The 55th San Francisco International Film Festival’s final eight days find our venerable Castro Theatre hosting cinema royalty.
Dead Again British renaissance filmmaker Kenneth Branagh receives the Founder’s Directing Award, followed by a screening of his 1991 LA-set film noir. (Castro, 4/27, 7:30 p.m.)
The Novikoff Award Named for the Castro Theatre’s savior, the openly gay, genius programming showman Mel Novikoff, the award goes to French cinephile Pierre Rissient, followed by Fritz Lang’s noir gothic classic House by the River. (Castro, 4/28, 4 p.m.)
Twixt Francis Coppola’s latest is a small-town mystery starring Val Kilmer, in 3-D at the Castro Theatre. (Castro, 4/28, 7:30 p.m.)
Quadrophenia Sting’s acting debut is a highlight of The Who’s rock opera, drawing on the "angry young man" themes of the 1960s British New Wave. (Castro, 4/28, 10:30 p.m.)
Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey Director Ramona Diaz tells the YouTube Cinderella story of a poor Manila cover-band singer (Arnel Pineda) who is now lead singer for his favorite rock band, Journey. (Castro, Closing Night, 5/3, 7 p.m.)
The Third Man Director Carole Reed’s 1948 classic, which has a sizzling queer backstory and Orson Welles in his second-most acclaimed role, honors the San Francisco Film Society’s late executive director, Bingham Ray.
A cat plays with a fugitive’s shoes as the light from a window illuminates a genius working for wages. I’ve loved this Carol Reed-directed/Graham Greene-written thriller since I first heard the TV plug, "Orson Welles - tonight on The Late Show, Channel 2." Why do I still watch it every time it hits the tube? Let me count the ways: Welles ad-libbing his sinister cuckoo-clock joke. The viciously homophobic Joseph Cotten doubling down on the plight of a third-rate Western pulp writer with a sissy first name. David O. Selznick’s nagging suspicion that the Harry Lime/Holly Martins friendship was based on "sheer buggery." Greene biographer Michael Shelden’s asserts that "Selznick was close to the truth. [In the novel,] Martins has always loved Lime. And his love shows signs of repressed sexual desire. To Selznick’s relief, the ’buggery’ failed to come across in the film. [Casting] Cary Grant and Noel Coward might have [given the game away], but considerable imagination is needed to see Cotten and Welles as potential boyfriends."
Why did Bingham Ray love this extraordinary caper climaxing in post-WWII Vienna’s labyrinthine underground sewers? Possibly Reed’s intuitive grasp of Greene’s classic themes: smuggling - meaning masking one’s desires behind a moral facade - and betrayal. As for Ray, celebrated for championing edgy social comedies (Happiness, Igby Goes Down ), a full-blooded portrait emerges in Peter Biskind’s study of the American independent film movement, Down and Dirty Films. Ray "lived and breathed movies. ’I would come in from the [NYC] suburbs wearing a button-down shirt to the Elgin [Cinema] and sit next to a guy in a raincoat.’
"Ray chain-smoked Marlboros, loved to drink, and was a great storyteller, expansive and flamboyant. ’If you locked Bingham up alone in a closet, he’d pick a fight with himself.’" (Castro, 4/28, 1 p.m.)
17 Girls Directors Delphine & Muriel Coulin show an "accidental" pregnancy going viral in a small coastal French town. Inspired by actual events, the filmmakers focus on the special sisterhood that develops as 17-year-old girls, using their boyfriends like sperm banks and ignoring the outrage of parents and teachers, nurture their own little society: 15 births, and bonds that can barely be imagined. (Kabuki, 4/28; SF Film Society Cinema, 4/30, 5/2)
The Waiting Room In 1971, screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky imagined a 10th circle of hell, a big-city teaching hospital where God himself might perish without insurance. Now a powerful new documentary updates Chayefsky’s dystopian black comedy The Hospital.
"Let’s roll him over before we call it. Ready to call it: time of death is 20:16. The kid is how old?"
"Can his family view the body?"
"It’s a crime scene, and the body is part of the evidence. Sometimes the coroner will let the family view through a window."
Director Peter Nicks’ cameras witness America’s version of "socialized medicine," Oakland’s Highland Hospital, the last stop for desperately ill individuals unlucky enough to find themselves medically indigent or uninsured.
A 40ish black carpet-layer, complaining of severe back pain, self-medicates: three gallons of cranberry juice a day for a week, no results. Highland ER doctors say he has back spurs.
"How soon can I have surgery?"
"They’ll call you."
"More like a month."
"Even though I’m in pain and can’t work?"
A 20ish white vegan appears with medical tests (from Kaiser) indicating he has testicular cancer. "This is a major wake-up call." (Kabuki, 4/30, 5/1)
Guilty In director Vincent Garenq’s gripping update of Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man, a French bailiff, accused of sexually abusing kids by a family of total strangers, tries to cop a plea with a ruthlessly dishonest prosecutor. Philippe Torreton puts his body and your heart through the trials of Job, with a fate exceeding his worst nightmares. The film is based on a real case that exposed Kafkaesque flaws in the French justice system. (Kabuki, 4/27, Noon)
Pierre Rissient: Man of Cinema Unless you’ve tried to get a film shown at Cannes, you’ll probably never have heard of this cinema insider whose resume includes burnishing the reps of Clint Eastwood and Quentin Tarantino. Rissient’s stories about a one-eyed Fritz Lang and John Ford drunk out of his mind are blessedly in English and worth the price of admission. (SFFSC, 4/27; PFA, 4/30)
Somebody Up There Likes Me Director Bob Byington spoofs puerile comedies with a clueless Everyman who dies without aging. The flaws of this slick, shallow, soulless piece prove that mumblecore is not a lazy man’s game, vindicating fans of emotionally nimble talents like Andrew Bujalski, Kate Dollenmayer, Christian Rudder and Wiley Wiggins. Rent Funny Ha Ha or the sweet SF romance Sorry, Thanks instead. (Kabuki, 4/28, 5/1; SFFSC, 4/29)
Step Up to the Plate Director Paul Lacoste, attempting to prove that Jiro Dreams of Sushi was no flash in the pan, follows a generational shift in a Michelin-approved restaurant in SW France. (Kabuki, 4/27, 28; PFA, 4/29)