San Francisco International Film Festival 2002
The 45th San Francisco International Film
Festival took place from April 18 to May 2, 2002. Of the 186 films
total (according to the trailer), I saw the 10 that played in Menlo Park
plus 4 in San Francisco. They are listed below in descending order of preference.
Any comments on this page should be addressed to Mike Weston at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kevin Spacey interview
and tribute, 4/24/2002:
link, 2001, seen 4/28/2002, 1:40, in French with subtitles):
This film tells what I gather is the true story of the relationship between
the French author (and screenwriter, director, and even composer)
Duras and a much younger man, Yann
Andréa, based on his novel. Many people wrote to her, but Yann's
frequent letters stood out. After some time, he went to meet her, and ended
up living with her. She was a woman of extreme and rapid mood swings, and
yet somehow Yann is able to weather these storms. Marguerite is played
exquisitely by Jeanne
Moreau. There was one particular transition that she made from one
emotion to another, using only her facial expression, that simply blew
me away, and the film is well worth seeing just based on the strength of
her performance. From what I can tell on IMDb,
Moreau has actually worked in films with the character she is playing
here, which gives additional credibility to her portrayal.
link, English title: The Princess Blade, 2001, seen 4/29/2002,
1:32, in Japanese with subtitles):
The background needed to truly follow the story is given quickly at the
start of the film. Too quickly for me to absorb, but happily that doesn't
interfere too much with enjoying the film. Yuki is one of a band of assassins
whose mother was killed before the film begins, leaving her as the princess-elect,
or something like that. She tries to leave the group and is chased by the
others, who don't like to take the chance of any of their secrets being
revealed. The fight style is very much like Hong Kong sword films, which
is not surprising given that the action choreography is done by Donnie
Yen, who also choreographed Iron
Monkey, among other films. Unlike some Hong Kong films, the cinematography
here is beautiful, with some very striking compositions, and the melodrama
seems a bit thicker. Some minor faults include a main character who doesn't
physically seem capable of what she does, some mildly uneven pacing, and
some fairly graphic violence in two or three places. But on the whole this
is great fun and is highly recommended.
with Sharks (,
link, 1994, seen 4/24/2002, 1:41):
Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey)
is a Vice President at a major Hollywood studio, and Guy (Frank
Whaley) is his new assistant, replacing Rex (Benicio
Del Toro). Buddy treats his assistants like dirt (for example, telling
Guy at one point that some pencils are more important than he is), but
Guy puts up with it because Buddy's assistants (including Rex) all move
on to bigger and better things. The one other significant character is
a producer named Dawn Lockard (Michelle
Forbes), who also abuses Guy when they first meet until she finds out
that he works for Buddy, which she knows is bad enough. The story is actually
told in flashback, from when Guy has taken Buddy hostage, in a scenario
somewhat reminiscent of Nine
to Five. But while that film is a fairly conventional comedy, this film is
a pitch black comedy, and is not for all tastes. What makes it all work is Kevin
Spacey, who you can really believe is a monster given
how well he inhabits the Buddy character. The writing, by the director
(George Huang, who
was once such an assistant himself), is also very good, and apparently
is real enough that many people have thought that the Buddy character is
based on their bosses, even though he is really a composite of many people.
calle (, SFFS
link, English title: Streeters, 2001, seen 4/24/2002, 1:25,
in Spanish with subtitles):
This is a film set in present day Mexico City, where the teen aged main
characters have little to live for except maybe drugs and sex. The main
character is named Rufino, who learns that his father might be alive, and
even though he had always been told otherwise, he becomes obsessed with
finding him. Near the beginning of the film he comes into some drug money
that shouldn't really be his, so he tells his girlfriend Xóchitl
that she, her son, and Rufino can get away from the city, perhaps to see
the ocean for the first time. But no one in this film really goes anywhere.
