Film Fest Coverage II: The Sequel

A tout de suite showing at the Riverview Theater
Cinema Guild

Oak Street Cinema, Thursday at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday at 6:45 p.m.

This latest dispatch from Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke revisits the themes of his Unknown Pleasures and Platform: a hesitant romance, the growing pains of modernization, the urge for flight in a culture of inertia. Jia's rootless young adults are finally in the big city--and, in a dizzying Baudrillardian irony, employed at a Beijing theme park that promises a "new world every day." Jia's first government-sanctioned film is his most flamboyant yet--and also his most conventional. --Dennis Lim

Riverview Theater, Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

In the best film in years from Benôit Jacquot (A Single Girl), it's the mid-'70s, and our nameless, upper-middle-class heroine (Isild Le Besco) is a 19-year-old art student seduced by a young Moroccan man's beauty and eccentricity. Her life turns into a Godard film: That new crush (Ouassini Embarek) is a bank robber, and she joins him and his partner on the lam across Spain, Morocco, and Greece, with one eye looking back on the country (and the carnage) left behind. With stunning wide-screen digital videography, Jacquot (who'll be present at the screening) charts the young woman's inner storm as she's blown by the inexorable vagaries of circumstance toward a state of catatonia. --Mark Peranson

The Bell, Friday at 5:15 p.m. and Sunday at 9:15 p.m.

This voluminous doc about old-school movie mogul Lew Wasserman has some of the page-turning momentum of a James Ellroy thriller. Part of the delight is in seeing some familiar Hollywood faces spin amazing yarns; part of it is in remembering a moment when there still was some show in show business. But most of it comes from the doc's gift for capturing the unguarded moment--as when producer David Brown deadpans, "The only orgasm Lew Wasserman ever had in his life was [on] the day we opened Jaws." --Matthew Wilder

McNally Smith Auditorium, Friday at 7:00 p.m.; and Lagoon Cinema, Monday at 2:45 p.m.

No surprise that this anthology of shorts from each of the European Union's member states is all over the map. Some of the shorts are underdeveloped, like Greece; some are boring, like Germany; and some are grimly depressing, like everything east of Prague. Kidding. Actually, Visions offers an intriguing contrast to the neoliberal anodynes of EU cheerleaders in Davos and Brussels: There's even a Python-esque piece from Peter Greenaway that imagines European nations as flabby, naked burghers enjoying a communal shower while poor, skinny Turkey looks on from the sidelines. --Peter Ritter

The Bell, Saturday at 11:00 a.m.

This three-hour "videofilm" essay on technology, memory, and history follows the Danube from Romania toward its source in the Black Forest, interspersing its travelogue images with philosophical commentaries by Bernard Stiegler, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, and Jean-Luc Nancy. Their discussions of Martin Heidegger's work and its powerful illumination of recent European history are often fascinating--particularly Lacoue-Labarthe's clear-eyed and critical evaluation of Heidegger's arguments concerning the "essence" of technology. But with all this highfalutin pontificating, it'd be nice to have more than tepid videography to look at. --Derek Nystrom

Lagoon Cinema, Saturday at 1:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m.

Never mind the pregnant metaphor of the title--Bolivian writer-director Marcos Loayza certainly didn't. Jesus Martinez (Augustin Medieta) is a selfish bureaucrat who suffers a heart attack and gets saddled with a monster hospital bill because he didn't notify his insurance provider. When he discovers that there's another Jesus Martinez who's fully insured (and dying of cancer), he takes on that man's identity and settles into the terminal ward. Loayza's bizarre cuts to a guitar player performing on a darkened stage make you want to roll your eyes and mutter, "Meanwhile, back at open-mic night..." --Derek Nystrom

The Bell, Saturday at 3:00 p.m.

This half-hour doc by Twin Cities-based Joanna Kohler follows Ronni Shendar, a Zionist's daughter who, after the start of the second Intifada, began a progressive pursuit to distribute alternative information about the Israeli occupation and give aid to displaced Palestinians. Kohler's film (recut from a version screened two years ago) may be too short for a life as large as Shendar's, but its focus on the subject's inner conflicts makes it a study of how political struggles are always defined by personal idiosyncrasies. The film screens on a double bill with Vu Tran's "From There to Here" as part of the "Identities in Transition" program.--Molly Priesmeyer

The Bell, Saturday at 5:00 p.m.; and Lagoon Cinema, Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.  

