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.

 

Fish and Elephant
Metro State University, St. Paul, Friday, April 5 at 9:00 p.m. and Friday, April 12 at 6:45 p.m.

Billed as the first-ever Chinese lesbian film, this debut feature by former state-broadcasting writer Li Yu uses a cast of nonprofessionals to tell an amiable, artless (and I don't mean that pejoratively) tale of the ups and downs of lesbian love in modern Beijing. Xiao Qun, an elephant keeper at the Beijing Zoo, begins a relationship with Xiao Ling, a morose clothing designer who sells her wares from a booth at the mall. Xiao Qun's life is complicated by her mother, who, after badgering her by phone about Qun's reluctance to get married, decides to come for a visit. When an ex-girlfriend of Qun's, on the lam from the cops, enlists Qun's help, Qun's relationship with Ling suffers a setback or two. Li gets a lot of mileage out of scenes in which Qun reveals her lesbianism to some of her disbelieving male suitors: One of them silently stares and then asks her blood type, perhaps hoping to avoid meeting other women with that type in the future. While nothing earth-shattering actually occurs, the story is honest and heartfelt, and the interplay between Qun and her mom, leading up to Qun's coming out, is genuine and moving. --Jack Vermee

 

The Cabbie
Metro State University, St. Paul, Saturday, April 6 and Saturday, April 13 at 1:00 p.m.

That the most successful relationship in the life of young Taipei cabbie Su Daquan (Chu Chung-Heng) is the love affair that he's carrying on with his car might give you a sense of this darkly comedic charmer co-directed by Chen Yiwen and Chang Hwa-kun. But things change for Su when he's given a ticket by a pert young traffic cop (Rie Miyazawa). Heeding his mom's advice that the hardest part of winning a woman's heart is simply getting her to notice him, Su sets about committing every traffic violation in the book to catch her attention. Su's family is eccentric in the extreme: His dad, who owns the taxi company, seems able to describe the details of the frequent car accidents that occur outside the garage just by hearing them. His sister is a chemist who synthesizes hallucinogens for herself and her friends. And his mom uses her skills as a coroner to judge the freshness of the meat in the local market. Utilizing the entire range of visual techniques--direct addresses to the audience, fast- and slow-motion cinematography, editing that flips back and forth in time--The Cabbie zips along enjoyably, never once stopping for traffic. --Jack Vermee

 

Earth
Bell Auditorium, Saturday, April 6 at 1:00 p.m.; and Metro State University, St. Paul, Sunday, April 21 at 3:00 p.m.

Between 1995 and 2001, the number of family farms in Finland plummeted from 145,000 to 75,000; a gradual decline had begun in the 1960s, but it accelerated rapidly with the formation of the European Union. This documentary was shot during the five years after Finland joined the EU, an arrangement that saw domestic agricultural policy favor large production units over smaller family farms to suit the new marketplace. Earth concentrates on the everyday struggles being waged by the holdovers who still believe in the potential of manual labor. In filming his first documentary, director Veikko Aaltonen goes for a certain amount of poetic distance, following a group of farmers toiling away through the changing seasons, and scarcely inquiring about their personal lives. But as their village is threatened by the closings of the local school and the general store, and Aaltonen returns again and again to irate farmers and fishermen protesting EU policy in Helsinki, the operatic accompaniment of a warbling children's choir (and not one but two cow births) becomes too much for the viewer to handle. Excessively valorizing the efforts and lifestyles of these lovers of the land, Earth chugs along its predestined path like a rickety old tractor. --Mark Peranson

 

The Year Zero
Heights Theater, Saturday, April 6 at 1:00 p.m.; and Bell Auditorium, Sunday, April 7 at 12:30 p.m.

Though its title suggests science fiction, this is a documentary about Mayan shamanist prophecies of the year 2012: their calendar's "year zero." Dutch director Wiek Lenssen profiles Don Julian and Wandering Wolf, who believe that 2012 offers the promise of both apocalypse and rebirth, and structures the film around the 13-day Mayan week. The calendar gives each day a special significance, which the Mayans see as key to the organization of their culture. In fact, they trace materialism and the destruction of the environment back to flaws in the Western calendar. Lenssen begins with beautiful images of sea and sky, then goes on to juxtapose the elements with decidedly ugly scenes of Guatemalan village markets and roads. The two subjects agreed to participate in the film as a means of getting their message out (one of them breaks the fourth wall by conducting a healing ritual for the soundman's relationship problems), yet the director's own perspective remains a mystery. Initially fascinating, The Year Zero becomes bland and repetitive, feeling more like a Discovery Channel program than a film. --Steve Erickson

 

Mirror Image
Metro State University, St. Paul, Saturday, April 6 at 3:00 p.m. and Saturday, April 13 at 9:00 p.m.

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