Nothing like Isabelle Huppert to start off a festival, so on a very successful and busy Friday night at the San Francisco International Film Festival I went to see Serge Bozon’s latest, Tip Top, a clever, funny, surreal and very French police procedural which covers grand themes: love, sex, pain, and fidelity. Sitting in the second row (I arrived late) and up close to Ms. Huppert’s fantastically beautiful yet odd features, I was gladly reminded as to why only she can pull off certain films. Pelo Malo (Bad Hair), from the fearless director Mariana Rondón, was difficult to watch, thought I couldn’t look away. It is one of the most devastating films I’ve seen in a long time, tackling issues of race, beauty, sexuality, and homophobia with its taut narrative and fantastic, brave acting. Though the scenes of (emotional and physical) violence are carefully and quickly filmed, this is not for the faint of heart. Norte, The End of History, from the Filipino director Lav Diaz, won the top prize at the Nuremburg International Human Rights Film Festival, and is a long meditation on the legacy of social and religious mores on contemporary society and thought—a film for existentialists, political activists, and lovers of Dostoyevsky. As with densely-packed festivals like these, it is quite difficult to pause and reflect, particularly if you are doing back to back screenings; however, Happiness, an enchanting documentary by Thomas Balmès, about a young Bhutanese monk caught between the bucolic monastic life and the arrival of television and internet to his country, reminded me that we all have to make time for reflection. For while these films may be permanent, the experience of watching is fleeting.
Now playing at the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival:
Tip Top, dir. Serge Bozon, 105 min. 2013. In French and Arabic.
Pelo Malo, dir. Mariana Rondón, 93 min. 2013. In Spanish.
Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan, dir. Lav Diaz, 250 min. 2013. In Tagalog and English.
Happiness, dir. Thomas Balmès, 80 min. 2013. In Bhutanese.