Selected Film Reviews

by Mara Math

Carnage is an 80-minute cry of revenge, one that might just as well have been titled I Thought She Was 18 for Chrissake (Even Though I Had to Ask Her Mom Permission to Photograph the Kid for Vogue, Ha Ha). Playwright Yamina Rezi. [click here for full review]

This is Not a Film It’s not a traditional narrative or a typical documentary, but it is for damn sure a film after all, a cry from the heart of a filmmaker’s filmmaker. [click here for full review]

Two Daniels: Too Much and Not Enough — If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front and Battle for Brooklyn share some strengths, some weaknesses, and guys named Daniel. [click here for full review]

FestivalWatch: Berlin & Beyond, French Cinema Now, UNAFF, Tribeca on the Road

Berlin & Beyond, the Goethe Institute’s annual festival of contemporary German cinema, closes tonight in SF and continues in San Jose Oct. 29. For more information:

The Day I Was Not Born

The Day I Was Not Born. A spare and moving tale of a young German athlete who accidentally discovers, via the starting point of an overheard lullaby that should not be familiar, that she is linked to Argentina’s desparacidos, citizens “disappeared” by the repressive junta. As she navigates the boundaries separating “adopted” from “stolen,” Maria finds herself swimming not in the professional competition she was headed for in Chile, but in the murky waters of submerged history and the convenient amnesia attending privilege. Both Jessica Schwartz as Maria and Michael Gwisdek as her tricksy adoptive father give outstanding performances.

3 movie

Tom Twyker’s beautifully shot 3 is fun for its few moments of sexual farce, as both the female and male half of a long-term couple separately take up with a blonde hunk, but Cabaret it ain’t. Sophie Rois is particularly compelling on screen, with hints of Edie Falco in both appearance and intensity, but the film falls apart on even medium-close examination. Although neither husband nor wife do anything with Blondie other than fuck, they each decide this is luuurve, profound enough luurve that they want to raise a child with him. Worse, Blondie is the stereotypical bisexual of yore, careless, greedy, selfish, who will screw anything that moves.

If Not Us, Who?

If Not Us, Who? This August- Diehl-written, Diehl-produced and Diehl-starring vehicle based on the Baader-Meinhof Group (aka The Red Army Faction) provides insufficient insight into the conversion of a liberal activist couple into revolutionaries, and an over-abundance of sex scenes. The wife eventually becomes a cold-eyed monster, who, with condescension worse than that of Norma Rae, is depicted as having been politicized by her extramarital affair; it appears to be more the male revolutionary’s sexual prowess that provides the heat of her fervor than social injustice and a frustration with traditional methods.

Jane's Journey

Jane’s Journey. A gentle portrait of pioneering chimp researcher-in-the-wild Jane Goodall, this doc offers a rare window into Goodall’s personal life. While the initial sweep of her Bournemouth living room feels uncomfortably like the gaze of a worshipful undergraduate who can barely believe his luck at being invited into an idolized professor’s home—the camera lingering on every tchotchke and keepsake reverentially—the pace picks up as we take two simultaneous journeys with Jane. The first traces her personal and professional history, and she offers insights into her two marriages and since-healed philosophical estrangement from her son, while the second follows her on a more literal journey around the globe, driven by heartfelt evangelical environmentalism. Goodall is far more than a lecturer, and the span of the constructive programs sponsored by The Jane Goodall Institute and Roots and Seeds is astonishing and inspiring.

French Cinema Now, the latest series from the San Francisco Film Society, begins tonight and runs through November 2nd at New People Cinema; tonight’s Opening Night film, Katia Lewcowicz’s comedy Bachelor Days Are Over, and the postscreening party, will be held at Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema.

The Kid with a Bike

One highlight of French Cinema Now is guaranteed to be The Kid with a Bike. Co-directors Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne possess a genius for finding stellar child actors, and lead Thomas Doret is the latest. Kid is as deceptively simple as its title, and it’s the best kind of filmmaking, in which character has been so subtly and well established that post-climax, one simple, nearly wordless inaction by 11-year-old Cyril communicates profound growth and a changed course in life. Repeatedly running away from boarding school to search for the petty criminal father who ditched him, Cyril physically resists his teachers at one point by grabbing onto a random woman like a fencepost, and she becomes his savior. Ideally the cinematography would not telegraph her importance, but that’s a small quibble. Her statement to the angry ragamuffin gripping her so fiercely presages the core of her child-rearing philosophy: “You can hold on to me,” she tells the young stranger, “but not that tightly.”

The other ten films in French Cinema Now include the political and occasionally satirical thriller The Minister (L'exercice de l'État), directed by Pierre Schoeller, a tale of intrigue pitting privatization against transport unions; the psychological thriller The Long Falling (Où va la nuit) , starring the marvelous Yolande Moreau as a battered wife who has finally had enough (directed by Martin Provost, with cinematography by Agnes Godard); and Mathieu Amalric’s The Screen Illusion, a layered and playful yet still respectful updating of Corneille’s 17th-century L’illusion Comique, commissioned by and featuring the iconic Comedie Francaise.


There is still time to catch more than two dozen films in the 14th United Nations Association Film Festival, which runs through Oct 30th, moving this last week to Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, and Stanford University. For more information, visit

This year’s theme for the international documentary film fest is “Education Is a Human Right”; among the other social justice subjects are freedom of the press (WikiRebels; Pricele$$; A Bitter Taste of Freedom), child labor (Grace; White Gold: The True Cost of Cotton), human trafficking (Mercy Beyond Borders), public health (The Healer), and alternative art (There’s No Sound in My Head; Waste Land).

Waste Land

Recommended: Tonight’s Waste Land, the Oscar-nominated story of cantadores, the garbage-pickers (and dump dwellers) of Brazil, creating a gigantic self-portrait from recyclables with the assistance of artist Vic Muniz. Of particular local interest is tonight’s River of Renewal, which follows the battle between the forces of exploitation and sustainability for the future of the Klamath Basin, and Sunday’s screening of Atomic Mom, by Bay Area filmmaker M.T. Silvia, in which her mother Pauline comes out about her role in the secret U.S. atomic testing programs.


The Tribeca Film Festival now has a traveling component, which, at least this year, is open only to American Express cardholders.