Friday, October 31, 2014

HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR (1959)—Review by David Robson

It rises back up, like a ghost. Appropriate that the movie is being re-released to theatres on Halloween, a perfect date for a movie as haunted as Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959). Alain Resnais' landmark film (from a script by novelist Marguerite Duras) was considered by some the first truly modern movie of the sound era. Originally commissioned to create a documentary on the atomic bomb, Resnais opted to instead confront the subject's weighty history through fiction. (He had earlier captured some of the anguish of the Holocaust in his poetic, terrifying short documentary Night and Fog, and some of that movie's strategies are deployed in Hiroshima).

The movie's unsettling first reel takes in sights, footage, and artifacts from a museum erected in Hiroshima to commemorate the bombing. Over this harrowing travelogue we hear a conversation between two people, whom we figure out are a French woman (Emmanuelle Riva), who is confronting the horrors of what happened at Hiroshima, and a Japanese man (Eiji Okada) who gently but implacably insists that she has seen nothing. The movie then seems to switch its focus on the affair between these two figures, a French actress in town to shoot a historical war drama and a Japanese architect who has his own memories of the war.

Both are married with children. Both are scarred by their experiences during the real war. Both are defined by that pain, and to a degree isolated by it. And so the story never really loses its initial focus on the horrors of Hiroshima; Duras and Resnais artfully speak to the unknowability of such horrors by juxtaposing it with the unknowability of a foreign lover. Duras cannily uses the enormity of the pain embedded deep within Hiroshima to outweigh the immorality of her characters' affair, allowing us perhaps to engage their affair at a remove. This remove lets us empathize more deeply with their longing for one another, joining us to them at the heart. Too many movies about similar subjects attempt to make us see them through their characters' eyes; Resnais, Duras, Riva, and Okada instead let us truly feel the pain, the weight of history.

And so this intriguing, compelling, often confounding, and ultimately timeless motion picture has been caught in another moment it couldn't have anticipated. It feels necessary to mention that this iconic film has been resurrected in a new digital print. At least one critic I know who has seen it lamented yet another classic movie released in a new, bad DCP. And yet he quickly pointed out that few seemed to understand what a bad DCP was, confessing that the distinction often eluded him as well. From my own perspective I recall seeing many worse digital prints of more recent movies. I recall that Hiroshima's still images were crisply rendered, with some of the movement within those images a bit blurred, pixilated (as is sometimes the case with new digital transfers). And yet I recall nothing about the visual presentation keeping me from being absorbed in the movie. Indeed, I noticed immediately that the movie sounds absolutely stellar, with the digital wash bringing a gorgeous clarity to the accumulated music of Duras' dialogue, Riva and Okada's voices, Giovanni Fusco's score (a piano piece in the film's aching final third struck me as one of the loveliest pieces of music I've ever heard in a movie). In a movie that puts so much weight on its music and sound design, the clarity this DCP brings to those aspects should not be overlooked in a perhaps knee-jerk movement to condemn its medium.

It is entirely possible that the new format, and the potential ubiquity it offers Hiroshima Mon Amour, will put it before the eyes of a larger, younger audience not as invested in issues surrounding the ongoing film-vs.-digital debate. I don't doubt someone will suggest that the movie's new format will add a layer of obfuscation to the issues already permeating the movie of capturing that which is unfilmable, be it the terrifying reality of nuclear war or the deep, singular pain carried by all of us. I'm hoping that the re-release will allow a new audience to discover the movie; to be carried into its mysteries, and see its own pain, longing, and identity reflecting back, as always, from this still-singular movie.

Hiroshima Mon Amour opens Friday, October 31, 2014, at the Vogue Theatre, 3290 Sacramento St., S.F. (415) 346-2288. David Robson holds a degree in theatre from the University of Virginia. He is the editorial director at Jaman, a website that offers a smarter search for new movies to watch on line. David blogs irregularly at the House of Sparrows, but is often too busy seeing movies to write about them.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Everyone knows that the French (specifically, journalist Nino Frank) coined the term film noir. But not everyone knows just how immersed the French became in the production of their own films noirs in the years following World War II.

