SFIFF capsule reviews – Circumstance, Detroit Wild City, Life, Above All

Circumstance (Maryam Keshavarz), 105 min

circumstanceIn modern-day Iran, two young girls, wealthy Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) and orphaned Shireen (Sarah Kazemy), find their girlhood attraction blossoming into romance under the watchful eyes of both family and country. Playing with an extraordinarily taboo subject, director Keshavarz had to shoot in Lebanon and do so under largely false pretenses (even submitting an artificial script to the government) to get the film made. All the better for it, as what unfolds is a rich love story and an excellent political drama in which Atafeh’s brother Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai), recently released from drug rehab, begins spying on his own family for the government. This Sundance Film Festival Audience Award winner, the debut feature for Keshavarz, features excellent performances from both girls, and their romance is displayed both in realistic and fantasy terms, as the girls imagine a life away from the oppression but also understand the realities of their situation.

Plays Sunday, May 1 @ 6:00pm at the Kabuki

Tuesday, May 3 @ 6:15pm at the Kabuki

Detroit Wild City (Florent Tillon), 80 min

detroitwildcityOver the last two decades the population exodus from Detroit has been the most dramatic of any large American city. The fall of the American auto industry has created a shell of a city that saw its economy disappear, giving rise to violence and leaving Detroit a ghost town out of some post-apocalyptic dystopia. In Florent Tillon’s superb documentary, we see Detroit as a city of polarities, where there is almost a celebration of its demise and at the same time groups attempting to create new communities in abandoned neighborhoods. A community garden appears to give its inhabitants the feeling of an agricultural, pre-industrialized existence.  Tillon is not looking for a culprit here, or a fix for the problem. The images of once-gorgeous landmarks, now refuges for squalid squatters, juxtaposed with the Motor City Blight Busters, a group determined to fix every house one by one, paint a stunning portrait of a city at the precipice, either of rebirth or total annihilation.

Plays Friday, April 29 @ 7:00pm at the Kabuki

Sunday, May 1 @ 2:45pm at New People

Wednesday, May 4 @ 8:40pm at the PFA

Life, Above All (Oliver Schmitz), 106 min

lifeaboveallThe superstitions and taboos of AIDS in Africa are examined in this excellent film in which a young girl, Chanda (Khomotso Manyaka, in a fantastic debut), must try and care for her siblings with a neglectful, alcoholic father, a mother dying of the disease, and gossip about her family filling up her small town and encroaching on her very ability to survive. As Chanda struggles to keep her family together, do well in school (she goes to classes the day her newborn sister dies) and help her closest friend escape teenage prostitution, her vulnerability and resilience are brutally tested. Despite this though, Life, Above All is a story of hope and promise, of overcoming prejudice and finding unity. At moments this hope feels a bit artificial, but the performances of Manyaka and Harriet Manamela (who plays the rich, sometimes cruel neighbor Mrs. Tafa) give the film a heartbreaking reality.

Plays Saturday, April 23 @ 4:00pm at the Kabuki

Thursday, April 28 @ 6:00pm at the Kabuki