SFIFF Spotlight: Three Heartwarming Picks

Photo: Tommy Lau, courtesy of San Francisco Film Society. Closing Night of San Francisco International Film Festival at the Castro Theatre.

Film festivals are usually synonymous with tough, challenging films and avant garde works. Yet even the most serious film festival can offer lighthearted picks that provide viewers an escape from the worries of our troubled world.

San Francisco International Film Festival

City: San Francisco
Venue: Various

'Sweet' and 'heartwarming' aren't descriptions that are often bandied about in film festival coverage. After all, festivals allow critics and audiences to see challenging work that won't likely make it into theatres outside of major metropolitan centers. As a festival attendee, it's easy to avoid seeing optimistic, touching films that I wouldn't be embarrassed to watch with my mom. Laying in a hotel room bed at night grappling with the tough questions that a film has raised feels sort of par for the course as far as attending a festival goes. It seems like the thing that one does while at a festival.

Thankfully, this year's San Francisco International Film Festival offers audiences a break from such weighty and serious concerns with three films that are absolutely delightful. Ernest & Celestine, Unfinished Song, and Populaire hold their own in a festival that has offered many deep and challenging independent movies. Sweet and touching in their own ways, these films are perfect for parents who look forward to catching festival picks as they come out in their own theatres and are eager to instill a love of cinema in their kids.

Ernest & Celestine

This animated gem from directors Benjamin Renner, Stéphane Aubier, and Vincent Patar is an adaptation of the Ernest & Celestine book series by Gabrielle Vincent. Both kids and adults can fall in love with tiny mouse Celestine and her misunderstood friend Ernest, who just happens to be a really big bear. The pair challenge the prejudices of their separate societies while forming an endearing friendship. The moral lesson in Ernest & Celestine is clear and powerful, with enough complexity to engage adults but still be readily identifiable to kids. Beautiful 2D animation and hand-painted watercolor backgrounds make the film as stunning visually as it is emotionally.

Unfinished Song

Paul Andrew Williams' latest film is one of those glorious British movies that features a group of unconventional folks (senior citizens in this instance) singing their hearts out in public. The fabulous Vanessa Redgrave plays Marion, a woman suffering from cancer who finds relief in her senior citizen's singing group. She negotiates life's new challenges while her husband Arthur (played by the delightful Terence Stamp) watches warily from the sidelines. Entertaining musical numbers and some real emotional highs are the highlights of this film. Gemma Arterton and Christopher Eccleston round out the talented cast.


This sweet little French film from director Regis Roinsard offers plenty of laughs as it follows aspiring secretary Rose and her sleek-but-stern boss Louis. While the film uses plot points similar to those found in many romantic comedies, it is sufficiently pleasant and uplifting to make it well worth the time spent in the theatre. Some of the best hijinks in the film ensue as young Rose trains to compete in a very important speed typing competition. Watch for Roinsard's visual odes to classic Hollywood glamour cinema and the lighter side of Hitchcock.






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