(Air Date: Week Of 04/24/96)
This year's festival boasts more winners than usual, or perhaps I just hit it lucky. My favorite film was "The African Child," a charming coming-of-age story set in Guinea. A teenager is sent to the big city to pursue his education, and discovers the great world beyond his village. "The African Child" is more of a slice of life than a morality play, but it provides terrific insight into a continent that Americans know little about.
On to Japan and the impeccably crafted "Mabarosi," which follows a young woman's ups and downs after the unexpected death of her husband. "Mabarosi" is a cousin to Kieslowski's "Blue" but this is Japan, not France or Poland, and existentialism is a luxury few can afford. The widow's misery and grief give way to rejuvenation and purpose, but not without a deep setback.
Both Argentine director Eliseo Subiela and Greek filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos integrate ruminations on last year's 100th anniversary of cinema into their latest works. Subiela's "Don't Die Without Telling Me Where You're Going" imagines a movie projectionist haunted by the ghost of a lover from a previous life. Witty, romantic and profound, "Don't Die Without Telling Me Where You're going" suffers only from not knowing how or when to end. Angelopoulos' "Ulysses' Gaze" is even more ambitious, if that's possible. Harvey Keitel plays a Greek-American filmmaker who returns to his native country for a brief visit, only to embark on a personal journey around the Balkans in search of three missing reels of ancient documentary footage. "Ulysses' Gaze" is a flawed yet mesmerizing meditation on the power of history and the insignificance of art.
The San Francisco festival also has a tradition of showing rediscoveries, and this year the program includes a devilish Polish satire from 1968. A stowaway is given a position of authority on a vacation boat, and bureaucracy, paranoia and absurdity follow, adding up to a nifty slap at the perverted democracy practiced by Iron Curtain socialists. The valuable 1948 American noir, "Force of Evil," screened with writer-director Abraham Plonsky on hand. Polonsky, who was blacklisted after "Force of Evil" and didn't work in Hollywood again for 20 years, is an irascible 85-year-old with a sharp mind and a faster tongue. In addition, the festival showed the first reel of the newly restored "Vertigo," which will turn up in your town this fall.
Also in the festival and heading your way, and we'll have full reviews at that time, are "Palookaville," Alan Taylor's wry and winning portrait of thre New Jersey losers, and "Welcome to the Dollhouse," Todd Solondz's hilarious yet utterly chilling depiction of the hell of junior high.
Copyright 1996 Michael Fox
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