Plays Tuesday, May 8, 8:30 p.m., Kabuki; Wednesday, May 9, 6:15 p.m., Kabuki; Thursday, May 10, 7 p.m., Pacific Film Archive.
The Yacoubian Building
(Marwan Hamed, Egypt) A Cairo luxury apartment building from another era houses a broad and lively cross-section of citizens in this long but consistently watchable debut by Egyptian director Marwan Hamed, based on the 2002 bestseller. The oldest tenant is an elegant 65-year-old aristocrat who has womanized his life away and is long due for eviction by his sister. The newest tenant is a young married soldier. A semi-closeted gay newspaper editor, installs the soldier and his family in one of the rooftop cubbyholes that now shelter poor immigrants from the countryside. In between are a self-made businessman being made to jump hoops for political status and a pretty rooftop shopgirl who's disturbed by the sudden Islamist radicalization of her boyfriend. Skillful juggling of the different stories, a fairly unpredictable series of outcomes (except for the daring-for-Egypt gay plotline), and strong performances especially by the veteran male actors produce an engaging portrait of Egypt, upstairs and downstairs. F.L.
Plays Sunday, May 6, 2 p.m., Kabuki; Wednesday, May 9, 1:30 p.m., Kabuki; Thursday, May 10, 7 p.m., Kabuki.
Fresh Air (Agnes Kocsis, Hungary) Agnes Kocsis' good Hungarian mother-daughter drama has the virtues of unusual settings, characters, and plot. Angela (Izabella Hegyi) is the impatient daughter of a single mother; she wants to be a fashion designer even as her school seems to have her training to sew in a sweatshop. Mom (Julia Nyako), meanwhile, collects tips to clean toilets somewhere underneath Budapest. She enjoys casual sex, and isn't punished for it. Her conflicts with her daughter are instead built around their mutual search for breathable air (hence the title). While most of this film's action unfolds in long, uninflected single takes, its story and characters are engrossing enough to compensate for the many de-dramatized scenes of characters sewing, thinking, or simply staring at the microwave. A powerful ending of incredible self-sacrifice sneaks up on you, and is very moving. Gregg Rickman
Plays Thursday, May 3, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki; Saturday, May 5, 6 p.m., Kabuki; Tuesday, May 8, 9:05 p.m., Pacific Film Archive (PFA).
Grandhotel (David Ondricek, Cezch Republic) The women of the Czech Republic must be desperate. Four beautiful women spend this dozy comedy pining for two remarkably unappealing men, a health drink hustler who claims to have been to America, and a weather-obsessed schlub who's the nominal hero. Most of these characters work in a mountain hotel. Fleischman (Marek Taclik), a 30-year-old virgin, is bullied by the hustler, an obnoxious boss, and the aforementioned women. A character's social awkwardness stops being funny past the age of 16, but we're supposed to dote on this dolt. Filmmaker David Ondricek is the son of the great cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek, and this film is nothing if not pretty. Viewers will, however, pine for something that's less like a low-budget American indie (Garden State with mountains) and more like one of the classic Czech comedies of the 1960s. G.R.
Plays Thursday, May 3, 6:45 p.m., Kabuki; Sunday, May 6, 2:45 p.m., Clay.
Notes to a Toon Underground
Fifteen short animated films, most of them silent, will screen in this program with live accompaniment by 11 local musicians. After previewing the shorts, let's just say that the music will need to be really, really good if this animation program is to be a success.There's a shockingly low ratio of good films to duds just one great film and three or four good ones. David Russo's outstanding Populi poses a variety of metal heads against pixellated, widely varying backgrounds. Your guess is as good as mine as to what it all means, but it's a dazzling eight minutes. Beneath its absurdities Kelly Sears' Devils Canyon is a poignant fable of the death of the Old West. Her other "found media artifact" films are OK The Joy of Sex animates the illustrations from the 1970s manual. And then there's the seven silent films by one Jim Trainor. Seven! Aren't there any other animators in the country? Only one of his films (The Minor Deities) has powerful enough imagery to be worth including. The rest is silence. G.R.
Plays Saturday, May 5, 8:30 p.m., Castro.