With that in mind, and noting the rising awareness that film noir was (and is) an international phenomenon, legendary programmer Elliot Lavine has teamed up with Midcentury Productions Executive Director Don Malcolm to assemble a twelve film, four day mini-extravaganza that will take audiences at the Roxie Theatre on a twisted, feverish journey into the heart of Gallic darkness. San Francisco audiences who had their appetites whetted for foreign noir earlier in 2014 can do no better than to congregate at the Roxie from November 14-17 to discover the hidden treasures of French film noir that this landmark series will unearth for them.

The festival will feature familiar international stars—Jean Gabin, Brigitte Bardot, Simone Signoret, Lino Ventura—but will place them in the context of lurid ménages and murderous deceits that have been given a uniquely French twist. It will also probe deeply into the reservoir of actors and directors whose work in France during this time frame has been unjustly neglected for the past half-century.

"It seems that the Nouvelle Vague, which revered film noir, ironically managed to push much of the French film noir movement that preceded it into the shadows," Malcolm notes. "Only a handful of these films have resurfaced in America thus far—Rififi, The Wages of Fear, Bob Le Flambeur, Grisbi, to name a few—but that's just the tip of the iceberg."

"By the time this festival ends," Lavine promises, "those who've seen these twelve films will realize just how well the French embraced the noir style—and they won't be able to stop talking about the sexy, scheming blondes who dominate the action."

French postcard by E.D.U.G., no. 379. Photo Sam Lévin
It's not just Bardot, who'll be seen twice—as the leggy streetwalker opposite Jean Gabin in En Case De Malheur (aka Love Is My Profession) and as the murder-trial defendant in Henri-Georges Cluozot's social problem thriller La Verité. The bevy of blonde French bombshells bubbling under Bardot is incredible.

"Mylene Demongeot, Marina Vlady, Odile Versois, Barbara Laage, and Cecile Aubry are simply astonishing," Malcolm enthuses. "The French bring a fully adult dimension to their conception of the femme fatale, and these performances prove that in spades!" But even the non-blondes—the legendary Simone Signoret in Dédée D'Anvers, Daniele Delorme in Voici Les Temps Des Assassins (aka Deadlier Than the Male) and Catherine Rouvel in Chair de Poule (aka Highway Pickup)—will leave audiences breathless.

"We are going to have to hold a contest to see who the audience considers to be the nastiest of all the bad girls," Lavine grins. "It will be a very tough choice!"

In addition to reviving lesser-known works by master directors (Henri-Georges Clouzot, Julien Duvivier), lesser-known but equally worthy directors who excelled in French noir (Rene Clement, Claude Autant-Lara, Yves Allegret, Henri Verneuil, Robert Hossein, Eduoard Molinaro) will also be showcased. But the most incendiary double bill, concluding the festival on Monday night, November 17, showcases two of France's most legendary midcentury literary figures—two writers who could not be further apart: Jean-Paul Sartre and Boris Vian. Sartre's play La Putain Respectuese and Vian's novel I Spit On Your Graves both tackle the still-controversial subject of American racism, and the on-screen results are electrifying.

"Boris Vian is the embodiment of French film noir in all its glory and its excess," Lavine notes. "He was the first person to embrace the idea. I Spit On Your Graves, which appeared in 1946 just as the term film noir was being coined, fuses pulp fiction and social commentary in a unique way that is still controversial and disturbing today."

"And Vian literally died for that idea of noir," Malcolm adds. "He fought director Michel Gast throughout the production of the film version, and at the premiere of I Spit On Your Graves, he stood up after the first ten minutes, cursing the screen. After a moment or two of vitriol, he suddenly clutched his chest, collapsed—and died right on the spot!"

While Roxie patrons are encouraged not to follow in Vian's footsteps during the screening of "The French Had A Name For It," there's little doubt that they will be enraptured by the rediscovery of a new treasure trove of dark thrillers done only as the French could do it.

My thanks to Larsen Associates for this press release and credits to Donald Malcolm for the following program capsules.


