Kaspar Astrup Schroder previously appeared at the San Francisco International Film Festival (hereafter “SFIFF”) with his documentary “The Invention of Dr. Nakamats.” His new film “Rent A Family, Inc.” offers a supposedly mundane subject engaged in an odd Japanese business.

Ryuichi Ichinokawa may look like a middle-aged Japanese salaryman. Yet his business, “I Can Make You Happy,” provides substitute family figures for hire. Ironically, Ichinokawa is deeply alienated from his own family. When his precarious financial situation takes a severe turn for the worse, this professional faux family man needs to find a way to honestly deal with his loved ones.

Schroder’s new documentary subject is unfortunately far more mundane than the oddball inventor subject of his previous film. Jaded viewers will mentally roll their eyes at meeting another “social expert with messy personal life.”


But “Rent A Family, Inc.” redeems itself with showing why Japanese societal mores make a business like Ichinokawa’s necessary. Hiring fake relatives for a wedding helps a client’s unsuspecting partner avoid public humiliation. An implication of divorced women being irresponsible comes across in the more reasonable treatment given to one such client when Ichinokawa pretends to be that divorcee’s new husband.

A cello-heavy musical theme offers a nice mix of gravitas and optimism. Yet viewer goodwill winds up being lost thanks to the film’s use of frequently unreadable white English subtitles against light backgrounds. For this flawed film, that fault makes an already average work fall below acceptability.

***


“Museum Hours” is the new film from Jem Cohen, this year’s Persistence of Vision Award winner. It will confound those expecting the interactions and explorations of its German museum guard and cash-strapped Canadian woman to lead to romance or visits to familiar Viennese tourist sites. Instead, it quietly erases the wall isolating created art from the unexpected inspiring wellsprings of daily life. That erasure will allow viewers to visually sculpt their own beauty and meaning out of the everyday’s clay.

***


“Beeswax” director Andrew Bujalski punctures the egotism at the root of invention in his ensemble period comedy “Computer Chess.” A mid-1980s computer chess tournament weekend is the setting for a gathering of gifted if sometimes arrogant computer scientists. Bujalski shows that despite the scientists’ self-conception as intellectual explorers in computer intelligence, they are not free from such faults as patronizing sexism and arrogant entitlement. The black and white cinematography pays off with a hilarious moment that won’t be described here.

***


A day on and around a fishing trawler off the New Bedford coast may evoke thoughts of “The Deadliest Catch.” But Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel’s documentary “Leviathan” turns such mundane material into one of the year’s most extraordinary cinematic experiences. Through a mix of frequently disorienting images and a soundtrack where conversation is the least important element, the film will shake any benevolent thoughts about human dominion of Nature. More importantly, “Leviathan” leaves viewers unforgettably haunted by Nature’s mysteries.

***


“Good Ol’ Freda” was the affectionate compliment paid to Freda Kelly, the subject of the documentary of the same name. As Ryan White’s film shows, Kelly earned that praise many times over the eleven years she worked with the legendary rock and roll group The Beatles.

The film primarily uses generous interviews with the now 70-year-old Kelly to tell the story of how a 17-year-old girl got to see the group’s growth and eventual collapse from behind the scenes. It’s a tale that involves attending 190 Beatles performances, the hazards of using one’s home address, and being considered insane by a barber. Supplementing Kelly’s anecdotes are rare photographs of The Beatles and interviews with surviving members of Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s organization.

Kelly, who’s shunned the fame associated with being involved with The Beatles for decades, proves herself a wonderfully engaging subject. Her detailed observations give her anecdotes rich depth. For example, The Cellar, where Kelly first saw The Beatles perform, is remembered for its distinct smell of disinfectant, rotting fruit, and human sweat. The still working secretary earns admiration for not abusing her possession of a Beatles fan’s most coveted job to betray other fans. Despite the passage of over fifty years, Kelly’s eyes still sparkle with a charming vivaciousness that led The Beatles’ families to treat her like an honorary relative.

Those hoping that Kelly’s access to the Fab Four will lead in this film to the public revelation of intimate private details about the group will walk away disappointed. The former head of The Beatles Fan Club may personally know the group members well enough to not refer to Ringo Starr by his stage name. But given her steeping in Liverpool’s social mores, kiss-and-tell confessions are beyond the pale for her. In a way, it’s a sad comment on our times that such exploitation is considered normal behavior.

Readers may rightly wonder whether Kelly’s agreeing to appear in White’s documentary demonstrates that she’s cashing in on some level. It doesn’t help that White’s film looks unexcitingly shot, and one’s interest lags a little when Kelly’s offscreen. But her actual motivation turns out to be less mercenary and more personal. The viewer will smile approvingly on learning what that motivation is.

(“Rent-A-Family, Inc.” screens on May 3, 2013 at 8:45 PM and May 5, 2013 at 6:45 PM. “Museum Hours” screens at the Kabuki on April 28, 2013 at 5:30 PM as part of the Persistence of Vision Award presentation to director Jem Cohen. “Computer Chess” screens at the Kabuki on May 2, 2013 at 9:00 PM and May 4, 2013 at 4:00 PM. “Leviathan” screens at the Kabuki on April 26, 2013 at 9:30 PM and April 28, 2013 at 4:15 PM. “Good Ol’ Freda” screens on May 1, 2013 at 9:30 PM and May 2, 2013 at 6:45 PM. All screenings take place at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas (1881 Post (near Fillmore), SF). For advance tickets and further information about the films, go to http://festival.sffs.org.)