At nearly every film festival around the world, audiences encounter the same sight: bleary-eyed programmers proudly introducing the fruits of their labor to the most eager audience a particular movie might ever have. Yet what exactly it is they're proud of can be hard to tell in advance, given the anxiously alliterative and hastily hyperbolic language used to describe just about every film in a festival catalog. Take the most recent Sundance program, for example: Does Jawbreaker really represent "the dazzling directing debut from Darren Stein" and "an ingenious tale as tough and as tasty as its namesake"? Could A Walk on the Moon be "romantic yet very authentic" as well as "charmingly comic but intense"? Faced with a hundred or so unknown titles, how does the time-crunched ticket buyer possibly distinguish between what is "wonderfully realized" and what's "superbly rendered"?
Enter the critic, whose option to provide an opinionated consumer guide--rather than, say, a 2,000-word treatise on the prevalence of serial sexual infidelity in world cinema--becomes a civic duty around this time of year. Fortunately, and as usual, the latest installment of U Film Society's massive Mpls./St. Paul International Film Festival is a pleasure to peruse, as it includes a carefully curated 93 films from 35 countries, among them such far-flung destinations as South Africa, Lebanon, Vietnam, and Yugoslavia, just to name a few. (This not counting, of course, whatever festival director Al Milgrom decides to toss in at the last minute.)
The marathon begins Friday with Run Lola Run, director Tom Tykwer's breathless German hit about a Berlin woman's race to save her beau, which headlines an opening-night gala at the Historic State Theatre. Then, for the next three weeks, the action continues across the river with screenings at Bell Auditorium and Oak Street Cinema, plus a few off-campus locations to be announced as the fest progresses.
One of the rare adventures of this project is discovering new wonders of the world--movies that have often never played in this country, and may never again. While Iran's The May Lady and Yugoslavia's Wounds have cultivated a buzz on the international fest circuit, local audiences can establish their own word of mouth for such rarely seen work. One steadfast pair of Twin Cities fans who've spent the past 17 years reeling in the U Film festival are profiled below in "Taking it All In."
A word to the wise: Given U Film's singular devotion to throwing the whole wide world up on the screen, the dates and times included with the capsule reviews below should be double-checked by calling the society hotline at (612) 627-4430. Happy hunting.
Run Lola Run
An indie smash in its native Germany, Run Lola Run is Pulp Fiction on foot. It's also further evidence that a new generation has abandoned intellectual German filmmaking (read: slow and boring) in favor of the American post-Pulp approach to telling a story through hyped-up action and a really loud soundtrack. With a pace that makes Speed seem like My Dinner with Andre, the film follows a young punker's attempts to save her boyfriend from certain death by literally running all over Berlin. As it opens, Lola (Franka Potente) receives a call from her flipped-out boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), who's in deep Scheisse. He has bungled his audition as a bagman for local mobsters, and he's history if he can't produce 50,000 D-marks by high noon--which happens to be in, ahem, less than 15 minutes. Lola immediately dashes to her father's office--a bank!--and then tries a few other desperate methods to raise the cash, until she arrives at the designated meeting spot, where Manni is in the midst of a holdup while simultaneously dueling with the police. To divulge any more of the plot would be to spoil Lola's central gimmick, which basically involves an inventive series of structural twists, each one cranking up the suspense. Hot young Berlin director Tom Twyker made this movie as a fun exercise, and the anything-goes spirit of it shines through in his use of animated sequences, whimsical photo montages of his characters' futures, and a mute cameo appearance by a top German actor as a bearded bum. Enjoy. (Clark Parsons) Historic State Theatre, Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Menage à Trois
Not French, despite the name, and not nearly as sexy as it sounds, this droll Russian farce twists the titular love triangle into a charmingly square romance. Indeed, this two-guys-and-a-girl movie is so stringently unhip and old-fashioned as to resemble silent comedy. In a contemporary Moscow fantasy world whose streets are filled with smiling shopkeepers and kissing couples, an unemployed actor (Sergei Makovetsky) who has just left his wife arrives without warning on the doorstep of his married friend (Yevgeni Sidikhin), whose photographer spouse (Elena Yakovleva) immediately returns the visitor's hungry gazes. Before long, the two strangers are talking intimately and the wife is sneaking around the apartment late at night; then, when the naive, soon-to-be-cuckolded hubby goes away on a business trip, the budding lovers are free to obsess further about whether they'll consummate the attraction. Director Pyotr Todorovsky (Wartime Romance) hints occasionally at film noir, but the old screwball vibe prevails, helped by a succession of antique dance records that sound like they're being spun on a Victrola, and by Makovetsky's vaguely Tatiesque turn as the rumpled dork of an actor whose idea of flirtation involves pulling himself along by his necktie in the manner of a vintage comic. (Nelson) Oak Street Cinema, Friday at 7:30 p.m.