With less than a week to go before Thursday’s finale of the 50th annual San Francisco International Film Festival, your chances “to see it all” are quickly diminishing, so here are some recommendations — and one cautionary note.
“Vitus,” a 2006 Swiss film by Fredi Murer, is an unusual festival offering: charming, pleasant, entertaining, certain to have — dare we say it? — a good commercial run. “Vitus” is not gritty, edgy or challenging; it’s “only” a great yarn with people you’ll care about. Little Vitus is a multiple prodigy, a piano virtuoso at 4, chess champion, incredibly bright, flying solo (literally) at 12. But he is also a realchild, with the hopes and fears of anybody of any IQ. A special grace note: The great Swiss actor Bruno Ganz is the grandfather; he is making up here for his terrifying act as Hitler in the superb “Downfall.” (Noon Sunday, Clay Theatre, 2661 Fillmore St.)
In precise counterpoint to “Vitus” is something you would expect at a festival that champions the new and unusual, inevitably at times failing to deliver. The 2007 “Why Didn’t Anybody Tell Me It Would Become This Bad in Afghanistan” has an intriguing title and possibly a Guinness Book claim to fame: the first feature-length film shot entirely with a cell phone.
Cyrus Frisch, the film’s young Dutch director, follows a traumatized soldier returning to Holland from Afghanistan, watching a small square in Amsterdam where immigrant youth congregate and run into trouble with police. As you try to figure out blurred images, you may well have some kind of epiphany — or experience boredom and frustration. (2:45 p.m. on Sunday, SFMOMA, 151 Third St.)
“The Violin” has little to do with music. This violent Mexican film portrays the battle between government troops and a band of peasant guerrillas. Francisco Vargas’s 2006 film is beautifully shot, and the cast is superb. (3:15 p.m. on Friday at the Clay Theatre; 6 p.m. on Sunday and 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the Kabuki, 1881 Post St.)
“The Other Half,” Ying Liang’s 2006 film, is about contemporary Chinese life, reflecting the problems of ordinary people in a poor industrial city (no Shanghai skyscrapers here) through their interactions with the court system. Amazingly open, “The Other Half” looks at domestic upheaval, petty crimes and toxic pollution in scenes that couldn’t possibly have come out of China just a few years ago. (3:15 p.m on Sunday; 1:15 p.m. on Tuesday and 6 p.m. on Thursday at the Kabuki.)
For tickets and information, call (925) 866-9559 or visit www.sffs.org.