Public Enemy: Welcome to the Terrordome
Oak Street Cinema, Friday at 8 p.m.; and St. Anthony Main, Saturday, April 26, at 9:45 p.m.
In the VH1 age, the movie house can seem an overly spacious place for the music documentary and its small-screen conventions. But Robert Patton-Spruill's Welcome to the Terrordome, a masterful exploration of Public Enemy's career, shares the quenchless ambitions of the hip-hop pioneers, and when draped around the colossal shoulders of Chuck D., Flavor Flav, and Professor Griff, the silver screen seems perfectly sized. Divided evenly between archival, candid, and performance footage, and featuring cameos by the Beastie Boys, DMC, Henry Rollins, and a miscellany of music nobility, Patton-Spruill's unobtrusive lens makes even the Muppet-esque Flavor Flav seem tenderly human and dynamic. As a harrowing montage of Flav's conflicts with his bandmates emerges once more into grudgingly jovial brotherhood, he suddenly seems less the anomalous court jester than the invaluable foil to the often humorless posturing of Chuck and Griff. There are some lean spots—Griff's section leaves his role in the crew unclear to the uninitiated, and an impotent turn on the mic near the film's end does little to substantiate his claims that he's more than a third-word man. But when the film's final movement ascends to unabashed adulation, the intellectual and political complexity evidenced in the previous reels is swiftly distilled into something as incisive as a knife blade. What would seem a tongue bath in a lesser documentary is a hard fought and downright joyous ovation here, leaving little doubt that Public Enemy is the most effective and tireless crew ever to blow amps and minds in the same rhyme. —David Hansen
Young @ Heart
St. Anthony Main, Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
From the washed-out images to the twee voiceover (courtesy of director Stephen Walker), this British television documentary about the titular Massachusetts-based senior-citizens' chorus so slavishly embodies the creakiest clichés of British television documentaries that you begin to wonder if it's not all a big put-on—if Christopher Guest didn't direct the damn thing under a pseudonym. Fortunately, Walker's subjects—nearly all in their 80s and 90s, with a greatest-hits collection of medical ailments and a set list that runs the gamut from the Beatles to Sonic Youth—more than carry the day. Set over the six weeks leading up to the chorus's latest concert, Young @ Heart adopts the will-they-pull-it-all-together-by-showtime formula of so many backstage docs, with the caveat that, for these performers, neither time nor Father Time is on their side. The film's appeal is at once sentimental and perverse: It's not every day that you get to see a 92-year-old woman soloing on "Should I Stay or Should I Go," or a deeply affecting rendition of Coldplay's "Fix You" performed by an octogenarian with congestive heart failure. Not surprisingly, a feature remake is already in the works. —Scott Foundas
Oak Street Cinema, Saturday at 7 p.m.; and St. Anthony Main, Sunday at 7 p.m.
A Canadian film about homeless immigrants might reasonably be expected to be a miserablist slog, but Family Motel succeeds by suffusing its bleak scenario with warm touches of humanity. Documentarian Helene Klodawsky's first fiction feature delves into the hard-knock life of Somali transplant Ayan (Nargis), whose two custodial jobs can't quite cover paying rent, sending cash back to her husband in Africa, and keeping up her teenage daughters' (real-life sisters Asha and Sagal Jibril) dental work. The family is eventually forced to trade its modest apartment for a state-sponsored room in a shady motel, where the film comes into its own. Constantly churning with restless energy and peopled with a cast of weirdoes that stays just this side of caricature, the motel emerges as a sinister fourth lead. Rich colors, stylized shots, and a strong sense of community bring to mind early Spike Lee joints like Do the Right Thing and Crooklyn. Like those films, Family Motel digs into a dysfunctional, dangerous society and comes out with a handful of hope just big enough to make it all worthwhile. —Ira Brooker
The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun
St. Anthony Main, Sunday at 5:25 p.m.
