Mpls./St. Paul International Film Festival Week II: See No Daylight

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

The adventure continues.The ambitious second week of the Mpls./St. Paul International Film Festival features a two-day survey of digitally shot shorts and features, highlighted by the Web doc Home Page; a "Human Rights Sidebar" that examines the impact of war in Vietnam (Regret to Inform), El Salvador (They Come at Night), and Yugoslavia (The Powder Keg); an intense pair of high-profile dramas by Liv Ullmann (Private Confessions) and Volker Schlöndorff (The Ogre); the standout hometown achievement at the most recent Sundance (Los Enchiladas!); a heart-wrenching period piece from China (The King of Masks); the new comedy by former Minnesotan Roger Nygard (Suckers); the final movie to feature the late Marcello Mastroianni (Journey to the Beginning of the World); and a special screening of the Christian Bale and Emily Watson melodrama Metroland, held at Lagoon Cinema. (All of these, along with a half-dozen others, are reviewed below.)

As a reminder of whom we have to thank for this cinematic treasure trove, the annual "Minnesota Shorts Showcase" includes "Al Milgrom: Last of the Red Hot Programmers," a documentary homage to the exhaustingly inexhaustible festival founder. (The "Showcase," sponsored by IFP/North, screens at Bell Auditorium on Friday at 7:00 p.m.) For 20 minutes (roughly the length of Milgrom's average voice mail message), the film observes the man in action: tooling around town in his rusty Volvo station wagon, tacking up flyers, dealing with distributors, dressing down yet another U Film Society volunteer, and banging the ceremonial gong to kick off last year's fest. What makes Al run? you ask. No doubt entire volumes could be written on the subject, but here's the short answer: What makes him run is on view at Bell Auditorium and Oak Street Cinema through May 6.

Rob Nelson

Metroland

Set in England at the dawn of punk rock, Philip Saville's film forefronts the type of man sneered at in the Clash's "Clampdown" and pitied in the Jam's "Smithers-Jones": the raincoated commuter with the bland job, the snippy wife, and the longing for something he lost on the road to suburbia. In the case of Chris (Christian Bale), what he lost suddenly reappears on his doorstep in the person of childhood friend Toni (Lee Ross). All oily hair and ripped jeans, Toni reminds Chris of their collective teenage vow to get out of conservative Metroland, and of his own swinging singles days in '60s Paris. Thanks to Bale's transparent face, these flashbacks of sexual experimentation are endearing and evocative, as Metroland, adapted from a 1981 Julian Barnes novel, uncovers more emotional twists than you'd expect in the common tale of the seven-year itch. The snippy wife (Emily Watson, as sharp as she was soft in Breaking the Waves) turns out to harbor dissatisfactions and secrets of her own. And the usual "other" woman--signifying freedom--is in this case a man: lonely Toni, who wants his playmate back. If the ending seems a bit smug, it's only because the rest of the film does such a good job of questioning bourgeois dreams and countercultural ideals alike. (Terri Sutton) Lagoon Cinema, Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.

 

The Underground Orchestra

Netherlander Heddy Honigmann's 1997 doc takes us into the bowels of the Parisian metro, where commuters hustle and bustle to a running soundtrack of street musicians playing their harps, accordions, violins, and clarinets. Near the start of the film, we're taken into a subway car to watch an African trio joyously jam out a ska version of "Try a Little Tenderness," while the director carefully interposes shots of the train passengers wearing looks of bemused indifference on their faces. (The players turn out to make a healthy chunk of change, although one wonders how many people would be donating if there weren't a camera around.) Honigmann then takes us out of the underground and into the lives of the musicians, most of whom are refugees in exile from Bosnia, Romania, Argentina, and Vietnam, many with family left behind, some living illegally, and others paying exorbitant rent for closet-sized apartments. At times, the film suffers from overkill: How many times do we need to hear someone singing a melancholy song over shots of the Parisian cityscape? Still, the documented stories do not grow old, despite the fact that, with each person's tales of abuse and indifference, the song remains the same. (Anne Ursu) Oak Street Cinema, Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

 

Los Enchiladas!

The standout hometown achievement at the most recent Sundance, this Clerks-like comedy by St. Paul-born writer-director-actor Mitch Hedberg isn't hilarious, but it does manage a goofy, laid-back charm. Shot in 16mm in the Twin Cities area, Los Enchiladas! charts the clock-punching exploits of disgruntled employees at the titular eating establishment--an inauthentic Mexican chain restaurant located on the outskirts of the Maplewood Mall. As this wannabe Chi-Chi's prepares for a perceived rush of customers on Cinco de Mayo, the film's hourly wage-earning characters suffer petty humiliations and live in wait of mañana: There's a good-natured, appetizer-pushing waitress (endearingly played by Minnesota native Jana Johnson, who also co-produced); an underage and gap-toothed hostess (Kimberlee Iblings); and a slow-witted drill sergeant of a chef (Jim Jorgensen) who's responsible for a "Mexican" menu that includes onion rings on a stick. Amid a gaggle of mild indigestion jokes, one of the movie's slapstick highlights has the restaurant's scuzzy manager (Dave Attell) beating up a poor guy in a foam rubber gyro suit from the Greek joint down the road. If Los Enchiladas! has a fault, it's that Hedberg the writer-director gives too few one-liners to Hedberg the comedian, here playing the loosely autobiographical part of a stoner prep cook with a finely honed habit of wandering the country. Nevertheless, the movie's mostly gentle sense of humor is tough to resist--and damned if the whole enchilada doesn't taste a little spicier the second time. (Nelson) Oak Street Cinema, Thursday at 9:30 p.m. and Saturday at 10:00 p.m.

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