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San Francisco International Film Festival: What to See 

Wednesday, Apr 20 2011
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The Pipe
(Risteard Ó Domhnaill, Ireland)
It's impossible to remain unmoved by this alternately scenic and raw portrait of an Irish fishing and farming burg bulldozed by Shell's construction of an offshore gas pipeline. The tough-minded locals can't agree on an organized, united campaign that leverages their property rights and moral authority, though it gradually becomes clear that they're overmatched in any event against the multinational fossil-fuels purveyor and the complicit government. The film achieves its extended, heart-pounding climax thanks to heroically defiant, chain-smoking crab fisherman Pat "The Chief" O'Donnell, who makes his solo stand in the open sea tilting at Shell's gargantuan pipe-laying ship. The Pipe provides but a few fleeting moments of inspiration and absolutely no catharsis; it's the end of the world as we know it, yet again. M.F.
Saturday, April 23, 6 p.m., at New People; Saturday, April 30, 12:15 p.m., at the Sundance Kabuki; Monday, May 2, 6:30 p.m., at the Pacific Film Archive.



Le Quattro Volte
(Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy/Germany/Switzerland)
Grave, beautiful, austerely comic, and casually metempsychotic, Michelangelo Frammartino's Le Quattro Volte is one of the wiggiest nature documentaries — or almost-documentaries —ever made. His second movie is virtually without dialogue, yet filled with the sounds of the world and intensely communicative. The movie's title translates to The Four Times but, not simply seasonal, it projects four states of being: human, animal, vegetable, and mineral. It begins with a wheezing old man and his herd of goats emerging out of the smoke rising from a charcoal kiln; it ends with the charcoal haze of what was once a mighty fir drifting across the screen. In between, the goatherd gathers up dust from the floor of the village church, which he mixes in water and drinks each night as a medicinal elixir. It evidently works — the morning after he misplaces his daily packet of church sweepings, he dies. The moment is stunningly casual. Le Quattro Volte is a movie in which animals have at least as much presence as humans. The goatherd's persistent cough merges with the clamor of his herds' conversational baas and tinkling bells. Man has been displaced from the center of the world but, if one follows the filmmaker's logic, his soul migrates first into a newborn kid and then, once the kid is separated from the herd and lost in the snowy forest, into the sheltering tree that becomes the movie's ultimate protagonist. J.H.
Saturday, April 23, 6:45 p.m., and Wednesday, April 27, 6:15 p.m., at the Sundance Kabuki.



A Useful Life
(Federico Veiroj, Uruguay)
Jorge, a dumpy film buff (played by a dumpy film critic, Jorge Jellinek), lives the life we all dream of, managing a Uruguayan film archive very much like our own beloved Pacific Film Archive. We follow the schlub as he books movies, introduces directors, and does live Spanish translation of the titles of Erich von Stroheim's Greed. Alas, the archive runs out of money halfway through this short (hour-long) movie, and we then follow Jorge as he tries to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. Anyone who has been downsized will sympathize with Federico Veiroj's film, which, for all that, stays away from what must be Jorge's vertiginous despair, emphasizing instead the sudden giddiness of no expectations. G.R.
Sunday, April 24, noon, at the New People; Monday, April 25, 7 p.m., at the Pacific Film Archive; Saturday, April 30, 3:45 p.m., at the Sundance Kabuki.

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