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After 30 years, it’s safe to say Filmfest DC has seen it all. It’s had its fair share of celebrity attendees (Morgan Freeman, Charlize Theron, John Malkovich, and Sydney Pollack, to name a few); controversies (in 1998, the Chinese government pressured the festival’s organizers into pulling Paul Wagner’s controversial film about China’s mistreatment of Tibetan citizens); and setbacks (in 2014, rising expenses and shrinking funds nearly killed it). But two years after that near-fatal blow, Filmfest DC—with longtime Director Tony Gittens and Deputy Director Shirin Ghareeb at the helm—has found its footing again.

No, it’s not nearly as prolific and widespread a festival as it was in its heyday, but it still offers an impressive and diverse selection of some of the best new cinematic offerings from around the world. Once again, most of the screenings will take place at just two locations—Landmark’s E Street Cinema and AMC Mazza Gallerie—making it easy for filmgoers to plan their schedules. There are 75 films from 45 different countries scheduled to play over the next 11 days, with Jocelyn Moorhouse’s ’50s period drama The Dressmaker—starring Kate Winslet as a well-traveled clothier who returns to her home in Australia after living in exile—opening the fest.

Per usual, films are grouped in familiar programs—The Lighter Side (“Politics Isn’t the Only Funny Thing in Washington!” the program’s description annoyingly reads), Trust No One (the fest’s collection of “espionage, crime, and thrillers” that are always the grittiest of the lot), and Justice Matters (social justice documentary lovers, take heed of these films)—but there are also some new series in the mix this year. Rhythms On and Off the Screen features a number of films for music lovers, while Cine Cubano focuses on films from Cuba, a well-timed addition considering that relations between that country and the U.S. have recently eased.

Over the years, Filmfest DC’s lineups have always been a mixed bag—some years are much better than others. Rest assured, this year’s a good one. Of the 25 films Washington City Paper writers and editors previewed, there are certainly some downers (Zinnia Flower, The Measure of a Man) but hardly any stinkers. Maybe that’s a sign of how Filmfest DC has adapted since its near-death experience; with a smaller operating budget, Gittens and Ghareeb seem to be emphasizing quality over quantity.

And as for the future of the fest? “We think we’re past some of our problems from previous years,” Gittens says. “We’re happy to be here 30 years, and we hope to be here 30 years more.” —Matt Cohen

Top illustration by Lauren Heneghan

Paths of the Soul

Directed by Zhang Yang
China

I first gasped at Paths of the Soul more than 20 minutes into the film. Up until that point, the cast of non-professional actors had established the plot with a complete absence of drama or tension. The scene is set against the backdrop of everyday life in rural Tibet: The elderly Yang wants to make a pilgrimage to Lhasa, a holy city more than 1,200 miles away. Soon, other Buddhists in the village seeking some sort of blessing or redemption—a man who butchers animals and drinks to forget, a pregnant woman—ask to join and are readily accepted. Preparations take place and the 11 villagers set off on foot. Then they begin to kowtow: a religious action that requires them to clap their hands, slide to the ground, and lay flat on their faces. Then they do it again. And again. And again, with just wooden hand and knee pads and a leather apron to protect them from the highway’s asphalt. This is the majority of the action for the two-hour, non-scripted film, and it’s astonishing to watch the cast perform the ritual over and over again in increasingly harsh conditions. There’s a simplicity both to the act—performed against breathtaking landscapes—and the film that lends itself to the quiet of a movie theater, a temple in which to reflect on your own devotion to your beliefs. —Sarah Anne Hughes

Fri., April 15, 6:30 p.m., E Street Cinema; Sun., April 17, 7:30 p.m., E Street Cinema

Sweet Smell of Spring

Directed by Férid Boughedir
Tunisia, France

The complex beauty of modern-day Tunisia is on display in Sweet Smell of Spring , a charm-filled comedy by Tunisian director Férid Boughedir. Aziz, nicknamed Zizou (portrayed with wide-eyed innocence by Zied Ayadi), is a young man searching for a better life in the big city of Tunis, having left his small Saharan village following a stint installing satellite dishes. Zizou has studied at a university for two years, which is referenced as a big deal throughout the film, but he has very little common sense. Still, he becomes the unexpected face of a freedom movement, falls in love with the smolderingly sexy Aicha (Sara Hanachi), and finds a life beyond what he imagined possible. Despite its believable forays into visible conflict, the story is light, which is clearly what Boughedir—a legend of Middle Eastern cinema—intended. And indeed, Sweet Smell of Spring delivers just the right mix of romance and comedy to keep the average movie patron engaged—subtitles and all. —Jerome Langston

