with symptoms like anxiety, frustration, and restlessness as victims of a plague-like uterine disorder known as hysteria. Landing a job in the high-end practice of Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), whose clientele consists entirely of dissatisfied housewives seeking treatments of "medicinal massage" and subsequent "parosysm," Granville becomes acquainted with Dalrymple's two daughters, the decorous Emily (Felicity Jones) and the first-wave feminist Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal). A subsequent bout of RSI offers empirical evidence for the adage about necessity being the mother of invention, with the ever-underused Rupert Everett playing Edmund St. John-Smythe, Granville's aristocratic friend and partner in electrical engineering. Tue/1, 9:30pm, Kabuki. May 3, 6pm, FSC. (Lynn Rapoport)
Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey (Ramona S. Diaz, U.S.) The director of 2003's Imelda returns with this portrait of a way more sympathetic Filipino celebrity: Arnel Pineda, plucked from obscurity via YouTube after Journey's Neil Schon spotted him singing with a Manila-based cover band. Don't Stop Believin' follows Pineda, who openly admits past struggles with homelessness and addiction, from audition to 20,000-seat arena success as Journey's charismatic new front man (he faces insta-success with an endearing combination of nervousness and fanboy thrill). He's also honest about feeling homesick, and the pressures that come with replacing one of the most famous voices in rock (Steve Perry doesn't appear in the film, other than in vintage footage). Especially fun to see is how Pineda invigorates the rest of Journey; as the tour progresses, all involved — even the band's veteran members, who've no doubt played "Open Arms" ten million times — radiate with excitement. Thu/3, 7pm, Castro. (Cheryl Eddy)
The San Francisco International Film Festival runs through May 3; most shows $13. Venues: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk.; SF Film Society Cinema, 1746 Post, SF; and Sundance Kabuki Cinema, 1881 Post, SF. More info at www.sffs.org .