Wheel that they ride near the beginning of the film is the perfect
image, since it goes around and around, but there is no real escape. Everyone
is just getting by, living day to day. The acting by Maya
Zapata (Xóchitl) and Luis
Fernando Peña (Rufino) is excellent, and the rest of the young
cast is also very natural. The camera is mostly handheld and the feel is
very realistic and gritty. The first time director
was not at the screening, but the SFFS
person did read some comments from him, which included the words "open
wound." I think that sums up the film, which is worth seeing but is certainly
ganda (, SFFS
link, English title: One Fine Spring Day, 2001, seen 4/21/2002,
1:56, in Korean with subtitles):
This isn't a film about plot, so I'll concentrate on describing the main
characters. Sang-Woo is a single sound engineer living with his family.
Eun-su is a radio show host who lives about 4 hours away, by herself in
a small, somewhat messy apartment. They meet to record the sound of wind
in a bamboo forest for her radio show, and a relationship develops between
them. The film observes them over the course of the changing seasons in
Korea, starting in the Spring both in terms of the calendar and their relationship.
The pace is deliberate, and the characters don't really change much, but
the film is beautiful and, not surprisingly, lovely to listen to, and it's
definitely worth seeing. I think that the male lead (Ji-tae
Yu) is particularly good in his role. My understanding is that the
film won the top prize at Korea's equivalent to the Academy Awards. The
earlier showing at the festival was the U.S. premiere. The director was
present to answer questions, through an interpreter, and one of his responses
indicated that viewers who are more experienced in love tend to identify
with the female lead, while those less experienced see themselves in the
menneske, Et (,
link, English title: Truly Human, 2001, seen 5/1/2002, 1:35,
in Danish with subtitles):
Walther and Charlotte are a not-so-happily married couple with a daughter
named Lisa, and would have had an older son if they hadn't chosen to abort
him. Lisa imagines that her brother lives inside the wall of their apartment.
As this Dogme95 film opens, the building
that they live in is about to be torn down, and when it is torn down, we
see someone crawl out of the rubble. He thinks he is Walther and Charlotte's
son and he appears to be in his early 20's, but he doesn't know his own
name or have any idea about even the most simple aspects of daily life.
How this simple man interacts with the not-so-simple world is reminiscent
of Chauncey Gardner in Being
There, while the strange aspects of his origins makes it feel just
a little like The Sixth Sense.
This fantasy aspect makes this an unusual Dogme95 film, and would seem
to break rule #8 (genre movies). It seems likely to me that rule #2 (sound)
was also broken at times, and I'm not sure about #5 (optical work and filters).
As far as the acting, which is normally what makes or breaks a Dogme95
film, the parents and other "normal" people were fairly good, while the
main character was a bit weak. If you're a fan of Dogme95 films or if the
description sounds intriguing, this film is definitely worth seeing.
link, 2002, seen 4/30/2002, 1:25):
Tilda Swinton plays
Rosetta Stone, a biogeneticist, who invents a way to create Self-Replicating
Automatons, and she secretly creates three of them using her own DNA. The
three are named Ruby, Olive, and Marine (all also played by Swinton, with
clothes and makeup matching the colors that are their names, for easy audience
identification). They regularly need male sperm to survive, and Ruby has
been programmed to go out into the real world to get it, while the other
two SRAs stay in permanent seclusion. Complications ensue, although the
film does feel like it was stretched out a bit longer than the material
warranted. It was all great fun, mind you, as well as inventive and slickly
produced, but it just didn't feel like there was too much below the surface.
was at the screening to answer questions. She indicated that the idea started
as a joke, and came out of the Frankenstein story. It was shot in 20 days
on high definition, 24 frames/second progressive video (aka "24P"), which
made the extensive digital compositing easier. The budget was under $2
million. It is expected to be released in the Fall, and there was also
talk of a DVD, which will be direct from the digital sources rather than
scanned from the film.
vcely (, SFFS
link, English title: The Wild Bees, 2001, seen 4/24/2002, 1:34,
in Czech with subtitles):
The main character is named Kaja, who lives with his father (who is obsessed
with religion, in a humorously philosophical way) and grandmother. His
(presumably older) brother is Petr, who is home after dropping out of college.
