MSPIFF 2012: Reviews

Natural Selection


Monday, April 16, at 9:15 p.m.
Thursday, April 19, at 9:20 p.m.

Countless films have examined the fine line between acting and real life, but not many have done it in such unsettling fashion as Alps. Director Giorgios Lanthimos's follow-up to Dogtooth centers on a quartet of average Greek citizens who moonlight as surrogates for the dead. That means just what it sounds like: The bereaved hire them to memorize lines and play the parts of recently deceased loved ones, with all the attendant drama and mundanity that entails. Alps is a truly weird piece of work, sort of like Lars von Trier with a twist of Charlie Kaufman. It's also hugely affecting in its darkly comic explorations of artifice and identity. Beyond its clever central conceit, this is a film about the things we choose to remember. The troupe is called on to reenact tender moments and good times, yes, but arguments and infidelities are on the table too. As fascinating as the film is, the conversations it sparks on the way out of the theater should be equally intriguing. —Ira Brooker

Natural Selection

Thursday, April 19, at 9:40 p.m.
Friday, April 27, at 5:30 p.m.

The road movie meets the opposites-attract movie in Natural Selection, but the result is anything but traditional. Linda is a middle-aged Texas wife living a sheltered and extremely religious life. After learning her dying husband has been frequenting sperm banks for over 20 years, Linda becomes determined to find his biological son and unite them. She finds Raymond, a young drug addict on the run from the law. But as they journey together, they expose each other to the things they've missed in life. Rachael Harris anchors the film with a terrific performance. Linda's cloistered nature and eventual maturation is a fascinating and joyful thing to watch. As she connects with Raymond, she emerges into a beautiful and liberated woman — and Harris keeps us spellbound with every moment. —Andrew Newman

A Secret World

Friday, April 13, at 4:45 p.m.
Thursday, April 19, at 8:45 p.m.

A lot of things are left unclear in A Secret World, and that includes faces. With a few exceptions, Gabriel Moreño deliberately keeps his supporting cast in shadows, out of frame, or otherwise obscured, while landscapes and objects are captured in intense detail. It's a technique that viewers will probably find either grating or gratifying. For those in the latter camp, there's a quietly affecting film underneath the stylism. Lucia Uribe gives an impressive, understated performance as Maria, an emotionally empty Mexico City teen whose only outlets are journaling (always in the third person) and joyless sex with dimwitted schoolmates. It's not initially clear what she's seeking when she impulsively leaves home and hops a bus for the coast, but it's obvious that she desperately needs to be elsewhere. What follows has some of the earmarks of a standard quirky road movie, but Maria's insular nature requires her — and the film — to keep everyone she meets at arm's length. The result is a distant but oddly engaging movie that's as lovely to look at as it is chilly to watch. —Ira Brooker


Saturday, April 21, at 9:40 p.m.
Monday, April 23, at 6:30 p.m.

Francis, an aging, successful French novelist (André Dussollier), rents a villa in Venice, where he plans to set his latest novel. He gets a pretty good deal, as he convinces the beautiful rental agent, Judith (Carole Bouquet, the best of the Roger Moore-era Bond girls), into moving in with and eventually marrying him. Eighteen months into the marriage, and still in Venice, he has yet to start the novel, distracted as he is by the disappearance of his adult daughter, Alice, whose own teenage daughter he must take care of. Francis hires a vodka-swilling detective, Anna Maria, an old friend and former lover of Judith's, to track Alice, who has run off with a drug dealer. He also hires the detective's adult son, recently sprung from prison and in need of work, to follow Judith, who he is convinced is having an affair (though Francis should be more concerned about why his new wife suffers from chronic nose bleeds). Director André Téchiné's adaptation of Philippe Djian's novel is a curious, talky affair, but nonetheless engrossing and believable. The cast is first-rate, and Téchiné's sure-handed direction keeps the complicated story from falling apart and the bizarre characters from being laughable. —John Ervin

The British Guide to Showing Off

Friday, April 20, at 9 p.m.
Tuesday, April 24, at 4:50 p.m.

