S.F. International Film Festival tips

Of the 177 works in the film festival, here's a handful of personal choices, based on preference for the unusual, the entertaining and the substantial.

Shadows in the Palace

Korea; Kim Mee-jeung, director

In this story of royal pomp and intrigue, and mysterious deaths among pregnant maids, the wonderful actress Jin-hie Park plays a court doctor hot on the trail of the murderer. A historic thriller that doesn’t let down for its almost two-hour-long run, “Shadows” has the same setting as the South Korean MBC channel’s hit series, “Jewel in the Palace.”

Screens: May 2 at 7 p.m.; May 5 at 4:15 p.m.; May 8 at 7:45 p.m. at the Kabuki

Journeys with Peter Sellars

France/Austria/England; Mark Kidel, director

Even his (many) detractors appreciate this controversial opera director’s intelligence and passion as a speaker. The documentary shows Sellars rehearsing Osvaldo Golijov’s “Ainadamar” and John Adams’ “A Flowering Tree” and follows his career from wunderkind years in his 20s through the prominent, contentious projects that followed.

Screens: May 3 at 9:15 p.m., May 4 at 5:45 p.m.; May 5 at 3:15 p.m.at the Kabuki

Fados

Portugal/Spain; Carlos Saura, director

Saura, who has covered everything from “Carmen” to flamenco, has turned his attention to the fado, Portugal’s national music genre. The mesmerizing film includes masters Mariza, Camané, Carlos do Carmo and Chico Buarque, as well as renowned singers from other countries, including Caetano Veloso, Lila Downs and Cesaria Evora.

Screens: Saturday at 2:45 p.m. at the Castro; Monday at 1:30 p.m. and Tuesday at 8:45 p.m. at the Kabuki

Alexandra

Russia; Alexander Sokurov, director

A great director (“Mother and Son,” “Russian Ark”) and soprano diva Galina Vishnevskaya (Mstislav Rostropovich’s widow) combine talents in this stark, daring search for the truth in Chechnya, where Alexandra visits her soldier son.

Screens: Friday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at noon at the Kabuki

The Warlords

Hong Kong; Peter Ho-sun Chan, director

What Jet Li does with bravura martial arts and humor in the new “Forbidden Kingdom,” he performs with deadly earnestness in “The Warlords,” the most spectacular among Hong Kong’s many “wushu” spectaculars. The director presents a vast historical panorama of 19th-century Chinese turmoil between armies, rebels and bandits.

Screens: Saturday at 9 p.m. at the Castro

Mongol

Germany/Kazakhstan/Russia/Mongolia; Sergei Bodrov, director

While movies about Genghis Khan set in the 12th century are rather monotonous, this one is different. The Russian director of “Prisoner of the Mountains” uses a mostly amateur cast in Mongolia, and Tadanobu Asano (“Zatoichi”) plays the lead in a film that presents an interior view of a unique historical figure — all with stunning cinematography.

Screens: Sunday at 9:15 p.m. and May 7 at 2:15 p.m. at the Kabuki

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