Friday, April 22, 2011

SFIFF54 Day 2: Meek's Cutoff

The 54nd San Francisco International Film Festival began last night and runs through May 5th. Each day during the festival I'll be posting a recommendation and capsule review of a film in the festival.

Meek's Cutoff (USA: Kelly Reichardt, 2010)
playing: 9:00 PM tonight at the Kabuki, with another screening at 4:30 on Monday.
distribution: Oscilloscope opens it theatrically at the Embarcadero May 6th, just after the festival ends.

When Meek's Cutoff director Kelly Reichardt presented all of her previous films at the PFA last October, it suddenly struck me why it makes so much sense that her latest film is a period piece set among settlers on the formative Oregon Trail. As beautiful and heartbreaking as Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy are, Reichardt in moments seems to be straining to portray how modern Americans communicate (and how we don't) when unplugged from computers and cellphones. Telecommunications "advances" move so swiftly, and penetrate society so deeply, that Old Joy already plays like a period piece and Michelle Williams' phone-less character in Wendy and Lucy seems an improbable anachronism.

All of Reichardt's films explore how individual Americans negotiate with each other, moment-to-moment, face-to-face, without the overbearing baggage of a "social network" as codified by our digitized address books. Meek's Cutoff, which has frequently been read as a commentary on 21st century politics, certainly provides insight into the historical underpinnings of American values and communication styles. There's no soft-pedaling on our forebears' unquestioned racism and sexism, but neither is this beautiful film a simplistic harangue. The proportions assigned to action and words for Meek's band of travelers might make the film's most powerful statements- both regarding the perspiration that came before our current largely sedentary lifestyle, and regarding the nature of images of the West that we've grown up with and used to. I don't know if Reichardt plans to continue to avoid portraying the most superficially-"connected" aspects of contemporary culture, but if so I'd be happy to see her continue plumbing the 1800's for a long time.

SFIFF54 Day 2
Another option: The Good Life (DENMARK: Eva Mulvad, 2010) is a documentary by the same woman who made the excellent Enemies Of Happiness. Kelly Vance calls this new one "good, clean, morbid fun."

Non-SFIFF-option for today: His Girl Friday at the Paramount. Though Oakland's (and Frisco Bay's) most opulent movie palace is not the best place to see a Howard Hawks film unless you've got the dialogue memorized (the sound system being the venue's weak link in its presentations of talking pictures), His Girl Friday doesn't come around so often, and the price ($5) and ambiance make an afternoon cram session with Charles Lederer's script seem like a worthwhile idea.

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