Journey to the Beginning of the World
At age 88, Manoel de Oliveira is perhaps the world's oldest living maker of feature films. Even during this decade, the Portuguese auteur has continued to direct a movie every couple of years or so (e.g., The Convent, Abraham Valley), with this one being his semiautobiographical labor of love. In his final screen performance, the majestic Marcello Mastroianni plays Oliveira's alter ego, a Portuguese director named Manoel. He and three actors meander through the scenic countryside of Portugal in an all-too-modern minivan, stopping at various points of nostalgic and historical interest. Each such cessation sparks somber, near-metaphysical contemplations of love, destiny, and man's place in the universe. About halfway through the film, the plot's focus abruptly (and awkwardly) shifts from Manoel to Afonso (Jean-Yves Gautier), a French actor with genealogical roots in Portugal. The sojourn leads Afonso and crew to a morosely remote village where he unites with his uninviting aunt, and the dark secrets of his heritage are revealed. Journey to the Beginning of the World is a film purposefully built upon dialogue, mood, and the human condition, and while it seems to lack momentum at times, there is no denying Oliveira's hypnotic hybrid of Italian neorealism and Godard. (Tom Meek) Bell Auditorium, Saturday at 5:15 p.m.
The Powder Keg
I don't believe that U.S. and NATO military strategists watched this Yugoslavian drama before they started bombing a month ago--which is a shame, really, since they could have saved themselves a few billion dollars and learned a thing or two about the Serbian national character. In Goran Paskaljevic's stunning new film, which tracks the intersecting lives of a dozen disparate characters on a rainy fall night in Belgrade, Serbs appear as the following, in no particular order: reckless drivers, sadistic cops, refugees from Bosnia living in people's basements, demented young men prone to hijacking city buses, widowed young military wives riding trains to nowhere, terrified senior citizens, beer drinkers, and violent thugs, all of them absolutely desperate. Paskaljevic has assembled an outstanding cast of actors (Miki Manojlovic, Lazar Ristovski, and Mira Jokovic are recognizable from Emir Kusturica's Underground) for a film that's ensemble-driven in the finest Altmanesque fashion. The Powder Keg zigzags from uncanny incident to shockingly premeditated act to hopeless accident, until someone finally throws a lit match into a puddle of gasoline. Memo to NATO: You are the lit match. (Jelena Petrovic) Bell Auditorium, Saturday at 7:15 p.m.
They Come at Night
Maria Velasquez (Elpidia Carrillo) is a political refugee from El Salvador who sleepwalks through the streets of mid-'80s L.A. Sweaty, disheveled, and distant, she wakes up screaming from the horrible memories of her husband being gunned down by a death squad, her two children being taken away, and her own survival of torture. Director Lindy Laub's debut feature begins awkwardly as a kind of psycho-political horror film--a leftist version of Roman Polanski's Repulsion. But it settles down once Maria comes into contact with Sarah (Barbara Williams), a Wasp-ish therapist and single mother with issues of her own. From here, the film becomes a pas de deux between the women, seemingly set up to explore a variety of race and class issues that contrast poverty, death squads, and missing children with more privileged concerns such as divorce, child care, and career opportunities. Alas, these issues don't go very far, as Sarah seems to function mainly as a great white witness to Maria's plight and a stand-in for Laub's perceived viewership. Still, to the film's credit, Maria is no Madonna of Poverty Row, but rather a well-educated and occasionally brusque woman whose attempt to find her children is both dramatically effective and emotionally affecting. (Chris Herrington) Bell Auditorium, Saturday at 9:15 p.m.
This documentary begins as a look at the personal Web page phenom--you know, those snoozy sites where so-and-so posts pictures of his nifty trip to Oaxaca. Internet "guru" Justin Hall is the ostensible star here, a twentyish kid who's a rock star among the Wired cult for wearing hippie skirts, posting accounts of his sexual exploits online, and touring the country preaching the gospel of the Internet. Nevertheless, filmmaker Doug Block continually insists on inserting himself into this story with gratuitous explorations of his midlife crisis, his tearful and neglected wife, etc. The focus is too fragmented, and Block's questions feel dated, distinctly Utne Reader circa 1994: How will the Internet affect our communities? What's behind such compulsive self-revelation? Talks with Wired staffers appear poignant by comparison, as these people grasp that the Internet "revolution" ain't happening, while the loneliness of their lives persists (i.e., just because people communicate across borders doesn't mean they understand each other). But Home Page unintentionally mirrors the limitations of the Net: It feeds us too much info, leaving real wisdom somewhere off the screen. Home Page screens as part of the festival's IFP/North-sponsored "OVER.BYTE" sidebar, which also includes a lecture presentation and panel discussion of digital filmmaking at Intermedia Arts on Saturday at noon and 2:00 p.m.; a series of digitally shot shorts screening at Oak Street on Saturday at 6:00 p.m.; and a screening of Rob Nilsson's digital work in progress Singing at Oak Street on Sunday at 4:00 p.m. For more info on "OVER.BYTE," call IFP/North at (612) 338-0871. (Sullivan) Oak Street Cinema, Sunday at 1:30 p.m.