AFI Fest 2012 continues with free screenings


AFI 2012 will present 80 features and 56 shorts, chosen from 3,400 submissions. The World Cinema program will include Oscar foreign-language entries from Denmark “A Royal Affair”, Austria “Amour”, Germany “Barbara”, Romania “Beyond the Hills”, Portugal “Blood of My Blood”, Italy- directors Paolo & Vittorio Taviani’s “Caesar Must Die”, Norway “Kon-Tiki”, Belgium “Our Children”, South Korea Kim Ki-duk’s Venice Golden Lion winner “Pieta” and Canada “War Witch” (“Rebelle”) dir: Kim Nguyen.

From Cannes 2012 comes Ken Loach’s “The Angels’ Share,” “Reality” by “Gomorrah” director Matteo Garrone, Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Hunt,” Hong Sang-soo’s “In Another Country,” Abbas Kiarostami’s “Like Someone in Love,” Xavier Dolan’s “Laurence Anyways” and Wayne Blair’s “The Sapphires.”

The World Cinema section also features a psychological thriller film by Peter Strickland whose ravishing gothic “Katalin Varga” was a revelation  “Berberian Sound Studio,” “Kuma,” (dir: Umut Dag), parts 1 & 2 of Ulrich Seidl s trilogy “Paradise: Faith “& “Paradise: Love,” Radu Jude’s “Everybody in Our Family” (“Toata Lumea din Familia Noastra”), Lucien Castaing-Taylora’s “Leviathan”, Carlos Reygadas’s “Post Tenebras Lux”, Olivier Assayas’s “Something in the Air” (“Apres Mai”) RECOMMENDED), Miguel Gomes’s “Tabu”, Alain Gomis’s “Tey” (“Aujourd’hui”),  Pablo Trapero’s “White Elephant”, Quentin Dupieux’s “Wrong” and Eran Riklis’s “Zaytoun.”

The Breakthrough section includes the Kenyan Oscar entry “Nairobi Half Life” (dir: David Tosh Gitonga) and “Everybody’s Got Somebody … Not Me” (“Todo el Mundo Tiene Alguiene Menos Yo”), dir: Raúl Fuentes, “Kid” dir: Fien Troch,”The Last Step” dir: Ali Mosaffa,”The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had With My Pants On” dir: Drew Denny and “Oh Boy” Jan Ole Gerster .

The popular Midnight section features “ABCs of Death” an anthology film from 26 different directors and/or directorial teams. Other Midnight films are “Come Out and Play”-dir: Makinov, “Here Comes the Devil” (“Ahi va el Diablo”)- dir: Adrián García Bogliano and the HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, hilarious “John Dies at the End” -dir: Don Coscarelli.

GUEST ARTISTIC DIRECTOR Bernardo Bertolucci will present “42nd Street” -,”Sunrise”-dir:F.W. Murnau, “Vivre Ca Vie”-dir:Jean-Luc Godard as well as “Electric Chair,” a documentary about the making of his latest film “Me and You” – his first Italian-language film  in 30 years.

Galas And Tributes:”Hitchock”-dir: Sacha Gervasi (opening night),”Life of Pi” –dir: Ang Lee, “On the Road” –dir: Walter Salles, “Rise of the Guardians” –dir: Peter Ramsey, “Rust and Bone”-dir: Jacques Audiard and “Lincoln”-dir: Steven Spielberg (closing night)

Special Screenings: “The Central Park Five”–dir: Ken Burns, “Ginger and Rosa”–dir: Sally Potter, “Holy Motors”-dir: Leos Carax (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED),”The Impossible”-dir: Juan Antonio Bayona “Quartet”-dir: Dustin Hoffman, “Room 237” –dir: Rodney Ascher, “Silver Linings Playbook” –dir: David O. Russell and “West of Memphis”-dir: Amy Berg

New Auteurs includes: “After Lucia”-dir: Michel Franco, “Antiviral”-dir: Brandon Cronenberg, “Clip”-dir: Maja Milos, “Eat Sleep Die”-dir: Gabriela Pichler, “Here and There” -dir: Antonio Mendez Esparza, “In the Fog”-dir:  Sergei Loznitsa, “Not in Tel Aviv”-dir: Nony Geffen, “Simon Killer”-dir:  Antonio Campos

