SFFILM Festival Spotlights #2

by Chad Liffmann on March 22, 2017

(Films #11-#20 of Chad’s goal of seeing 60 films to commemorate SF Film Festival’s 60th anniversary! #60for60th)

Our preview coverage of the 60th SFFILM Festival continues! Be sure to get your tickets now — visit http://www.sffilm.org/festival for tickets and info. Also, be sure to check back here frequently, or follow along at our Facebook page and on Twitter (or follow film critics Carrie Kahn- @CKCinephile / Chad Liffmann- @chadcarsten). And now, time for 10 more spotlights:

Heaven Sent
(France/Lebanon 2016, 70 min; in Lebanese with English subtitles)

A scene from HEAVEN SENT, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5-19, 2017.

Uproariously absurd and twistedly entertaining, Heaven Sent is a rewarding dark comedy from the Middle East. It features a tight script and talented actors with superb comedic timing. The story revolves around a celebrity’s bodyguard, Omar, whose life is turned upside down when his presumed dead soldier brother returns out-of-the-blue. Even with some political jabs, director Wissam Charaf still invites the audience to laugh with solid slapstick and visual gags. Much of the film’s biting satire stems from the audience’s pre-existing knowledge of the ongoing war in the Middle East, and thus to contrast that knowledge with the hilariously trivial annoyances of Omar’s life become more and more comedically pronounced as the film unfolds. Definitely see Heaven Sent with a full house, since laughter is infectious!

(click here for tickets)

  • Thursday, April 13th, 9:00 pm, YBCA Screening Room
  • Friday, April 14th, 6:00 pm, Alamo Drafthouse
  • Tuesday, April 18th, 6:30 pm, Alamo Drafthouse

Everything Else
(Mexico/USA/France 2016, 88 min; Spanish with English subtitles)

A scene from Natalia Almada’s EVERYTHING ELSE, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5 – April 19, 2017.

Dona Flor is a fascinating protagonist. Her dull existence is accentuated by her bureaucratic job, her beige clothing, her unemotional demeanor, and her quiet evenings with her cat. Everything Else is cringeworthy and charmingly frustrating, a testament to director Natalia Almada’s patience, a talent she may have picked up through documentary filmmaking. Dona is played by Academy Award-nominee Adriana Barraza (for a supporting role in Babel), who absolutely perfects the tension of self-questioning and the ongoing challenge of breaking from personal solitude.

(click here for tickets)

  • Thursday, April 6th, 6:00 pm, SFMOMA
  • Friday, April 7th, 3:30 pm, Roxie Theater
  • Friday, April 14th, 3:00 pm, Roxie Theater

(Spain/Germany/UK 2017, 86 min; Spanish with English subtitles)

A scene from Chico Pereira’s DONKEYOTE, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5 – 19, 2017.

Donkeyote is a wonderful documentary about a wonderful man and his wonderful ass. Manolo lives in the countryside of southern Spain and dreams of hiking the Trail of Tears in the U.S. with his donkey, Gorrión, and his dog, Zafrana. The title is obviously a play off of Don Quixote, and the oddity of Manolo’s desire and predicament (traveling with a donkey ain’t normal) resonated with me as quirky and peculiar, enough to make me not want to turn away from the screen. The sweeping Spanish landscape is an added bonus and Manolo’s bond with his animals is heartwarming, to say the least. They’re a memorable trio.

(click here for tickets)

  • Saturday, April 15th, 5:30 pm, SFMOMA
  • Sunday, April 16th, 6:00 pm, BAMPFA
  • Wednesday, April 19th, 4:00 pm, Roxie Theater

Life After Life
(China 2016, 80 min; Mandarin with English subtitles)

A scene from LIFE AFTER LIFE, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5-19, 2017.

Life After Life may not unfold at everyone’s preferred speed, but no one can argue that Zhang Hanyi hasn’t instilled a poetic and spiritual sensibility into every frame. At the heart of Life After Life is a commentary on the encroachment of civilization on rural Chinese life. Yet on the surface, it’s a ghost story where the spirits of lost loved ones inexplicably inhabit bodies to deliver warnings and pleas. The nonchalant sequence of events is unique and purposeful, as if Life After Life were already an ancient legend passed from generation to generation.

(click here for tickets)

  • Friday, April 8th, 6:00 pm, YBCA Screening Room
  • Friday, April 14th, 4:00 pm, BAMPFA
  • Saturday, April 15th, 12:15 pm, Roxie Theatre

Buster’s Mal Heart
(USA 2016, 98 min; in English)

A scene from BUSTER’S MAL HEART, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5 – 19, 2017.

I really enjoyed watching Buster’s Mal Heart because it was mind-bending and darkly comedic. I love a film that challenges my comprehension of the world around me, even at the risk of some “unresolved” ambiguity. The parallels between Rami Malek’s role here and in Mr. Robot are obvious, but that’s more a testament to his uncanny ability to portray a damaged mind than it is a distracting double-take. A welcome surprise is DJ Qualls, who delivers a chilling turn as a Y2K conspiracy theorist drifter. Buster’s Mal Heart touches on the fears that have permeated society for decades, and the fragile state we’re all in as we struggle for financial and emotional security. Let’s also keep giving more and more shout outs to incredible female filmmakers out there (and there are a handful at the SFFILM Festival this year) like Sarah Adina Smith, a talent we’ll keep our eye on.

