The 41st San Francisco International Film Festival, brought to you by SKYY Vodka and Levi’s Dockers… after all, nothing goes with three hour Korean art films like a stiff drink and a pair of pants.
THE OPPOSITE OF SEX (1998) ^ * * * 1/2 ^ 1998 is the year of Christina Ricci’s breasts. This film, “Buffalo 66” and probably a couple of others focus so much attention on them, they almost have speaking parts. Maybe now that she’s 18, we’ll eventually get to see them. Ricci is our narrator, Dedee Truitt, Alabama white trash unhindered by morals, but not smart enough to completely BS her way through life. She tries, though, as she moves to Indiana, home of her long lost much older brother, Bill (Martin Donovan), a gay schoolteacher who inherited a fortune from his dead lover, whoõs sister, Lucia (Lisa Kudrow), practically runs his life. Dedee convinces Billõs new lover, Matt (Ivan Sergei), to have sex with her. She promptly winds up pregnant, and convinces Matt to empty Bill’s safety deposit box, and run off with her to L.A. Then, the real fun begins. ^
Writer/director Don Roos has made a film to explore the different ramifications of sex. If you consider sex to normally be an act that brings people closer together, Roos demonstrates “The Opposite” which drives the characters apart. Luckily, this setup is funny instead of preachy. I call it “The Best “Friends” Related Movie” I, uh, saw in April.
BARBIE NATION: AN UNAUTHORIZED TOUR (1997) ^ * * * 1/2 ^ How does a rip-off of a German toy for adults seep its way into the American consciousness? Good marketing and dumb luck, as told in this documentary. When Ruth Handler, the first president and a founder of Mattel discovered the original doll, “Lily” on a vacation, she knew what she had. While adult German men played and defrocked “Lily” in bars, Ruth had the idea of “Barbie”, named after her daughter, who would help pubescent girls come to terms with their developing breasts (Ruth has a major obsession with breasts). Mattel estimates there are now around one billion dolls in the world. This documentary follows the history of Barbie from the German doll to the iconic status the hunk of plastic has now attained, much to the chagrin of Mattel. The toy company, no longer run by Ruth after a stock scandal in the 1970s, still blindly believe they may control Barbieõs image. Too late. We find the modern Barbie wobbling between a target of feminism to drag queen Bhudda. Most touching are the people who use her as a security blanket to help them through troubled times. The price seems to be a bunch of bulimic teenagers. ^
If you have any love, hate, or mixed feelings for the little pink clad career woman, you’ll dig this even-handed documentary.
COME AND SEE (1985) ^ * * * * ^ …and lose your mind. This Soviet-era Russian film displays the horrors of World War II in a manner that makes “The Deer Hunter” look like “The Green Berets”. I was ready to kick some German a*s after I endured this picture. The film follows teenaged Flor (Alexei Kravchenko), an innocent rural Belarussian villager, who digs up a rifle from a dead soldier and is promptly drafted into the partisan army to fight the Nazis. This cinematic hand grenade was lobbed at the fest by Sean Penn, when the Fest’ asked him to select a film for the festival. Share the warmth, Spicoli. ^
The images of this film wouldn’t be so strong if it were shot in a typical cinematic pallette, but director Elem Klimov shot the picture like an early Wes Craven film. You feel the weight of Flor’s slide into insanity. It’s “Last Village on the Left”. The Nazis reportedly burned down over 600 villages in the Soviet Union. You get to feel what it’s like to be on the receiving end. Flor doesn’t just lose everyone he loves, he loses everyone he MEETS.
MODULATIONS (1998) ^ * ^ Iara Lee (“Synthetic Pleasures”) has made her second documentary, about the people who created and developed the broad class of electronic music. What she didn’t make was a film about the people who support the scene. I have no idea for whom she made this film. When you’re at a rave, you tend to be dancing and looking at the pretty lights. You DON’T look at the geeks hunched over their mixing boards. ^ Unfortunately, that’s what you get in this film, a whole bunch of geeks. Lee even lets them ramble on about their favorite equipment, in true “Guitar Magazine” style. It’s ironic that a film about music you stay up all night listening to just put me to sleep.
GUMMO (1997) ^ * * * * ^ Some critics have said this is the worst piece of s**t they’ve ever seen. Gus Van Sant thinks it’s brilliant. I’ve been to Ohio. I’m with Gus. This movie had more bad word of mouth than any other movie I’ve seen since “Showgirls” (then, it was justified). Writer/director Harmony Korine (“Kids”) did not make this film to please the white, educated, upper-middle class that attend most art films. He made a film with and about wall to wall white trash. It’s not even fashionable “Southern” white trash, it’s set in Xenia, Ohio. If you’re from L.A., it might as well be Mars. ^
There is no plot to report. We mainly follow our two glue-sniffin’ cat killin’ heroes, Solomon (Jacob Reynolds) and Tummler (Nick Sutton). Everyone has a dead-end life. No one is going anywhere. Everyone generates eccentricities as defenses against everyone else’s eccentricities. Korine is the Jerry Springer of this world. He doesn’t judge his subjects, he can still identify with them. Exploitation is seen mainly by those who can’t connect to this freak show, but it’s a much more realistic depiction of America than “Object of My Affection”.

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