So Many Films, So Little Time – Recommendations for this year’s SBIFF

I figure there’s two types at the SBIFF that don’t overlap, but I could be wrong. Those who stand in line, in the cold, to catch a glimpse of a celebrity arriving for the red carpet; and those who stand in line, in the cold, waiting to get in to a cozy theater for a film they know nothing about. Well this is going out to the latter, those who love this long list of films in the guide with very little idea — no TV or magazine review, no publicity campaign — of what they’re in for apart from a few keywords and an intriguing publicity photo or poster. That’s some film love, my friends.

The guide below represents my own choices of what to see, based upon previous festival performances, directors’ resumes and word of mouth. There’s so much more, but here’s a good place to start.

FROM TOP: "Lawrence Anyways" - Breaking Glass Pictures photo "Caesar Must Die" - Palace Films photo "Barbara" - Christian Schulz photo "Pieta" - Drafthouse Films photo "No" - SonyFilm Classics photo
FROM TOP:
“Lawrence Anyways” – Breaking Glass Pictures photo
“Caesar Must Die” – Palace Films photo
“Barbara” – Christian Schulz photo
“Pieta” – Drafthouse Films photo
“No” – SonyFilm Classics photo
“Caesar Must Die”

The Taviani brothers — Paolo and Vittorio — have fashioned an intriguing blend of narrative and documentary in this staging of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” inside the walls of a prison, performed by the hardened criminals within, and directed by theatre director Fabio Cavalli. Comparisons to Abbas Kiarostami’s 1990 “Close-up” are apt, as the film keeps befuddling us with what is fact and what is fiction. The filmmakers don’t let on, hence the mystery.

“Barbara”

Christian Pezold’s gripping drama will please those who remember the stunning “The Lives of Others” from a few years ago, and what a pleasure it was to go into the theater with no preconceptions. This story of a woman in exile unfolds its mystery slowly, but assuredly, and it’s best not to give too much away here in print.

“Kon-Tiki”

For those who grew up in the 1950s, the story of Thor Heyerdal’s epic crossing of the Pacific was a media sensation. Joachim R¯nning and Espen Sandberg’s retelling of this 1947 trip brings it back to the public consciousness, and deservedly so. To make the point that pre-Columbian South Americans could make it across the Pacific to Polynesia, they built a balsa wood raft and set out. It’s like the most harrowing edition of “Mythbusters” ever made, and it’s true. (Oh, and it’s up for an Oscar.)

“Lawrence Anyways”

A 35-year-old college professor comes out to his girlfriend that he wants to become a woman, and she agrees to help him in the transition. That’s just the beginning of Xavier Dolan’s long but frequently beautiful film, his third feature at the ripe young age of 23. Mr. Dolan’s film is bound to divide audiences — it is serious? is it art-wank? — but count on him being a name to watch in the future.

“The Sapphires”

The feel-good movie of the fest, and somewhat loosely based on a true story, Wayne Blair’s film follows four aboriginal girls in 1960s Australia as they are shaped into a Motown-style girl group by their manager, played by Chris O’Dowd (Roy in “The IT Crowd”), and then play for the troops in Vietnam. Never too serious or too shallow, this is just-right moviemaking.

“Pieta”

Korean director Ki-duk Kim (The Isle, 3 Iron) returns to the West with this film about a loan shark who has to rethink his life with the arrival of a woman who claims to be his mother. The film won the Golden Lion at Venice last year, and was South Korea’s entry into the Oscars this season (it missed a nomination). The film is violent and grim, but it does send its heartless main character on a humanizing journey.

“Hannah Arendt”

Margarethe von Trotta’s biopic focuses on the philosopher Arendt as she travels to Israel for the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, which would lead to her famous book “The Banality of Evil.” Barbara Sukowa plays or rather inhabits Arendt in this most intelligent “academic thriller.”

“After Lucia”

Mexico’s entry to the Oscars, this film follows a father and daughter after they move to a new city following his wife’s death. Things go well until an Internet video exposes the daughter to a world of bullying. Michel Franco used mostly amateur actors but you wouldn’t know it here — these are raw and unflinching performances.

“No”

Chile’s first-ever Oscar nomination comes due to Gael Garcia Bernal’s performance as the man who campaigned and got military dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet thrown out of power and got Chile back on the road to democracy. The nomination has boosted Chile’s burgeoning film industry.

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