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.

SKIN FLICKS

One occupational hazard of being a film critic--among many, including increased susceptibility to eyestrain, lower-back disfigurement, post-dramatic stress disorder, and severe social anxiety (I could go on)--is a dangerous unfamiliarity with what it feels like to watch a movie with a paying audience. Obliged by early deadlines and the consumer-guide function of popular criticism to see movies alone, or in the loud company of totally psyched radio-giveaway winners, or in a group of three or four fellow professionals who scarcely acknowledge each other's presence (that social anxiety thing again), reviewers generally miss the firsthand knowledge of how a film truly meets its public.

Which isn't to say that the goal of the critic--except maybe the critic at an industry-servicing paper such as Variety--is to adopt the consensus view of a movie that no one has seen yet. Still, I have to acknowledge my deep satisfaction with the news last summer that opening-night crowds watching A.I. at Mann's Chinese Theater were convulsed in fits of inappropriate laughter. The critic, whether exercising his own artificial intelligence or not, couldn't help thinking: See--I was right!

Anyway, if there's a risk that comes with watching too many movies in a sort of plastic-bubble environment, I should be out of danger within a few short weeks. Hold your applause: I'm not quitting--just preparing to take a monthlong paternity leave. In the meantime, I'll have U Film Society's 20th-annual Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival, and with it the welcome opportunity to catch several dozen of the more than 120 movies screening over 21 days at 7 area theaters to some of the most appreciative paying audiences in the world.

One occupational hazard of being a paper's film editor (among many...) is that there often isn't time to watch all the movies being reviewed by other critics--particularly while editing coverage of a massive enterprise such as the MSPIFF. Indeed, I have a lot of catching up to do this year. And judging from the capsule reviews collected below--easily the most positive batch of festival blurbs in the nine years (!) that I've been tracking this behemoth in City Pages--there's a lot to look forward to. (Note: We'll follow this upbeat report on the MSPIFF's first week with coverage in subsequent issues of movies screening in weeks two and three.)

In addition, while our accompanying feature about the regrettably marginalized status of the MSPIFF in industry eyes--"The Flyover Festival?"--reveals that many "A-list" fest titles are off-limits to U Film, there are a handful of movies I saw at Sundance and Cannes this past year that I'm eager to revisit: Martin Scorsese's impassioned survey of Italian cinema, My Voyage to Italy; Claude Lanzmann's quietly devastating Holocaust documentary Sobibor; and French director Laurent Cantet's ingenious Time Out, whose tricky tale of an unemployed businessman will likely provide the perfect precursor to my own hiatus.

Speaking of which: Before then, if the fates allow, I'm hoping to squeeze in two more screenings (on April 6 and 13) of Hou Hsiao-hsien's rare and wonderful Millennium Mambo, whose chest-thumping techno soundtrack and cobalt-blue mise en scène I haven't been able to get out of my mind for more than...um, nine months. But of course, that plan is entirely contingent on whether another new masterpiece--Untitled, as we're calling it for now--comes out on schedule. --Rob Nelson

Fred Petters for City Pages

How to Program an International Film Showcase When the Industry Can't Find Your State on the Map

THE FLYOVER FESTIVAL?

BY MARK PERANSON

You want glamour? Go to Cannes or Toronto. You want cinema? Well, you can still go to Cannes or Toronto--or to Venice, too. But if you're willing to settle for movies--the sort that are shopped around at industry-only "market" smorgasbords in Cannes or Berlin, where the festival competition is merely the caviar in a film glutton's feast--then you might as well stay in the Twin Cities.

With a catalog of some 120 titles, dominated by the sort of world cinema that doesn't tend to win awards overseas (or even compete for them), the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival--now in its 20th year of operation under veteran fest director Al Milgrom and his handful of sleepless cineastes at U Film Society--occupies a territory far below that of the global-festival A-list. It also resides underneath those larger stateside festivals that have more history (San Francisco), more ticket sales (Seattle), or more industry credibility (Sundance). You might say the MSPIFF sits somewhere on the "R-list," being a regional festival on a par with events of similar size and scope in places such as Cleveland and Denver. And it ain't easy being on the R-list: When producers and distributors respond to the mention of your festival with a smirk of indifference, it means that putting such an event together will be accompanied by sacrifices of all sorts.

