Oh! I didn’t know there would be goodies! Nugget and I MUNI’d over to the Castro Theatre at 7pm for what we thought was just going to be an really good movie (the title of tonight’s film is extremely intriguing, no?), and maybe a little bit of exuberance from the witty and charming film festival director, Graham Leggat, who has waited ALL YEAR for this night. But finding a giveaway bag on our seat (and on every other seat in the house) suddenly changes the way one feels about such things. Well, it did for me, being a person who does not receive such goodie bags on a regular basis. Instantly, my feeling changed from, “Hey, it’s great we’re out of the house and doing something cultural” to ” WOW! Opening night is a BIG DEAL!” I’m a cheap whore for gifts, what can I say.

On every seat in the house of the Castro Theatre lay a lovely turquoise reusable shopping bag (you know, that nylon square shaped bag, like the kind you buy at Whole Foods), filled with “stuff.” What kind of stuff? Who cares?! It’s a gift bag! OK, here’s the basic contents: little packages of locally made biscotti cookies, a notepad from DHL, a souvenir item from Cathay Pacific (the evening’s sponsor – Nugget got a Hot Wheels’ sized miniature airplane; I got a few magnets with corporate logos on them), a pen from a local insurance company, a few pieces of literature about something or other that immediately went into the recycling bin. The excitement about the gift bag almost was enough of an evening for me. I could have walked out without seeing the movie, and maybe would have been happy. (This girl likes the gifts, what can I say?)

The expected pomp and circumstance was even more exuberant that I had expected. All of the Board Members were introduced, as were the festival’s programmers. Graham Leggat, the brilliant film festival director who has created a partnership between the SF International Film Festival and Sundance, announced a deal he had brokered that secures a permanent screen at the Kabuki Theatre starting in the middle of June. That means that you will be able to see a new official film fest movie every single week of the year. And the statistics that Graham (because we’re on a first name basis, you know the statistics about the SF Film Fest and its audience is really exciting, like:

  • 80,000 tickets were sold for the 177 films that will be running for the next two weeks.
  • More than 60 languages + cultures will be represented during the film festival
  • In 2007, the SF Film Society (the non-profit behind the film festival) programmed more than 120 days of film programming last year. And 2008 should be three times that amount.

For such a small city that is San Francisco (still only about 800,000 people), it’s quite amazing that there is such an appetite for international films (Sigh… I heart SF).

Okay, about the rest of the night. It was pretty rad. Just seeing French director Catherine Breillat sashay herself up to the microphone in a mannish black suit, no makeup, and a walking cane (all she needed was a cigarette, seriously, and the moody French director picture would have been picture-perfect) – to introduce her film just made you feel “this close” with the creative energy + life force + willpower it takes to take a creative idea for a concept of a movie to finally bring it to life. You can’t help but cheer for her and her triumph. Plus, her age! She could be knitting and drinking tea in the French country-side, but instead, she is flying around the world, directing films and talking about them in film festivals. How rad does Catherine make 70 look!?

The most disappointing thing about the night – the film itself. Asia Argento, (that’s Ah-zee-ah to those who don’t know her) is the Tori Spelling of Italy. She gets top billing tonight, because she plays the title role of the “Last Mistress” to her dandy of a lover, a no-name guy who has to break up with his mistress to marry a proper girl with a title and money. Asia’s dad is famous director Dario Argento, and he even casts her in his movies (like “The Mother of Tears” which is also screening at this year’s film festival). So, Asia has a brand name. But she was out-acted by her co-star, who was discovered by walking along the street in Paris. In a quintessential French café moment, the director was drinking a cup of coffee and saw this beautiful boy walked by, and said “That’s my lead!” [We know this, because Catherine told the audience the story of how she found this guy in a conversation after the film.]

The story in a nut shell is this: A 18th-century French dandy (gigolo?) has a special girlfriend with a “past.” The woman may have been a bastard child of a Spanish princess and famous matador, but for some reason she was cast off and it was her lot in life to play the courtesan to wealthy men in a certain district in France. They have a torrid affair, decide to abandon Paris and make a life in Tunisia, but tragedy follows them there, and they return to Paris to forge new lives, apart. But their torrid love still burns strong and in spite of other relationships, they wind up back in each other’s arms. And this is supposed to be one of Catherine Breillat’s most accessible and “humorous” works. So French, right? Totally worth Netflix-ing. I will tell you what: it’s not the best, most-moving film I have ever watched, but Nugget and I were still discussing it, two hours after. If you watch it, give me a call. I think I still have a few hours of conversation about that film in me.

Lesson learned: Opening Night at the Film Festival is a party and you get to see an interesting foreign movie, and you might get a gift-bag too. Worth checking out!  I am already looking forward to next year.

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