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

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

 

Regret to Inform

It's tempting to pour a bucketful of numbing superlatives onto this recently Oscar-nominated film. So let's put it another way: A documentary about Vietnam War widows was the last thing this viewer wanted to watch on a Saturday afternoon, but 72 minutes and 20 Kleenexes later, the world looked different--not more hopeless, nor any clearer, but richer and more mysterious than ever. Filmmaker Barbara Sonneborn travels to Vietnam to see the place where her husband died and, through candid interviews with widows on both sides, she investigates a facet of war that films like Platoon and Full Metal Jacket miss entirely. Vietnam being what it was, these women ask the big questions about war that would seem disloyal in another context: Was my husband a murderer? Did he die in vain? Nevertheless, Sonneborn's mission is emotional, not political. She treats the audience like grownups, using graceful understatement, an artistic eye, and masterful pacing to create a framework in which we're allowed to ponder these questions for ourselves. Regret to Inform screens as part of the festival's "Human Rights Sidebar," which also includes The Powder Keg and They Come at Night (both reviewed below). (Kate Sullivan) Oak Street Cinema, Friday at 7:30 p.m.

 

Suckers

Locally reared writer-director Roger Nygard follows up his geekumentary Trekkies with this low-budget, thoroughly B-grade comedy. Bobby DeLuca (Louis Mandylor) is a well-meaning, underemployed schlub who's desperate for an income. Not only is his wife pregnant, but a pair of shaggy L.A. loan sharks are leaning hard on him to square up a hefty debt. He reluctantly accepts a job as a new car salesman, joining the ranks at a cartoonishly corrupt dealership under the tutelage of a menacing manager named Reggie (Daniel Benzali). What begins as a biting, funny-enough commentary on the very real screw-or-be-screwed covenant of auto sales gradually deflates into a convoluted crime web involving drugs, thugs, and a Mexican standoff--and no real freshness to speak of. Benzali is superb as the heartless ringleader of a ragtag sales team; his evangelical monologues on the art of the deal are memorable and wholly believable. Still, Nygard and co-writer/standup comic Joe Yannetty spoil their own soup with too-familiar plot devices and a weak finale. The film is purportedly based on Yannetty's experiences as a conniving car hawker, which would surely hit harder in a nonfiction format. (James Diers) Bell Auditorium, Friday at 9:00 p.m.

 

Dry Cleaning

Id meets superego when a sibling pair of drag artists (Stanislas Merhar and Mathilde Seigner) seduce a French town's dry cleaners, a highly starched married pair (Miou-Miou and Charles Berling) who have been pressing other people's clothes--and suppressing their own libidinal cravings--for 15 monotonous years of economic malaise and carnal boredom. And sexual transgression collides with rote domesticity when the couple invites the lusty brother into their home as employee and surrogate lover. Call it a ménage à trois plus two, since the fornicating threesome have to negotiate a young son and a suspicious mother-in-law. (This they accomplish by seeking sexual heights in a subterranean basement underneath their pristine business establishment.) Although it begins on a saucy note à la Josiane Balasko's French Twist, Dry Cleaning soon assumes an unsettling, noirish tone, as the film raises the following questions: Has the sexy stranger hustled the Kunstlers, or have these sexual tourists used him? Does stable coupledom necessarily annul erotic and emotional imagination? And does director Anne Fontaine intend to explode the limits of heterosexuality or enshrine them by way of old Freudian formulas? (Leslie Dunlap) Oak Street Cinema, Friday at 9:30 p.m.

 

State of Dogs

In Mongolia, it's bad hoodoo to kill a dog. The canine is just below the human on the karma chain, so to prevent a dog from returning naturally to the earth disrupts the cycle of reincarnation. Thus it is that the stray dog Baasar, the unlucky protagonist of this bewildering and elegant Mongolian docudrama, is left to wander the world in spirit form while waiting to be reborn as a person. In the film's first minutes, poor Baasar is assassinated by a dog catcher and left to rot in a trash dump--which, it bears mentioning, is hardly distinguishable from the rest of the Mongolian landscape. Baasar's journey, filtered through a cryptic narrator and the meandering camera of co-directors Peter Brosens and Dorjkhandyn Turmunkh, takes the Mongolian mongrel past the crumbling monuments of the Soviet era to the dusty steppes where he was born, and through his short, sad life history. As Baasar searches for a glimmer of meaning in the past, his vision becomes a jumble of increasingly exotic images: a traditional Mongolian acrobat, a woman giving birth, machinery grinding and collapsing, and an urban wasteland so cold, empty, and utterly devoid of hope that it could only be the product of the Soviet imagination. It is a state, the film suggests, that is no more conducive to human life than it is to that of a stray dog. And yet Baasar's wandering is also a perfect metaphor for a Mongolia that lingers somewhere between death and rebirth--watching the past warily, and pushing blindly into the future. (Peter Ritter) Bell Auditorium, Saturday at 1:15 p.m.

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