Fri., April 15, 6:30 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie; Sat., April 16, 9 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie

Price of Love

Directed by Hermon Hailay
Ethiopia

Teddy (Eskindir Tameru) is a young taxi driver on the straight and narrow after a rough upbringing on the streets of Addis Ababa. His do-good attitude gets him in trouble, though, after he helps Fere (Fereweni Gebregergs) escape her abusive pimp, Marcos (Kassahun Getatchew). Marcos’ crony steals Teddy’s taxi and holds it hostage in exchange for Fere, which prompts a tag-team effort to recover it by Fere and Teddy, who fall in love in the process. Directed by rising Ethiopian filmmaker Hermon Hailay with a crew of just eight, Price of Love lacks some technical polish. It does, however, squarely highlight Ethiopia’s rampant sex work and trafficking issues and seeks to destigmatize the women involved. While Hailay clearly advocates for female agency—“Why is every man trying to control me!” Fere cries at one point—the message would be stronger if she told the story from Fere’s viewpoint rather than Teddy’s. —Margaret Carrigan

Fri., April 15, 8:30 p.m., E Street Cinema; Fri., April 22, 8:45 p.m., E Street Cinema

Behavior

Directed by Ernesto Daranas
Cuba

A flamenco fan, a pill bottle, a Virgin Mary prayer card—small objects are vital to the plot of Behavior , which offers a decidedly Cuban version of the “inspirational schoolteacher” formula. Chala, a resourceful 12-year-old boy with an alcoholic single mother, is lucky to have a maestra like Carmela, an experienced educator who occasionally bends rules but is hardly a rebel. Set in a tumbledown part of Havana, directed with care by Ernesto Daranas, and enlivened by a strong cast, the film was a hit in Cuba in 2014. It doesn’t challenge the Castro regime so much as it shows the limitations of its reach: The little things do get noticed, and there are consequences, but Behavior is really about what happens when kids and adults have to be honest with one another. —Joe Warminsky

Fri., April 15, 9 p.m., E Street Cinema; Sun., April 17, 3:15 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie; Tues., April 19, 8:45 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie

Zinnia Flower

Directed by Tom Shu-Yu Lin
Taiwan

This raw, beautiful, and heartbreaking film grew out of director Tom Shu-Yu Lin’s own grief after the death of his wife in 2012. Set in Taipei, Zinnia Flower follows Ming (Karena Lam) and Yuwei (Chin-Hang Shih) as they try to move on after a car crash robs them of their fiancé and pregnant wife, respectively. The painful passage of time is marked by the 100-day Buddhist mourning tradition, the rituals of which neither character finds solace in. Only connected by their sorrow, Ming and Yuwei’s interactions are few and detached. Their lonely anguish grows as Yuwei drinks heavily and Ming goes on her honeymoon alone. Melancholic without being melodramatic, the film touches on some discomfiting aspects of human despair while still managing to end on an optimistic note. —Margaret Carrigan

Sat., April 16, 4:30 p.m., E Street Cinema; Sat., April 23, 4:45 p.m., E Street Cinema

The Measure of a Man

Directed by Stéphane Brizé
France

The Measure of a Man begins and ends grippingly with unemployment. Thierry is the middle-aged man being figuratively measured; he has a wife and teenage special-needs son at home, which makes his unforeseen job loss at the film’s opening all the more bitter. His search for employment is humiliating—one interviewer tells him that his resume is poorly written and his chances are slim—and the pressure defeating. But Thierry and his wife still take dance lessons, spend time with their son, and live as best they can from day to day. Vincent Lindon’s Thierry is a man of few expressions as he goes about life, with long, compelling takes trained on him as he, for instance, attends a funeral or someone’s retirement party. Though a few of these shots are a bit too long, the point is made that Thierry is present at these events even if he surely doesn’t want to be. Life outside a punch clock is a prominent and worthy theme, but how much you’re willing to put up with for a paycheck has equal muscle. —Tricia Olszewski

Sat., April 16, 5 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie; Fri., April 22, 7 p.m., Embassy of France

