The 2012 San Francisco International Film Festival  wrapped up last week, but we're still basking in the glow of cinema overload. Festival correspondent Jesse Hawthorne Ficks chimes in with part one of his fest impressions. (And if you're feeling post-SFIFF withdrawal, fear not: Frameline  is just around the corner!)
Alps  (Yorgos Lanthimos, Greece, 2011) This follow-up to 2010's beyond-disturbing Dogtooth falls right in line with director Yorgos Lanthimos' motifs: young teens following the demands of off-kilter adults, resulting in utterly confusing and deeply disturbing scenarios. Some audience members left feeling mystified ("That's it?! That movie was a complete waste of time. I hate this festival!") but oddly enough, I was hypnotized by every left-of-center shot, each non-sequitur cut, and all of the character's desperate decisions. This world is a dark and troubling place, and I can't wait for Lanthimos' next film.
Bernie  (Richard Linklater, US, 2012) "This is my Jack Black black-comedy!" So sayeth Texas-based indie pioneer Richard Linklater in his introduction, and indeed, this deceptively disturbing true story showcases some of Black's most impressive work to date, playing the nicest, most accommodating mortician in all of East Texas. Linklater layers his Black cake with some of the most genuine fast-talking, small-town Texans ever put to celluloid; just as John Waters has represented Baltimore with his own twisted point of view (or Gus Van Sant has for Portland, Ore.), Linklater continues to find love in all the right corners of the Lone Star State. While Bernie is small in scale, it's an American film that's not to be missed. Plus, Black yet again delivers some truly memorable songs. This time it's hymns! Note: Bernie comes out theatrically in the Bay Area May 18.
The Do-Deca-Pentathalon  (Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass, US, 2012) Following up their surprise existential classic Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2011), the Duplass Brothers are doing what they do best ... writing what they know. Like Cyrus (2010), Baghead (2008), and The Puffy Chair (2005), these mumblecore creators find beauty in our modern era's simplicities. This time, it's two brothers' life-long competition, which has led them to a mid-thirty something standstill. This film — most definitely the BFF of Adam McKay's Step Brothers  (2006) — enables these two schlemiels to tackle not only each other but some pretty serious subject matter. Future generations will point to the Duplass Brothers' morality tales as this decade's most neo-realist entries.
The Exchange  (Eran Kolirin, Israel/Germany, 2011) It is not often that a movie can evoke the response, "That film changed the way I saw the world for days after." But Eran Kolirin's The Exchange is that rare kind of film that if you stick with it (a handful of people walked out during a 9:15pm Sunday screening) the astoundingly visionary concept will truly reinvent how you see the world, and perhaps give you new direction on how to live your life. And as many brought up in the surprisingly aggressive post-film Q&A, these might not be pleasant realizations! Minimalist, abstract, hilarious, and revolutionary all at the same time, Kolirin has crafted a transcendental film that will be a genuine cult classic. Keep your eyes open for any post-fest opportunity to see it on a big screen: it's the stuff movie theaters were made for.