Wild Grass – The most divisive film of the festival for us, as I loved every minute of it and the wife renewed her hatred of all things French (though to be fair, she did not hate this as much as last Vancouver’s showing of Tsai Ming-liang’s Face, which may have been divorce-inspiring if I wasn’t so otherwise awesome). Anyway, this is the latest from director Alain Resnais, whose only other films I’ve seen are his first three features (Hiroshima, mon amour, Last Year at Marienbad and Muriel), the last of which was made almost 50 years ago. The plot’s about an old guy (André Dussollier) who finds a stolen purse and becomes infatuated with its redheaded owner (Sabine Azéma) after returning it to her, despite his lovely young wife (Anne Consigny) and the suspicions of a local cop (Mathieu Amalric). Emmanuelle Devos has a small part as well, proving, along with the fact that the film was shot by Eric Gautier, that there are really only about a dozen people working in the French film industry right now. The purse owner is at first freaked out by her new stalker, but they eventually go to a movie and then ride in an airplane together. The whole thing plays like a demented version of Amelie, with Dussolier as the deranged do-gooder who tries to make everyone else see the world through Gautier’s candy colors, whether they want to or not. The ending seems puzzling, but I don’t think it was meant to be. Resnais apparently explained it in Film Comment, but I liked my explanation(s) better. The #4 film of 2009.
Woman on Fire Looks for Water – Our requisite Asian Minimalist (or however you want to label it) film of the festival was this coming of age film out of Malaysia, written and directed by Woo Ming Jin. The son of a fisherman is rejected by one girl, gets a job catching shellfish for the father of another girl (who likes him) while his father, convinced he’s about to die, tries to woo his old girlfriend. It’s got everything you want in this kind of film: a relaxed pace, some pretty images (I recall some strangeness with focus in the beginning, but mostly the visual style is familiar) a little bit of humor and just enough weirdness to keep you on your toes. Plus, it had the second best title of the festival. Catching a movie like this in the early afternoon at a strange theatre in a strange town is one of my favorite film festival experiences. The #28 film of 2009.
My Queen Karo – I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this film about growing up in a Dutch commune in the 70s starred Déborah François. Aside from her obvious attractions, this also made two festivals in a row in which we got to see Ms. François living in an abandoned warehouse (last Vancouver’s Unmade Beds being the other). The film’s a semi-autobiographical coming of age thing, with the title girl growing up as her parents try to live out their radical ideas of free love, social protest and not paying the rent. Dad’s mostly a jerk, using his ideas as an excuse to cheat on mom (François) and rationalize her into staying around anyway. It’s a solid movie with good performances and a cool sense of place (the many languages spoken in the commune in particular being a nice touch, and also reflective of the multi-national makeup of the cast). The #34 film of 2009.
You Think You’re the Prettiest, but You Are the Sluttiest – The best title of the festival for sure belongs to this Chilean film, the graduate thesis for director Che Sandoval. In the great tradition of one-night-in-the-life-of-a-teenager films like Dazed and Confused or American Graffiti or Can’t Hardly Wait, this one follows Javier as he tries to hook up with Valentina, convinced that his best friend Nicolas, who’s already sleeping with Javier’s ex-girlfriend Francisca, will get to her first. Javier’s a fully-realized teenager: arrogant and incompetent and insecure and cruel all at once. The film seems inspired by Jim Jarmusch, both in its mellow pace, chapter-segmented structure and indie grittiness. Easily the funniest film we saw at the festival. The #14 film of 2008.
Final rankings for SFIFF 2010:
1. Wild Grass
3. You Think You’re the Prettiest, but You are the Sluttiest
5. I Am Love
6. Bodyguards & Assassins
7. Woman on Fire Looks for Water
8. My Queen Karo
9. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (which would move up if I counted the score, but really not that much)