The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival

A filmmaker from Minnesota tells the story behind a lost animated masterpiece, plus hits and misses of the fest by our critics

Love him or hate him, Ed Koch was New York in the 1980s, and Koch's bio account of his mayoral tenure offers almost equal measures of celebration and censure. Director Neil Barsky's film never shies away from Koch's controversies, exploring his third term's devastating corruption scandal and giving voice to critics who viewed him as, among other things, a racist (thanks to his closing of Harlem's Sydenham Hospital), a hypocritical homophobe (courtesy of persistent rumors of his gayness and his administration's slow response to the AIDS crisis), and an opportunist. Still, Koch also finds time to flirt with hagiography. In copious archival clips and contemporary footage with family, campaigning for others, and having the Queensboro Bridge named after him, Koch is presented as a no-nonsense loudmouth whose love of New York was matched only by his love of attention. The film has to skim — less a failing of Barsky's than a testament to Koch's involvement in so many pressing social and economic issues, including his landmark housing-reform work and his response to the murder of Yusef Hawkins. Still, if unlikely to change anyone's mind about its subject, the film is an effective primer on a voluble and charismatic mayor who embodied the spirit of the city he loved. —Nick Schager

Broken

Monday, April 22, at 9:30 p.m.

Friday, April 26, at 1 p.m.

Animator Richard Williams worked on his epic feature for nearly 30 years but never got the chance to complete it
Animator Richard Williams worked on his epic feature for nearly 30 years but never got the chance to complete it

Details

THE PERSISTENCE OF VISION
screens Friday, April 19, at 6:30 p.m.
at St. Anthony Main Theatre.

Festival Facts: Dates: April 11-28 Location: St. Anthony Main Theatre, 115 Main St. SE, Minneapolis Admission: $12 ($6 for kids 12 and under). Visit the MSPIFF website for prices on opening- and closing-night films and multiple-show packages. More info: www.mspfilmfest.org

Broken is utterly depressing — but like many such films, utterly compelling. Eloise Lawrence (in an incredible performance) stars as Skunk, a diabetic 11-year-old girl whose home, which she shares with her father, brother, and housekeeper, lies within a circle not unlike one of those nine Dante made famous. Things are sparked by the physical brutality of neighbor Mr. Oswald (Rory Kinnear), a widowed father of three girls, two of whom victimize Skunk at school and the third of whom falsely accuses men of impregnating her. One of her victims — and a punching bag for her monstrous father — is a demented adult man (Robert Emms) who lives with his parents and on whom Skunk takes pity. Relief from the tumult is found in a nearby junkyard, where Skunk goes wandering with her brother and boyfriend. Of course, she inevitably has to go back to that circle each night. Director Rufus Norris and screenwriter Mark O'Rowe have crafted a tight and moving coming-of-age story that even finds some humor amid all the pain. Tim Roth, as Skunk's sympathetic father, and Cillian Murphy, as one of her teachers, not only bring star familiarity but also some sense of normalcy in an otherwise abnormal world. —John Ervin

In the Fog

Wednesday, April 17, at 6:45 p.m.

Tuesday, April 23, at 4:30 p.m.

While we mainly remember the battlefields from World War II, the conflict stretched into every corner of Europe. In an isolated hunk of the Soviet Union, the battle rages on quietly throughout In the Fog, Sergei Loznitsa's meditative exploration of the far-reaching terror wrought by the war. A local resident, Sushenya (Vladimir Svirskiy), finds himself caught between the occupying forces and the local resistance after he is jailed and then freed following an attempt to sabotage the local railway. Though always an upstanding local, Sushenya is suspected of collaboration, and two of the partisans are sent to execute him. The attempt fails when the occupying forces, many of them locals who have gone to the side of the Nazis, arrive. For the balance of the film, we see the trio attempt to survive in the deep woods, while flashing back to what actually happened at the police station. Employing a steady pace and a string of subtle performances from the cast, In the Fog reminds us that the breakdown of order is often just a step away, and it is hard to predict which side anyone will come down on when that moment comes. —Ed Huyck

The Color of the Chameleon

Saturday, April 20, at 9:45 p.m.

Wednesday, April 24, at 9:15 p.m.

The chameleon is Batko, a strange young man living in Bulgaria at the tail end of communist rule in Emil Hristow's dense, dark comedy. A liar by nature, he fits in well with the secretive society and relishes the chance to become a spy on the intellectuals of the late 1980s. He is so enamored of the lies, in fact, that after being dismissed from the secret service, Batko branches out on his own, creating a mysterious Ministry of Sex. And then it starts to get weird. Playing with spy motifs, scenes from Casablanca, and an ever-present sense of paranoia, The Color of the Chameleon is best in its first half. As communism falls and the intellectuals who once spied for our man become leaders of the new regime, his plots take on a different purpose. It becomes a mess by the end, but the film is engaging throughout. —Ed Huyck

White Tiger

Tuesday, April 16, at 9:45 p.m.

Saturday, April 20, at 11 a.m.

Director Karen Shakhnazarov explores the very nature of war in this mystical World War II film. In the final push to Berlin, the Soviet tank lines are being destroyed by a mysterious tank, nicknamed the "White Tiger," which seems to arrive and disappear at will. The Soviets craft their own experimental tank and put their own mystery in charge — an enigmatic tank gunner named Ivan who recovered from being burned over 90 percent of his body. He has no memories of his past life, no one to identify or claim him. All Ivan knows is how to run a tank — and how to find the elusive White Tiger. Everyone else thinks he's mad — Ivan will sit on the battlefield and pray to the tank god, after all — but he is the only one who seems able to match wits with the mysterious German tank. The mystical side never becomes hokey, and the realities of tank combat are clearly brought to life. Aleksey Vertkov is a bit of a blank slate as Ivan, but the character is supposed to be a cipher. —Ed Huyck

Bells of Happiness

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