The San Francisco International Film Festival kicked off last Friday, and it was a busy weekend full of premieres, restorations of classics, as well as flicks from Sundance and last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Here’s a look at some of the films I caught on Saturday and Sunday.
Senility’s a bitch when you’re the world’s cleverest detective. Bill Condon’s Mr. Holmes, which made its North American premiere at SFIFF on Saturday, follows an aging Sherlock (Ian McKellen) in exile in the countryside reflecting on his life and the one case that eluded him, which he can’t quite remember. He’s still got his trademark acerbic wit and high standards, but age has softened him, and he finds a disciple and friend in the young son of his reluctant housekeeper (Laura Linney). McKellen is always compelling, but Condon’s insistence on helping us feel Sherlock’s frustration about his failing memory that the film ends up over-long and equally frustrating. Screens May 5 at 2 p.m. (Sundance Kabuki).
Rick Alverson’s black comedy follows comedian Neil Hamburger (Gregg Turkington) on the road through the Western desert, doing stand-up shows with bad jokes and a greasy combover just for the stage, visiting local landmarks, and at night, making sad and lonely phone calls to his daughter who never answers. Deliberately paced and shot with formal discipline, Alverson’s compositions and patience, in letting an awkward moment play out find the humour in human foibles even if the jokes are designed to be chauvinistic and not funny. As the film progresses, it becomes increasingly surreal, following a dream logic that is compelling, bizarre, and a bit confusing. A truly original piece of work, with terrific musical cues, Entertainment may be too off-the-beaten path for mainstream audiences but it’s designed to pull you out of complacency and succeeds.
Time Out of Mind
Screening at SFIFF this year on the occasion of the Peter J. Owens Award, which has been bestowed on its star, Richard Gere, Time Out of Mind was accompanied with an on-stage discussion with Gere on Sunday at the Castro. We first meet the protagonist of Time Out of Mind, played by Richard Gere, sleeping in the bathtub of an abandoned apartment, being kicked out by the superintendent. He wanders the streets of New York City in winter-time with a garbage bag, a winter coat, and a hat, with nowhere to go: the sounds of city life dominate the film’s soundscape. Eventually, he’s forced to head to a homeless shelter; he spends every penny on beer. Shot almost entirely through glass, separating us from the forgotten homeless, the film is taxing to watch and difficult to emotionally invest in. It’s also over-long. Nevertheless, it’s an often insightful look at the bureaucracy and minutiae of the system for these lost souls and the impossibility of getting out.
Set in the Dominican Republic, this film, from writer-directors Laura Amelia Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas, follows a local twenty-something Noeli (Yanet Mojica) who makes her living by sleeping with the rich European tourists. At the beginning of the film, she’s cashing out on a man about to depart, and the rest of the film charts her relationship with a much older French woman, Anne (Geraldine Chaplin), that’s been going on for three years. Noeli is often a cypher: she doesn’t seem to care much for her boyfriend, whom she can’t shake, nor for the people with whom she has a more contractual relationship.
Yet the only time we see any intimacy is between the two women. The power imbalance between the two — Noeli needs Anne’s money and has hopes for her assistance in getting a visa to go to Europe while Anne finds herself desperately in love — makes for moderate drama, but the feelings of both are never fully explained or explored. With a beautiful setting and strong performances, it’s an interesting look at how Western tourism has infiltrated the lives of the locals in developing countries in the Caribbean, but it’s all rather thin. Screens April 29 at 2 p.m. (Sundance Kabuki).