Manon (1949, dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot)—In between the highly touted Quay des Orfevres (1947) and La Salaire de Peu (1952) the often-clinical Clouzot indulged his most fervid powers of lurid extrapolation with Manon, his deliriously dark reworking of the notorious Abbe Provost novel Manon Lescaut. Clouzot modernizes the tale of star-crossed Parisian lovers and transplants their escape location from eighteenth-century New Orleans to post-WWII Palestine to wondrous visual effect (courtesy of long-time Clouzot cinematographer Armand Thirard). Baby-faced Cecile Aubry sets the tone and look for a series of blond bombshells that will prove popular in French noir of the fifties. With Michel Auclair and Serge Reggiani. (100 min.)

La Verité (1960, dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot)—The emergence of Brigitte Bardot signaled a sea change in how sexuality was depicted on screen, and her superstardom provoked a firestorm of controversy and backlash. La Verité traded on that notoriety and placed itself squarely in the middle of the French culture wars, with Bardot literally and figuratively "on trial" for her lack of decorum. Flashbacks ignite the sordid tale of her character's misplaced love for a narcissistic composer (Sami Frey) and become the basis of a furious courtroom battle when she is charged with his murder. With Paul Merisse and Charles Vanel as the bickering barristers. (122 min.)


Les Maudits (1947, dir. Rene Clement)—Henri Vidal (1919-1959) was too handsome for his own good—his early promise as a successor for Jean Gabin was sidetracked by his success in early sword-and-sandal-epics such as Fabiola (1949). Prior to that, however, he is at his best as the kidnapped doctor in Rene Clement's exceptionally tense Les Maudits, where the strangest of all possible bedfellows are trapped together in a submarine commandeered by a group of Nazis attempting to escape in the last days of WWII. Clement creates a series of interlocked, claustrophobic cat-and-mouse games that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Photographed by the great Henri Alekan (Beauty and the Beast, Such A Pretty Little Beach). With Florence Marly, Marcel Dalio, Michel Auclair, Anne Campion. (195 min.)

Une Manche Et La Belle aka A Kiss For A Killer (1957, dir. Henri Verneuil)—Director Verneuil, a Turkish expatriate best known for his helming of The Sicilian Clan (1959), is in top form here adapting a James Hadley Chase source novel (The Sucker Punch) into a well-modulated Gallic amalgam of Sunset Boulevard and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Vidal is the trophy husband of a rich dowager (Isa Miranda) who is slowly seduced into murdering her by his comely, cunning secretary (well-played by Bardot lookalike Mylene Demengeot). With crisp lenswork from esteemed French cinematographer Christian Matras (Grand Illusion, Le Ronde). (98 min.)


Toi Le Venin aka Blonde In A White Car (1958, dir. Robert Hossein)—Suavely deadpan Robert Hossein quickly became a force on both sides of the camera with his breakthrough film The Wicked Go to Hell (1955), which also introduced him to France's blondest minx, Marina Vlady (whom he would soon marry). Hossein's key collaborator in his noir phase (1955-64), however, was novelist Fredric Dard, considered by some to be France's answer to Raymond Chandler. Toi Le Venin, from Dard's novel of the same name, is a nasty little ménage a trois in which two sisters (Vlady and her real-life sister Odile Versios) lead Hossein down a primrose path littered with thorns. Featuring subtle, evocative photography from Robert Juillard (Germany Year Zero) and a cool, jazzy score from Hossein's father André. (92 min.)

Un Temoin Dans La Ville aka Witness In the City (dir. Eduard Molinaro, 1959)—France's greatest character lead in the 1960s and 70s, Lino Ventura, has his breakout role here, as a revenge murderer who finds that his "perfect crime" was witnessed by a cab driver and must try to eliminate him. As events unfold, Ventura finds that he is as much hunted as hunter. Stunning night photography from Henri Decae (Bob Le Flambeur, Elevator to the Gallows), and an evocative score featuring jazz greats Kenny Clarke and Kenny Dorham. (86 min.)


