You've got to love the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival, where Gold Pass-holding VIPs wait out in the rain for another late-starting show (and eventually enter the theater unchecked), preceded by a friendly reminder to consult "festogram" flyers for inevitable screening cancelations and a promotional trailer for the 2001...South by Southwest Film Festival! Where almost an entire reel of a new Swedish comedy runs slightly out of focus and the audience loves it anyway, the laughter of Swedes in the house alerting the rest of us to the presence of in-jokes. Where viewers clog the lobby on their way out of the screening, so eager are they to fill out the audience surveys that may or may not have a bearing on the selection of "Best of the Fest" titles that appear in week three. (The red-hot Swedish comedy, currently awaiting release through the upstart IFC Films, isn't likely to enjoy another festival screening no matter what the feedback.)
Like I said: You've got to love it. After all, anyone with healthy corporate interests and a Park City ski pass could assemble the longed-for "Midwest Sundance," whereas the particular charms of the MSPIFF would be nigh on impossible to emulate. And yet the fest's second week sports a fair number of pre-established "buzz" titles, too, including the allegorical Chinese epic Platform; the first American film by committed lefty Ken Loach, Bread and Roses; the so-called Mexican Pulp Fiction, Amores Perros; the belated comeback of New German Cinema pioneer Volker Schlöndorff, The Legend of Rita; and the world premiere of the newly completed final cut of Bill's Gun Shop, the most nationally recognized homegrown indie since Driver 23.
All of these, along with 28 other films screening in week two, 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 your own eyes, who knows what treasures you may unearth without our help?
Juan, I Forgot I Can't Remember
Bell Auditorium, Wednesday at 7:15 p.m.
Clocking in at a little more than an hour, Juan Carlos Rulfo's spare, desert-dry documentary pays fitting tribute to his father, noted Mexican writer Juan Rulfo, and ponders the heart's wanderings more generally. Stitching together footage of his mother recounting her courtship, interviews with friends and neighbors, and contemplative tracking shots, the director meanders through past and present in a style made famous by his father. Juan Rulfo's masterpiece, the novel Pedro Páramo, presented a surreal vision of a village dominated day and night by the title character's spirit, one in which dreams, reality, and even death seemed bent to his will. Following his mother down the streets on which she met her husband, Rulfo suggests that all such meetings are both common and special, everyday flirtations and something more. "Just by looking at me," Mom recalls, "he had already done everything." But the real star here is the scenery, both natural and human. Shooting his subjects in their homes or against endless desert, Rulfo lingers on cracked, seamed campesino faces with generosity and real warmth. Quietly celebrating the dignity and wit that keeps them vigorous, he aptly lets them have the last word. "Everything finishes," remarks one man. "But there isn't another life that will be as pretty." Jesse Berrett
Fallen Angels' Paradise
Oak Street Cinema, Wednesday at 9:30 p.m.
In the latest issue of Cineaste, New Yorker reviewer David Denby uses the very notion of taking Egyptian cinema seriously as an example of arty film critics' snobbish excesses. Alas, this Egyptian comedy would only confirm his worst prejudices. Adapting a short story by Brazilian author Jorge Amado, director Ossama Fawzi transplants it to Egypt. There, its portrayal of a low-life subculture may have come as a real shock, but in our more jaded milieu, it's rather ho-hum. Fallen Angels' Paradise kicks off with the death of a homeless man from a drug overdose before revealing that he used to be a respectable middle-class family man. The movie proceeds to bring the deceased's two worlds into contact, as both lay claim to his body: His friends from the underworld refuse to accept his death, hauling his corpse around (à la Weekend at Bernie's) and continuing to party all night; while the "solid citizens" prove just as venal but far more pompous. Fawzi yearns to express his obvious preference for the gamblers and hookers, but all the actors are directed to be as shrill as possible; each character seems equally obnoxious. Perhaps Emir Kusturica or Shohei Imamura could have handled the movie's over-the-top tone with more finesse. As it is, Fawzi's Paradise looks a lot like hell. Steve Erickson
Lagoon Cinema, Thursday at 7:00 p.m.
Boasting the highest canine mortality rate since Verhoeven's Hollow Man, Alejandro González Iñárritu's audacious tripartite thriller opens with a cautionary note that no animals were harmed in the movie's making--no doubt to allay the usual gringo fears that life is cheap south of the border. But violence against animals on film seems more shocking and taboo than violence against humans--a foible this trio of intertwined stories exploits to disturbing (and frequently dazzling) effect. Set in modern-day Mexico City, Amores Perros opens with a spectacularly jarring car crash and flips back and forth to show how the victims and onlookers collided at the scene. The three stories involve a lovesick dogfighter looking for a last big score; a model who prompts a literal homewrecking; and a hired gun whose bloody deeds come back to bite those closest to him. Shot in a gritty, all-caps style not unlike the Mexican scenes in Traffic, the first third whips up a lurid fury, awash in lust and the blood of mangled dogs and lovers, while the subsequent stories work to maintain the momentum with rhyming plots and ballsy jolts of violence. The movie's most novel aspect is the linking device of the dogs, which function as reflections of their owners, only stripped of self-delusion. If love, to Bukowski, was a dog from hell, then love in Amores Perros is a dog that chews up its rivals--or is chewed upon by the nasty things hiding under the floorboards. Jim Ridley