Young Americans includes: “All the Light in the Sky”-dir: Joe Swanberg, “Ape” -dir: Joel Potrykus; “The International Sign for Choking” -dir: Zach Weintraub, “Kid-Thing” -dir: David Zellner, “Only the Young”-dir: Jason Tippet, Elizabeth Mims, “Pearblossom Highway”-dir:  Mike Ott, “Somebody Up There Likes Me”-dir: Bob Byington, “Starlet”-dir: Sean Baker, “Sun Don’t Shine”-dir:  Amy Seimetz, “Tchoupitoulas” -dir: Turner Ross, Bill Ross and “Electrick Children” -dir: Rebecca Thomas, a favorite at the press screenings.

Brandon Cronenberg’s bold debut feature “Antivaral” summons his father’s earliest films, The beautifully stylized futurist film, with it’s obsession with body horror, reminded me of my favorite David Cronenberg film, the brilliant ‘Videodrome.”

The clinic is field of white negative space, shot in exquisite compositions by D.P. Karim Hussain. Beautifully symmetrical shots, featuring graphic lines created by door and window frames, create the classic look achieved by stationary cameras. It’s a break from this generation of filmmakers’ reliance on jiggery hand held work.

The celebrity culture parable takes place in the pristine Lucas Agency clinic where celebrity obsessed clients can infect themselves with their favorite star’s virus. The companies’ prime donor (and prime product line) is viral material farmed from the beauteous superstar Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon).

The film postulates the psychosexual nature of the victim (passive=feminine) being penetrated by the (masculine) needle, bearing the virus, experienced like a devout’s Catholic ingesting of the Host.

Expert clinical salesman Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones-“X-Men: First Class”) injects his first customer Edward Porris (Douglas Smith.) He’s sold him he latest virus from the perfect star Hannah Geist.  March works for one of the two companies who control this market, which, as we discover, are locked in a deadly competition for market share.

But Syd is the biggest fan of all. With a purloined machine hidden in his apartment, he is able to strip the intellectual property rights code off the lucrative virus and inject himself.

He deals in the black market, hooking up with a butcher who sells the legal gourmet meat grown from celebrity genes. His rival at the Agency is busted for black market dealing and Syd is sent to Geist’s house to retrieve material. He infects himself with some purloined material and stashes the rest.  She dies suddenly, he is sick to the point of death, and pressured by his company’s rivals, various nefarious underworld thugs and the Geist family, he is forced to solve the mystery of the deadly virus.

Production designer Arvinder Grewal, art director Mark Steel, costume designer Patrick Antosh and sound by Phil Stall burnish the engrossing style. With its frosty satire, this fascinating debut is a nice companion piece to Chronenberg senior’s recent dystopian “Cosmopolis.”

“Berberian Sound Studio” is quite a departure from  “Katalin Varga”, Peter Strickland’s folkloric revenge story set in the Carpathians. (It featured a stunning soundtrack of heightened sounds and electronic music.) Strickland cleverly pays homage to Giallo films, painting one in our mind’s eye. The paranoid journey the professional voyeur experiences is also an homage to “Blow Up”, Coppola’s “The Conversation” and de Palma’s “Blow Out”.

Meek British Sound Engineer Gilderoy (Toby Jones) arrives at the Berberian Sound Studios in Italy, summoned by arrogant director Giancarlo Santini (Antonio Mancino).

The sensual receptionist Elena (Tonia Sotiropoulou) claims to not speak English. The abusive macho producer Francesco Coraggio (Cosimo Fusco) takes charge, putting Gilderoy in his place. He doesn’t even get to meet Santini. Diffident Gilderoy attempts to get his plane ticket reimbursed, but the tricky Italians dodge him at each step.

Gilderoy, who lives in Dorking with his mother, fancies birds (he’s missing the ChiffChaffs nesting on his garage.) He’s spent his career making nature films and regional tourist films for local British councils. As soon as he arrives in Rome he realizes his mistake.

A bravura title sequence for “The Equestrian Vortex”, the film within the film, joshes the splashy Giallo films of the 70’s, think Dario Argento’s “Suspiria”, think Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci.

