High quality films during first half of the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival

Past the equator of the San Francisco International Film Festival’s solid 60th edition, we enter full force in the second week. Below we recount the films of Latino and international interest we’ve seen so far.

Sinaloan director Natalia Almada did not disappoint with her fourth, first fiction film after the wonderful documentary El velador (2011). Todo lo demás [Everything Else] is a punctilious portrait of a solitary lady who lives in massive Mexico City. It leaves a mark on the audience with an exquisite camerawork and martial cadence achieved by the repetition of visual and sound elements. The audience defied the rain and the wind to attend the screening at SFMOMA and meet in person the talented Mexican filmmaker, who answered questions from the public.

Although it seemed promising by its premise, El Mar La Mar, shot in the Sonora desert between Mexico and the United States, disappoints. The experimental made by interdisciplinary artist Joshua Bonnetta and anthropologist J.P.Sniadecki is muddled, as it stirs the topic of illegal immigration with that of the natural inclemency of the desert without showing either one. The images, though beautiful, are vacuous.

Catalan filmmaker Isaki Lacuesta did meet the expectations with La propera pell [Next Skin], codirected with Isa Campo, writer in his previous projects. With surprising script turns and very well acted by Sergi López, Emma Suárez and the young actor Àlex Monner, this trilingual Catalan/French/Spanish film tells the intense story of a young man who leaves the reformatory to meet his estranged mother in a small town in the Pyrenees.

India and Bulgaria repeated for second consecutive year with great films after Raam Reddy’s Thithi and Svetla Tsotsorkova’s Thirst memorable films presented last year.

Shubhashish Bhutiani’s feel-good, colorful first film Hotel Salvation explores with skill the themes of Indian culture around family, religion and death in the holy city of Varanasi. While the gorgeous documentary The Cinema Travellers, about cinemas part of traveling fairs, focuses on the adaptability of the human being more than on the nostalgia for a cellulloid that is vanishing. Codirectors Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya attended the presentation of their also first film at SFMOMA with excitement.

Bulgaria also repeated this year with an excellent film, Godless by Ralitza Petrova, a sober portrait, with no simple answers, to the inhumane conditions of corruption that exist in the country.

Undoubtedly, one of the festival’s gems so far is the amazing Life After Life directed by Hanyi Zhang and produced by Zhangke Jia (Mountains May Depart, 2015). The novel Chinese director makes beautiful contemplative cinema of long shots and long takes, sculpting in time and increasing the interest of the audience in the scene as they grow. The film achieves five magical moments in some mere 80 minutes.

Also from Asia, we enjoyed the nineteenth comedy of manners by Korean director Sang-soo Hong. Yourself and Yours is playful, fun and very entertaining in an Eric Rohmer’s style. The prolific 56-year-old director delivers again to his faithful followers.

Also with a following and distinct auteur style, the Belgian Dardenne brothers live up to expectations with the absorbing The Unknown Girl, a film about the moral journey of a young doctor as she investigates the identity of an African immigrant found dead in front of her practice.

And exaggeratedly wonderful, Poesía sin fín [Endless Poetry], the much anticipated new film by Alejandro Jodorowski, excelled. On a full-moon night, this grandiloquent ode to love, life and poetry, made Roxie Theater’s full house audience laugh and weep at the Chilean cult director’s wit.

Argentinean Matías Piñeiro, director of the magical Viola (2012), did not do as well with his new film Hermia & Helena, part of his tetra-logy inspired by William Shakespeare’s work. Although the story wants to come together towards the end, it remains scattered and incidental.

Catalan art house filmmaker Albert Serra did fulfill and surpass expectations by making his best film to date. La mort de Louis XIV [The Death of Louis XIV], about the agony of the despot who reigned France for 72 years, recreates this peculiar historical figure while commenting on the medical science during that era. This masterpiece attends to the small details with genius and the quality of a murmur.

The Castro Cinema filled to the balcony to see the inspiring documentary Dolores by San Francisco filmmaker Peter Bratt, about the life path of civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, who tirelessly fought for agricultural workers’ rights to organize in California. She attended the presentation among an excited audience.

A gratifying surprise was the documentary Brimstone & Glory directed by German Viktor Jakovleski and produced by Colectivo Court 13. It takes on the annual pyrotechnics festival that takes in Tultepec, State of Mexico, with the energy and bravura of a firecracker. In just about 65 minutes, free in style, the use of GoPro cameras does not eclipse its immediacy.

Also directed by a German, but this time emigrated to Argentina, Nele Wohlatz’s friendly and fun El futuro perfecto [TheFuture Perfect] enthused us all in the audience at the Roxie Theater. It presents the issue of immigration in Argentina as done in the past by Israel Adrián Caetano’s Bolivia (2001) or María Florencia Álvarez’s Habi the Foreigner (2013), but focusing on the feelings of a young Chinese girl in Buenos Aires.

This first half of the 60th edition of the San Francisco International Film Festival is proving high quality in programming, with good organization and scheduling of the screenings, and great success in the distribution of venues between downtown, the Mission and the Castro.

It is now time for the second week of the festival, screening highly anticipated films by Amat Escalante, Brillante Mendoza, Eduardo Williams and João Pedro Rodrigues among others.

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