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.

Marking the debut of Hsiao-Ya-chuan, who honed his skills as an assistant director on Hou Hsiao-hsien's Flowers of Shanghai, this playful Taiwanese film is set mostly in a Taipei pawnshop run by the twentysomething Tung-ching (a droll Lee Jiunn-jye). Lackadaisical by nature, Tung-ching spends much of his time hanging around the shop with Eiko, a girlfriend he met on the Internet, who's fascinated with palmistry--in no small part because Tung-ching's fingerprints were erased in a motorcycle accident three months prior. Since then, the young man decided that his life would be ruled by a series of random incidents, a scenario he pursues in full when a mysterious woman appears to pawn her watch. The alternate possibilities that she brings to Tung-ching's low-energy life--they hawk goods together on the subway, for example--provides the opaque mirror image of the title, even if the idle reality of the pawnshop is actually more involving for the viewer. While Mirror Image begs comparison to the work of Wong Kar-wai in both the construction of characters on the basis of a collection of quirks, and in the flitting, romantic subterfuges that make up the slender plot, the movie's rhythms are in fact quite original. --Mark Peranson

Secret Love
Heights Theater, Saturday, April 6 at 3:00 p.m.; and Oak Street Cinema, Sunday, April 7 at 7:30 p.m.

This marvelous Swiss movie really ought to be called Antonia's Story--although the chosen name probably gives it a more market-friendly allure. In any case, with its tale of a deaf nun who falls for a deaf pickpocket, Secret Love has more than enough forbidden passion to justify that suggestive title. Antonia (Emmanuelle Loborit) is a headstrong young woman who has chosen life in an idyllic rural nunnery partly for the maternal protection offered by the residents. But when Antonia begins volunteering at an inner-city shelter, she discovers that, in fact, she can fend for herself just fine. She also discovers a kindred soul--a deaf Lithuanian man (Lars Otterstedt) who was once in the circus, but who now steals wallets to get by. Without spoiling what happens next, I'll just say that the friendship between these two is portrayed with the sort of relish that you don't get from The Sound of Music. The acting is perfect, the scenery is beautiful, the pacing is slow in the best possible way. And just when you think the filmmakers may have turned cruel, the movie expands, becoming something bigger, deeper, less clichéd, and more triumphant than it had seemed. --Kate Sullivan

 

Sisters
Bell Auditorium, Saturday, April 6 at 3:15 p.m.; and Heights Theater, Monday, April 8 at 9:00 p.m.

Russian superstar Sergei Bodrov Jr. (Prisoner of the Mountains, Brother) makes an engaging directorial debut with this picaresque, which is equal parts family-bonding drama and gangster movie. Thirteen years old, deadly serious, and harboring the bizarre ambition to be a sniper in Chechnya, Sveta (Oksana Akinjshina) is forced to get along with her spoiled eight-year-old half-sister Dina (Katya Gorina) after the latter's mobster dad goes to war with a rival gang and turns the girls into the target of a kidnapping plot. Compelled to hit the road on their own, Sveta and Dina come into contact with the lower echelons of St. Petersburg society but manage to elude the gangsters through plucky determination--and the use of a rifle. Bodrov's achievement here is threefold: He provides a tour of the misery faced by the average Russian on a daily basis; he shows how gangsterism is so pervasive that absolutely everyone is affected on some level; and he tells an engrossing tale in the process. Given Akinjshina's striking beauty, a charming cameo by Bodrov as a thug who loses a shooting contest to Sveta, and a soundtrack featuring songs by the late Russian rock god Victor Tsoi, it's no surprise that Sisters mowed down the box-office competition in its homeland. --Jack Vermee

 

Emil and the Detectives
Oak Street Cinema, Saturday, April 6 at 3:30 p.m.; and Heights Theater, Sunday, April 7 at 1:00 p.m.

En route to a vacation in Berlin while his divorced, infantile father recuperates from a broken arm (!), 12-year-old Emil is robbed of his life's savings by a vampiric Teuton--which is what happens when you leave a hefty roll of deutschemarks peeking out of your breast pocket. With the help of "The Detectives"--a self-named, street-savvy, ragtag band of hip-hopping, socially diverse young'uns (including a tomboy love interest named Pony)--Emil seeks to find the criminal, get his money back, and buy his dad a driver's license on the black market. This latest screen version of Erich Kästner's classic 1928 children's novel pales in the shadow of the more high-flash Spy Kids, especially as Berlin appears more of a kids' playground than the seething heart of corruption. Though essentially a children's fantasy, Emil aims for an approach in tune with the realities of dysfunctional family life: The shadow of divorce and inept parenting hangs over the movie--indeed, to a moralistic fault. The finale involves an unbelievable show of citywide unity that reminds me of the proto-fascist mob scene at the end of Fritz Lang's M, but I'm sure the targeted preteen viewership won't be all that troubled when confronted by their screen counterparts' newfound power. --Mark Peranson

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