SFIFF52 Opening Night: La Mission at the Castro Theatre

My first bag of swag:

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Admittedly, it’s uniformly, without exception, complete and utter crap- but it was FREE. Free as the breeze, I tells ya.

I think I may have done my dash with SFIFF52- it seems that sessions have pre-sold very quickly , when I thought there would be more opportunity to buy tickets on the day, as is usually the case with MIFF. Obviously for the opening night I knew I would have to wait in the rush line- that means the standby queue, in the great tradition of Americanisms that make no sense. We weren’t “rushing” anywhere, “standing” is certainly a more appropriate adjective for what the chumps who didn’t pre-order a ticket were made to do.

So the rush queue is for all the unclaimed comp tickets that are given to corporate sponsors- to get one, you have to arrive early (2 hours in my case) and hope for the best. In this case, both a highly entertaining and embittering experience. For a start, unlike the balmy evenings of the last week, it was bone-chillingly cold. I was under-dressed. I contemplated on several occasions whether I might just slip, unnoticed, into a hypothermic coma while waiting there in the rush queue. Would they let that happen? Would the people behind me simply trample over my slumped, shivering body- insensitive to the physical trauma their queue had instigated? My bones were literally chattering for the last hour, but not one of the friendly SFIFF vols seemed to notice or care. You line up, you take your chances, seemed to be the attitude.

Meanwhile, as I endured this personal torture, questioning my sanity, need to see the film in the first place, and fantasizing about steaming foam cups of hot chocolate, a small and hilarious psycho drama played out in the queue around me. I was there really early- when I rocked up there were about 20 people in a queue that would eventually trail all the way to 18th St from the Castro Theatre (Don’t ask me how far that is – look it up on google maps). And we were assured early on by a kindly crowd control guy that we were gonna get a ticket- we didn’t have anything to worry about on that score. So really, it was just an endurance challenge. Knowing this, it was particularly bizarre, frustrating and ultimately funny, that one woman decided to play a sneaky game of jump the queue. At roughly 5pm, she was two spots behind me. Gradually, via a process of eavesdropping on, then randomly befriending people in front of her, she managed to jump 5 entire spots ahead of me.  No one really seemed to mind- besides me, obviously because I’m an arsehole- but it was really expert, and thus insidious, the way she did it. To add insult to injury, the same bespectacled little mole woman, standing within earshot of about a dozen people (and more specifically, ME), described the entire plot of the film, giving away nearly all it’s sleeve-hidden tricks in the process.

Ever wanted to turn around and punch a complete stranger in the face? What, may you ask, prevented me from committing assault on this unfortunate woman? Well the kicker was, and she made sure everyone knew it, she actually Worked On The Film. She made it, in a sense. Well, she was involved in making it anyway. She was one of the stars, really, when you think about it. What she was, was an extra.

Perhaps, like I, you have wondered occasionally how accurate Ricky Gervais’ television show was about the world of professional, card-carrying extras? Stop wondering. It’s accurate.

Every imaginable foible of said professionals that show threw up, seems, I’m afraid to say, to be grounded in truth.

She bragged, she talked shop with fellow pros, she discussed her emoting technique (“I just focused on forming a relationship with the kid, and then REACTED”), she unselfconsciously wondered aloud why both the production company and SFIFF hadn’t returned her calls about getting a ticket, and whether or not her scene had been chopped. It was excrutiating. It was exquisite.

While Angelina Jolie worked the queue, another, more vehicular drama played out on the road. Two comically attired SF cops where cordoning off the parking spaces in front of the theatre for the VIP arrivals. Being one of the limited dedicated spaces for motorcycle parking on Castro St, this was quite a task, and a constant stream of musclemen on bikes would pull up to park, only to be told to move along while the cops tried to keep half an eye on the traffic and half an eye on the crowding sidewalk. There were a couple of bikes still languishing as session time closed in. After reasonable attempts to contact the owners, tow trucks were called- to the sadistic pleasure of the by now voluble rush crew. We laughed and jeered as the tow guys hoisted the bikes (correction- one of them wasn’t even a bike! it was a scooter! what a joker!) painfully on to their complicated machinery. Naturally, just as they were about to pull away, one of the owners loped over from a club across the road, casually enquired what they were doing with his bike, and proceeded to argue that because the no-standing sign was half an inch out of his line of sight when he parked, he shouldn’t have to pay to get his bike back. Oh how we sniggered, we of the rush line. Nice try loser.

So finally the celebs arrived. And it became abundantly clear why the bikes needed to be cleared- instead of arriving in limos,  Ex-Mr Julia Roberts (Benjamin Bratt, Star and Producer ) and Co. rumbled up in half a dozen incredible, customized, vintage lowrider cars that featured in the film. Mexican Chefs from restaurants all along Castro St snuck away from their posts to take snaps with their mobiles, people clapped and waved. It was just brilliant, finally got our blood pumping again, and reminded us why we were there in the first place- to see a movie!

La Mission is set, as you might have guessed, in the Mission district of San Francisco. Briefly, it is about a Mexican-American father’s inability to accept his son’s sexuality, but also his own difficult struggle to find a new way forward after a lifetime of unquestioningly relying on violence and aggression to solve problems in his life. Having done time for his crimes, and turned his back on that life, Che (Bratt) is working, keeping clear of booze and raising his son Jess in a relatively simpatico and stable environment- on his own. The discovery that Jess has been sneaking off to the Castro with a young white boy infuriates this hard-bitten, macho man, and after an initially explosive reaction, he refuses to accept, discuss or even acknowledge the issue. Shit gets fucked up from this point on, forcing Che to confront the repercussions of his behaviour and the impact it may have on the community around him. Love heals several wounds etc.

Not to sound sarky- I loved it- laughed, cried, gasped. But it was hard to be objective- because after the insane-making wait, the drama, the hilarity- it just felt like such an absolute privelege to watch this totally entertaining film with such an excited and invested crowd. Nearly every scene elicited a cheer or a boo from the aisles, and all around me locals stage-whispered about streets, faces, people, bars and clubs they all knew well. I think it’s unusual to see a film made for and by a community, in the community itself. It heightened the experience for me, to whom these were not scenes known all my life, but that I have very recently become familiar with.

The film had many subtle digs and sly references to the expanding gentrification of the area, but ultimately felt like a celebration of the transition it is clearly undergoing- and the ironic difficulty of letting go of even the things that hurt us.

La Mission at SFIFF52

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