Indeed, it's a minor miracle that the MSPIFF, a nonprofit dinghy in an ocean full of money-grubbing sharks, continues to exist on its shoestring-and-popcorn budget, and near the bottom of an industry player's list of priorities. It might sound like a cliché, but it's true: Money matters. Securing a print of a film for a single festival screening can cost several hundred dollars--which is a great deal of money to the likes of U Film. Simply put, some festivals have more cash, thanks to corporate sponsorships; a greater degree of audience support, because of the size of the host city; or, in the case of festivals in countries more committed to the cultivation of art than the U.S., some government seed money that allows for a salaried staff to raise corporate dough. Commerce, you see, draws sales agents: rapacious hustlers whose companies hold the worldwide rights to the vast majority of international festival fare, and who'd much rather sell their wares to a national distributor than deal with R-list festival programmers for a mere one or two play dates.

With distributors and filmmakers, sales agents form the triad of bodies that control what films we see--and they often consider Toronto as the only North American festival to provide any financial benefit from a public screening. Conversely, a lower-profile outfit such as the MSPIFF--heroically held together each winter by a bare-bones staff whose fulltime duties at U Film during the rest of the year leave them little opportunity to pursue greater financial gains for the fest--will naturally offer a program that balances safer, audience-friendly films (Gaudí Afternoon, anyone?) with off-the-festival-map properties from Rwanda and Wales. It will also need to rely on the generosity of others: national film institutes, the odd benevolent distributor, and those smaller companies that can glean at least some benefit out of the transaction--even if it's merely the satisfaction of furthering that old 20th-century concept of cultural exchange.

Indeed, for all the praise heaped annually (and justly) upon Milgrom and his staff, the credit for this local phenomenon is shared by a host of invisible angels in faraway places. People such as the ones profiled in this article: a European film institute officer who makes the most of money collected from the average taxpayer in Denmark; a Toronto-based film executive whose fledgling distribution company compels him to consider Minneapolis as a "real market"; and a cult documentarian who has cleared space in his busy schedule to stop in the Twin Cities--courtesy of a plane ticket paid for in part by the Canadian government.

These sorts of benevolent souls don't often include many foreign sales agents, who sell films to distributors and take a cut of the profits (serving a similar function as the agents of actors or professional athletes), and who charge unbelievable fees for festivals to screen films that would otherwise have little or no chance of turning up in smaller markets. To wit: A mini-scandal erupted last year when one of the world's most unfriendly such brokers--the Paris-based Wild Bunch, part of the Vivendi-Universal Empire--unceremoniously canceled a screening of Jean-Luc Godard's Éloge de l'amour (In Praise of Love) at a festival in Norway. Executive Vincent Maraval proclaimed in an e-mail edict: "We could devote ourselves to the...festivals in the world whose purpose is most often to please a few sponsors as well as local officials who don't know how to spend their cultural budgets. We prefer to participate in filmmaking rather than to turn into a travel agency for film prints."

Needless to say, there are no Wild Bunch films in the MSPIFF (with the exception of Claude Lanzmann's Holocaust documentary Sobibor, picked up for U.S. distribution by New Yorker Films). Other such powerful firms that you may not have heard of (but which matter immeasurably in the world-cinema realm) include Flach Pyramide, Celluloid Dreams, and Fortissimo, which charge smaller festivals upward of $500 for single screenings of their films--meaning that many topnotch titles are simply beyond the grasp of R-list programmers.

