MSPIFF: Reviews of the rest

Il Divo glitters among duller bulbs like The Girl From Monaco, Just Another Love Story

Friday, April 17

THE GIRL FROM MONACO

St. Anthony Main, April 17 at 7 p.m. and April 19 at 7:15 p.m.

All that glitters is glum in Anne Fontaine's dramedy The Girl from Monaco. A middle-aged lawyer (Fabrice Luchini) is in the scenic country for a high-profile case that has him tracked day and night by a morose bodyguard named Christophe (Roschdy Zem). Then he meets a beautiful TV weather girl, Audrey (Louise Bourgoin), who soon has him head over heels in love. But Christophe has a history with Audrey and says any affair will only end in heartbreak. The locations are almost as exquisite as the luminous Audrey, but all the glamour can't make up for the tepidness of it all. Audrey is so flighty and careless that even those blinded-by-love types should be able to see through her. Any laughs are so infrequent that when the film transitions into a drama, viewers will hardly notice the shift. By the time the film takes a few Hitchcock-via-daytime-TV twists, most will wonder why Princess Grace would want to live in such a boring place. Andrew Newman

I'M GONNA EXPLODE

Rumba
Rumba

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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St. Anthony Main, April 17 at 9:10 p.m. and April 19 at 10:10 p.m.

No, this is not a concert film from the early British punk era. But it is a sort of dark take on Ferris Bueller's Day Off, in which two incorrigible troublemakers, Roman and Maru, who attend an elite prep school in Mexico, fake their own disappearance. It's a fake because while their parents are wringing their hands in Roman's house after realizing they are missing, the young lovers are sniggering, making out, and getting drunk on the roof of the very same chateau. The film has some inspired moments, including a raucous, drunken birthday party and a scene in which the parents watch a video on missing children while Maru secretly watches, as well, from behind a couch. But Gerardo Naranjo's direction is sloppy and too dependent on improvisation—the actors aren't bad, but they desperately need a script. The hand-held camera work is also annoying, and there are constant blackouts that make no sense. But it can boast one thing—there are possibly more utterances of "man" than in all of Easy Rider. John Ervin

JUST ANOTHER LOVE STORY

St. Anthony Main, April 17 at 7:15 p.m. and April 25 at 8:15 p.m.

Adultery remains hazardous to your health in "psychological thrillers," even in Scandinavia, and even when your affair begins as a magnificent obsession. Schlumpy Jonas (Anders Bertelsen) stops short while driving and sends distraught stranger Julia (Rebecka Hemse) into a blinding, coma-inducing, memory-banishing crash. On an anonymous visit to the hospital, he's mistaken by her rich family for her sight-unseen boyfriend, Sebastian, acquired during backpacker slumming in Cambodia. Jonas clears up the misunderstanding, leaves a tasteful selection of flowers, and returns to his middle-class wife and kids...sorry, I've misread my notes. Make that: Julia awakens and romance blooms, while flashbacks to gunplay back East portend the return of the real, bad-news Sebastian (Euro-skeezy Nikolaj Lie Kaas). There's a good, painful moment of humiliation when Jonas quits his wife in a superstore, but Bertelsen's puffy sheepishness isn't involving enough to distract from the routine plot. Nicolas Rapold

Saturday, April 18

IL DIVO

St. Anthony Main, April 18 at 7:30 p.m. and April 20 at 6:45 p.m.

The final term of former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti is brought to electrifying life in Il Divo, a tour de force of filmmaking and acting. Focusing on the period in the early 1990s when Andreotti fell from power amid accusations of corruption and Mafia connections, director Paolo Sorrentino films the story as a thriller to beat all thrillers. It melds two worlds: the elegant restraint of Andreotti's world with the brutal, violent, and frightening world of the Mafia. The settings are filled with soft lamplight, rich carpets, and ornate woodworks, but the frenetic editing and brilliantly eclectic soundtrack keep Il Divo a step ahead of other political dramas. At the center of it all is Toni Servillo's Andreotti, who is utterly fascinating. Servillo gives Andreotti a stoic appearance and unshakable public presence, only letting his lost and confused soul in through the cracks. But Andreotti is too smart to let anyone see his true feelings, and it becomes mesmerizing to watch him try to rescue his collapsing world without blinking an eye. —Andrew Newman

LION'S DEN

St. Anthony Main, April 18 at 8:30 p.m. and April 19 at 9:30 p.m.