From the title, Gilderoy imagined he was making another nature film, something about horses, not the sadistic inquisitions of witches he watches on screen. He remains a professional and tries his best to design sound for the lurid eroto-violent film Santini has in mind.

Proud Santini, a cocksman whose sexual harassment of the actresses threatens to scuttle the film explains, “A director must tell the truth”. Justifying his grisly sequences Santini explains that he is bringing this important story to the world.

Graphic rapes, murders and torture scenes demand all of the sound designer’s tricks. Smashed melons stand in for broken bodies, nervous starlets struggle to register the level of screams the Italians demand. Gilderoy sizzles to grease on a pan to increase the horror of a hot poker violating a vagina. It’s all in a day’s work.

Subtly Glderoy is changed by what he’s forced to watch and score.  Like “The Conversations”, a quiet man used to working with sounds is transformed by the sounds he’s recording.

Both Francesco and Santini express respect for Giilderoy the artist, while subtly breaking his will. Even Gilderoy’s slightest complaint of antiquated or broken equipment draws hostile comments from the pair, who bully everyone on the set, including the playboy hanger-on, the “son of a famous director”.

The film has fun with the Giallo scores of the day, aping Morricone, Goblin and the whispery vocalist Edda Dell’Orso.

The claustrophobic setting works both for comic intent (cartoon like scenes of the starlets in the booth) and later for the disturbing last act of the film with its mysterious final scene.

Without his walk -around money Gilderoy is a prisoner of the film, sleeping in a back room at the sound studio. Pressured by impatient Francesco, unable to force an actress to scream, fastidious Gilderoy uses feedback in her earphones to drive her mad. Having crossed the line, his personality fragments. Hallucinatory scenes make him and us wonder what is real. Woken by loud banging, he watches his own frightened behavior of minutes before playback on the dubbing stage screen. In another scene of “the film within the film’ his earliest encounters with Francesco replay, this time in Italian with Gilderoy playing along fluently. Scraps of news from his mother’s letters emerge in the dialogue.

Ken Loach paved the way for directors like Mike Leigh and the Dardennes.  His latest film, “The Angel’s Share”, written by Paul Laverty, Loach’s screenwriter since “Carla’s Song” (1996), is a sort of kitchen sink “fairy tale.”

Set in the Glasgow that represents three generations of the chronically unemployed, Loach and Laverty include some realistic dramatic scenes before the film settles into an ingenious heist tale.

The Angel’s Share’ begins with a series of dumb and dumber acts of drunkenness, thuggery and all around ant social behavior from an assorted group of young Glaswegian do-badders, shown in flashback as each appear in court. After the hilarious turn by Albert Gary Maitland), a drunk who falls on the train rails and nearly tops himself, the rest of the cases are dispatched with some great throw away lines.

Robbie (played by ex addict, felon and community center worker Paul Brannigan, is caught up in a multi generational family feud. About to have a baby with loyal girlfriend Leonie (Siobhan Reilly) the daughter of a local crime boss, Robbie would like a quiet life. But drinking, rage management issues and constant attacks from the gang of thugs seeking feud revenge, won’t let him be. Robbie faces time for a brutal attack on a driver that left the young man without one of his eyes, but the judge takes pity on the young father to be. Robbie and the rest are assigned to Community Payback.

The scene where speechless Robbie confronts his victim and family is heart rending.

John Henshaw is marvelous as the paternal Harry, the foreman of the crew, who befriends Robbie and the other young miscreants, as if to make up for some moral failure of his own. “You Philippine” he mutters to Robbie instead of hailstone, when he confesses he’s never tasked Whiskey. (He turns out to have a natural “nose”.

Rescuing Robbie from the thugs and another arrest, Henshaw bring him home to him to stay with him. He invites Robbie to a Whiskey tasting event (the rest of the posse, Albert Rhino (William Ruane) and Mo (Jasmin Riggins) invite themselves along.  Called onstage, Robbie impresses with his natural gifts. Dishonest Whiskey “Collector” Thaddeus (Roger Allam) gives him his card and offers him the promise of a job.

Gormless Albert’s mined for running jokes.  Spotting the Iconic Edinburg Castle he asks, “What’s that?” “Edinburg Castle” answers his astonished pals. “Why did they put it up there?” “Is there no shortbread in your house?” the incredulous Harry asks. (It’s seen on every tin of Walkers.)