So be careful where you place the blame for a program that conspicuously lacks the latest work of those intriguing "new" world-cinema auteurs (e.g., Takashi Miike, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Philippe Garrel, Darezhan Omirbaev, Jang Sun-Woo, Hong Sang-Soo) whom you've read about in Film Comment--the ones whose half-dozen or more films, beloved by critics with international travel budgets, have rarely if ever played here. Indeed, in an international economic climate where the bottom line is personal gain, can one fault the MSPIFF for dealing with organizations more amenable to cooperating with a smaller event? Yes, this folksy attitude may lead to curating by the UPS principle--that is, to the selection of films on the basis of their having already been shipped to the States from overseas, thus cutting down on freight costs. But there are still those who benefit from such an approach--including the audience. After all, diamonds have been known to emerge from coal.

And yet, if you're a Minneapolitan movie lover, hearing industry people talk about the MSPIFF--the center of the local film universe from year to year--can be a humbling experience: Their decisions about what we can and can't see often seem arbitrary if not downright insulting. Still, discovering how the cinematic sausage is made needn't dull one's appetite for the spread of international films at the MSPIFF's buffet--even though it does leave one feeling envious of what people are eating elsewhere.

 

As head of international relations for the Danish Film Institute--a job title that sounds more at home in the U.N. than Cannes--Pernille Munk Skydsgaard has been representing films at international festivals for two years. She acts as an intermediary between domestic sales agents and festival directors, determining which Danish films go to which of the more than 2,500festivals whose programmers toss requests her way--a level of interest that has grown in direct proportion to the attention accorded those Dogme95 shenanigans. The DFI is an interested party to a film's success, as it also supports film production--sometimes providing as much as 60 percent of a movie's budget in exchange for festival rights, and sometimes flying directors abroad to places such as the Nordic Film Festival in Rouen, outside of Paris.

As a result of the MSPIFF's bid to lure the local community, there's always a large Scandinavian component to the festival: This year finds a dozen or so Nordic films in the program, and most of them arrive free of charge courtesy of institutes like the DFI. "To screen a film in Minneapolis is mainly for cultural exposure," admits Skydsgaard, speaking on a cell phone while en route to Paris for pre-Cannes meetings. "Minneapolis is a funny place, because it rings a bell. I know that it [has] a good festival, but I actually don't know that much about it. It [occurs at] a bad time. When a festival is in late fall, while it's more quiet, you have more time to go into it--visit their Web site, look through the back catalogs. Now Berlin has just finished, and I'm busy preparing for Cannes.

"When there's a new Danish film, the producer will call and ask me to see it," continues Skydsgaard. "If I think it has international potential, we'll meet with the producer and the sales agent, suggest a festival plan, and strike a print of the film." These discussions are, of course, limited to certain festivals. "The [ideal] plan is for the film to debut at Cannes, Berlin, Venice, or Toronto. We try to open them at A-level festivals, because of the prestige and the potential for sales. Also, it sometimes coincides with the Danish premiere, so it allows for some very good Danish PR. And all the directors want to go to Cannes or Venice so they can brag about it to their friends."

For regional American festivals, Skydsgaard relies on experience and word of mouth. "We'll work with the festivals that we have a relationship with, or the ones that we've heard good things about. If there's a new festival that I haven't heard about, [the programmers will] come talk to me at our booth at Berlin or Cannes, and tell me how much they like the film. And if they have an awards competition, which is also very important, then I might give them the print." Naturally, it works the other way, too. "Sometimes a director goes to a festival and comes back saying that it has been very chaotic. Maybe we won't send a print next time."

While there were four Danish films in the 2000 MSPIFF, this year's program, like last year's, has only one: Per Fly's The Bench, which first screened at the market in Cannes two years ago. Despite winning five Danish Film Awards last year, The Bench--a well-acted yet flawed drama about an alcoholic dealing with newfound familial responsibility--has rarely shown up on the international radar. So it's no surprise to hear that the film wasn't the fest's first choice. "From minor festivals, we get so many requests [that] we have to decide what might be suitable," she says. "For Minneapolis, we got a request for other films that weren't available, so I suggested The Bench. I think that's how it came about. It hasn't been to many festivals, so I'm glad it's screening there."

