SFIFF59 Spotlights #2: Five Nights in Maine/Frank & Lola/And when I die, I won’t stay dead/Notes on Blindness

by Carrie Kahn on April 20, 2016

SFIFF

Spinning Platters continues its preview coverage of the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival, which opens tomorrow, Thursday, April 21st. Information and tickets are available here.

To whet your Fest appetite, here we spotlight two of the Festival’s features and two documentaries.

Five Nights in Maine
(USA, 2015, 82 min, Marquee Presentations)

Sherwin (David Oyelowo) and his mother-in-law Lucinda (Dianne Wiest) share a moment at her Maine house.

When an adult dies unexpectedly, whose grief is greater – the surviving spouse, or the surviving parent? Are such comparisons even fair? Such are the heady questions that writer/director Maris Curran explores here, in a picture thematically similar to the recently released Demolition. After his wife Fiona (Hani Furstenberg) dies suddenly in a car crash, city-dweller Sherwin (David Oyelowo) visits Fiona’s terminally ill mother Lucinda (Dianne Wiest) at her isolated house in rural Maine. Though both try to maintain a polite façade with each other as they process their loss, issues of blame, recrimination, and bitterness slowly rise to the surface, forcing the two to confront past and present emotional wounds. A pas de deux between two of today’s best actors set against a stunning backdrop of fall light and foliage, Curran’s film is a flawlessly executed meditation on how we deal with life, loss, and love.

Screenings:

  • Saturday, April 23rd – 5:00pm, Alamo Drafthouse
  • Monday, April 25th – 1:00pm, Alamo Drafthouse
  • Tuesday, April 26th – 8:45pm, Alamo Drafthouse

Tickets for Five Nights in Maine available here.

Frank & Lola
(USA, 2015, 88 min, Marquee Presentations)

Chef Frank (Michael Shannon) is smitten with aspiring fashion designer Lola (Imogen Poots).

Writer/director Matthew Ross appropriately sets his modern-day film noir in Las Vegas; Sin City makes the perfect setting for this tale of two emotionally scarred, relationship-shy characters. Michael Shannon, who can play cool intensity like nobody’s business, is Frank, a talented but not yet successful chef. He falls hard for Lola (Imogen Poots), a much younger aspiring designer whose dark past may or may not be what it seems. With Rosanna Arquette as Lola’s mother (an inspired bit of casting, as Poots has a similar quality to Arquette back in her heyday) and Michael Nyqvist as a suave and cagey old friend of Lola’s, Ross’s film is always utterly gripping. The intrigue is palpable as the story examines issues of truth, jealousy, and trust. A romance at its core, the picture asks that age-old question: can we ever really know who we fall in love with?

Screenings:

  • Tuesday, May 3rd – 9:00pm, Victoria Theatre
  • Thursday, May 5th – 2:45pm, Alamo Drafthouse

Tickets for Frank & Lola available here.

And when I die, I won’t stay dead
(USA/Portugal, 2015, 90 min, Global Visions)

Beat poet Bob Kaufman in San Francisco.

Ginsberg. Kerouac. Burroughs. Kaufman. Sure, you know the first three names, but few probably know the last one, which is an oversight that Billy Woodberry’s stunning new documentary seeks to correct. Woodberry’s film makes the case that African-American beat poet Bob Kaufman was just as important to that movement, and that his work was just as good, if not better, than his contemporaries. Kaufman never achieved the same level of fame, though, the film hypothesizes, because of a host of reasons, the most glaring of which were racism and addiction. Featuring terrific old photos and videos of North Beach, Woodberry’s picture will make you nostalgic enough to want to run up to City Lights to buy a volume or two of Kaufman’s poetry. Kaufman, who served in the military, received shock treatments, and took a vow of silence at one point, ultimately “lived a life of provocation” that other artists only aspired to. His story is appropriately told in a non-linear fashion, much like a piece of jazz or a beat poem itself. Featuring interviews with prominent North Beach writers, artists, and denizens who knew and revered Kaufman, and boasting a snappy jazz soundtrack, Woodberry’s film is an absolute must for lovers of literature, San Francisco history, and anyone who wants to give underappreciated, brilliant artists their due.

Screenings:

  • Sunday, May 1st – 3:30pm, Alamo Drafthouse
  • Tuesday, May 3rd – 3:15pm, Alamo Drafthouse
  • Wednesday, May 4th, 6:30pm, BAMPFA, Berkeley

Tickets for And when I die, I won’t stay dead available here.

Notes on Blindness
(UK/France, 2016, 87 min, Golden Gate Award Competition – Documentaries)

Professor John Hull (Dan Renton Skinner) tries to come to terms with losing his sight.

When British theologian and university professor John Hull began going blind in the 1980s, he started keeping an audio diary of his experiences, thoughts, and emotions. Filmmakers Peter Middleton and James Spinney allow us to hear those cassette recordings in this somewhat unorthodox documentary, which features actors lip synching to the actual taped voices of Hull (who died in July) and others as they enact scenes to accompany Hull’s taped musings and conversations. The method is somewhat jarring at first, but if you don’t overthink its artificiality, you’ll quickly become immersed in Hull’s contemplative and philosophical ruminations about the extraordinary physiological, psychological, and intellectual struggles he faced. Perhaps only a theologian like Hull could reflect on his loss of vision so poetically and lyrically. When Hull tells us that his young son once asked him, “Why doesn’t God help you?” it’s enough to make you weep. Weighty questions of doubt, loneliness, despair, pity, rage, and, ultimately, grace, are all touched on with mesmerizing eloquence and thoughtfulness. Unique and compelling, this doc is well worth your time.

Screenings:

  • Saturday, April 30th – 12:30pm, Alamo Drafthouse
  • Sunday, May 1st – 6:15pm, BAMPFA, Berkeley
  • Wednesday, May 4th, 1:30pm, Alamo Drafthouse

Tickets for Notes on Blindness available here.

 

 

 

 

Carrie Kahn

Moving from the arthouse to the multiplex with grace, ease, and only the occasional eye roll.

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