Special Report By Andrea Chase
The 41st Annual San Francisco International Film Festival may be winding down, but there's still plenty to see. Make a point of seeking these films out:
"The Farm: Angola" opens with this statistic, 85% of the inmates brought to Angola prison will die there. This is a documentary about people who have made bad choices, gotten bad breaks and about those doomed from childhood to a space on death row. Filmed in Louisiana's most notorious prison, it was once the bloodiest in the United States. The violence today in the maximum-security institution is less physical but no less acute. It's a bone-chilling look at just what is meant by hard time and capital punishment.
There are no easy moments in this documentary, but an interview with a death row inmate about his upcoming execution by lethal injection followed by the dress rehearsal for that execution by prison staff are the most haunting.
You, like me probably thought that a gritty film about disaffected youth with overtones of earnest docudrama is a genre so overdone that any attempts to pull off another of that ilk couldn't be anything but passe. Think again, "Edge City" is entirely gripping with its unstudied look at drifting kids and their ineffective, sometimes toxic parents.
Then there are the films that give festivals a bad name - pretentious, ponderous, and ultimately pointless. They force the audience to wonder who's idea they were and mightn't we have them shot lest they wreak further mischief.
Taiwan's contribution to that genre is "Sweet Degeneration," which has less plot than a porno flick. And while the adult film industry makes up for its narrative shortcomings with, ahem, action, this painful attempt at profundity has no similar compensation. Though there are several scenes of joyless, sexual congress, they are of a type to make celibacy seem a blessed relief.
And then there's Portugal's "Ossos." It's another of those earnest films where people stare balefully at the camera, at each other, and out into space, as they live lives of crushing despair and boredom. Where the audience wonders if all this is leading anywhere and when it's becomes obvious that it isn't, the only decision left is how to leave without disturbing the restful slumbers of those others who have taken the opportunity to catch up on their sleep.
Happily, the 41st San Francisco Film Festival closes with a winner, Wayne Wang's meditation on east and west during Britain's handover of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China in "Chinese Box." For more information call (415) 931-FILM.
© 1998 - Andrea Chase - Air Date: 4/29/98
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