Born and Bred
(Pablo Trapero, Argentina) Pablo Trapero has a gift for charging every composition with a palpable sense of life's pulsating vitality, but he saddles his latest film with a cipher at the center. And it's rarely a good thing when the scenery is more interesting than the characters. After a car accident demolishes his family, a successful interior designer drops out, leaves no forwarding address, and reemerges in the frozen tundra of Patagonia. The remote outpost, with its primitive airport and crude, hard-drinking denizens, has an exotic vibe but soon comes to feel as familiar as a Pony Express outpost in any modern Western. The alienated hero, a dislocated urbanite who's picked his own purgatory, likewise feels fresh at first before tripping over one too many clichés. The movie aspires to be a subtly nuanced character study, but its inability to communicate his pain or make us empathize with his situation renders it a good-looking but existential exercise. Michael Fox
Plays Tuesday, May 8, 6:15 p.m., Kabuki; Wednesday, May 9, 5:30 p.m., Kabuki; Thursday, May 10, 9 p.m., Kabuki.
Gardens in Autumn
(Otar Iosseliani, France/Russia/Italy) The maestro of artful slapstick dishes up the most diverting slice of ham on wry that'll drift through town all year. A sad-sack French cabinet member in his mid-50s (nonprofessional Severin Blanchet) is booted from his post and seemingly launched on a downward spiral. In fact, Vincent has a bohemian soul and couldn't be happier. He accepts every invitation for alcohol-enhanced camaraderie, and takes every opportunity for female companionship. Director Otar Iosseliani makes Vincent's rueful pleasure ours by turning almost every sequence into an extended, impeccably choreographed scene strewn with irreverent bits. The depiction of wild animals is a recurring motif, symbolizing the human impulse to dominate or perhaps the freedom that people have traded for the perks of city living. That said, the moral, as it were, of this slyly disarming film is that power and prestige can't compare to a bottle shared with friends. The film's production was documented by the director's gifted protégée and former assistant Julie Bertuccelli in Otar Iosseliani, The Whistling Blackbird, also screening in the festival. M.F.
Plays Sunday, May 6, 8 p.m., Pacific Film Archive; Tuesday, May 8, 9:15 p.m., Kabuki.
Otar Iosseliani, The Whistling Blackbird plays Thursday, May 3, 8:45 p.m., Kabuki; Wednesday, May 9, 6:30 p.m., Kabuki.
A Parting Shot
(Jeanne Waltz, France) In defiance of Chekhov's Law, a gun shows up in the first act of this acutely sensitive drama and goes off in the first act. The shooter is an impulsive, depressed nurse named Frederique (Fred for short) played by the wild child of French cinema, Isild Le Besco (last year's Backstage); her victim is an adolescent, who, although unlikable, is punished more severely than he deserves. With the Virginia massacre fresh in our minds, the sequence of events is particularly disturbing. The only hospital in this mountain town on the Swiss-French border is the small one where Fred works, so it's no surprise when the unsuspecting Marco ends up under her care. This setup feels a bit stage-managed and, in tandem with the echoes of the college shooting, makes us skeptical and skittish. However, writer-director Jeanne Waltz's aim of rehabilitating two wounded people, along with her steadfast refusal to give in to easy sentimentality, pulls the movie back onto higher ground. The key is Steven de Almeida's piercing performance as the volatile teenager who reignites Fred's will to live and learns some tough life lessons along the way. M.F.
Plays Saturday, May 5, 7 p.m., Clay; Mon., May 7, 1:30 p.m., Kabuki; Tuesday, May 8, 6:30 p.m., Kabuki; Thursday, May 10, 4:30 p.m., Kabuki.
(Miles Matthew Montalbano, USA) The limbless trunk of a good movie, Miles Matthew Montalbano's film tracks the relationship between two (male) revolutionaries and two (female) strippers over a few months in a near-future Oakland. We don't learn enough about these four people's background to understand where they're coming from, and the inconclusive ending is sheer frustration. On a moment-by-moment basis, however, this no-budget film is both engrossing and alert to the passing moment and the nuances of human behavior. It showcases vivid supporting players like David Fine's gun-dealer, and four strong lead performances. Mackenzie Firgins has the most difficult role, the symbolically named "Hope," and makes it work. While the film's view of 1970s-style urban rebellion is naive (the government's not going to allow manifestos to be broadcast over the airwaves), its real subject is the psychological dislocation of contemporary life, and there it excels. G.R.
Plays Thursday, May 3, 9:15 p.m., Kabuki.