Angry Indian Goddesses

Directed by Pan Nalin
India

What at first looks like a dramedy about old friends reconnecting becomes a sharp indictment of customs and cultures in Pan Nalin’s Angry Indian Goddesses . Set on the beautiful beaches of Goa, the action opens with high school classmates Pamela, Madhurita, and Suranjana arriving at an estate to celebrate their friend Freida’s upcoming wedding. They’re joined by Joanna, Freida’s British-Indian cousin who’s an aspiring Bollywood actress; an activist named Nargis; and the estate’s maid, Lakshmi. The interactions between these seven women, with their different careers and experiences, yield intense discussions on a variety of topics, from appropriate standards of dress to crimes against women to suicide, and the film briefly turns into an issues movie. Only in the film’s shocking final act do viewers begin to understand why these conversations were included in the first place. Nalin’s subtle direction turns what some reviewers called a “South Asian spin on Bridesmaids ” into a cutting look at the way women understand each other and how the world understands women. —Caroline Jones

Sat., April 16, 6:30 p.m., E Street Cinema; Mon., April 18, 8:30 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie

Rabin, the Last Day

Directed by Amos Gitai
Israel, France

This is a long, painful watch, and not necessarily for the reasons it should feel painful (the shocking 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, which brought a particularly fruitful phase of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to a screeching halt). It’s two-and-a-half hours of docu-drama with overlong tracking shots, droning reenactments of dull conversations, and very oblique discussions of Israeli politics in the wake of the assassination. If this isn’t an area of expertise for you already, I imagine you’re going to be utterly bored and confused by the entire thing. It has some moments that really get under your skin (apparently authentic footage of the peace rally at which the shooting occurred), as well as some truly beautiful moments (lingering shots of settlers mid-construction that reminded me of the Maysles brothers best intimate, gut-wrenching camerawork on marginalized people in LaLee’s Kin or Grey Gardens ). But at the end of the day, it’s disjointed, dull, and desperately in need of an edit. In other words, I just didn’t get it, and I sat down for the film very much wanting to. —Emily Hazzard

Sat., April 16, 6:30 p.m., E Street Cinema; Tues., April 19, 8:15 p.m., E Street Cinema

A Patch of Fog

Directed by Michael Lennox
United Kingdom

It’s been 25 years since Sandy Duffy’s debut novel made him a household name in Northern Ireland, though he hasn’t written another book since. These days, he’s a professor who co-hosts a popular debate show at night. These gigs, plus his continued book sales, have made him fairly wealthy—so it’s hard to understand why he’s so into shoplifting. In A Patch of Fog, a lonely security guard named Robert catches Sandy, threatening to show his security footage to the police. Sandy, fearing a hit to his good name, grudgingly lets the friendless Robert blackmail him into hanging out. Robert’s a creep who likes tormenting Sandy with his presence. Sandy tries to get rid of Robert with a plan that’s so inane, it calls into question his intellectual reputation. —Zach Rausnitz

Sat., April 16, 7 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie; Mon., April 18, 8:30 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie

The Thin Yellow Line

Directed by Celso García
Mexico

The Thin Yellow Line , by first-time Mexican director Celso García, sports the same plot as at least two other films, the 2001 Icelandic film Either Way and its American remake Prince Avalanche . All three are about a team of road workers painting the yellow line on a mostly barren highway. It’s a task that offers plenty of opportunity for reflections, and García shapes his tale into a often-pleasing meditation on regret, opportunity, and life itself. His protagonist, Tono, is a lonely old man with few job prospects and a buried history, but when he pulls together a team of eccentric workers—including naïve teenager Pablo (Américo Hollander)— he finds a new family and an opportunity to right the wrongs of his past. It unfolds along predictable lines, and Garcia occasionally drifts into maudlin territory, but the sense of loss is very real, and the film is filled with wonderfully grizzled faces and lived-in performances. —Noah Gittell

Sat., April 16, 9 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie; Fri., April 22, 6:30 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie

City of Trees

Directed by Brandon Kramer
USA

This home-grown documentary takes a look at efforts to rehabilitate Washington Highlands’ Oxon Run Park as well as the people behind them. Washington Parks & People, buoyed by a grant, gave jobs to a handful of residents each desperate for one and set out to beautify the District. They chose to focus on Oxon Run, the largest municipal park in D.C., which was ratty, dangerous, and sparsely used. Their mission: to plant trees. Their opposition: neighbors, surprisingly, particularly one with an attack dog and a gun. City of Trees profiles three of the group’s struggling employees and gets behind closed doors when there’s no more money left. They strategize until they’re out of breath, and it’s uplifting to see their small victories as well as the profiled men—one formerly incarcerated—taking the project to heart and staying upbeat about the opportunity and skills they had been given. The eldest of the three—himself an impressive leader—says at the beginning of the film, “We want to bring sunshine to the community.” Consider it brought. —Tricia Olszewski

