SFIFF: Continued Coverage

Steve Coogan, The New York Times and a 17th-century French novel are just some of the latest from the San Francisco International Film Festival

Photo: Comedians Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan indulge in their humor in Michael Winterbottom's
San Francisco Film Society/Courtesy
Comedians Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan indulge in their humor in Michael Winterbottom's "The Trip"

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The Children of the Princess of Cleves

"The Children of the Princess of Cleves" beautifully focuses on a high school class in Marseille, France studying a classical French novel. Using the novel's themes of social politics, Regis Sauder's documentary provides touching insight into each student's struggle and search for identity.While in the throes of growing up and studying for their university entrances exams, the students reveal how they relate to one of the earliest, modern psychological novels, "La Princess de Cleves." They find comfort in the 17th century tale and its themes of love and betrayal in a royal court based on that of Louis XIV.

The film disperses shots of students reciting lines from the text to elucidate these parallels. Tearful conversations between the teenagers and their families take place in front of the lens, giving vulnerable glimpses into the lives of modern, French middle-class families. The students do not hold back in their solo interviews - fears of love are expressed, apathy for society is revealed and a clear cognizance of reality is communicated. Sauder does not shy from capturing the hope (and hopelessness) of those interviewed while fervently arguing for the timelessness of literature to public education.

-Dominique Brillon

Living on Love Alone

It's either a comfort or a harsh realization that the plight of the twenty-something stage of life is universal. Such revelation is shared in Isabelle Czajka's "Living on Love Alone." Set in present day Paris, the film focuses on Julie ― a 23 year-old fresh out of university and struggling to sell herself to employers and keep herself afloat in the competitive French job market. Julie is career-less, young and willing. With a baccalaureate degree and five years of university education, she can't seem to hold down a job due to her restless compulsiveness. She thrives in her inactive naivete, sleeping with random men along her path to self-discovery ― all until she takes up a kind of Bonnie and Clyde relationship with a ruggedly handsome weapons-smuggler.

Mirroring Julie's own delayed maturation, the film takes its time in developing the trajectory of the narrative. In many shots, Czajka dwells on Julie's face to capture her innocence fading into an ugly and simultaneous alluring adulthood. It's no surprise that Czajka was a cinematographer before she decided to take the director's chair The stunning starkness of handheld HD shots reveals all, unmasking the blemishes of Julie's reality. "Living on Love Alone" really brings home the message that youth is chaotic, lonely and still thrilling. Most importantly, it reminds us of society's coddling of the Millennial Generation, the generation that expects more for what they actually do.

-Dominique Brillon

Page One

Narrated by gravel-voiced reporter David Carr, "Page One: Inside the New York Times" documents the existential crisis of the New York Times and print journalism as a whole. It's the second behind-the-scenes look at The Grey Lady to debut this month ( the first being the excellent "Bill Cunningham New York") and is perhaps a move to drum up nostalgia for the paper as it turns to a pay-for-content online model.

"Page One" delivers on its promise of "unprecedented access" to the New York Times, at times almost self-indulgent in its praise of the newspaper. The camera lens swivels around the newsroom from editor to editor - each talking/walking head giving a glimpse into his or her thought process, visions for the future and unique sense of humor. However, it does give the impression that the NY Times is run primarily by balding white men.

More specifically, "Page One" peeks into the hiccups and troubleshooting involved in the newspaper's coverage of the Wikileaks controversy and Tribune Company bankruptcy; topics that will be interesting to media buffs but could be dull for those who aren't. Most camera time is devoted to moments in the history of the newspaper, and so "Page One" positions itself squarely as a monument to the New York Times as an institution, more advertisement than critical documentary.

-David Getman

Outrage

"Outrage" is Takeshi Kitano's return to the yakuza gangster picture since his 2000 film, "Brother." "Outrage" explodes back into the big screen with Kitano's signature violence, immorality, and hierarchy of power that is trademark in his earlier works. "Outrage" competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, and it's been making a splash ever since.

The story begins over a feud between two representatives of opposing families. A pact was made between both men in jail, over sake, but greed and ruthlessness get in the way of honoring the brotherhood. Soon a war erupts and those who were once allies very quickly become enemies. We soon find out that loyalty is circumstantial; eventually, it runs out on both ends.

"Outrage" has moments of tense straight-faced humor that work as a good backdrop to its blatant use of guns and metaphorical killing techniques. Kitano's approach to "Outrage" is nothing short of outrageous. The killings are abundant and without humanity or honor. Uncommon killing methods like the one were a man is pulled out of a moving car by a rope does not seem out of place. Perhaps Kitano's constant need to present death as gruesome and common is his way of showing us the unrewarding redundancy of organized crime, or maybe, it just makes for an exciting movie.

-Carlos Monterrey

The Trip

Releasing a new movie every year, Michael Winterbottom's prolific filmography stands a testament to his willingness to tackle almost any film genre. Reuniting with British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, Winterbottom returns to the mockumentary style of "A Cock and Bull Story" in his latest effort, "The Trip." The two actors play fictionalized versions of themselves as the film chronicles their tour of the North English restaurant scene. Coogan reprises his role as the arrogant actor with low self-esteem while Brydon acts as the blissfully lighthearted best friend.

An obvious comparison can be made between "The Trip" and Alexander Payne's 2004 film, "Sideways." Both movies act as dark buddy comedies that deal with the extreme depression of their central characters. But "The Trip" actually has a greater resemblance to Larry David's HBO series, "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Large sequences of the film are comprised of comedic sparring matches as the characters compete to see who can do the best Michael Caine impression. With its interplay of improvised and scripted moments, "The Trip" captures an honest relationship between Coogan and Brydon while still delivering authentically funny moments.

-Jawad Qadir

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