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7 Picks from Week Two of the San Francisco International Film Festival

San Francisco International Film Festival

Photo by Tommy Lau, courtesy of SFIFF

The San Francisco International Film Festival hit its halfway mark last night, but there are still plenty of sights yet to be seen at this city’s largest film bash. I invited Hell on Frisco Bay’s Brian Darr to join us again with his seven picks from the final week’s screenings and events:

An Afternoon with Pierre Rissient w/ screening of Fritz Lang’s House By The River

For decades, Pierre Rissient has been a friend to innumerable international directors, advocating for their films at Cannes and other motion picture Meccas, nearly always in the shadows. Industry lore has it that Rissient took Fritz Lang to see Deep Throat during the German director's last years. More nobly, he helped rescue Lang's 1950 film House By The River from the ashbin of obscurity. Rissient will receive an award and be interviewed on the Castro stage before a screening of this Southern Gothic noir classic. Tickets and times here.

The festival also plays Man of Cinema, film critic Todd McCarthy’s documentary on this powerful behind-the-scenes figure featuring interviews, rare excerpts, and testimonials from Werner Herzog, Clint Eastwood, Jane Campion and dozens of other auteurs.

Mick LaSalle: The Beauty of the Real

Film fans may not love the Chronicle critic's judgments on the kinds of films he's not passionate about, but most recognize that Mick LaSalle knows certain corners of cinema very well. His new book, "The Beauty of the Real," convincingly argues that France is currently enjoying a flourishing of female talent, from familiar names like Huppert and Binoche to lesser-knowns from Tedeschi to Viard. In lieu of a retrospective, LaSalle presents a master class sure to deepen our understanding of this aspect of French cinema. Tickets and times here.

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Life Without Principle

Johnnie To's production company Milkyway Image has done more than anyone else to disprove the notion that Hong Kong's movie industry declined after the city-state's 1997 handover. Given the excellence of films like Running On Karma, Sparrow, and previous SFIFF selections Fulltime Killer and Vengeance, I'm betting that To's latest film, set amidst the chaos of the international banking crisis, will be one of the festival's best selections this week. Tickets and times here.

Last Screening

Less a traditional slasher movie than an art film with a bodycount, this slice of guignol puts the death of traditional film projection into a new perspective. A French cinema operator goes on a killing spree triggered by the imminent closure of his repertory theatre and egged on by some serious mommy issues. So much stalking and slaying makes for a slim story, but it's an exquisitely photographed one, not gussied up with the tired editing tricks of most modern horror. Tickets and times here.

I Wish

Director Hirokazu Kore-eda gets back on track after his ludicrous Air Doll, making a heartwarming picture about a modern Japanese family. Often at his best when working with child actors, Kore-eda shows two young brothers separated by a marital split to opposite ends of Kyushu island. Their quest to reunite via a new high-speed train doesn't play out as you might expect, but with a confident balance of realism and whimsy. Tickets and times here.

Made In USA

It wouldn't be an international film festival without someone complaining that there are too many American films invited. This potpourri of music videos, animations, and experimental films prove just as foreign to the Hollywood mindset as anything from overseas. Nearly half the program showcases Bay Area filmmakers, including Kathleen Quillian's buzz-worthy Fin De Siècle and Andrew Wilson's chilling Workers Leaving The Googleplex. Tickets and times here.

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Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey (Closing Night Film)

Ramona S. Diaz's profile of a struggling Filipino cover band frontman, selected via YouTube to replace the lead singer of one of San Francisco's most successful rock groups, is a great pick to close the festival on a high note. Anyone not allergic to Journey will be inspired by Arnel Pineda's streets-to-stadiums story. The documentary doesn't deeply probe the band's history, but does show Pineda confronting the challenges of life on a massive, corporate, international arena tour, and ironically expanding Journey's global reach even as he pines for home. Tickets and times here.

Thanks again to Brian and Hell on Frisco Bay for this week’s festival picks!