Werner Herzog (Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo) obviously has a thing for daft white guys who lose their shit in the heart of darkness. His Quixote in this brilliant, hypnotically strange doc is a British aviation engineer determined to build and pilot a small dirigible in order to study the jungle canopy of Guyana; his Sancho Panza is a Rastafarian laborer who dreams of using the blimp to sail across the ocean to his lost family. Like Fitzcarraldo, the film is a parable of obsession and ambition too magical not to be based in truth. --Peter Ritter

Lagoon Cinema, Saturday at 5:15 p.m. and Sunday at 7:15 p.m.

This Holocaust drama is based on the diaries of Henri Kremer, a renegade priest from Luxemburg who landed in a Nazi concentration camp and saw many of his fellow clergy members murdered. Full of slow-mo action and clichéd dialogue, the movie (not to be confused with the highly similar Amen) flashes forward and back in time as Kremer's attempts to inspire resistance in the church hierarchy fall on deaf ears. I imagine this is what a Lifetime movie special looks like in Germany. --Jeremy O' Kasick

McNally Smith Auditorium, Saturday at 5:30 p.m.; and Lagoon Cinema, Tuesday at 9:30 p.m.

This doc begins as a whirligig inquiry into the events of Malaysia, 1987, when an army private named Adam "ran amok" in Kuala Lumpur with an M-16, killing one person and injuring two others. The filmmaker asks waitresses, tour guides, activists, accountants: Why did the panicked city shut down even though the murderer was apprehended immediately? In tracing a Malaysian political trajectory from British imperialism to independence, the film offers a comic yet incisive portrait of "democratic" governments and global capitalism.--Terri Sutton

Block E 15, Saturday at 7:00 p.m.; and Oak Street Cinema, Tuesday at 9:45 p.m.

Sixty-three years old, charismatic, and utterly mad, the eponymous subject of this disturbing documentary works days scavenging for food at the Rio de Janeiro landfill and expounding her schizophrenic philosophy--wherein the world is split between those who are "real" (mainly her) and the "phonies" who attempt to control her (pretty much anyone who lives with a roof over his or her head). In a familiar yet effective technique, filmmaker Marcos Prado slowly reveals Estamira's sordid past, radically shifting our initial perception of her as an infirm misanthrope.--Charlie Hobart

Children's Theatre, Saturday at 7:00 p.m.

This most recent film by French animator Michel Ocelot (Kirikou and the Sorceress) is a literal shadow play: a series of six stories animated entirely in silhouette, the style echoing silent-cinema experiments such as Lotte Reiniger's 1926 feature The Adventures of Prince Achmed. Ocelot's folk tales of clever tricksters and spellbound princesses have a dry wit, but the film's aesthetic permits little of the warmth or emotional identification--a cynic would say manipulation--that typically characterizes animated features. At the same time, though, the movie substitutes a cool formal elegance and active engagement with the viewer's imagination. The most striking pictorial effects (especially those derived from Egyptian and Japanese art) sometimes suggest the films that Josef von Sternberg might've made had he worked in paper dolls. In deference to young audiences at this Childish Film Festival screening, the French dialogue will be translated live by Children's Theatre Company actors standing to the side of the screen. --Jim Ridley

McNally Smith Auditorium, Saturday at 7:15 p.m.; and Lagoon Cinema, Sunday at 1:00 p.m.

This fascinating documentary explores the Cultural Revolution-era change in the Chinese arts--overseen by Chairman Mao's wife Jiang Qing--whereby only rigidly patriotic film and theater productions were permitted. The performers in these spectacles of music, dance, and color--smiles frozen on their faces--embraced the moment not as if their lives depended it, but because their lives depended on it. Mixing interviews and archival film clips with contemporary production numbers that feature young people whose influences are altogether different, Yang Ban Xi is a powerful report on the effect that propaganda has not just on those who receive it, but on those who make it. -- Caroline Palmer

The Bell, Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; and Block E 15, Sunday at 9:30 p.m.

