Tuesday, April 10, 2018

SFFILM 61 Day 7: No Date, No Signature

The 61st San Francisco International Film Festival began last 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 No Date, No Signature supplied by SFFILM
No Date, No Signature (IRAN: Vahid Jalilvand, 2017)
playing: 6:00 tonight at the Children's Creativity Museum, and 8:30 tomorrow at the Roxie.

I'm rather ashamed that my five previous posts highlighting daily San Francisco International Film Festival screenings gave short shrift to the "International" in the event's name. Sure, I mentioned at least one non-US offering in each post's "Other festival options" section (do you read those, by the way?) but the main selection each day up to now has always been an American offering. No more! I've finally been able to catch some recommendable international features playing this year's SFFILM festival, and hope my daily dispatches can help steer interested readers to good work they might not be able to see in circumstances as ideal as the festival's.

No Date, No Signature is an ideal example. Although it's found on the festival's list of "Films With Distribution" circulating around various venues (I picked one up at SFMOMA Sunday before watching The Workshop, an underwhelming French film), I must confess I've never heard of the distributor listed (Distrib Films), and when I check its website I see they're promoting three movies, a Raymond Depardon documentary that had 3 YBCA screenings recently, a Lucas Belvaux movie that screened once in Napa last month, and a third French feature that at the moment has no sign of past or future Frisco Bay screenings. So unless Distrib Films is able to secure more local showdates for an Iranian film than for its French ones, these may be your last chances to see No Date, No Signature on a cinema screen.

And it's something you'd probably want to see that way. The irony is that, as it's a "distributed" film, I'm not supposed to publish a full review during the festival, and wait until its theatrical release here (which may or may not ever occur) to write about it in any depth. So for now, my "capsule" thoughts are that it's a well-done drama in much the same tradition as those of the great Asghar Farhadi, and that if it doesn't quite measure up to the metacinematic intelligence of The Salesman, it includes several strong setpieces that cry out of the big screen, including a confrontation in a chicken processing plant that appeals to my own values as a longtime vegetarian. No Date, No Signature makes a fascinating contrast with SFFILM61's other Iranaian selection, Mohammad Rasoulof's A Man of Integrity. Both are concerned with corruption in Iranian (or any) society, but where Rasoulof powerfully and precisely hammers his theme, to the point that his movie was banned from release within Iran, No Date, No Signature director Vahid Jalilvand takes a more subtle tack, and leaves enough vague that he was able to premiere at the Fajr International Film Festival in Tehran, where Navid Mohammadzaden won a prize for his performance as a struggling family man.

SFFILM61 Day 7
Other festival options: Today YBCA hosts the first of three festival screenings of Purge This Land, the latest from experimental film essayist Lee Ann Schmitt, who brought California Company Town to the festival nine years ago. Today also marks the San Francisco International Film Festival debut of a new (and simultaneously ninety-two year old) venue, the Grand Lake Theater. This ornate movie palace isn't on my list of regular haunts because it doesn't reside near a BART or CalTrain station, but I have on occasion braved AC Transit bus schedules to catch something there, and I've never regretted it. Neither I nor my friend Michael Hawley who has been loyally attending the festival since the 1970s can recall any screenings in Oakland before. And the festival is only taking baby steps in the venue this year, showing a total of three features. Thursday's Sorry to Bother You screening was the first SFFILM to go to RUSH status shortly after tickets went on sale to the general public last month. But as of this writing, neither of tonight's Grand Lake selections, A Boy, A Girl, A Dream or Matangi / Maya / M.I.A. are at RUSH, despite screening in the more intimate, but no less gorgeous, theatre 3. If you want to sample the Grand Lake as a venue this year out of curiosity, or even just to help show SFFILM that an Oakland venue will support screenings even if they're not of Oakland's hottest contribution to cinema since Ryan Coogler, consider these screenings. The movies look like they might be pretty good too.

Non-SFFILM option: Did you know the Grand Lake is able to screen films in 70mm? They're showing Steven Spielberg's latest Ready Player One that way three times today in their biggest cinema, with no futther showtimes confirmed as of this writing.

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