There's spectacle and then there's Andrew Logan's version of spectacle. Since the early 1970s the British sculptor and performance artist has presented "The Alternative Miss World Show," attracting hordes of fabulous folk from the club, drag, fashion, entertainment, and art scenes for a glittery all-night extravaganza. Personalities who have shared the limelight with Logan over the years include artist David Hockney, director Derek Jarman, the legendary Divine, and Richard O'Brien of Rocky Horror fame, to name a few. Jes Benstock's 2011 documentary unfolds as if it sprung directly from Logan's technicolor mind, combining animation with remarkable archival footage into an appropriately cluttered and thoroughly endearing naughty-and-nice celebration of perseverance, pageantry, handcrafted beauty, and a seemingly boundless creative spirit. Perhaps the best aspect of the film is that so much time is spent getting to know the charming Logan, as well as his friends and family, many of whom turn up in "The Alternative Miss World Show" as contestants, all vying for a one-of-a-kind crown. Everyone, it seems, wants to be a part of Logan's marvelous dream come to life. And by the end of The British Guide to Showing Off you'll be pricing airfare for London to join the next party. —Caroline Palmer



Monday, April 30, at 9:45 p.m.
Wednesday, May 2, at 9:45 p.m.

Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang crafts a modern-day film noir with Headshot, one that merges familiar tropes — the femme fatale, the main character trapped in a plot not of his making — with a meditation on the endless cycle of violence brought out by revenge. The fractured narrative slowly fills in the story of Tul, an assassin who targets corrupt, otherwise untouchable members of Thai society. His latest mission ends in disaster, as Tul is, as the title says, shot in the head. He wakes up three months later from a coma with his world literally turned upside down, as his sight has completely flipped around. It's a not particularly subtle symbol of what has happened to him in the past decade, as he was once a cop who fought corruption but ended up in prison for his efforts. The manipulations are easy for the audience to see, and that seems to be intentional. This isn't as much a puzzle for us to solve (though the temporal jumping does make some of the clues obscure) as it is a look at an honest man's descent into a world he once fought against, and his first attempts to possibly dig himself out. Nopachai Chaiyanam gives an arresting performance as Tul, whose must contend with a constantly shifting world at every turn. —Ed Huyck


Part of the MPSIFF short-film program "Let's Keep It Brief: U.S. Short Narratives"

Saturday, April 28, at 2:45 p.m.
Sunday, April 29, at 5 p.m.

Brothers Jared and Justin Varava pay homage in this seven-minute short to the unsung heroes of the West — those omnipresent, floating balls of desert legend known as tumbleweeds. Poking fun at educational films and the omnipresent documentaries of Ken Burns, director Jared Varava and screenwriter Justin Varava present a completely fictional seminar on the discovery, root, and life cycle of the tumbleweed. Gabriel Mayer narrates with appropriate solemnity, and cinematographer Damien Acevedo captures the desolate beauty of the abandoned (fictional?) town of Alacrity, Texas. The Varavas have achieved a deftly crafted short whose only missing ingredient is "Tumbling Tumbleweeds," the cowboy song that opened The Big Lebowski (it is featured in the menu to the DVD, though). —John Ervin

Journey on the Wild Coast

Friday, April 20, at 2:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 29, at 2:30 p.m.

The notion of traveling 4,000 miles by foot, ski, and inflatable raft is enough to make most folks nuzzle deeper into the couch cushions. When those 4,000 miles represent the largely untamed span between Seattle and Alaska's Aleutian Islands, it sounds downright insane. Director Greg Chaney makes good use of husband and wife team Erin McKittrick and Bretwood Higman's extensive video record, condensing their yearlong journey into a tight, engaging diary of a trek through some of Earth's most fragile ecosystems. Perhaps the biggest surprise of Journey on the Wild Coast is that their travel doesn't come off as some sort of superheroic endeavor or new-age vision quest. The physical difficulty is undeniable, and there are some moments of genuine tension courtesy of frigid temperatures, dwindling food supplies, and curious bears, but this is mostly a straight-faced document of how much a pair of physically fit, mentally prepared people can accomplish when they set their minds to it. —Ira Brooker

Brooklyn Castle

Sunday, April 15, at 9 p.m.
Monday, April 16, at 6:45 p.m.

