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.



From the Queen to the Chief Executive
Metro State University, St. Paul, Thursday, April 4 at 6:45 p.m. and Saturday, April 13 at 3:00 p.m.

If you thought Hong Kong cinema was all swordsmanship and balletics, check out this tabloid-style political drama, which dramatizes the plight of young prisoners who remain in limbo, having slipped through the cracks amid the 1997 hand-over to China. In the telling, the story becomes a metaphor for identity and power issues associated with the switch: These juveniles are being held under a provision that was originally intended to provide early release for good behavior, but which actually has them languishing indefinitely "at Her Majesty's pleasure." There is, of course, no "Majesty" after the hand-over, nor is there anyone eager to interpret what her "pleasure" might involve if there were. Director Herman Yau's previous work has been in the sensationalistic vein, and here he exploits those skills to jarring effect in scenes such as the one that depicts the initial violence that landed the teens in prison. The players are solid: David Li exudes resigned cool in his prison blues; mainland pop star Ai Jing is Aaliyah-like as a troubled teen looking for a kindred spirit in Li's character; and Steven Tang is strong as the civil rights crusader who represents the prisoners' only chance. --Laura Sinagra


The Map of Sex and Love
Metro State University, St. Paul, Thursday, April 4 and Friday, April 12 at 8:45 p.m.

Despite a title that suggests otherwise, this Hong Kong movie isn't about cartographers and steamy carnality. It is, however, a melancholy video feature that combines essayistic documentary techniques with a dramatic core--depicting the state of things in post-millennium Hong Kong, and offering a treatise on what it's like to be gay at this fractious moment. Wei Ming is a Chinese-American man from New York, visiting HK to make a documentary about the proposed Hong Kong Disneyland; Larry, who sometimes calls himself Rodolpho, after the character in Puccini's La Bohème, is a longhaired dancer. The two commence an affair and befriend a prickly young woman named Mimi, who has been traumatized by events in Belgrade years before. The Map of Sex and Love is a bit too self-regarding and even pretentious in its early stages. (Narrator Wei has a penchant for posing questions such as, "Is a world without ritual just a disorienting void?") But the film gathers force as it progresses, eventually offering a sensitive treatment of the growing bond between the three characters, and their desire to come to grips with their problems--and those of Hong Kong as well. --Jack Vermee

Heights Theater, Friday, April 5 at 7:00 p.m.; Oak Street Cinema, Monday, April 8 at 7:15 p.m.; and Bell Auditorium, Sunday, April 21 at 1:00 p.m.

When Finnish author Kari Hotakainen (Martti Suosalo) hits a commercial slump, his publisher demands that he start writing in the directly confessional, diaristic style that's currently moving units. Trouble is, Kari views his life as a lackluster series of mostly passive nonadventures. Desperate to reinvent himself as an authority-bucking rebel (thereby generating some salacious autobiographical fodder), he dons a leather jacket and makes a down payment on an Alfa Romeo, only to get tangled up with a fast-driving rapscallion named Pera (Janne Hyytiainen), whose temper is as maladjusted as his mullet. This satirical film from Finland is based on a novel by the real-life Hotakainen, a writer who obviously has fun skewering his own postmodern instincts in the first person. Both Suosalo and Hyytiainen are very funny, and the daft musings of their supporting characters--a flatulent used-car dealer, a police inspector who waxes passionate over the virtue of the criminal proletariat--help to drive much of the humor across the cultural divide. Some of the picture's more high-minded jabs at Finnish society may prove elusive to anyone whose acquaintance with contemporary Scandinavia ends at the tailpipe of his Volvo, but director Kari Väänänen's shrewd visuals keep things moving at a confident and entertaining clip. --James Diers


Bell Auditorium, Friday, April 5 at 7:15 p.m. and Monday, April 8 at 9:15 p.m.

This strident, unsubtle Turkish farce is set in 1974, as television makes its first incursion into a village in southeastern Turkey, turning the lives of its citizens upside down. The film quickly escalates into a battle of (half-)wits: sleazy outdoor-cinema mogul Latif (Cezmi Baskin) and buttoned-down mayor Nazmi (Altan Erkekli), the latter responsible for bringing the "picture box" to town in the first place. Since TV reception proves an ongoing problem, the mayor and his flunkies--including a reputed holy man who fixes radios in his spare time--make a pilgrimage to nearby Mount Artos, with unforeseen results. An abrupt ending that tosses in the Middle East's never-ending political unrest via Nazmi's hunky soldier son only further muddies already murky waters. Directors Yilmaz Erdogan and Omer Faruk Sorak can't make up their minds about whether to play up the Ealing Studios-style high jinks, to warm the cockles of our hearts, or to make a heavy-handed political statement. Vaguely reminiscent of Czech New Wave pioneer Jiri Menzel's earthy "local yokel" comedies (but without Menzel's much-vaunted charm and laughs), Vizontele presents a simplistic metaphor for Turkey's pitched war between religious fundamentalism and Western values. Touristy exoticism will only take you so far in today's overcrowded, multicultural cinematic universe. --Milan Paurich

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