Two films that MSPIFF programmers might have inquired about--the recent Dogme entries Truly Human and Kira's Reason: A Love Story--recently screened at the New Directors/New Films series in New York after debuting last fall at festivals in San Sebastian and Toronto, respectively. (The latter film screened in March at the international festival in Cleveland; the former screens later this month at the San Francisco fest.) So why wouldn't they make it to Minneapolis? "Because they aren't available," says Skydsgaard politely. "For most films, we only have one print, so we have to set our priorities. Of course, New York is one of the most important [places]. Most people in Denmark don't know where Minneapolis is."

Unlike sales agents, film institutes don't typically charge screening fees. But as the circuit grows, that might change. "We don't charge right now, but we're thinking about it," Skydsgaard says apologetically. "Five years ago, few Danish films were sold outside of Denmark, but now it has really changed. That means extra work: We have to check out the salespeople, talk to local distributors, and so on. And we have a new government cutting down on funding. I would love to screen our films everywhere, but [there are only] maybe 10 really important festivals, 30 others that are good, and a lot of smaller ones that aren't as valuable. If we could keep it down to those 150 or 200 festivals, it would be so nice--I would have more time to work on Minneapolis, for instance."

 

Not coincidentally, the films that often please festival audiences and sponsors the most are those that have already been picked up for domestic distribution: films with stars, or with an international reputation; films that cross over to viewers who might not appreciate dramas about, say, a Danish alcoholic dealing with newfound familial responsibility. Some U.S. distributors simply opt out of the R-list festival game, because those festivals rarely pay them screening fees--and almost none of them, save for a traveling fest in New Zealand, shares a percentage of the box-office take. On the list of films in this year's MSPIFF, there are, as usual, about a dozen or so titles from "mini-major" distributors such as New Yorker Films (Yellow Asphalt, The Way We Laughed), including three that have arrived courtesy of a new kid on the block: THINKFilm.

Jeff Sackman, president and CEO of the fledgling THINKFilm, has been swimming in those shark-infested waters since 1985. In 1991 he joined the distribution company CFP and turned it into the well-regarded Lions Gate (Dogma, Monster's Ball). Speaking at the low-key, high-rise THINKFilm offices overlooking downtown Toronto, Sackman claims to view the MSPIFF as a legitimate way to promote upcoming product, but he admits to being oblivious of its nuances. "Every city has a festival," Sackman says. "It's a trendy thing to do. Personally, I don't have enough specific knowledge of this one versus that one. You don't want to overdo it [by giving your films to every festival]. So you want to have some sort of relationship with the fest, and you want to know that it's professionally run."

Personable yet blunt, his T-shirt and jeans conveying the aura of the casual executive, Sackman sees two components to a festival: the buying and the selling. "Initially we go to festivals to acquire films. Toronto, Cannes, Berlin, Venice, and Sundance are great marketplaces where films are shown for the first time. It's very convenient to see everything in one place. But we also want to use these as places to promote our films, as they're areas where journalists congregate. When Jodie Foster comes to Sundance for [THINKFilm's] The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys [which she co-produced], you get a lot of press coverage from the national media. When we have [the French drama] Time Out at a regional festival like [the MSPIFF], we're selling awareness: You want to get the local media interested in your film for when it's ultimately released in that region--which, for these typical 'festival films,' is generally sometime in the month or so after the New York release date."

The three THINKFilm titles in this year's MSPIFF--the Venice prize-winning Time Out, Ismail Merchant's Mystic Masseur, and Bart Freundlich's World Traveler, starring Billy Crudup and Julianne Moore--all have theatrical openings tentatively scheduled in Minneapolis around late spring. Altar Boys, which Sackman has targeted as a summer release, falls outside of his awareness-selling window. "These are just advance promotional screenings [at the MSPIFF], so to speak," he says. "A festival is a very positive forum for showing a film. We've all had our knuckles rapped buying a film based on a festival audience's reaction. But for a film we already own, the people who will see it at festivals are dedicated filmgoers, and they're inclined to be positive. It can only inspire good word of mouth.

