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SFIFF Film Capsules 

All About Love

(Hong Kong, 2005)

Fans of Hong Kong megastar Andy Lau can weep hot tears and swoon to their hearts' delight in this magic-filled fantasy of the ideal husband. Lau plays dual roles as an ambitious doctor and a glamorous hairstylist, the two characters' handsome faces identical by coincidence. Both of their wives have heart problems — that is, one woman's heart gets transplanted into the other. The bereaved doctor, now self-demoted to a paramedic, tails the woman who carries his dead wife's ticker to make sure that her hairstylist husband, constantly tempted by gorgeous models and trips to Tokyo, doesn't make the same mistake he did the night of his own spouse's death. Since for Lau's fan girls the only good wife is a dead wife, the film obliges: It's a tear-soaked spawn of the dying-wife and dead-wife subgenres of romantic melodrama. Who wouldn't want Lau as a fabulous sought-after husband who comes home to amuse with jewelry and magic tricks? (Frako Loden)

Sunday, April 23, 4:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Wednesday, April 26, 5:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki


(Germany/Switzerland, 2005)

From the opening credits, foodies will be aroused by the fetishistic devotion that the rotund Gregor brings to the dishes at his teeny, tony restaurant in a German resort town. In the tradition of Babette's Feast and Like Water for Chocolate, his cooking has a transformational effect. The lucky lady is a married waitress with a humdrum life, but seduction isn't on the menu for either her or the chef. This intriguing tale about friendship's unpredictable potential and pitfalls begins with an air of delicious mystery, seasoned with an unmistakable hint of foreboding. The first half of the film agreeably develops the distinctive dynamic between Gregor, Eden, and her husband, but eventually the contours of the triangle become more familiar and formulaic. When writer-director Michael Hofman feels the need to turn up the heat — in this case, by engaging one of his characters in excessive, implausible behavior — he messes up the balance in his heretofore piquant picture. (Michael Fox)

Friday, April 21, 7 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 24, 10 a.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 24, 5:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki


(Norway, 2005)

As Matt Dillon drives off from an ice factory with his truck's refrigerator still plugged into a wall, so director Bent Hamer opens this film with the same deadpan workplace humor that animated his Norwegian comedy Kitchen Stories. But while we follow Dillon drinking, writing, and enjoying relations with women as dead-end as he is, it becomes clear that we're in Charles Bukowski-land, in which the bars never close and an artist's purity is measured by his indifference to money, success, and hygiene. Indeed, Factotum is an adaptation, taken neat, of one of the down-and-out poet's novels. A stolid, dull-eyed Dillon differs from the frenzied version of Bukowski played by Mickey Rourke in an earlier Bukowski adaptation, Barfly, but he walks like a beaten boxer to compensate. He holds his head just like Bukowski did in the surviving footage, as if he were cradling an egg between his shoulders. He's very good, as are Marisa Tomei and (in particular) Lili Taylor as two of the poet's lady friends. Hamer conjures up a modern American city, where the bars never do close and the only good writing is done late at night by the light of a neon hotel sign. (Gregg Rickman)

Saturday, April 22, 9 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Sunday, April 30, 3 p.m., AMC Kabuki

The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai

(Japan, 2004)

Hooker Sachiko Hanai is sitting in a cafe when she's suddenly shot in the forehead. When she comes to, she feels all right — she just has a big hole in her head. She's also come into possession of a belligerent red finger that happens to belong to George W. Bush; he tells her via JibJab-style animation on TV that it's "the finger that determines the destiny of the world," and it wants to get all up inside her cosplay (a Japanese subculture in which participants dress as manga, anime, and pop-culture characters). Suddenly she's a genius, and talk of Susan Sontag and Noam Chomsky makes her hot, and all her senses are delayed so that she tastes hot curry and gets orgasmic at inappropriate times. Clearly she's destined for an apocalyptic showdown. If you're restricted to only one wacky Japanese movie this festival, choose this over Executive Koala — it's funnier, and it's got nuclear politics and plenty of sex to boot. Just lie back and enjoy one of the wilder examples of pinku eiga (soft-core porn) to come down the chute. (Frako Loden)

Saturday, April 22, 11:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Tuesday, April 25, 1:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki

In Bed

(Chile/Germany, 2005)

This lightweight chronicle of a one-night stand has two things going for it — plenty of (simulated) humping by beautiful thespians Blanca Lewin and Gonzalo Valenzuela, and the possibility that second-time director Matias Bize will explode the cliched situation drama of two strangers in a claustrophobic hotel room. Well, the sex scenes aren't half bad. The plot spins out generally as you'd expect, with our lusty pickup artists harboring a secret stash of lies, revelations, and hidden agendas. Bize employs a handheld camera and excessive cutting to inject a nervous energy, but the technique seems designed mostly to mask the thinness of the script. Diverting but without depth, the picture fails to convince us that Daniela and Bruno's rendezvous has achieved the lofty status of a precious memory, let alone a turning point. Likewise, you won't remember a thing about them past the next day's lunch, other than Valenzuela's tree-trunk neck. (Michael Fox)

