April 29, 2009

SFIFF52: Tahoe, Our Month of Beloved August, Ferlinghetti

[Jeffrey Anderson offers up capsule looks at a few of the more intriguing films he saw this past week at the 52nd San Francisco International Film Festival. I reviewed two more here. - Craig Phillips]

Lake Tahoe
****½ out of *****

When Fernando Eimbcke made his directorial debut with the wonderful Duck Season, he immediately and frequently earned comparisons to Jim Jarmusch: black-and-white cinematography, deadpan humor, a distinct lack of forward momentum in the plot. He probably won't shake that comparison with his second feature, the full-color Lake Tahoe

Our Beloved Month of August
**** out of *****

This head-scratcher comes from Portuguese director Miguel Gomes. If the film is to be believed, he started out with a giant tome of a screenplay about a girl, and her cousin and her over-protective father, but was unable to raise the money to shoot it. So the movie starts like a documentary about rural Portugal, with colorful interviews and great footage of local bands performing on stage. (They look like small-town fishermen, shopkeepers and beer-drinkers rather than performers; can everybody in Portugal sing this well?) Then, at some point, some of the folks we've met begin to turn into movie characters -- a girl whose job is to sit atop a tower and watch for forest fires becomes the movie's heroine -- and we get our little story of illicit romance and other amorous troubles. Our Beloved Month of August is a very long 150 minutes, and it requires a great deal of patience before it starts making sense. It's unwieldy and often frustrating, but ultimately quite rewarding. The final scene is so lovely and mysterious that you'll leave with a smile.

*** out of *****

Bay Area-based filmmaker Christopher Felver directed this slight portrait of poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who has spent roughly the second half of his life living and working in San Francisco, running the totally independent City Lights Bookstore and publishing dozens of great books and poetry collections under the store's publishing wing. One of his first publications was Allan Ginsberg's once-controversial "Howl," which immediately plunked Ferlinghetti into all kinds of hot water. (According to the movie, Ferlinghetti took the bullet and went to trial while Ginsberg wasn't even in the country; fortunately the good guys won.) The movie also makes the argument that Ferlinghetti is the best known and most widely read of living poets; his Coney Island of the Mind has been in print consistently for fifty years. But at only 75 minutes, the film barely scratches the surface of the man. Talking heads tell us about events and some clips show him doing his stuff, but new footage of the 90-year-old Ferlinghetti is few and far between, and even that much comes across as more reverent than curious. Still, the movie does make you want to hang out at City Lights and read more poetry. -- Jeffrey M. Anderson

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Posted by cphillips at April 29, 2009 10:04 AM