2018 San Francisco International Film Festival Recap

Every April, talented filmmakers from around the world coalesce in the City by the Bay for the San Francisco International Film Festival. Now in its 61st year, SFIFF is the longest running film festival in the Americas. SFFILM, a nonprofit organization, helms the fest which caters to an audience of 75,000 people from both inside and outside the industry. This year, the fest ran from April 4th to 17th and showcased almost 200 films.

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SFIFF Highlights…

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Film Review: Revenge

Rape revenge movies are practically a subgenre of horror, and they are (like most movies) typically directed by men. Not that men are incapable of making great films about women. But maybe it shouldn’t be just men telling stories about one of the most traumatic experiences a woman can have. Especially since society can’t even agree on the definition of “rape.”

French writer/director Coralie Fargeat is an insanely talented up-and-comer. She’s clearly capable of crafting a cinematic masterpiece and comes pretty close to achieving perfection with her debut film: the rape vengeance genre up-ender, Revenge. Fargeat has studied her predecessors and pinpointed all of their missteps. Films like I Spit On Your Grave and Last House on the Left spent way too much time on the violation part of the story…

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Film Review: Her Composition

Her Composition is a feminist film that was made on the cusp of an ideological revolution. Though it was just released on V.O.D. in 2018, it was made in 2015. Back then, time wasn’t yet up. Films about the emotional Odysseys of women were all told by white men and didn’t pass the Bechdel test. That’s not to say Stephan Littger’s debut is a bad film. It’s actually quite lovely and ambitious. But it also feels a bit like a feminist time capsule.

Captivating up-and-coming actress Joslyn Jensen plays Malorie, a music PhD student who loses her scholarship to a man because her thesis piece doesn’t come from the heart. Desperate for money and inspiration, Malorie takes on the dossier of a high-end sex worker. She doesn’t seem to have a plan at the outset. She just knows she needs to shake things up. But she discovers self-assurance during her first encounter and soon, she’s got a “crazy wall” covered in quotes, snippets of written music, and meaningful insect corpses. There is no shortage of men saying and doing awful things to Malorie, but she also meets a few kind and lonely people. As she goes deeper into her titular composition, she begins to mentally and physically unravel. Before long, Malorie is racing her declining health to the finish line…

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Film Review: Scary Mother

Scary Mother is a quietly riveting film that is richly layered with themes of identity, traditional gender roles, sacrifice, and hypocrisy filtered through the lens of a middle-aged mother of 3. At 26, first-time writer/director Ana Urushadze possesses remarkable insight into the psyche of a woman who spent the majority of her motherhood suppressing her artistic urges. But now that her children are more self-sufficient, Manana (Nato Murvanidze) has taken the opportunity to write her novel. But the writing process has caused her to neglect her “duties” as a stay-at-home mother. Her husband, Anri (Dimitri Tatishvili), is fed up and is desperate to return to the status quo.

Urushadze does an outstanding job of introducing her characters and setting the scene. As the film opens, Manana is checking in with her family after having spent many nights in literary exile. She dutifully clutches a laundry basket as she quietly tiptoes through their crowded tower block apartment in Tbilisi, Georgia. While he dresses for work, Anri reminds Manana how accommodating he has been, sleeping on the couch so she can work in peace. He complains about her unkempt appearance and how long she’s taking to write her book. This interaction informs the audience about Anri’s values and the emotional rift that exists between husband and wife. From what we see of her children, they are detached teenagers who are a bit thrown by the recent inaccessibility of their formerly omnipresent mother.

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Film Review: Clara’s Ghost

All that most moms* really want is to feel appreciated. Of course, everyone has a different metric for what that entails. But for the most part, it doesn’t mean gifts or grand gestures. It definitely doesn’t mean homemade coupons for foot massages. Just a simple “thank you” every once in a while, would suffice. They want someone to notice (and care) that they did your laundry or stayed up late cleaning the kitchen. After all, “Somebody has to do it.” But being a mom is practically the denotation of a “thankless job”. And when someone spends 20–odd years getting shit done for their family, the lack of appreciation can take its toll. That’s what happens to the titular matriarch in Bridey Elliott’s wonderful debut, a gothic black comedy called Clara’s Ghost.

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Film Review: Mr. Roosevelt

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Noël Wells’ feature debut is not expressly autobiographical, but there are certainly many parallels between the flailing comedian protagonist and the writer/director/star of the film. Wells was on one season of SNL, but really turned heads as Aziz Ansari’s season 1 paramour on Master of None. Her first film proves that though she’s a talented actress, she’s an even better writer and director. Those others were just holding her back…

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Film Review: Driftwood

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Paul Taylor hates exposition so much; he created a film that has none whatsoever. Without dialogue, people can’t say unnatural things like, “You’re my brother,” and “you know how we robbed that bank together?” Instead, Taylor drops the audience right into a world that looks a lot like ours, but, as we soon come to realize, it has some fundamental differences. Mainly, this is a world in which young adults wash up on the beach like so much Driftwood. These beach people come partially dressed but entirely devoid of worldly knowledge. The first one we meet is a Young Woman (Joslyn Jensen). We never learn her name or if she even has one. Nor do we learn the name of the Old Man (Paul C. Kelly) who gathers her up and takes her to his home. It’s never clear where she’s from or why she needs someone to teach her how to eat, groom, and use the toilet. What she doesn’t need, however, is the patriarchal form his help takes, nor the increasingly iron fist with which he rules…

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