Katie Dellamaggiore's 2012 documentary about an inner-city public school known for turning out some of the country's top junior high chess players makes you want to jump for joy and cry in frustration. Over the course of a year the director and her crew followed several students, led by their dedicated teacher-coaches John Galvin and Elizabeth Vicary, as the team worked to defend national titles and deal with deep budget cuts. Life and chess, Dellamaggiore shows us, have much in common. A player might rely on strategies but there are also surprises and calculated risks to take into account. The kids in this film each have burdens to bear, from the pressures that come with being a chess prodigy to financial stresses at home to the difficulties of focusing a mind addled by ADHD. They don't need the extra challenge of fundraising to keep their nationally recognized chess program alive, and yet this extracurricular activity, like so many others important to students across the nation, remains threatened by shrinking school resources. Brooklyn Castle underscores the difference chess has made in the lives of these young people. To think their peers may be denied a similar opportunity shows just how much our society stands to lose in the face of misplaced priorities. —Caroline Palmer

Vinylmania: When Life Runs at 33 Revolutions Per Minute


Wednesday, April 25, at 7:45 p.m.
Saturday, April 28, at 2:30 p.m.

Even for those who have no intention of ever taking part in or returning to the joys of collecting and spinning vinyl records, Paolo Campana's ode to the platter is a treat. This is, in part, because the documentary is structured like a 10-to-12-track LP, with the "needle" hitting 20 lovers of vinyl in 11 cities around the world. Campana, who is never seen but is heard from time to time reflecting on his love of 33 rpm records, locates a vast array of DJs, musicians, technicians, album cover artists, collectors, and at least one hoarder, who demonstrate their devotion to "the groove" in vastly different ways, with vastly different attitudes. Bob George, director of the Archive of Contemporary Music in New York, is self-deprecatingly humorous about his thousands of expertly cataloged acquisitions and about his fellow hunters ("Collectors are lonely people. They need sexy album covers"), while Eddie Pillar, a DJ in England, provides a withering, convincing diatribe against the music industry's Big Lie about digital sounding "superior" to analog. Even hawkers of newfangled MP3 players at an expo praise vinyl as reflecting what music is supposed to actually sound like. In addition, there are intriguing side discussions, such as an examination of the world's most famous crosswalk (the one that four guys, one of them barefoot and "dead," trod for an album cover). Campana's feature is fast, furious fun and will make you wonder if those 50,000 songs on your thimble-sized hard drive are as cherished as those 100 LPs gathering mold in your weird uncle's basement. —John Ervin

Sleepless Night

Thursday, April 26, at 10 p.m.
Tuesday, May 1, at 10 p.m.

Or how to pursue, beat, and kill people in a nightclub without disturbing the patrons. This French thriller is wall-to-wall action in the best tradition of early Clint Eastwood, whose longtime cinematographer, Tom Stern, is behind the breathtaking camera work. Vincent (Tormer Siseley) is an undercover cop who, while infiltrating a cocaine smuggling operation, apprehends a shipment from two mules on the street. The next day he finds out his teenage son has been kidnapped by the operation's chief slimeball, Jose, and is being held at Jose's enormous multi-level nightclub until Vincent returns his boodle. The bulk of the film takes place in the club, which, despite being the size of a shopping mall, in no time gets suffocatingly crowded. The establishment's revelers and employees occasionally scream in horror at the fist- and gunfights between Vincent and Jose's associates (including a Turk who is a dead ringer for Mick Jagger), but otherwise go about their illicit fun unperturbed. Vincent and his adversaries also demonstrate that amazing capacity of action figures to survive getting shot, stabbed, repeatedly having their heads rammed, and being thrown down stairs without being more than a little groggy. Nonetheless, director Frédéric Jardin's film is never boring and will not disappoint those who love high-voltage, breakneck crime cinema. Others, however, may feel like their skulls have been bashed for two hours against the walls of their favorite night spot. —John Ervin

Bert Stern: Original Madman

Friday, April 13, at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 14, at 7 p.m.

Despite the film's masculine subtitle, the defining images of Bert Stern: Original Madman are as feminine as they come. The legendary photographer made his name in the '50s and '60s, taking breathtaking pictures of the world's most beautiful women, from Elizabeth Taylor to Twiggy to his most celebrated subject, Marilyn Monroe. Along the way he helped revolutionize print advertising, documentary filmmaking, and American pop culture. As Stern admits over the course of this bio-doc, his all-consuming passion for women was both his gift and his curse, bringing fame and fortune along with shattered relationships and at least one mental breakdown. This intensely intimate documentary by Stern's longtime companion and frequent subject, Shannah Laumeister, captures the artist as a bristly, weary man who's clearly more comfortable on the other side of the camera. While Laumeister's narrative is filled with frank recollections from Stern and a host of his famous associates, the pictures are the real stars of the show. Filling a film with still photographs could be a risky approach, but these images are anything but static. Stern owns up to plenty of regret and self-doubt regarding his personal life, but never his art. Frame after frame of penetrating, groundbreaking portraiture validates that confidence and then some. —Ira Brooker

In Organic We Trust


Monday, April 23, at 9:15 p.m.
Tuesday, April 24, at 7:15 p.m.