"There's a basic plan for how you release a film in a city like Minneapolis, and the festival is part of it--if it happens to coincide with your release date," he says. "You're not going to alter your release schedule because of a regional film festival." Which is to say that a movie like THINKFilm's Gerry, an avant-garde property with heavy Sundance buzz (and Matt Damon and Casey Affleck in the lead roles), won't play festivals until just prior to its fall release (i.e., at the Toronto festival in September). An exception was made for the Portland International Film Festival in February, because of director Gus Van Sant's personal connection to the city. But just as common is the case of a distributor forcibly encouraging a festival to play films that its programmers might otherwise not care to screen. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours, as the saying goes--and, if you're a journalist, good luck getting someone's acknowledgment of that reciprocity on the record.

Like most distribution execs, Sackman uses Toronto as a point of reference. "Let's say 2,000 people see [your film] there. You're not getting $20,000 of potential box office. Film festivals are using you to provide things that they can sell to their customers, and you should get something in return. You've got to weigh that [inequity] against the positive [aspects] of playing at a festival. Some distributors would say that in Minneapolis, on a French film, you've got a limited audience. And if you're going to play a festival, that may be your [entire] audience. We think Time Out has broader potential, and we'd like people to see it--we need people to see it--because it's such a remarkable movie. If people don't see it, they're not going to talk about it."

Time Out--a daring look at the depths to which a consultant sinks to avoid telling his family that he has been laid off--opened in New York on March 29, and will expand to other cities on April 12. Sackman vows that the film will open in Minneapolis at Landmark Theatres' Lagoon Cinema, sometime in late April, regardless of audience reaction at the MSPIFF. "We're not worried [about getting the film into Landmark] at all," Sackman says confidently, as he'll rely on his past relationships with the theater chain's executives in order to guarantee the booking. "We also have good films. It's a symbiotic relationship."

Sackman's convivial attitude is due in no small part to the need to get his company's name into the public arena fast, and to the desire to get people seeing his films. "We want to be helpful if we can," he says. "The important question is, 'How are you going to promote a film like Time Out in a meaningful city?' We're not talking about some small town in Kansas. We want to be in there, and treat [Minneapolis] as a real market. The festival is a useful conduit to the audience we're going after." Still, the distributor does know where to draw the bottom line: When asked if he'd ever consider flying a film's "talent" to Minneapolis, Sackman raises an eyebrow and grins, as if to say, "Are you kidding?"

 

While sweating out their many months of labor on a feature, few filmmakers consider that the eventual destination for all that hard work is a festival--and even fewer, a festival in Minneapolis. Peter Lynch's documentary Cyberman premiered a year ago at Rotterdam, a festival known for its edgy content and amiable atmosphere. Strong reviews at that festival, and later at Toronto (including a rave in Film Comment), failed to lead to overtures from U.S. distributors, which rarely if ever jump at opportunities to release documentaries--and so Lynch continues to travel the circuit. Cyberman--a quirky look at the world's first cyborg, University of Toronto professor Steve Mann--has screened at more than a dozen festivals internationally, from Buenos Aires to Berlin, and most recently at South by Southwest in Austin.

Lynch isn't a rookie director--he has made two prior features, including the documentary Project Grizzly (which enjoyed a healthy run at U Film some years back)--yet he still struggles to raise interest in his films, past, present, and future. Naturally, there are benefits that come from such struggle. But what possible benefit could be gleaned from an R-list fest like the MSPIFF? "I don't underestimate any screening," Lynch says over lunch in Toronto, the day after he has found out that there's a visit to Minnesota in his future. "At South by Southwest, someone from HBO really liked Cyberman, and so I sent him my proposal: Maybe I can build a relationship for my next film. In America, if you don't go to these things, you don't really exist."

With the support of the Canadian government, the MSPIFF is flying Lynch in and putting him up; it'll be the first time he has been in Minneapolis since attending the Siggraph computer festival at Walker Art Center in 1984. Not that he knows how the invitation came about. "I met Al Milgrom at the Toronto festival, on September 11," Lynch recalls. "We were standing in front of a TV at the time." Lynch was reintroduced to Milgrom at Berlin in February, though he can't recall whether their conversation was about Cyberman. (A late-night party, perhaps?) Still, the filmmaker is coming, and he's excited about it, as the MSPIFF offers advantages that he can't find at home. "The one thing I do like about going abroad to international festivals is being taken outside of a Canadian context, and having Cyberman be seen as a film--and not as a Canadian film, or a documentary, either."

