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Jean-Luc Godard opus opens SF Film Society theater

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State of the art: The San Francisco Film Society New People Cinema is in Japantown’s New People complex. (Courtesy photo)
State of the art: The San Francisco Film Society New People Cinema is in Japantown’s New People complex. (Courtesy photo)

Just one week after the death of San Francisco Film Society Executive Director Graham Leggat at age 51, one of his major projects became a reality.

Under Leggat’s leadership, the society transformed itself from the producer of the annual two-week-long San Francisco International Film Festival into a year-round presenter of movies and associated events.

The organization needed a theater of its own, and after trying and failing to obtain the Clay, it leased the former VIZ Cinema in the New People Building on Post Street in Japantown. The recently built, 143-seat, state-of-the-art basement theater reopens today, screening Jean-Luc Godard’s 2010 Cannes Festival-acclaimed “Film Socialisme.”

It’s a questionable choice, even if a measure of adventure and avant-garde are always expected from the film society. Godard, 80, is a New Wave great. His existentialist masterpieces started spectacularly with “Breathless” in 1960.

But “Socialisme” is a confused and confusing mess, called by one (sympathetic) reviewer a “docufiction on diverse subjects mixing untamed genius with occasional, violent yawniness.”

Documentary and fiction are mixed in baffling sequences about a cruise with Nazi hunters, bankers and singer Patti Smith, family life at a French filling station, an incomprehensible series of historic footage, and a disjointed travelogue to Egypt, Palestinian territories, Odessa, Greece, Naples and Barcelona.

To make things worse, there are Godard’s own subtitles of misspelled “Navajo English” nonsense, such as “no choice south latitude” and “gold Bank of Palestine.”

A good reason to see “Socialisme” is to experience a great filmmaker either in his dotage or rejuvenated to the point of youthful experimentation.

Steven Jenkins, acting executive director of the film society, says of the event: “At this stage of becoming a presenter of foreign, independent, documentary and special-interest fare, there is no finer or more appropriate venue for us than the orange-and-yellow-seated gem so beautifully ensconced within the bright and shining New People Building, in the heart of the city’s vibrant and diverse Japantown.

“I’m convinced that moviegoers will share our love of the theater’s elegant design, comfy environs and downright cool vibe, and we look forward to welcoming audiences from the Bay Area and beyond into this epicenter of the film society’s public programming. Our ‘Home Sweet Home’ sign has a wall on which to hang at long last.”


San Francisco Film Society New People Cinema

Where: 1746 Post St., San Francisco
Tickets: $9 to $11
Contact: (415) 561-5000, www.sffs.org
Note: A grand opening event is slated for Sept. 22.

– “Film Socialisme,” today through Thursday
– “Puzzle” from Argentina, Sept. 9-15
– “Aurora” from Romania, Sept. 16-21
– Hong Kong cinema series, Sept. 23–25
– Film Arts Forum, Sept. 27

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