Tuesday, October 2, 2012


The 35th Mill Valley Film Festival

October is certainly a golden month in San Francisco. Indian summer's warm air begins to blow and bring out hundreds of thousands of people into the City. This coming week alone, the City will host the Fleet Week, the American's Cup, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, the Italian Heritage Parade, the Castro Street Fair, and the games of the Giants and 49ers.

Too much? Indeed. Actually, it seems a perfect time to get away from the crowd and noise. But, there is no need to go too far. Just across the elegant Golden Gate Bridge from the City, Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF) offers a perfect getaway with more than 90 features films from all over the world.

The 35th Mill Valley Film Festival

With hundreds of filmmaker guests and tens of thousands cinephiles, Mill Valley Film Festival celebrates its 35th birthday October 4-14, 2012 at CinéArts@Sequoia and 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, at Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, and at other venues for panels, parties and live music events.

Like every year, the 35th Mill Valley Film Festival once again unofficially kicks off the Oscar campaign for 2013 in the West Coast. A long list of high profile Oscar contenders are among this year's programming.

However, there is a noticeable absence of Chinese films this year (no, this one doesn't count). Understandably, MVFF pays more attention to Cannes, Berlin, and Venice more closely than Busan. Last year there were two Chinese language films, but no Korean or Japanese language films (not for adults anyway). This year, there is only one Korean language film. Between the two Japanese language films, one is a movie from an Iranian director.

The 35th Mill Valley Film Festival opens on October 4, 2012 with Brazilian auteur Walter Salles's good-looking drama "On the Road" (France/UK/USA/Brazil 2012 | 137 min.) and director David O. Russell's Oscar buzzed comedy "Silver Linings Playbook" (USA 2012 | 120 min.).

Ten days later, on Oct 14, 2012, the festival closes with the highly anticipated "Life of Pi" (USA 2012 | 120 min.) by Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee, who receives Variety International Filmmaker of the Year Award at this year's festival.

In between, the festival shines spotlights on John Hawkes and Billy Bob Thornton, and pays tributes to Dustin Hoffman and Mira Nair.

For those die-hard Star Wars fans, on Monday October 8th, the festival features the 35th anniversary celebration screening of "Star Wars" (a.k.a. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope | USA 1977 | 122 min.).

The following is a list of films I think you should not miss at this year's festival. As always, each title is linked to the festival program for more details and showtime information. Each image is linked to a film's official Web site when it's available. You can also download a complete festival guide here.

  • Beyond the Hills (După dealuri | Romania 2012 | in Romanian | 150 min.)

    After the award-winning "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" (4 luni, 3 săptămâni şi 2 zile | Romania 2007), acclaimed Romanian director Christian Mungiu tells another unforgettable story in his latest film "Beyond the Hills," an engrossing, poignant, and unflinchingly realistic portrait of lives in Romania. Similar to his previous film, the protagonists are two young women. Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) and Alina (Cristina Flutur) grow up together in an orphanage. Voichita joins an isolated monastery to devote herself to newly found God, and Alina comes to the monastery to meet Voichita hoping that they can resume the romance.

    The film wins Christian Mungiu the best screenplay award, and both Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur for best actress award at 2012 Cannes Film Festival. The film is selected as the Romanian entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards. It surely is one of the best films I have seen this year.

    Beyond the Hills

  • Amour (Austria/France/Germany 2012 | in French | 127 min.)

    Winning the Palme d'Or at 2012 Cannes Film Festival, renowned Austrian director Michael Haneke's new film "Amour" is an added film at this year's MVFF. It tells a devastating story about an elderly couple when one suffers a heart attack and faces the end of her life.

    The film is selected as the Austrian entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards, I am betting on its winning.


  • Life of Pi (USA 2012 | 120 min.)

    Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee's first 3-D film is a much-anticipated adventure tale "Life of Pi." Based on Yann Martel's novel, it tells a story about a sixteen-year-old boy Pi who is the only person survives from a sinking freighter. However, he is not along on the lifeboat, he is with a Bengal tiger.

    Comfortably navigating among genres and styles, Ang Lee is one of the best directors of our time. It's simply a gratifying to see his new creation, in 3-D, no less.

