Part one of our coverage of the 40th SF International Film Festival, with
emphasis on the “International”. French movies are the principal reason
journalists require a lot of alcohol to get through film festivals.
Due to the volume of films covered, the Weekly will now provide more
abbreviated reviews with lengthier coverage at the website later in the
[ CLUBBED TO DEATH (France – so it must be good) ] ^ A Girl falls asleep on bus. She wakes up in unfamiliar part of Paris.
She goes to a club, has a series of encounters with different men. She
falls for an Algerian Boxer turned junkie. To win her, he must do
emotional and physical battle with his demons. Like I said, it’s French; big ideas, but spotty execution. Yes, it’s silly and doesn’t make a lot of sense, but gosh, it sure looks good. The boxer, Roschdy Zem, looks like an Algerian Laurence Fishburne, but just buy the soundtrack.
[ HAMSUN (Norway) ] ^ One trend I’ve hated over the last couple of years is the “birth of an ARTIST” movie. “Basketball Diaries”, “Basquiat” and the rest of their ilk, have been some of the most pretentious garbage I’ve sat through in a long time.
With “Hamsun”, we have “the death of an artist”. Knut Hamsun was a poet and writer in Norway (a nation barely able to contain his ego) who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1920. It’s all downhill from there. Hamsun wrote little after that, though he was seen by his countrymen as the greatest living Norwegian. Unfortunately, he viewed himself the same way, leading to
one colossal downfall. Hamsun and his wife supported Hitler when he invaded
their nation at the onset of World War II. You can imagine the government and the people were none too pleased after it was over.
The film covers the life of the write from 1935, when his marriage hit the skids, to his death at 93 in 1952. “Hamsun” searches for what could have caused such a revered figure into a reviled traitor. Max Von Sydow gives a
performance as the title character that is the best I’ve ever seen from him.
He’s matched by Ghita Norby as his volatile and more maligned wife, Marie.
Beautifully shot and constructed, the movie is totally engaging for the first two thirds. But when the war ends, there’s another hour to go. Any
longer, I’d have gone as crazy as his children. Hamsun states he’s made
an agreement with God to die only when he’s ready. Even after a couple of strokes, he’s apparently just too mean to die.
Most of the film’s a keeper, though. The depiction of Hamsun’s disastrous meeting with Hitler is a masterpiece. But both the real life writer and the film would have been better served by and earlier death.
[ THE RIVER (Taiwan) ] ^ This is a classic story of boy meets girl, boy has head injury, boy accidentally sleeps with father. It’s very well done, but hard to enjoy. This is not exactly what I’d call life affirming. Director Tsai Ming-liang has received a great deal of acclaim for this feature, including the Silver Bear at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. While I appreciate it, I can’t say I really enjoyed it. The film’s depiction of the mundane life in Taiwan is nothing short of remarkable, as well as the downward spiral of the main character, played by Lee Kang-sheng, and his family. It just wore me down, though.
[ WHEN THE CAT’S AWAY (France – Duh!) ] ^ This is a story about a girl who lost her cat. I s-t you not. In her search for her kitty, we meet her zany neighbors in Paris’ Bastille district, and join her on her quest for love. The movie is actually better than it sounds, but the filmmakers don’t know where they’re going with it, so they end it with a slow-motion shot to a Portishead song.

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