Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

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

 

Lola
Bell Auditorium, Friday, April 12 at 9:15 p.m.

The second film in a proposed trilogy from Vancouverite Carl Bessai (the first, Johnny, was Canada's first Dogme film), this psychological mood piece-cum-road movie marks an artistic step forward for the young director. It's a character study of a somewhat flighty thirtysomething woman--the titular anti-heroine, played by the beguiling Sabrina Grdevich--who flees her dead-end relationship with a controlling older man (Colm Feore) and hooks up with Sandra, a streetwise beauty played by the lovely Joanna Going. After a confrontation with a vicious loan shark leaves Sandra dead, the fragile Lola assumes Sandra's identity and hits the road. The first part of the film shows the underbelly of Vancouver to disturbing effect (few people know that it's the heroin capital of North America) while creating a nicely judged undercurrent of eroticism between Lola and Sandra. The road-movie section takes us into Canada's only desert climate in the interior of British Columbia--a desolate, sparsely populated area that provides a perfect objective correlative to Lola's state of mind. A modest film with modest ambitions that are largely fulfilled, Lola boasts some fine, understated performances, and an alternately airy and aggressive Miles Davis-like score from Vince Mai. --Jack Vermee

 

Nora
Oak Street Cinema, Friday, April 12 at 9:30 p.m.; and Heights Theater, Saturday, April 13 at 9:00 p.m.

James Joyce and Nora Barnacle were a couple for the ages: He was the struggling young writer, and she was the chambermaid who became his muse. They met in 1904, when Joyce was still some time away from recognition as one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century, and Barnacle was a newcomer to Dublin, having fled Galway to avoid being forced into the convent. The attraction was instantaneous; the fiery and very physical relationship--mined by Joyce for some of the more graphic portions of his classics--became a boon and a bane for both of them. The fierce Susan Lynch and the ubiquitous Ewan McGregor (who's almost fatally miscast) star as the couple in this occasionally worthy feature, based on Brenda Maddox's widely acclaimed biography. Following the couple from Ireland to Trieste, director Pat Murphy captures the raw physicality of their mutual attraction but blows it when it comes to rendering the more intellectual aspects of their love/hate relationship. Beautifully shot, frank on the sexual front, but hampered by frequent bouts of bad dialogue, Nora does at least provide a welcome antidote to stereotypical views of a woman who was the model for Molly Bloom in Ulysses. --Jack Vermee

 

School Trip
Bell Auditorium, Saturday, April 13 at 1:15 p.m.; and Heights Theater, Tuesday, April 16 at 9:00 p.m.

With the reticent grace of the young Claire Danes, Sophie Kemp moves through this low-key but affecting German-Polish co-production, in which Kemp's gawky gamine Isa--not a girl, not yet a woman--becomes desirable to two admirers--not boys, not yet men--while on a school trip from Berlin to the Polish Baltic shore. Isa's friend Ronny (Bartek Baszczyk) is a laconic loner who's obviously pained by her fluctuations: When she brings a new friend, a Polish resort worker named Marek, into the mix, Marek is unnerved by Ronny's glowering reception. In the days that follow, the two boys awkwardly clash, accepting each other's tacit challenges until one of those challenges ends in hazy tragedy. But School Trip never has the feel of a morality play: It's more of a meditation on the surreal surge of self-consciousness and hormonal kinesis that comes with the first blush of adolescence. Director Henner Winckler (who'll forever be mistaken for the guy who played the Fonz) accomplishes a slow burn of exquisitely rendered hotel-room parties, coded dance-club conversations, personality-shifting, and skittish sexuality in the cascading days before clocking time. --Laura Sinagra

 

Treading Water
Heights Theater, Saturday, April 13 at 3:00 p.m.

Elizabeth McCracken once said that she wrote the novel Niagara Falls All Over Again in response to a single question: So, there were Jews in Iowa? In the case of this engaging documentary, the instigating question was: You mean there are gay people in northern Minnesota? The answer is yes--all over the place, in fact. The first stop is Duluth, where the gay bar the Main was founded in the early Eighties with a grant from the Catholic Church (that is, if you can call a fine for employment discrimination a grant). We also visit Eveleth, Grand Marais, and other nearby Iron Range towns, where the winter is hard, populations are small, and LGBT folk are a tiny minority. ("You can't be," one transgendered man recalls his family saying. "There's no such thing!") Directors Jamie A. Lee and Dawn Mikkelson achieve both breadth and intimacy here: We come to know more than a dozen people quite well, from a pair of women who helped bring gender equity to the taconite mines to a male couple struggling with AIDS. Their reception up north is varied, and so are they; indeed, Treading Water is a warm reminder that there are as many ways to be gay as there are gay people. --Kirsten Marcum

 

Like Father
Bell Auditorium, Saturday, April 13 at 3:15 p.m. and Monday, April 22 at 9:15 p.m.

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