Saturday, June 16, 2012

SFIFF 2012: FESTIVAL REPORT (PART TWO)—By Frako Loden

Recapping her experience of the 55th San Francisco International Film Festival (4/19–5/3/12), Frako Loden continues her assembled list of short reviews, from least favorable to most. Part One can be found here.

Land of Oblivion (France: Michale Boganim, 2011)—By the time a friend told me he was devastated by this film, my only chance to see it was on DVD. But seeing it on a small screen was powerful enough. The first half is full of social movement as people gather for a Ukrainian country wedding, which is then ruined by rain and the sudden departure of the firefighter groom. (Someone actually leaves the wedding cake out in the rain!) Disaster arrives in the form of the dark rain that also spelled doom for the Hiroshima citizens in the Imamura film Black Rain. The second half is a decade later, as we observe the day-to-day life of the widowed bride Anya—now barely recognizable with hollow eyes, wearing a chic wig and working as a tour guide. What makes this film devastating, and gives it its uncanny power as barely fictional documentary, is the shooting location: the long-abandoned ghost town of Pripyat that the Chernobyl nuclear accident emptied out overnight. Anya, a numb shell of her former self, shows tourists through the buildings like a ghost who wanders eternally through her cursed home. (DVD screener)

The following three docs had my critical faculties fighting my repulsion toward their subjects. The Queen of Versailles (USA: Lauren Greenfield, 2012) (opening in Bay Area theatres 7/27) profiles Jacqueline Siegel, former Mrs. Florida, mother of eight and Botoxed so-called "trophy wife" to luxury-timeshare tycoon David Siegel, who claims to be kingmaker to George Bush. The first half of the film, hard to distinguish from a reality TV show, indulges the Siegels' excesses, the most stupefying of which is the building of the largest residence in America, a 90,000-square-foot behemoth with 30 bathrooms, inspired by Marie Antoinette's palace at Versailles. The last half depicts the crumbling of the couple's wealth as the timeshare business collapses, construction on the dream house is halted and David Siegel borrows to pay his creditors. Jackie Siegel is a marvel of obliviousness, bad parenting and hoarding, reigning over a household full of sullen children and tearful, overworked Filipina maids. If this film weren't given a berth in a film festival and I ran across it on the Discovery Channel, I would have watched it for three minutes and moved on. It doesn't take long for the fascination to wear off and the disgust to make the skin crawl. Why do people with too much money have no vision or taste? A poor upbringing or an abusive first marriage doesn't explain this kind of emptiness. The Sundance description, which was modified after David Siegel threatened a lawsuit, still gets it wrong by bestowing on this film "the epic dimensions of a Shakespearean tragedy." It's way smaller than that. (Festival screening)

Something weaker than disgust moved me watching the otherwise excellent The Source (USA: Jodi Wille & Maria Demopolous, 2012). Before seeing it I had no knowledge of the 1970s Los Angeles cult led by Jim Baker, a charismatic strongman with a homicidal past. His Source restaurant, his most successful venture, attracted the Hollywood elite with its celebrated salads and was memorialized in Annie Hall. As Father Yod, Baker became an "earthly spiritual father" preaching the "law of kindness" and kundalini yoga to his followers, giving them new names to prepare for sainthood in the Aquarian age. His act of blowing life into a stillborn baby, the first Source Family child, convinced many that he was a miracle worker. Was he that or just "a dirty old man on a lust trip," as his first partner described him when he proposed taking on multiple wives? Plenty of men and women swear their lives were transformed for the better because of this man, but things turn reliably dark when he starts calling himself God, assigning women to men, indulging in blood rituals and prophesying apocalypse. After moving his large household to Hawaii to escape mainland authorities, Father Yod falls silent and swears he is only a man before hang-gliding to his death. Under his auspices reportedly 65 albums’ worth of music were recorded by the psychedelic band YaHoWha 13. I think this legacy alone should assign him to the lower regions of hell at Armageddon. (Festival screening)

