Projections - Page 6

A long list of short takes on SFIFF 57, in chronological order

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A teen fights for her rights in Ethiopian drama Difret.
Photo courtesty San Francisco Film Society

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (David Zellner, US) Fargo (1996), now also an FX series, is having a moment — and as bracingly sweet, tragicomic, and strange as its inspiration, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter sets course from where the Coen Brothers left off. Essential ingredients include another moviemaking team of brothers, David and Nathan Zeller, and a waterlogged VHS tape of the North Dakota micro-epic, the latter leading one woman into white-out lunacy beyond the grinding conformity of Tokyo office work or small-town Minnesota mundanities. Shy, odd, and obsessive Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) is the nail that must be pounded down, as the Japanese saying goes; as she trudges through her job at a large, alienating company, her fantasy world is fueled by a video of Fargo she finds buried in a sea cave. Those grainy images set her on a quest among the determinedly kawaii in Japan and the hilariously humane in the States, which she compares to that of the conquistadors'. Even when accompanied by the Octopus Project's vivid electronic score, which spells out the horror of this journey, Kumiko's no Aguirre — though, like Fargo, her adventure's end is based on a true case. A wonderfully weird — and ultimately compassionate — vamp on the power of fantasy and obsession that crosses international datelines. May 1, 8:45pm, Kabuki; May 3, 2:30pm, Kabuki; May 4, 12:30pm, Kabuki. (Chun)

Difret (Zeresenay Berhane Mehari, Ethiopia) Zeresenay Berhane Mehari's film dramatizes a shocking human rights issue in Ethiopia: the continuing acceptance in rural areas of forcibly abducting young women for marriage. Fourteen-year-old Hirut (Tizita Hagere) is walking home from school one day when she's surrounded by seven armed men, dragged off to a hut, then raped by the suitor whose marriage proposal she'd already rejected. When later she kills him in an escape attempt, tribal law decrees she be executed (and buried alongside him as "wife"). But a city lawyer for a women's rights organization (Meron Getnet) takes up her cause. This is powerful material, but Difret would be a better film, and even better advocacy, if it didn't handle its fictive events in such heavy-handed, pedestrian, everything spelled-out-for-you fashion. May 1, 6:30pm, Pacific Film Archive; May 3, 3:15pm, Kabuki; May 7, 3:30pm, Kabuki. (Harvey)

Abuse of Weakness (Catherine Breillat, France/Belgium/Germany, 2013) Those who last saw Isabelle Huppert as a dutiful daughter in 2012's Amour will be both thrilled and piqued to see the tables turned so remarkably in Catherine Breillat's Abuse of Weakness. Huppert gives an unapologetic, stunning tour de force performance in what appears to be a story torn from the filmmaker's own life, when Breillat suffered a series of strokes in the '00s and ended up entangled in a loving and predatory friendship with con man Christophe Rocancourt. Here, moviemaker and writer Maud (Huppert) is particularly vulnerable when she meets celebrity criminal and best-selling writer Vilko (Kool Shen). She is determined to have him star in her next film, despite the protestations of friends and family, and he helps her in return — by simply helping her get around and giving her focus when half her body seems beyond her control, while his constant machinations continue to compel her. Crafting a layered, resonant response to what seems like an otherwise clear-cut case of abuse, Breillat seems to have gotten something close to one of her best films out of the sorry situation, while Huppert reminds us — with the painful precision of this intensely physical role — why she's one of France's finest. May 1, 9pm, Kabuki. (Chun)