|Screen capture from Lionsgate DVD|
WHAT: This nightmarish, pummeling film about the horrors of addiction is not the sort of film I typically expect to see at a film festival, although it premiered at Cannes and (for North America) Toronto before its Fall 2000 release in the United States. Simply put, it's just so intense. It's hard to imagine watching it in the afternoon, much less doing so and then shuffling off to another screening right afterward. Many people who have seen it already (myself included) consider it one of those films we're not sure we ever want to view again, no matter how much we may admire its technical virtuosity and/or its eagerness to "go there" in its unflinching displays of some of the grisliest outcomes of drug dependency. (I might note that, since viewing it at the Lumiere fifteen+ years ago, I've encountered some impassioned arguments against the film's outlook as "propagandistic" and its style as "immature", but not having endured another straight-through watch, I don't quite know if I'd find these objections meritless or not.)
One thing I feel sure about, even after the passage of so much time, is that the film's impact depends greatly on the audience's ability to relate to its characters, and thus its performances are paramount. None more than Burstyn's as Sara Goldfarb, the mother of Jared Leto's young junkie, who begins the film addicted to nothing more than her television shows and her illusory relationship with her son. We see how easy it is for her to become sucked into a cycle of dangerous prescription drug-taking when she visits a shady doctor in the hopes of finding a pharmaceutical shortcut to weight loss. Her performance, which was not just guided by director Darren Aronofsky but her own agency as an established Hollywood star taking an opportunity to try something new in an independent film, is the soul of the film, and the main reason I'm considering revisiting it.
A secondary reason would be Jennifer Connelly's performance as Leto's girlfriend Marion, who I've found a renewed fascination for after stumbling upon Alla Gadassik's remarkable video essay Marion and Gen.
WHERE/WHEN: Screens today only at the Victoria Theatre courtesy of the San Francisco International Film Festival, following a 2PM conversation with Burstyn about her career.
WHY: Burstyn in person should be motivation enough, right? Traditionally these events consist of an on-stage interview, so if the film becomes too relentless of an experience for you to handle, you can leave the screening without missing out on the celebrity conversation, unless today's presentation doesn't hold to expected form.
Burstyn is the first of the festival's several honorees this year to come before the festival public. While she will receive the Peter J. Owens Award for acting, the first female prize-winner since Judy Davis in 2012, Mira Nair becomes the first woman to receive the festival's Irving M. Levin Directing Award (going back to the 1980s days when it was called the Akira Kurosawa Award). She'll be at the Castro for a 35mm screening of her biggest stateside hit Monsoon Wedding tomorrow afternoon. This leaves only the Kanbar Storytelling Award as the festival's only remaining all-boys' club. Tom McCarthy becomes the eleventh recipient of this award (formerly called the Screenwriting Award and presented mostly to writers not generally known for their directing careers; McCarthy is about equally acclaimed for both) and will present a 35mm print of his debut feature The Station Agent at BAMPFA on Tuesday, April 26.
Next weekend the honorees are Janus Films and the Criterion Collection, receiving the Mel Novikoff Award annually presented to "an individual or institution whose work has enhanced the film-going public's appreciation of world cinema". Because the U.S. is part of the world, the selected screening for the Saturday, April 30 Castro event is the Texas-filmed Blood Simple, screened as a DCP (a transfer I'm sure we can someday expect to see get the Criterion Blu-Ray treatment), with both of its co-directors Joel and Ethan Coen on hand for the showing. Finally, the Persistence of Vision Award, which goes to an filmmaker whose work aligns with the mission of the festival's longstanding Golden Gate Awards (to short films, documentaries, animation, an experimental film & video work - anything but live-action scripted/acted feature films). Aardman Animations, the beloved U.K. stop-motion studio, becomes the first animation recipient of this award since Don Hertzfeldt in 2010 and the fourth ever (Faith Hubley was honored in 2000 and Jan Svankmajer was the inaugural awardee in 1997.) On May 1st a retrospective of Aardman-produced short films and clips will screen at the Castro Theatre, including the Academy Award-winning The Wrong Trousers, a more recent Wallace & Gromit outing called The Turbo Diner, and even the music video for Peter Gabriel's hit song "Sledgehammer".
Most of these awards were announced in time to be included in the handy printed festival guides you may have seen floating around festival venues, bookstores, coffee shops and elsewhere. But Burstyn's Award was solidified after the printing deadline, as was McCarthy's, so they're not found in the guide. Other added screenings to the festival include single screenings of the following films: Jason Lew's The Free World at the Victoria on April 30th, Todd Solondz's Wiener Dog (also featuring Ellen Burstyn) at the Victoria on May 2, Andrew Neel's Goat at the Alamo Drafthouse on May 3, and Yorgos Lanthimos's The Lobster at the Victoria on May 5th.
HOW: Requiem For a Dream will screen via a projected Blu-Ray.
OTHER SFIFF OPTIONS: Tonight is the sole SFIFF screening of Werner Herzog's documentary Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World at the Castro Theatre. The first festival screenings of Chevalier, with director Athina Rachel Tsangari in person, the cargo freighter doc Dead Slow Ahead, and the manga adaptation Assassination Classroom all occur today at the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission as well tonight. Finally, this afternoon marks the first screening of Jem Cohen's Counting, at the Pacific Film Archive.
NON-SFIFF OPTION: It's the second-to-last day of the Stanford Theatre's Alfred Hitchcock season, featuring a double-bill of 35mm prints of Tippi Hedren's two films made for Hitch, The Birds and Marnie.