Skin Flicks

The naked truth about putting together a regional showcase like the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival. And a revealing body of blurbs about the best and the not-best of the fest.


The Middle of Nowhere
Oak Street Cinema, Sunday, April 7 at 5:30 p.m.; and Bell Auditorium, Monday, April 8 at 7:15 p.m.

If a bunch of low-budget producers from Germany sat around trying to figure out how to combine suspense, comedy, and action with the smallest number of locations and the cheapest special effects, this is probably what they would come up with. Directed by Nathalie Steinbart with an eye for small-town charm, The Middle of Nowhere begins with countrified smart-ass Marek (Florian Panzer) switching places with a smug yuppie who works for Elysium Financial Consulting. When Marek-as-Yuppie shows up in a jerkwater pub, it is revealed that all the locals had been fleeced by the real Elysium guy--leading Marek to hole up in a convenience store run by a tough young woman who was once raped by the town bully. Then love blossoms, as the yokels set fire to Marek's Porsche. And then the whole thing runs out of gas before the many plot contrivances can snap to attention. Gazing at the overseas market, the German filmmakers seem not to understand that American players such as Harvey Weinstein much prefer their foreign imports to depict either cheeky underachievers (e.g., The Full Monty) or squeaky-clean imparters of wisdom (Chocolat)--not countrified smart-asses posing as yuppies. --Matthew Wilder


Gaudí Afternoon
Bell Auditorium, Saturday, April 6 at 11:15 p.m. and Sunday, April 7 at 7:15 p.m.

How far has onetime indie darling Susan Seidelman fallen? So far that she has slipped off the continent. Directed by Seidelman from a script by James Myhre and Barbara Wilson, this gender-bending screwball noir takes the now-cracked nutshell of her last real hit, 1985's Desperately Seeking Susan, and transposes it to beautiful Barcelona. It's all so...zany. But, as we know, zany rarely translates into good. Judy Davis pouts a lot as a dowdy fiction translator who's convinced by a femme fatale named Frankie (Marcia Gay Harden) to help find Frankie's lover, who has absconded with her child. But, believe it or not, things are not as they seem! Granted, the twists are all sex- and gender-related, so I guess this qualifies as something different. Still, when you toss in Lili Taylor as a butch dyke, and Juliette Lewis as a recovering drug user-turned-new-age babysitter (i.e., as herself), a few charming moments of the expected variety are bound to occur. Based on Wilson's offbeat mystery novel, Gaudí Afternoon strikes me as an advanced exercise in pandering for all involved, but it also works as a divertissement for a forgiving audience predisposed to the issue of alternative family arrangements. Nice architecture, in any case. --Mark Peranson


Time Out
Lagoon Cinema, Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

That the tragic hero of this masterful French drama happens to be a total loser is just one of many existential paradoxes that make the film regularly intriguing but never fully explicable. An aptly complex case study of a dislocated personality (as well as director Laurent Cantet's Oedipal-tinged followup to his Human Resources), Time Out follows Vincent (Aurélien Recoing), a man who, after being laid off from his longtime position at a consulting firm, proceeds to keep the news a secret from his wife (Karen Viard), his kids, and his well-off father. Instead of seeking alternate employment, this consummate liar (or should I say businessman?) fabricates a meaningful identity for himself, claiming to be a UN employee based in Geneva. At the same time, to support his family, Vincent takes to ripping off his former high school friends--a self-destructive enterprise that explodes when a charismatic smuggler (played by former crook Serge Livrozet) pulls him into the underground economy. Cantet's strong yet unobtrusive direction, aided by Recoing's oblique turn as a modern-day Bartleby, creates a stirring portrait of a world that demands far more than the average person could possibly provide. --Mark Peranson


Step On It
Heights Theater, Sunday, April 7 at 9:30 p.m.; and Bell Auditorium, Saturday, April 13 at 11:15 p.m.

This Austrian drama takes the clubgoing crowd to task with its downbeat tale of a young night owl's crash and burn. Evi (Henriette Heinze) is a bartender at a trendy mountain-resort hotel--a job that seems to consist of a series of drinking binges followed by rounds of anonymous sex with multiple partners. Despite its negative effect on her young daughter Paula, this lifestyle remains appealing to Evi, whose enabler friends conveniently turn a blind eye to her dangerous habit of promiscuity and alcohol consumption. While the party girl seems saddened by her estranged relationship with her daughter (who lives with a relative), she continues to choose the bottle over being a mother. Alas, Evi's battle with alcoholism is far from profound, and, even in the face of "tragedy," her halfhearted efforts to rehabilitate herself compel the viewer to feel as apathetic as those in her peer group. Hopefully director Sabine Derflinger's friends are more concerned than Evi's. Because if so, maybe one of them will dare to tell her that adding a drum 'n' bass soundtrack and a Euro-hipster sheen to an Afterschool Special isn't enough to addict a decent audience. --Kemp Powers


Tricky Life
Oak Street Cinema, Sunday, April 7 at 9:30 p.m.; and Metro State University, St. Paul, Tuesday, April 16 at 7:00 p.m.

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