In the House of Angels
Bell Auditorium, Sunday at 5:15 p.m.
In a strong aesthetic response to a highly controversial issue that has cluttered Norwegian headlines in recent years, director Margareth Olin offers a heartrending documentary set in a home for the elderly. Ailing more from loneliness and isolation than from the inevitabilities of old age, the residents at Sandeheimen battle disorientation, monotony, and the disturbing reality that their loved ones have left them to spend their final years as captives in this dismal institution. While their health needs are tended to, the residents are socially neglected: Married couples are denied the right to share a bed, nature lovers are forced to remain indoors on sunny days. Many residents have abandoned all hope, while some cling to sarcasm as a means of survival, and others dwell on the past as a form of escapism. Despite the film's recording of painful conversations, its most powerful message remains unspoken: the images of worn hands, blemished faces, and knowing eyes, revealing the life experiences these people have endured, lamented, and celebrated. In the House of Angels is a daring political statement, challenging the definition of democracy in the absence of basic freedoms. Claire Adamsick
Oak Street Cinema, Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
Set in Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim quarter, this powerful film by Israeli director Amos Gitaï is an aptly depressing and very well-made indictment of the horrific sex roles often enforced in the name of religion. The main characters are Meir and Rivka (Yoram Hattab and Yael Abecassis), an Orthodox couple who, after ten years of marriage, have not been able to conceive a child. Per tradition, the man's rabbi instructs him that he must remarry, since "a man who dies without progeny rips a page from the Torah"--a declaration that is tantamount to casting Rivka out into the street. Meanwhile, Rivka's sister Malka (Meital Barda) surrenders her principled objections and marries Youssef (Uri Ran Klauzner), who violently forces himself on his bride on their wedding night. In the end, both women are left to weigh their options from a very short list. More Old Testament than old-style foreign classic, Kadosh is just about the least sexy film on the subject of male-female relationships that one could possibly imagine, and Gitaï's austere, near-documentary approach contributes even further to the fearlessness of his critique. Rob Nelson
The Wedding Cow
Oak Street Cinema, Sunday at 9:30 p.m.
Remember What's Up, Doc? starring Barbra Streisand as the wacky gal who messes up a stodgy man's life before making him fall in love with her? It's a familiar plot line (indeed, Doc took its own prescription from Bringing Up Baby), but here, German director Tomi Streiff breathes new life into the screwball tradition by creating entirely original characters. The prim and proper Flora (Isabella Parkinson, who looks a bit like the young Babs) intends to travel 1,500 kilometers to her new job as a librarian, but with much luggage to carry and her money stolen, the oafish Tim (Oliver Reinhard) stops to give her a lift. Of course, per screwball, he's driving a pink truck and transporting a cow named Hannah, a wedding gift from his aunt. Tim figures he can give Flora a ride and still make it home in time for his nuptials, but when the cow disappears and a runaway steals the the truck, his desperation grows in direct proportion to Flora's mishaps. Streiff provides plenty of absurd situations (ever see a cow relax in a honeymoon suite?) while giving us an opportunity to root for the characters' budding relationship, in which Flora is good for Tim's disorganized ways, and Tim teaches Flora how to lighten up. And Hannah? She's Cupid with spots. Caroline Palmer
Bell Auditorium, Monday at 7:00 p.m.
A resolutely traditional family melodrama from mainland China, Beijing Man showcases every inflection of impending tragedy that a connoisseur could hope for: generational rivalries between older and younger women, a once-wealthy clan on the brink of financial ruin, a no-good son-in-law who continually squanders the family's hopes, and, of course, smothered but impassioned affairs between lovers whose fondest desires can never be realized. (Bowing to mainland cultural dictates, director Qin Zhiyu allows not a breath of sexual titillation anywhere near the screen.) The film is set in 1930s Beijing and boasts some handsome period detail as well as a number of beautifully composed shots of the natural world; perhaps the most obtrusive sign of its origins as a play is the trite caged/free pigeon metaphor that runs throughout the film. (I'm giving nothing away by revealing that the final shot follows a flock of pigeons finally set loose to wheel about in the sky.) The setup may seem ripe for camp, but the film's uniformly sober tone, its restraint, and its completely sincere deployment of every last melodramatic trope in the canon combine to remind the viewer of why the genre existed in the first place. Jesse Berrett
Hans Warns: My 20th Century
Oak Street Cinema, Monday at 7:30 p.m.
History, that bitter tablet, is always easier to digest when it comes coated with personality. This German biopic does just that, filtering more than 30 years of German history through the life of the titular seaman. Director Gordián Maugg effectively allegorizes the pain of the First World War, as a 21-year-old Warns, returning from a 7-year odyssey at sea, reunites with his mother, only to discover that she has delusionally mistaken him for her late husband. The Second World War is similarly humanized, as Warns is involuntarily enlisted in the German navy, separated from his family, and forced to fight for a cause in which he does not believe. Shot in sepia tones, the film successfully mimics the aesthetic of silent cinema through its use of intertitles and accelerated motion, aided by the periodic voiceover narration of an elderly Warns. Although it's Maugg's intention to date the picture with his antiquated style, he does not go overboard in this; rather, he has found a way to render the period emotions of his subjects in visual terms. The result is a charming experience, and, more to the point, a vivid one. Jonathan Kaminsky