The Way We Laughed
Bell Auditorium, Saturday, April 13 at 7:15 p.m.; and Heights Theater, Thursday, April 18 at 9:00 p.m.
Following his successful Italian neo-neorealist epics Open City (1990), Stolen Children (1992), and Lamerica (1994), writer- director Gianni Amelio wrapped up a fruitful decade with this 1998 film about the circulation-slowing bond between brothers. Pietro (Francesco Giuffrida) is a mediocre student on the verge of becoming a teenage hoodlum in the streets of the northern Italian city of Turin. Giovanni (Enrico Lo Verso) is his older brother who travels from their family home in Sicily to ensure that Pietro completes his education. The film takes place over six years, in six daylong slices of life that show the ways in which Pietro deceives and mooches off of Giovanni, and the ways in which Giovanni's childlike faith in his kin leads him to make money on the fringes of organized crime. Amelio plops the viewer into each new chapter with no information about what has gone on in the preceding year--and he doesn't invent a character to wander onscreen and ask leading questions to fill us all in. He's less concerned with the what than the why, focusing on the brothers' tangle of lies, responsibilities, and delusions. The Way We Laughed is absorbing and ultimately heartrending, building to an act of violence that's prompted in part by a lack of honest communication. --Noel Murray
Oak Street Cinema, Saturday, April 13 at 7:45 p.m. and Monday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m.
Written and directed by Josef Fares, who was born in Lebanon and moved to Sweden at age ten, this feeble romantic comedy celebrates the happy union of both cultures, just so long as certain outdated customs are rudely shown the door. Its scenario being virtually identical to that of the 1999 Pakistanis-in-England comedy East Is East, the film concerns the younger generation of immigrants, and the arranged marriages that keep them from fitting in and falling in love. Roro (Fares Fares), a charming and attractive Lebanese park custodian, keeps a secret of his affair with a blond Swede, but the pressure mounts as she grows impatient and his family negotiates for a hasty marriage with the beautiful Yasmin (Laleh Pourkarim). Equally unwilling partners, the two buy time by feigning the engagement--a sitcom charade that leads them through apartment hunting, dress fittings, and several close calls. Meanwhile, Roro's best friend (Torkel Petersson) tries everything to inflate his stubborn half-loaf (a penis pump, S/M, etc.), but only a pat resolution can cure what ails. Fares makes no attempt to understand, much less respect, why this tradition is so important to the families involved. His message: Either get with the times or get an earful from a profane parrot. --Scott Tobias
Walker Art Center, Saturday, April 13 at 8:00 p.m.
Given that the strengths of this down-to-earth, ultra-naturalistic drama lie in the way that actor-director Gahité Fofana serves up the essentially aimless details of everyday life in the African coastal country of Guinea, it's not surprising to learn that the man has a background in documentaries. Having spent almost all of his life in France, young Guinean Mathias (Fofana) returns to his native country in search of the father he has never known. Upon arrival, he is promptly robbed of everything he owns. Needing help, he falls in with a shady character named John Tra (Yves Guichard Traoré) and soon finds himself enmeshed in a cockamamie crime caper that's just destined to go wrong. Portraying a lost generation of Guineans (most of the young are unemployed, with no hope of ever getting a decent job), the film makes plain that crime is inevitable when youths have nothing more to do than hang around bars, drinking, bored, and broke. Using nonprofessional actors in most of the peripheral roles, and directing the action in a way that makes it seem observed rather than staged, Fofana eschews narrative drive in favor of quiet authenticity. That nothing much happens at times might annoy the average moviegoer, but it oughtn't to deter the dedicated cinephile. --Jack Vermee
The Journey to Kafiristan
Bell Auditorium, Saturday, April 13 at 9:30 p.m.; and Oak Street Cinema, Sunday, April 14 at 7:30 p.m.
Rambling between Europe and Asia without arriving anywhere in particular, this existential travelogue by Swiss filmmakers Fosco and Donatello Dubini takes as its point of departure the true story of ethnologist Ella Maillart and writer Annemarie Schwarzenbach's 1939 overland trip from Switzerland to Afghanistan. These being the days before WorldPerks and Lonely Planet, the two women drove most of the way in a Ford, navigating the dusty byways of central Asia toward a destination that, as portrayed here, was apparently a pile of rubble long before Soviet MiGs and U.S. daisy cutters did a number on it. Though it's never entirely clear from the film, the pair's expedition was scientific in nature (Schwarzenbach was also a well-known photojournalist). But whatever the case, the trip's purpose is largely overshadowed by the ambiguous romance that develops along the way: a vague advance-and-retreat with Nina Petri's self-reliant Maillart (imagine a cross between Margaret Mead and Sally Bowles) as the demure quarry, and Jeanette Hain's androgynous, heroin-addicted Schwarzenbach as the seducer. Shot in a spare documentary style, The Journey to Kafiristan has awe-inspiring vistas and Weimar-era world-weariness to spare. But it plays so coy with its meaning that it sometimes feels as narcotized as Schwarzenbach herself. --Peter Ritter