Monday, April 16, 2012


The 55th San Francisco International Film Festival

It certainly has not been an easy year for the San Francisco Film Society. Within six months, the Society lost its two Executive Directors: Graham Leggat and Bingham Ray.

However, their vision and legacy live on.

The year around film exhibition at SF Film Society Cinema continues to thrive and it has become an important part of the San Francisco cinema culture.

The 55th San Francisco International Film Festival, the "crown jewel of the Society" as Graham Leggat used to put it, will be additional tribute to the passing directors' contributions.

The 55th San Francisco International Film Festival

This American's longest running film festival presents a grand showcase of current international cinema. This year's festival consists 174 films from 45 countries in 41 languages. Feature films include 72 narratives and 33 documentaries.

On Thursday, April 19, the festival opens with a French period drama Farewell, My Queen (Les Adieux à la reine | France 2012), a story about the queen and her servant on the eve of French Revolution.

The festival continues to run for two weeks and closes on May 3 with a documentary "Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey" (USA 2012), about a Filipino singer Arnel Pineda's rising from being homeless to a stardom.

Throughout the festival, besides film screenings, there are also tributes and awards, as well as other live events.

So far, I have seen very limited films shown at this year's festival. However, I am looking forward to the following films in this year's program.

As always, each film's title is linked to the festival program guide that contains details about the filmmaker(s), showtime, and venue. Each film's still image is linked to a film's official Web site when it is available.

  • I wish (奇跡 | Japan 2011 | in Japanese | 128 min.)

    A scene from Hirokazu Kore-eda's I WISH

    Renowned Japanese writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda (是枝 裕和) is one of the best directors of our time. His mesmerizing masterpieces such as "Still Walking" (歩いても 歩いても), "Nobody Knows" (誰も知らない), and "After Life" (ワンダフルライフ) are among my all time favorites. He is fantastic at telling touching and gripping stories about family lives. Here in his latest film, he tells a story about two young brothers who yearn for their broken family to come back together again.

  • The Day He Arrives (북촌방향 | South Korea 2011 | in Korean | 79 min.)

    Hong Sangsoo's THE DAY HE ARRIVES

    Whenever I hear Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo (홍상수) makes a new film, often with an intriguing title (for example "Hahaha" and "Woman Is the Future of Man"), he always brings a smirk on me. I wonder what kind of mischief his newly created (or revisited) characters commit this time, and what sort of complex relationship they get into. Almost like an inside joke, these funny and quirky characters are often filmmakers, film critics, film students and so on. Judging from this trailer for his latest film, I know he is doing something unusual again—everything is going backward! Cheer to that (yes, I bet there are plenty drinking in the film).

  • Goodbye (به امید دیدار | Iran 2011 | in Persian | 100 min.)

    Mohammad Rasoulof's GOODBYE

    Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof's visually stunning and poetic "The White Meadows" (کشتزارهای سپید) is one my favorite films at SFIFF 53. His latest film is about a woman who seeks a visa to leave the country. Ironically, that is precisely what the director has been doing after he was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison in 2010 by the Iranian government for "assembly, collusion, and propagandizing against the regime."

  • People Mountain People Sea (人山人海 | China 2011 | in Chinese | 91 min.)


    I am thoroughly impressed by Chinese writer/director Cai Shangjun's (蔡尚君) feature debut "The Red Awn" (红色康拜因). In this his second feature, against the backdrop of the rapid economic growth in China, he tells a murder vengeance story fueled by the corruption. I am sure the film's story has no relationship to the recent fallout of a Chinese elite official Bo Xilai due to murder and corruption. However, the film might present a telling biopsy sample from a larger society that should be examined.

  • Compliance (USA 2012 | 90 min.)

    Craig Zobel's COMPLIANCE

    I already have an ear full about the controversy surrounding this film at the Sundance Festival and I would like to see it by myself to play the psychological game. If nothing else, it seems like a mind boggling film. That is good enough to me. Sorry, no trailer can be found for this uncomfortable film, which claims to be based on a true event.

  • Guilty (Présumé coupable | France/Belgium 2011 | in French | 101 min.)

    Vincent Garenq's GUILTY

    Based on one of the worst injustice cases in France, Outreau trial, this film tells a horrific heartbreaking story about a husband and a wife are wrongly accused of raping children. I anticipate that watching this powerful film is bound to be a disturbing and blood boiling experience with anger. But, isn't that why we love cinema?

  • Summer Games (Giochi d'estate | Switzerland/Italy 2011 | in Italian | 98 min.)

    Rolando Colla's SUMMER GAMES

    This film is Swiss's submission for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Award. It tells a gentle coming-of-age story about the first love between a 12-year-old boy Nic and his friend Marie. I guess the reason for this Swiss film speaks Italian is because the director Rolando Colla is born in Switzerland to an Italian immigrant family. You can ask him directly during the Q&A session at the festival if you think otherwise.

  • Polisse (France 2011 | in French | 128 min.)

    Maïwenn's POLISSE

    Winning the Jury Prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, this film tells stories in Paris's Child Protection Unit. Let's hope there is no repeat of Outreau trial.

The 55th San Francisco International Film Festival takes place April 19-May 3, 2012 at SF Film Society Cinema, Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Castro Theater, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, and Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.

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