Mpls./St. Paul Film Fest Roundup

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the multiplex...the adventure continues.

The second week of the 17-day Mpls./St. Paul Film Festival features a restored classic (Jour de fête); two brand new period-pieces from Miramax (The Truce and Artemisia); two rockumentaries (Driver 23 and Lou Reed: Rock & Roll Heart); two docs that resemble fiction (Who the Hell Is Juliette? and Voices Through Time); and one that simply cannot be described ("Mystery Film").

Subjects include war (Captaine Conan) and peace (The Way); family unity (Will It Snow For Christmas?) and the gender gap (The Dress); honeymoon killers (Deep Crimson) and the postman from hell (Junk Mail). Settings range from a computer-generated Victorian drawing room (Conceiving Ada) to a fictionalized rendition of the Uptown Theatre (Mary Jane's Not a Virgin Anymore).

All of the above are discussed below (with the exception of Lou Reed, which is reviewed in Film Clips, p. 35). There's plenty to recommend, although, at a time when movies are too often talked to death, one of the virtues of a film festival is being able to take a chance on something you've never heard of before. Happy hunting.

--Rob Nelson

The Truce

Featuring an impassioned performance by John Turturro as Primo Levi, this old-style epic draws on Levi's autobiographical book for the incredible story of his 19-month trip home to Italy after being released from Auschwitz in 1945. Surprisingly lavish for a new Italian production, the film convincingly renders the vast scope of its drama through big-budget period recreation and densely populated crowd scenes (and, alas, an egregiously sentimental musical score). Although these conventions occasionally threaten to minimize the impact of the personal story, Turturro (who lost considerable weight for the part) keeps the film's focus intact as it spans from Levi's liberation through his continued struggles against poverty, isolation, and his own excruciating guilt over having survived the war. Augmented by voiceovers taken directly from Levi's book, The Truce makes a worthy narrative corollary to the forthcoming documentary Oscar-winner The Long Way Home. (Nelson) Oak Street Cinema, Wednesday at 9:15 p.m.

"Mystery Film"

Sorry, no more hints about this secret screening except to say that the film is a documentary with humor made by a former Minnesotan, and that even a few jaded critics are apt to attend. (Best to arrive early if you want to get in.) Well, okay, just one more tidbit: The reason for the mystery is that the filmmaker is currently in negotiation with a major distributor that would probably prefer not to have its product sneak-previewed so early, and especially not at a festival--which by itself is reason enough to go. (Nelson) Bell Auditorium, Friday at 9 p.m.

Junk Mail

Delivering a black-comic portrait of the postman as a young stalker, this Norwegian cult item hardly merits a clean bill of health. Each of Junk Mail's unkempt Oslo locations appears caked in grime--not least being the protagonist's own flat, where he eats spaghetti out of a can, washes his armpits with a rag over a dirty dish-strewn kitchen sink, and struggles to open stolen letters with the steam from a teapot before resorting to a filthy, foot-long knife. Incredibly, the film is a romance of sorts, with the bleary-eyed mail carrier Roy (Robert Skjaerstad) pilfering the house keys of a woman (Andrine Saether) he'd spied at a newsstand between racks of porno mags, making himself at home in her apartment where he rescues her from a suicide attempt and an even more psychotic villain (Per Egil Aske). Under these circumstances, it's no small feat that director Pal Sletaune actually commands some sympathy for the main character, employing a near-silent comedy style to turn the postman into a Norwegian grunge version of Chaplin's Little Tramp. (Nelson) Bell Auditorium, Saturday at 7 p.m.

Jour de fête

Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean owes a big debt to Jacques Tati, the pioneering French actor-writer-director who took a few lessons of his own from Buster Keaton and then applied them to a genuinely modernist film style. At the same time, Tati also managed to entertain mass audiences, as witnessed in this, his first feature (1949), about a village mailman (Tati) who's mocked by his neighbors but remains deadpan. As Tati's postman is inspired by a newsreel to try out modern "American" delivery methods (a metaphor for his cribbing from Keaton?), Tati the actor brilliantly exhausts the possibilities of the bicycle as comedic tool. Meanwhile, the village goes on at its own antic rhythm, as Tati the director, in typical fashion, makes his character part of a larger world in which all stories are possible and amusing. After decades of black-and-white and color-tinted prints, U Film is screening the newly discovered, fully restored color version. (Phil Anderson) Suburban World, Saturday at 7:15 p.m.

Capitaine Conan

Set in the Balkans near the end of World War I, this French tale of war-era disillusionment (based on Roger Vercel's 1934 novel) focuses on the self-proclaimed "warrior, not soldier" Conan (Philippe Torreton) and his friend, Lieutenant Norbert (Samuel Le Bihan), a young intellectual assigned to a military tribunal. Left in the trenches after the official end of the war, the volatile, passionate Conan and his cooped-up band of French guerrilla fighters can only cause trouble in Bucharest, a town they're supposed to protect. When Norbert tries to convict a few of Conan's men for the murder of two innocent women, he must face--just as the viewer must--the difficult issue of how these soldiers could seem to be both criminal and heroic at the same time. Meanwhile, as the war-ravaged Conan stands fiercely by his men in the courtroom and again later on a blood-stained battlefield, he gradually comes to ask himself, "What the hell are we doing here?" Of course, this is the salient question of every anti-war movie from Paths of Glory to Stalingrad, and in Capitaine Conan the question is made most compelling by director Bertrand Tavernier's powerful images of combat and Torreton's intensely scary performance. (Mark Bazer) Oak Street Cinema, Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

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