Finally, Women with Cows (Sweden: Peter Gerdehag, 2011) aroused my physical disgust and pity for two Swedish sisters who have very different outlooks on raising cows in their old age. The more conventional sister actually dislikes cows and resents having to help her obsessive sister, who is approaching uselessness and peril due to a poorly treated back injury that has her bent literally in half and a tendency to fall asleep while trying to milk her cows. My feelings of disgust for the bovinophile sister, who crawls into her bed covered with hay and cow dung, constantly threatened to overpower my sympathy for both. (2012 Palm Springs Film Festival screening)

The Snows of Kilimanjaro (France: Robert Guédiguian, 2011)—Compelled by a sense of fairness, an aging dock worker contrives to draw his own name in a drawing for layoffs and plans to take his wife to Tanzania for their anniversary, when they are robbed by home-invasion thieves. Learning that one of the robbers is a young man who was also laid off and is caring for some abandoned children, the dock worker at last must face the bourgeois-proletarian divide that's always bothered him. I enjoyed the film but was always slightly perturbed knowing that it was working itself up as a fable. (Festival screening)

Dreileben: Beats Being Dead (Germany: Christian Petzold, 2011)—As the first installment in a trilogy, this film effectively evokes the innocence and dread of a fairy tale set in the woods. For me it forced a comparison to the Yorkshire-set Red Riding Trilogy, which also proposed a ghastly natural landscape that imperils wandering young girls. But this German project has a different orientation that can be seen in the backgrounds of the lovers, a vulnerable Bosnian-immigrant hotel maid and the hospital-attendant boy who's torn among her, a more ambitious choice of girlfriend and the chance to live overseas. These options of movement and wandering are menaced by the mysterious Thuringian forest, which has its own history of romantic and scary legends but now harbors an escaped sex offender. Christian Petzold's other films have skillfully meshed psychological analysis with the East-West legacy of his country. Here you see it in a sublimated way, with the teen-romance aspects overshadowing the more interesting subtext. (DVD screener)

The Intouchables (France: Eric Toledano / Olivier Nakache, 2011) (in theatres)—This throwback to the 1980s American interracial buddy film gains new life in its more sentimental, French-language context. The plot is pure formula even if it's based on a true story: an African caregiver from a troubled family in the Paris banlieue shows a lonely white wealthy quadriplegic how to love and live again. It's undeniably entertaining and sometimes hilariously funny—caregiver Driss's reaction to the opera had me in tears—but the unexamined stereotypes and Magic Negro tropes keep getting in the way. (Press screening)

Chasing Ice (USA: Jeff Orlowski, 2012)—This documentary poses large-scale environmental destruction against the life of a single man to stunning effect. The landscape is glaciers and the man is James Balog, a nature photographer who developed the Extreme Ice Survey to document the rapid retreating and thinning of glaciers as a result of climate change. Twenty years ago, he says, he was a climate-change skeptic—and then what he saw in Greenland made him a witness and surveyor of environmental disaster. His time-lapse photography of calving, or collapsing, glaciers should put any disbeliever to shame. At 60 years old and after numerous knee surgeries, Balog's days of clambering up peaks to monitor his cameras are coming to an end. But he's a hero for what he's already documented, and he's perfect at wrangling contrarian post-screening questioners as he demonstrated at the Kabuki. (Festival screening)

Last Call at the Oasis (USA: Jessica Yu, 2011)—The numerous films about global water crises form a major subcategory of the environmental documentary. This one is especially beautiful, photographed by Jon Else and featuring a lovely, limpid opening-credit sequence but then a montage on how we waste water on a monumental scale. The film spells out the waterless doom that awaits California and compares the American situation with other countries such as Australia. We meet Erin Brockovich, who has been finding levels of hexavalent chromium in Texas groundwater higher than they were in Hinckley, the southern California town she is famous for defending. Fingers are pointed at oilfield services giant Schlumberger and the "Halliburton loophole" that exempts fracking, or hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, from government regulation. Tyrone Hayes, the UC Berkeley amphibian expert ostracized and lionized for his research, explains how the herbicide atrazine in water has changed the sex of frogs from male to female. The bottled-water industry is a scam. Yu explores solutions for water recycling and desalination, taking time out for an amusing segment on our varying levels of disgust for water we perceive as "dirty." (Festival screening)

