By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
St. Anthony Main, April 25 at 6:40 p.m.
"I'm fascinated by giganticness," reveals Santa-bearded mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar, whose compulsive, nearly half-century-long mission to create candy-colored mazes of fractured tiles, mirror shards, paint, and bric-a-brac has covered tens of thousands of Philadelphia square feet, including the home Zagar shares with wife, Julia. An inwardly distressed, self-absorbed eccentric who is unafraid to expose himself, either physically or emotionally, Isaiah bluntly admits that he was molested as a boy and attempted suicide in his 20s, and midway through the film's production he tells Julia on-camera that he's been sleeping with his assistant. Where most documentarians would rest on the laurels of a great subject and riveting present-tense drama, director Jeremiah Zagar has observed too much of his father's creative logic to cheat us with artless hagiography. In dreamily paced tracking shots, macro close-ups, time-lapse glimpses of Isaiah's processes (the raking together of paint and cement is especially satisfying), archival footage, and animation, In a Dream exhibits as much beauty and sensuality as Isaiah's work, while the unabashedly personal nature of the filmmaker-subject dynamic is candid and insightful about familial madness. —Aaron Hillis
St. Anthony Main, April 25 at noon and April 27 at 7:30 p.m.
April 16-30, 2009
St. Anthony Main: 115 Main St. SE, Mpls.; 612.331.4723
Oak Street Cinema: 309 Oak St. SE, Mpls.; 612.331.3134
$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.
At once cerebral film essay and unsweetened ear candy, Pere Portabella's The Silence Before Bach is nearly as tough to categorize as its maker. Until his MOMA retrospective last fall, the 78-year-old Catalan—at various times a commercial producer, an anti-Franco activist, and an avant-garde film artist—was known here mainly, if at all, for having facilitated Luis Buñuel's blasphemous Viridiana (1962). The Silence Before Bach is not quite as jocular as Viridiana (though it's sometimes as surreal); it's a high-toned experimental feature that eschews narrative and ponders the social history of music, creating a dialectic between sound and image as well as between a costumed 18th-century and a contemporary post-national Europe. This cool, deliberate film suggests that Bach's music is the quintessence of European civilization. The structure is anecdotal: A Spanish trucker has a Renaissance mural painted on his rig and talks music as he rolls through the characterless Euro-countryside. Meanwhile, down in the subway, serious young cellists occupy every seat, embracing their instruments in an unexpectedly erotic image. The movie lapses briefly into biopic, almost as a joke. A historic Leipzig church is filled with Bach's music...as well as Bach himself (Christian Brembeck) at the organ. Portabella's sense of music is most directly expressed when a church cantor observes that Bach's compositions have the power to convert secular musicians to religion. Bach's music is "the only thing that reminds us the world is not a failure," someone says—and not as a joke. —J. Hoberman
St. Anthony Main, April 26 at 4:15 p.m. and April 28 at 9 p.m.
A political parable in the guise of a Hitchcockian one-man-against-the-system thriller, Foul Gesture is at its best when it's least overt. With his perpetually sad eyes and laconic demeanor, screenwriter Gal Zaid brings a certain Alan Arkin quality to his lead role as David, an out-of-work Israeli engineer forced into a showdown after his car is wrecked and his wife threatened by a local mob boss. Zaid's slow burn is masterful as David's appeals are ignored by both the police and the gangster himself, eventually driving him to ever-escalating acts of vigilante justice. Aside from a few clumsy deus ex machina moments, director Tzahi Grad's film is tightly plotted and reliably intense, buoyed by strong supporting performances by Ya'acov Ayaly and Keren Moras as David's shifty cousin and put-upon wife. The political metaphors could be handled more subtly (in one of the more thudding examples, an act of righteous vengeance is framed by a fluttering Israeli flag), but on the whole Foul Gesture pulls through as a thought-provoking, consistently engaging film—sort of a Straw Dogs for a very different era and geography. —Ira Brooker
St. Anthony Main, April 26 at 5:30 p.m. and April 29 at 7:15 p.m.
Heddy Honigman's latest documentary, Oblivion, isn't quite on par with her much-loved O Amor Natural or The Underground Orchestra, but the director's unobtrusive skill as an interviewer and eye for finding beauty in the mundane make this study of modern life in her birthplace of Lima, Peru, well worth watching. Oblivion tracks the daily lives of Lima's service workers, small-business owners, and street performers, creating a complex pastiche of a city that's endured several decades of terrorism and political turmoil. The film is slow going at times, but for every lag there's a moment of stunning personal and political insight: a veteran waiter maintains a practiced grin while trying to explain why his own wife has never dined in his upscale restaurant, a jaded leather repairer asserts that inflation has hurt him far more than terrorism ever did, a young man tries to put himself through bartending school by juggling for spare change. Things seem relatively stable at the time of filming, but as interviewee after interviewee reflects on the hardships Peru suffered during recently re-elected president Alan Garcia's first term in the 1980s, it becomes clear that most are waiting for the other shoe to drop. —Ira Brooker