Sun., April 17, 3:15 p.m., E Street Cinema

Nasser’s Republic

Directed by Michael Goldman
USA

Gamal Abdel Nasser was the very embodiment of the proverbial “charismatic leader” you read about in political science textbooks, but Nasser’s Republic: The Making of Modern Egypt steers clear of breathless paen-singing. Instead, the film captures the process of shaking colonialism’s chains and building a nation. It also offers a very comprehensive look at the anti-Western, pan-Arabism movement, showing Nasser as equally pragmatic and idealistic. The themes Nasser’s Republic tackles are big, yet the film is able to give a panoramic view of the issues of nationalizing an economy, gaining public support, contending with the Muslim Brotherhood, and wrestling with the thorny issue of what democratization and nation building actually looks like. Through interviews with Nasser’s daughter and a number of scholars and journalists, a portrait of a doggedly hard-working leader emerges. Nasser’s political milieu turns out to be not too terribly different from modern-day Egypt’s, and as such, it’s essential viewing for anyone interested in how a country moves from colonialism—and its effects—into autonomy. But sometimes autonomy can devolve into autocracy, and that’s something Nasser’s Republic does not shy away from exploring. —Toni Tileva

Sun., April 17, 5 p.m., E Street Cinema; Mon., April 18, 6:30 p.m., E Street Cinema

Guantanamo’s Child

Directed by Michelle Shephard and Patrick Reed
Canada

In an increasingly transparent and media-saturated world, stories from Guantanamo Bay still remain rare. Guantanamo’s Child offers the notorious prison’s youngest detainee, Canadian Omar Khadr, the chance to speak after spending almost half his life in U.S. custody. Khadr’s warmth is instantly disarming, and he ably guides the audience down the rabbit hole of the war on terror. Khadr’s account is not a solo act though, with interviews from members of the U.S. military establishment and other released detainees countering or corroborating Khadr’s experience. With limited information and footage from Bagram and Guantanamo available, the documentary relies heavily on these testimonies. But it justly engages this battle of narratives, and Khadr himself affectingly discusses his struggle for authenticity and legitimacy in the eyes of the public. In doing so, the film reminds us of Guantanamo’s primary function: to distort truths and peddle uncertainty. With Guantanamo still an open moral wound, Shephard and Reed’s film has never been more essential. —Shilpa Jindia

Sun., April 17, 5:30 p.m., E Street Cinema; Tues., April 19, 6:30 p.m., E Street Cinema

Viva

Directed by Paddy Breathnach
Ireland, Cuba

In a key scene in director Paddy Breathnach’s Viva, Angel—recently reunited with his estranged son, Jesus—gazes from the rooftop of their shoddy apartment building in downtown Havana. “This is the most beautiful slum in the world,” he says. It’s a poignant moment in a film full of them, but it’s also the moment when you realize that the city of Havana is a character in itself. Jesus (Héctor Medina) spends his days cutting and styling the hair of elderly women in his neighborhood and spends his nights as a hairdresser at a seedy drag queen bar. His aspirations to finally take the stage are complicated when his father (Jorge Perugorría)—who was sent to prison when he was three—unexpectedly reenters his life. Jesus struggles to accept his father back into his life while secretly pursuing his dream of being a drag queen. “Why do you want to do this?” Mama, the bar owner and Jesus’ mentor, says to him. “I don’t know,” Jesus replies. “It’s strong. It’s pretty.” And that’s just what Breathnach’s film is: a strong, pretty, and touching treatise of a son and father reconnecting, and the city where it all takes place. —Matt Cohen

Sun., April 17, 8 p.m., E Street Cinema; Thurs., April 21, 8:45 p.m., E Street Cinema