Julia (Martina Gusman) comes home to find two men in her apartment—one dead, another barely alive. She's convicted of murder and sent to prison, where she gives birth to her son Tomás. Children are allowed to stay with their mothers until age four, and Julia, who was at first ambivalent about her pregnancy, soon embraces her role. This 2008 Argentinian film by Pablo Trapero offers an unflinching and gritty look into life in a women's prison. Although Julia lives in a cellblock with other mothers, there is still plenty of violence and manipulation to go around. She must adapt to her rough surroundings and does so mainly with the help of a new friend, and later lover, Marta (Laura Garcia). Over the years Julia evolves and becomes a hardened woman in order to survive, but she also has a fierce love for her son—and will go to any length to protect him, particularly from her own mother, Sofia (Elli Medeiros). Lion's Den isn't a pretty story, but it presents a terrific character study of a woman who discovers her true self under the most difficult of circumstances. Caroline Palmer

MUNYURANGABO

St. Anthony Main, April 18 at 2:30 p.m. and April 30 at 5:45 p.m.

The horrors of the Rwandan genocide are impossible to comprehend or explain, and some 15 years later it remains clear that the experience still haunts the people of this central African nation. In this 2007 film by writer-director Lee Isaac Chung, revenge motivates Munyurangabo (Jeff Rutagengwa) and his friend Sangwa (Eric Ndorunkundiye) to set out from Kigali to find the man who killed Munyurangabo's father. Along the way the two young men stop at Sangwa's parents' modest farm—a place he left three years earlier—expecting to stay for only a short visit. Sangwa's father (Jean Marie Vianney Nkurikiyinka) is bitterly angry with his son for abandoning the family, but there is hope for reconciliation. Tensions arise because Munyurangabo is Tutsi, and Sangwa's father, a Hutu, can barely contain his hatred. The problems of the past soon manifest in the present as betrayal, violence, and exile, proving that peaceful coexistence, even between friends and family members, remains a fragile concept. Although the film unfolds very deliberately, the slow pace is well suited to the rural atmosphere and the accumulating emotional battles that mount between father and son as well as father and guest. The ending is both painful and powerful, and ultimately offers hope and redemption for a new generation of Rwandans. —Caroline Palmer

THE NECESSITIES OF LIFE

St. Anthony Main, April 18 at noon and April 25 at 4 p.m.

It's difficult to describe The Necessities of Life without making it sound like either a relentless downer or a mawkish tearjerker, but Benoit Pilon's soft-spoken feature avoids those pitfalls with a matter-of-fact approach and a trio of wonderfully restrained performances. Natar Ungalaaq (Atanarjuat—The Fast Runner) is remarkable as Tiivii, an Inuk hunter and family man diagnosed with tuberculosis and sent from his Far North home to a sanitarium in early-'50s Quebec. Separated from his wife and daughters and only partially grasping the reasons for his internment, Tiivii struggles to connect with the French-speaking "Whites" who surround him. Ungalaaq's expressive face is tasked with conveying everything from fascination at seeing x-rays of his own chest to bafflement at eating a plate of spaghetti to despair at facing another day of isolation. Ungalaaq carries much of the film, but he's well-assisted by Eveline Gelinas as his empathetic nurse and Paul-Andre Brasseur as a taciturn Inuit orphan whose arrival in the ward gives Tiivii a new lease on life. The film's exploration of cultural barriers and human connections may be familiar, but Pilon's documentarian approach elevates a potentially sentimental storyline to something much more affecting. —Ira Brooker

PEER GYNT FROM THE STREETS

St. Anthony Main, April 18 at 1:15 p.m.