Audiences slaked on the likes of Super Size Me, Food Inc., and other recent Big Food exposés might wonder why they need to see yet another documentary on the nauseating state of the American food business. Kip Pastor's In Organic We Trust sets itself apart by focusing less on the well-established evils of the industry and more on feasible, real-world solutions. The film initially appears to be headed into well-worn Morgan Spurlock territory, using hyperactive editing and man-on-the-street interviews to debunk myths about organic food (spoiler: it's neither as nutritiously superior nor as uniformly regulated as many assume). Fortunately, Pastor soon finds his groove in seeking out people who make organic living look like a reasonable, workable option for average Americans. From the walnut farmer who turns a profit with a clear conscience to the chef who reimagined what school lunch can be, Pastor mines a welcome vein of hope from a cinematic subject that's come to define "dire." —Ira Brooker

Gerhard Richter Painting

Monday, April 16, at 7:15 p.m.
Saturday, April 21, at 2 p.m.

Countless documentaries have feebly attempted to probe and illuminate the creative process (the phrase "dancing about architecture" springs to mind), and even Dresden-born visual artist Gerhard Richter — an 80-year-old master of many brush styles and ideas, from photorealistic portraiture to abstract expressionism — believes his work can't be described with words. "Painting is another form of thinking," the soft-spoken but no-bullshit iconoclast tells director Corinna Belz, whose magnificent and evocative observances of him laboring in his studio come as close as cinema gets to tracking the impulses and paradoxes of a gifted imagination. Alone with his enormous canvases, Richter studies his own vibrant-hued strokes and patterns, disappoints himself in the moment, then destroys and creates anew with a giant squeegee pulled across the would-be work of art, aided by Belz's deeply satisfying attention to the tactile sounds of paint slapped on or scraped away. New and vintage interviews with curators, historians, and collaborators help contextualize Richter's five-decade career, but who even needs talking heads when you have panning shots of exhibition-layout thumbnails — rich, beautiful art on their own at 1:50 scale. Gerhard Richter Painting convincingly immerses us in the world of one of the greatest, painting. —Aaron Hillis


Friday, April 27, at 9:30 p.m.
Monday, April 30, at 9:40 p.m.

All is not what it seems in actor-director Alex Karpovsky's complex and unsettling Rubberneck. Paul is a quiet, withdrawn scientist who wants a weekend-long fling with a co-worker to evolve into something else. Unfortunately, the beautiful woman is not interested and soon becomes involved with another member of their lab. Karpovsky vividly illustrates multiple aspects of Paul's puzzling personality. As events hurtle toward the inevitable fallout, we come to understand every reason for Paul's distant nature and his unsettling obsession with his co-worker. The film benefits from great performances all around, particularly Amanda Good Hennessey as Paul's sister, perhaps the only person who suspects the depths of her brother's psyche. —Andrew Newman

To Make a Farm

Sunday, April 22, at 1:15 p.m.
Monday, April 23, at 4:30 p.m.

Five young environmentalists put their money, and their lives, where their mouths are in Steve Suderman's charming documentary. He spotlights three emerging farms, all created by farmers who strive to make a living based on sustainability. The film chronicles the day-to-day activities on each farm, from planting seeds to feeding animals. And with that come the struggles: the constant threat of heavy rains, animal diseases, and in the case of one man living in complete solitude, the possibility of complete failure. While Suderman focuses on the positive rather than the negative, the harsh reality of these farmers' lives is not lost, which only makes these people more endearing. Their sheer determination is truly inspiring, and their successes feel like well-earned triumphs. —Andrew Newman


Saturday, April 14, at 9:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 15, at 6:30 p.m.

