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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 5 of 7

3:30 p.m.
The King of Masks
See commentary under Saturday, April 26.

3:30 p.m. (at the PFA)
* Love's Debris
(Germany/France/U.K., 1996)

We begin with a question from Roland Barthes: "Why and how do singers find their emotions in their voice?" Werner Schroeter, who has directed more operas than feature films, looks to a group of mostly European divas, some of them as "ruined" as the 13th-century abbey where the film takes place, for answers. These grande dames each perform a favorite aria and expound, often eloquently, on love, death, and music. Schroeter's prowling camera subtly equates the timeless architecture of the abbey with the sometimes wrenching emotions of the voices that fill its vast, vaulted spaces. (Morris)

3:45 p.m.
Man of the Story
(India/Japan, 1995)

The big stories of history contain the single tales of individuals. That is the message of Man of the Story as it follows the idyllic upbringing of a young, oversensitive boy in a privileged but freethinking family in southern India. The boy's story parallels the rise of the first elected communist government in the '30s and its rebirth in the '50s. Our hero grows -- from a young boy coddled by servants into a hesitant hero of the revolution. Director Adoor Gopalakrishnan is not afraid to bare his conflicted feelings about the complicated relationships between families and their servants or about the beauty of life in the countryside, but the film is never able to get inside the characters. Audiences will have the amazing beauty of India to look at while struggling for an emotional handhold. (Maher)

4 p.m.
Everything for Sale
(Poland, 1968)

* What do you do when your friend, the star of your movies, dies in a freak accident? Poland's famous Andrzej Wajda created a film to mirror life: In it, a lead actor doesn't appear for a scene involving a deadly leap onto a moving train. Lovers, wives, and friends play themselves in a moody, beautiful tribute to the wild and brilliant Zbigniew Cybulski, Poland's James Dean. The images are stark and graphic, the acting superb. This personal piece is part of the fest's "Indelible Images" section, selected by Irving Saraf, the Academy Award-winning documentary-maker. (Stachura)

5:45 p.m.
*Diary of a Country Priest
(France, 1950)

The title character in Robert Bresson's 1950 film (from the Georges Bernanos novel) is both timeless and startlingly modern. As played by Claude Laydu, he's a religious neurasthenic. He's almost all spirit: He forces his parishioners to meet him not just face to face but soul to soul. His hunger for communion overrides the limits of his experience and understanding. He locks into depth perceptions of the other characters, as if he were practicing a sanctified, rough-hewn form of telepathy. The cure's handwriting and his ink blotters (which resemble Rorschach tests), the tight shots of his cloaked, fragile figure, and the close-ups of his anguished brow and burning eyes work to pull viewers into the hero's consciousness. The rigor of the filmmaking heightens its sensory impact: The sound of a distant gunshot seems deafening when it registers on the cure's countenance. With the sparest means, Bresson achieves an extraordinary quality: a religious kinesis. (Sragow)

6 p.m.
* Underground
(France/Germany/Hungary, 1995)

The 1995 Cannes Film Festival Palm d'Or winner from Emir Kusturica (Arizona Dream) finally makes it to San Francisco in all its lusty, lunatic glory. Reckless and profane, Underground is a hugely ambitious mad dash through 40 years of Yugoslavian history and the various "fucking fascist motherfuckers" who've stomped across its landscape. It's very long and occasionally a bit wearying but so full of surprises and astonishing images that it'll keep you fully flabbergasted. Still without a distributor, it may never come through here again, so see it while you can. (Booth)

6 p.m. (at the CASTRO)
The Last Gasp
See commentary under Thursday, April 24.

6:30 p.m.
* Chronicle of a Disappearance
(Palestine, 1996)

Droll, irreverent, and oblique, Palestinian director Elia Suleiman's extraordinary first feature is a devastating political critique of the state of the people without a state. Using montage grammar from experimental films to explore themes of family and identity favored by personal-documentary makers, Suleiman captures a sunbaked picture of alienation and inertia. Fact and fiction become indistinguishable, even after the filmmaker locates a narrative structure sometime around the film's midpoint. A subtle, rewarding, and utterly atypical view of the Middle East, Chronicle introduces an observant, acerbic, and very, very smart filmmaker. (Fox)

6:30 p.m. (at the PFA)
The River
See commentary under Friday, April 25.

7 p.m.
Me! I'm Afraid of
Virginia Woolf
(England, 1978)

A comedy about a "timid, apprehensive and embarrassed intellectual," part of the fest's tribute to Alan Bennett.

9 p.m.
Noel Field -- The
Fictitious Spy
(Switzerland, 1996)

A documentary on the life of a U.S. diplomat-turned-communist eventually tried behind the Iron Curtain for being a Western spy.

9 p.m. (at the CASTRO)
Black God, White Devil
(Brazil, 1964)

"Mystically stylized and reverberating with malice," the fest says; chosen by Francis Ford Coppola for the fest's "Indelible Images" series.

9:15 p.m.
Nenette and Boni
See commentary under Saturday, April 26.

9:15 p.m. (at the PFA)
Moebius
(Argentina, 1996)

The festival's program note for the Argentine film Moebius says it is informed by bloody purges by the country's military dictatorship in the 1970s, but it seems more informed by TV's X-Files. A train vanishes into Buenos Aires' labyrinthine subway system. Two-fisted mathematician Daniel Pratt is called in to solve the problem. Ridiculed for his theory that the tunnel system has grown so complex that it has become literally infinite, he must crack the case alone. Moebius is very well-crafted, and it has a terrific, mind-bending climax, but it's too long, and could have used some of Scully's droll humor. (Booth)

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