Reel Two

The Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival spins into its second week

Are you dizzy yet?

The second week of the spinning globe otherwise known as the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival unspools before us an L.A. gay-porn swordsman (Erotic Tales IV), a Dane with a low sperm count (The One and Only), some Norwegian lumbermen in a castrating frenzy (Misery Harbor), the disenfranchised younglings of a Filipino farming village (Yesterday Children), an Iranian mine sweeper in love with a farmer (Red Ribbon), an Aussie thriller à la Kafka (The Interview), a Turkish Josef K. (Journey to the Sun), a Black River Falls schoolteacher with an urge to smash windows (Wisconsin Death Trip), a former bass player in an Argentine band (Crane World), David Bowie as a grandfatherly Canuck (Mr. Rice's Secret), Rachael Leigh Cook as an unemployed Montanan (The Hi-Line), and a German heifer named Hannah (The Wedding Cow).

All of these, along with a dozen-and-a-half other films screening in week two of the MSPIFF, are reviewed below. (Note: We'll deal with the fest's final days in the Film Clips section of next week's issue.) Still, as one of the rare pleasures of a film festival is the possibility of discovering an unreviewed masterpiece with one's own eyes, who knows what treasures you may unearth without our help?

--Rob Nelson

Misery Harbor

Bell Auditorium, Wednesday at 7:15 p.m.; and Heights Theater, Friday at 7:00 p.m.

With explicit references to Jack London and August Strindberg, this Norwegian film defines its ambition to work as both a sweeping adventure (i.e., the story of a boy becoming a man) and a psychosexual drama (i.e., the story of a boy becoming a man). In 1932 Oslo, a struggling writer named Espen (Nikolaj Coster Waldous)--a writer, dammit!--types an account of his youthful travels, escaping from the grim factory town of Jante into the grim hold of a schooner, then to a grim Newfoundland fishing town, and then to a grim forest camp. Each new environment produces glimpses (and voiceover declarations) of freedom and fulfillment, but Espen is plagued by the nefarious machinations of a secret sharer. John Wakefield (Stuart Graham), who wears black clothes and a cape, woos the boy into wrongdoing aboard the ship, seduces his sweet, fish-gutting girlfriend, and works a whole company of lumbermen into a castrating frenzy. Some other clichéd plot twists thoroughly deflate the film's epic aspirations, and the whole thing is filmed with an unerring eye for the obvious--more Cabin Boy than Conrad. Mike Reynolds

 

Erotic Tales IV

Heights Theater, Wednesday at 9:00 p.m.; and Bell Auditorium, Thursday at 8:45 p.m.

This latest collection of shorts in the international Erotic Talesseries tweaks familiar tropes of lust and longing, with varying results. The "surprise" ending of the Greek "Dream a Little Dream of Me," a whimsical anecdote about male wedding jitters, will be obvious after three minutes, but the characters' very human reactions to their predicament somewhat redeem the narrative. "Georgian Grapes," whose outcome is equally clear, is an unpretentious, charmingly earthy little pastoral about appreciating what's under your nose. Although the Austrian "Red Garter" tosses some spry gastronomic foreplay into its his-and-hers revenge tableau (man abducts woman at knifepoint, and then teases/terrorizes her sexually, until the tables are turned), the vignette itself never transcends the staleness of its premise. But Rosa von Praunheim's "Can I Be Your Bratwurst, Please?" has the best conceit: A legendary gay-porn swordsman (Jeff Stryker) hits L.A. and moves into a run-down motel, where he incites fantasy in everyone he meets, from burly leathermen to little girls. At this stage of his career, Stryker resembles a slightly dissolute Ken doll, and he delivers his lines like someone who learned English last week. But, combined with some unexpected shock effects, Stryker's hard-bodied blankness puts the director's point forcefully across: What more hospitable medium to depict the ways in which desire turns us into supporting players in our own drama? Jesse Berrett

 