Athina Rachel Tsangari's disarming second feature — Greece's unsuccessful submission for a Best Foreign Oscar nomination one year after Yorgos Lanthimos's Dogtooth surprisingly made the final five — is a cracked coming-of-age tale set in a fading Greek seaside town. Ariane Labed stars as Marina, a 23-year-old virgin who tiptoes into sexual initiation, largely via a visitor played by Lanthimos, while nursing her single father and close confidant through his battle with cancer. Taking its title from a lost-in-translation mangling of Sir Richard Attenborough's name (Marina's obsession with his nature documentaries dovetails with her growing awareness of animal instinct in her own life), the film is an episodic sketch of a young woman's awakening to the agony, ecstasy, and awkwardness of the human body: so much potential for pleasure, plus the inevitability of decay and death. The film swings from dry comedy to allegorical musical numbers to unabashed sentimentality, soundtracked to French chanteuse pop and Suicide, while long, stunning wide shots describe the environment's uneasy mixture of serene natural beauty and industrial intrusion. Tsangari, who produced Dogtooth, revisits tropes from that sensational provocation — including belated sexual awakening, wordplay, and dancing as a loaded social ritual — but she's after something different here. Where Dogtooth was entirely hypothetical, Attenberg, for all of its playfulness in tone and form, takes place in a decidedly recognizable world of organic human feelings, percolating under the real cloud of a nation's decline. —Karina Longworth



Sunday, April 29, at 7:20 p.m.
Tuesday, May 1, at 4:45 p.m.

The phrase "AIDS in Africa" brings to mind images of extreme poverty and humanitarian crises. While those identifiers are sadly accurate, they don't tell the entire story. That's the underlying point of Asma'a, a film that looks at AIDS from a number of seldom-seen angles. Hend Sabry gives a strong, stoic performance as a working-class Egyptian mother hiding her HIV-positive status from a community that largely regards AIDS as a judgment on sinners. When fate thrusts her into the national spotlight, she's torn between her desire for privacy and her duty to take a stand against a stigma. As is often the case with social-issue films, Asma'a sometimes creaks under the weight of its own message. The narrative occasionally veers into familiar melodrama, particularly in its final third. Still, strong acting, a refreshingly hopeful tone, and director Amr Salama's unmistakable commitment to telling the story of the unseen AIDS patient next door make it worth a look. —Ira Brooker


Friday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 29, at 9:20 p.m.

A disarming story and charming lead performance give new meaning to the term "cat lady." An eccentric young Japanese woman has always had an unusual connection with cats, and now her apartment is crawling with them. So she decides to do some good: She starts a rental service lending cats to lonely people who need a little friendship. And so she begins to change lives, all the while hoping to find a life-changing event of her own. Thanks to an endearing performance from Mikako Ichikawa, the film largely avoids being overtly saccharine or too cutesy for its own good. A woman with a wagonful of cats advertising rentals over a loudspeaker is definitely quirky, but the gently earnest depictions of loneliness keep this story grounded in reality. —Andrew Newman

Must Come Down

Tuesday, May 1, at 7:15 p.m.
Thursday, May 3, at 5 p.m.

Two lost souls find each other at a bus stop — one trying to look forward in life, the other trying to look back. Ashley returns to his childhood home and promptly parks himself at the bus stop across the street from the old house. There he meets Holly, a young woman pulling herself out from the wreckage of a painful break-up. As their friendship grows, they try to unravel the mysteries of being twentysomethings. While Must Come Down tends to lean heavily on the isn't-ennui-funny side, the lead performers are amiable and keep the film from becoming too indie-cutesy. Ashley and Holly are free spirits for sure, but they are imbued with a sense of melancholy that makes their brief union all the more affecting. —Andrew Newman


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



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

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

Kill List


Saturday, April 21, at 10 p.m.
Tuesday, April 24, at 9:45 p.m.

The first few scenes of Kill List may have you thinking you have wandered into a British domestic drama with an odd name, but it doesn't take long for the sense of unease to spread far beyond the confines of the swank home shared by Jay and Shel. Jay is an ex-soldier turned hired killer, one who has hung up the high-powered rifles following a disastrous mission to Kiev. Finances are low, and his killing partner Gal convinces him to do another job. Ben Wheatley's film slips quickly from modern-day crime drama into something darker and more sinister, as the mysterious (aren't they always) client literally seals the deal with Jay's blood. As the pair move through the titular list, they begin to uncover evils that shake even our hired killers to the core. While the final twists of the plot aren't as satisfying as the buildup, the middle portion of Kill List is as unsettling and frightening as a dozen American PG-13 horror flicks, as the director often keeps the terrors just off screen, heightening the tension as he goes. Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley make a perfect tandem as Jay and Gal, whose sometimes banal talk doesn't hide the fact that the back of the car is loaded with guns and other tools of the trade. It's like the thugs from Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter wandered into The Wicker Man, and that works remarkably well. —Ed Huyck

Death of a Superhero

Saturday, April 28, at 5 p.m.
Tuesday, May 1, at 9:20 p.m.

