Sunday, April 8, 2018

SFFILM 61 Day 5: First Reformed

The 61st San Francisco International Film Festival began this week and runs through April 17th. Each day during the festival I'll be posting about a festival selection I've seen or am anticipating.


Image from First Reformed supplied by SFFILM
First Reformed (USA: Paul Schrader, 2017)
playing: 8:00 tonight at BAMPFA with Schrader in person

The festival is only a few days old but this is in pole position as the SFFILM narrative film to beat; if I see another new feature of its level of quality in the next week and a half I'll be very surprised (and pleased). I haven't seen enough of Schrader's films directed since his masterpiece Mishima: a Life in Four Chapters to weigh in myself (I'm glad I'll get a 35mm opportunity to see Patty Hearst next month at YBCA), but I've seen critics call it his best since Auto Focus (which I haven't seen), Affliction (which I have, but think this surpasses) and even Hardcore (which I'll have to think about). At the very least it wipes the rotten memory of The Canyons from mind.

I'm not supposed to say much about First Reformed because it's being released in May by A24 (with no Frisco Bay showdate that I've found yet, though) and thus is on the "Hold Review" list of films which I'm told to limit comments to 75 words or fewer. But I wouldn't want to say anything that might spoil someone's experience of seeing it knowing, as I did, little more than that it was the latest work by the guy who wrote a book about Dreyer, Bresson & Ozu (coming back into print soon) and the screenplays to Obsession, Rolling Thunder and a number of Martin Scorsese's better films. Let me just make a slight amendment to what I posted about it on twitter, which I trust is both vague and descriptive enough to be worth repeating: "Hell of a movie. Spareness reminiscent of late Oliveira (only digital), but always threatening to turn into a Scott Pruitt-era Taxi Driver."

SFFILM61 Day 5
Other festival options: Today is your only chance to see SFFILM screenings of their "Youth Works" shorts program of films made by student-age cineastes at the Roxie, the French animated feature The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales, or a Russian space travel blockbuster called Salyut-7 that appears to be inspired by a questionably accurate Putin-era documentary on the same topic; at least it'll look great on the big Castro screen (as, presumably, the cartoon will too). Today also marks the final SFFILM screenings of Hirokazu Kore-eda's The Third Murder and Johann Lurf's (STAR), both currently RUSH status showings at YBCA. And it's first of two screenings of the mostly-16mm experimental shorts program Shape of a Surface, put together by BAMPFA curator Kathy Geritz with Vanessa O’Neill and Metha Rais-Nordentoft; since originally announced the program has swapped out At Hand and Spiritual Ascension by the local & international experimental film & music communities' beloved Paul Clipson (1965-2018) with a pair of his greatest older works Chorus and Sphinx on the Seine. That shouldn't deter any true cinephiles from attending what promises to be one of the strongest programs of the festival, with new 16mm prints from Stephanie Barber, Jim Jennings, Alee Peoples, Nazlı Dinçel and local maker arc, a good friend of Clipson's who I definitely expect to attend today's BAMPFA show but not necessarily Wednesday's Roxie reprise.

You can also attend the festival's annual State of Cinema address, this time presented by the wonderfully iconoclastic filmmaker and raconteur Guy Maddin. I just yesterday had the pleasure of interviewing Maddin, and while it will take some time to transcribe and publish our full conversation, he did say this as a preview: "good riddance to the days when I could just go up and say all sorts of mischievous things. I'm too old to be the bratty little shit I once was, and I realize, now more than ever, how thoughtless and insensitive I was probably being. Who knows? I don't even want to think about it but luckily I have no memory. You know, we all need a little amnesia to get through life. I need a little more than the average person, and luckily I've got it in spades. I'm well aware that I should be contrite, so tomorrow when I talk I'm gonna try to take it very seriously."

Non-SFFILM options: Gotta mention two again: BAMPFA is actually hosting a few non-SFFILM showings in its tiny (29-seat) Theatre 2 while the festival is running in the 232-seat Barbro Osher Theater at the other end of the building. 3PM today it's Ingmar Bergman's first feature as a director, Crisis from 1946. Frako Loden has splendidly profiled the Bergman 100: The Early Years selections being held in this space in April & early May for Eat Drink Films. But it's also the second Sunday of the month, which always means a free 8PM Shapeshifters Cinema moving image/performance event in Oakland. Tonight's performer? The multi-talented music/video master Tommy Becker.

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