Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Great Beauty (2013)

WHO: Paolo Sorrentino directed and co-wrote this film.

WHAT: I haven't yet seen this reportedly Fellini-esque film from the director of Il Divo and This Must be The Place. Here's a link to a review from a critic who loved it: Bilge Ebiri.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens multiple times daily at least through the end of 2013 at the Rafael in San Rafael, the Shattuck in Berkeley, and the Opera Plaza in San Francisco, and through this Thursday at the Aquarius.

WHY: With Hollywood flooding the market with supposed "Oscar contenders" and local film festivals on hiatus for the holidays, it's the time of year when characters speaking languages other than English tend to get squeezed off of Frisco Bay screens. Right now there are just a handful including the French-language Blue Is the Warmest Color, the Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, and Telugu-language movies playing at the Towne 3 in San Jose and the Big Cinemas Fremont 7, and Dhoom 3, the Hindi car-racing picture which has crossed over out of those venues into multiplexes. And The Great Beauty, which was just announced as one of the nine finalists for the Foreign Film Academy Award along with Rithy Panh's The Missing Picture, Wong Kar-Wai's The Grandmaster, Felix van Groeningen's The Broken Circle Breakdown, Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt and (I believe) four titles that have yet to screen in Frisco Bay cinemas. One of these, the German submission Two Lives will open the Berlin and Beyond festival on January 15th at the Castro, the night before the official announcement of this year's Oscar nominees is made.

As fundamentally flawed as the Academy Awards are as a methodical process for the determination of quality films, the flaws in the system are hardly more evident than in the Foreign-Language Film category, as is always noted at this time of year. Still, its convoluted elimination procedure sheds attention on films that might otherwise be ignored, and nominated films generally are able to see distribution in this country that might elude a merely shortlisted or submitted title. But sometimes the submitted titles that fail to be nominated are just as interesting or more interesting than those that aren't. Yet for every example like The Past, the Iranian submission that has officially failed to make the cut for a Foreign-Language Film Oscar, but has secure distribution (it open at the Clay and the Aquarius, where it replaces The Great Beauty, this Friday, and will arrive at the Rafael January 10th) there are a handful or two of films that, because they failed to achieve a coveted nomination slot, will soon become difficult to see, especially in cinemas, in this country.

This makes the Rafael Film Center's annual For Your Consideration series, which runs from January 10 through 17 at the restored Art Deco theatre in downtown San Rafael, a very welcome one for foreign film fans. Of the fourteen films screening in the series, only one has a shot at being Oscar-nominated: the aforementioned Two Lives, which screens at the Rafael the evening after its Berlin & Beyond premiere. Berlin & Beyond fans should note that German-language submissions The Wall from Austria and More Than Honey from Switzerland play at the Rafael, but not at the San Francisco festival. Other FYC films come from the Czech Republic (Jiri Menzel's The Don Juans), New Zealand (Dana Rotberg's Maori-focused White Lies), Australia (Kim Mordaunt's The Rocket, set in Laos), Argentina (Lucia Puenzo's The German Doctor), Georgia (Nana Ekvtimishvili's In Bloom), Japan, Poland, Romania, Afghanistan, Sweden and Canada.

The Rafael is of course committed to showing foreign language films that don't make a big impact on the Academy Award nomination process as well, and sometimes these can be the most interesting films of them all. I don't know if that's an accurate description of the Brazilian film Reaching For the Moon, which opens there Friday (and at the Opera Plaza that day as well), but from my point of view it definitely does describe A Touch of Sin, the latest from Jia Jaing-Ke and one that was never eligible to even be considered in the Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination process because it has never been screened in its country of origin, China. It opens for a week at the Rafael January 3rd, the same week it screens at the Roxie.

In fact, I feel as though I didn't really start seriously appreciating foreign films until I started paying more attention to films that had nothing to do with the Oscar nomination process. I don't think it's a coincidence that, when it comes to films screening at Berlin & Beyond, I'm far more intrigued by Thomas Arslan's Gold, Pola Beck's Breaking Horizons and Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel's The Shine of Day than the Oscar contender. We'll see what I'll be able to make it to in January.

HOW: The Great Beauty screens on DCP at the Shattuck and Rafael, and on Blu-Ray at the Opera Plaza. It's a bit of a shame that these are the only options for local moviegoers as the film was shot on 35mm, and is being made available for screening on 35mm by its U.S. distributor at at least one venue.

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