Ever wondered what a horror film directed by Terrence Malick might look like? The 57th San Francisco International Film Festival (continuing through May 8 at Pacific Film Archive) is here to help. Screening at the Archive at 8:45 p.m. next Wednesday, May 7, Historia del miedo (History of Fear) blends the brooding naturalism of Malick with the existential dread of Michael Haneke, the end-result a grimly fascinating examination of the discreet discomfort of the bourgeoisie.
Set during a hot Argentinian summer plagued with power outages, History of Fear introduces viewers to an extended upper middle-class family living on a large estate in Buenos Aires’ Moreno district. It’s not only the constant blinking on and off of electricity that has the family on edge, however, but a multitude of other disturbances: holes cut in the estate fence by unseen intruders, fires left burning unattended, violent reality television, and – of course – naked men at the local toll booth.
Writer-director Benjamin Naishtat may not have made a ‘real’ horror film, but he nonetheless uses the cinematic grammar of the genre to tell History of Fear’s story of impending doom. The walls are closing in, stability and comfort under constant threat from encroaching outsiders who are rarely glimpsed but always present. “They are getting into the neighborhood,” announces the family matriarch, and nothing — not even private security guards — will be able to stop them.
This is not a film in which you will grow to know or love its characters: instead, it’s an echo of society’s pre-apocalyptic fears as we edge further into the uncertainties of the 21st century, our over-populated and over-exploited planet teetering on the edge of an abyss. What happens after we go over the edge is anyone’s guess, but we know it’s somewhere out there — in the dark.
‘Happiness:’ A beautifully shot feature film
If you’re not in the mood for something quite so downbeat, there’s a dose of Happiness awaiting you at the Archive at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, May 2. Shot in Bhutan, Happiness is reminiscent of 1999’s The Cup, though this time the promise of television is mostly left unfulfilled. Focusing on an eight-year old boy sent to a monastery in hopes that a future as a monk will pull his family out of poverty, Happiness is as much about the desire for communication as it is about television itself. Directed by Frenchman Thomas Balmès, it’s a beautifully shot feature with spectacular scenery and lots of yaks.
‘The Militant:’ Great performance by Felipe Diesto
Finally, consider El lugar del hijo (The Militant), screening on Thursday May 1 at 8:50 p.m. The tale of a Uruguayan student activist who returns home after the unexpected death of his father, the film is anchored by the performance of Felipe Diesto as the emotionless, prematurely balding sad-sack student whose big-city Montevideo ways don’t sit well with activists in the backwater city of Salto. Reflecting the infighting and cliquish nonsense that has undermined left-wing activism since time immemorial, The Militant stirred up memories of both The Strawberry Statement and The Best of Youth, though it lacks the veneer of romanticism that made those films relative crowd-pleasers.
Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.
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