May 5, 2005

SFIFF. Two recommendations.

The San Francisco International Film Festival wraps tonight with The Dying Gaul and a party. Craig Phillips has two recommendations for you. Catch them if you can.

SFIFF With a move scheduled right smack dab in the middle of this year's San Francisco International Film Festival, I've felt like a spectral presence existing only on the periphery of the event instead of really living it. Next year I hope to be more consistently absorbed in the whole thing. But I've seen some fine films, and hope to see a couple more before it's all over. It's obvious that what the festival lacks in (who cares) premieres, it made up for in a diverse program of international treasures. I only wonder if it might not be better for the SFIFF to consider once again shifting to a different time of year - either much earlier, mid-January perhaps, when the days here are short and wet, and there's no Cherry Blossom fest in the neighborhood to eat up parking, or just a little earlier in the season. At any rate, two films worth seeing...

Up Against Them All

The Brazilian film Up Against Them All (which sounds eerily like "up against the wall") was not surprisingly co-produced by Fernando Meirelles, co-director of City of God (with Kátia Lund, who is frequently forgotten and undercredited), for while it's not quite in that film's league in terms of cinematic virtuosity, it shares with both an immediacy and a depiction of the rampant hopelessness of living in Brazilian urbanity.

Up Against Them All

Director Roberto Moreira explained in an interview that he changed the title from the original "God Against All," which was coined by Mario de Andrade for his book, and was later used by Werner Herzog as the subtitle for his Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (Every Man for Himself and God Against All), he removed it because he thought it inclined the film too much toward religious issues, which was not his intention. However, it's hard to overlook the fact that religion carries a major thread through the film - the woman Teodoro (Giulio Lopes) hopes will save him and take him away from the life of darkness and crime into which he'd fallen is a devout Catholic, characters pray for the ill, and in the film's creepy final scene, recite a line from scripture at a wedding - this may not be City of God, but this place is a city of Jesus, with people scrambling for whatever hope they can amidst the monetary stresses and crime. Tension between Teodoro, his daughter Sonhina, and his second wife, her stepmother, Claudia (the striking Leona Cavalli), forms the triangular plot, as each of them leads a secret life of sorts away from the others - but Teodoro's turn to crime being the most violent, and ultimately leading to the fairly shocking conclusion (although the film definitely gives all the earmarks throughout of being one that likely won't end happily). Dioniso Neto is also great as Teodoro's cohort, but with a greater life, if not hope, still in him, and who also has an affair with Sonhina. While the narrative has some gaps, and the final montage struck me as a bit of a left-field cheat, the film still packs a wallop. Filmed in documentary style, with a single, hand-held camera on location, Up is at once immediate and fresh while also harkening back to Brazil's own Cinema Novo movement, of which City of God could be inspiring a second wave. Despite its connections, Up Against Them All may not see a Stateside release, and that'd be a shame.

Me and You and Everyone We Know

Me and You and Everyone We Know
Miranda July is a lithe presence but that she commands the screen isn't the real surprise of Me and You and Everyone We Know; it's how well she controls things behind the camera. DP Chuy Chavez (who also did excellent DV work on Chuck and Buck) certainly should get some of the credit for the assured look, on HD, but it's July's easy way with the actors, both adult and child, and the delicate handling of the material that won me over. Even though the script features a multi-character overlay, it's not at all Altman territory; the characters whose lives intersect here do so in a closer, less hopeless manner, and it takes a particular interest in the many child characters. The kids are portrayed with kindness and empathy, and even though this perches the film on the edge of cloying, it never crosses over in a film in which even the perversity is good-natured. I'd just seen John Hawkes in Deadwood on DVD, so it was briefly disconcerting to see him a long way from the Old West, but he's quite well-cast as the befuddled just-separated dad of two mixed-raced children who give him the silent treatment and are often one step ahead of him. But it's his scenes with July that carry the most weight, particularly a wonderfully crafted scene in which they've just officially met and are walking down the street to their respective cars, wondering aloud how their lives together would play out with the distance of their walk forming a microcosm for that potential. It's also great to see veteran actress Ellen Geer in a brief but memorable role as a dying woman. The film also features one of the most suspenseful scenes involving a goldfish, ever, and what is certainly one of the funniest internet chat/IM scenes in a film, putting Closer's to shame. Me and You and Everyone We Know could be considered a "small" movie, in a good way, for while it may not offer up a ton of drama, it has a huge heart. It's a film about people trying to communicate with each other and the rest of the planet, managing to be both magical and grounded at the same time. No small feat.



Bookmark and Share

Posted by dwhudson at May 5, 2005 4:04 AM