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.

 

Waiting for the Messiah

BELL AUDITORIUM, TUESDAY AT 7:15 P.M.; AND
GALTIER PLAZA CINEMA, SUNDAY, APRIL 15 AT 7:15 P.M.

This Argentinean drama unfolds like some beginner's guide to being Jewish, complete with a lavish wedding, funeral, bar mitzvah, Hanukkah celebration, and even a discussion about the intricacies of circumcision. The film's lead character, Ariel Goldstein, struggles with living in an isolated Jewish community in Buenos Aires. After his mother dies, he feels as if his fate is set: He'll be expected to marry his Jewish girlfriend, to take over his father's Jewish restaurant and reception center, and to start making babies. But Ariel is determined to become a filmmaker and escape these rigid cultural confines--and falling in love with a lesbian gentile makes for a fine start. Others of the film's interesting story lines and characters, including one middle-aged banker who becomes something of a professional dumpster, can't help getting subsumed by the multiple "this is Judaism" segments. Such remedial explanations, however, take on a whole new meaning in a country such as Argentina, where many Jews were persecuted in the Seventies, and where cultural ignorance still exists. Come to think of it, maybe the film's explanations aren't so remedial in the Midwest, either. Shalom.Jeremy Swanson

 

Little Sister

OAK STREET CINEMA, TUESDAY AT 7:30 P.M.; AND HEIGHTS THEATER, SUNDAY, APRIL 22 AT 7:00 P.M.

This unfortunately titled Finnish film is nothing short of fantastic in one important and increasingly rare sense: Its lead, Vera Kiiskinen, is a true actress. She's not a star in the way we think of Julia Roberts in full Brockovich glow, or in the delectable manner of that confection Juliette Binoche. Kiiskinen is not a mouthpiece, and she's certainly not window dressing, her great beauty aside. Rather: She's a pro. One can easily imagine her fine features and quiet strength taking charge in a stage production of Sophie Treadwell's Machinal. Indeed, Kiiskinen's portrayal of Katri Ruuska, a Helsinki nurse serving the wounded in the Soviet/Finnish continuation war of the early Forties, allows Little Sister to transcend even a thin plot and an underwhelming finale. Although the story of a young widow who must choose between her soldier lover and an embittered patient is familiar to anyone who has ever seen a daytime soap opera, it's truly thrilling to watch how meticulously Kiiskinen conveys a woman's sense of need along with her equal desire for dignity and duty--and without a touch of irony. Amy Borden

 

ID Swiss

BELL AUDITORIUM, TUESDAY AT 9:15 P.M.

A kind of Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Swiss, this collection of short films by young, "New Generation" Swiss directors amounts to a fascinating consideration of the possibilities for--and difficulties of--national identity. Mostly conveying the perspectives of foreign-born, or children of foreign-born, Swiss (one-fifth of Switzerland's population is made up of foreign-born residents without citizenship), the shorts include both straight documentaries and cinematic essays that mix fictional and nonfictional modes in inventive and entertaining ways. For example, Kamal Musale's "Raclette Curry," about a mixed-race (Indian and Swiss) man's desire for a woman whose "white skin reminds me of my mother's," is a clever meditation on cross-racial desire, one that makes more of the erotic valences of food in its brief ten minutes than Chocolat does in its entire running time. The shorts are interspersed with telling statistics about the country's demographic and economic changes: After "Raclette Curry," we're told that the divorce rate for marriages between foreign-born men and Swiss women is 80 percent. These factoids make the film more than the sum of its parts and demonstrate the thoughtfulness its producers. Indeed, by employing filmmakers whose connection to Swiss identity is complicated by some other cultural affiliation, ID Swiss succeeds in denaturalizing Swiss identity itself--and, in so doing, it offers a vision of multiracial, post-national identity that's more than relevant to the U.S. experience as well. Derek Nystrom

 

Flowers From Another World

OAK STREET CINEMA, TUESDAY AT 9:30 P.M.;
AND BELL AUDITORIUM, SUNDAY, APRIL 15 AT 9:15 P.M.

In this pleasant Spanish drama directed by Iciar Bollain, three women from different walks of life find love and sorrow among the men of a rural Spanish village. They arrive as part of a large caravan of single ladies who are there for the annual bachelor festival, an event created by the mayor to deal with the lack of eligible women for the town's many widowed and otherwise available men. (The plot is almost identical to that of Herman, USA.) The film follows the three women's ensuing relationships over the course of a year: Patricia, a Dominican immigrant with two children, marries Alfonso, who still lives with his hostile mother; Milady, a flirtatious young Cuban, hooks up with a jealous older man who's having a hard time accepting his advancing age; and Marirrosi, an urban professional, carries on a long-distance relationship with the festival's organizer. This could easily have turned into cloying, romantic fluff, but it doesn't, thanks to the nicely understated script (co-written by Bollain and novelist Julio Llamazares) and the fine ensemble performances. Under Bollain's direction, the movie attains a natural, bittersweet quality without resorting to forced sentimentality--an approach undoubtedly influenced by her experiences as an actress with directors such as Ken Loach and the great Victor Erice. Reece Pendleton

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