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.

 

Betelnut Beauty
Metro State University, St. Paul, Saturday, April 6 at 5:00 p.m. and Saturday, April 13 at 7:00 p.m.

Like Requiem for a Dream, this Taiwanese film from director Lin Cheng-sheng is a stylized chronicle of a young couple's quest for security, mutual affection, and illicit dividends in an unwelcoming city. But quite unlike Darren Aronofsky's fearjerker, Betelnut Beauty is a modern love story whose soft, subtle exchanges prove more memorable than its fleetingly hypnotic urban imagery. The willfully naive relationship between Feng (Chang Chen, who played Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's hunky desert rogue) and Fei-fei (Taiwanese pop waif Sinje) is built on an oddly quiet and convincing chemistry. More than good looks and good nookie, they share a sense of youthful aimlessness and big-city disaffection--although the lovers deal with this ennui in very different ways. While Fei-fei defiantly reacts against her protective mom by moving out and selling buzz-inducing betelnuts to get by--a vocation scandalized by prostitute trappings and social taboo--Feng can't decide whether to seize new opportunities in petty street crime or to follow his responsible friend into the bakery business. Neither of the two has much in the way of family support, so it's not surprising to see them shack up in search of some much-needed emotional stability. Sadly, there's tragedy in the cards. --James Diers

 

Queens of Dust
Heights Theater, Saturday, April 6 at 5:15 p.m.; and Bell Auditorium, Tuesday, April 16 at 9:15 p.m.

This odd--and oddly moving--documentary (a.k.a. Berlin Gleaming) follows three German cleaning women through their daily lives, looking past their smocks and kerchiefs to locate their dashed hopes and current dreams. It's not another working-class-pride flick (even though the women do appreciate a well-polished window), but rather an intimate portrait of women's lives as seen through their work and their relationships. Gisela, who's in her 50s, gets up at 3:00 a.m. to clean an office building; her husband, a retired janitor, is an obsessive clean freak at home. During one interview, Gisela chain-smokes in the pair's modest living room while hubby fanatically dusts their furniture with a paintbrush. Delia, in her 40s, has always wanted to be an artist; one of her clients is an elderly painter. One wonderful scene has the two working side by side: Whose work is more important? The most fascinating of the bunch is Ingeborg. A talented singer who performs mostly for nursing-home patients, she's a lively woman in her 50s, with several bad marriages behind her. Queens of Dust is low-budget vérité filmmaking without eye candy; the spotlight is on the three subjects, whose search for love and respect is undeniably poignant. --Amy Bracken Sparks

 

Lan Yu
Metro State University, St. Paul, Saturday, April 6 at 7:00 p.m.

The best film by Hong Kong director Stanley Kwan (The Actress) in a number of years (take that unenthusiastic compliment as you wish), this stripped-down gay love story juxtaposes questions of sexual identity with recent economic and political changes in China. Skillfully adapting a novel (Beijing Story) posted anonymously on the Internet, Kwan follows the entanglements between Lan Yu (newcomer Liu Ye), a young, idealistic architecture student from the country, and Handong (veteran stage actor Hu Jan), an older, shady businessman and the promiscuous son of a Communist Party official. Though Handong sees it as a one-night stand, their first meeting radically changes Lan Yu's life, to the extent that he refuses to leave Handong in his past. The openly gay Kwan replaces the novel's lurid eroticism with a subdued mood of romantic doom (both the editing and production design are by Wong Kar-wai collaborator William Chang), and he tosses in plenty of ellipses to keep the movie flying from 1988 to 1993. But Kwan's ultimate goal may well be to see how much he can get away with. Surreptitiously shot in Beijing without government authorization, Lan Yu not only includes verboten sexual content, but places its hero at Tiananmen Square. --Mark Peranson

 

Wooly Boys
Heights Theater, Saturday, April 6 at 7:00 p.m.

For those of us who love the craggy, laconic male stars of the Sixties and Seventies, a movie that boasts Peter Fonda, Kris Kristofferson, and Keith Carradine would seem a little slice of cinematic heaven. Plus, part of it was shot right here in the Twin Cities! Too bad the co-screenwriters were responsible for The Bikini Carwash Company and the recent Facts of Life reunion special. The story wouldn't be out of place on the Fox Family channel: Stoney (Fonda), who runs a North Dakota sheep ranch with his brother Shuck (Kristofferson), is dying, so his estranged daughter Kate (Robin Dearden) tries to put him in a Minneapolis hospital. Shuck tracks Stoney down and, with Stoney's grandson Charles (Joseph Mazzello) in tow, hijacks a hearse to bring him back to his ranch. Along the way, Stoney tries to show the cyber-literate, hip-hop-listening Charles about How to Be a Real Man, and, in an animal-birthing sequence that I recall seeing on a particularly subpar episode of M*A*S*H, about the Circle of Life on the Farm. Kristofferson and Fonda still manage terrific chemistry, despite the absolute crap dialogue that they're given. But there's little else to recommend a film that's so insultingly condescending to its rural characters. --Derek Nystrom

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