MSPIFF 2012: Reviews

Headshot, Unforgivable, Natural Selection, and more

Wednesday, April 18, at 7:30 p.m.
Monday, April 30, at 9 p.m.

The latest phantasmagoria of cinematic quotation from Canadian director Guy Maddin, Keyhole is an extremely loose adaptation of the Odyssey. Jason Patric plays Ulysses Pick, leader of a two-bit gang who, carrying a nearly drowned girl on his back, returns home after a long absence. With his criminal accomplices confined to the downstairs sitting room, Ulysses journeys through the labyrinthine house, joined by the girl (Brooke Palsson) and a bound-and-gagged hostage (David Wontner), who Ulysses doesn't immediately realize is his only living son, Manners. Ulysses's goal is to reach the attic bedroom where his wife, Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini), lays next to her naked elderly father (Louis Negin), chained to her bed. The father lures his son-in-law with a siren call — "Remember, Ulysses, remember" — but the house is full of roadblocks in the form of locked doors, debilitating visions of the past, and inchoate anxieties brought to life. A swirling stew of Maddin's pet themes — family ties, irrepressible sexuality, the weather — Keyhole is less narrative than architectural: It doesn't move from scene to scene, but rather from room to room. The house is a physical stand-in for a dreaming, troubled mind, and the film is so unrelentingly dreamlike that its sudden end mimics the sensation of snapping awake from deep sleep. But whose dream is it? Who is haunted, and who is doing the haunting? Shot digitally in chiaroscuro black-and-white, nearly every frame complicated by multiple exposure effects and strategically harsh lighting, Keyhole is stunning to look at, but frustrating to look deeply into. —Karina Longworth

Oka!

Tuesday, April 17, at 5 p.m.
Sunday, April 22, at 1:30 p.m.

Natural Selection
Natural Selection
Bert Stern: Original Madman
Bert Stern: Original Madman

Details

Festival Essentials

Dates: April 12-May 3

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

Admission: $11 ($10 for students and seniors; $6 for kids under 12). Visit the MSPIFF website for prices on opening- or closing-night films and multiple-show packages.

More info: www.mspfilmfest.org

Love Actually's Kris Marshall stars as Larry, an endearingly goofy ethnomusicologist from Jersey who travels to the forests of Central Africa for a passion project: recording the music and microcosmic sounds of the Bayaka Pygmies, with whom he previously cohabitated. Based on a memoir by Louis Sarno — who fell in love with a tribeswoman and still lives with the clan more than two decades later — director Lavinia Currier's Oka!, a loose-limbed tapestry of cultural nuances, atmosphere, and song, is a tuneful tribute to the Bayakan spirit. Matching Naples-scape Passione in its celebratory tone but filmed with all the staged-documentary performances, eccentric visual ironies, and caught-wildlife moments of a Werner Herzog narrative, Oka! delights only when it isn't trying to keep its plot turning. That plot, such as it is, basically revolves around naïve guide Larry's hapless ability to get lost, hoodwinked, and appear right in the path of splashed mud. There's a detour involving a bottom-line official (Isaach De Bankolé as the film's emblem of modernity) who exploits the pygmies for their elephant meat. Meant to open eyes to a plight still endured by these hunter-gatherers, it's a well-intentioned detail but not as thrilling as, say, three lake-bathing ladies drumming a song with only water as their instrument. —Aaron Hillis

The Salt of Life

Friday, April 13, at 5:15 p.m.
Sunday, April 15, at 4 p.m.

As in his directorial debut, Mid-August Lunch, Gianni Di Gregorio stars in this quiet comedy, this time as Giovanni, a man in his early 60s forcibly retired nearly a decade ago and whose only employment today is playing gray-haired errand boy to the still-active women who surround him. Giovanni lives in Rome with a wife — the relationship has evidently cooled to mutual indifference — and a daughter. Aside from his mother (Valeria de Franciscis), who hectors Giovanni with calls for assistance, no one seems to expect much more from him. Giovanni, in turn, doesn't seem to expect much of life, until his contemporary, lone friend, the rubicund lawyer Alfonso, stokes Giovanni's desire to take a last crack at physical love — though when they step out together, Giovanni notices they don't make much of an impact: "It's like I'm transparent." Di Gregorio's performance sets the tone of dim hope and quiet forbearance, telling the story through reactions: an ever-accommodating smile that shades into a wince; sparkling, heavy-lidded eyes betrayed by vexed brows. With a fine, finicky touch, these convey the longings of a flaneur with yet-young eyes, clinging to the right side of the divide between late middle-age and true senescence, though even the more broad, shame-based humor is done discreetly: A Viagra joke comes as close to tactfulness as such things can, limited to Giovanni giving his lap a few furtive glances. —Nick Pinkerton

Turn Me On, Dammit!

Saturday, April 28, at 9:30 p.m.
Wednesday, May 2, at 7:45 p.m.

Set in the Norwegian boonies, Jannicke Systad Jacobsen's first fiction feature (based on Olaug Nilssen's 2005 novel) introduces its 15-year-old protagonist Alma (Helene Bergsholm) with her hand down her pants, furiously coming as she listens to a phone-sex operator. Yet the opening scene's promising boldness is soon undermined by cutaway shots of the family dog looking on, puzzled, at the frenzy of self-pleasure; like its title, Turn Me On, Dammit! is a jokey pseudo-provocation. Horny fantasist Alma becomes an outcast once she tells her friends that a crush "poked me with his dick" at a party. When not asking audience members to figure out what's in Alma's head and what isn't, Systad Jacobsen, working with a cast of mostly first-time actors, reveals her strengths with the more fully conceived supporting characters. Ingrid (Beate Stofring), responsible for making Alma a pariah, has a great moment singing "Oh, Happy Day" at choir practice; the mean girl's sister Sara (Malin Bjorhovde) writes letters to inmates on death row in Texas. More a symbol of frustrated, slandered teenage lust than an actual person, Alma — so pale she's almost translucent — is devoid of these specificities. When she runs away to Oslo for a day, I wished that she could travel back in time to another Scandi capital: Stockholm, to join the fully realized adolescent-girl misfits of Lukas Moodysson's 1998 Show Me Love. —Melissa Anderson

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