Saturday, October 1, 2011


The 34th Mill Valley Film Festival

October is the time when the leaves change color to indicate the arrival of the colorful autumn season in most parts of the world, except few places like the Bay Area—there is no changing color in leaves here in October. Instead, October is when the annual Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF) takes place, to indicate the beginning of a different season—Oscar campaign.

The 34th Mill Valley Film Festival

Last year MVFF's opening night film "The King's Speech" won the Oscar, didn't it? Will the history repeat this year? We shall see. However, one thing seems to be certain is that multiple films in this year's program will be serious Oscar contenders.

The 34th Mill Valley Film Festival opens on October 6 with a period drama "Albert Nobbs" (Ireland 2011 | 113 min.) and a goofball comedy "Jeff Who Lives at Home" (USA 2011 | 84 min.).

Set in the mid-19th-century, in "Albert Nobbs," Glenn Close plays a English woman who poses as a man in order to work as a butler in a hotel. We already hear plenty Oscar buzz for her performance in this title role. The question is which category Glenn Close might be nominated: best actor or best actress?

Mia Wasikowska and Glenn Close in ALBERT NOBBS

Jason Segel's fans will enjoy his title role as a 30-something pot-smoking "Jeff Who Lives at Home." It is an over-the-top comedy that touches your soft spots if you do not guard them carefully.


On Oct 16, the festival closes with a delightful silent film "The Artist" (France 2011 | 100 min.). Its story timelessly resonates the entertainment industry's never changing harsh reality faced by generations of struggling artists.

Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo in THE ARTIST

In between, the festival pays tributes to Glenn Close, Michelle Yeoh, and Gaston Kaboré, and shines spotlight on Ezra Miller and Elizabeth Olsen. The festival also presents a centerpiece film "My Week with Marilyn" (UK 2011 | 100 min.).

Surprisingly, films from Japan and South Korean are noticeably absent from this year's program, except one Japanese animation "Light of the River" (川の光 | Japan 2009 | in Japanese | 75 min.) in MVFF34 Children's FilmFest.

However, the festival goers will be delighted to see two terrific films from China: "Sacrifice" (赵氏孤儿 | China 2010 | in Chinese | 124 min.) and "The Butcher's Wife" (王良的理想/Wangliang's Ideal | China 2010 | in Chinese | 119 min.). Both films tell tragic stories, only thousands of years apart.

  • Sacrifice (赵氏孤儿 | China 2010 | in Chinese | 124 min.)

    Renowned Chinese director Chen Kaige (陈凯歌) is well known for his masterpiece "Farewell My Concubine" (霸王别姬 | China 1993), that tells a heartbreaking story. In his latest "Sacrifice," another grand tragedy, he transforms a classic in Chinese literature into cinema.

    Ge You (葛优), the most prolific actor in China today, plays a physician Cheng Ying about 2500 years ago in State of Jin (晋国). During a rival cleansing, the entire family of Zhao is wiped out, except one infant, who is saved by Cheng Ying with his own son. (The direct translation of the film's Chinese title would be "The Last Orphan of Zhao.")

    Buried the devastation and hatred deep inside, Cheng Ying patiently waits and plans his vengeance.

    Ge You in Sacrifice

    The stunning visual, the gripping storytelling, and the superb performance make this beautiful film unforgettable.

  • The Butcher's Wife (王良的理想/Wangliang's Ideal | China 2010 | in Chinese | 119 min.)

    In the booming economy of modern China, not everyone is finding a seat on a high-speed train heading to the prosperity and a better future. Many are left behind, but they are not giving up hopes. They are still desperately chasing their dreams. They want to catch the last train fading away from their sight.

    Based on a novel by Wang Xuemei (王雪梅), director Gao Xiongjie (高雄杰) tells a poignant tale in "The Butcher's Wife." His film's protagonists, a tenderhearted butcher in a rule village in Zhejiang Province Wang Liang (Fang Ye) and his younger wife Li Qiao (Tang Huihua), are among those who miss the train.

    Despite repeated failures in the national college entrance exam, Li Qiao continues to try because she believes that attending a college is the only way for her to get out the village, to start a new life, and to reunite with her old boyfriend who attends a college. She marries Wang Liang is purely for the economical reason and finds excuses not to sleep with him. Meanwhile, Wang Liang accommodates Li Qiao's demand to leave her alone until she finishes the exam, hoping that one day he will be able to start a normal family life with Li Qiao.

    When things are not happening according to plans, and seeing their dreams are vanishing, both Li Qiao and Wang Liang become desperate to hold on to their last hope.

    Fang Ye and Tang Huihua in The Butcher's Wife

    Unfortunately, there are too many Wang Liang and Li Qiao in today's China. They are not willing to settle with what is laid out in front of them. However, sometimes the price is too high to pay for pursing that dream. Gao Xiongjie's film takes a focus on this often invisible group of people. Let's hope eventually there will be another train coming to pick them up.

The 34th Mill Valley Film Festival takes place at CinéArts@Sequoia and 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley and Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, just across the elegant Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, October 6-16, 2011.


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