Bitter Seeds (USA: Micha X. Peled, 2011)—After showing the dark side of working for Walmart and Levi's, Micha X. Peled's third film in his "globalization trilogy" directs his camera at the dubious fruits of Monsanto, the multinational chemical company that is swiftly taking over the seed supply of the world. Monsanto has persuaded untold numbers of Third World farmers to buy its genetically modified cotton seeds and Roundup pesticide, throwing them into a cycle of debt that has resulted in over 200,000 farmers committing suicides by drinking the very pesticide that led to their dire financial strait. Peled gives us hope in the form of Manjusha, the daughter of a village council head and farmer who killed himself this way, as she takes halting steps toward a journalism career to investigate the reasons for her family's ruin. (Telluride Film Festival screening)

Tokyo Waka (USA / Japan: John Haptas & Kristine Samuelson, 2012)—Here's a documentary that introduces an environmental oddity—the proliferation of jungle crows in Tokyo—but not in an alarmist way. Like a remarkable number of other nonfiction films at this festival, it explores a physical phenomenon like an art form, sending out associational feelers that inspire poetry and intellectual discovery. It's a "city-poem" of my birthplace that comes close to essentializing it with the usual suspects of Shinto animism and Buddhist transience, but an analysis of the metropolis as a "metabolism" shows how it flourishes. And the amazing lifestyle of the cunning, aggressive corvids keeps everything real. I had the pleasant surprise of spotting my architect friend Yumi Kôri in it expounding on the evanescence of buildings rebuilt after World War II firebombings. (Festival screening )

Meanwhile in Mamelodi (Germany / South Africa: Benjamin Kahlmeyer, 2011)—This documentary made me feel like I had been dropped off without a plan in the home of Steven Mtsweni, snack shop proprietor in the Mamelodi township of Pretoria, South Africa. His household is more excited than usual because the World Cup is to be held in South Africa for the first time, and he hopes to reap tourist dollars. (There's a brief and unpleasant reminder of the 2010 World Cup: the incessant buzz of vuvuzelas, supposedly of Zulu origin.) But the family man has equally important concerns like keeping his nephews off the streets, treating his mentally ill wife and finding out why his little son's ear hurts. From an ambitious and worried father we turn to Mosquito, his teenage daughter whose post-apartheid future options seem wide open: university, soccer, sexual freedom. I enjoyed this film's warmth and raucousness and clowning around for the camera, especially the girls doing the chicken dance as their cousins accuse them of being boy-crazy. There are moments of rare beauty, like the steam rising from a newly-bathed child, that make life in the township seem worthwhile. (Festival screening)

The rigorous and unflinching The Law in These Parts (Israel / USA / Germany: Ra'anan Alexandrowicz & Liran Atzmor, 2011) resembles Errol Morris's Fog of War, with government officials at a desk answering questions as they face the camera. But another angle shows us, on a green screen at the informants' side, footage of the four-plus decades of Israeli injustice against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories who are governed by the Israeli Defense Forces. Offscreen questioners ask these lawyers and judges legal questions about the status and treatment of Palestinians: as temporary military combatants? displaced peoples? citizens under Israeli law? Their conflicted answers bare the mess that is Israeli military justice. (Festival screening)