Hardworking humanist Loach, who embodies the 60’s belief in human nature, mixes slice of life (no one does it better) with humor. He’s been in the antic mode before (“Sweet Sixteen “(2002), “Kes”(1969), “Riff Raff”, 1991 and others. His engaged style of developing his largely non-pro ensemble of actors strengthens the comic byplay and texture.

Loach never sentimentalizes hi characters, but here we watch the tender influence that a baby has on a young father, and the subtle, sideways moves that develop friendships. There’s a tip of the hat to Alexander Mackendrick’s Ealing Classic “Whiskey Galore” and a tad of Bill Forsyth’s charming Scottish comedies.

Leonie’s father offers Robbie money to move to London and never come back. He turns him down. Determined to settle down to stable family life, far from the thugs of Glasgow, quick witted. Robbie makes the most of his entree to the Whiskey world, engineering a kilt bedecked heist, amusing in its low-tech ambition.

Charlie McLean is amusing as the bewhiskered whisky expert Rory McAllister.

Miguel Gomes’s second feature “Tabu”, a beautiful black and white artifact, gently joshes Ethnographic films in its opening seemingly silent sequence.  A European explore, replete with solar topee (Pith helmet) and khaki’s wanders through the jungle, poses, then turns to look at the camera. His adventure in the bush, complete with an unexpected camp follower wife, or perhaps the ghost of a lost love) also introduces a mysterious crocodile.

The film cuts to a modern day movie theater and a sole woman spectator. Is it a film, a daydream, a memory? Pilar (Teresa Madruga), a devout Catholic returns to her apartment in Lisbon.  She’s been to the airport to pick up visiting Polish nun, who stands her up, sending another young woman with a message. But a do-gooders work is never done.

The neighbor’s black maid Santa (Isabel Munoz Cardoso summons her. Her patrician, imperious neighbor Aurora (Laura Soveral is calling, desperate, from a Casino. She’s’ lost everything, even her carfare home. While do-gooder Pilar worries about Aurora, and tries to worm her daughter’s number from Santa, Aurora makes desperate calls hinting at abusive behavior from the maid and daughter. Capricious Aurore has an astonishing monologue about a dream which she balms for her gambling.

Realizing she’s dying, Aurora sends Pilar to find a mysterious Ventura (Henrique Esperito Santo). The handsome older man confesses their love story to Pilar, illustrated in a grainy 60’s film style, as happily married plantation wife Aurora (Ana Moreira) becomes smitten with the handsome Italian adventurer (Carloto Cotta) .

The flashback tale is narrated by old Ventura in a melancholic voice over. We watch the husband (Ivo Müller) wife and lover and various African servants talking, but there is no dialogue , only evocative and strangely arbitrary ambient sounds. A crocodile figures in this story: as does the uprising that threatens the Portuguese Colonials in Mozambique.

Gomes joshes the 60’s rock film genre. Ventura is the drummer in local 60’s rock cover band “Mario’s Band” fronted by hunky Mario (Manuel Mesquita).
African villagers perform traditional dances (they’re also seen in the early 20th century prologue as the native bearers who ease the Whiteman’s Burden.)

I admire Gomez’ ambition: using the two-story thread of Murnau’s’ “Taboo” as a template. His visuals (including a charming sequence where an unseen hand doodles shapes in the clouds) are more riveting than his narrative thread, and sometimes inside jokes of the postmodern ironic flavor stand in for the emotional big moments. He uses 16 for the explorer and Mozambique sequences and 35mm to capture Lisbon. A fascinating exercise.

Antonio Méndez Esparza’s delicate “Here and There” (“Aqui y allá], winner of the Grand Prix, Critics Week, 2012 Cannes Film Festival, is a quiet, powerful portrait of the home front in Mexico’s chronic migrant workers situation. For decades, Mexican families had been bifurcated as sons and fathers, sons, brothers immigrate to the U.S looking for money to send their families. Some return, some disappear or start second families, many die abroad, leaving their womenfolk to try and figure out what happened.  Some films are beginning to tell this story (Carlos Hagerman, Juan Carlos Rulfo’s brilliant hybrid documentary “Those Who Remain'”(“Los que se quedan”) comes to mind. Esparza’s film shows us what those who travel leave behind.

