MVFF Spotlights #1: In Order of Disappearance/How I Came to Hate Math/States of Grace/Dying to Know

by Carrie Kahn on September 30, 2014

The 37th Mill Valley Film Festival opens this Thursday, October 2nd, and runs until October 12th. The Festival is screening some of this fall’s most hotly anticipated pictures: Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children and Tommy Lee Jones’s The Homesman (opening night films); Theory of Everything (featuring Eddie Redmayne as the young Stephen Hawking); and Wild, which has already garnered much festival buzz for Reese Witherspoon’s turn as Cheryl Strayed, the author of the popular memoir of the same name. But here at Spinning Platters, we thought we’d spotlight some of the lower profile films that risk being overshadowed by the bigger movies. Full schedule, tickets, and more information are available at:, and be sure to check back here for more updates during the Fest.

In Order of Disappearance
(Norway/Sweden/Denmark 2014, 116 min; English, Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish with English subtitles)

Stellan Skarsgard is out for revenge.

This Scandinavian crime thriller owes a debt not only to 2011’s terrific Norwegian noir film Headhunters, but also to the American movies Pulp Fiction and Fargo in terms of its surreal, darkly comic atmosphere and chilly landscape. Norwegian director Hans Peter Moland has cast Stellan Skarsgard to great effect as a sort of Swedish Liam Neeson in full-blown action mode. A Swedish immigrant living and working in a small Norwegian town, Skarsgard’s Nils gives new meaning to his recently earned Citizen of the Year award when he single-handedly takes on both a Serbian crime syndicate and the local gangsters to avenge the death of his son, an unwitting pawn in a dangerous turf war. Indelibly drawn characters and a screenplay filled with unexpected plot turns are highlights of this edgy, well-crafted picture.

– Friday, October 10, 5:45pm, Rafael Film Center, San Rafael
– Sunday, October 12, 2:45pm, Cinéarts Sequoia Theater, Mill Valley

How I Came to Hate Math
(France 2013, 103 min; English and French with English subtitles)

2010 Fields Medal winner Cédric Villani (right) talks with a colleague.

The title of this sometimes serious but often irreverent documentary by French filmmaker Olivier Peyon is a bit misleading; you might think his picture will be about why students hate math, and what’s being done to remedy that problem. Although the film does touch a bit on that angle (no pun intended), it’s also disappointingly unfocused. We get interviews with Berkeley high school students, French and American math professors and school teachers, and eccentric Fields Medal winners (one of whom registers for a conference in his stocking feet, not doing much to dispel the math-genius-as-nerd stereotype). Along the way, Peyon examines the “new math” curriculum and its strength and weaknesses, and then jumps to a rather heady discussion of the recent financial crisis. The links between these ideas aren’t always totally clear, and, while the picture is at times engaging, ultimately the viewer is left wondering what Peyon’s overarching point is. The picture also seems to miss an opportunity to look at the gender disparity in mathematics, an issue that it never even mentions, but it glaringly clear.

– Friday, October 10, 4:00pm, Lark Theater, Larkspur
– Saturday, October 11, 4:45pm, Rafael Film Center, San Rafael

States of  Grace
(USA 2014, 75 min)

Dr. Grace Dammann works with a physical therapist.

How do we overcome adversity? Who do we become when faced with tremendous hardship? Directors Helen S. Cohen and Mark Lipman explore these issues and more in their gripping portrait of Bay Area physician Grace Dammann, who was severely injured in a car accident on the Golden Gate Bridge in 2008. A stunning portrait of love and resiliency in the face of abject despair, the picture introduces us to Dammann, whose first name is indeed befitting, as she chooses again and again to embrace life, even when she is overcome with suffering. The film also features perspectives of those closest to her – longtime partner Fu and daughter Sabrina, each of whom face their own challenges after the accident. “If you can, you must,” Dr. Dammann says in the film, “it’s the imperative of being a human being.” Not always easy to watch, but inspirational and beautiful, this film will have you marveling at the strength of love and the human spirit.

– Sunday, October 5, 5:15pm, Cinéarts Sequoia Theater, Mill Valley
– Tuesday, October 7, 2:00pm, Rafael Film Center, San Rafael
– Thursday, October 9, 11:30am, Cinéarts Sequoia Theater, Mill Valley

Dying to Know: Ram Dass and Timothy Leary
(USA 2014, 95 min)

Ram Dass, then known as Richard Alpert, and Timothy Leary, discussing ideas in their early years at Harvard.

Featuring conversations between counter-culture icons Timothy Leary and Ram Dass filmed only a year prior to Leary’s death, Gay Dillingham’s captivating documentary tells the story of the two men, who met as idealistic professors at Harvard, and remained close friends despite paths that crossed and diverged many times. Divided into sections titled Birth, Life, Death, and Soul, the picture engagingly touches on both men’s personal histories, successes, challenges, and disappointment, and is a definite must-see for anyone even mildly interested in the famous acid tests of the 1960s or in Richard Alpert’s conversion from New York Jewish intellectual to one of the great spiritual leaders of our time. The film also works as a broader historical narrative about one of the most fascinating and turbulent periods in American history.

– Saturday, October 4, 4:00pm, Rafael Film Center, San Rafael
– Tuesday, October 7, 1:45pm, Cinéarts Sequoia Theater, Mill Valley
– Friday, October 10, 11:45am, Rafael Film Center, San Rafael

Carrie Kahn

Moving from the arthouse to the multiplex with grace, ease, and only the occasional eye roll. Proud new member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.

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