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That’s a Wrap

05/25/2013

And now, post cat-video interlude, we return to more serious visual fare, my final film screenings at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Chaika

Chaika, photo courtesy of SFIFF.

Chaika, photo courtesy of SFIFF.

This is the kind of downbeat character drama that I usually seek out at the festival, and I wasn’t disappointed. Don’t look to IMDb for any kind of plot details; the current description is about as basic as it could be, “A love story between a whore and a sailor.” Well, yes, it is. I suppose that rather sums it up—without the self-doubt, sibling rivalry, socioeconomic and gender dynamics, or much else that gives the film depth. It’s the story of a pregnant Kazakh prostitute who accepts the help of a smitten sailor and follows him out to the barren, eastern Russian wilderness to live with his family. There, volatile relationships and resentments combust, leading the woman toward her inevitable destiny. This film reminded me a bit of Lilya 4-ever, with its bleak tone and focus on a protagonist who navigates desperate circumstances looking for a new life.

The Cleaner

The Cleaner, photo courtesy of SFIFF.

The Cleaner, photo courtesy of SFIFF.

The Cleaner could be called “sci-fi” based on its plot about a sanitation worker who sterilizes death sites during a mysterious pandemic, but it’s really the story of a man whose insular life and routine are shaken up when he is forced to take care of an orphaned boy. Set in Lima, Peru, this minimal, atmospheric drama conveys a sense of hopefulness and quirky resilience in the face of apocalyptic population decline. The heart of this film sneaks up on you, while the creepy post-plague sparseness feels all too real.

They’ll Come Back

They'll Come Back, photo courtesy of SFIFF.

They’ll Come Back, photo courtesy of SFIFF.

I wanted to like this film more than I did, though I don’t mind the time spent seeing it. The premise is that two wealthy teens are dropped off by the side of the road as a punishment for fighting in the car, and when their parents don’t come back, they have to fend for themselves. Soon, however, they are separated, and the film follows 12-year-old Cris as she makes her way home through backwater towns with the help of less affluent locals. The film doesn’t fail in the obvious ways it could, either by exploding the obvious cultural and economic differences between the girl and those she meets or by treating the poorer characters like subjects of a social study. It’s relatively benign in its juxtaposition of the two worlds and lightyears away from the kind of comic, fish-out-of-water treatment that a Hollywood would give this subject. But I found the lead character annoying and–even for a teen–too mute and distant to elicit empathy. By the end, I just didn’t care.

Of these three, The Cleaner is the only one I’d want to see again and the one I’d recommend most widely. But aside from the minor disappointment of They’ll Come Back, I think the films I saw at this year’s festival are the best array of picks I’ve made at any SFIFF yet. A really solid set.

[SFIFF 56, Part I.]

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