Dédée D'Anvers aka Woman of Antwerp (dir. Yves Allegret, 1948)—Bursting through the echoes of "poetic realism" contained within its narrative, Dédée D'Anvers showcases the emergence of Simone Signoret, a hooker with a hankering for a better life. The original French femme fatale, Signoret is both luminous and complex, presaging a series of follow-up performances in similarly-themed films over the next half-decade. With Bernard Blier, Marcello Pagliero, Jane Marken and Marcel Dalio. Evocatively photographed by Jean Bourgoin (Black Orpheus, Mr. Arkadin). (86 min.)

En Case De Malheur aka Love Is My Profession (dir. Claude Autant-Lara, 1958)—Gabin! Bardot! Oh-la-la (or, should we say, OMG)!! The trouble starts when Gabin, a distinguished lawyer, defends Bardot, a prostitute who has committed a robbery. He gets her off, and finds (to everyone's dismay, including his wife) that he gets off on her; she becomes his mistress. Alas, Gabin's efforts to "upscale" her are fraught with peril, for she has another lover, a handsome young student (Franco Interleghi), who slowly builds into a murderous rage. With Edwige Feuilliere. Based on a novel by Georges Simenon. (105 min.)


Chair de Poule aka Highway Pickup (dir. Julien Duvivier, 1964)—Legendary director Duvivier (Pepe Le Moko, Le Fin du Jour, Panique) was nearing the end of his illustrious career, but he saved one of the best for last in Chair de Poule, in which the essence of noir's hard-boiled school is distilled in a taut tale of fate, lust and enveloping entrapment. Robert Hossein is at his astringent best as a thief on the lam who jumps from frying pan into the fire when he holes up at a highway truck stop where he's quickly embroiled in the grasping, malevolent schemes of a hard-bitten, voluptuous vixen (Catherine Rouvel) who will literally stop at nothing to get what she wants! With Jean Sorel, and Jacques Bertand. With photography from Leonce-Henri Burel, longtime right-hand man of Robert Bresson. (107 min).

Voici Les Temps Des Assassins aka Deadlier Than the Male (dir. Julien Duvivier, 1956)—While the other French femmes fatales are "hot," none of them approach the coiled ferocity of Daniele Delorme in Deadlier Than the Male. It's possible that no one in the history of cinema is as driven by the bitter recollection of her hardscrabble youth to a life of ruthless scheming—even Delorme herself, when interviewed, shrank from the implications within the character. American noir aficionados would do well to recall Angel Face and think of Delorme's work here as "Jean Simmons on steroids." Matching her step-for-step are Jean Gabin, the target of her desperate, malevolent scheming; Gabriele Fontan, as his cold-hearted mother; and Luciene Bogaert, as Delorme's drug-addicted mother. Featuring superb camerawork from Armand Thirard (Clouzot's right-hand man), Deadlier Than the Male is arguably the definitive French film noir. (107 min)


La P… Respectueuse (dir. Marcello Pagliero and Charles Brabant, 1952)—Barbara Laage was Orson Welles' first choice to play Elsa Bannister in The Lady From Shanghai. A viewing of La P… Respectueuse will show you what Welles saw in her … and then some! Her character, a down-on-her-luck singer, escapes the frying pan—New York City—only to land squarely in the fire—the racist, segregated South—where she witnesses a brutal race murder committed by a Senator's son. Only she can vouch for the black man who is being framed for the murder. Laage burns up the screen as she struggles to do the right thing against increasing odds. Co-directed by Marcello Pagliero (long-time right-hand man to neo-realist master Roberto Rossellini) from a play by Jean-Paul Sartre. (Full 92 min version.)

J'Irai Cracher Sur Vos Tombes aka I Spit On Your Graves (dir. Michel Gast, 1959)—See the notorious film that literally killed the author of its source novel at its own premiere! Boris Vian's fever-dream novel of a light-skinner race-avenging psychopath had been the focus of intense controversy beginning with its publication in 1946, and the prospect of a film version brought the twelve-year contretemps squarely back into the public eye, with Vian and director Michel Gast trading barbs in the press as the movie went into production. Ten minutes into the initial screening on June 23, 1959, Vian rose from his seat, furiously denouncing the film—at which point, he clutched his chest and collapsed, suffering a fatal heart attack! He was only 39. I Spit On Your Graves features a fine jazz score composed by Alain Goraguer, which goes down smoothly amidst all the mayhem that ensues in Gast's crude but effective evocation of Vian's dark landscape. (109 min.)

