It isn’t total world domination that Roger Durling craves, though an ever-expanding film fest is clearly part of his non-sinister, not-so-secret plans. Now nearing its third decade, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) continues to spread. “We always wanted to offer year-round programming,” Durling said last week, munching on smoked tofu at Zen Yai. “After we got the Showcase program off the ground [the Wednesday-night indie film screening series at Plaza de Oro Theatre], my dream was to offer a mini-festival every quarter, representing films from a single country.” Hence next week’s Wave Film Festival at the Riviera Theatre. “We want to do a different country for every Wave,” he explained. “French films just seemed like the most obvious place to start, mostly because they have such a well-established film industry and they make films in so many genres: thrillers, mysteries, romance.”
“This will be our first summer Wave, but I think we can move to other seasons and other countries, too.” Those other countries include Italy and Russia, which also have productive, well-established industries, and will likely be the next waves, if this one breaks well.
Durling got some help from the French Consulate and his many established connections to gather the films, and the quality of the movies is uniformly high — especially viewed in contrast with Hollywood’s last two months. So stay tuned because SBIFF now has its eyes on conquering the little box offices in town. It may not be total domination, but it’ll surely be a presence. “We’re happy to be the upstarts, launching a year-round show after 30 years of tried-and-true fests.” Below, we take a sneak peak at some of the films in SBIFF’s new wave.
Playing Dead (Jefais le mort)
Here’s a whodunit with a great premise that’s wrapped up in the detective. Take a two-bit actor whom every director in Paris is sick of arguing with. Now turn that cliché on its head, and you have the making of a terrific sleuth who questions every motive and stirs through unlikely scenarios for circumstances. The true genius of this film rests in the way a pain in the neck can become a perfect Sherlock.
François Damiens plays Jean Renault, which is the second sly film joke — people keep expecting him to be Jean Reno. Instead, he’s a balding twit, recently separated from his wife and inept but loving as a parent. We keep seeing different sides to our chief hammy protagonist, and it makes the whole film feel wonderfully unpredictable — a good thing for a mystery.
And the scenery is beautiful, too. Director Jean-Paul Salomé nicely frames the crisp French Alps and the little village where a murder and a reenactment serve to upset the social order, spark some sexy time, and remind us that the French have a centuries-old reputation for logic and reason, which is only matched by their love of the absurd.