It's a Wrap

The Mpls/St. Paul International Film Festival swaddles the Cities in cinema

Here's a brief rundown of what you won't be seeing in this year's Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival: Raffish tykes piloting space capsules in intergalactic road rallies; frightened tykes who see dead people; dead people rising from sandy Egyptian graves; fledgling filmmakers rising from their tents to meet arboreal boogeymen; animated arboreal odes to cultural diversity and Toys "R" Us (music by Elton John); inanimate dilettantes witnessing upscale orgies from digitally bowdlerized angles--and all the other cinematic wonders we embrace every week of the year.

For 17 consecutive Aprils, U Film Society's MSPIFF (still known to some stubborn veterans by its former, more colorful name of Rivertown) has bravely defied such beloved Hollywood conventions. In fact, it has defied convention simply by existing. Indeed, its bold counterprogramming-- more than 100 films from 49 countries, spread over 20 days at 7 local venues--flies in the face of spring weather, TV sweeps season, and, not least, the ticket buyer's ongoing relationship to known commodities. As this year's massive MSPIFF includes not only the requisite "Scandinavian Screenings" but new films from South Korea, Argentina, Egypt, Cuba, Bosnia, Poland, and, yes, Tajikistan, U Film certainly shows up the ethnocentrism of other venues, where "foreign cinema," if it exists at all, too often connotes another American starlet du jour trying out a cockney accent.

At the same time, those who've been put off in the past by the fest's preponderance of esoterica (which, of course, is also its strength) will be pleased to note that this year's roster includes a number of proven hits: the Belgian winner of last year's Palme d'Or at Cannes (Rosetta); the latest works by world-cinema stalwarts Raul Ruiz (Time Regained), Takeshi Kitano (Kikujiro) and Aki Kaurismäki (Juha); an Iranian crowd-pleaser by the director of Children of Heaven (The Color of Paradise); a Spanish sneak preview courtesy of the cineastes at Miramax (The Butterfly); an adaptation of the Seventies cultish history tome Wisconsin Death Trip; and, if you like, Kevin Spacey's first performance since winning the Oscar for American Beauty (The Big Kahuna). And did I mention that the charming opening-nighter (East Is East) screened in the Director's Fortnight at Cannes alongside Blair Witch and The Virgin Suicides? Or that the local-film roster includes three feature-length collections of shorts?

What follows is an in-depth consumer guide to the first week's offerings (alongside a profile of the man who provides it), which we'll follow up in subsequent issues with coverage of the films screening in weeks two and three. A word of gentle warning: Given U Film's singular devotion to throwing the whole wide world up on the screen, the dates and times included with the capsule reviews below (and even on schedules) should be double-checked by calling the society hotline at (612) 627-4430, or clicking on www.ufilm.org. Happy hunting. --Rob Nelson

MSPIFF screening locations:
Historic State Theatre, 805 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.
Bell Auditorium, U of M, University Avenue and 17th Street Southeast, Mpls.
Oak Street Cinema, 309 Oak St. SE, Mpls.
Heights Theater, 3951 Central Ave. NE, Columbia Hts.

Admission prices:
Opening Night Screening and Gala: $12.
General admission: $7 ($6 seniors/students, $5 U Film Society members)

Festival passes:
Gold Pass (admission to all films and events): $100 ($80 U Film members)
Green Pass (admission to all films except opening and closing night screenings): $85 ($60 U Film members)
Cheaper by the Dozen (admission to 12 films): $55 ($45 U Film members)
Five Film Discount Pass (admission to five films): $25 ($21 U Film members)

24-Hour Festival Hotline: (612) 627-4430
Festival Web Site: www.ufilm.org

Note: The festival schedule is subject to change; call the festival hotline to confirm screenings.

Barracks

Oak Street Cinema, Friday at 7:15 p.m.; and Heights Theater, Sunday at 9:30 p.m.

Based on Victor Petrov's novel Olga Lodokhod, this bittersweet portrait of 1950s Russia centers on communal life in the "barracks," an outpost of Leningrad, where families live in scant apartment housing and work at a local foundry. Keeping tabs on the citizens is a live-in comrade leader and an affable, uncharacteristically humanist KGB agent, but mostly the residents' bawdy gaiety goes unchecked. Among the barracks' many eclectic denizens is an impotent mute, a nefarious German tartar who enjoys deflowering others' wives, and a drunken night nurse. Most notable of all, though, is the one-legged porn photographer who, after plying his subjects with alcohol, tells them that he needs to frame them in the "classic" sense, and then shows them a Rubens print. And did I mention that this guy also dabbles in child labor and entertains by igniting his farts? Director Valeri Ogorodnikov rambles on with a subtly political languor not unlike Bertolucci's in The Conformist, and while his style is impressively operatic, Barracks' focus on the minutiae of life leaves bigger issues such as Stalinism and the Cold War curiously off the map. Tom Meek

 

Sàngó--the Legendary Afrikan King

Bell Auditorium, Friday at 7:15 p.m.

Shot entirely on video, Femi Lasode's ambitious translation of a Nigerian epic recounts a series of loosely connected tales about Sángò (Wale Adebayo), a Yoruban warrior prince who gains first a throne and then godhood. Combining voiceovers with song, dance, and mythic plotting on what appears to be a very low budget, it's an admirable if not entirely successful attempt to negotiate and reconfigure an oral tradition for new audiences. At its best, Lasode's film connects story to its telling in a way that confidently manifests the style of the original form; the events leading to and culminating in Sángò's coronation are depicted in loosely defined images, chants, and ritual, allowing the narrative to speak a new language. Too often, though, the film stutters and stumbles: When, for example, Sángò tracks his intended bride Oya (Bunmi Sanya), who shifts between human and antelope form, the scenes not only lack energy but appear cartoonish. Still, I'm reluctant to dismiss this rare import out of hand: Name the last Yoruban epic you saw. Mike Reynolds

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