Motley’s Law

Directed by Nicole Nielsen Horanyi
Denmark

In 2008, American attorney Kimberly Motley relocated to Afghanistan to practice law. Her one-year sacrifice, undertaken to earn extra money for her family back in North Carolina, unexpectedly turned into several years despite the dangers she faced every day. Why? One of this documentary’s few missteps is that we never really find out. Motley, the only foreigner licensed to practice in the country, is an easy person to get behind, with a persistent but not patience-testing manner and a fearless optimism—though she’s not above calling a situation “bullshit.” Her level-headedness is key as she faces the frustrations that result as new Afghan law still blends with the old. (“The lawyer is not entitled to have a say here,” she’s indirectly told in one case.) A sometimes-odd interview style—such as the many shots of Motley on the phone, seemingly answering questions the director would ask—takes you out of the film a bit. Otherwise, Motley’s Law offers a portrait of an American not exactly serving her country, but inarguably serving others. —Tricia Olszewski

Mon., April 18, 6:30 p.m., E Street Cinema; Wed., April 20, 6:30 p.m., E Street Cinema

Belgian Rhapsody

Directed by Vincent Bal
Belgium

For a musical about two rival concert-jazz groups, Vincent Bal’s Belgian Rhapsody provides an unexpectedly intimate look at Belgium’s cultural norms and its countrymen’s behavior. Following a tie in the national championship, the two troupes prepare to represent their home country in the European finals as the film takes a few, mostly good-natured shots at the (slightly unbelievable) antics of both French and Flemish-speaking Belgians. The groups’ members resort to bickering, betrayal, and, as the intensity grows, physical altercations. A budding romance between Hugues, a bad-boy heartthrob, and Elka, the practical daughter of the local conductor, plays out in a predictable, everyone-learns-their-lesson trope. The personal exchanges and dialogue are often over-acted, but the film is saved by an endearing ensemble and comedic timing. Many of the background characters develop reliable schticks, which mesh—and at times save—the strained performances of the film’s principal actors. The result is more Bring It On than Whiplash. —Quinn Myers

Mon., April 18, 8:45 p.m., E Street Cinema; Sat., April 23, 5 p.m., E Street Cinema

Akounak: Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red in It

Directed by Christopher Kirkley
Niger

The Tuareg people who live in the Sahara desert region of Niger don’t have a word for purple, which is why first-time director Christopher Kirkley’s adaptation of Prince’s Purple Rain is called Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red in It . Starring singer/guitarist Mdou Moctar, this leisurely paced effort substitutes tea-drinking rituals for the flash and sex of its 1984 Minneapolis predecessor and is the first full-length movie to be voiced completely in the Tuareg language Tamasheq. While the film’s plot, with its father/son tension and battle of the bands ending, is a tad simplistic—and the acting a bit wooden—this Afro-groove celebration of Tuareg culture is nonetheless unique and endearing. —Steve Kiviat

Tues., April 19, 6:30 p.m., E Street Cinema; Sat., April 23, 9:15 p.m., E Street Cinema

Love & Friendship

Directed by Whit Stillman
Ireland, France, Netherlands

Over the years, writer/director Whit Stillman has developed a knack for capturing the essence and humor of the bourgeois of certain eras. With his debut, Metropolitan , it was the yuppie Upper East Siders of the ’80s; with The Last Days of Disco , it was rich Manhattanites from New York’s disco set; and Damsels in Distress skewered preppy East Coast university types. So it’s only natural that his latest film, an adaptation of the Jane Austen novella Lady Susan , would be set in the world of the Romantic-era bourgeois—the bougiest of bourgeois settings. Since the death of her husband, Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) has been ever-so-carefully plotting her next marriage, traversing from friends’ mansion to friends’ mansion, scoping out and seducing the single rich dudes that could boost her social status. But when she moves in with her in-laws and tries to find new beaus for herself and her daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), Vernon’s manipulative plans cause a stir in the household. Despite Stillman’s sharp, witty dialogue, there are moments of extreme tediousness—nearly every other scene features two characters walking and talking in some sort of decadent garden setting. Perhaps that’s part of Stillman’s visual jocularity, but like much of the film, the humor is so subtle that, if you tune out for a second, you’ll miss it. —Matt Cohen

Tues., April 19, 6:30 p.m., E Street Cinema

Marshland

Directed by Alberto Rodriguez
Spain

It’s True Detective , but in 1980s Spain. Two detectives, frequently filmed from skies filled with strange birds, tramp across depressed swamp country. An investigation of a single violent crime unravels a conspiracy, while our protagonists are dogged by crooked cops and local business heavies. One of the Spanish detectives even bears a resemblance to Matthew McConaughey. Surprisingly, Marshland started filming before the HBO show’s release, which means its competent plotting and camera work are all its own. Besides, Rust Cohle never had to mess with Franco. —Will Sommer

