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Past Forward 

For its 40th year, the San Francisco International Film Festival boldly goes where it has gone before

Wednesday, Apr 23 1997
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Page 4 of 7

7 p.m. (at the CASTRO)
* Bastard Out of Carolina
(U.S.A., 1996)

A cloudy look on a young face in a family photo can cut you to the quick. The triumph of this movie is that its heroine, Bone (the "bastard" of the title), evokes that pang of recognition even in psychological extremes -- even when her stepfather sexually abuses her. In her directorial debut, Anjelica Huston handles Jena Malone with a sensitivity that's beyond reproach -- that, in fact, is almost beyond praise. Jennifer Jason Leigh is refreshingly unmannered as Bone's mom, and with the help of performers like Glenne Headly and Michael Rooker, Huston gets at the instinctual glue that holds together Bone's extended South Carolina clan. When the men in the family erupt at her stepdad (Ron Eldard), the violence has more emotional rip to it than anything Scorsese has done lately. (Sragow)

7 p.m. (at the PFA)
Nenette and Boni
(France, 1996)

A "sensual, tactile" story from Claire Denis about a sex-starved teen and his pregnant sister.

7:15 p.m.
The Temptation
See commentary under Friday, April 25.

9:15 p.m.
The Second Time
See commentary under Friday, April 25.

9:30 p.m.
Traveller (U.S.A., 1997)
Traveller is about a new-to-movies subject -- the inbred, closed-off community of Irish grifters in the American rural South -- but the result is a hybrid. The filmmakers are caught in a dilemma: They're trying to make a low-budget, out-of-the-Hollywood-loop movie while attempting to stay in the loop enough to recoup their costs. The mix of fine naturalistic details is jangled by a lot of melodramatic stuff. Bill Paxton (who produced) and James Gammon are extremely good, but they deserve a richer scenario. (Rainer)

9:30 p.m. (at the PFA)
Goodbye South,
Goodbye (Taiwan/Japan 1996)

Small-time gangsters in a "knife-edge road trip through southern Taiwan," the fest says.

9:45 p.m.
Little Angel
See commentary under Friday, April 25.

10 p.m. (at the CASTRO)
Clubbed to Death
(France, 1997)

Lola is a slut. The waif-thin, greasy-haired girl (Elodie Bouchez) can rattle off the names of each notch in her bedpost but still tell a friend she feels like a virgin. With this initial setup director Yolande Zauberman (Ivan and Abraham) allows us to see Lola the way she sees herself: beautiful, assertive, and morally ambiguous. Zauberman's laggard direction follows Lola's adventures. Stranded in the country, she's delivered to a rave by a local gutter punk. There she doses herself, sleeps with a stranger (after telling him she's a virgin), and meets an impotent junkie boxer who's attached to the club's vampiric go-go girl. Amid the various tanglings that ensue, Clubbed to Death wants to be a hip, underground film and an existential meditation. But like the techno, house, and electronic music that pumps through the soundtrack courtesy of the Chemical Brothers and Massive Attack, the underground is barely subsurface and the brains are drowned out by the beat. (Stark)

Sunday, April 27
1 p.m.
* Pather Panchali (India, 1955)

A work of genius when it comes to describing both the freedom and constrictions of rural life, Satyajit Ray's churning, lyrical debut film is also one of the most piercing examinations in cinema of sibling love, childhood loss, and family discord. The shared yearnings and antagonisms of the poor village boy Apu and his sister and their mother, their often-absent father (a prayer-caller for hire), and a maddening, ancient aunt are expressed in images that go straight from the eye to the heart. There's nothing precious or stereotypically "art house" about Ray's robust artistry. He delivers not just telling portraiture or pretty landscapes but real movie stuff: Two youngsters race toward a distant railroad train that symbolizes release and escape, then find their aunt sitting strangely motionless on the downward slope of a bamboo grove. Ray's writing and direction are equally thought-out and felt-out. Four decades after he burst onto the scene at the very first San Francisco International Film Festival, his communication of the ineffable remains peerless. (Sragow)

1:15 p.m.
Donka: X-Ray of an
African Hospital
See commentary under Saturday, April 26.

1:15 p.m. (at the PFA)
Outside the Global
Village

Three recent documentaries from Central and Eastern Europe about modern village life.

1:30 p.m.
* A Moment of Innocence
(IRAN, 1996)

The latest work from Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Salam Cinema) is based on a striking conceit: As an anti-shah youth in 1970s Iran, Makhmalbaf stabbed a policeman and was subsequently jailed and tortured. Twenty years later he wants to film his experience; incredibly, the policeman helps him hire and train the young cast. Innocence puts a comic sheen on its real events and real characters, as director and policeman face endless problems, from their own bitchy relations to an actor too emotionally overwrought to use a fake knife. Makhmalbaf's Brechtian manipulations build to one of the most beautiful endings in recent cinema. (Morris)

2:30 p.m. (at the CASTRO)
* Exile Shanghai
(Germany, 1997)

Ulrike Ottinger has a big story to tell, and she takes her time doing it. Ottinger intends the four hours and 45 minutes of Exile Shanghai to stand as a monument to the Jews who brought their culture to China and carved out a society for themselves. She starts at the beginning, when Sephardic Jews came to Shanghai at the end of the 19th century, and stays to the arrival of the Communists. Ottinger is a fan of the long take. Modern-day Shanghai goes about its business under the staring eye of the camera, and our informants pull out their old photos and talk at length about how it was back then. There's great stuff here. The older families in Shanghai formed an elite society and built their own fabulous country clubs alongside those of the French, English, and Americans. But World War II came and those who fled the Nazis were forced into the ghetto by the occupying Japanese. Does Exile Shanghai have to be this long? No, not really, but there's not much you'd want to give up in this wonderful story either. (Maher)

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