#STUCK (2014)

It's easy to see why Stuart Acher's Stuck (2013) [Facebook] won the Audience Award at the 2013 edition of the Sun Valley Film Festival. And I'm delighted that it's enjoying a run at San Francisco's Roxie Theatre, with screenings continuing through October 16.  This vehicular narrative froths up its meet cute into a satisfying love story with a warm upbeat ending. It's an entertaining and honest romance from start to finish. Credit lies in the pacing, of course. Brisk tight editing with revelatory flashbacks inch us episodically forward through a drunken one-night stand and its comic aftermath. Two early morning strangers rush to escape each other and end up being stuck in traffic together long enough to let down their guard and discover each other; an exchange skillfully conveyed via charismatic turns from Acher's two lead actors: Joel David Moore (Avatar) and Madeline Zima (who doubles as Executive Producer). Zima and Moore, in fact, were recognized with a Special Jury Award for Acting at last year's Napa Valley Film Festival. Their chemistry shines with sensual dalliance and considerable wit. Moore's lanky charm sides up well to Zima's haughty beauty. Zima has described Stuck as "kind of like When Harry Met Sally, but stuck in a car and compacted, and then reversed."

Confining a narrative to the interior of a car would be hazardous with someone of less ingenuity than Acher. Not only does he break from "he said she said" witticisms with sweeping aerial shots of gridlocked traffic, but his camera every now and then casually explores various personalities in nearby cars who are similarly stuck. This wry social study recalled me to Julio Cortázar's 1966 story "The Southern Thruway", a compelling account of a traffic jam in the south of France that lasts for a couple of days (and on which Jean Luc Godard based his 1967 film Weekend). In his own deft style, Acher creates a microcosm of society by profiling a cluster of cars and their drivers stuck in L.A. freeway traffic.

Creating this microcosm proved to be a major challenge for an indie film shot in 10 days. Anticipating a "Carmageddon " when Interstate 405—the largest highway in America—was shut down for construction, Acher excitedly hired a helicopter to film footage of the gridlock only to encounter slight traffic, drivers having been sufficiently warned away by dire predictions of the worst traffic jams in L.A. history. Through CG plates and parking lot recreations, Acher was able to visualize the traffic jam he expected from the closure of 405, thereby creating the context for a young man and a young woman to put on the brakes, then start up all over again.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

MVFF37 2014—David Robson: Four Preview Capsules

David Robson holds a degree in theatre from the University of Virginia. He is the editorial director at Jaman, a website that offers a smarter search for new movies to watch on line. David blogs irregularly at the House of Sparrows, but is often too busy seeing movies to write about them. The following quartet of preview capsules for the 37th edition of the Mill Valley Film Festival constitutes his debut appearance here on The Evening Class. We're delighted to have him aboard.

Dracula vs. Frankenstein (dir. Al Adamson, 1971)—Many Z-grade genre movies have achieved a certain notoriety thanks to an ironic "so bad it's good" approach taken by audiences in the last three decades. But schlock auteur Al Adamson's curious body of work provides a consistence of vision, the strident, bold ineptness of which renders it quite unlike any other. Divulging plot details on this super-low-budget horror flick would risk making it sound conventional, so why bother? Adamson's opus boasts veteran horror actors J. Carrol Naish (doing his damnedest to do right by the dialogue's stabs at philosophy) and Lon Chaney, Jr. (stuck, again, in the role of a homicidal manchild) with lesser-knowns like the beautifully-named Zandor Vorkov (a unique Dracula, from his silly 'fro to the echo effect on his voice), and everyone commits wholeheartedly. Which only makes the plot that much more bewildering. (Frequent Welles collaborator Gary Graver's cinematography makes every shot look like stock footage, which only enhances the movie's timelostness.) Even more hilarious is that this is one of MVFF's most expensive tickets, thanks, probably, to the presence of Metallica's lead guitarist (and horror devotee) Kirk Hammett, who will be on hand to introduce this screening. Though it's unclear if he selected Dracula vs. Frankenstein for inclusion in the festival, if he did, you might ask him why.