Living alone in the dilapidated Hesbjerg Castle that he purchased more than 40 years ago, octogenarian bachelor Jorgen Lauersen Vig has convinced the Moscow Patriarchate to live out a dream by donating his hulking Danish home to the Russian Orthodox Church for use as a monastery. With his snowy shag rug of a beard and Scrooge-like glasses hanging precariously from the tip of his nose, the bookish Vig is a weird bird whose quiet eccentricities hold an underlying sadness. (He's never experienced love, perhaps because his mother never kissed him or maybe because he's overly neurotic about dreadful-looking noses.) In beautiful and occasionally quite comical contrast, in walks strong-willed Sister Ambrosija and her cleanup posse. To get the building up to monastic snuff, she demands that the roof and boiler be replaced, yet the equally stubborn Vig thinks he can fix it all himself. Unlike far too many human interest docs today, director Pernille Rose Gronkjaer's fantastic little character portrait doesn't rest on the strength of its personality, as prudent attention is paid to aesthetic nuances (some of the long-shot tableaus are priceless, such as a chorus of nuns singing in squalor) and the growing quasi-love the titular bickerers have for each other. —Aaron Hillis
The Edge of Heaven
St. Anthony Main, Tuesday at 7:15 p.m. and Friday, April 25, at 5 p.m.
Fatih Akin's masterful 2007 film about family and love connects Germany and Turkey through the stories of three families whose fates become fatally intertwined. Septuagenarian Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz) trolls through Bremen seeking prostitutes and one day meets Yeter (Nursel Kose). He invites her to move in with him so long as he can match her fees and she agrees. Nejat (Baki Davrak) is Ali's quiet professor son who strikes up a friendship with Yeter and learns of the daughter, Ayten (Nurgul Yesilcav), back in Turkey whose studies she supports. After a tragic accident, Nejat travels to Turkey to find Yeter's family. It turns out, however, that at the same time Ayten, a political activist on the run from the Turkish police, has fled to Germany, where she seeks Yeter and meets the earnest university student Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska). The two women fall in love despite the disapproval of Lotte's mother, Susanne (Hanna Schygulla). When Ayten's bid for political asylum fails, she is deported to Turkey and Lotte follows. Lotte's path crosses with Nejat, who has decided to stay in Istanbul and run a German bookstore. It's a complicated weaving of events, characters, and motivations, but Akin keeps the story clear, examining each individual's motivations and dwelling on the near misses and synchronicities of life. The film has been honored with several awards, deservedly so. It's an achingly beautiful tale about the love between parents, friends, and lovers that transcends culture, politics, and age. —Caroline Palmer
Oss 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies
St. Anthony Main, Wednesday, April 23, at 9:05 p.m. and Saturday, April 26, at 9:10 p.m.
The French prove that they too can indulge in lowbrow humor with OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, a breezy James Bond spoof that remains entertaining even if the jokes are old news to those familiar with Austin Powers. Jean Dujardin plays OSS 117, a secret agent sent to Cairo to investigate the death of a fellow agent and dear friend. Soon enough, Egyptians, Russians, Nazis, and a mysterious hooded figure are after him. The jokes are all standard yuk-yuk jokes that would be expected in a film like this; OSS 117 is heroic but extremely dimwitted, spewing off one clueless statement after another. While the film is sumptuously designed and shot (in the manner of the early Bond films), we are still expected to laugh at the cheap rear-projection shots that grew old years ago. But instead of satisfying itself with lowbrow humor, the movie goes the extra mile and remains firmly tongue-in-cheek and wonderfully politically incorrect. —Andrew Newman
St. Anthony Main, Thursday, April 24, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, April 27 at 9:15 p.m.
