Update - SFiFF 55 - Some Good Films to Try and Catch ("The Day He Arrives," The Giants," "Terraferma")
As the 55th San Francisco International Film Festival draws to a close, I wanted to throw some attention to a few of the narrative films that played at this year's Festival. Overall, I was pleased with the quality of the films I had a chance to screen. Here are a few worth catching at a local theatre near you...
"The Day He Arrives" is a South Korean film directed by Hong Sang-soo. Beautifully shot in black and white (Shouldn't EVERY film set in winter be shot in black and white?) this film is funny, sad, touching and just a bit insane. Hopping back and forth in time and alternate universes, you see the protagonist, a "well-known filmmaker" who hasn't done anything for a while, interact with old flames and new friends upon his arrival in Seoul. You will see these interactions from different perspectives, with different outcomes, but with the same people as different characters. Confusing? Not as much as my poor description would lead you to believe. Beneath all the trappings of comedy is the story of an artist who no longer creates art, and of a human being trying to rebuild burnt bridges. A small, short, but worthwhile trip to Korean Cinema.
This film actually has its premiere engagement this Friday, May 5th at the SF Film Society Cinema.
I was pleasantly surprised by a number of outstanding performances by young actors and actresses on screen this year. Probably my favorite film with juvenile leads was "The Giants" ("Les Geants,") an international co-production of Belgium, France, and Luxembourg. It tells the tales of two brothers (ages 13 and 15) who are basically abandoned by their mother for a summer. Running out of money (and options,) they meet another youngster who gets them involved with a local drug dealer. The boys quickly find themselves over their heads.
Don't let the darkness of this premise steer you away from this film. As dark as it may sound, and as unbelievable as the premise may be, I bought into this film entirely and found myself smiling an awful lot. These scrappy kids will do what they must to survive - but - they ARE kids and act accordingly. Their naivety and false bravado ring true. Kudos to the young cast for being uniformly excellent in their roles. You find yourself caring about these kids, recognizing their actions as NOT uncommon in today's youth, laughing at the choices they make (while remembering your own bad choices from years gone by...) and hoping that things work out for them.
The film ends with the boys on a rowboat floating down a river and away from their current troubles. I liked the characters in this film so much my thoughts immediately jumped to "SEQUEL!" I'd follow these characters on to their next adventure. It's almost a "Huckleberry Finn" for the new millennium.
"Terraferma" has an awful lot of things going on in it. Set on the isle of Sicily off of Italy's southern coast, there's a generational battle going on between a grandfather, his son and a grandson over the family fishing boat and business. There's a battle going on between the grandson and his mother over his future. There's a battle going on between the business/tourism faction of the island and the problem of illegal immigration. There's a battle between the Italian Coast Guard and the older generation of fishermen over the practice of the traditional "Law of the Sea." There's a battle between the local police force (the carabinieri) and the fishermen.
All these battles come together one fateful night when the grandfather adheres to tradition and refuses to leave African immigrants in the water to drown. The ramifications of this act reverberate through all members of his family, even more so when he refuses to turn a pregnant woman over to the police and gives her shelter.
The film focuses on the character of Filippo, the grandson torn between the generations. Respectful and almost adoring of his grandfather, his belief in him (and his grandfather's beliefs) is challenged in the film's most disturbing scene. He is given the chance to uphold the "Law of the Sea" - and fails.
It sounds hackneyed to call "Terraferma" a 'coming of age' story. The difference here is that Filippo is not the only one coming of age. The grandfather, the son, the grandson, the mother and the nation itself are all coming of age - a new, global age with a whole new set of challenges. How do traditions survive in this age? With great difficulty, but by one person at a time.