Based on a novel by Anthony McCarten, this 2011 film from director Ian FitzGibbon deals with both of the subjects identified in its title, but in unexpected ways. Donald (wise-beyond-his-years Thomas Brodie-Sangster) is a teen living with cancer, and he often retreats into the violent fantasy world of his graphic comic-book-style drawings to battle his anger, suicidal tendencies, and simmering sexual awakening. But relationships with an unconventional therapist (Andy Serkis, Gollum from the Lord of the Rings trilogy) and an adventurous new girl at school (the fearless Aisling Loftus) give Donald reason for joy even as his young life is coming to an end. Superhero is at its most compelling when FitzGibbon delves into Donald's dark illustrations — they give poignant shape to his roiling feelings and fears. Oddly, as things start to improve for the teen — and his art plays a diminished role as both his tormentor and coping mechanism — the story seems to have less to offer beyond the usual end-of-life emotional reckoning. Serkis stands out not just because he makes a meaningful connection with Brodie-Sangster but also convincingly locates, and puts back together, the pieces of his broken character scattered along the way. —Caroline Palmer


Journey to the Fallen Skies

Wednesday, April 25, at 7 p.m.

Native Minnesotans Bryan Vue and Mong Vang explore powerful personal history and Hmong traditions with this 2010 film. A Hmong American man, Leng (Wa Yang), travels to Laos to connect with his father's burial place while coming to grips with his own mortality. An incurable cancer threatens his life, and the story unfolds as a journey from one realm of being to the next. In fact, that's the most notable characteristic of the film: its sense of displacement on a variety of levels. Leng has a cultural connection to two worlds but may not feel comfortable in either one. As a dying man he may be dreaming of this trip to Laos or he may already be making the passage into an afterlife. Reality becomes less certain for both the viewer and the characters as time goes on. Leng's spiritual guide is the patient innkeeper Khais Vang (Joua Pao), while a local woman, Gao Hlee (Dib Thao), gives the young man a reason to want to hold fast to this mortal coil. Journey is slow-paced throughout, but the sense of deliberateness is integral to the story. It gives space for symbolism and contemplation. Both living and dying have a process all their own — unique to each individual circumstance. —Caroline Palmer

King Curling

Tuesday, April 17, at 9:45 p.m.
Wednesday, April 25, at 9:30 p.m.

Curlers are crazy! This Norwegian comedy takes a page (or rather a book) from the Will Ferrell sports comedies to turn the winter sport on its head. Truls Paulsen (Atle Antonsen) was Norway's greatest curler until his determination to perfect his score down to the millimeter leads to a Ferrell-esque mental breakdown; i.e., he runs around screaming and eventually strips down to his underwear. He is institutionalized and banned from the sport. Ten years later, an old coach is in desperate need of money for an operation, and Truls must face his fears and pick up his broom once more. The film is slickly shot and handsomely produced, and Truls makes for a lovable buffoon. But we really aren't offered anything here we haven't seen five or six times before. —Andrew Newman

Love in the Medina


Friday, April 13, at 9 p.m.
Thursday, April 19, at 2:15 p.m.
Saturday, April 21, at 4 p.m.

Love can be a thing of great power, as shown in this middling Moroccan import. When Thami rejects his pious father's plans and decides to become a butcher, he feels free and liberated. A hopeless womanizer, he offers much more than choice cuts to his female customers. But when he falls in love with a beautiful married woman, he discovers how dangerous liberation can be in a strict society. Omar Lotfi gives a charismatic performance as the young butcher, albeit more convincing as a womanizer than a desperate romantic. He is surrounded by a gifted ensemble, particularly the women who populate his life. But the by-the-numbers script makes the film just another example of youthful rebellion against the establishment. —Andrew Newman

Sennentuntschi: Curse of the Alps

Monday, April 16, at 9:50 p.m.
Wednesday, April 25, at 9:45 p.m.