The original Norwegian title, Gatas Gynt, suggests the depressing, overcast mood of this piece better than the American one. Hallvard Braein's quasi-documentary follows a group of homeless alcoholics and drug addicts as they pick up the pieces of their lives while putting on a production of Ibsen's Peer Gynt. The documentary quality comes through in the faces of the actors, who look like they've been so through the wringer that they're clearly actual transients. Peer Gynt, embodied by an ex-sailor (Egil Schonhardt) who looks like a drug-ravaged Chuck Norris, is the film's lightning rod as he wanders the most horrible sections of Oslo reciting monologues and encountering vagrant variations on the original play's characters. Little humor emanates from this crowd, except perhaps when one of them muses that Ibsen must have been stoned when he wrote his work. Definitely not a date movie, and, even at an hour, it feels long. But patient viewers will be rewarded with a powerful lead performance and fascinating true life stories from those haggard faces. —John Ervin

THE PHOTOGRAPH

St. Anthony Main, April 18 at 4:30 p.m. and April 20 at 9:30

As compact as the studio at the center of most of the action, director Nan Achnas's film is sad, funny, and thoroughly moving. Sita (Shanty), a prostitute and karaoke singer at a club in a small Indonesian city, rents a room from an elderly, ailing photographer, Mr. Johan (Lim Kay Tong). Johan divides his time between shooting portraits for customers and praying at a makeshift altar on the railroad tracks where his wife and son were killed. Sita, meanwhile, raises money for her daughter and mother, who live far away, while avoiding her bullying pimp. Johan's search for an apprentice brings the two together—but not to the usual point of their becoming surrogate father and daughter. Tong's stoic performance contrasts nicely with the sprightly but tough Shanty, who brings a magnetism that goes beyond her stunning looks. The story is somewhat repetitious (Mr. Johan seems to draw his last breath every 10 minutes) and the subtitles are abysmal. But it's easy to follow and full of great supporting characters—including a fabulous transgender job applicant and a Yul Brynner look-alike who's prone to crying jags. —John Ervin

RUMBA

St. Anthony Main, April 18 at 6:45 p.m. and April 20 at 9 p.m.

The legacies of Charlie Chaplin and Jacques Tati, joined with the modern-day high jinks of Mr. Bean, are celebrated in this candy-colored film. Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon are schoolteachers who dance the rumba with wild abandon and have a house full of competition trophies. After a car crash they have to abandon their terpsichorean dreams because Fiona has lost her leg and Dom has lost his memory. They try to make the best of their misfortunes, but soon everything starts to fall apart. It may sound sad, but the more troubles come up the more opportunities Fiona and Dom have to play up their clowning routines. Fiona's prosthetic leg catches on fire? Well, of course the whole house burns down. Dom can't remember his gym class routine? Soon he's got the kids lined up for a beer at the bar. This is one of those quirky films that might compel a person to exclaim "That's so French" (after all, Dom gets beaten up over a chocolate croissant), but there's something innocent about its Gallic silliness. At the same time, the gags made at the expense of Dom and Fiona's new disabilities aren't mean-spirited, but they are sometimes so cartoonish as to seem callous. —Caroline Palmer

TEDDY BEAR (MEDVIDEK)

St. Anthony Main, April 18 at 2:45 p.m.

The writing-directing team of Petr Jarchovsky and Jan Hrebejk (Divided We Fall) serve up a slice of Czech living and Czech loving with Teddy Bear, a thoroughly charming and often affecting romantic comedy. A group of friends, including three married couples, go through the wild twists and turns that come with love—the good and the bad. Families, children, business, affairs—everything touches these people's lives. And what touches one life affects everyone around them. It's far from groundbreaking material, but the strong writing leads to several fantastic performances from an illustrious cast. Anna Geislerova is a standout as a woman struggling with fertility who discovers there is more to her husband than meets the eye. Jiri Machacek and Tana Vilhelmova keep things breezy as the film's funniest characters—new parents who trade barbs while operating a sparsely attended art gallery and coffee house. Even if it's all a bit typical—breakups and make-ups and the like—these reflections on life and love ring true in any language. —Andrew Newman

TWO LIVES PLUS ONE

Oak St. Cinema, April 18 at 4:45 p.m., and St. Anthony Main, April 28 at 5:15 p.m.