Kumar Talkies

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

In a recent book of photographs aimed at making the everyday feel strange, David Byrne fixates on the film posters of India's Bollywood industry. Vulgar yet childishly "innocent," baroque almost to the point of being hallucinatory, yet somehow as sickly sweet as Mom's Rice Krispie squares, these posters suggest a push-pull of opposites that must make for some fiery and phantasmic cinema. To my sorrow and shame, I have not seen even one Bollywood potboiler, but I don't feel any closer to the experience for having watched this, a sort-of-documentary of a jerkwater Indian town and its Last Picture Show. Kumar Talkies doesn't have the tobacco-spitting regrets of Bogdanovich's movie or the feel-good gel-capsule effect of Cinema Paradiso. Rather, it sort of rambles all over the place in the style of Chris Marker's Tokyo-as-nightmare-scape doc Sans Soleil--only, uh, not as well. The glimpses we get of the cinema's surrounding village--caught half in the world of Disney/Nike modernity and half out--are titillating, appalling, inward-drawing. Whereas the material relating to the movies is half-assed, shapeless, and interminable beyond words. Matthew Wilder

 

The One and Only

Oak Street Cinema, Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; and Heights Theater, Saturday at 7:00 p.m.

What a wonderful world romantic comedies inhabit! In this parallel universe--enough like our own to fool the eye--soul mates not only exist, but practically share life experiences. Just as a character, trapped in a moribund relationship or abandoned by a philandering asshole, begins to feel alone and wretched...well, lo and behold, along comes someone else who's going through the same experience and is also a perfect match. In this Danish take on such a scenario, the star-crossed lovers are Niller (Niels Olsen) and Sus (Sidse Babett Knudsen). When they first meet, they are deliriously happy--or as close to it as they've been in years: Sus is pregnant by her Italian husband, Sonny; and Niller and his wife Lizzie have just adopted a five-year-old from Burkina Faso. Soon afterward, their lives summarily disintegrate, and the two flounder for a bit before finding their way to one another; meanwhile, they are surrounded by the usual assortment of friends and family who function in much the same way as bridesmaids' dresses--that is, they're meant to make the main characters look prettier by comparison. Niller comes into his own, emerging as a man of action after years of passivity, and his transformation is both fun and stirring to watch. "Not bad for a man with a low sperm count," he muses at the end. Not bad, indeed. Kirsten Marcum

 

The Interview

Oak Street Cinema, Thursday at 9:30 p.m.

Alfred Hitchcock and Franz Kafka are uncredited collaborators on this stylish noir thriller, which was a surprise hit two years ago in its native Australia. In fact, The Interview initially seems to be an adaptation of Kafka's The Trial: An apparently innocent man (Hugo Weaving, whom domestic audiences will recognize as the sadistic villain of The Matrix) is beaten by police, dragged into an interrogation room, and grilled by a hardened detective (Tony Martin) regarding a seemingly minor crime. Although director Craig Monahan never leaves the warren of the police precinct, the film gradually twists into truly Kafkaesque territory. The atmosphere becomes one of sustained paranoia, where hidden video cameras capture every nervous twitch, and even the interrogators are not above suspicion. It's a credit to Weaving that his tightly drawn face doesn't give away any of the film's secrets; until The Interview takes its final turn, we have no idea whether he's a brilliant psychopath or an unjustly accused wretch. In Kafkaland, it seems, no one remains innocent for long. Peter Ritter

 

Post Concussion

Heights Theater, Thursday at 7:00 p.m.

Matthew Kang is corporate scum. He has a six-figure salary, a pack of soulless business buds, and a cute, gold-digging girlfriend, and he receives pleasure by consulting Fortune 1,000 companies on how best to carry out a downsizing holocaust. But then he gets rammed by a car and suffers a serious head injury. If writer-director-editor-cinematographer and star Daniel Yoon had ended his movie right there, he could have considered it a mild success. The film would have made for a poignant PSA on how to deal with corporate mercenary types--i.e.: Run over the bastards. Yoon moves on, however, to portray Kang's struggle with postconcussion syndrome, and the rebirth of his identity and values. After Kang loses his job, his girlfriend, and his sanity (you know the story), he embarks down that oh-so-well-beaten path of spiritual recovery. Along the way, he undergoes loopy new-age medical treatments and falls in love with his next-door neighbor, Monica (Jennifer Welch), a German physicist. Considering that this is Yoon's first movie (he edited it entirely on his home computer), we must give him credit for producing a fairly smooth and coherent work. But in attempting to make the jump between comic irreverence and the earnest affirmation of life, the film simply doesn't hold together. Jeremy Swanson

 

The Hi-Line

Oak Street Cinema, Friday at 7:00 p.m.

