Tom’s SFIFF56 Report: Day 2 – “Chaika”, “Dom”, and “Something In The Air”

Something_in_the_Air_02Day two, or, for me, Day 1, involved a frenzy of cinema-viewing. Sadly I have no murderous pain to report.

In all seriousness, the films I saw today were generally fantastic and overall incredible, and a testament to the SFIFF as a festival.




Chaika is a difficult film to view, the difficulty and pain matching its beauty.

Chaika‘s expanse and overall essence mimics that of the vast, empty plains of its locations – the sea, and the barren and endless steppes of Siberia and Kazakhstan. The film centers around a woman, a young Kazakh prostitute aboard a Russian, and her interactions with and resulting impact on those she affected throughout her later life – particularly her illegitimate son and the man who fell in love with her and decided to take her to his Siberian hut. It cannot be said to really be her perspective, however, as she seems to be more like a drop causing ripples, or a body of mass bending the dimensions in their lives. Her life and psychology is not fully explored, but a vivid outsider portrait is painted.

The film progresses through the old man, her father and primary narrator of the film (in Kazakh), as he speaks the voice of the steppe: bleak, sad, eternal. His philosophy of the steppe harmonizes with the difficulty of the story and images.

And the imagery is incredible, with some truly remarkable moments of cinematic beauty.

If you are to see Chaika, you are to see some of the most beautiful and bleak imagery, made complete by a masterful respect of light, flowing or still camera work based on the necessities of the scenes, as well as the occasionally sparse/stoic and occasionally powerful acting. A tour de force.


Dom_a_russian_family_02(Spoilers! Sadly the film can’t be discussed without them)


Introduced to us by the speaker as a film with “some violence, that’s probably why you’re here, and some explosions near the end” definitely did not lead me in the right mental direction with this film about a massacre. Not to mention the English addition to Dom, “A Russian Family”, seemed a bit less ironic than the word “Dom” carries, which means basically “Home” or “House”. But I digress.

A tired hitman goes home to his isolated childhood estate home in the steppes to try to back his way out of his business. Thus, much of the film is centered around the complicated and disturbing family dynamics which undoubtedly led him to his life of crime and led the rest of his siblings to some form of extreme mental anguish. And, as a character-study film, the characters are all very believable, interesting and dimensional, a testament to the writing, editing and acting as some of the characters have very few lines and screen time.

As the film slowly builds up to the inevitable final climax (oh, a group of hitmen are trying to hunt down the aforementioned tired hitmen and end up at his house), the family dynamics roll and roll, building up to a terrible, bitter moment of the assault on the house. That moment, cut and pieced together to show how absolute the hitmen’s gunfire permeated the house, shows the family in a moment of truth – how they all react in the split second of their imminent deaths. And this moment was perhaps the most powerful of the whole film. None of the characters were likeable, and none of them liked each other, but in the end the family bond pulled them together before they were cut apart.

A dark, occasionally witty but in the end casually tragic (a la a Rusky Coen Brother) film, it is certainly worth watching.

(End Spoilers)

Something In The Air



Something In The Air blew me away.

The film centers around a few late teen/young adults in post 1968 (starting in 1971) France. I say post-1968 because the political stage set by that period of unrest serves as the backdrop for the film. The main characters are introduced as radical dissidents in high school, operating and executing various acts of civil disobedience. As the film continues, they are forced to leave France, and their lives progress, sometimes intersecting, sometimes not.

The scope of the film’s themes is remarkable. A primary theme I encountered was the relationship between radical politics and art. The main character, Gilles, grows from a staunch to a reluctant member of the radical society and, in a parallel, grows from a amateur painter to one driven by it. The portrayals of the artists in the film versus those more dedicated to their politics capture the basic identity question of the film – when does one know that this is what one needs to do?

Cinematically, the film is a masterpiece. The mise-en-scène is cared for in every shot, and the use of the crane is novel. And rather than quick cuts taking us from place to place in the film, the director, Oliver Assayas, seems to prefer to use a shoulder-rig to take us through the houses, solidifying our psychological places in the world.

A must-see.


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Categories: Festivals, Reviews, San Francisco International Film Festival


  1. Tom’s SFIFF56 Report: Day 4 – “Night Across The Street”, “The East”, and “Key of Life” | - April 30, 2013

    […] a bit more about it before I went into it. Expecting something as educated and thought-provoking as Something In The Air, what I got was rather a semi-sci-fi thriller about a super-anarchist-collective group of […]

  2. Filmbalaya’s Guide to SFIFF56 2013 | - April 30, 2013

    […] – “If you are to see Chaika, you are to see some of the most beautiful and bleak imagery, made complete…” – […]

  3. Adam’s SFIFF56 Report: Day 6 – The Act of Killing | - May 3, 2013

    […] 2-hour siesta and, before I knew it, I missed the last festival screening of Olivier Assayas‘ Something in the Air. All was not lost though. I woke up in time to scoot on over to Berkeley’s PFA and catch The […]

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