Saturday, April 22, 9:15 p.m., Castro; Monday, April 24, 3:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki

A Perfect Couple

(France/Japan, 2005)

A mini-masterpiece of emotional subtlety, Nobuhiro Suwa's richly ambiguous study of a French couple at the crossroads takes place in a Paris that has lost its eminence as a romantic capital. Or, au contraire, perhaps it's the ideal place to heal a marriage strained by living in Lisbon. Nicolas (Bruno Todeschini) lights the fuse by announcing his imminent separation from Marie (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) — after 15 years — over dinner with a friend. There's no explosion, though, only the simmering and feinting of longtime lovers anxiously assessing whether they're better off going forward without each other. The naturalistic performances, especially Bruni-Tedeschi's, are so exquisite that it's impossible to determine what's scripted and what's improvised. Suwa favors long, unflinching takes in warmly lit rooms that distill the tensions and silences (there's maybe 30 seconds of music in the whole film) into delicate vignettes of apprehension and loneliness. See it with someone you just met. (Michael Fox)

Friday, April 21, 9:15 p.m., Pacific Film Archive; Sunday, April 23, 12:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Tuesday, April 25, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Perhaps Love

(Hong Kong, 2005)

This feverishly romantic tale of love's memories lost is also a shamelessly derivative melange of recent Western musicals — only set in China and boasting a handsome pan-Asian cast. Director Jacky Cheung (in real life as big a Hong Kong pop singer as he is a movie star) shoots a musical starring his former lover, Zhou Xun (Suzhou River), and her own ex, Takeshi Kaneshiro (House of Flying Daggers), about an amnesiac trapeze artist who's forgotten her still-yearning partner. The director, also still yearning for his star, inserts himself in a major role as the emcee in order to keep the two actors from rekindling their romance on the set. The history and outcome of this love triangle unspool in flashbacks to the beginnings of the actors' affair in Beijing (with references to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), as well as a delirious movie-within-a-movie featuring musical nods to Chicago, Phantom of the Opera, and Moulin Rouge. (Frako Loden)

Thursday, April 20, 7 p.m., Castro


(Chile, 2005)

Two lost souls spy on a world that has excluded them in this excellent Chilean film by Alicia Scherson. Christina (Viviana Herrera), a country girl nursing an elderly man in the big city of Santiago, finds the discarded briefcase of a depressed, freshly cuckolded yuppie who's been beaten and robbed. Christina uses the case's contents to explore the good life of Santiago, rejecting the very idea of the country, in which everything "smells of smoke and wet wool." The battered Tristan (Andrew Ulloa), meanwhile, wanders the same landscape like a shipwreck victim, paddling through the fragments of his former life. Scherson's film offers a cross-section of a land in rapid change, where the country girls look to video games like Street Fighter II for inspiration and old men nod off to tales of extinct Indians in National Geographic. Highly recommended. (Gregg Rickman)

Sunday, April 23, 9 p.m., Pacific Film Archive; Wednesday, April 26, 4 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Friday, April 28, 6:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Wednesday, May 3, 9:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki


(South Korea, 2005)

Dumped by her longtime lover, lovely Hyun-jung (So-ri Moon) marries a needy, nerdy engineer on the rebound. Kang Yi-kwan's delicate film takes its time in explaining the subtleties of these relationships, along the way exploring the underpinnings of Korea's family life, corporate culture, and role for women in the new, globalized era. In a less rarefied way Kang does for So-ri what Michelangelo Antonioni did for Monica Vitti 45 years ago in films like Eclipse. He uses the actor to personify the shift from an older, traditional culture (represented here by Hyun-jung's father, looked up to even though he's frequently drunk) to the brave new world of disposable lifestyles in a suddenly ultramodern society. The dislocated anomie of a Ferris wheel meeting of two lovers late in the movie is right out of the Antonioni toolkit: architecture in empty plazas as metaphor for empty lives. On the other hand, the film ultimately endorses the eternal verities of marriage, cued by the translation of the title offered in the press notes ("Apology") and the engineer's growth as a character from stalker to lover to hero. (Gregg Rickman)

Friday, April 21, 4:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, May 1, 8:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Thursday, May 4, 4:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Taking Father Home (China, 2005)

A country boy from Sichuan, carrying two ducks and a dagger engraved with his father's name, arrives lost and clueless in a big city ripped apart by new construction projects and record rainfall. He enlists first a gangster and then a cop, both reluctant but touched by his determination, in a search for his rumored-to-be-rich father. Not one to be easily shaken off, the kid stubbornly tags after his successive father figures, who feed him and lend him razors but have a penchant for violence that entangles them in confrontations with street punks and criminal elements. There's little mercy in this ironic odyssey of an innocent in a fast-changing modern China, a society in which sons are separated from their fathers and must use force to be reunited, and in which communities are uprooted for the sake of environmental and economic transformation. (Frako Loden)

Saturday, April 22, 1:30 p.m., Pacific Film Archive; Sunday, April 30, 3:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Wednesday, May 3, 6:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki


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