There's a certain irony that a film commissioned as part of a celebration of Mozart's 250th birthday would be, above everything else, so quiet. Director Mahamat Saleh Haroun uses one of Mozart's final works, La clemenza di Tito ("The Clemency of Titus"), as inspiration for a story about revenge and redemption in war-torn Chad. In Daratt ("Dry Season"), orphan Atim is sent to avenge the death of his father, who was killed during a long and bloody civil war. His father's killer, Nassara, now runs a bakery with his pregnant wife. From the beginning, Atim is conflicted about his mission, and instead of pulling the trigger on his father's gun, befriends the baker and eventually works for him in his failing shop. Much of the film passes in stark and silent scenes between the two, interspaced with touches of humor, love (especially for Nassara's pregnant wife, Aicha), and a growing apprehension of what direction Atim will take in the end. Throughout, Ali Bacha Barkai (Atim) and Youssouf Djaoro (Nassara) give penetrating performances amid the silence, all leading to a gripping climax that turns aside traditional expectations for something far more satisfying. —Ed Huyck
St. Anthony Main, Friday, April 25, at 7:30 p.m. and Monday, April 28, at 9:20 p.m.
A blockbuster in its native Iceland, adapted from Arnaldur Indridason's 2000 best seller, this somber, sinewy police procedural by the talented actor-writer-director Baltasar Kormákur could pass for an episode of CSI: Reykjavik, only with less high-tech gimmickry, more pavement-pounding, and a head-clearing view of crime as anything but a cool diversion. The discovery of a bludgeoned body sets seen-it-all cop Erlendur (Ingvar E. Sigurdsson) and his squad on the trail of a decades-old mystery involving rape allegations, a corrupt small-town constable, and his trio of thug enforcers. Meanwhile, in a seemingly unconnected side plot, a dead girl's grieving father (Atli Rafn Sigurdarson) immerses himself in shady doings at a genetic-research facility. The sharing of genomic and medical data—an ongoing controversy in a country of only 300,000 residents—stoked the movie's popularity at home, where the issue of who has the right to control (or reveal) personal histories resonates strongly. Here, the movie's urgency lies mostly in its convincing cast, its varied urban-to-pastoral locations (in light that ranges from harsh to bilious), and its cold-pro handling of familiar genre machinery, made fresh by unusual detail—such as the investigator's fast-food predilection for sheep heads. —Jim Ridley
St. Anthony Main, Friday, April 25, at 7:20 p.m. and Saturday, April 26, at 6 p.m.
Ireland's official entry to the 2008 Academy Awards Foreign Language category is an immigration story that draws on the experiences of six Irish men who set out for London with big hopes for a triumphant return. The film, directed by Tom Collins, is based on Jimmy Murphy's acclaimed play The Kings of Kilburn Road, and it shifts effortlessly between Gaelic and English, adding to the sense of disillusionment the men feel some 30 years later when they come together for a wake after the death of one of their own. None have succeeded, with the exception of Joe (Colm Meany), whose wealth has come at a personal expense. Jap (Donal O'Kelly) and Git (Brendan Conroy) are alcoholics who can't seem to survive without one another, and Mairtin (Barry Barnes) is hardened by drink and his temper. Kings revolves around their attempt to recapture past glory while mourning a friend whom each of them let down in some way. Collins delivers the story onscreen as if it were still a play, which leads to a somewhat stilted tempo at times, although the actors (in particular O'Kelly and Conroy) fully embrace and convey all the sadness of their characters' unfulfilled lives. In many ways it's a man's story—rounds of pints at the pub, bullshitting sessions, and violent outbursts—but there's a more universal message about the dislocation of immigrants that resonates with anyone who has left behind everything that matters to chase an elusive and unpredictable dream. —Caroline Palmer
St. Anthony Main, Saturday, April 26, at 7:20 p.m. and Sunday, April 27, at 3 p.m.
The killing fields of Cambodia, horrific though they were, have tended to overshadow the devastation of other countries during and after the Vietnam War. Such is the case with Laos, from which Thavisouk Phrasvath and his mother, Orady, the subjects of this first-rate documentary, escaped in 1975 following the disappearance of his father. Phrasvath, who co-directed with Ellen Kuras, covers two decades, from the years he, his mother, and siblings spent surviving poverty and gang warfare in New York, to their return to their homeland. This nearly flawless film gives valuable background on how "neutral" Laos was made a pawn by American forces, which secretly trained guerillas—including Phrasvath's father—and then abandoned them to the mercy of the North Vietnamese. This was not the only betrayal the co-director and his family would suffer. —John Ervin
The Unknown Woman
St. Anthony Main, Sunday, April 27, at 1:45 p.m. and Wednesday, April 30, at 7 p.m.
