Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

The Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival's Middle Week Has Hits, Sleepers, and Snoozers

 

The Believer
Lagoon Cinema, Thursday, April 11 at 7:30 p.m.; and Bell Auditorium, Friday, April 19 at 7:15 p.m.

Moviegoers will likely be seeing a lot of young Ryan Gosling in the coming years. But they won't be seeing him in this Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning film about a self-hating Jew who embraces Nazi ideology and a neo-fascist underground: After being found anathema by U.S. distributors, The Believer was relegated to Showtime. More difficult to shelve is the nasty, smirking sentience that Gosling brings to his performance as Danny Balint. Notice the deliberative way he slips off his jacket before jumping a pair of black motorists. Or the reedy Yiddish sing-song that creeps into his voice in the middle of a virulent rant against the imagined cultural crimes of the Jewish race. Just as sneaky and smart is the screenplay--a wonder of intellectual and spiritual torment played out on a social stage. Equating faith with sexual masochism, and positing anti-Semitism as a means to self-knowledge, the story is basically a romance of Nietzschean individualism. ("You're not like the others, are you?" purrs Danny's love interest. "With you there's a tragic dimension.") This compulsively watchable movie probably won't lead to more swastikas on temple walls. But it does threaten to make the outer edges of nihilism look dangerously sexy. --Michael Tortorello

 

Yizo Yizo (Program I)
Walker Art Center, Thursday, April 11 at 8:00 p.m.

Sure, those kids on Boston Public have it hard, what with all those fatal wrestling matches and such. But the students on Yizo Yizo, a South African public-TV series (whose 13-episode season has been edited into this feature and another that's screening on Saturday at 5:00 p.m.), make Boston's brood seem as sweetly naive as 90210's blondes. The show, whose title is township slang for "the way it is," tries to capture the problems faced by South African schoolchildren--bullying, poverty, sexual harassment--in a realistic and educational way. Good thing it often feels more like a soap opera than a high school health-class assignment: Indeed, the dramatic immediacy of its characters' feelings is probably what made Yizo the highest-rated series in its homeland. Then again, its appeal could also be found in the same thing that makes viewers salivate in the States: good old-fashioned sensationalism. After its first episode was broadcast, many parents wanted the show banned. Still, it's telling that many of the most controversial scenes--those involving rape and gang violence--also feel the most realistic. As Yizo writer Teboho Mahtlatsi's mother--a teacher--told the South African Daily Mail and Guardian: "The crisis is not on our television screens, but in our schools." --Melissa Maerz

 

I Hate Babysitting!
Heights Theater, Thursday, April 11 at 9:00 p.m.

This fiendishly creative, girl-centered coming-of-age farce by Twin Cities-based writer-producer-director Tara Spartz begins with a borderline obscene vignette linking babysitting to prostitution and just builds from there. Drawn from Spartz's own experiences looking after little brats for insultingly low pay, I Hate Babysitting! is a classic comedy of adolescent pain and humiliation, awash in bodily fluids and set, appropriately, during the ass-end of summer vacation in lovely suburban Coon Rapids. Struggling to save for back-to-school clothes on a part-time baby sitter's budget, and desperate to attend her best friend Crystal's first kegger despite Mom's fierce objections, our endlessly put-upon heroine Brigit (Amanda Benolkin) suffers her own private hell with truly Minnesotan stoicism...up to a point. Spartz achieves nearly everything she attempts here: Her superb direction of actors young and old is clearly rooted in her firsthand knowledge of the milieu; her astute camera placement flaunts her innate feel for the front yard, the front seat, the public swimming pool, and the basement rec room; her characters, even the minor ones, are believably eccentric (the near-catatonic "Grammy" is a particular riot); and the hilariously vulgar dialogue remains simultaneously true to age, gender, and region. Find a baby sitter, if you must, and go. --Rob Nelson

 

The Dream Factory
Metro State University, St. Paul, Thursday, April 11 at 9:15 p.m.

Feng Xiaogang, China's top-grossing director, isn't worried about what people think of his films, least of all film critics. A populist who bases his reputation on the premise that movies ought to earn big money, Feng demonstrates his penchant for absurd comedy in this odd cross between Fantasy Island and the Make-a-Wish Foundation's recruitment video. Four friends run a business designed to make clients' dreams come true. A shopkeeper yearns to become a World War II general, so the group stages an entire battlefield drama for his benefit. A gossipy cook wants to be entrusted with a secret--a desire the quartet happily obliges. Other times, clients seek life lessons, as in the case of a husband who becomes a slave for the day in order to understand his wife's hard labors. Throughout their adventures, the group members never ridicule the clients; they stay in character and go along with the story line until they're told to stop. It's a difficult task to realize another person's dream, and the stakes are potentially perilous: What happens when a fantasy is realized? Do unattainable goals keep us from getting bored? Feng doesn't answer these questions directly, but allows us, with each vignette, to ponder the clients' true fates: to question whether they're better people for these experiences. --Caroline Palmer

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