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

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

 

The May Lady

Like many recent Iranian imports, this latest work by director Rakhshan Bani-Etemad (Nargess) is a subtle, self-reflexive portrait of filmmaking that alternates between modes of documentary and narrative while remaining fully accessible as a story. Here, however, the writer-director is a woman (and a feminist) whose script deals with the classic women's picture double-bind of career and family obligations--complicated further in this case by the fact that the filmmaking protagonist (Minoo Farshschi), a divorcée with a rebellious teenage son (Mani Kasraiyan), has been assigned to make a doc about "the ideal mother." Owing to the outspokenness of the (real-life) female subjects of said doc ("all the judges are men," declares the daughter of a former Iranian president), the project becomes more of an indictment of sexism in Islamic Iran than another reactionary call for good mothers. The irony, though, is that the doc-maker's professional duties and difficulty with her son compel her to pay more attention to what's happening at home. Hardly a minimalist piece in the manner of Abbas Kiarostami, The May Lady is something of a three-hanky soaper--which would represent a breakthrough for Iranian cinema even without the director's bold interrogation of the roles written for women in both the movies and the real world. (Nelson) Bell Auditorium, Monday at 7:15 p.m.

 

Cards of Identity

When an African king sets out to visit the land of his former colonizers in Belgium, one might expect a journey to the heart of darkness, if not an all-out apocalypse. But Congolese filmmaker Mweze Ngangura is no Coppola, as he opts to turn this potentially intense tale into a lighthearted farce. Ngangura's film (a.k.a. I.D.) centers on the attempt of Bakongo's aging ruler, Mani Kongo (Gerard Essomba), to retain his identity--that is, his "id," which, wrapped in his ceremonial wear, no woman has ever been allowed to touch. As Kongo leaves his tribal village to search for his prodigal daughter in Brussels, he's forced to see the symbol of his soul through Western eyes: A group of European barflies thinks it's a ridiculous costume, and a Belgian antique dealer views it as a priceless "fetish." Fortunately, the king is a formidable and charismatic man who's too wise to carry a fragile ego. As cops, clergy, and crooks alike try to help him find his child (Dominique Mesa), who has gotten into trouble with a pimp (Muanza Goutier), Mani Kongo comes through a series of absurd coincidences and romantic sideplots with his pride intact, even proving that an old polygamist can learn a little feminism. (Christina Schmitt) Bell Auditorium, Tuesday at 7:15 p.m.

 

Wrestling with Alligators

This pleasantly quirky coming-of-age tale takes us to late-'50s New Jersey, where young Maddy (Aleksa Palladino), a tough-talking runaway, lives in a boarding house owned by the eccentric Lulu (Claire Bloom), an aging silent-film star. Despite this rather conventional setup, director Laurie Weltz saves her movie from cliché hell through some inventive character quirks: Lulu, for instance, carries around a pet parrot that she's convinced is her reincarnated husband; and aspiring bankrobber Maddy likes to tell people that she was raised by alligators. And then there's Claire (Joely Richardson), a French war bride who, being newly pregnant and widowed, is forced to walk with Maddy to the abortionist's office through a gauntlet of suspicious faces and decrepit houses. (The ensuing scene in a crusty old cellar makes one of the most persuasive pro-choice arguments imaginable.) Understandably, Claire can't go through with the abortion and announces plans to marry noodle-brained bowling aficionado Rick (Jay O. Sanders) on account of how they just don't have single mothers in late-'50s New Jersey--but damned if that plucky Maddy doesn't come up with another solution anyway. The ending is ambiguous but appropriately so, leaving us with the sense that the entire world is about to change. (Anne Ursu) Oak Street Cinema, Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

 

Song of Bosa--A Town in Sardinia

Almost all of the characters in this documentary--and almost all of them are characters of one sort or another--smile as they describe the economic stagnation of their southern Italian town. "People have no money. And they don't come here," says Antonio Addis, an old tavern owner of considerable charm. Likewise, one Simone Sechi gives a grin while describing how he lost half his finger and part of his thumb in a mill accident in Germany. A relative gloom is cast by the local DJ, Angelo, who doesn't smile while reading Sardinian newspapers on the air, setting up debates between the current and former mayors on how to improve tourism and create jobs. At 27, Angelo is the youngest Bosa resident in the film; most others are ancient folks who move at a pace as slow and deliberate as the documentary's own. Song of Bosa goes on to follow the local nuns who run a printing shop; a fisherman for whom the seas have dried up; and a winemaker who extols the virtues of his aunts. "They are active and add to the overall energy of the family," he says--as the director cuts to a shot of the aunts reading the newspaper. When we finally see some kids in warm-up suits riding bicycles, it almost seems like we've entered a different world. Bring your patience to this one. (Erik Lundegaard) Oak Street Cinema, Tuesday at 9:30 p.m.

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