Musician Pedro (Pedro De los Santos) returns after two years in New York City. His doting Wife Teresa (Teresa Ramírez Aguirre) waited since dawn at the road leading to the village. Also thrilled to have a father home are his two shy daughters, alternately sullen then giggling Lorena (Lorena Guadalupe Pantaleón Vázquez) and younger sister wiry Heidi (Laura Solano Espinoza) with her beautiful Olmec profile.

Pedro makes up for lost time, picking the girls up at school, Scenes of pillow talk between the young couple and family trips to his favorite childhood spouts paint a gentle portrait of Home life. Pedro plays his family his CD, and an ironic Corrida, where a man toasts all the things he has in his life.

Sections titled ‘The Return’, ‘Here’, ‘The Horizon’ and ‘There’ portray Pedro’s two-year attempt to provide both a father and funds for his family. Determined to start a band, the Copa Kings, in his village near Tlapa de Comonfort, Guerrero. He enlists family and friends in a brave attempt to end the cycle of leaving for “there” to get work, but bad crops, scant band bookings, and an unexpected complication with Teresa’s third child eventually force him to leave again. Things move slowly, in this now broken agricultural village. 

The non-pro cast includes the De Los Santos family, playing themselves, charms with their warm performances.

In a final scene, the girls reminisce about having papa home, sitting in his old rehearsal room, up for rent. The Corrida plays as cinematography by Barbu Balasoiu’s cinematography burnishes the village Pedro must leave behind to provide for his family.

Gabriela Pichler’s post-Dardennes ” Eat, Sleep, Die” is a gritty portrait of the out of-working class in Sweden.

Raša, an entirely Europeanized Muslim, who moves with her father to Sweden when she was a baby, when Yugoslavia was broken up, lives for her job and her work friends. Sturdy and capable, she prides herself in being the fasts packer in the produce packing plant where she lives.

The film begins with serious wrestling match between cocky birthday girl Raša  (Nermina Lukač) and a co-worker. Hard-working Raša supports her father Pappan (Milan Dragisic) injured in a work stint in Norway. The energy between father and daughter is wonderful to watch. Worried about rumors of downsizing, despite his back, Pops travels to Norway on another shit job. While away, Raša is fired along with a gaggle of co-workers who attend Re-employment sessions. Driving licenses are expensive and the driving school has closed.  Self-reliant Raša tries everything but the only jobs that matter require driving skills. Raša wants her dad to return, but on nightly calls refuses to tell him she’s been laid off.

Hand held and extreme closeup camerawork show us the town in fragments, as if to underscore Raša’s displacement struggle. 

Her pal, a hapless Swedish high school drop out, who dreams of being a veterinarian, gets a job as a pig butcher through his uncle.  One of her Montenegrans, critical of the toothless Employment exercises, says at a closing party, “Eat, Sleep, Die” there’ has to be more than that.  About to leave for Malmo for an internship (she has no choice) the film ends with another lively celebration. Performances from the largely non-pro cast are strong and you will not forget Raša.

Amy Seimetz’s sullen young lovers on the run fllm “Sun Don’t Shine” is light-years from “Badlands” or “Gun Crazy”, the films that may have inspired it. (The trope has been recycled by countless neo-noirs, but most don’t bear mentioning.  Malick’s “Badlands” featured expressive mis-en-scene. Long shots of roads and houses that echo Conrad Hall’s vision for Richard Brooks “In Cold Blood.”  These two films, while depicting terrible crimes, also expressed the optimism of the youthquake and Anti-War generation; a feeling that film or art or writing could change the world for the better. Even the earlier ‘Gun Crazy” places the kids on a crime spree in larger cultural context

Seimetz’s film is a whole other thing. She barely gives us a chance to warm up to her characters. Hysterical crybaby Crystal (Kate Lyn Shel), seemingly fragile, depends on terse protective Leo (Kentucker Audley.) These two, on the run from something, with something in their trunk, argue and grapple their way across a sweaty Florida. Extreme close-ups, often at interesting angles, make much of the claustrophobia of a long car-ride, with the echoes of passive childhood rides in the back seat. Crystal’s seemingly crazy passive-aggressive sociopathy is the catalyst for their tragic acts, as we find out.

