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

Reviews from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival

Tuesday, April 26, at 9:30 p.m.
Tuesday, May 3, at 9:15 p.m.

Orgasm Inc. outlines the pharmaceutical-industry-sponsored classification, diagnosis, and marketing of FSD—"Female Sexual Dysfunction"—as a disease suffered by "43 percent of women," and the subsequent race for a lucrative cure. Innovations detailed include the Orgasmatron, a jerry-built spinal-implant doohickey, testosterone patches, and the clinical trials of a cream developed by Vivus, whose offices director Liz Canner infiltrates. Doing the on-camera investigator-narrator thing, Canner sticks to the established formula of strained-gonzo muckraking, including stock-footage asides and devastatingly unfunny animations. There's plenty of inherent absurdity in the marketing-speak from Vivus ("...working closely [with physicians] to develop this disease entity...") and the tests applied at the headquarters of a Chicago-based FSD clinic ("You'll be wearing these 3-D glasses, you'll be watching an erotic video..."). Instead of giving the snake oil salesmen (and -women) enough rope, though, Canner smothers irony with condescending indignation. Too scattered in its arguments and piecemeal in its sources to weave together a convincing institutional condemnation—and the one FDA advisory panel we see does its work quite well, thank you—Orgasm Inc. attacks Big Pharma with little more than sex-positive platitudes, funky-mama coffee-shop strumming, and the usual "We as a society..." and "Our culture has made..." conclusions. Nick Pinkerton

The Queen of Hearts

Sunday, April 17, at 2:45 p.m.
Tuesday, April 26, at 5 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

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While watching this French romantic comedy, I thought, "Oh, yeah, this is the country that likes Jerry Lewis so much." Adèle (Valérie Donzelli, who also wrote and directed) is a beautiful young woman who was so dependent on the boyfriend who kicks her out of his flat at the beginning of the film that she acts like a bumbling preadolescent when she steps out in the world. In other words, she is prime bait for the men of Paris, three of whose pursuits are depicted in this rather nauseating farce. The trio comprises a sketch artist whose sensitivity is made loudly apparent by his fondness for scarves, the married father (who sports enormous, Reagan-era specs) of a baby Adèle sits for, and a creepy park predator who forces her into some Last Tango in Paris-style moves that should appeal to those who find rape darn funny. All these men are played by the same actor (Jérémie Elkaïm), which I suppose could be an homage to Jerry's The Family Jewels. Periodically, Adèle breaks out into musical numbers, despairing of her plight with lyrics like "I feel strangled like a Hitchcock heroine" (too bad Juice Newton's "Queen of Hearts" wasn't available). Director-writer-star Donzelli is an appealing comic presence. But her talky script is saturated with out-of-date one-liners and slapstick that's as painful to watch as the silent antics of Stuart Margolin on Love American Style. Instead of Lewis, Newton or Margolin, she would have done better to pay tribute to Joe Orton by titling this What the Baby Saw. —John Ervin

Applause

Thursday, April 21 at 7:15 p.m.
Sunday, April 24, at 9 p.m.

Appearing in every frame of Applause, Thea Barfoed (Paprika Steen), an aging actress and recovering alcoholic trying to get her life back together, is a woman under the influence—of Gena Rowlands's Myrtle Gordon, another aging, alcoholic actress, in John Cassavetes's Opening Night. Danish director Martin Pieter Zandvliet, making his feature debut, co-wrote Applause expressly as a vehicle for Steen. As besotted as Zandvliet obviously is with the combustible Cassavetes–Rowlands collaboration from 1977, his film too often relies on slack maternal-weepie material, as the drama of Thea's offstage life revolves around her increasingly desperate demands for more involvement in the lives of her two young sons. More satisfying are the moments when Thea is thoroughly repellent. Steen, who's 46 and is often shot in stark close-up, navigates one of the trickiest roles to play—the mercurial diva of a certain age—without relying on camp shorthand. Usually an enervating process to witness onscreen, Steen's subtle calibrations of self-hatred and raging narcissism exhilarate. And yet this memorable, soaring performance remains tethered to the ground by Zandvliet's frustrating literal-mindedness. Whereas Opening Night delves into the alchemy of meta-acting, focusing on Rowlands/Myrtle transforming into her role within a role onstage, Applause skips the potentially mesmerizing process altogether, simply interspersing footage from Steen's actual, recent stage performance in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Steen has the aplomb of an actress who knows the fine distinctions between big, messy emotions and scenery chewing. If only her director had similar confidence. —Melissa Anderson

Illegal

Friday, April 29, at 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday, May 3, at 5:30 p.m.

Laudable in intent if creaky in execution, Olivier Masset-Depasse's second feature awkwardly combines a scalding condemnation of Europe's detention centers for immigrants with maternal melodrama. Tania (Anne Coesens), a Russian living in Belgium with her 13-year-old son, Ivan, is sent to a stygian holding pen for undocumented immigrant women and children after she fails to produce the proper identification during a random police check. A prisoner without a name (she refuses to tell the authorities what it is) or fingerprints (she seared all of her digits' pads with an iron in the film's prelude), steel-willed Tania slowly starts to connect with her Chilean and Malian cellmates, who, less fully developed characters than constructs, are almost as anonymous as our heroine. In between enduring the bureaucratic sadism administered by guards who appear to be the Wallonian descendants of the prison matrons in Caged!, Tania calls Ivan, now staying with a family friend, exhorting him not to become the errand boy of the local Russian mobster. The scenes of Tania cradling the pay phone receiver typify Coesens's fiery commitment to the part, but Illegal's plausibility is strained in its final quarter when the mother-martyr thread overtakes Masset-Depasse's jeremiad against injustice. —Melissa Anderson

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