Apparently, I've been going about this writing gig all wrong. All I need to do to get published is meet a famous author, write up my journals, send them off to a publisher and, voila, I'm in. At least, that's what Idit Cebula's dull comedy tries to tell me. The story centers on Elaine, a hard-working teacher, wife, mother, and daughter in Paris. Sometimes she finds her overbearing life to be too much, which is when she turns to her scrapbook-like journals. After meeting an author at a book signing, she decides to give the whole writing thing a try. And as fast as you can say "slightly comedic montage," she has a completed manuscript sent off to a publisher. And as soon as you can say "another slightly comedic montage," she's got an "in" with an impossibly hot 31-year-old book editor, who not only begins to mold Elaine's work but also finds the older writer somewhat...attractive. While there are some nice touches along the way (especially with Elaine's Jewish heritage), the severe lack of drama makes this just a Mary Sue story with French accents. Ed Huyck

Sunday, April 19

THE COUNTRY TEACHER

St. Anthony Main, April 19 at 5:15 p.m. and April 22 at 7:20 p.m.

The solemn new addition to the tiny elementary-school faculty in a rural Czech outpost gets off to a heavily symbolic start by turning his pupils on to the glorious diversity of nature—a measure not just of how badly he needs to leap out of the closet, but what an open book this movie is going to be. Given the baby steps currently being taken into gay-themed cinema in Central and Eastern Europe, one wants to look kindly on any movie that won Best Queer Film at the Reykjavik Film Festival last year. And there's something undeniably fresh about a coming-out story set among animals a-birthing and flowers a-blooming instead of a gay bar with support from wisecracking drag queens. But this sweetly ingenuous film, written and directed by Bohdan Slama, is a lot less sentimental about cows and flowers than it is about its human protagonists, who fall domino-like in love with churls who won't love them back. Zuzana Bydzovska is very good as the mother of a sullen, beautiful boy with whom the teacher falls in love, but Pavel Liska plays the hapless pedagogue with a long-faced saintliness that leads us to hope in vain for situation comedy. Instead, following one truly risky scene, we get more natural rebirth, and the damp discovery that romantic love may be for the birds, but people will always need people. Ella Taylor

DAYS AND CLOUDS

St. Anthony Main, April 19 at 9:45 p.m. and April 29 at 9 p.m.

Elsa (Margherita Buy) and Michele (Antonio Albanese) have a problem: They're a married couple in a middlebrow art-house movie. When Elsa gets her art doctorate, Michele's two-part present is a party and the announcement that he lost his job months ago. A little economic paring-down turns into selling the house and moving to lower-middle-class hell. Michele freaks out in time-honored fashion: yelling too loud in a restaurant at his wife, slapping his daughter, and crying in the fetal position in the shower. Silvio Soldini's Days and Clouds is watery on the economics of it all—Michele was punished for refusing to compromise his principles and outsource boat production, or because his ideas never made any money, or something—and without grounding in specific causes-and-effects, the film is just another dreary wallow in self-pity. Falling down a social class and abandoning your entire lifestyle sucks; still, this particular freelancer has trouble working up too much sympathy for a couple selling a Genoa loft and moving into a solid if blockish apartment. The search for a better recent movie about unemployment and self-effacement than Laurent Cantet's 2001 Time Out continues. Vadim Rizov

FADOS

St. Anthony Main, April 19 at 2:15 p.m. and April 26 at 5 p.m.

The Fado is a dolorous folksong tradition from Portugal, first sung in the early 19th century by barefoot peasants mending nets and contemplating a roiling black Atlantic. It has survived to the present day, providing MP3 succor to middle-class professionals on antidepressants (lyric: "It was God's will that I live with anxiety")—and now it's the subject of a film revue by the venerable Carlos Saura. Contemporary celebs appear (superstar fadista mewlers Mariza and Lura), alongside ghosts (Amália "Queen of Fado" Rodrigues). Saura is formally ambitious—a troupe travels through the film, articulating lyrics in dance—but the movie missteps when departing wholly from the intrinsic nostalgia of its subject, as the seventysomething director imposes his idea of contemporary cool: interspersed hip-hop trio NBC, SP & Wilson, and Brazilian reggae artist Toni Garrido. The sequestering of performers into warehouse-studio spaces adds a certain chill to the proceedings, but there are happy exceptions. Nonagenarian Argentina Santos fills her single-take frame with stout gravitas. The penultimate scene takes place in the House of Fados, a Freed Unit version of a Lisbon barroom, its walls a graveyard of headshots, where song is passed around like a challenge and teenaged braceface Carminho shuts the place down. —Nick Pinkerton