Lynch's attitude is typical of directors who show up for regional festivals--where the films themselves ultimately make or break the trip, and where guests are often less widely recognized than they are at home. "With Minneapolis, I don't have any great expectations," says Lynch. "For me, it's a chance to get my work out there. Regional festivals are about audience-building, and film festivals are based on personal relations. And sometimes you get to see other filmmakers in a relaxed way. In Austin, I hung out with some actors whom I'd like to be in my next film. If I had wanted to speak to them in Toronto, I would have had to call their agents. At most festivals, the real business takes place between midnight and 5:00 a.m.--and depending on the collection of people that come together, something important can happen. You never really know."

Lynch also hopes that his festival appearances might lead to a series of strategic screenings at places like Film Forum in New York, to be followed by play dates at art museums and in key university towns. "Maybe at a smaller festival, there'll be someone from one of these places, and they'll have a chance to see your film in a more relaxed environment than at Toronto or Berlin--these giant machines that you can't even penetrate. It might also help toward having later screenings in Minneapolis, like at the Walker. Festivals tend to attract a specialty audience: Many people go because they've decided to focus in on the event. I see a huge university crowd in Minneapolis, and I don't think a festival screening would soak up the entire audience."

The potential benefits of the regional circuit apply to more than just a director's most recent film. "People came up to me at South by Southwest because they had seen Project Grizzly," Lynch recalls. "Other people had read about Cyberman, or were curious about the subject. People do follow your work. And in some places, a hit can start as a virus. Certain films have a long shelf life. Cyberman is somewhat time-based: As it gets older, I think it will get even stranger, because there's a retro quality to what Steve is doing; the film is not that much about his state-of-the-art technology. Project Grizzly is also out of time, so both films can still be discovered."

Directors, though, are ultimately people, too, and many of them see festivals, however small, as--believe it or not--rewarding vacation time. "After a while, it gets to be tiring," admits Lynch. "Right now, the thought of another festival is hard for me to take. But I'm also a curious person: I like traveling, going to new places and soaking up some local color. In Austin, it was chicken-fried steaks and cold Mexican beer. And I went on an archaeological dig. There's always a mystery lying around the corner--even in Minneapolis."


AROUND THE WORLD IN 38 REVIEWS

Flicks

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

Klassikko
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

 

Vizontele
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

 

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.

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

 

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

 

As White as in Snow
Heights Theater, Saturday, April 6 at 9:00 p.m.; and Oak Street Cinema, Monday, April 8 at 9:30 p.m.

Set in late 19th-century Sweden, this latest film from director Jan Troell (The Emigrants, The New Land) follows the headstrong Elsa Andersson (Amanda Ooms) through her life of tepid prospects, and through the sacrifices she makes in order to extend herself beyond them. Courtesy of Troell's delicate visuals, we observe Elsa's childhood relationship with a recently widowed and remarried father, who fully expects her to relinquish her own dreams in favor of becoming a farmer's wife. Yet when her brother Lars (Shanti Roney) leaves the family nest in order to start a life of his own in America, Elsa grows terrified at the prospect of wasting her life: In defiance of her father's wishes, she takes it upon herself to become Sweden's first female aviatrix--and meets with tragedy. The events of this story unfold slowly, but intentionally so, the effect being meditative rather than sedating. And Troell's cast--particularly Ooms, whose portrayal strikes the perfect balance between imperturbable innocence and unwavering independence--is unusually stunning. While the movie might easily have succumbed to snooty, Merchant-Ivory-esque melodrama, As White as in Snow sheds its pretensions without compromising its beauty or its relevance. --Nicole Duclos

 

A Cab for Three
Bell Auditorium, Saturday, April 6 at 9:15 p.m.; and Oak Street Cinema, Wednesday, April 10 at 7:30 p.m.