Found Memories (Brazil / Argentina / France: Júlia Murat, 2011) (opens at SF Film Society Cinema 6/22)—Here's a parable about a remote village that works without the forced humor of a Where Do We Go Now? In this film the humor is dry and taciturn, as we settle into the simple routine of an elderly pair who start the day in exactly the same way. The woman bakes bread and brings it to the shop, they argue over its display, they drink coffee and listen to the sounds of the remote forested village in Brazil's northeast where trains no longer stop. The cemetery is mysteriously locked and deaths have not been recorded for decades, although the remaining inhabitants are soon for that other realm. Into this time-stopped routine wanders a young woman with a camera who enables memory and time travel again. It was a lovely experience to watch this rich, lushly communicative yet nonverbal film after one with non-stop dialogue. (Festival screening)

Another Brazilian narrative film that privileges sound over dialogue is the engrossing Neighboring Sounds (Brazil: Kleber Mendonça Filho, 2012). The happenings in a well-off housing complex in the Brazilian city of Recife are rarely anchored to a conventional plot, but gradually certain personalities and effects take shape. A pair of men put on vests and get themselves hired as the new security service for the complex, which is near a low-income neighborhood that houses many of the maids and delivery people employed there. So the rich, middle-class and poor of all origins and skin shades are rubbing shoulders and creating a constantly-building tension. Barking dogs and a recent rash of burglaries are the quotidian irritations that push disparate people into confrontations. (DVD screener)

The debut feature Mosquita y Mari (USA: Aurora Guerrero, 2011) won praise at Sundance for its story of two teenage Chicanas who become intimate during study sessions in an old auto repair shop. Yolanda, nicknamed "Mosquita," is the straight-A product of hard-working immigrants, and Mari is smart but neglected by her illegal single mother. Yolanda coaxes Mari into working within the system, while Mari shows Yolanda what it's like to have a rebellious chip on one's shoulder. Now that time has passed after viewing it, I'd say it's a tenderhearted look at first love permeated with the atmosphere of Huntington Park in southeast Los Angeles. It will play at Frameline June 16 and 18. (DVD screener)

The Waiting Room (USA: Peter Nicks, 2011)—I planned to see this documentary about the emergency room at Highland Hospital in Oakland out of a sense of duty, since one of my students worked on it. I saw an excerpt online showing a Highland employee singing an uplifting hymn. That scene prepared me for something unusual and transcendent, and—although it didn't make it into the final cut—its spirit of warmheartedness and human dignity remains. This film is a generous, humorous and humane look into the workings of a public service that treats the least endowed members of our community: the uninsured patient. The focus is on the waiting room, where patients explain their ailments and the bureaucratic history that landed them there, and the secretaries, nurses and doctors try to tend them. Some of these characters are indelible, embodying the everyday heroism that often goes unnoticed and underappreciated. Winner of the Golden Gate Award for Bay Area Documentary Feature and the festival's Audience Award for documentary. (Festival screening)

The tone of Wuthering Heights (UK: Andrea Arnold, 2011) was what I expected from someone with this director's sensibilities, at least judging from the film of hers I’ve seen, Fish Tank (2009). Even in the suburbs her characters are feral. Here on the Yorkshire moors, the characters from Emily Brontë's classic novel climb peaks and look out over the countryside as if they were in a Terrence Malick film with a lot more wind and rain. Arnold's decision to change Heathcliff from a Roma or Spanish boy in earlier versions to a black runaway slave feels almost (unintendedly?) racist, seeming to imply that Cathy's cultivated wildness complements his inborn wildness. Arnold's take on human cruelty is more effective. In addition to abuse against humans, we see not only one but two dogs being hanged from fences. (Having seen an earlier, albeit offscreen, dog-hanging in another movie, I've had enough!) Heathcliff flings himself against walls more often than he flings rabbits to death. Cathy and Heathcliff as children are much more compelling than their older counterparts, and once the film enters the drawing room its elemental power dissipates. (Festival screening)