Kaja has a crush on Bozhka, who has a child and is attached to Ladya, who
in turn does a killer Michael Jackson imitation, which reminds me to mention
that the film has a good soundtrack. The first time director,
Slama, was at the screening to answer questions. He indicated that
many of the actors had not acted previously, and that the budget was much less
than $1 million. He said that yes, they did drink extensively during the shooting,
and that one of the messages of the film is the danger of
losing your traditions and roots. The title is apparently related to love
and to the need bees have to live together in hives. I'm not familiar with
other Czech films, but apparently there are many references here to many
other Czech films, including The
Fireman's Ball. This is a sweet film that I was glad to have seen,
but be warned that it doesn't really have much of a conclusion. The earlier
showing at the festival was the North American premiere.
mes lèvres (,
link, English title: Read My Lips, 2001, seen 4/28/2002, 1:55,
in French with subtitles):
Carla is a secretary who is essentially deaf without her hearing aids.
When she finds herself overloaded at work, she is able to hire Paul to
help her out. Paul is just out of jail, and his past is not entirely behind
him. To say too much more about the story, which has many twists, would
be a mistake. The most interesting thing about this film for me is how
sound is used to indicate when Carla can hear and when she can't -- a sort
of "point of hear" (like point of view). The early scenes that set this
up, as well as the early character development of Carla and Paul, was more
interesting to me than the twists and turns later on, some of which were
hard to follow and/or stretched credibility a bit. There is also some unpleasant
violence. Back to the positive side, the cinematography was very good.
The film is worth seeing, but perhaps not seeking out.
shu heng (, SFFS
link, English title: Go for Broke, 2001, seen 4/28/2002, 1:27,
in Chinese with subtitles):
This film feels like a documentary, but isn't, quite. The actors all generally
play themselves in their own lives, at the original locations with natural
light. The story is of a group of Chinese workers in Shanghai who are laid
off by the various companies that they worked for. They form a construction
company using some savings and lots of borrowed money, and find the business
to have some rather significant ups and downs. There are numerous humorous
scenes, such as when they decide to save money by moving some boards to
an upper floor apartment themselves, and then find that the boards are
too long to be taken up the stairs (their solution is funny, but exhausting).
The down moments are also done well, but are somewhat difficult to watch
since by then you find yourself rooting for them to succeed. The look of
the film is of a documentary, with extensive if not exclusive use of handheld
cameras, but it was shot on film rather than video. The earlier showing
at the festival was the U.S. premiere.
La (, SFFS
link, 2001, seen 5/1/2002, 1:27, in Spanish, Italian, and English with
Lucía is a 14-year-old girl living in Australia with her beautiful
Spanish mother, Lola (the title refers to her and means "Spanish woman"),
while her Italian father (named Ricardo) has run off with an Australian
woman. Lola is a woman of fiery emotions, which she demonstrates very quickly
by throwing herself on top of and then in front of the car as Ricardo attempts
to drive off. She wants him back, or at least for him to pay her bills,
and failing that she wants revenge. Lucía would just like a normal
family and to spend time with the family chickens and the goat named Elvis.
But that barely gives a hint of the flavor of the film, which is very quirky,
often darkly humorous, and sometimes dramatic. I enjoyed individual
bits (Lourdes Bartolomé
steals the scenes she's in as Lucía's aunt Manola), but on the whole
it didn't really work for me. Still, there's enough here to give it a mild
recommendation. This was Australia's nomination for the best foreign language
film of 2001, which is an interesting concept in that Australia is an English
speaking country, but this is in fact a foreign language film. It is currently
playing in Europe, but the director (who was at the screening to introduce
it but not for questions) does not expect it to get distribution in the
de la tendresse humaine, Le (,
link, English title: The Milk of Human Kindness, 2000, seen
4/29/2002, 1:33, in French with subtitles):
Christelle recently gave birth to her third child, and one day is overwhelmed
with motherhood and simply runs away. She ends up in the upstairs apartment
of Claire, who is very sympathetic and lets Christelle stay even though
she was planning to have a romantic evening with her married lover. Christelle's
husband is forced to take care of the children, not knowing where she has
gone. As the hours turn to days, Claire begins to wonder how long Christelle
is going to continue imposing, and Christelle's husband also finds the
situation increasingly difficult. There are also other characters who make
the story more complex, but, at least for me, didn't add much to the film.