Clouds of Sils Maria (dir. Olivier Assayas, 2014)—Juliette Binoche is Maria, a famous international actress offered a role in a new production of the play that launched her career. But the offer is fraught with complications for Maria, as it would have her playing a different character opposite a young, difficult Hollywood talent (Chloë Grace Moretz) in Maria's career- and life-defining role. Maria retreats to the Swiss Alps where, accompanied by her patient assistant (Kristen Stewart, a revelation here), she contemplates the role, her difficult relationship with the writer who created it, and the very passage of time. Writer-director Olivier Assayas has made a career out of examining social shifts through the prism of the creative process; in his newest state-of-the-earth address every exchange is weighted but graceful, with half the movie spent watching Binoche and Stewart in and around the Alps, their conversation taking in life and art, high- and low-brow, age and youth, time and space. The total experience is never less than bracing, plus there's an interlude on a spaceship that might make you wish Marvel would let Assayas have a crack at one of their movies (OUR VOTE: a Dr. Strange sequel, introducing Moretz as Clea).

Two Days, One Night / Deux Jours, Une Nuit (dirs. Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne, 2014)—Brittle family woman Sandra (Marion Cotillard) has just been voted off of her job at a solar factory. When her supervisor admits that the process behind the decision was stacked against her, it buys her a weekend to get her co-workers to consider changing their vote to let her stay, and in the process give up their badly-needed bonuses. The new movie from France's Dardenne Brothers balances neo-realistic, documentarian storytelling with a quest that often feels mythic. Cotillard is the first veteran actor to appear in a Dardenne movie, and she's absolutely believable every second she's on; we feel her anguish and shame in every encounter with every co-worker, urging her silently from our seats to just keep it together, even as her noticeably frayed nerves and prescription drug use threaten to shatter her for good. It's as suspenseful and tightly constructed as any thriller, and it's probably happening in your neighborhood right now. Gripping.

ALLoT (A Long List of Things) (dir. John Sanborn, 2014)—The films of New York-bred, Berkeley-based video artist John Sanborn have been a staple at MVFF, and this, his latest, is among his most personal. Sanborn's 40th high school class reunion prompted him to interview his classmates for a video memoir, and Sanborn edits their reflections into a mix of anecdote, poetic and cinematic digressions, self-interrogations (via Sanborn and surrogate selves, played by Thais Schwab and daughter Miranda Sanborn) and some straight-up confessions to create a vivid portrait of a shared past as "a place that never existed, but is remembered fondly." The results are an absorbing, even moving, mix, and even when Sanborn ditches the mosaic for a painful autobiographic reflection in the final third, one remains engaged. Central to Sanborn's memoir is the notion that we all begin in the same place, "handed the same script." Sanborn so gently mixes the personal with the universal that one inevitably sees one's own life within his screens.

MVFF37 2014—Michael Hawley Peruses the Line-Up

The Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF) arrives early each autumn, giving Bay Area cinephiles their first look at acclaimed new films from Cannes, Locarno, Venice and Toronto. I undoubtedly smiled when I saw that my two most anticipated movies of 2014, Xavier Dolan's Mommy and Abderrahmane Sissako's Timbuktu, had made the cut for MVFF's 37th edition. And now thanks to a rare confluence of good movie karma—both are screening at a venue accessible by public transportation, both screen on my days off, and both had press comps available—it's for certain I'll be boarding that Golden Gate Transit bus to San Rafael once again.

