Capsule Movie Reviews - San Francisco International Film Festival

By Jonathan W. Wind

Two broadcast combined report:


The 2 week long 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival is the oldest film festival in the Americas. This year featuring 177 films from 46 countries in 31 languages it will attract a crowd of 80,000 to the venues in San Francisco. Though a primary objective is wider circulation, that happens somewhat rarely, so the only chance to see some offbeat foreign films is at a good festival, and San Francisco's is considered one of the best.

I have been fortunate enough to view many of the films available, here are some capsule review of the movies I have liked the best so far.

First, of course, there is Joan Rivers in A Piece of Work

When you think of Joan Rivers you don't think maybe she needs money, but there she is, here and just about everywhere; "I'll wear a diaper" she says, but it's more than money. Her agent says "Joan knows if you stand out in the rain long enough, you'll get hit by lightning - when everyone else has gone home Joan stands out in the rain and she's been hit again and again." I was surprised by her energy and honesty. The movie follows her escapades on her 75th year, examining her drive and status, and revealing a complex talent with a heart. Listen in May for a full report on A Piece of Work along with my exclusive interview with Joan Rivers herself and the films directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg (l to r below).

Then I saw The Invention of Dr. Nakamats

In this Danish movie the Japanese inventor of the floppy disk and over 3 thousand other patents, including bouncing shoes, and the irresistible love spray shows his true nature as shallow and vain in this intimate portrait of a modern day 80 year old genius, already a legend in Japan, and gives us all a lesson in self-absorption. Brought to the screen with humor by director Kaspar Schroder, Nakamats speaks of humility but does not practice it.

Lourdes, was a favorite of mine

Balancing faith with fantasy a paralyzed woman makes a wheelchair pilgrimage to Lourdes and against all odds is healed. Celebrating its sesquicentennial and visited by an estimated two hundred million people since the Marion apparitions began in 1858, Lourdes and its healing waters have been debated and scrutinized from the beginning. The now somewhat able woman, though mostly healed physically still carries her mental scars and moving on with her life may be just as difficult as before she was healed. Deftly walking a fine line that could collapse into mockery and directed by Jessica Hausener, this French film is a powerful observation of faith as a hit or miss perception.

To Die Like a Man
This melodrama of a man who for years has lived and thrived as a woman, but with failing health and leaking implants fears dying alone as a man.

This was only one of two films labeled LGBT and I found it disappointing in that there was not a moment of joy, not one, not in his apologetic youth, his desperate relationships or even his surrender to his plight, it seemed just all darkness, filmed at night - and while desperation is painful, it's not continually painful, there are moments of relief. Filmed in tormented detail and I'd say nearly an hour too long, I did not enjoy this movie.

I was enthralled with White Meadows from Iran

Filmed in color though everything is mostly black and white, White Meadows was filmed at Lake Urmia in Iran, one of the largest and saltiest lakes in the world, containing scores of otherworldly salt islands. This is the setting for this eerie ironic tale disguised as a story of sorrow and redemption. An old boatman, and his recently acquired young apprentice and admirer, row from salt island to salt island collecting the tears; feeling the grief and keeping shed tears in glass vials; but in the end the boatman pours the entire vial over the feet of his master, driving home the real intent, political satire disguised as weepy drama. Written, produced and directed by Mohammad Rasoulaf this fable is beautifully filmed and is a real treat.


The Wind Journeys is a film from Colombia that features a lonesome widower and his recently acquired apprentice and admirer, this time with a donkey, as they plod from town to town engaging in accordion duels to win enough money to return the apparently possessed accordion to its rightful owner miles away, who, it turns out, has been dead for years - but left a message for him alone. The music and scenery were beautiful. Filmed in what seemed like ultra super slo mo, this movie wore me out, because although beautiful it just seemed to lurch from scene to scene.

Now I understand that a major difference between American and International films is the pace. But when I start to wonder if the projector is jammed, or if the movie has ended I get this little voice that says "Let's go already." So there's the split second sensibility of American films, gone even before it registers in the brain of what a festival director termed "the lowest common denominator," and the excruciating detail of some international fare, I ask you, where is the middle ground?

Included in the latter category is the movie Constantin and Elena, from Romania.
Constantin and Elena are more than in love. They wear each others souls as they labor through their days stuffing sausages and meandering around mountainous Romania. The camera would be set up and the action just begins and continues to exhaustion. Also filmed in numbing detail it is still a remarkable testament to a 55 year marriage.

Then I watched The High Line
What fun! A collection of stop motion and other animation techniques by a new generation of animators including The Incident at Tower 37, from the USA, a pixar type short with an ecological twist, Tussilago, from Sweden, a beautifully hand drawn drama of crime, escape and the consequences and Logorama, a big youtube favorite, where everything is plastered with company logos, the Michelin Man chases criminal Ronald McDonald, Mr. Clean makes fashion choices and the Jolly Green Giant wears a parental discretion advised sign on his pea pod speedos.

The High Line looks at how we communicate. All in good fun, these shorts examine the latest accomplishments of the animation medium.

One of my favorites of the entire festival was the Belgian film My Queen Karo. Karo is a 10 year old girl living with her squatter parents in bohemian bliss in mid 70's Amsterdam. Directed by Dorothee Van Den Bergehe and reflecting some of the filmakers own origins Karo is left to her own resources and is essentially growing up without supervision. She has to make adult choices and comes to understand concepts beyond her years in an atmosphere of belligerent communal adults intent on hiding nothing from each other. Their surroundings even lack walls so that everyone can feel free of barriers. Regularly faced with sex and drug use in her view, she manages to acquire goals and morals while trying to keep her parents together as they drift apart, her father intent on upholding his convictions and her mother just wanting to create and sell dresses. I actually knew some people who lived this way back where I was raised in Greenwich Village - except they were called beatniks. Free of the societal barriers that constitute everything from fair play to good manners, they were peaceful until asked to pay for the ride, then all hell broke loose. Intelligent but disabled by their concepts they were a different class than the homeless; ennobled by their humanity they felt free to despise even those protecting them when they grouped all forms of authority under they same banner.
This is a thoughtful film that deserves to be seen.

Jonathan W. Wind for Movie Magazine International - San Francisco

© 2010 - Jonathan W. Wind - Air Dates: 04/28/10 & 05/05/10
Movie Magazine International