The 39th San Francisco International Film Festival

"Movie Magazine International" Special Report

(Air Date: Week Of 4/17/96)

By Monica Sullivan

The 39th annual San Francisco International Film Festival begins this week on the ninetieth anniversary of the San Francisco quake. Film buffs take this event very seriously indeed: if they COULD see 92 features from 46 countries in eighteen days, they would. (You don't have to be 23 to do this, but it helps!)

Dziga Vertov's "The Man With The Movie Camera" was made 67 years ago, but it might well put many of today's avant-garde efforts to self-conscious shame. It is pure cinema, by a director madly in love with the medium, and like any delirious lover, he tries to capture life at a breathless pace. Vertov's fast-paced 66 m. movie is filled with fun and wit.

I fidgeted all the way through Jim Jarmusch's "Dead Man". This is one of those long-winded black-and-white westerns that makes you want to bag the screening and spend the time necking instead. Johnny Depp plays the title role with excruciating fidelity and Robert Mitchum plays a cameo role, but that's about it. There's a line at the beginning that pretty much says it all, unless you need empirical evidence of just ho soporific Depp can be.

The late Jacques Demy was a darling of the festival circuit for over twenty years. He was in love with Hollywood musicals and fairy tales that ended happily ever after. In "The World of Jacques Demy", his widow Agnes Varda pays tribute to the unique filmmaker who thrived during the French New Wave without ever really being part of it. Demy's uneven career consisted of huge international successes ("Lola" / "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg") and neglected follow-ups. ("Model Shop" / "the Young Girls of Rochefort). He left a vivid impression on the actors who worked with him and many loyal admirers of his work, as Varda's loving homage makes crystal clear. Varda also pays tribute to the centenary of the cinema with "101 Nights". Monsieur Cinema is played by Michel Piccoli, only seventy, as a 100-year-old movie fan confined to a wheelchair. This film is packed with international stars at thir most charming and its slender premise is bolstered by Varda's sheer love of movie lore, past and present.

A more sobering film experience is "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders At Robin Hood Hills". HBO's Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky had astonishing access to the Arkansas case, from the discovery of the children's bodies to client-lawyer discussions, from the tearful anguish of the victim's families to chilling rationalisations by the convicted killers. Some segments are eerily myopic as when the West Memphis townspeople are advised not to talk to the media while Bruce and Joe record the whole thing on video. (Isn't HBO the media?) The grisly details and straightforward presentation contribute to the felling that you're watching a docuDRAMA, not the matter-of-fact documentary that it is.

Copyright 1996 Monica Sullivan

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