Director Giuseppe Tornatore is probably best known in the United States for his Oscar-winning 1998 film Cinema Paradiso, a charming tale about childhood memories. His latest effort has also earned several awards, but it is much darker fare. Irena (Ksenia Rappoport) is a Ukranian woman who comes to Italy via the sex trade. Her life has been filled with hardship, loss, and pain, and it becomes clear early on that she is on a mission of sorts, perhaps seeking revenge or the return of something precious. Irena finds an apartment and a cleaning job in the building across the street from where she befriends Gina (Piera Degli Esposti), the housekeeper for the wealthy Adacher couple (Claudia Gerini and Pierfrancesco Favino) and their daughter, Tea (Clara Dossena). After Gina has an, um, unfortunate accident on the grand spiral staircase (one of the many Hitchcockian references seen throughout the film), Irena takes over and soon becomes an indispensable member of the household. She bonds with Tea, who has a disease that causes her to bruise easily, and Irena teaches her how to fight back against schoolyard bullies in perhaps the film's most disturbing and psychologically violent scenes. Irena goes too far, but we still root for her as bits and pieces of her troubled past are revealed through searing flashbacks. She is a victim who is trying to regain control in ways that don't always make sense or spare others her tragedy. Tornatore has produced a taut, violent, and unexpected thriller, complete with a masterful score by Ennio Morricone—his shrieking violins combined with yearning piano reveal as much of Irena's trauma as the dialogue. It's not a pretty story, to be sure, but it offers redemption, which is more than many women in Irena's position might expect. —Caroline Palmer
St. Anthony Main, Monday, April 28, at 7:20 p.m. and Tuesday, April 29, at 7:15 p.m.
In 2000, Israel began pulling its troops out of Lebanon. For a few extra days, a group of young soldiers remained at a mountaintop outpost—Beaufort—under the leadership of Liraz Liberti (Oshri Cohen), a jittery young commander who struggles to reconcile his patriotism with a creeping disillusionment about the military, humanity, and his sense of duty. Joseph Cedar's 2008 Oscar-nominated film settles into the cramped, dusty, and all-too-exposed quarters where the soldiers await their final orders. As mortars and shells fall, they scramble and scrape through makeshift tunnels, agonizing when one of their own is lost. Although the action takes place outdoors as well as inside, Cedar summons an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia. The men must make do in a bad situation—as sitting ducks they cannot retaliate, but they do not flee, either, at least until they are ordered to do so. Beaufort has a tension that seems drawn from the stage—when it manifests itself on the screen, it is difficult not to be drawn into the young men's misery as captured in Liraz's emotional paralysis and Koris's (Hay Tiran) voice of conscience. War is as pointless as the fort the soldiers try to protect, and the journey they follow from the mountaintop is as much about understanding the true self in a state of emergency as it is about celebrating any sort of (hollow) victory. —Caroline Palmer
MORE BEST BETS:
- The Visitor: (opening night film) Thursday
- Encounters at the End of the World: (closing night film) May 1
- Big Dreams Little Tokyo: Tuesday and April 24
- Choke: April 26
- Full Metal Village: Saturday and April 23
- I Was a Swiss Banker: April 30 and May 3
- Katyn: Sunday and April 27
- The Last Mistress: April 27
- Momma's Man: Friday and Sunday
- The Mosquito Problem & Other Stories: April 25 and 27
- Patti Smith: Dream of Life: April 26
- Red Elvis: April 23
- Roman de Gare: Friday and Saturday
- Song Sung Blue: April 26
- Still Life: Sunday
Visit the MSPIFF website, www.mspfilmfest.org, for film descriptions, show times, and venues.