SFIFF capsule reviews – Beginners, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, The Future

Beginners (Mike Mills), 104 min

Director Mike Mills (Thumbsucker) takes a page from his own life in this comedy/drama full of whimsy, preciousness and just a bit of twee. Upon the death of his mother, Oliver (Ewan McGregor, The Ghost Writer) is told by his father Hal (Christopher Plummer, in a plummy, Oscar-worthy role played with great zest) that he’s gay and always has been. Oliver himself is a modern day man-child; spraying walls with graffiti with his friend and unable to maintain a long-term relationship due to the incredibly strained marriage of his parents. Just as Hal begins exploring his newfound sexuality, Oliver also meets (cute) a girl (Mélanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds) at a Halloween party. There is a bit of parallel trajectory in telling these two stories. Did I mention there’s a talking dog? Well, not so much talk as his thoughts are subtitled. It’s a device that could push the boundaries of indie quirkiness but ends up working on a funny and emotional level. In reality Oliver probably isn’t reading the dog’s thoughts so much as filling in the one-way conversation. This happens two other times in the film, first when Oliver meets Anna at the party (she has laryngitis and can’t speak so she writes on a notepad, like subtitles) and later, and more notably, when Hal is seen walking into his house and says, “Hello, house,” only to reply back, “Hello, Hal.” Again, a bit precious, but the performances really sell the material to create a very rewarding human story. Could be this year’s The Kids Are All Right.

Plays Thursday, April 21 @ 7:00pm at the Castro and is the opening night film.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog), 95 min

In 1994 three hikers discovered the find of a lifetime: the oldest cave paintings known to mankind. Found in caves in southern France and dating back 33,000 years, the discovery resulted in the French government immediately sealing them off. But now, and for the first and possibly last time ever, they are on display for us to see, in 3D, through the eyes of Werner Herzog.  The use of 3D seems odd at first but proves to be a brilliant stroke as it presents the depth of the caves, the curvature of the stone and the drawings themselves with intense clarity. One almost imagines that Herzog now wishes he had shot all of his films this way (can you imagine Fitzcarraldo in 3D?).  Only allowed a few people in the caves at a time, Herzog drafts his troop of scientists into filmmakers, with each required to also operate a piece of camera equipment or lighting. It’s like a forced Dogme film. Herzog’s narration is dry and didactic, carefully annunciated but often wryly humorous in its mix of sincerity and melodrama. Moments of self-parody exist but they are completely self-aware; at one point while mentioning that a landslide covered the entrance to the cave 30,000 years ago, he flips the camera upside down as he tracks the members of his team on the trail. Once in the cave, the reveal of the drawings (and the water-worn rocks) is a stunner; bison, rhino and horses are drawn in degrees ranging from simple single lines to advanced levels of shading and movement (a few drawings use multiple legs to imply running), and the detail expresses a level of intelligence among people of the Ice Age that we’ve never seen before.  

Plays Monday, April 25th @ 7:00pm at the Kabuki 

Tuesday, April 26th @ 9:30pm at the Kabuki.

The Future (Miranda July), 91 min

If you looked up the word “quirky” in the dictionary chances are you’d find a picture of Miranda July. Her first film, Me and You and Everyone We Know, was a polarizing yet fascinating take on loneliness and relationships that pushed the boundary of comfort and safety (who can forget “back and forth, forever and ever”?) and The Future mines similar territory of relationship stagnation. When Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) decide to adopt a wild cat, they perceive it as an end of their life of dream pursuits. During the one-month period the cat must stay at the shelter to heal a wound, the couple embarks on “what do you want from life?” questions and situations that explore everything from infidelity to stopping space and time. You read that right; it wouldn’t be Miranda July without at least a tinge of sci-fi, and The Future is no exception. The film is also told via narrative of the adopted cat, and is done in a way that is humorous and weird, but ultimately heartbreaking and sincere in its inner feline dialogue. A truly unique and wonderful film.

Plays Saturday, April 23rd @ 6:15pm at the Kabuki 

Sunday, April 24th @ 9:15pm at New People.