Tuesday, April 21

WHAT REMAINS OF US

St. Anthony Main, April 21 at 5:20 p.m. and April 22 at 5:10 p.m.

When China cracked down on Tibet in the months before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, it served as yet another sad reminder to the world that a country—and an ancient peaceful culture—is in serious danger of being lost forever. This 2004 documentary by Francois Prévost and Hugo Latulippe demonstrates this reality by venturing into Tibet on a very specific mission. Kalsang Dolma, a Tibetan-Canadian, smuggled in a portable DVD player loaded with a short message from His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, and she sought opportunities to play it for as many people as possible—nuns, monks, families, farmers, youth. This was a very risky act—the prisons are filled with Tibetans caught supporting the Dalai Lama—yet many still watched, their bodies leaning forward, palms together, listening intently to his every word, tears in their eyes. One fears for these faithful—will the Chinese see this and exact a punishment? On the film's official website the directors address ethics and security measures, and the Tibetans are aware of the potential backlash. The fact that they are still willing to sacrifice so much to see and hear their spiritual leader for just a few minutes is truly inspiring. —Caroline Palmer

Wednesday, April 22

HOW ABOUT YOU

St. Anthony Main, April 22 at 9:30 p.m. and April 30 at 5:15 p.m.

Again with the grumpy old geezers burnished into old dears just in time for Christmas by a rosy young beauty with problems of her own? The twist here being that the embittered seniors languishing in a down-at-heel Irish retirement home appear to be former flower children, on account of them swearing like troopers and whipping out the tokes whenever Authority leaves the room. It was surely shrinking employment opportunities in British film rather than the caliber of the material that attracted such a stellar cast to this ensemble piece adapted from a short story by Maeve Binchy, a superior pop-fiction writer widely read by my mum and her friends. When Pat O'Connor made a movie out of a Binchy novel, the charming 1995 Circle of Friends, it launched the admittedly brief career of Minnie Driver. Though capably enough directed by Anthony Byrne, I can't see How About You doing anything for Hayley Atwell (Brideshead Revisited, The Duchess) that she hasn't already done for herself. As Rosy Young Beauty, she pluckily holds her own against the best in the business—Vanessa Redgrave as a boozy faded screen star, Imelda Staunton and Brenda Fricker as sheltered spinsters put away before their time, and Joss Ackland as an angry widower waiting to die. But the only crowds this stodgy little movie is likely to please tend to be home on a Saturday night, watching PBS. —Ella Taylor

Thursday, April 23

PERSONAL CHE

St. Anthony Main, April 23 at 5:40 p.m. and April 27 at 5 p.m.

This 2007 documentary by Adriana Marino and Douglas Duarte explores how Che Guevara—the Argentinian Marxist revolutionary who fought alongside Fidel Castro in Cuba and was later killed in Bolivia—has become, in death, a figure who is larger than life to many different people around the world. His iconic image is emblazoned on T-shirts and wristwatches. He is the inspiration to a rebellious legislator in Hong Kong, a reverent Cuban family in Havana, a Mexican memento collector in New Jersey, a Lebanese actor in a musical of Guevara's life, and, most frighteningly, the neo-Nazis who still march in Germany today. Still others consider him a terrorist and take offense at his constant presence in pop culture. As the film title points out, the interpretations are all unique and based as much on myth as fact. The filmmakers return time and again to the image of Guevara on display after his death—his piercing eyes are wide open but his face and body are gaunt. He looks like Jesus Christ, and many hold him in the same esteem and have ascribed a story and characteristics to him that may or may not be true. Ultimately, this well-made, provocative, and sometimes humorous film proves, if nothing else, that Guevara remains one of the most compelling and controversial political figures in recent history. —Caroline Palmer

Friday, April 24

BREAKING UPWARDS

St. Anthony Main, April 24 at 9:25 p.m. and Oak St. Cinema, April 25 at 3:30 p.m.