Mommy and Timbuktu each competed in the main competition at Cannes this May, with the former winning the festival's Prix du Jury for Xavier Dolan, its 25-year-old, gay French-Canadian director. The judges decided he should share the prize with 83-year-old Jean-Luc Godard (for his new 3-D movie, Adieu au langage), and together they represented the youngest and oldest filmmakers in competition. Dolan, for those just tuning in, took Cannes by storm in 2009 with his debut film, I Killed My Mother, and has followed through with four more impressive features. While some consider him a fraud, Dolan's eye-catching, emotionally oversized dramas consistently hit my sweet spot. Timbuktu, the other film I'll be trekking to see, is the latest exercise in humanism from Abderrahmane Sissako (Waiting for Happiness, Bamako), whom many consider Africa's greatest living filmmaker. His new film is based on events that occurred in 2012, when the titular Malian city of legend was overrun by jihadists hell-bent on imposing sharia law. Timbuktu left Cannes with the festival's Ecumenical Jury Prize. Its lead actor, Ahmed Ibrahim, is expected to attend the film's MFVV screenings.

In addition to these two important works, MVFF37 has programmed five more selections from Cannes' 2014 main competition. The festival kicks off on opening night with Tommy Lee Jones' The Homesman, which screened in competition nine years after Jones' last neo-Western, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, won him the festival's best actor prize. The Homesman co-stars Hilary Swank, who will participate in MVFF's opening night festivities. This year's best actor award went to the incomparable Timothy Spall, who portrays British Romantic landscape painter J.M.W. Turner in Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner. If you miss the film at MVFF, it'll be back in the Bay Area starting on Xmas Day. Based on true events and set in the world of Olympic wrestling, Foxcatcher is Bennett Miller's follow-up to 2011's Moneyball. The film, which stars Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo and a reportedly unrecognizable Steve Carell, garnered Bennett Cannes' 2014 best director prize. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Two Days, One Night features Marion Cotillard as a factory worker who must convince co-workers to forego bonuses so that she might keep her job. While the film is that rare Dardenne Bros. joint to leave Cannes empty handed, Cotillard is being talked up as a serious Best Actress Oscar® contender. Rounding out MVFF37's impressive collection of Cannes competition titles is Olivier Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria, a reportedly challenging, meta-movie homage to the art of film acting, starring Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart.

From Cannes' Un Certain Regard sidebar, MVFF37 has scooped up two more prize-winners for its 2014 line-up. Sweden's satiric Force Majeure lampoons contemporary notions of masculinity and took home the sidebar's jury prize. It traces the repercussions faced by a husband and father after he initially abandons his family during a ski resort avalanche. Director Ruben Öslund's previous film was the excruciating (in a good way) bullying treatise Play, which I was lucky enough to catch at San Jose's Cinequest a few years back. The 2014 Un Certain Regard award for best actor went to Aboriginal icon David Gulpilil for his role as a man caught between two cultures in Rolf de Heer's Charlie's Country. Gulpilil is perhaps the world's most recognizable indigenous actor. Debuting at age 16 in Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout, he's carried on with a distinguished career in such Australian films as The Last Wave, Rabbit Proof Fence and de Heer's own The Tracker and Ten Canoes.

Cannes isn't the only festival from which MVFF has drawn prize-winners for its line-up. Haru Kuroki took home the best actress award at this year's Berlin Film Festival for her portrayal of a maid in an upper middle-class Tokyo home in Yôji Yamada's The Little House. Set in the years before and during WWII, it's Yamada's follow-up to Tokyo Family, his mostly unnecessary remake of Ozu's classic Tokyo Story, which played last year's fest. It's especially worth noting that The Little House will be the only movie at MVFF37 to be screened in 35mm. The winner of the coveted People's Choice Award at last month's Toronto Film Festival was The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as real-life WWII gay British code-breaker Alan Turing. The film is directed by Morten Tyldum, whose last effort was the memorable Norwegian genre thriller Headhunters. Also amongst the prize winners is Carlos Marques-Marcet's 10,000 Km. (aka Long Distance), a two-hander that explores the effects of technology on a long-distance relationship. 10,000 Km. won a SXSW special jury award and is one of nine features that make up ¡Viva el Cine!, a MVFF37 Focus on Spanish-language cinema.