Although this Amerindie drama premiered at Sundance more than a year ago, it has yet to find an American distributor--even though it gives a prominent role to She's All That star and Twin Cities native Rachel Leigh Cook (see "She's All That," facing page). In theory, this could mean that the film was too adventurous for market-conscious distributors, as was the case with Scott King's experimental feature Treasure Island (which the director is now releasing himself). But in practice, The Hi-Line was most likely turned down for being terminally bland. The con-job plot opens promisingly on Sam (Ryan Alosio), a liquor-store clerk who, arriving in a small Montana town under the guise of being a mall-employment recruiter, approaches Vera (Cook) with the promise of a job--only to inform her later that he was a friend of her late jailbird father. This setup is plenty intriguing, but as The Hi-Line quickly turns into a familiar road movie, only fans of pensive stares and pauses will be apt to find it much of a treat. First-time writer-director Ron Judkins has little sense of drama, and although his film clocks in at a relatively brief 104 minutes, it still feels padded. Steve Erickson

 

Shirley Pimple
(in the John Wayne Temple of Doom)

Oak Street Cinema, Friday at 11:30 p.m.

In this, the most profligate expenditure of $1.2 million since Universal sent Dennis Hopper down the river to make The Last Movie, the thing that'll have your eyeballs coming out on stalks is the end credit for Atom Egoyan as associate producer. What the cinema's current champion of the Stanley Kubrick Anal Retention School must have made of this incoherent romp in a playpen full of caca is beyond the scope of my imagination. Press notes report that the director spent a total of 18 years working on this artifact, in which preteen riot grrrl Shirley Pimple (a sort of woozy bad-ass palimpsest of Miss Good Ship Lollipop) starts a rebellion against the John Wayne Institute for American Values. If you're guessing that there are scenes in which a cancerous, skeletal Wayne chases Shirley on a tricycle, you get two points. But I daresay no one could imagine that Shirley Pimple would contain buckets of Hershell Gordon Lewis-esque splatter and inexplicable eruptions of "Muskrat Love" and "99 Luftballons." As an analysis of Duke semiotics, this ain't up to the ankles of Garry Wills's John Wayne's America. And as an "avant" jamboree, it requires a bowl of skunkweed and a bag of Cooler Ranch Doritos just to make it past reel two. Matthew Wilder

 

Mr. Rice's Secret

Oak Street Cinema, Saturday at 1:00 p.m.

From Bambi to Old Yeller and My Girl, there's an entire canon of movies that prepare kids for facing the death of a loved one. In its fanciful way, though, this low-key Canadian fantasy tackles a kid-movie taboo: a child's own bout with terminal illness. Bill Switzer gives an appealing performance as Owen Walters, a 12-year-old devastated by the recent death of his friend and mentor, Mr. Rice (a grandfatherly David Bowie, looking and acting like his "Little Drummer Boy" duet partner Bing Crosby). Owen himself is suffering from Hodgkin's disease, and Mr. Rice's demise only heightens his fear and resentment of other stricken kids, especially Simon (Richard de Klerk), who's in the final stages of leukemia. At this point, Joel Wyner's script introduces a Harry Potter-ish adventure involving a treasure hunt, a decoder ring, and a buried secret. But if Nicholas Kendall's direction never transcends the level of an after-school special, he still avoids the bland, plastic soullessness of Disney's current live-action product. Jim Ridley

 

Wisconsin Death Trip

Bell Auditorium, Saturday at 1:30 p.m.; and Oak Street Cinema, Thursday, April 27 at 7:30 p.m.

It's hard enough to adapt a good novel for the screen. But a history dissertation thesis seems downright doomed--especially one with no main plot, no conventional characters, no climax, and no resolution. Nevertheless, Wisconsin Death Trip, Michael Lesy's radical and disturbing history of the town of Black River Falls, Wisconsin, is faithfully captured by this film of the same title. The book, first published in 1973, is a cult classic. On the surface, it's a collection of photographs and newspaper excerpts that document death--disease, suicide, murder, and the living death of insanity--in a small town at the turn of the last century. But Lesy's rhythmic arrangement of the verbal and visual images transforms the merely historical into something like music: a requiem for the white man in America, an operatic rendering of his tragicomic decline. The movie version isn't so much a film based on Lesy's book as it is a loving translation of the text into the language of film--not adapted but adopted. Most of the book's conventions are faithfully reproduced onscreen: the unusual "chapter headings," the photographs and events, even the pages of white-on-black printing that punctuate the book. But the film begins to develop its own hypnotic power when director James Marsh departs from Lesy's template, intercutting the historical stills with staged reenactments of the newspaper accounts: a schoolteacher with a compulsion to smash windows, a teen murderer, a farm suicide. Still more interesting are the occasional glimpses of modern life in Black River Falls, the snatches of interviews and strangely suspended landscape suggesting that the intervening century has only intensified our afflictions. Joseph Hart

 

The Magnetist's Fifth Winter

Oak Street Cinema, Saturday at 5:15 p.m.

