MSPIFF: The Interrupters, Louder Than a Bomb, and more

Reviews from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival

Friday, April 15, at 9:45 p.m.
Sunday, April 17, at 4 p.m.

As boarding-school bodice-rippers go, this assured debut by British director and girls'-school alumna Jordan Scott fairly bursts with pent-up carnality trying to ripen under rigid autocracy laden with lesbian denial. Shot in a lushly wild corner of Ireland, Cracks looks as lovely as a colorized old postcard, all vibrant vermilions and deep blues to set off the ethereal beauty of Casino Royale Bond girl Eva Green. Alas, the hopelessly miscast Green is too darn French, lacking the voraciously loony brio it takes to play Miss G, a glamorous but increasingly unhinged teacher who lives for her pubescent maidens while dreaming of foreign travel. Much of the pleasure comes instead from the erotic symbiosis of the mädchen in school uniform, topped off by a sharply intelligent performance from Juno Temple (Kaboom) as a smart but unfinished head-girl type whose perch as teacher's pet is toppled by the arrival of a pneumatic Spanish blueblood (María Valverde) who catches Miss G's roving eye. Copious diving into lakes, scads of Jean Brodie dialogue ("Do you have desire, gehls?"), and midnight feasting in drag follow. All of which is heavy-breathing fun until an ill-judged lapse into Lord of the Flies territory and a Jean Rhysian climax all but bury the message about the evils of repression. —Ella Taylor

Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune

Friday, April 15, at 9:15 p.m.
Wednesday, April 20, at 4:30 p.m.

Le Quattro Volte
Le Quattro Volte
Dumas
Dumas

Details

Festival Facts

Dates: April 14-May 5

Location: St. Anthony Main Theatre, 115 Main St. SE, Minneapolis

Admission: $11 ($10 for seniors, $9 for students) Visit the MSPIFF website for prices on opening- or closing-night films and multiple-show packages.

More info: www.mspfilmfest.org

Protest singer-songwriter Phil Ochs, with just a guitar and a vibrato tenor, found the sources for his lyrics in daily and weekly periodicals, titling his 1964 debut album All the News That's Fit to Sing. Rich in archival material, Kenneth Bowser's documentary traces his subject from handsome, skittishly affable troubadour in a turtleneck to a mentally ill ranter puffy from too much drink and irrevocably broken after the Chicago '68 riots (Ochs hanged himself in 1976, at age 35). Fans Christopher Hitchens and Sean Penn praise the sting of Ochs's songs like "Love Me, I'm a Liberal" (particularly when compared with the anodyne offerings of folkies like Peter, Paul, and Mary), but the more illuminating anecdotes come from those who knew and worked with the performer closely. Gaslight Café manager Sam Hood dismisses Bob Dylan, with whom Ochs had a friendly rivalry if pathological attachment, as a "prick"; journalist Lucian Truscott IV recalls of the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK, "I think Phil was a big enough egomaniac to take it all personally." Though hewing to a too-conventional structure, Bowser's film is densely researched enough to yield insights not just into its overlooked subject but also into his overly analyzed era. —Melissa Anderson

Dooman River

Wednesday, April 20, at 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, April 28, at 9:30 p.m.

The sun doesn't make a lot of appearances in Dooman River, literally or otherwise. Taking its name from a popular byway for North Korean refugees escaping into China, writer-director Lu Zhang's film is about as grim as its setting and subject matter would suggest. The story revolves loosely around the friendship between a young Chinese boy and his similarly aged North Korean playmate, but Zhang frequently lets the narrative wander to the fringes of the community. As the snow-covered border town emerges as a ramshackle collective of drunks, smugglers, and barely supervised children, Dooman River sometimes veers toward heavy-handed melodrama (a scene where Kim Jong-Il's televised image drives a man instantly insane comes to mind). Still, the film is peppered with enough poignant moments and wintry beauty to appeal to viewers with a taste for bleakness. —Ira Brooker

Twelve Thirty

Saturday, April 23, at 7 p.m.
Sunday, April 24, at 6:30 p.m.

In Twelve Thirty, getting fucked by a bright-eyed college kid proves a bonding experience for one Iowa family. In the aftermath of three wildly different sexual encounters with twentysomething Jeff (Jonathan Groff), spunky Mel (Portia Reiners), her morose sister Maura (Mamie Gummer), and the pair's mom, Vivien (Karen Young), re-establish a measure of interfamilial intimacy—both with each other and with the latter's gay ex-husband. Sexuality runs from the thrillingly casual to the squeamishly disagreeable in Jeff Lipsky's film, but mostly screwing—like trust, love, and happiness—becomes the stuff of ceaseless conversation. Essentially a series of verbal pas de deux, the film pairs off its six characters (Maura's Satanist friend completes the sextet) in various arrangements for chats by turns aggressive and stutteringly awkward. These exchanges have an echo-chamber feel to them, as if they're cut off from both the outside world and the way actual people talk, but realism is clearly not what Lipsky is after. Instead he crafts an odd self-contained universe in which the characters' compulsive need to explain themselves or simply hold their interlocutor's attention stands in for the meaning of the words they actually say, resulting in a film more satisfying in occasional isolated moments than as a coherent dramatic entity. —Andrew Schenker

We Are What We Are

Friday, April 15, at 10 p.m.
Monday, April 18, at 9:30 p.m.

The tale of a disoriented cannibal family trying to survive in the lower depths of Mexico City, Jorge Michel Grau's We Are What We Are is a darkly comic social allegory as well as an atmospheric little genre flick. This promising first feature is nearly as apt to use the power of suggestion as to ladle up the gore, and just arty enough to have secured a slot in last year's New York Film Festival. Grau's opening scene is good enough to anthologize. A wild-eyed middle-aged man staggers up out of the subway, collapses on the sidewalk, vomits black bile, and dies. Passersby are oblivious, and the clean-up is all but instant. Later, at the morgue, a medic discovers an undigested human finger in the corpse's stomach. The case of the missing finger is never solved; the rest of We Are What We Are concerns the dead man's absence. Without him, his family-cum-cult are not sure how to feed themselves or continue what they call "the Ritual." Who are these unspeakably sordid people holed up in a drab, working-class neighborhood? Are they los ricos, los pobres, capitalist exploiters, social parasites, an atavistic Aztec sect, metaphors for Mexico's self-devouring drug wars? Don't look for logic. They are who they are, and mainly they're hungry! Once under way, We Are What We Are is a long journey through an urban miasma to the end of a dark and bloody night, a modernist score adding to the anxiety around the invariably messy kills. This is a movie where mise-en-scène trumps the suspense. —J. Hoberman

Orgasm Inc.

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