Writer Daryl (Daryl Wein) and actress Zoe (Zoe Lister Jones) are two New York twentysomethings in love. Although the cute couple's life together is hip and fun, it's also become a bit boring. They aren't really ready to break up, so they decide to take a few days off from one another each week—to find themselves and, perhaps, to find other people. It doesn't take long, however, before their seemingly rational plan falls apart. This 2009 film, directed by Wein and co-written with Jones, ably tackles the common problems of modern love, particularly the quandary of when to settle down with one person. The separation that develops between Daryl and Zoe is realistic—as is the fact that despite their hurt feelings they never really fall out of love with each other. Wein has a brisk directorial style—at times things seem to be moving too fast—but Breaking Upwards succeeds overall because it isn't aimed just at the relationship angst of the millennial generation. This is ultimately a story about unexpected outcomes, the promise of reconciliation, and the countless little things we learn from the people we encounter in our lives. —Caroline Palmer

JERUSALEMA

St. Anthony Main, April 24 at 9:45 p.m. and April 27 at 9 p.m.

There's very little about Jerusalema that we haven't seen a dozen times before. Ralph Ziman's South African crime drama is pretty upfront about copping from superior rags-to-riches gangster flicks like Goodfellas, Scarface, and City of God. With a few notable exceptions, nearly every scene and character is right out of the book of crime movie clichés. Yet somehow Jerusalema's fact-based story of a Johannesburg carjacker's rise to power is greater than the sum of its recycled parts. That has a lot to do with the setting—the unique nature of South Africa's tortured political and social structure lends Ziman's film a vibrance that overcomes his shaky screenplay. As we watch ambitious young hustler Lucky (Rapulana Seiphemo) rise from street thief to semi-legitimate real estate mogul and community organizer, his homeland's bizarre racial dynamics seethe constantly in the background. Nic Hofmeyer's slick, lively cinematography imbues the film with poignant energy, heightening the contrast between the slum side streets of Lucky's youth and the manicured suburban homes to which he aspires. The story may be nothing new, but the presentation and context place Jerusalema a notch above much of its stateside brethren. —Ira Brooker

THE SONG OF SPARROWS

St. Anthony Main, April 24 at 7:15 p.m.

The direct appeals of his melodramatic groundswells have long made Oscar-nominated Iranian director Majid Majidi a dismissed old-school counterpart to Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi. His latest film observes ostrich-wrangling father Karim (Reza Naji) struggling to remain the man of the house as he weathers a series of bad breaks. There's an element of silent comedy not just in the mild humor or Karim's tapir-nosed grimaces, but in the simple (not simplistic) sentiment of the scenarios: the pursuit of an escaped bird across barren hills, the businessman in cluttered Tehran who plops on his motorbike and instantly turns into a cabbie. Beleaguered Karim, fond but suspicious of his kids, shifts between overreacting and lugging stuff like a pack animal, as the city opens up new opportunities for profit and ethical quandaries. But his perspective begins to feel a bit confined in Naji's hands, and it's a shock when Karim busts out a ditty about the world being a lie and a dream, after his young son's crew endures a setback to their get-rich-quick-through-goldfish scheme. The film is pleasingly meandering, till the more typically Majidian soulful and teary-eyed climax. —Nicolas Rapold

Saturday, April 25

ELDORADO

St. Anthony Main, April 25 at 9:35 p.m. and April 29 at 5:45 p.m.

