SFIFF59 Spotlights #5: Indignation / Mr. Gaga / The Summer of Frozen Fountains / Radio Dreams

by Carrie Kahn on May 2, 2016

Spinning Platters continues its coverage of the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival, which continues through this Thursday, May 5th. You still have plenty of time to get in a few screenings! More information and tickets are available here.

Here we spotlight three more Fest feature films, and one documentary.

(USA, 2015, 110 min, Centerpiece Film)

College students Marcus (Logan Lerman) and Olivia (Sarah Gadon) get to know each other on their first date.

Writer/producer James Schamus (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Brokeback Mountain) here proves himself equally adept at directing, choosing for his first full-length feature foray an adaptation of Philip Roth’s 2008 novel Indignation. Set in 1951 at a fictional Ohio liberal arts college, Schamus’s screenplay remains true to the Rothian themes of coming of age, family conflict, sex, love, religion, and death. Schamus and a stellar cast, including Logan Lerman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) as the protagonist Marcus, a working-class Newark atheist Jew trying to fit in at the conservative, religious campus, and Tracy Letts as the no nonsense, intellectually formidable, but bemused Dean of Men, handle Roth’s heady material with remarkable skill and sensitivity. Sarah Gadon as Marcus’s troubled love interest, and the great Broadway actress Linda Emond as Marcus’s mom, who shares a breathtaking, Oscar-worthy scene with Lerman, round out the absolutely terrific cast. A tour de force scene between Lerman and Letts, in which the two argue about Bertrand Russell, among other issues, is also one of the most compelling, uninterrupted takes you’ll see on screen this year. A powerful meditation on repression and finding yourself through love and family, Schamus’s directorial debut is not to be missed.


  • No more SFIFF screenings, but will open nationwide on July 29th.

Mr. Gaga
(Israel/Sweden/Germany/Netherlands, 2015, 100 min, Global Visions. In English and Hebrew, with English subtitles)

The Batsheva Dance Company performances one of Ohad Naharin’s innovative pieces.

Unless you’re an aficionado of modern dance, you may not have heard of the Israeli dancer and choreographer Ohad Naharin, an oversight award-winning Israeli documentarian Tomer Heymann seeks to remedy in this stunning new film. The film takes its title from Naharin’s nickname, earned because of his development of a style of dance called Gaga, a movement language that emphasizes the healing power of physical movement and sensation. In one of the film’s most moving scenes, Nahrain leads a class of disabled and elderly students in the practice, and we see compassion and joy come to rapturous physical life. Indeed, while Heymann’s film follows a traditional narrative structure in terms of detailing Nahrain’s personal and professional history, the astonishing dance performances sprinkled throughout turn a standard biodoc into something unexpectedly transcendent. Side stories concerning a controversy over a dance Nahrain choreographed for Israel’s 50th anniversary celebration, and, more personally, one about the tragic early loss of Nahrain’s wife, help us to fully see Nahrain as both a driven, politically-charged artist, and as a man. Deservedly winning the Audience Award at this year’s SXSW festival, Mr. Gaga will appeal to dance lovers, yes, but also to anyone who wants to better understand the artistic temperament and, ultimately, the human condition itself.


  • No more SFIFF screenings; currently playing the film festival circuit.

The Summer of Frozen Fountains
(Georgia/Russia, 2015, 103 min, Global Visions. In English and Georgian, with English subtitles)

Irish photographer Brian (Andrius Paulavicius) connects with Georgian Annie (Nutsa Kukhianidze) in Tbilisi.

A character driven drama about the vagaries of love, this film by Georgian writer/director Vano Burduli transports us to a world unfamiliar to most of us: the Georgian capital of Tbilisi in the early 1990s. Similar to Crash or Babel, but much more lighthearted, seemingly disparate stories come together, as we slowly realize the interconnectedness of various characters. The lives of an airport passport agent and her aging photographer father, two young boys, one of whom has a crush on a neighbor girl, a news anchor and her husband, and an Irish photojournalist in town for the summer eventually collide as Burduli’s story about the risks and rewards of love, the longing for connection, and the wistfulness of memory unfolds. Sweet but never cloying, Burduli’s picture has a refreshing sense of whimsy that can’t help but charm, which may explain why it’s already received accolades at several international film festivals. And as a peek into a part of the world rarely seen on screen, the film is a must for armchair and real international travelers alike.


  • Thursday, May 5th – 8:40pm, BAMPFA, Berkeley

Tickets for The Summer of Frozen Fountains available here.

Radio Dreams
(USA/Iran, 2016, 93 min, Global Visions. In English, Assyrian, Dari, and Persian, with English subtitles)

The staff of a San Francisco Iranian radio station listens to a potential on air talent.

Winner of the coveted Tiger Award at the prestigious Rotterdam International Film Festival this year, this small but charming film by Iranian-born and London-based filmmaker Babak Jalali is sure to please the arthouse crowd and anyone who appreciates sharply drawn characters and smart, subtle storytelling. Jalali and fellow writer Aida Ahadiany bring a dry sense of humor to this darkly comic tale of an actual Afghan rock band, Kabul Dreams, who have come to a fictional San Francisco Persian language radio station to jam with none other than Metallica. As Hamid, a grumpy, intellectual former writer and the station’s current programming director, Mohsen Namjoo brings a deliciously deadpan exasperation to the role, creating an indelible character you won’t soon forget (the wild hair helps). The conflict between Hamid’s academic aspirations for the station and the more lowbrow, but potentially lucrative, visions of the station owner’s daughter are at the forefront of this melancholic black comedy that somehow still manages to treat all its characters with respect. As added fun for Bay Area viewers, Jalali’s exterior San Francisco scenes are brilliantly shot in natural light, making the City a lovely backdrop to the story’s unfolding human drama.


  • No more SFIFF screenings; currently playing the film festival circuit.


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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