This Danish film's glorious obsessions with the intersections of light and darkness--the flickering tongue of a candle carried through a night-shrouded house, the shadow of a hand lingering over a body, the acute blade of curtain-obscured light illuminating a character's face--thoroughly overcome its limitations as a psychological melodrama. Set in 1820s Sweden, in a small town where science is just beginning to make headway against folk beliefs, a struggle is quickly sketched between the town's establishment and a visiting magnetist (Ole Lemmeke) who promises alternative methods of healing. This "Doctor" Meisner claims to use the body's ability to see into itself, through the manipulation of "magnetic fluids" and other, more theatrical cures. The vaguely sinister visitor immediately sets his sights on the well-respected Dr. Selander (Rolf Lassgard), whose daughter Maria (Johanna Salstrom) suffers from a blindness that's resistant to modern potions. With its trademark hoodwinking/revelation/trial structure, the film's plot remains lamentably pedestrian. Yet director Morton Henriksen uses the generic possibilities of suspense to establish a framework for oblique reflections of character, with Lemmeke, in particular, defining the shady magnetist as an unresolved blend of confidence man and conscience. Mike Reynolds

Skirty Winner

Bell Auditorium, Saturday at 5:15 p.m.

Like novels about the writer's lot or songs about playing in a rock 'n' roll band, films about actors betray a selfish unwillingness to look beyond one's immediate experience for artistic insight, or even a good story. In director Jeffrey Blair's exhumation of the commonplace, erstwhile Minnesotan Karen Samuelson plays erstwhile Minnesotan Skirty Winner, a paragon of cloying Midwestern naiveté who'll do whatever it takes to make it to Broadway, even if it means (gasp!) working a day job. (Why is it supposedly more demeaning to endure temp work in support of your acting habit than to suffer such indignities in support of your family?) When Skirty catches the eye of a big-talking filmmaker, however, the dream part he offers isn't quite the big break she has imagined. And, of course, no such movie would be complete without the charming yet uncommitted boyfriend who needs to grow up, or the bitchy yet understanding roommate who's there when the heroine really needs her. Parading attitudes in place of characterization, and stupefyingly obvious quotations from The Graduate and Taxi Driver in place of one-liners, Blair has Skirty and her pals milling about listlessly, wondering if their dreams are merely illusions, and discovering that sometimes life is complex and ambiguous--even if the flick they inhabit is not. Keith Harris

 

Red Ribbon

Bell Auditorium, Saturday at 7:15 p.m., Sunday at 1:15 p.m.

Although I can't honestly recommend this Iranian film, it is one of the most accomplished failures I've seen in a year. Director Ebrahim Hatamikia and cinematographer Hassan Pooya make the most of their desolate setting: an Iranian desert 30 miles from the Afghan border, filled with uncleared mines and decaying tanks. Pivoting around a mere three characters (a mine sweeper, a tank dealer, and a woman who wants to claim her family farm despite the minefields surrounding it), Red Ribbon turns into an unconventional love triangle, at its best coming close to the menacing austerity of Harold Pinter's plays or Monte Hellman's Sixties Westerns. While I can't fault Hatamikia's direction, his pacing is labored and his dialogue leans toward the pretentious (although this may be the fault of some remarkably poor subtitles). Furthermore, the film's allegorical intent--using the desert as a metaphor for the long-term scars inflicted by Iran's lengthy war with Iraq--becomes increasingly transparent. Hatamikia certainly has an original vision, but his movie shows that inventiveness alone isn't always sufficient to create compelling art. Steve Erickson

 