The back roads of Belgium are lonely in Bouli Lanners's odd but engaging road pic. In the film, which Lanners wrote, directed, and starred in, the countryside, highways, towns, and even cities of Belgium come off as deserted places, where only a few souls ever brave the elements or human contact. One of these lost souls is Yvan, a vintage-car dealer who comes home one evening to find a young man, Elie, trying to burgle his home. The man, claiming to be an ex-junkie, is just looking for money to get back to his parents' home at the French border. Thus starts a meandering road trip as Yvan, searching for direction himself, takes Elie across the country's rural paths. Along the way, they meet some odd characters—a man who collects cars involved in fatal accidents, a nudist who helps to rescue their trapped car in the buff—and slowly form a bond. The film is more about what's communicated in the long pauses in conversation, be it driving down the road or trying to bring life to Elie's mother's dead garden. The film's short running time (about 80 minutes) keeps Lanners's often slight piece from wearing out its welcome; it comes off more like a filmed short story than a cinematic epic. —Ed Huyck

IN A DREAM

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

THE SILENCE BEFORE BACH

St. Anthony Main, April 25 at noon and April 27 at 7:30 p.m.

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

Sunday, April 26

FOUL GESTURE

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

OBLIVION

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

THE OTHER MAN

St. Anthony Main, April 26 at noon

This documentary short efficiently scans the life of poet Olav H. Hauge, whose young adulthood was bedeviled by psychotic breakdowns in which he was convinced he was an "other." Director Vigdis Nielsen located an impressive number of Hauge's associates and loved ones to impart details about his life: growing up in a rough farm community in the 1920s and '30s while attempting to forge a writing career; clocking many months in institutions where he was given electroshock treatment and nearly lobotomized; and enjoying a late blooming of fame in middle age. But the most effective moments are the recitations of his poetry by an off-screen actor over gorgeous outdoor footage, as well as photos and home movies of the author. The film is deliberately paced and is probably not going to drive the uninitiated to devour Hauge's work. But it is a small achievement considering its modest budget and seemingly uncharismatic subject. —John Ervin

POSSIBLE LIVES

St. Anthony Main, April 26 at 12:30 p.m. and April 30 at 7 p.m.

Marcia (Natalia Oreiro) and Luciano (Germán Palacios) seem to have it all—a happy marriage, impossible good looks, a stable life together. When Luciano, a geologist, disappears in Patagonia, Marcia goes to look for him and is surprised by what she finds—a man who looks exactly like Luciano but who is living another life, with another wife. This 2008 film from Argentina directed by Sandra Gugliotta offers at least two possible explanations—this man is simply Luciano's twin or he is Luciano putting on a very good act. Either way, Marcia is drawn to him, and one is never quite sure of the truth, even though the ending tries to offer a pat explanation. Patagonia plays a key role in this film—its bleak but beautiful landscapes are an unforgiving snow-covered counterpoint to Marcia's complex emotional conflict. The film has a glacial pace—and Luciano's soulful Patagonia doppelganger seems devoid of any personality, so much so that Marcia is able to layer whatever traits she wants on him—but Oreiro's performance is rich with haunted possibility. Her discovery, or her compromise, depending on your perspective, is understandable in the face of certain loss. —Caroline Palmer

TOKYO SONATA

St. Anthony Main, April 26 at 7:55 p.m.

Like a bottled message cast from the shores of an economy whose implosion precipitated our own, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata centers on Ryuhei (Teruyuki Kagawa), a 46-year-old middle manager for a health-care equipment company who learns that his entire department is being outsourced to China. Ryuhei guards the news from his wife, Megumi (the excellent Kyoko Koizumi), continuing to don his suit and tie for a daily triathlon of dead-end job interviews, soup-kitchen lunches, and afternoons whiled away at a public library. Meanwhile, Ryuhei's youngest son, Kenji, a bright-eyed sixth-grader, pockets his lunch money to pay for the piano lessons to which his dad has firmly said no, and, in a further affront to Ryuhei's already fragile masculine authority, eldest son Takashi calmly announces that he's joining the U.S. military. Like that most revered of Japanese directors, Yasujiro Ozu, Kurosawa (who's best known for his series of supernatural horror films) here uses the microcosm of family to reflect a changing Japanese society—one that he sees staggering awkwardly into the 21st century, weighed down by faltering notions of tradition and a profound lack of internal communication. Fittingly, when hope arrives, it does so guised in chaos, and we, like the characters on screen, perk up our heads to glimpse it. Scott Foundas

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