Reeling In the Mpls./St. Paul International Film Festival

Ninety-three films, three projectors, and the whole wide world

 

The Reckoning

This four-part British documentary about Radovan Karadzic, one of the main architects of the Bosnian war, is hard to stomach if you've been following the news lately. The sense of déjà vu comes not just from the eerie archival footage of burnt villages and Yugoslav army convoys, but from the desolate notion that just weeks ago war in the Balkans could still be spoken of in the past tense. Following the 1995 Dayton Peace Accord, Radovan Karadzic and general Ratko Mladic were indicted by the War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, and although their whereabouts aren't unknown, the two villains have yet to be arrested. Kevin Sims's documentary focuses mostly on Karadzic, a mediocre poet and former psychiatrist who, via the customary nationalism route, mutated into a mass murderer. There are heart-wrenching interviews with his mother, a proud Montenegrin widow who raised her son to be loyal and good, as well as with Karadzic's former friends, all of whom now loathe him. Sims often simplifies the historical and political background of the war, casting what was a murky, grizzly conflict as a clear-cut tale of victims and villains. It's a tolerable transgression if you don't take sides; otherwise, it might well infuriate you. (Petrovic) Bell Auditorium, Sunday at 9:00 p.m.

 

Kisangani Diary

"This is a story about a people on the run. By the time you see it, most of those in the film will be dead." So begins French director Hubert Sauper's devastating 45-minute documentary, which follows a 1997 U.N. expedition as it "discovers" thousands of Rwandan refugees on the shores of the Congo River, organizes relief camps, and watches while so-called liberators gun down the survivors. Appearing somewhere between an unholy, greenish-yellow home video and a moving UNICEF ad, Sauper's diary also evokes the timeless, placeless spirit of John Sayles's recent Men with Guns, especially when one of the refugees explains that they've been attacked by "the military. We don't know which." Sauper describes his own mission: "Against my will, I became witness to an indescribable apocalypse," an experience he replicates here to shocking effect. Still, the question remains whether the pain Sauper documents in such excruciating, even intrusive detail--combined with the documentary's curious lack of historical context--might just as likely immobilize benumbed onlookers as radicalize them. (Dunlap) Oak Street Cinema, Sunday at 3:30 p.m.

 

The Stowaway

This dramatic import from the Netherlands is a sweet, if visually uninspired, story of cross-cultural kismet in post-Soviet Europe. The first half takes place in Uzbekistan, in a bleak fishing village whose lake has dried up. Orazbaj (the sexy Bekzod Mukhamedkarimov) is a fisherman with nothing to do but comfort his aging father as the old man works compulsively to restore the family fishing boat--which sits like a dinosaur skeleton on the sand. Continuing a story line so universal it's almost mythic, Orazbaj leaves home, stowing away on a cargo boat that lands him in Rotterdam. There, he is taken in by the wife of a crew member (Ariane Schluter) and, with the help of her young son (Rick van Castel), he begins to learn the language and ways of the Dutch. The relationship between Orazbaj and his new family develops with such organic delicacy that, forgetting how unlikely this story is, we feel compelled to ponder deeper questions. Can a person just walk away from his past? Can one overcome his or her nationality and claim citizenship of the world? Such questions are especially pertinent in this age of instant mobility--and, thankfully, the film doesn't attempt to answer them for us. (Sullivan) Oak Street Cinema, Sunday at 5:45 p.m.

 

Burnt by Frost

Using voiceover narration, many long spells of silence, and the dark, icy blue sea off the northern coast of Norway, director Knut Erik Jensen paints a powerful portrait of a country--and one couple in particular--uncomfortably caught and essentially frozen in the middle of the Cold War. But Jensen is so concerned with creating a haunting mood of irretrievable loss that he forgoes both a coherent narrative and knowable characters, too often settling for lengthy shots of people staring off into the distance. The film's first 25 minutes are especially off-putting, darting as they do from one scene and time period to another. Eventually, we learn that Simon (Stig Henrik Hoff), a Russian sympathizer in Nazi-controlled Norway during the war, has become a Soviet agent, spying on a NATO base in Norway. The now-permanently stonefaced Simon is honored for his work by the Russians but estranged from his homeland, save for the undying but distant love of lonely Lillian (Gorild Mauseuth), his girlfriend from when he was a fisherman before the war. Angling plays a central role throughout: In one effective scene, Simon and Lillian make love on a boat covered with fish; and later, at a party, Simon is told that he's a man caught in his own net. Moments like these occasionally pop up to clue us in, but for the most part Jensen leaves us as lost as his protagonist. (Mark Bazer) Oak Street Cinema, Sunday at 9:15 p.m. and Wednesday, April 21 at 7:30 p.m.

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