The acting by the adults is fine but nothing special, while the children
seemed quite natural. On the whole I would only recommend the film to people
with a particular interest in the subject matter.
de los hombres, La (,
link, English title: The Ruination of Men, 2000, seen 4/30/2002,
1:46, in Spanish with subtitles):
As the film opens, we see two men preparing to ambush a third man, who
is walking along a trail with a wheelbarrow. They kill him, take him to
a house, and steal his fancy boots. Later we are introduced to the victim's
widow and his girlfriend. To me, the film started slow, and didn't
become very interesting until at least halfway through, although it was
often funny throughout. Near the end we see the opening scene again, with
context to understand better what was really happening. This dark comedy
is filmed in a dusty looking black and white. It's possible that if I had
been less tired that I would have liked it better, but as it stands I can
only give it a very marginal recommendation.
Paolo Pasolini (,
link, 2001, seen 4/28/2002, 1:30, in Italian and French with subtitles):
I'm sure if I knew anything about the director profiled in this documentary,
I would have gotten more out of it. Pasolini
was a poet, philosopher (very leftist and Marxist), and a filmmaker who
tended to make films with rather provocative images. His final film was
(the DVD of which is so rare that it recently sold for $700
on eBay), based on the work of The Marquis
de Sade, and Pasolini was murdered shortly after it was made. This
documentary didn't feel like a documentary to me, seeming to deal more
with presenting Pasolini's philosophy and words than with documenting his
life. The look of the film was also a major distraction, looking at times
like it was shot on old 8 mm film, transferred to VHS, and then transferred
back to film for projection. Really, at times it was so fuzzy that you
weren't sure what you were seeing, and I don't think that was an intentional
effect. This is not recommended except to fans of the subject.
I've generally admired Kevin Spacey's ability to pick good
films to work in, and so when I heard that the San
Francisco Film Society was planning to give him the Peter
J. Owens Award, I decided to attend. The evening was structured as
an interview, then questions from the audience, and finally a screening
of the film Swimming with Sharks.
It was wonderful. The couple sitting next to me has been to this event
for several years and said that this was by far the best one. A few notes:
He likes to read scripts before he finds out which role he is being considered
for, because otherwise he finds that he puts too much energy into that
one character to see the overall story. He said that when he first read
he wanted the role of the alien, Prot, but he then found out they wanted
him to play the psychotherapist, with Will Smith playing Prot. He turned
that down, and much later (years, apparently) they offered him the role
he really wanted.
His development company, Trigger Street, was named after a street in southern
California that he and a friend wanted to build a theater on when they
were kids. He said he didn't want to get too far away from that mindset.
The web site is expected
to launch later this year.
One of the best answers was to a question someone had about the moment
in L.A. Confidential (spoiler just
ahead!) when his character dies. Apparently he could tell that his eyes continued
to track movement after he was supposed to be dead, so he
drew two spots on the wall behind where James
Cromwell was standing, so that when James moved, Kevin could focus
there and avoid moving his eyes.
He wished he had been alive early enough to have worked with Spencer
The audience's questions got a little strange. One woman said she had a
mild obsession with his hands, and asked to trace them. He said yes, but
complained later that she had gotten ink on his hands.
He picked the film that was shown (Swimming
with Sharks), because he felt it hadn't gotten enough exposure. It's
too bad they couldn't have found a better print of it.
Filmography links courtesy of IMDb and
the San Francisco Film Society.
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Copyright © 2002-2003 by Michael S. Weston. All rights reserved.