400 Screens, 400 Blows is a weekly column that takes an in-depth look at the films playing below the radar, beneath the top ten, and on 400 screens or less.


This week begins the 52nd San Francisco International Film Festival. It's the oldest film festival in the world, and one of the largest, though it never gets as much publicity as Cannes or Sundance for two reasons: one is that it doesn't usually have the world premieres of the latest Hollywood blockbusters, and two is that it doesn't choose a "winner." No matter. Each year I choose my own winners, such as the following two.

When Mexican-born Fernando Eimbcke made his directorial debut with the wonderful Duck Season (2004 -- released here in 2006), he immediately earned comparisons to Jim Jarmusch with his black-and-white cinematography, deadpan humor, and a distinct lack of forward momentum in the plot. He probably won't shake that comparison with his second feature, the full-color Lake Tahoe, but it doesn't matter. This film is equally wonderful, and besides, how many good Jarmusch imitators are there?



In this super-stone-faced comedy, a hapless teen, Juan (Diego Cataño) crashes his car and spends the next 80 minutes trying to find both parts and someone to help make the repairs. Some shops are closed. In other shops, he has to wait for the owners to eat or take naps. (A shot of a man and a dog eating breakfast together for at least a full minute had me giggling.) He finds one mechanic, but first must listen to a treatise on kung-fu. A girl who runs a part shop wants him to listen to her music and tries to get him to baby-sit her small child. Eimbcke's world -- sun-baked and lazy and almost devoid of activity or adults -- may seem pointless, but he manages a delightfully complete wrap-up and payoff. And, like Duck Season, the title comes from someplace totally off-kilter. It plays April 24, 25 and 28.

When Bay Area filmmaker Jonathan Parker released the very odd, hilarious Bartleby back in 2002, I praised it and declared it a future cult classic, although I'm not sure it counts if only a few dozen other people feel the same as me. Regardless, Parker is back for another try with [Untitled], which is basically like Art School Confidential without the murders. The new film has that same ultra-black comedy vibe, which means good news for us few fans and bad news for everyone else.

Adam Goldberg stars as Adrian, an angry, depressed, genius composer whose cacophonous creations include banging on a piano and kicking a bucket. His brother is a successful painter whose bland works adorn the walls of hotels and hospitals. A dealer, Madeleine (Marley Shelton), takes a liking to Adrian's work, seduces him and lands a commission for him to perform at her gallery. Meanwhile, several other bizarre artists-of-the-moment (including Vinnie Jones, of The Midnight Meat Train) and collectors drift in and out, and the characters argue intelligently and wittily about what art is, and if it will endure. I don't know the answer to that, but the laughs in [Untitled] made me feel good all day. It plays April 24, 25 and 27.