(click here for tickets)

  • Sunday, April 9th, 9:00 pm, Victoria Theatre
  • Monday, April 10th, 6:30 pm, YBCA Screening Room

(Iran 2016, 103 min; Persian with English subtitles)

A scene from Navid Danesh’s DUET, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5 – 19, 2017.

There are a lot of feature film debuts at the SFFILM festival this year, maybe none as powerful as Navid Danesh’s Duet, a pitch-perfect Iranian drama. The movie follows a quartet of individuals (two of them musicians) as they interweave and come to terms with past emotional connections. The conversations between the involved parties are real and tension-filled, and they play off the movements and subtle clues of the others like instruments in a classical piece. Take my word for it, this is a film to see, but, alas, Duet is not a movie suited for date night 😉

(click here for tickets)

  • Thursday, April 13th, 1:00 pm, Roxie Theater
  • Saturday, April 15th, 7:30 pm, Roxie Theater
  • Sunday, April 16th, 3:45 pm, BAMPFA

Half-Life in Fukushima
(Switzerland/France 2016, 61 min; Japanese with English subtitles)

A scene from HALF-LIFE IN FUKUSHIMA, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5 – 19, 2017.

Haunting and beautiful, Half-Life in Fukushima takes us into the deadly red zone, the deserted area surrounding the Fukushima nuclear power plant which had a fateful meltdown in 2011 following an earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The film follows Naoto Matsumura, who has refused to abandon his home and, instead, tends to the animals and explores the poisoned terrain, living a “half-life“, so to speak. We’ve all likely seen numerous post-apocalyptic movies featuring empty cities, so you can relate when I say that it’s eerie to actually see a real similar environment up close. Co-directors Mark Olex and Francesca Scalisi do a commendable job pointing the cameras at mundane-turned-meaningful places, which aside from the lack of humans, still seem to bloom with life. Unfortunately, we know what biological horrors are truly at work.

(click here for tickets)

  • Thursday, April 13th, 6:30 pm, YBCA Screening Room
  • Monday, April 17th, 3:30 pm, Roxie Theatre
  • Wednesday, April 19th, 2:00 pm, Roxie Theatre

Family Life
(Chile 2017, 80 min; Spanish with English subtitles)

A scene from FAMILY LIFE, screening at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5-19, 2017.

Oh, what different people we are when we’re alone! Family Life is a funny expository on the characters we create within ourselves when we’re alone or enabled by opportunistic environments. Family Life focuses on Martín, a soft spoken cousin of a Parisian family, who housesits for them while they’re away. The film is sensuous yet troublesome as we watch Martín willingly (and sometimes charmingly) burying himself further and further into a facade lifestyle, including within his blossoming relationship to a local woman, Pachi. Family Life will definitely make me think twice next time I ask a friend or distant relative to housesit.

(click here for tickets)

  • Wednesday, April 12th, 8:45 pm, BAMPFA
  • Thursday, April 13th, 6:00 pm, Roxie Theatre
  • Saturday, April 15th, 1:15 pm, Alamo Drafthouse

World Without End (No Reported Incidents)
(USA 2016, 77 min; in English)

A scene from Jem Cohen’s WORLD WITHOUT END, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5 – 19, 2017.

Jem Cohen, in World Without End (No Reported Incidents), transports us to a corner of the world and integrates us into it — in this case, into Southend-on-Sea and Canvey Island, located where the Thames meets the English Channel, east of London. Cohen has led an already prolific career as a documentarian and filmmaker, contributing works for Hall of Fame rockers R.E.M. all the way to the 2012 SFFILM Festival crowd-pleaser, Museum Hours. While viewing World Without End, we get a thorough feel for the entire region with gorgeous wide shots and an even more intimate connection with the residents with closeups of rust on poles and inscribed park benches. See World Without End for its poetic mastery, and stay for the interview with Southend’s local hat shop owner. World Without End is utterly charming from beginning to end.

(click here for tickets)

  • Thursday, April 6th, 6:30 pm, BAMPFA
  • Friday, April 7th, 6:00 pm, YBCA Screening Room
  • Sunday, April 16th, 1:00 pm, Roxie Theatre

Maliglutit (Searchers)
(Canada 2016, 94 min; Inuktitut with English subtitles)

A scene from Zacharias Kunuk’s film MALIQUTIT (SEARCHERS) playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5 – 19, 2017.

Trade in horses riding across the Texas plains for dogsleds gliding across the vast Arctic ice, and you got yourself a new version of a classic John Ford western. Director Zacharias Kunuk reimagines Ford’s The Searchers in the Arctic, where a father and his son chase after cruel tribesmen who have kidnapped the father’s wife and daughter. All the dialogue is in Inuktitut. The kidnapping scenes and moments of hostage cruelty are painstakingly drawn out and messy, highlighting the primal cravings and brutality of deep-seeded human nature. An effectively embedded soundtrack of animal sounds and throat singing bring the aforementioned point home. It is a tale of redemption and revenge, and as such it brings out the most inhumane aspects of humanity.

(click here for tickets)

  • Friday, April 14th, 8:30 pm, YBCA Screening Room
  • Sunday, April 16th, 1:30 pm, BAMPFA
  • Tuesday, April 18th, 1:00 pm, Victoria Theatre


The 60th San Francisco International Film Festival runs from April 5th through April 19th.

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