SF Inter­national Film Festival shines on world stage

Over the past two weeks, the good, the bad and the ugly all played the 57th annual San Francisco International Film Festival.

As one of the oldest festival in North America, it featured around 200 films from countries all around the world. The diversity and quality in this year’s lineup rivals competing international festivals including the Toronto International Film Festival and Cannes.

While there’s a plethora of avenues to explore, we’re going be positive on the festival’s closing and highlight three films that won our hearts and minds.

A slew of films that premiered at SFIFF exhibited a mastery in form. Chief among those would have to be Richard Ayoade’s The Double, a sly, stylish and spellbinding adaptation of Dostoevsky’s novella of the same title.

Following in the recent trend of doppelgänger films (see Enemy and The Face of Love), Ayoade’s follow up to Submarine tells the story of an invisible clerk (played by Jesse Eisenberg) who lives in and works for a 1984-like agency.

Simon’s life is made worse when a facsimile of himself appears. The doppelgänger is an identical copy to Simon, except more suave, confident and assertive.

The Double charts this young man’s descent into insanity with aplomb and panache. Vague superlatives will have to suffice for now, as we’ll publish a review of this movie when it plays at the Embarcadero and others theaters next week in San Francisco.

One of the perks of being a festival of this magnitude is that it has the ability to jumpstart a career.

Case in point: Avid moviegoers were recently introduced to Just Simien, the man behind the excellent Dear White People.

In his directorial debut, Simien paints a piercing portrait of a racially and politically charged college campus with unrelenting wit and depth. Following four different black students at an Ivy league school, the film examines the very palpable racial tensions that exist on a fictitious campus.

The film may not explicitly label the college as Harvard or Yale, but it’s clear that Dear White People is putting the spotlight on our collegiate system.

Impassioned monologues and spirited debates occupy Simien’s thoughtful and telling screenplay, hosting a cast of characters who — unlike in most movies — are still uncertain about what they believe in.

When a riot breaks out over a “African American”-themed party thrown by a predominantly white fraternity, students indignantly respond. But their indignation is promptly superseded by confusion.

A variety of political messages and stances are plastered onto the screen. These whipsmart students, who are all on the cusp of adulthood, are still trying to figure out who they are and what they believe in.

After one visual splendor and a satire, we receive Boyhood — an epic endeavor that Richard Linklater has been working on for the past twelve years. From age 5 to 18, Linklater has charted Mason’s (played by Ellar Coltrane) adolescence with unflinching precision.

Few projects with a foundation in fiction have captured the actual, physical growth of this family (including a mother, a couple of fathers, and one sister). Different actors don’t inhabit these characters at different times of their lives. Linklater has taken a series of snapshots from a dozen years of footage and seamlessly put it together.

Boyhood has its faults in tone and transitions, but the ambition is astounding. I suspect for many, parts of this three hour film will represent fractions of your childhood.

Marriage. Heartbreak. Divorce. Happiness. Family. Birth. Death. First loves. Middle school. Baseball games. Long weekends. Drug experimentation. Curfews. Restrictive parents. The talk. High school.

These are the components that occupy youth in America, at least in one form or another. Boyhood delves into these elements — warts and all — with wide-eyes and a full heart.

Original header photo by Jack Anderson, a filmmaker and photographer based in San Francisco.