    Suraj Sharma  in director Ang Lee's LIFE OF PI.

  • The Sessions (USA 2012 | 94 min.)

    Based on the true story of Berkeley poet Mark O'Brien, director Ben Lewin's funny, candid, and moving film "The Sessions" wins the Audience Award and a special Jury Prize at 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

    Paralyzed by polio in his childhood, Mark (John Hawkes) is confined to bed with an iron lung, but not without sexual desire. Consulted with humorous Father Brendan (William H. Macy), he hires a professional sex surrogate (Helen Hunt). This touching and hilarious drama is a celebration of sexuality and humanity. John Hawkes is well deserved the spotlight with his outstanding performance by just his facial expression and talking alone, and Helen Hunt is absolutely at her best in the film.

    Here is my full review.

    The Sessions

  • Seven Psychopaths (USA/UK 2012 | 109 min.)

    If you like Irish director Martin McDonagh's immensely funny "In Bruges" (UK/USA 2008), you will not want to miss his new offbeat comedy "Seven Psychopaths."

    A struggling Hollywood screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) is accidentally dragged into a criminal world after his partner-in-crime Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken) kidnap a Shih Tzu from a gangster (Woody Harrelson). It sounds deliciously messy already.

    Here is my full review.

    Seven Psychopaths

  • Caesar Must Die (Cesare deve morire | Italy 2012 | | in Italian | 76 min.)

    Renowned Italian brother directors Vittorio Taviani and Paolo Taviani's new intriguing black and white drama "Caesar Must Die" wins the Golden Bear Award at the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival. It is selected as the Italian entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards.

    The film unveils the preparation for a performance of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." What is unusual is that the performers are inmates in a maxim security prison. Unlike "Lilies" (Les feluettes | Canada 1996), a terrific drama about inmates perform a play behind the prison wall, the film's actors are actual inmates, yet it's not a documentary because dialogues are pre-written and rehearsed.

    Caesar Must Die

  • Argo (USA 2012 | 120 min.)

    Ben Affleck's third feature as a director, "Argo" already generates plenty positive vibes in the festival circles. It is based on the Iran hostage crisis in 1979-81. Ben Affleck plays a CIA operative trying to pull off a grand escape scheme for six Americans hiding in Iran.

    Here is my full review.

    Ben Affleck in ARGO

  • Like Someone in Love (ライク・サムワン・イン・ラブ | Japan/France 2012 | in Japanese | 105 min.)

    Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami seems to like direct foreign actors in a foreign land lately. After his French/Italian/English speaking "Certified Copy" (Copie conforme | France 2010) set in Italy, he directs an entire Japanese cast in "Like Someone in Love" set in Tokyo.

    The film is about a Japanese young student Akiko (Rin Takanashi) supports herself with her escort service. However, any perception or assumption among the characters doesn't seem to be what it appears to be.

    Like Someone in Love

  • In Another Country (다른 나라에서 | South Korea 2012 | in Korean/English | 89 min.)

    Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo is back with his new film "In Another Country." However, the concept of the film sounds a lot like a remake of his previous "The Day He Arrives" (북촌방향 | South Korea 2011), in which the same scene reoccurs with variations.

    Once again, the film's characters involve filmmakers. This time, it's a young film student who writes a script about a French tourist Anne (Isabelle Huppert) who visits a seaside town of Mohang. Each time the same Anne meets the same lifeguard but as a different character: a film director, an adulterous secretary, and finally a divorcee.

    One thing can be assured is that Hong Sang-soo's characters are always charmingly funny and quirky.

    In Another Country

  • Richness of Internal Space File title (Espacio interior | Mexico 2012 | in Spanish | 89 min.)

    Based on a true story, Mexican director Kai Parlange's debut feature "Richness of Internal Space" tells an extraordinary story about an architect's devastating ordeal, which is powerfully performed by Kuno Becker.

    Architect Lazaro (Kuno Becker) is kidnapped and captivated in a small isolated room, and he must draw his inner strength to survive and set himself free internally. The setup reminds me another film "Buried," in which a protagonist is also in confinement. That setup poses incredible challenge for the storytelling and acting.

    Richness of Internal Space


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