A Grab Bag of Reels

World's Best Commercials 1997

An annual package comes better wrapped than ever this year, resulting in a wholly satisfying experience despite the episodic nature of the thing. This time around, the 30-second to two-minute spots are grouped thematically (for a total of 75 minutes), as if to create a lesson for novice advertising students. The "Make 'Em Laugh" chapter gets the show off to a comical start, while "Demonstrate the Product...Creatively" features Levi's, the English laundry soap Persil, and a South African hands-free car phone that's put to use in a potentially embarrassing scenario. (The other sections are titled "Make 'Em Think," "Hire a Celebrity," and "Keep It Simple.") While many of the ads are familiar not only from our own airwaves but also last December's British Advertising Awards, there are sufficient other clips from unlikely and interesting locales, including Thailand, Khyrgyzistan, New Zealand, and Argentina. Better yet is this program's evidence that at least some advertisers understand how genuine silence and a great storyboard can be more effective than a noisy jingle: Many of the strongest ads here are little stories of few words, such as the one in which a Danish guy wakes up his wife by spraying for bugs, only to discover that his "insecticide" is actually paint. (Phil Anderson) Bell Auditorium, Sunday at 1 p.m. and Tuesday at 9:30 p.m.

A Self-Made Hero

This offbeat parable from French director Jacques Audiard (Baxter) is refreshingly playful for being about graft, cowardice, and deceit during World War II. Mathieu Kassovitz (who worked behind the camera as the writer-director of Hate) is well-cast here as Albert Dehousse, a mousy civilian in northern France who resolves to shake off his naive and spineless past, literally reinventing himself as a heroic veteran of the Resistance. As he lies and connives his way from destitution in Paris to a high-ranking post in French-occupied Germany, a string of faux interviews and modern-day commentaries engage a slick satirical subtext. It's startling, actually, that this deft blend of mock-umentary, childhood fantasy, and broad satire never once trips over its own clever laces. Just as the films of R.W. Fassbinder offer a coded critique of Germany's postwar cultural amnesia, this artful adaptation of a Jean-Francois Deniau novel raises sharp questions (and eyebrows) about the selective memory of France after the last liberation. (James Diers) Bell Auditorium, Monday at 7 p.m.

Germans

Based on a play by Leon Kruczkowski, this anti-Nazi diatribe--replete as it is with uninteresting stock characters, didactic dialogue, and unintentionally comic overacting--feels just like an evening of bad community theater. Hunger's Per Oscarsson plays a biology professor in Hitler's Germany who, despite his agreement to accept a government award for his work, displays physical discomfort at any mention of the Third Reich. This good guy is cast in high relief against his wife and daughter-in-law, two shrill witches who bear no distinguishable traits beyond their blind devotion to the mother country. As bad as they are, though, these ladies don't hold a candle to the professor's maniacally evil son, an SS officer who starts a typical day by blowing the head off a defenseless prisoner, and who reaches near-orgasmic heights of pleasure while saluting the Nazi flag. His sister Ruth, a free-spirited actress who provides the opportunity for a gratuitous sex scene, rounds out the cast of characters faced with the film's central dilemma: whether to help a Jewish refugee who lands on their front door. The film is full of unclear motivations, and an overdone, all-string musical score (imagine the shower scene from Psycho played ad infinitum) just makes it more unbearable. (Carolyn Petrie) Bell Auditorium, Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Chiapas

It's quite the class reunion when a real-life Irish couple travels to the Mexican province of Chiapas to visit their old college friend, a former student radical now working with the Zapatista rebels. With two small children in tow, the couple moves in with an indigenous Mayan family under the protection of the Zapatistas, and this documentary records the details of their lives together. As the film nearly fell prey to its funders' view that "Mexican rebels are out of fashion," the end product shows the strain of its last-minute preparation on the parents' worried faces and in the crew's naïveté about the scorching conditions in an area 600 miles south of Mexico City. There's the unvarying diet of refried beans and corn tortillas, the slavish fieldwork, the unrelenting June rains, and the unbelievable mud. There's the inevitable way in which poverty limits one's activities to working, eating, and sleeping. There's the Mexican army, which remains a silent, ever-present threat, and the ski-masked rebels who won't grant in-depth interviews. Amid these realities, Chiapas's strength lies in its sobering honesty: When the Irishman's daughter becomes sick the family considers retreating to the Emerald Isle, while the Zapatista family has no choice but to continue dealing bravely with its own sick child. (Schmitt) Oak Street Cinema, Tuesday at 7:15 p.m.

Lou Reed: Rock & Roll Heart

Not a bad little treatment, this hour-long deification doc finds ways to make Lou Reed look like a punk-rock Martin Scorsese. The plot: Reed reads Joyce with Delmore Schwartz as a college student at Syracuse U and then invents oppositional rock 'n' roll. The film features tons of wonderful VU footage, including a glimpse or two of Andy Warhol, the spectral figure in Lou's fledgling career. The '70s and '80s fly by with nary a shake of the doc's talking heads and then, before you can say "Sweet Jane," we're back with the Velvets circa 1993. A slew of New York rock-world royalty--from Jim Carroll and Patti Smith to drones like Thurston Moore and Rolling Stone's obsequious David Fricke--pitches in neat anecdotes and semi-insightful conjecture while the film successfully dresses up sweet Lou in the same myth VH-1 might reserve for, say, Eric Clapton. No mean feat for one of the most intransigent semipopulists in all of rock 'n' roll. (Jon Dolan) Oak Street Cinema, Thursday, April 23 at 7:30 p.m.

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