First, consider the concepts: A near-future dystopia, in which some bureaucratic functionary's fantasy life begets corrosive social satire. A tale of late-'60s suburban dysfunction, as viewed through the prism of adolescence. A documentary about how climate change directly threatens even the scientists who study it. A stylish, crisscrossing narrative of lonely hearts in isolation, almost but not quite coming together.
This is just for starters.
Had they been homegrown, their promise might be muted by our built-up aversion to the obsequiously "indie," a reasonable fear of ruination via that bad Tinseltown habit of always trying too hard.
But these films -- Denys Arcand's The Age of Ignorance, Léa Pool's Mommy Is at the Hairdresser's, Jean Lemire's The Last Continent and Stéphane Lafleur's feature debut, Continental, a Film Without Guns, respectively, have a different sort of regional vitality. They all hail from Québec, a province in which matters of independence and proper cultural sovereignty are not taken lightly.
These and three more impressively varied contemporary works -- plus Claude Jutra's beloved Québecquois benchmark Mon Oncle Antoine, from 1971, round out Québec Film Week, a new offering from the San Francisco Film Society and another of its brief, potent, highly praise-worthy and regionally specific-mini fests, continuing through December 14, 2008.
Now, in the same way it's unwise to worry about their possible infection with American movie tropes, so it is to generalize about these films' regionalist traits. But here goes. Preferring candor to grandeur, knowingness to vanity, the movies in this bunch show a tendency toward the wry, a restrained sort of sophistication that might even seem aloof -- at least, that is, until its emotional power sneaks up on us and pounces.
Take, for instance, the forlorn young hotel clerk (Fanny Mallette) in Continental, A Film Without Guns, who finally forces herself to go out to party, only to drop somebody else's baby on the floor while there. Strange as it may sound, the cinema of Québec -- surprising, beguiling, ultimately appealing -- could not ask for a better emissary. And she is only one of many.
Québec Film Week runs through December 14, 2008, at the Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco. Half of the showcased films will have special guests in attendance, including The Last Continent director Lemire and Continental? director Lafleur. For tickets and information visit www.sffs.org.