Seimetz plays with sound. Crystal natters on in a disconnected stream of consciousness, sometimes in dialogue with Leo. With no ambient sound, the airless dialogue seems inward and insular. As does the sad downward spiral of the two characters. Seimetz’s character’s exist in a shut-off world of their own. AJ Bowman (as the Highway Angle) and Kit Gwin (as Leo’s ex-item Terri) give strong performances.

Mike Ott’s “Pearblossom Highway” is a post-modern road movie. Clueless stoner Cory (Cory Zacharia) has one skill. He can shoot.  He dreams of escaping his high desert small town by making it onto a Reality Show. Some of the movie is Corey taking into friends camera’s as part of his audition reel. His friend Anna (Atsuko Okatsuka) preps for her American citizenship exam. Really she wants to return to Japan to see her ailing grandmother. In daily calls her ailing Grandmother discourages Anna from coming back to Japan for a visit until her health improves.  Meanwhile Anna, who lives and works at her Aunt and Uncle’s nursery, turns tricks at the local truck stop for money to return to Japan. Cory’s big brother Jeff  (John Brotherton) comes back to town and can’t help riding Cory.  Anna shows Jeff a part of Cory’s tape. His heartfelt complaints: he misses his dead mother, wants to meet his estranged father and is hurt by Jeff’s attitude, have an effect. Soon Jeff, Cory and pal Anna head off on a road trip to SF to meet Cory and Jeff’s father. Ott borrows a sound trick of Godard’s; a single sound effect (it sounds like a cocking of a rifle played backwards) underscores series of cuts. It’s aggro-dissocociative neo Godard. Hmm.

“The Central Park Five”
Ken Burns, and co-directors David McMahon and Sarah Burns, tells a straight forward story ripped from the headlines of 1989. New York City, under Mayor Ed Koch, was struggling with a major crime situation fueled by crack and an entrenched underclass.

Five African American and Latino teenage boys were railroaded by the Justice system, lead by an elite detective unit, and convicted of rape and attempted murder. One served time in an adult prison. Tried in the headlines, the Media frenzy was a lynching in print.

Minutes into the film, the filmmakers play the audio confession of the actual attacker, a serial rapist named Matias Reyes, allowing the audience to savor the ripe ironies of a broken justice system impatient for conviction, a knee jerk media, and the racist subtext still rampart in our culture, each of which contributed to locking up 5 innocent boys and losing them their childhoods.

The boys went to Central Park, where they joined a large group of teens “wilding” and, to their horror, the shy young men watched random harassment and violent attacks on joggers. What they didn’t witness was the rape of Trisha Meili.

On April 20th, 1989, the body of a young white jogger, raped and beaten almost to death was discovered in Central Park.  Five African American and Latino teenage boys, three of them already in custody for a series of random attacks in the Park the night before, and two more boys who lived in the same projects, were held, browbeaten and fed confessions, while their family members waiting outside. Promised to be released if they could tell a credible story, the first three teens created largely fictional accounts, supplied with names and details by the detectives. Those video taped confessions put them away. Only one juror held out until the pressure from his peers made him fold.

Despite DNA recovered at the scene, lake of witnesses and inconsistent narratives, the five youth were tried and sentenced, serving between 6-13 years. Awaiting parole, none of the young men accepted parole predicated on confession and remorse. They continued to maintain their innocence. Matias Reyes came forward in 2002 and a judge vacated their convictions. A Civil suit is pending.

For the fourth consecutive year, tickets to the AFI Fest are available to the public free of charge. Information about registering for tickets and purchasing patron passes is available at


About Author

Robin Menken

Robin Menken Robin Menken lives in Los Angeles. She was the Artistic Director of the Second City Workshops, taught at UC Berkeley, USC, Barcelona\'s Ateneu and the Esalin Institute. She was Roberto Rossellini\'s assistant, and worked with Yevgeny Vevteshenku, Glauber Rocha and Eugene Ionesco. She sold numerous screenplays and wrote the OBIE winning The FTA SHow (touring with Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and Ben Vereen.) She was a programming consultant and Special Events co-ordinator for numerous film festivals, including the SF, Rio, Havana and N.Y Film Festivals. Her first news outlet was the historic East Village Other.

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