October 1 was the official deadline for countries to submit their entries for the 87th Academy Awards' Best Foreign Language Film competition. As would be expected, a number of MVFF entries are amongst the submissions. In addition to the aforementioned Mommy, Timbuktu and Two Days, One Night (representing Canada, Mauritania and Belgium respectively), five additional potential Oscar® nominees get their Bay Area premiere at MVFF37. Spain has submitted David Trueba's Living is Easy with Eyes Closed, in which a Beatles-obsessed high school teacher (Javier Cámara) strives to meet up with John Lennon during the 1966 filming of Richard Lester's How I Won the War. Trueba is the younger brother of veteran Spanish director Fernando Trueba (Belle Epoque, Calle 54). Dominik Graf's Beloved Sisters [no available link] is this year's entry from Germany, and focuses on a romantic triangle between 18th century poet Friedrich Schiller and two aristocratic sisters. Graf's last film to play the Bay Area was Beats Being Dead, the first chapter in the omnibus Dreileben trilogy. Ronit Elkabetz (Late Marriage, The Band's Visit) is my favorite Israeli actress and for the third time she stars in a film co-written and directed with her brother Shlomi Elkabetz. Gett: The Trial of Vivianne Amsalem premiered in Directors Fortnight at Cannes and details a woman's five-year ordeal trying to legally obtain a divorce in Israel. MVFF37 will also be screening the Oscar® submissions from Croatia (Cowboys) and Taiwan (Ice Poison).

MVFF is the Bay Area film festival where one is most likely to see movie stars and other notables walk the red carpet. In addition to Hilary Swank's appearance on opening night, this year's fest will play host to Laura Dern, Elle Fanning and newcomer Eddie Redmayne. Dern accompanies closing night film Wild, which co-stars Reese Witherspoon and is director Jean-Marc Vallée's follow-up to Dallas Buyers Club. Just as her sister Dakota did at last year's festival, Elle Fanning will be receiving a MVFF "Spotlight" treatment with a screening of her new film Low Down (opening in local cinemas on November 14). Also earning a MVFF37 "Spotlight" tribute is actor Eddie Redmayne, who's about to become a lot more famous with his starring role in the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything, directed by James Marsh (Man on Wire, Project Nim). Redmayne is probably best known to American audiences for the 2011 fantasy My Week with Marilyn and a little film called Les Miserables.

The musicians of rock band Metallica are this year's MVFF Artists in Residence and each band member will be on hand to personally introduce a movie they've selected. For example, guitarist Kirk Hammett has chosen Dracula vs. Frankenstein and singer James Hetfield has picked the Sergio Leone masterpiece The Good, the Bad and Ugly. Also hailing from the rock music world will be Moon Unit Zappa, who'll appear at screenings of a new documentary about her father Frank, Summer '82: When Zappa Came to Italy. Finally, Bay Area foodies won't want to miss the Special Screening of Soul of a Banquet, which will feature an on-stage conversation between director Wayne Wang, visionary Chinese chef/restaurateur Cecilia Chang (the film's subject), and local food icon Alice Waters.

While it would be impossible to touch upon the entire MVFF line-up—especially the enormous selection of worthy non-fiction films in its Valley of the Docs sidebar—here are four final entries I'm personally interested in. If you're a fan of New Zealanders Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) and Taika Waititi (Eagle vs. Shark, Boy), you probably won't want to miss their co-directed vampire spoof, What We Do in the Shadows. Scandinavian genre films seem to be all the rage these days. In Hans Petter Moland's In Order of Disappearance, a Norwegian snow plow driver (Stellan Skarsgard) seeks bloody revenge against a Serbian drug kingpin (Bruno Ganz). A new film from Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum) is always most welcome. His latest Diplomacy recounts the true story of the Swedish consul (André Dussollier) who convinced a German general (Niels Arestrup) not to destroy Paris in the closing days of WWII. The film will also open at Landmark's Opera Plaza Cinemas on October 24. Then there's Stéphane Lafleur's enigmatic-sounding, French-Canadian entry Tu dors, Nicole, which follows an aimless 22-year-old over the course of one summer. My interest is piqued based on Lafleur's Continental, a Film Without Guns, which played a San Francisco Film Society Quebec Film Week back in 2008. Lead actress Julianne Cote is expected to attend the screenings.

Cross-published at film-415.