My other two San Francisco International Film Festival dispatches focused mostly on mainstream business: popular documentaries, future commercial releases, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But it's a sin to spend a festival only watching – and talking about – commercial fare. So for my farewell SFIFF post, here's a look at two off-the-beaten-track entries I was able to catch.
Sadly, neither indie quite worked for me, which makes me feel like a philistine, I assure you. Ursula Meier's Home, for example, exposed one of my most enduring weaknesses as a cinephile, namely my intolerance for movies that operate entirely on an abstract level – as pure metaphor. Home, a French-Swiss co-production with good arthouse buzz and a wagonload of foreign Oscar equivalents under its belt, tells the "story" of a family that lives peacefully by the side of an abandoned highway, until the highway reopens and all hell breaks loose. The family's response bears no resemblance to the way real human beings would act, and Meier does not make any attempt to render any of it plausible – within the universe of the film or otherwise. And so you're left trying to decipher Meier's big metaphor, which I ultimately decided was either Israel-Palestine or more generally human stubbornness in the face of transformative change (e.g. global warming). It's all very intriguing, even interesting – but deeply unsatisfying as a cinematic experience, at least for me.
I really wanted to like The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle, not least because it has a genuinely bizarre conceit – albeit one that doesn't truly emerge until the second half of the film, and so I don't want to give it away. But the movie – which, before going in all sorts of odd directions, begins as a comedy about a data entry drone who flips out, says screw it, and becomes an office building janitor -- defeated me with spastic quirkiness. Writer-director David Russo aims for the psychedelically surreal, but though his tricks sometimes work (and are sometimes depressingly literal-minded, such as when the characters discuss the two-faced Roman god Janus, and Russo decides to add an effect that splits an actor's face in two), there's really only so much of that you can take. Ultimately Litle Dizzle is kind of a cool conversation piece, and it features strong performances by Marshall Allman and Natasha Lyonne, but it's thematically all over the place and at least twenty minutes too long.
And that's it for SFIFF this year. Highlights for me, somewhat predictably, were In the Loop and (500) Days of Summer (and Butch Cassidy, but that goes without saying) – so look for those two to hit theaters in the coming months.