Big Screen Berkeley: CAAMFest 2019, ‘Shadow’

Last Sunrise

Like most film festivals, CAAMFest comes but once a year — and in 2018 I somehow managed to miss it altogether. With this year’s Festival kicking off on Thursday, May 9 for an 11-day run, it’s time to put that oversight behind me.

Screening at AMC’s Kabuki 8 in San Francisco at 9:45 p.m. on Friday, May 10 (and again at 12 p.m. on Saturday, May 11), Last Sunrise is a low-budget gem from Chinese newcomer Wen Ren. It’s also something rather rare: a science-fiction film that actually incorporates science into its plot. While I’m not qualified to comment on the veracity of that science, it’s a great relief to encounter futuristic fiction that eschews giant monsters, strange visitors from other worlds, and scantily clad women.

Set sometime in the near future, Last Sunrise posits a world entirely reliant on solar energy. Unfortunately, the source of that energy has become somewhat unreliable, and amateur astronomer Sun Yang (Jue Zhang) has a theory: the sun is acting in similar fashion to a distant star that recently disappeared from view.

Yang’s theory suggests that the sun’s luminosity will abruptly end, leaving Earth plunged in eternal darkness, its oxygen supply slowly depleting and its temperature eventually declining to minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Without any source of electricity, life is destined to rapidly become unsupportable.


After a meet-cute with neighbor Chen Mu (Yue Zhang), the pair flee the city in an attempt to survive – but to what purpose? Director Wen isn’t shy about asking the big existential questions; his film plays out as a slow-motion tragedy about two lonely, unhappy souls brought together while they patiently wait for the world to end.

Stunningly shot by Matthias Delvaux, Last Sunrise belies its $250,000 budget, two-week shooting schedule, and sub-zero shooting conditions. Indeed, it’s an outstanding film by any standard, and well worth a trip across the Bridge this weekend.

Seadrift

After the fall of Saigon in 1975, thousands of Vietnamese refugees were relocated throughout the United States. Many settled in the Gulf Coast region, where their fishing experience allowed them to immediately take up shrimping.

Seadrift (screening at the Kabuki at 5:10 p.m. on May 10 and again at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 12) takes a look at the titular Texas fishing community, a small town upended by the arrival of a few dozen refugees. The newcomers worked harder than the native Texans, and their ethnic and cultural differences – as well as the fatal shooting of a Seadrift resident – eventually attracted the attention of the KKK.

Despite the inclusion of newsreel footage of ‘liberal’ California Governor Jerry Brown decrying the “opening of the floodgates” while decent Americans are being “taxed to the hilt”, director Tim Tsai’s documentary ultimately provides a nuanced take on events. Seadrift’s interview subjects are allowed to speak their minds, Tsai rarely editorializes, and the film ultimately (and surprisingly) becomes a tale of redemption and healing.

Shadow

Ying (Shadow) isn’t playing as part of CAAMFest, but its release is a welcome and timely coincidence. Opening on Friday, May 10 at Landmark’s California Theater, this latest feature from Chinese auteur Zhang Yimou is a riveting tale of Three Kingdoms-era court intrigue that I can’t recommend highly enough.

Abrim with astonishing painterly vistas, bloody action, and some very unusual umbrellas, Shadow is also noteworthy for cinematographer Xiaoding Zhao’s utilization of a gorgeous color palette of muted grays and whites. Just because this film is at the end of this week’s column, don’t sleep on it: if there were any justice in the world, Shadow would become as big a hit today as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was in its time.