|Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, and Kirsten Dunst star in Hossein Amini's thriller, THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY, playing at the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 24- May 8, 2014. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Film Society|
WHAT: The Two Faces of January is based on a 1964 novel by Patricia Highsmith, best known to cinephiles as the author of novels that turned into films such as Strangers On A Train, Purple Noon, and the Talented Mr. Ripley. It just premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February, where it was reviewed by Tim Robey for the Telegraph. I'll provide an excerpt:
...it’s tightly engineered and doesn’t waste words. But it’s also a treat to look at and listen to, evoking a lot of old-fashioned movie virtues, and showing us a lush but suspenseful good time. From the start, as holidaying Americans Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and Colette (Kirsten Dunst) take a turn around the Parthenon in 1962, we get that tingle that comes with feeling in safe hands.WHERE/WHEN: 7PM tonight at the Castro Theatre, kicking off the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival.
WHY: As I noted this time last year I've never actually attended the opening night of the San Francisco International Film Festival. I must admit the ticket price has always scared me away, and even those years when the festival's press department has invited me to attend, I've declined, figuring that the seat could be used by someone else and that I'd be able to catch the film another time.
This time I accepted, even though those factors still hold true. (The film is tentatively set to open in the Bay Area in September.) I never thought I'd say this, but I'm excited that the festival was able to book a film that will be receiving its North American premiere. It's played a few European festivals, but so far none of the critics I regularly read have written about it, and I'm interested to get a look at a film with a fairly strong artistic and commercial pedigree (stars include Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst & Oscar Isaac, none of whom are known to make stinkers very often) before the loudest, most confident critical voices have weighed in on it first. This never used to be a concern for me, but I find that in the few years I've been following numerous regular attendees of festivals like Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, etc. on twitter, my enthusiasm for an anticipated film is often accompanied by a feeling that I may not be able to experience it entirely on my own, but that in watching and evaluating it I'm somehow joining forces in a battle where the lines have already been drawn.
Opening night films at SFIFF are usually very solid films, but they only occasionally feel as completely brand-new as the opening film of a big festival somehow ought to be. For one night, if only one night, San Francisco ought to feel a little like the center of the film world, at least to its residents. With The Two Faces of January as opening-night selection and Alex Of Venice for closing night, both the bookending gala films of the festival are brand-new, 2014 films that had not screened at any 2013 festivals. This has happened before at SFIFF; in 2012 Farewell, My Queen and Don't Stop Believin': Everybody's Journey were truly new to that year, but even those had both screened in other parts of the country before their Frisco stop. You have to go back to the 1999 SFIFF (the first I attended) when The Winslow Boy opened and Buena Vista Social Club closed the festival to find another year that might contend in the "gala freshness" department.
Other SFIFF "premiere" titles I'm excited to see include Sara Dosa's The Last Season (a world premiere from local filmmaker Sara Dosa) and Tamako In Moratorium (a North American premiere from the director of Linda Linda Linda).
HOW: Almost the entire festival this year is screening digitally, and The Two Faces of January is no exception. Theoretically, the proliferation of digital projection in the festival world (not just SFIFF but Cannes, Toronto and most others as well) should make the likelihood of seeing new work quicker higher, though it doesn't always seem to work out that way.
NON-SFIFF OPTION: Tonight's Oddball Films program looks like a splendid line-up of 16mm ethnographic documentaries made around the world.