MSPIFF Hit List: Wolf, Jerichow, Buick at the Rivera make Minnesota proud

Find out which local films are worth your time in 2009

THE SECRET OF THE GRAIN

St. Anthony Main, April 21 at 6:45 p.m. and April 23 at 9:15 p.m.

In this remarkable third feature by the French-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche, a 61-year-old shipyard worker in the port city of Sète is laid off after four decades of service and sets about opening a couscous restaurant aboard the decrepit boat he buys with his severance pay. For Slimane Beiji, played with quiet, solitary force by screen newcomer Habib Boufares, the restaurant is both a folie de grandeur and a final testament—a way, he hopes, to unite the disparate members of his family (including his ex-wife, his four grown children, his current mistress, and her daughter) and restore his own bruised dignity. Yet the more Beiji devotes himself to the project, the further it seems to drift out of reach. I'm almost afraid to say how highly I think of The Secret of the Grain, for there is something so fragile about what Kechiche does that it risks crumbling under the weight of inflated expectations. Kechiche favors casual observation over dramatic obviousness—a lively family-dinner scene goes on for close to 20 minutes before we fully realize who all the characters are and how they relate to one another. Never do we feel the hand of the filmmaker forcing us from here to there, telling us how to think or what to feel. Then, gradually, a story of considerable narrative complexity emerges, and by the time The Secret of the Grain reaches its breathtaking final act, our pulses are racing and our hearts are in our throats. Scott Foundas

A WALK TO BEAUTIFUL

St. Anthony Main, April 23 at 7:15 p.m.

Five women, isolated in their own corners of the Ethiopian hinterland, undertake a pilgrimage to a free hospital in Addis Ababa. All have long suffered from obstetric fistulas—tissue tears from pregnancy trauma leading to an unceasing drip of incontinence. In the context of village life, this means ostracism (a clinician: "These are the modern-day lepers"). The women, five among tens of thousands suffering the same affliction, offer a terrible privilege in opening up their private abjection—a more complete shame would be difficult to imagine. That confidence isn't betrayed. Aside from a few casual digs at the loutishness of the rural Ethiopian male, documentarians Mary Olive Smith and Amy Bucher feel no need to overlay this health-care calamity with pious outrage; any editorial is implied in the immutable facts from overworked gynecologists and the camera's testament. (What could be more eloquent than a pan across one room to reveal four reparative operations underway simultaneously? It's like battlefield surgery.) This is emotionally arduous stuff, and there's something rarefied here in the commiseration these refugees find with their fellow patients: "Everyone here is sick. I thought it was only me." —Nick Pinkerton

WOLF

St. Anthony Main, April 18 at 12:45 p.m. and April 19 at 12:15 p.m.
Buick Riviera
Buick Riviera

Details

MSPIFF Info

April 16-30, 2009

SCREENING LOCATIONS
St. Anthony Main: 115 Main St. SE, Mpls.; 612.331.4723
Oak Street Cinema: 309 Oak St. SE, Mpls.; 612.331.3134

ADMISSION
$10 ($9 online; discounts at box office for students and seniors). Visit mspfilmfest.org for prices for opening- or closing-night films, 5- and 10-movie packages, and all-access Gold Passes.

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Bleak coldness emanates from every frame of Wolf, from the frozen landscapes of northern Sweden to the harsh faces in a courtroom. A troubled young herder (Robin Lundberg) kills a legally protected wolf that has been preying on his family's reindeer. When police uncover the crime, the young man's uncle Klemens (Peter Stormare) takes the blame and sets off a legal battle that pits local Sami herders against modern Swedish society. Finely crafted performances and beautifully restrained filmmaking offer thought-provoking and universal insights about what can arise when two cultures collide. The film is quiet, unafraid of the power of silence. Stormare shines as a man weathered by the world—someone whose life and work are dwindling to nothing. When his young nephew puts his future at risk in a vicious act of violence, he finds a new purpose in life, and this heavy responsibility weighs on Stormare's weary face. Director Daniel Alfredson expertly transforms the snowy hills of Sweden into a desolate wasteland where people living on the edge must struggle against an outside world that cannot understand. Andrew Newman

JERICHOW

St. Anthony Main, April 25 at 9:20 p.m. and April 26 at 7:35 p.m.

While Yella, Christian Petzold's film from last year's festival, left me largely cold, Jerichow delivers the goods. Yella was hamstrung by a sub-M. Night Shyamalan plot that was obvious from the first minutes of the film, which in turn obscured an excellent performance by Nina Hoss as the icy main character. In this German update of The Postman Always Rings Twice, Hoss stars as Laura, who sits at the center of the film's love triangle. She is married to jealous-on-the-verge-of-paranoid Ali, who runs a snack-bar empire in the eastern half of the country. The "postman" here is Thomas, a local with a dark past and troubled future. An act of kindness connects him to the pair, and the sparks between Thomas and Laura fly from the start. Through it all, Petzold keeps things taut, with every stray glance and piece of small talk carrying plenty of underlying tension. Hoss is again terrific here, presenting a damaged character who wants to do good but is unable to shake the darkness in her past. Even better is Hilmi Sozer as Ali, whose jealousy masks a deep fear about his place in the world and his eventual legacy. Benno Furmann completes the trio, masking his character's secrets—which we never truly learn—behind brooding eyes. Though Petzold has made a noir-ish thriller, it's the central character studies that make the film memorable. Ed Huyck

SOMERS TOWN

St. Anthony Main, April 21 at 9:45 p.m. and April 25 at 9 p.m.
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