Projections - Page 4

A long list of short takes on SFIFF 57, in chronological order

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A teen fights for her rights in Ethiopian drama Difret.
Photo courtesty San Francisco Film Society

Belle (Amma Asante, UK, 2013) The child of a British naval officer and a Caribbean slave, Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is deposited on the doorstep — well, the estate grounds — of her father's relatives in 1769 England after her mother dies. Soon she's entirely orphaned, which makes her a wealthy heiress and aristocratic title holder at the same time that she is something less than human in the eyes of her adopted society. For Belle is black (or more properly, mixed-race), and thus a useless curiosity at best as a well-bred noblewoman of the "wrong" racial makeup. Based on a murky actual historical chapter, Amma Asante's film is that rare sumptuous costume drama which actually has something on its mind beyond romance and royalty. Not least among its pleasures is a fine supporting cast including Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson, Penelope Wilton, and Emily Watson. Sun/27, 6:30pm, Kabuki; Tue/29, 3:30pm, Kabuki. (Harvey)

Stray Dogs (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan/France, 2013) The fate of those left behind — the homeless, the stray dogs — amid the go-go aggression of tiger markets is ostensibly Tsai Ming-liang's first concern in what he's said is his last film. But the "Second Wave" Taiwanese director can't help but leave a mark — those amazing performances, those achingly long, meditative shots — that makes you hungry for more. Ever so loosely knitting together a series of lengthy, gorgeously composed images that resemble still lifes of a metamorphosing Taipei that's rapidly leaving its cultural core, the family, in the dust, Stray Dogs wanders, hangs, then drifts once more, much like the homeless father (Tsai regular Lee Kang-sheng) and two children at its rootless center. Dad holds an advertising sign at an intersection — necessitating what might be the longest urination shot in cinema and a singular burst into poetry and song — while the kids feed themselves with supermarket samples and wash up in public restrooms. Will they be brought together by the missing matriarch, in the form of a grocery store manager, or just a random instance of art or beauty in a crumbling building? Beauty, it seems, is everywhere, Tsai seems to signal, and time — here, spent and bent to new ends — might or might not tell, while this mesmerizing, testing, and ultimately rewarding digital farewell to the movies keeps you hanging on. Mon/28, 6pm, Kabuki; Tue/29, 3:15pm, New People; April 30, 6:30pm, PFA. (Chun)

The Overnighters (Jesse Moss, US) If you're looking for a movie to affirm the resilient generosity of the American spirit (or economy), this isn't it. But Bay Area filmmaker Jesse Moss' new documentary is as engrossing as it is dismaying. When a fracking-related job boom hits low-population North Dakota, close-knit Williston — which had a population of just 12,000 at the millennium's turn — suddenly becomes a magnet for the unemployed and desperate. That includes a diverse racial mix of men, including some transients, a few felons and ex-cons, plus others whom many locals are willing to skittishly term "trash." There's scant housing available to accommodate them; Pastor Jay Reinke of Concordia Lutheran tries to help out by letting some new arrivals sleep on the church (and even his family home's) floor. But his congregation is increasingly unhappy about that, as is the community in general. The Overnighters grows more complicated, however, than a simple portrait of small-town closed-mindedness and a clergyman acting like Jesus would. Not every charity case is grateful, or honest, or manageable. Meanwhile, Rev. Reinke's own psychological baggage starts looking pretty dang heavy well before a game changing late revelation that is painful on about 20 different levels. Mon/28, 6:30pm, Kabuki; May 3, 1pm, New People. (Harvey)

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