The annual Ceili music competition has come to the titular Irish town: Imagine the steerage party sequence in Cameron's Titanic stretched to feature length and you have an idea of this film's obnoxious insistence that the (first-class?) audience take its pseudo-ethnographic parade as some kind of crazy soul cleanse. Too harsh? Not railing against County Clare's feel-good overload is like letting a dog hump your leg just because the cute little bugger is growling in an Irish brogue. --Eric Henderson


Block E 15, Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; and Lagoon Cinema, Sunday at 5:00 p.m.

The reluctant leader of a ragtag team of Budapest metro-ticket inspectors is so depressed that he refuses to venture aboveground. While a pretty raver in a bear suit offers salvation, the presence of a hooded serial killer raises the possibility that the subway system stands for the hero's subconscious. Set almost entirely in sooty tunnels and on fluorescent-lit trains, Nimrod Antal's calling-card debut opens with a prologue announcing that the events are "obviously symbolic." But it's probably best taken as a stylish workplace sitcom. --Dennis Lim

The Bell, Saturday at 9:30 p.m.; and Lagoon Cinema, Sunday at 9:20 p.m.

Spanning eight years, this remarkably objective documentary portrait of a "trinogamous" relationship reveals a healthy and loving union that has its faults like any other. Sam and Steven, a gay couple, decide they'd like to share their lives with a woman, and, after a couple of false starts, they find Samantha. Filmmaker Susan Kaplan follows the threesome through the birth of children and the growth of a business to a painful breakup and its resulting questions of personal identity and parental responsibility. --Caroline Palmer

Block E 15, Saturday at 9:45 p.m.; and Lagoon Cinema, Sunday at 5:00 p.m.

Winner of the Camera d'Or at Cannes, this riveting Israeli feature follows a 16-year-old girl named Or (Dana Ivgi), who struggles to keep her mother (Ronit Elkabetz), a prostitute, off the streets and the pills. Parental imprinting proves not so easily erased, as Or, which means "light" in Hebrew, turns to whoring herself in order to make up for her own deficiencies in love and money. The inherent intensity of the material is increased even further by director Keren Yedaya's impressively minimalist style.--Jeremy O'Kasick

Oak Street Cinema, Sunday at 5:00 p.m.; and Lagoon Cinema, Monday at 7:15 p.m.

Former (and future) high school drama geeks will adore this snappy doc about the collaboration between the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and 250 young dancers, most of whom have never set foot in a rehearsal studio. Leaving only weeks to learn the choreography of Stravinsky's "Le sacre du printemps," the project becomes a kind of modern-dance boot camp that tests the kids' endurance on every level. The film resembles Robert Altman's The Company--except that Altman didn't keep nagging us about how uplifting it all is.. --Jim Ridley

The Bell, Sunday at 5:15 p.m.

In which the Godard of Long Island tries in vain to visit Alphaville. Set about five minutes into the future, in a corporate-controlled world where people have sex with one another to increase their purchasing power, Hal Hartley's latest takes a clever-enough idea and overloads it with endlessly canted camera angles, stilted voiceovers, and the headache-inducing trick of shooting only five or 10 frames per second. (Is this a cartoon flipbook or a movie?) Most disappointing of all for Hartley admirers is the absence of laughs. --Derek Nystrom

Oak Street Cinema, Monday at 7:30 p.m.

Following his full-tilt Demonlover, director Olivier Assayas tells a story that's...well, cleaner. Maggie Cheung plays Emily Wang, an Asian-Canadian junkie whose washed-up rock-star partner ODs, leaving her with a young son and the dead man's distrusting father (Nick Nolte). Six months later and broke, Emily moves to Paris and attempts to rebuild her life--to kick drugs and get her son back from his grandfather. But gnawing at her newfound sense of responsibility are thoughts of a possible recording career. Within this familiar scenario, Assayas (who'll be present at the screening) highlights the awkwardness of his heroine's search for redemption, and the film's tears feel earned. --Mark Peranson

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