Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

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

 

Take Care of My Cat
Oak Street Cinema, Thursday, April 11 at 9:30 p.m.

Hello, kitty! Set in the South Korean port town of Inchon during a drab winter, this engaging, heartfelt film takes a breezily realist look at five ordinary girls in an ordinary situation: making the uncertain transition from innocent high school friendship to the mysteries to follow. For whatever reason, these girls aren't headed to college, and are instead taking their first small steps into the workplace. The film eventually zeroes in on three of them, each with very different goals: rebellious dreamer Tae-hee; smart but poor Ji-young, who owns the titular feline (which passes from girl to girl as a sign of their trust); and vain Hye-joo, an aspiring businesswoman who moves to Seoul and changes everything. (A pair of half-Chinese twins, seemingly around for comic relief, gets lost in the shuffle.) Take Care of My Cat has all the makings of a surprise hit, as first-time director Jeong Jae-eun examines the lives of 20-year-olds with a leisurely seriousness that evades most North American youth-film makers; she also believably accents the individuality of each of these girls, while at the same time illuminating the class divisions between them. The vivid attention to detail involves giving extra-special care to the girls' ubiquitous cell-phone use, which culminates in--what else?--a charming five-way/split-screen conversation. --Mark Peranson

 

Spirits of Havana
Heights Theater, Friday, April 12 at 5:15 p.m. and Tuesday, April 16 at 7:00 p.m.

White people journey into the depths of darkest Cuba seeking steamy, exotic music--and if it sounds like you've booked this tour already, you're only half right. Jane Bunnet and Larry Cramer are at once humbler tourists and funkier players than Ry Cooder: In particular, we get to watch Bunnet learning to ride the precise rhythmic nuances of Cuban jazz on her horn. The film captures the laid-back pace of a Havana recording session--with breaks in between each number for the players to flirt and banter, eat and drink--in a style that's neither patronizing nor overly chummy and familiar. From their opening shot of huddled tenement buildings, with laundry fluttering on the lines strung between them, the filmmakers suggest an idyllic land whose people are dedicated solely to the polyrhythms they play in the streets, and the baseball they debate there. Then they undercut that utopian view by bemoaning a TV blackout of the World Series, and explaining that musicians, owing to the extreme scarcity of instruments, must enter a time-share (e.g., ten to a flute!). And the music is inarguably great--assuming that fickle world-music dilettantes haven't already deemed Cuban music "over," and flitted off to gamelan ensembles or Estonian peasant dances or whale moans set to didgeridoo accompaniment. --Keith Harris

 

Patti Rocks
Heights Theater, Friday, April 12 at 7:00 p.m.

Editor's note: The following is excerpted from Phil Anderson's review, originally published in 1988. Patti Rocks is screening on the occasion of its 15th anniversary.

Like it or loathe it, the world needs this independent comedy-drama made in Minnesota by co-writer/director David Burton Morris: Irritation so clever and ardently sustained, along with a take on testosterone overdose that's so extreme itself, is bound to raise the right kind of hackles. The story is simple. Billy (Chris Mulkey), a married man who has found out that his girlfriend Patti (Karen Landry) is pregnant, drives through the night from St. Paul to La Crosse to nudge her toward having an abortion. He takes with him his old and semi-estranged buddy Eddie (John Jenkins), who provides a captive audience for Billy's wide-open mouth--and the fulcrum for the movie's grand turn. Raunchy and opinionated as hell (he calls sex "choppin' beef"), Billy is a rare anthropological specimen: the man who lives only for the chase, the wolf who wears only his own clothing. He dreams of being able to vanish from the point of coitus immediately upon orgasm--"like in Star Trek!"--and materialize back at the bar, ready for another conquest. Patti is more than just the antidote to Billy's brand of sexism; she's practically a secular saint. If the script (co-written by the three actors) has a flaw, it's in giving Patti too much will and virtue. Yet Patti Rocks (a sequel of sorts to Loose Ends, co-directed by Morris and Victoria Wozniak in 1975) asks us to see beyond the language, the anecdotes, the adolescent pratfalls, and the semi-saintliness to the larger project behind. It's outrageous, incredibly descriptive, and funny to the max--and, eventually, more than a little sad. --Phil Anderson

 

Fiasco
Bell Auditorium, Friday, April 12 at 7:15 p.m.; and Oak Street Cinema, Saturday, April 13 at 1:30 p.m.

If the UN ever takes a vote to determine the World's Coolest Country, I'm going to have to nominate Iceland. I mean, Björk didn't come out of a vacuum, people. Indeed, there's an entire tribe of Björks up there in the land of boiled sheep's heads and strange poetry. (I'm betting that George Clinton is part Icelandic as well.) Now, on the Icelandic spectrum of weirdness, this comic drama only scores about a 5--but it's still pretty fun. It centers on one nutty Reykjavik household shared by a romantic old pensioner (Robert Arnfinnsson), a loose-hipped young woman (Silja Hauksdóttir), and her mom Margrét Ákadóttir), who wears a horrible blond wig and is in love with a charismatic preacher. Of course, each of them leads a secret life--and in one fateful night, their stories magically intertwine. (They never realize it, but we do.) You've seen this narrative trick a million times by now, from Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino to their countless imitators--so whatever point the filmmakers are trying to make about interconnectedness isn't all that surprising. The real fun is in discovering how funky these people's hearts are, and in witnessing the bizarre choices they make in order to keep them beating. --Kate Sullivan

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