SF filmmaker Carlo Caldana back in business with ‘Jenny Lee’

Monique Hafen plays the title character in “Smile Again, Jenny Lee.” (Courtesy photo)

Very few filmmakers have been brave enough to contend with Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” but, in his third movie “Smile Again, Jenny Lee,” San Francisco filmmaker Carlo Caldana has crafted a contemporary reply.

“It’s a story that I needed to tell, to get out of my system,” says Caldana, who adapted the screenplay from his own novel of the same name, and also co-stars.

The movie, which opens Friday at the Roxie, is about Jenny (Monique Hafen), a professional tennis player whose career comes to a dramatic end, and Charles, an amnesiac stranger (Caldana) who enters her life.

In a refreshing twist on a film noir trope, the objectified, put-upon blonde, who at first finds herself unable to restart her life, becomes the agent of her own fate.

Caldana identifies with his character: “Jenny Lee’s story is parallel with mine as a filmmaker. For many years I was not able to make any movies,” says the director, whose last film was 1988’s “Chivalrous Deeds of a Nincompoop.”

Caldana made his first two movies in the 1980s, when there was a market for small, personal films. By the end of the decade, he says, “It became really difficult to make a low-budget movie. By then, a lot of people were jumping on the independent filmmaking wire. Making films with big budgets, with commercial value, what they used to call marquee value.”

The director says he composed the film’s score, too, to save money on his limited budget: “It was the only way, without compromising the production value. I didn’t want to go cheap on the cast or on the crew or on the locations. Whatever I could do myself I tried to do.”

He knew his biggest challenge would be casting the lead actress. After auditioning actors in Los Angeles and San Francisco, he found Hafen, an award-winning Bay Area actress best known for her work onstage, not on film.

“She did a lot of work at San Francisco Playhouse with actors like Johnny Moreno, who plays Alan in the movie,” says Caldana. “I found there was a really good chemistry between the two.”

Within the extended San Francisco theater community, the director found a group of actors — including Susi Damilano, Carrie Paff, Safiya Fredericks and Scott Palmer –who created a supportive working environment.

IF YOU GO

Smile Again, Jenny Lee
Starring Monique Hafen, Carlo Caldana, Johnny Moreno, Linda DeMetrick
Written and directed by Carlo Caldana
Not rated
Running time 1 hour, 45 minutes
Note: The movie opens Jan. 20 at the Roxie in San Francisco.

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