The Movie Lovers

The world makes out all right at the International Film Festival

CP: Speaking of suffering: The experience of last year's MSPIFF seemed to benefit from the context of war and the discussion that it inspired both in and out of film circles. Is there a sense in which any festival is only as strong as the larger context--global and otherwise--that lies around it?

COWGILL: This question provides one of the rationales for the festival more effectively than I could state it. A festival provides news, and the confluence of interests among conglomerate media and current American foreign policies would seem to make an international festival contextually relevant and politically necessary for years to come.

TAUBIN: Sometimes a film festival can be a refuge from the horrible world as it is today.

Tim Lane

RICH: Let's not forget the old Busby Berkley/Depression era model. "Films"--just like "movies"--can be an education or an escape, a reflection of the larger world or a retreat from it. To me, there are three movies in this year's MSPIFF--Goodbye Dragon Inn, James' Journey to Jerusalem, and The Corporation--that are by themselves enough to give the festival its soul.

WILDER: I'll put in another word for S21, a film whose act of remembering the victims of the Khmer Rouge is almost sacramental. As a matter of fact, both S21 and The Five Obstructions are among the best movies I've seen in years. The MSPIFF audience is blessed to have them.

PERANSON: The most important element of a regional festival is the audience. So it helps to have a place where people who are eager to talk about the films can congregate after the screening, whether in the lobby or over drinks. Much better if it's over drinks.

COWGILL: Take out pretense, take out glitz, and what's left? It's a cliché, but it's true: What's left is passion.

Our Picks for the Most Noteworthy Fare in the MSPIFF's First Week

Bright Young Things
Historic State Theatre, Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Updating Evelyn Waugh's 1930 novel Vile Bodies to pre-WWII London, writer-director Stephen Fry follows a would-be novelist-turned-reluctant gossip columnist (Stephen Campbell Moore) through a roundelay of soul-sucking social affairs peopled by decrepit aristocrats, blithe flibbertigibbets, and moneyed cads. Fry's indictment of Jazz Age flippancy comes complete with madly whirling camera and fidgety cutting; it might even sting if this were 1940. Fourth-billed actor Michael Sheen will be present to introduce the screening on opening night.

--Jim Ridley


A Talking Picture
Riverview Theater, Saturday at 2:30 p.m.; and Bell Auditorium, Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

The great Portuguese nonagenarian Manoel de Oliveira delivers a coy, verbose meditation on history, civilization, and the fate of humanity. The first of two parts finds a university professor (Leonor Silveira) on a pleasure cruise from Lisbon to India; the second has Capt. John Malkovich presiding over a long, multilingual discussion with three grandes dames (including Catherine Deneuve). My indecision about Oliveira's odd, personal film--his Titanic--leads me to believe there's life in the old coot still.

--Mark Peranson


Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself
Riverview Theater, Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

Like Elaine May before her, Danish writer-director Lone Scherfig (Italian for Beginners) mines human misery for laughs without trivializing. In this dark comedy, she slowly unpacks the mystery of a good-looking, self-absorbed loner's half-assed attempts to do himself in. There's a transcendental logic to the movie's idiosyncrasies (including an elaborate puking gag) and a genuine concern for the way we connect to the past and make sense of pain.

--Ed Gonzalez


Bell Auditorium, Saturday at 5:00 p.m.

Clothes make the man in this compact, Chekhovian film shot on digital and set in the backwaters of present-day small-town China. Pressed into service at his family's laundromat, Wang Xiaojian (Liang Hongli) dons a policeman's unclaimed shirt and discovers that power is a combination of appearance and self-confidence. The movie's richness derives from the mixed motives of the characters--Xiaojian extorts bribes to pay for his ailing father's hospital bills--and from first-time director Diao Yi'nan's low-key, economical storytelling.

--Mark Peranson


The Corporation
Riverview Theater, Saturday at 6:45 p.m.

While moviegoers keep showing up to watch a madman torment Ashley Judd, a real psychopath lingers in our midst: the corporation. That's the provocative premise of this vigorously edited documentary--made, naturally, in Canada. Cataloguing every industrial insanity from terminator seeds to libertarians who would privatize a flea, the film makes a punishing case; indeed, even the viewer may require a touch of masochism to endure all 150 minutes. Co-director Mark Achbar will be present at the screening.

--Michael Tortorello


Oak Street Cinema, Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

This latest inflammation from impish troublemaker Lars von Trier shoves yet another distaff Christ figure down the road to Calvary. Unlike the simple martyrs who preceded her in the von Trier canon, thoughtful Grace (Nicole Kidman)--who takes refuge from Depression-era gangsters in the titular village (and abuse from the townsfolk)--is something of a sociologist. And, as we discover, she has her limits. Von Trier takes an arch, cerebral approach to the typically loaded material, effectively abstracting the heroine's trials into semi-absurdist parable.

--Jessica Winter


The Story of the Weeping Camel
Block E 15, Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; and Bell Auditorium, Saturday, April 10 at 1:00 p.m.

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