Driver 23

Local filmmaker Rolf Belgum's low-budget doc focuses on the idiot's travails of one Dan Cleveland, a Prozac-snarfing, roughly 30-year-old metal singer/guitarist trying to rock his way out of a delivery-boy day job via the "progressive metal band" Dark Horse. Sadly, Cleveland is a lugubrious, untalented guitarist with an Ozzy-inspired screech horrific enough to spook a pit bull--and a fascist of a bandleader to boot. Dark Horse predictably falls apart, and we're left with a string of almost unwatchably embarrassing scenes, such as the one in which our hero entertains his bemused but quietly supportive mom with an egregious axe solo that embodies "the phases of the grief cycle." And while Belgum's marriage of Brother's Keeper and This Is Spinal Tap might seem like shooting fish in a barrel, his protagonist goes way beyond the call of dork duty--at one point comparing his "visionary" passions to those of "the prophet Ezekiel." Still, this guy isn't just a tool; he's a clearance sale at Menards, and by film's end our pity transgresses into full-bodied contempt. Thus credit Belgum with making an aptly depressing tragicomedy. (Jon Dolan) U Film Society, Bell Auditorium, Saturday at 9 p.m. and Friday, May 1 at 11 p.m.

Mary Jane's Not a Virgin Anymore

Loosely based on writer-director Sarah Jacobson's pre-college stint schlepping popcorn at the Uptown Theatre, this distaff coming-of-age comedy suggests a grungier take on Amy Heckerling's classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Shot in 16mm on a well-tied shoestring, it follows the straight-laced high-schooler Jane (Lisa Gerstein) in her dual effort to lose her virginity and find herself. What the movie lacks in production values, it more than makes up for in freedom: The DIY showstoppers include a masturbation montage and a late-night road-trip to Madison that climaxes near the Wisconsin border with some oral adventuring between the heroine and Tom (Chris Enright). Autobiography or no, Jacobson's film celebrates a coming-of-age that seems inseparable from her own. For one thing, Mary Jane's Not a Virgin Anymore concludes with a shot of the theater marquee touting a movie entitled Mary Jane's Not a Virgin Anymore. For another, Jacobson's fierce independence can be measured by the fact that her film isn't playing at the landmark that inspired it. (Nelson) Oak Street Cinema, Saturday at 10:15 p.m.

The Dress

Although it's billed as an absurdist comedy--perhaps due to Dutch writer-director Alex van Warmerdam's offbeat reputation and idiosyncratic style--this gloomy picture is less droll than depressing. The film follows an azure and cherry-colored summer dress along its life cycle from cotton boll to rag, as it passes from one wearer to another and assumes a fetish-like power. While the frock sparks passionate dreams of youth, adventure, or intimacy in the women who don it, it elicits fear and rage in the vengeful men whom these women encounter--including a fashion designer who tries to force his weeping lover to mate with a pig, a toothless man desperate for French kisses, and a pathetic rapist (played by the filmmaker) who only wants to snuggle. While the idea that a garment could provoke rape is absurd (unless, of course, you're a defense lawyer), the communication gap it symbolizes isn't laughable in the least. (Leslie Dunlap) Bell Auditorium, Sunday at 5 p.m.

Artemisia

Agnes Merlet's warm, sensuous bio-pic about Europe's first acknowledged female painter is as much a tale of sexual awakening as it is a feminist anthem. Seventeen-year-old Artemisia Gentileschi (a delicious Valentina Cervi), the daughter of a renowned Italian painter, exhibits her father's talent, but in the chauvinistic world of early-1600s Italy, women are forbidden to paint human nudes or enter the Academy of Arts. So Artemisia seeks the tutelage of Agostino Tassi (Mike Manojlovic), her father's collaborator in painting frescoes for secular clients, and a man notorious for his nighttime debauchery. The two hone their skills as artists, but when their relationship moves into the realm of physical pleasure, Agostino is clearly the master and Artemisia the apprentice. Merlet's film is lavish in its dark, opulent composition, and the sexual encounters maintain a tastefully erotic edge. But the plot eventually deteriorates from compelling drama into courtroom boorishness that can only be likened to The Crucible less the emotional conviction. Merlet's eye is in the right place--and in Cervi she has an alluring piece of art--but she fails to complete what promised to be a masterpiece. (Tom Meek) Bell Auditorium, Sunday at 7 p.m.

Who the Hell Is Juliette?

Actually, the name is Yuliet, or so insists the teenage subject of this meta-everything film from Mexico. "My fucking name is Y-U-L-I-E-T!" she yells giddily, as the film rewinds before our eyes and the title corrects itself: Who the Hell is Yuliet? Turns out she's a 16-year-old Cuban girl whom director Carlos Marcovich met while filming a music video: ebullient yet belligerent, kind but malicious, still possessing a child's wonder even though she prostitutes herself without a thought. Yuliet's father left for America when she was 6 months old and her mother subsequently killed herself--but, as the film reveals, that story isn't as simple as it seems. Nor is the movie. Throughout, Juliette/Yuliet chants the words "actual" (real) and "actuar" (to act), with one swapped letter seeming to change everything about the film's relationship to "truth." Later, a stonefaced actress proclaims to the camera, "The director is biding the time to discover which of his two actresses he will sleep with," then she suddenly breaks into giggles. "I got the line wrong," she says. "Let me try it again!" The question "Who the hell is Yuliet?" is as unanswerable as "What the hell is this film?" But the enigma is the point, and the question is plenty compelling. (Anne Ursu) Oak Street Cinema, Monday at 7:15 p.m.

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