Bonsái (Chile / France / Argentina / Portugal: Cristián Jiménez, 2011) (opens at SF Film Society Cinema 7/13)—I enjoyed this film's wistful and funny look at youthful infatuation with others and with the literary text, most charmingly experienced at the same time in bed. A young man can't bring himself to admit to an attractive new acquaintance that he's never read Proust. When he's reunited with her years later, he's dismissed from his job typing a famous novelist's handwritten manuscript but pretends he still has the job by writing his own novel—about his own first love. Not many films can evoke what it's like to be in love, alone, smoking and writing in the middle of a rainy night. Although I haven't read the original novel by Alejandro Zambra, the movie seems to be a skillful film adaptation of what is probably a very self-reflexive work of literature. Although for the film, the entire bonsai subplot or metaphor or figure of speech could have been scuttled without being missed. (Press screening)

Don't Stop Believin': Everyman’s Journey (USA: Ramona Diaz, 2012)—I enjoyed this documentary enough on DVD, but I suspect I missed a really good time judging from Michael Hawley's film-415 description of its Closing Night screening at the Castro with filmmakers and band members present. Like Michael, I had limited interest in the band Journey—for me they were a comedown from Santana, two of whose members formed the new act—and wasn't keen to see the film. Until I saw that it was directed by Filipina Ramona Diaz, who executive-produced the recent San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival's standout doc Give Up Tomorrow (2011), about a miscarriage of justice in the Philippines. Then I learned that this present film focused on Arnel Pineda, a Manila-born singer-songwriter who endured poverty and lengthy bouts of homelessness before his singing prowess was discovered on YouTube by Journey members in search of a new lead singer. Pineda's new career as an arena-rock frontman brings him a whole new magnitude of stress as he negotiates all at once his first world tour, the temptations of a rock star, and his relationship with fans and critics from his homeland. Neither a rags-to-riches saga nor an account of disillusionment with the big time, this film portrays a resilient, good-humored man who is ready for anything life tosses his way. (DVD screener)

Until I saw the documentary Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present (USA: Matthew Akers, 2011) (opens at SF Film Society Cinema 7/6), I didn't think watching two people in a staring game could bring epiphanies and tears to my own eyes. But "staring game" is too reductive to describe what pioneer performance artist Abramovic did during her big 2010 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. She sat silently in the middle of a big room through the duration of the exhibition, inviting anyone to come and sit in a chair facing her. She might sit alone for hours or encounter dozens of people in a day—it was up to the spectators. They might glare at her or take off their clothes in tribute to her vulnerability. The film commemorates and contextualizes the MOMA show. Notably, it details Abramovic's relationship with former lover / collaborator Ulay and reproduces enthralling footage of their final performance in 1988, when they walked from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China toward each other—a journey that took three months and spelled the end of their relationship. All through her career the artist has been present in ways that everyone at that wall, in that museum chamber, and now viewers of this film, can imagine. (DVD screener)

I still have vivid memories of the night raid on a middle-class house in Guilty (France / Belgium: Vincent Garenq, 2011), when a bewildered bailiff and his wife are hauled off to be arrested for child molestation and their children scattered into foster homes. What follows is a nightmare of injustice based on an actual 2001 case, as lack of evidence proves to be no obstacle for an ambitious young judge. The case goes for years, during which the husband attempts suicide and goes on a hunger strike, his wife lashes out at her accusers during a stupefying court proceeding, and their estranged children act out. This gripping, suspenseful account boasts a superb and physically taxing performance by Philippe Torreton as the innocent defendant. Noémie Lvovsky, one of my favorite actors—as a nonplussed lady-in-waiting she is one of the best things about the opening night film Farewell, My Queen—plays the co-accused wife in a register of (mostly) quiet fury. (Festival screening)

