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

Find out which local films are worth your time in 2009

On its surface, Somers Town might be mistaken for the kind of standard-issue coming-of-age story that frequently fills space on festival programs, but this impeccably observed slice of life is much more interested in being-of-age. The plot, such as it is, centers on an unexpected friendship struck between two teens in lower-middle-class London: shy, Polish-born photography buff Marek (Piotr Jagiello) and brash-talking suburban runaway Tomo (Thomas Turgoose). As director Shane Meadows's naturalistic, black-and-white camera follows the boys on a rambling series of moneymaking schemes and attempts at wooing a gorgeous coffee-shop waitress, the storyline takes a backseat to the players' personalities. Turgoose (who also starred in Meadows's well-received This Is England) turns in an indelible performance as a damaged young man whose foul-mouthed bluster doesn't come close to covering up his vulnerability. His pairing with the lanky, bright-eyed Jagiello sometimes brings to mind Superbad played straight and directed by Mike Leigh. Buoyed by some fine supporting work by Ireneusz Czop as Marek's embattled single father and Perry Benson as a soft-hearted junk dealer, Somers Town emerges as an unfiltered, universal portrait of all the angst, joy, passion, and pain that comes with being 16 in the city. —Ira Brooker

BUICK RIVIERA

St. Anthony Main, April 18 at 7 p.m. and April 19 at 5 p.m.
It doesn't matter how far away one travels—physically or emotionally—to escape the troubles of his or her homeland. There will always be painful reminders, and some come in the form of other people. Such is the central premise in Croatian writer-director Goran Rusinovic's spare yet compelling 2008 film about two men—a Bosnian and a Serb—who cross paths in a small Midwestern American town. Although it's been 17 years since he left Sarajevo, Hasan (Slavko Stimac) remains traumatized, unable to work or open up to his wife Angela (Aimee Klein). Hasan's refuge is his 1970s Buick Riviera, the only place he feels at home. When the car gets stuck in the snow, Hasan hitches a ride from Vuko (Leon Lucev), a big talker who has just left his wife. Their conversation is amicable enough at first but soon old resentments come to the surface, culminating in a shocking exchange that ultimately liberates Hasan from the past. The actors offer striking and nuanced performances: Stimac movingly battles his repressed sorrow while Vuko fully embraces his role as a grifter with a hint of mischief—or perhaps something more nefarious—in his eye. In many overt and subtle ways, Rusinovic shows us that the war continues between these men and the cultures they represent, but in a new century and a new country, the war also takes on new meaning. Caroline Palmer

KING OF PING PONG

St. Anthony Main, April 18 at 6:30 p.m. and April 23 at 5:25

Absolutely fascinating. Rille (Jerry Johansson) is a brilliant, overweight adolescent ping-pong champion in a desolate, snowy mountain area of Sweden. Rille is the object of admiration and scorn by his younger, much smaller brother Erik (Hampus Johansson). The two spar at a youth center over a ping-pong table; at home under the eyes of their indulgent, overweight divorcee mother; and for the affections of their thrill-seeking, utterly irresponsible father. Jerry Johansson gives a controlled yet affecting performance as the calm, almost Zen-like boy genius who maintains his composure in the face of the usual school bullies as well as his impulsive, hotheaded brother. An incredible scene toward the end involves an ice-fishing hole, a dangerous stunt—and a continuous shot proving the stunt is real. It's a beautiful study in sibling dynamics; the film's only flaw is the inappropriate soundtrack music, which sounds like one of the recently departed Maurice Jarre's thundering scores for David Lean. John Ervin

THE CHASER (CHUGYEOGJA)

St. Anthony Main, April 29 at 9:15 p.m. and April 30 at 6:30 p.m.

A hard-boiled thriller, done Korean style. Former cop turned escort-agency head Jun-Ho (Yung-seok Kim) goes on a desperate hunt when the latest of several of his "girls" to go missing is tied to a serial killer. Stymied by culture, incompetent police, and his own growing guilt, Jun-Ho races the clock to save Young-Min See (Jung-woo Ha). Like other recent Korean films, The Chaser wears it edge like a badge, with the proceedings never quite following the Hollywood pattern. Director Na Hong-Jin makes an impressive debut here, showing both a fine eye for gritty action and unexpected moments of humor. The creators also breathe some life into the serial killer genre, presenting neither a crazed genius nor slobbering maniac, but the quintessential "quiet neighbor." By the end, the film more resembles a Greek tragedy than a run-of-the-mill action film, with the main character literally staring his failure in the eyes. Definitely not for the faint of heart, The Chaser shows that you can still make an intelligent thriller—even if it has to come from half a world away. —Ed Huyck

THE WINDOW

St. Anthony Main, April 18 at 5:15 p.m. and April 19 at 1:15 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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In Argentinean Carlos Sorin's latest film, author Antonio (Antonio Laretta) knows his life is nearing the end—he is nearly bedridden, always connected to an IV, and often lost in his memories. Still, today is a special day, as his estranged son has finally come back from Europe for a visit to the family home. In the meantime, there are routine, special visitors, and, above all, a desire to free himself from the confines of his room. Sorin's film meditates on what it means to be at a moment when nearly all has faded and gone, but life continues to go on. The film's centerpiece is a solitary ramble in the fields by Antonio—holding a cane in one hand, his IV in the other—as he surveys his sun-baked land. By the end of the day, his son's visit almost seems anticlimactic. Laretta gives a tremendous performance as Antonio, using the slightest of movements and changes in tone to show the character's ever-shifting thoughts. —Ed Huyck

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