by David Lamble
The 56th San Francisco International Film Festival (April 25-May 9 at the Castro Theatre, Sundance Kabuki, and New People Cinema in San Francisco, and Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive) is spiked with queer interest, along with treats fresh from Sundance.
What Maisie Knew The directing duo of Scott McGehee and David Siegel may have finally found their masterpiece in this deft update of Henry James' Victorian-era novel of adults behaving badly, boldly viewed through the increasingly sophisticated eyes of a 6-year-old girl. Maisie (newcomer Onata Aprile, wise beyond her years) knows that her bickering parents – emotionally stormy and jealous Susanna (Julianne Moore) and preoccupied business guy Beale (Steve Coogan) – are rocketing off in different directions, with Maisie caught in-between. Learning quickly that the law is an ass and that joint custody sucks, Maisie soon becomes adept at surviving the whim of feckless adults. Acquiring a set of shadow parents – handsome bartender Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard) and her one-time nanny Margo (Joanna Vanderham) – Maisie will ultimately have to sort out the custody debacle herself. McGehee and Siegel find a marvelous cinematic version of James' audacious child's views of irresponsible adults. (Opening Night, Castro, 4/25)
Photo: Courtesy SF Film Society
Rosie Marcel Gisler's long-suffering hero Lorenz (Fabian Kruger), a blocked gay novelist forced to confront the absurdities of his life after returning to his rural Swiss boyhood home to care for his ailing mom (Sibylle Brunner), finds all sorts of surprises waiting: a long-buried family secret about his dead dad, his sister's irritation with her no-good husband, and a cheeky young fan, Mario (skinny Sebastian Ledesma, slyly seductive in and out of bed), who just may provide more than a new novel's worth of pleasure. The relatively new subject of out gay male midlife crisis finds a deliciously silly setting inside one of modern Europe's most eccentric societies. (Kabuki, 4/26, 30; PFA, 4/28)
After Lucia Director Michel Franco blows past the polite facades of affluent middle-class families in this Cannes prizewinner, Mexico's bid for a Best Foreign Picture Oscar. We meet a father and daughter struggling to adjust to the death of their wife/mother. In the opening scene, Roberto (Hernan Mendoza, with the ferocity of a bear awoken from hibernation) retrieves a car from a garage, only to abandon it with the keys on the dash. This was the vehicle in which his wife died. Roberto and Ale (Tessa La Gonzalez) flee Puerto Vallarta to start afresh in Mexico City, dad as a gourmet chef, Ale enrolling in an elite prep school. At first welcomed into an afterschool pool-party clique, Ale becomes the victim of vicious cybersex bullying. Director Franco uses long takes to show how rich kids can inure themselves to casual acts of brutality. Difficult to watch if you were ever bullied at school, but with a dark, cathartic open ending comparable to Todd Field's In the Bedroom. (Kabuki, 4/26, 29)
The Patience Stone Bestselling novelist Atiq Rahimi (with co-writer Jean-Claude Carriere) finds a way around one of modern cinema's most perplexing dilemmas: how to dive inside a character's head for a stream-of-consciousness monologue. Rahimi plants his young heroine (a mesmerizing turn from veteran Golshifteh Farahani) at the bedside of her now-comatose husband, a once-insufferable Jihadist, unconscious with a bullet to the neck. The woman shares her true feelings about their arranged marriage. With the action largely confined to a tiny apartment surrounded by the chaos of war, the woman finds her voice and a sudden burst of freedom, including a shocking affair with a young soldier, himself a victim of their culture's cruel patriarchy. (Kabuki, 4/29, 30)
Big Sur Director Michael Polish spotlights an older Jack Kerouac, overwhelmed by the hoopla surrounding the publication of On the Road and battling alcoholism, hiding in a small cabin owned by his friend Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The retreat results in a 1962 novel, Big Sur. With Jean-Marc Barr, Kate Bosworth, and Henry Thomas. (Kabuki, 4/28, 30; PFA, 5/5)
Pearblossom Highway In the second film in his projected Antelope Valley Trilogy, indie director Mike Ott has a baby-faced grown-up boy pour his heart out to the camera. The raw confession flows directly from the previous scene, where this lanky, thrift-store-dressed boy has brought his dead mom up to date on his messy life while standing at her gravesite next to his macho, former-Marine brother and Japanese-born girlfriend.
"I've always wondered if there was something wrong with me. I just never understood why people thought I was gay. I think it was a lot about the way I talk, about the way I carry myself. I don't know why people have to make such a big deal about it. I always thought, 'How do you act straight? How do you act gay? How do you act like a man when there isn't a man around?'"
This is low-budget "mumblecore" that aims for Godard at his zenith (Masculine-Feminine). It starts in a low gear and doesn't achieve thematic air-speed until an hour into its 78 minutes. Part jester, part male muse, actor Cory Zachana is the real reason to take this trip. His puppy-dog, aspiring-rock-star, orphan boy embodies the soul of many a lost, pre-queer-identifying young American. (Kabuki, 4/27, 30, 5/1)
Youth Works This eclectic shorts program has three must-sees: the jittery but evocative Bay Area buddy narrative Last Stop Livermore, where two 20-something buds, one black, one white, find a little too much adventure in a distant BART-burb; Ben Kadie's The Painted Girl embeds us with a teen girl on the verge of coming out who tags NYC subway restrooms; and animators Gary and Gregory Moore give us a nifty claymation trip to a scary 13th floor in Jurassic Floor. (New People, 4/27)
Peaches Does Herself Not to be confused with the Bay Area's fabulous Midnight Madness MC Peaches Christ, the 1960s R&B duo Peaches and Herb, or fresh-sliced peaches, Canadian electronic musician Merrill Beth Nisker has carved out a niche as a Berlin-based transgender musician, stage performer, and now, filmmaker. This ambitious 80-minute film of her stage act as a self-styled "pop anti-star" aspires to be a transgressive trans-rock opera. While she has a flair for infusing her electronic score with pop flourishes, a flamboyant talent for dressing up her chorus girls and boys, and an infectious, potty-mouth sensibility that would win a hard-R rating from the MPAA, Peaches' show as a film never really wows. It would have been fun to see what rubbing Peaches up against that old punk deviant Iggy Pop might have produced in the way of naughty sizzle. But as it stands, this critic would rather sip a whiskey sour at a live Justin Bond show. (Kabuki, 4/29, 5/2)
The Kings of Summer Direct from Sundance, Jordan Vogt-Roberts plants three hyperactive, rebellious teen boys in the woods for an off-beat coming-of-age comedy. (Kabuki, 4/26, 28)
Prince Avalanche David Gordon Green adapts Hafsteinn Gunnar Siguroson's Icelandic comedy Either Way, featuring two of my favorite bromance guys, Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch. Hirsch's Lance, brother to Alvin's (Rudd) girlfriend, finds an awkward bond with the older, more meditative man as the duo spend a summer repainting traffic lanes along a fire-ravaged rural highway while sparring over their radically different approaches to life. (Kabuki, 5/1, 3)