Breaking Out

Oak Street Cinema, Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

Since you'll no doubt make the comparison once Steve Zahn and Ving Rhames appear in the inevitable American remake, let's admit that this sweet-natured Swedish comedy doffs more than its hat to The Full Monty. The plot doesn't throw many new ingredients into the formula: Forced by circumstances to fill in as recreation director for a maximum-security prison, an earnest, out-of-work actor leads a motley array of inmates (who see their roles only as future escapees) through rehearsals of a play that he hopes to have them perform in public. (As a side note, the "grim" prisons depicted here, complete with cheery murals and in-room TVs, suggest the average American dorm.) Every putting-on-a-show cliché makes an appearance: group lip-synching, cutesy bits where hardened cons learn the Method, conflicts with authority, last-minute replacements, and so on. Yet the utter familiarity of the narrative is offset by director Daniel Lind Lagerlöf's charming and humane interest in his makeshift thespians. The inmates may be no more than types, but Breaking Out never treats them as such, offering generosity and respect for their struggles while the movie's tone navigates smartly between camp and schmaltz. Jesse Berrett

The Unwanted

Heights Theater, Sunday at 2:00 p.m.

Winner of the festival's "Emerging Filmmaker" grand prize for Best Documentary, this hourlong Turkish-Bulgarian co-production leaves us with more questions than answers. What we do learn without a doubt is that the mid-Eighties exodus of thousands of Turks from Bulgaria to Turkey, and the subsequent closing of the Turkish border without warning, left hundreds of family members separated from one another--resulting in a lucrative trade of child-smuggling over the border, and a string of ghost towns with just a few lonely residents remaining to discuss the old times. But director Adela Peeva scarcely touches on the reasons Communist authorities had enforced this exodus, leaving those unaware of the particulars of Bulgarian politics and history grasping at straws. About 40 minutes into the film, the Turkish subjects describe having been beaten by soldiers, forced to hide their religious practices, discriminated against for their traditional dress, and coerced into changing their names to Bulgarian ones. The tragic plight of these people certainly makes for compelling material, but Peeva would have done well to sketch the historical context more clearly for the international audience. Melissa Christensen

 

Steps of Mindfulness

Bell Auditorium, Sunday at 3:15 p.m.

Thich Nhat Hanh became a Buddhist monk in Vietnam in 1942, at age 16; by the 1960s, he was in Saigon leading a youth peace-and-justice group that rebuilt bombed villages, set up schools, and organized agricultural co-ops. He took the case for peace in Indochina to the likes of Robert McNamara and Martin Luther King, led the Buddhist delegation to the Paris peace talks, and founded an "exile Buddhist community" in France. He still lives there today, teaching meditation, writing poetry, and gardening; and he occasionally travels the world in support of his books, spreading the notion of "engaged Buddhism," a concept that turns what is often seen as a primarily introspective philosophy into a social--dare we say radical--force. Unfortunately, you don't learn any of this from Swiss filmmaker Thomas Lüchinger's documentary, an 85-minute montage chronicling its subject's pilgrimage to India. The master does get plenty of time to (compellingly) explain his ideas, and there's lots of wide-eyed, we're-not-in-Zurich-anymore footage of rivers, palm fronds, and bustling street scenes. So what if the juxtapositions are sometimes forced and sometimes painfully obvious? It's enough to whet your appetite, both for a trip to India and a closer reading of this extraordinary monk's work. Monika Bauerlein

 

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

 

Kadosh

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

 

Beijing Man

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

 

Yesterday Children

Oak Street Cinema, Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

Offering a unique and sad look at the spiritual and familial conflict present in rural Filipino communities, this latest work by director Carlos Siguion-Reyna (whose Harvest Home was one of the highlights of the 1996 festival) is nearly ruined by one of the poorest translation jobs in film history. Still, what remains is a profoundly powerful tale. Set in a small farming village ravaged by a prolonged drought, the film follows several of the town's most disenfranchised children, including a blind girl plagued by nightmares, and a bastard son who doesn't know who his father is. The townsfolk frequently clash over how to end the plague that is destroying their home, with some resorting to church prayer while others turn to the mysticism of a local cult. All of these problems are ultimately meted out upon the children, some of whom have the burden of saving the town (through an unusual ritual that requires the sexual sacrifice of a virgin) while simultaneously remaining subservient to their parents. At times, the movie reads as a scathing indictment of certain "old-fashioned" aspects of Filipino culture, while the director's thorough challenge of the notions of paternalism in a society so dependent upon women makes it obvious why he's seen as one of the Philippines' boldest filmmakers. Kemp Powers

 

Crane World

Bell Auditorium, Tuesday at 9:30 p.m.

