With apologies to all at SFFILM, I’m not sure when the San Francisco International Film Festival was rebranded as the SFFILM Festival. Whenever that happened and whatever it’s called, however, the quality and breadth of programming hasn’t changed: now in its 65th year, the festival runs from April 13 through April 23 and once again offers something for everybody.
From Turkey, Kar Ve Ayi (The Snow and the Bear, screening at Pacific Film Archive at 4:45 p.m. on Sunday, April 16) is a must-see. Written and directed by Selcen Ergun, the film stars Merve Dizdar as Asli, a big city nurse who’s volunteered to serve in a remote mountain village — in part, it seems, to escape her annoying helicopter parents. Arriving in the middle of a snowstorm at the end of a stubbornly persistent winter, she immediately finds herself caught up in what passes for intrigue in a small village threatened by a marauding and hungry ursine.
If you buy a ticket for The Snow and the Bear (and you really should), I recommend wearing an extra sweater in the auditorium, because this is one of the coldest looking films you’ll ever see. Ergun draws a superb performance from Dizdar, her supporting cast is first-rate, and there’s even a bit of a mystery to complement the lurking twin threats of bad weather and hungry beast.
While I’m not generally a huge fan of biopics, director Mary Harron has made some good ones, including I Shot Andy Warhol ( 1996) and The Notorious Betty Page (2005). Though my high hopes for her new effort Daliland (7:45 p.m. Sunday, April 15, at the PFA) weren’t met — it’s not quite on par with its aforementioned predecessors — the film features a great cast and is thoroughly entertaining.
Set primarily in 1974 New York, Daliland stars Ben Kingsley as the great Spanish surrealist, now at the tail end of his storied career and painting primarily to keep spouse Gala (Barbara Sukowa) in the luxury to which she’s become accustomed. Shoehorned into the story is James (fine newcomer Christopher Briney), a fictional 20-something assistant who provides our entrée into Dali’s life.
While Kingsley delivers a fine performance as Dali and the film is never boring, it only occasionally probes beneath the surface — and then, only obliquely. It’s good fun, but if you want insights into what made Dali “Dali” you’ll need to look beyond Daliland.
I also enjoyed Martinez (7 p.m. on Friday, April 21 at the Pacific Film Archive) , a small-scale Mexican comedy-drama about an unhappy 60-year-old office worker (Francisco Reyes) assigned the unenviable task of training his replacement. Coinciding with the death of a neighbor in his apartment building, his assignment doesn’t go well — until the the frosty title character begins to let his guard down and re-embrace life. Directed by Lorena Padilla, Martinez succeeds thanks to Reyes’ restrained performance and a screenplay that never tips into mawkish or sentimental territory.
Screening at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 20, at the Pacific Film Archive, The March on Rome is a fascinating examination of the rise and fall of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. In 2019, I described director Mark Cousins’ narration in The Eyes of Orson Welles as “dry and dolorous,” and so it remains in his latest effort, but it works effectively in this setting. Despite Cousins’ puzzling description of Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin as “repulsive,” The March on Rome is an excellent documentary — and alerted me to the existence of another film I absolutely have to track down, Augusto Tretti’s Il Potere (1971).
Finally, Kevin Duncan Wong’s Home Is a Hotel (12:45 p.m. on Saturday, April 22, at CGV Cinemas San Francisco) is a Frederick Wiseman-style observational doc detailing the lives of half a dozen tenants living in San Francisco residential hotels. Like Wiseman, Wong and his co-directors don’t intrude into the lives of their subjects, allowing them to tell their own stories in their own way.
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