This Chilean movie begins as a malodorous gobbet of pulp fiction made more perverse by sun-drenched visuals. The cabbie hero (Alejandro Trejo) is carjacked in broad daylight by two lowlife cretins who stick a little machete to his neck and plan to keep him driving for as long as their crime spree continues--forever, perhaps. The unsightly faces of the giggling hoods, and the camera's insistent stare at the cabbie's head (combined with the endless driving), may remind you of Italian trash classics such as Ruggiero Deodato's The House by the Lake and, especially, Mario Bava's all-in-a-Ferrari film Rabid Dogs: Indeed, the drive-in quality of the first half-hour is impressive. But then the filmmakers don't know what to do--and don't have the guts to take the horror all the way--and so sentimentality leaks in. (When a hoodlum on his sickbed is asked what his daddy did, he simpers, "My papa? He was very good at flying kites.") And the inevitable One Attractive Woman in a World of Very Ugly Men shows up: The low point of the film has the taxi driver and this poor man's Monica Bellucci arguing over which of them is the cause of their motel room's post-coital bad smell. --Matthew Wilder

 

Boomerang
Oak Street Cinema, Saturday, April 6 at 9:30 p.m.; and Heights Theater, Tuesday, April 9 at 9:15 p.m.

Those nutty Serbs are at it again. Set in the madcap bar of the title, in the present day (but it feels like the Seventies), this screwball comedy is a caustic homage to Balkan wackiness, with a palpable nostalgia for more "innocent" times. In somewhat predictable fashion, the film's plot lines are all intertwined: A sexy chick (Paulina Manov) steals cocaine from some slick-haired pushers and hands it out to toilet attendants and market-stall ladies. (She wants to revolutionize their sense of possibility.) Then she meets a young slacker (Nebojsa Glogovac) who sells his family's heirlooms for cash to the same dealers, and the two weirdoes fall in love and get married in, like, two seconds--but the dealers shoot and kill the bride after the wedding. (Don't worry: It's not fatal.) Everyone's stories connect at Boomerang, which is owned by a gun-obsessed freak (Lazar Ristovski) who sleeps with the dealer's mom. (It's that kind of movie.) Life's grandest events--love, sex, marriage, birth, death--are played out thoughtlessly, breathlessly, as the film spirals toward a dizzying climax of manic folk music, fire, guns, and ridiculous dancing. Despite awkward pacing and some lame physical comedy, Boomerang is as likeable as it is obnoxious. --Kate Sullivan

 

A House With a View of the Sea
Heights Theater, Sunday, April 7 at 3:00 p.m.; and Bell Auditorium, Tuesday, Aprii 9 at 9:15 p.m.

"That's how God is, son," explains Tomas Alonzo to his boy. "He takes what he wants when he wants it." Weary from the death of his wife, the Argentine peasant Alonzo contents himself with the simple pleasures of liquor, his violin, and the company of his child Santiago. Director Alberto Arvelo's period piece is dominated by the oppression of the natural world--not just the rocky soil Alonzo farms, but the imposing beauty of the Argentine highland. Ironically, Santiago's escapist dreams feature an even more vast sublimity: that of the ocean, which the landlocked lad has never seen. (He wonders if there are oxen and fields among the waves.) The story is little more than a fleshed-out melodrama, bringing the good peasants into conflict with the bullying, paunchy landlord and his weasel of a son. But Arvelo generates an uneasy sense of foreboding that bolsters the flimsy plot. So weighty is this sense of looming tragedy, in fact, that when a character is merely beaten unconscious or sent to jail instead of being killed, the relief is exhilarating--as if all concerned have won a small victory over resigned despair. --Keith Harris

 

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.

Elsa (Mariana Santangelo) is a fiery lass from the mean streets of Uruguay. Tired of her mother's needling, she storms out of the house with her two sons (each from a different father), and tries to extract some financial security out of her cafeteria boss. (One provocative scene has the two engaged in quarrelsome sex while the man's wife prepares food within earshot.) When that doesn't work, Elsa decides that life ha

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