At the start of this first feature by Argentine director Pablo Trapero, Rulo (Luis Margani), an affable 49-year-old everyman, is channel-surfing in the dark when suddenly a voice from the TV shouts, "I don't really get it. Why did all this happen?" You may find yourself ruminating on the very same query at the film's conclusion--which, if nothing else, proves that Argentineans suffer from the same existentialist malaise as the rest of us. A former bass player in a one-hit-wonder Seventies band, the divorced, odd-job-working Rulo trains to be a crane operator, only to see his opportunity disappear because of a failed company physical. To support his aspiring-musician son, and his mother, who lives in the country, Rulo then takes a job that's more than a thousand miles away--but this, too, fails to work out. And that's about it. Conspicuously lacking a third act, Crane World hits you over the head with its hard-knocks message while failing to provide even the faintest of insights. Nevertheless, one can't help but like the hero--who, upon coming home late one night to discover that his grown son is using Dad's apartment for a little whoopee, is only initially enraged before shrugging and saying, "All right--I'll be back in 40 minutes." How can you not root for a guy like that? Christopher Thell

Minnesota Short Film/Video Showcase II

Intermedia Arts, Friday at 8:00 p.m.

Co-sponsored by IFP/North and Intermedia Arts, this second of the fest's three Minnesota shorts packages is highlighted by Matt Ehling's "Access," which roughly does for the cable-access artiste what Driver 23 did for the underground metal musician. Using a studiously droll, Errol Morris-like style to examine some of the more ambiguous virtues of freedom of speech, Ehling zooms in on a trio of natural-born hams spreading their gospels through Fridley's ETC Channel 33: Homer Giles, an amateur evangelist with a steadfast belief in the power of his own negligible celebrity; Richard "A-Bomb" Klatte, a Deadhead performance artist-cum-public-access shock jock who's running in the 1998 gubernatorial race on the so-called Strong Party platform; and Mark Hanson, a reactionary libertarian and overzealous prairie-dog hunter whom the liberal Klatte eventually recruits as his running mate. (Together, the pair promises to legalize drugs and prostitution while offering free Subway and Pizza Shack coupons to the several-or-so viewers at home.) At 45 minutes, Ehling's short could use a trim (especially as the current cut has him seeming to lose interest in the preacher). Yet the filmmaker's underlying respect for these tireless camera cravers--whose passion for broadcasting would put most professionals to shame--makes this one of the smartest and most entertaining local films to come out in a year. Among the other noteworthy works in the second showcase are Benno Nelson's "Moment One," Freya Rae's "Palisade," and Ayesha Adu and e.g. bailey's "Village Blues." The third and final showcase, which includes Paul Moehring's 40-minute "Welcome to Cosmos," screens the following night, Saturday, at 8:00 p.m. at Intermedia Arts. Rob Nelson

Journey to the Sun

Bell Auditorium, Saturday at 3:00 p.m.; and Heights Theater, Sunday at 8:00 p.m.

This modest coming-of-age tale from Turkey centers on Mehmet, a young man recently arrived in Istanbul, whose friendship with Berzan, a Kurdish street vendor, provides the spark for his political awakening. Mistakenly identified as a radical, Mehmet soon realizes the profound reach of his city's omnipresent militia. As Mehmet strives to maintain a normal life, to fall in love, to work and relax, the pillars that support his life are toppled one by one, and he emerges within the story as a kind of modern-day Josef K., a man at war with inscrutable institutions. The acting by an entirely nonprofessional cast is first-rate, but even more notable is the gorgeous cinematography by Jacek Petrycki. Through patient and evocative camerawork, Petrycki (who shot several of Krzysztof Kieslowski's films) invokes a tangle of emotions--particularly in the film's second, more lyrical half, which features Mehmet's odyssey across Turkey to its outlying Kurdish zones. A former architect, director Yesim Ustaoglu has shaped his second feature into a mature and sober reflection on Turkey's political edifice. We should consider ourselves lucky that this still fairly unknown gem (which recently received its U.S. premiere in Lincoln Center's "New Directors/New Films" series) has come our way. Shannon McLachlan

The Carriers Are Waiting

Bell Auditorium, Saturday at 9:15 p.m.

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

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