Along with the Dardenne brothers' Rosetta and Laurent Cantet's forthcoming Human Resources, this delightful Belgian film testifies to the vitality of regional French-language cinema. Co-written and directed by Benoît Mariage, it centers on a family led by Roger (Benoît Poelvoorde), a photographer determined to improve his station in life by making his mark in the Guinness Book of World Records. When he's not out chasing ambulances, Roger forces his unmotivated son Michel (Jean-François Devigne) into a crackpot scheme to break the world record for the number of times a door is opened and closed in rapid succession. Mariage's vision of the Belgian small town as a haven for eccentrics behind closed doors is reminiscent of Bill Forsyth's Scotland, or even the England of Ealing Studios. Particularly given its inclusion of wacky incidents such as Roger's use of an Elvis impersonator to serenade someone out of a coma, the film could easily have devolved into broad farce, but Mariage adopts a dry, deadpan tone instead. Rather than emphasizing gags with quick cuts and reaction shots, he uses long takes to let his humor emerge gradually from the characters' behavior, never forcing either comedy or tragedy. And yet, to its credit, the movie offers plenty of both. Steve Erickson
The Color of Paradise
Bell Auditorium, Sunday at 7:15 p.m.
At this very moment, Iranian cinema is teaching the rest of the world some long-forgotten lessons about what movies can be, and, in the process, a body of work is accumulating that equals the outpouring of Italian neorealism after World War II. In The Color of Paradise, director Majid Majidi's followup to last year's Children of Heaven, the hero, Mohammed (Mohsen Ramezani), is a blind boy who wishes his father (Hossein Mahjoub) took more interest in him. Shunted from home to Granny's house, the boy dives inward and discovers a remarkable variant on the Christian notion of "reading the sermons in stones": He finds the face of God in everything he touches. Indeed, a grain of wheat or the petals of a flower speak to him as clearly as his Braille notebook. Although some of Majidi's broader strokes suggest Ron Howard more than the Tavianis, the film contains moments that evoke the primal power of Griffith and Spielberg, and its epiphanies can make you feel as if you're levitating. Like other recent masterpieces of Iranian cinema, including the works of Makhmalbaf and Kiarostami, The Color of Paradise leaves one overwhelmed with gratitude, deeply in touch with the fragility and transient joy of being human. Matthew Wilder
Bell Auditorium, Monday at 9:15 p.m., Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.
In what was intended to be the final work by renowned documentary filmmaker Johan van der Keuken, the Dutch director examines his own sudden diagnosis of terminal prostate cancer. Shot entirely with a handheld camcorder, The Long Holiday is less a story about the director and his condition than it is a quiet examination of the people at the various destinations he visits. From the mountains of the Bhutan (where he seeks the aid of an unusual faith healer) to the favelas (hillside slums) outside Rio de Janeiro, the filmmaker isn't seen in a single frame. Instead, he quietly observes each of the communities and its inhabitants, refraining from comment on the conditions in which many of the people live. When a swarm of paragliders sails above the Brazilian favela, while naked children sleep below on streets covered with raw sewage, no words are needed: The sullen, silent images are sufficient to illustrate the bitter dichotomy of life in these parts of the world. Still, the film's most interesting moments come during the several visits van der Keuken makes with doctors and healers from the Far East to New York City, as his sudden discovery of a revolutionary treatment near the end of the film changes its mood from fatalism to optimism. It's these positive observations that may cause viewers to lament the fact that not all cancer patients have the clout to take their own "long holidays" in search of a cure. Kemp Powers