Yugoslav film takes center stage in "Cinema Komunisto"

The 1950s may be known as ‘The Golden Age of Television’, but my personal golden age of boob tubery came a little bit later. At the age of eight I was transported from a country with three television channels (all of which seemed to spend as much time broadcasting the test card as anything else) to the outskirts of a major American metropolis blessed with more than twenty stations.

In this land of milk and honey the phrase ‘Movies Till Dawn’ was no idle marketing boast, and yours truly subsequently spent countless hours in front of the goggle box, enjoying and falling asleep to fuzzy black-and-white broadcasts of the widest variety of films imaginable: Hollywood classics, German krimis, Italian pepla, Filipino horror movies, and Yugoslav war epics such as The Battle of Neretva.

The Yugoslav film industry — and its long and close relationship to the President for Life, Josip Broz Tito — is the subject of Cinema Komunisto (screening at Pacific Film Archive at 6:3pm on Tuesday, May 3 as part of the ongoing San Francisco International Film Festival), a documentary that will be of profound interest to folks with fond memories of The Million Dollar Movie, Bowling for Dollars, and the Non-Aligned Movement.

The film features interview footage with veterans of the industry (including Tito’s personal projectionist, who reckons he showed the President 8,800 films over the course of 32 years), generous excerpts from numerous films (including the aforementioned, Academy Award-nominated, and long since forgotten Neretva), and absolutely priceless ‘behind the scenes’ footage of Tito hobnobbing with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. The movies just haven’t been the same since the Socialist Federal Republic broke up in 1992.

Equally satisfying is Cinema Komunisto’s double bill partner, Sebastien Pilote’s Le Vendeur (The Salesman), a Canadian character study about an aging car salesman who, being Quebecois, ne sait pas quand s’arrêter. Set in a snowbound town where the local paper mill has been left idle for almost a year by its multinational owner, the film stars Gilbert Sicotte as Marcel Levesque, a man from the motor trade working hard to meet his monthly sales quota, despite the fact that no-one in town has any money to spend. The film’s dramatic developments can be seen coming a mile away, but Sicotte’s tender and touching performance trumps the trite elements of Pilote’s screenplay. Le Vendeur screens at 8:50pm; separate admission will be charged.

Are you fascinated by static shots of the ceiling? Do scenes in which potato peeling is the primary activity or scenes in which men discuss the cost of household repairs float your boat? If so, you will be in ecstasy over Cristi Puiu’s new film, Aurora (or I as prefer to think of it, Andy Warhol’s Aurora), a three-hour meditation on the life of an affectless, gun-toting loser (portrayed by the director) meandering through the streets of Bucharest.

Tindersticks: performing film scores in San Francisco

Even for those who admired Puiu’s Death of Mr. Lazarescu (and I count myself among them), Aurora will be a challenge: clocking it at almost three hours, the film eschews plot development in favor of plod development. As Puiu plods from one point to another in the Romanian capital, however, the audience will probably be plotting an early escape route. Aurora screens at 7:0pm on Thursday, May 5, so you have plenty of time to plan alternative entertainment options. Watching paint dry may seem a tad old-fashioned, but it might be preferable to sitting through Aurora.

Last but not least, here’s a wildly enthusiastic recommendation for a Film Festival event occurring only in San Francisco. The Castro Theatre will play host at 8:3pm on Monday, May 2 to smoldering Notts musos Tindersticks, who will be performing excerpts from the half dozen film scores they’ve composed on behalf of director Claire Denis. It’s not an event likely to be repeated, so buy your tickets today.

Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly.

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Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as...