The Swiss Alps, long the setting for intrigue and romance, are now home to horror, legends, and illegal absinthe. Director-writer Michael Steiner concocts a heady brew based on on a Swiss myth about lonely shepherds (no, not that myth) sewing female companions, the Sennentuntschi, out of straw and cloth. Eventually, the women come to life and fulfill the sheperds' fantasies ... until the ladies kill them. Nicholas Ofczarek plays a cop in a small Alpine village in 1975. He becomes the ward for a beautiful, mute wild child (Roxane Mesquida) who wanders into town shortly after the mysterious suicide of a priest. All the villagers are convinced she is a spawn of Satan, while the level-headed cop seeks to discover the child's identity. Meanwhile, a grotesque cheesemaker and his demented nephew indoctrinate a volunteer farmhand, fresh from the city, into the sick ways they unwind after a hard day's work. Sennentuntschi is expertly paced, and presents its shocks and gore without taking itself too seriously. But the film is made repugnant by repeated rape scenes and a generally misogynistic attitude toward all the women characters (okay, it's set in 1975, but still...). And whose idea was it to use the Black Sabbath knock-off band Dust for the closing credits? —John Ervin


Friday, April 20, at 7:10 p.m.
Sunday, April 22, at 1 p.m.

Inspired by Margaret Atwood's bestselling book, Payback is an ambitious documentary that struggles to define debt. Exploring financial debt, societal debt, and other varieties, the film shines an almost frantic spotlight on the different ways debt invades the world. While director Jennifer Baichwal is preoccupied with the 2010 oil spill and BP's misguided response to it, she also features a man struggling with drug addiction and repeated jail sentences, a tomato labor dispute in Florida, and other issues. The film jumps between too many topics to let any one story completely unravel itself, though emotional interviews with the drug addict are revealing and moving. The man's story of his continual fall from grace is the film's most apt depiction of "debt" as an idea — and of how difficult recovery can be. Atwood is also featured, showcasing her brilliantly wry reading of her own work. —Andrew Newman

Free Men

Friday, April 27, at 2:45 p.m.
Thursday, May 3, at 4:50 p.m.

Another loosely factual gloss on a little-known chapter of Nazi-occupied Europe, Free Men tells of a Vichy France mosque that supplied North African Jews with fraudulent Muslim identification, even as Parisian authorities bore down on the place of worship. The political awakening of Algerian immigrant Younes (A Prophet's Tahar Rahim), tied closely to his relationship with the Jewish singer Salim (Mahmoud Shalaby), provides the drama, such as it is. Director/co-writer Ismael Ferroukhi includes a smattering of close calls and double crosses, but mostly his solidarity story consists of characters speaking in low tones while seated indoors. "You know why I'm here — to make my pile and go home," says black marketeer Younes early on as he declines his cousin's invitation to a Resistance meeting. After being hauled in by the police, Younes buys back his freedom by agreeing to spy on the comings and goings in the local mosque's paradisiacal courtyard. There, he first hears Salim sing, eyes a mysterious mosque worker (Lubna Azabal), and sits down with the noble resident rector (Michael Lonsdale, in a nice reversal of his role in last year's Of Gods and Men as a French monk in Algeria). This all spins Younes around to the side of the freedom fighters. But Free Men never feels like a movie about a developing conscience, due largely to the shallowness of the protagonist as written and, by extension, Rahim's portrayal: Younes lights up in the few moments when he watches Salim perform onstage; otherwise, he hardly appears to have an inner life at all. —Benjamin Mercer



Sunday, April 15, at 6:45 p.m.
Thursday, April 19, at 9:30 p.m.

Michael (Michael Fuith) is a thirtysomething unmarried insurance agent who, by necessity, meticulously keeps up domestic ritual. Michael, you see, is a homosexual pederast. Behind his suburban home's mechanical steel shutters and a soundproof basement door, Michael is holding a 10-year-old boy (David Rauchenberger) captive and apparently has been for some time. Depicting this domestic hell, writer-director Markus Schleinzer stays detached and objective; the boy sheds tears only with his back turned tactfully to the camera, so as not to be accused of petitioning the viewer for sympathy. It's an anti-entertainment style that forswears obvious tools of viewer manipulation without adding much of anything in their place. The poker face "sustained tone" is often indistinguishable from cruise control. Given the intrinsic queasiness of the subject, Michael is a difficult movie to watch. But aside from whatever special problems come along with casting and financing a movie about a pedophile, was it really difficult to make? Schleinzer approaches his subject not as an investigator, but as though covering up a crime scene and scrubbing it of anything that might provide insight or empathy or psychological traction. The cleanup is so thorough, you can't detect what possible motive he might have had for making Michael, other than to play a nasty game with the viewer's natural concern for a child's life. This is cheap when it comes with a Hollywood happy ending and no better without. —Nick Pinkerton

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