By the Fire (Chile: Alejandro Fernández Almendras, 2011) is an observant and deeply moving portrait of a year in a married couple's life. Daniel and Alejandra in their early 40s, with grown children, have moved to the country near the Andes and are trying to make a go of cooperative farming. Dani finds a kitten while scrounging for abandoned materials in a never-finished country club begun by his boss. After making love, the couple tease each other with reminiscences of their youthful sexual exploits. Dani leaves his farming chores to fix lunch for Alejandra, who seems to be getting sicker with cancer. The two take a holiday, where they listen to tales by the boss's wife and can't find snow for the homemade sled Dani has brought along. Finally we watch him, now a widower, pack up the house and visit his in-laws, where he drops off Alejandra's things and the now-grown cat. The sight of the empty cat carrier, improvised from crates and another example of Dani's industriousness, brings back memories of better times feeding the kitten on the dining table. In a final long take I watched through my tears, Daniel has trouble reattaching a railing on his pickup and throws it down in frustration and despair. The camera patiently waits for him to collect himself, fix the railing and drive away. The distant light glows miraculously as he literally drives off into the sunset and a new phase of his life. It's a side issue, but I was gratified to see an animal used as a reminder of happiness and not as a victim of human rage or weakness. (I saw my fill of animals strangled during this filmfest. Knowing it's not really happening isn't much comfort.) It's a naturalistic use of an animal in a film that reveals more by seeming to sit back and observe than by manipulating events. (DVD screener)

Another wonderfully observational film set in the countryside, this time a documentary, is Winter Nomads (Switzerland / France / Germany: Manuel von Stürler, 2012), which follows middle-aged Swiss sheepherder Pascal and his younger female apprentice Carole as they lead 800 sheep, some dogs including an adorable puppy trainee, and a trio of independent-minded pack donkeys on a four-month cold-weather trek of transhumance, a new word for me meaning nomadic pastoralism. The definition suggests one serene meadow after another, which could not be further from the truth, as conversation is drowned out by passing trains and freeway noise, and Pascal must use sign language to coax an oncoming car to move aside and let his flock take over the road. Some farmers resent the sheep and don't hide their hostility, while friends join the shepherds for fondue al fresco. Both Carole and the dogs endure Pascal's tongue-lashings when they steer the sheep wrong. Despite the tension and stress of conducting an ancient custom through a 21st-century setting, the film plainly shows why Pascal has done it for decades: the snuggly comfort of a tent full of dogs, the fragrance of tea in the morning, the blanket of a snowy field, the quiet camaraderie of human with beast. I thought all sheep were followers until I learned that a bell-wearing sheep—a bellwether, of course!—is assigned to lead the others. (Festival screening)

I Wish (Japan: Koreeda Hirokazu, 2011)—Koreeda's insights into family life and children's psychology deepen with every film he makes. I'm a fan of his very noncommercial Maborosi (1995), Nobody Knows (2004) and Still Walking (2006), but I approached I Wish with skepticism after learning that it was commissioned by Japan Railways to commemorate the opening of the Kyushu bullet train—and its Japanese title is "Miracle". There he goes, I sighed, down the track of maudlin formula films that is the fate of so many promising Japanese maverick directors. But I Wish is still a Koreeda film beholden to no corporate backing in its depiction of a family that just can't live together. Two brothers of contrasting temperaments live apart with one parent on opposite ends of Japan's southernmost island. Despite being the more pessimistic and anxious sibling, Kôichi talks Ryûnosuke into a plan to reunite the family by any means necessary. That the actors are real brothers who have performed as a comedy duo for years doesn't slicken their performances. Koreeda keeps them real. (Festival screening)

