The Greatest Shows on Earth

Uzbek beauties! Swedish peaceniks! Iranian mummies! A guide to the high-wire act otherwise known as the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival.


This Is My Moon


Grace Maksimik

In Sri Lanka's northern war zone, a Tamil woman takes refuge in a bunker inhabited by a deserting Sinhalese soldier. The rape that ensues seems less an atrocity than a foregone act of hopelessness. Having lost everything, the woman stoically follows the soldier home to his impoverished rural border village, where he soon finds tilling the reluctant soil to be even more futile than winning the war. Writer-director Asoka Handagama explores the churning emotions that roil beneath this poverty-induced fatalism. Two young men tussle like lions over the village's one beauty; the dagger-eyed Tamil woman inspires jealousy and awe; a pregnant war widow weeps over her dead husband's pyre; a young pacifist farmer rages at the cheap sheen of his friend's sudden, soldierly cache. The Tamil woman is always at the center, a fetishized foreign object, mostly mute and thoroughly transfixing. Her loneliness is offset by an incendiary sense of justice that explodes in shocking symbolic acts and rare spates of speech. At one point, after following her disinclined captor to the work field, she responds to his exasperation by calmly grasping a thorny branch, running its spikes through her hand. The film's own expression of frustration is enhanced by Handagama's lingering views of the expansive landscape: The big sky, low vegetation, monastic crags, and enormous ocean provide a rich symbolic palette of ocher, olive, and vermilion, and a rich backdrop for an exploration of the personal politics of war. Handagama will appear in person to introduce both screenings. Laura Sinagra


With a Friend Like Harry


A minor hit at Cannes last year, this très amusant French thriller proceeds from the premise that, like Norman Bates impersonating Mother, a clever director can still make a killing by dressing up as the Master of Suspense. In the Jimmy Stewart role, the perpetually mussed Michel (Laurent Lucas) is a professional who's hobbled by infirmity--in this case, by a couple of screaming young kids and a pair of equally trying parents. Won't anyone help fulfill this poor author's dream of having a few quiet moments to write? Enter Harry (Sergi Lopez), the stranger at a roadside rest stop who claims to be Michel's old high school friend, and his ticket to creativity. Permeating nearly every scene with casual menace, co-writer/director Dominik Moll (a beleaguered parent himself) adds a little of the old French ambiguïté to the Hitchcock formula: The stranger may be offering to "swap murders," but not out loud. And who does he want taken care of in return? (And: Is our passive hero an artist who's worth patronage of any kind?) The trouble with Harry is that, like Harry, it overstays its welcome. Still, the movie is enlivened by an acerbic wit that's pointedly directed at the yuppie breeder: Could it be that all Michel needs to make him happy and productive is an SUV with air conditioning? Rob Nelson


L'Amour, L'Argent, L'Amour

AT 11:00 P.M. AND SATURDAY, APRIL 14 AT 11:15 P.M.

Actually, this German road movie is more like Sex, ATMs, Sex. Yes, there is a love story here, and a quite moving one at times. But, as befits the tale of a young prostitute and her boyfriend, the material circumstances of the former's profession keep returning the romance to its more depressing constraints. David falls for fellow Berliner Marie after seeing her streetwalking, and he convinces her to quit and go on the road with him. Soon, however, they run out of money, and she returns to sex work to support them. If you're like me, you don't need yet another movie that rubs your face in the awfulness and degradation of such work, and the film bats only .500 in its attempts to use prostitution as a metaphor for other forms of human activity. Still, many elements of L'Amour, L'Argent, L'Amour make the often difficult-to-watch aspects of the story worth the effort--or almost, anyway. In particular, Sabine Timoteo gives a raw performance that shifts without warning between kittenish playfulness and body-wrenching anguish. And director Philip Gröning's jump cuts work as jump cuts are supposed to, suggesting the disjunctive and unpredictable nature of the characters' lives. Meanwhile, the often poetic deployment of superimposed images (and Velvet Underground and Yo La Tengo songs) give many sequences a welcome, hushed beauty. Derek Nystrom


Poles Apart


Winner of the D.L. Mabery Award for the best local feature of the year 2000, this documentary by Minnesota-based director Greg Stiever follows Ann Bancroft--leader of the AWE (American Women's Expedition), and the first woman ever to reach the North Pole--along with three other adventurers on the first all-gal trek across the tundra of Antarctica. Most of us couldn't make it across a frozen Lake Harriet, let alone 600 miles of ice, but Bancroft, Anne Dal Vera, Sue Giller, and Sunniva Sorby prove plenty fierce under pressure, each pulling at least twice her own weight on sleds. Although much of the film is devoted to the daily hardships of working as a team in order to survive and then succeed, Poles Apart falls short in explaining the reasons behind a dramatic breakdown of group dynamics that causes tensions to run high. In any case, the guilty pleasure of a hot bath after this movie would seem well in order. The film screens along with the Mabery Award winner for best local short, "The Quiet Storm," based on the true story of a young woman who struggles to escape a violent relationship. Caroline Palmer

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