Golden Slumbers (Cambodia / France: Davy Chou, 2011)—Cambodian cinema had a brief life. The increasingly shocking opening titles tell us that the first feature film, made around 1960, ushered in a 15-year era of moviemaking. About 400 movies were made in Cambodia during that time, and Phnom Penh alone had over 30 movie theaters. When the Khmer Rouge took over in April 1975, movies were banned, theaters shut down, and films left to rot. Then the most shocking title: Considered to be "enemies of the people," most filmmakers and actors were killed. This documentary, with few remaining principals to interview and somehow reluctant to show clips of films that have survived, instead evokes that era through the soundtrack songs that are still performed in karaoke lounges, coveted old posters, the recollections of film buffs, and views inside a movie-house-turned-hovel for 116 households. Occasionally playful effects distract us from the horror of a massacred film world. But it's hard to forget director Ly You Sreang, who sits inside his beautiful but empty house telling a long, eventful story of initial movie success, French exile with his pregnant actress wife, then time done in a Cambodian prison camp. His happy return to France finds an utterly changed wife who long thought she was a widow, and after years of struggle and business success in that country he returns to a modernizing, and sadly forgetful, Cambodia. (DVD screener)

The Invisible War (USA: Kirby Dick, 2012) (In theatres June 22)—The statistics that bolster the shocking subject matter of this documentary—an epidemic of sexual assault in the US military—threaten to overwhelm any criticism of its presentation. The numbers are simply astonishing. For example, 15 percent of all military recruits have raped someone in the past. Since sexual assault is a crime of repetition and obsession and not taken seriously by higher-ups, the military is a "target-rich environment" for repeat offenders. Over 30 percent of all female veterans are raped, but 80 percent of the sexual assaults are never reported. Why not? Because in many cases the officer to report to and the rapist are one and the same man. The film profiles soldiers who have reported and have even filed a lawsuit, amply demonstrating that trying to make perpetrators accountable and to recover the monetary and therapeutic costs are akin to a second rape. These women (and some men) are on the frontlines of a hidden war that can only be described as a self-destructive conspiracy given the eerily consistent patterns of these crimes. Kirby Dick avoids linking rape with military ideology and instead focuses on its criminality. His suggestion that adjudication be taken out of the hands of the military brass and placed with civilian authorities drew protests during the Q&A from members of the audience who think civilian jurisdiction is no better. (Festival screening)

Step Up to the Plate (France: Paul Lacoste, 2011)—The English title's perky baseball play on words doesn't quite fit the mood of this often wistful documentary about renowned French chef Michel Bras handing the day-to-day operations of his eponymous restaurant over to his son Sébastien. Hence the French title Entre les Bras. Americans may not recognize Bras, which has maintained three-star Michelin status at a hilltop restaurant in Michel's home village of Laguiole (also famous for its cheese and folding knife) on the Aubrac plateau in south-central France. Bras's 25-year-old signature dish, the gargouillou, a brilliant assemblage of at least fifty separately prepared flowers, herbs and vegetables served with an emulsion and purees, opens the film like it starts the meal. Although Bras is open only in spring and summer, we follow Michel and Séba through the seasons as they pick up produce, take the family on a crayfishing outing, fuss in the kitchen and carouse with friends at the Gaillac Grape Festival. As winter approaches, the mood grows pensive as Michel contemplates retirement. The scene that most effectively captures the intimate competitiveness of father and son is when Sébastien auditions a dish, adapted to Japanese ingredients for his Hokkaido restaurant, for Michel's approval. (Press screening)

Perhaps the most intellectually stimulating film at the festival was Patience (After Sebald) (UK: Grant Gee, 2011), a documentary companion to W.G. Sebald's uncategorizable 1995 book The Rings of Saturn. Like the written work, the film can't be assigned to a single shelf. It's a film of and about literary interpretation, a travel guide and a book about travel writing, a memoir about memoirs, a work of and about Holocaust literature. It's an utter revelation. Superficially about sights the German-born Sebald came upon and wrote about in strolls through his adopted East Anglian countryside (where he died in 2001), Patience explores the landscapes of trauma, memory and the uncanny and how thinkers come to their understanding of Sebald's work, a rumination on the horrors of the 20th century in prose and grainy photographs. It excited both the traveler and the lapsed literary scholar in me. (Festival screening)

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