Tues., April 19, 8:45 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie; Thurs., April 21, 8:45 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie; Sat., April 23, 4:45 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie

The Fencer

Directed by Klaus Härö
Finland, Germany, Estonia

Congratulations, America: You’ve successfully exported the inspiring sports biopic genre to Estonia. Klaus Härö’s Golden Globe-nominated drama focuses on the life of Endel Nelis, a coach who launches a fencing program at a small secondary school in the town of Haapsalu in the early 1950s. Now considered a legend in his nation, the gruff teacher first appears unwilling to teach the ragtag group of youngsters, many of whom have been orphaned during the Soviet occupation that deported ethnic Estonians thought to be enemies of the state. But he eventually warms to the children and fashions them makeshift weapons out of sticks. They beg to attend a competition against other Soviet child athletes in Leningrad, but there’s one small problem: Nelis is hiding something and the secret police inch ever closer to apprehending our hero. Even in a predictable narrative that includes the stereotypical romance, sullen student, and come-from-behind victory, Härö admirably builds tension in the film’s final third. If you loved D2: The Mighty Ducks but thought it lacked Stalinism, this is the film for you. —Caroline Jones

Wed., April 20, 8:30 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie; Sat., April 23, 5 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie

Banat

Directed by Adriano Valerio
Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia

Banat starts out all Before Sunrise , with Ivo and Clara meeting cute as Ivo is vacating and Clara moving into an apartment in Bari, Italy. They take a break from hauling stuff and proceed to wander the beachside city together. There’s a spark, but Ivo is relocating to Romania for a job—what to do? Banat spends most of its time in the titular city, meaning the cinematography is bleak even when the prospect of romance is bright. But its dreariness, combined with the film’s meandering, episodic structure, puts a further damper on this charmless love connection, making it difficult for the film to, well, move you. —Tricia Olszewski

Thurs., April 21, 8:30 p.m., E Street Cinema; Sat., April 23, 7 p.m., E Street Cinema

The Forbidden Shore

Directed by Ron Chapman
Canada

It’s impossible to get too comfortable with any performance in this tour of contemporary Cuban music; director Ron Chapman makes it abundantly clear that Havana is teeming with singers and groovemakers, and that they all might benefit from the regime’s growing rapprochement with the U.S. The sounds are eclectic, the scenes are vibrant (and short), and the many, many artists speak relatively freely, including rocker X-Alfonso, who knocks Buena Vista Social Club and says the world would need to send “20 Ry Cooders” to the island to discover all of its musical greatness. (Chapman, meanwhile includes lots of shots of old cars and seawall sunsets, because why not?) In the end, The Forbidden Shore isn’t so much an advertisement as it is an argument against the idea that art has somehow been stunted on the island. Less talk and more rock (or reggaeton, or rumba, or whatever) might’ve made that point even better. —Joe Warminsky

Wed., April 20, 8:45 p.m., E Street Cinema; Sun., April 23, 7 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie

The Violin Teacher

Directed by Sérgio Machado
Brazil

After Laerte (Lázaro Ramos), a prodigy violin player, flubs his audition for Brazil’s most prestigious orchestra, he begins teaching music in one of São Paulo’s largest slums. What follows is well-tread ground about the transformative force of both music and education, but Laerte sticks out as an atypical inspiration. He remains disaffected and unemotional, and his preoccupation with music drives his relationships both with himself and his students, even as shadowed threats from the favela loom within his classroom. While Laerte’s reticence compellingly complicates the character, it robs the script of its potential depth and denies Ramos, a capable actor, the chance to fully stretch his muscles—his most emotional scene is shot in the dark. But the film’s overall restraint allows director Sérgio Machado to nimbly skirt past discussion of fractious urban politics and police brutality. Instead, the film is a quiet meditation on the connection and feeling that lies beneath any talented musician’s fingers. It resonates with a powerful reminder of exactly why music holds such universal and personal potency. —Shilpa Jindia

Thurs., April 21, 6:30 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie; Fri., April 22, 8:30 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie

3000 Nights

Directed by Mai Masri
Palestine, France, Qatar, Jordan, UAE, Lebanon

3000 Nights, the latest film from acclaimed Palestinian director Mai Masri, takes a lofty and mostly successful look at the moral ambiguity and cruelty surrounding the case of a confused, pregnant Palestinian woman sentenced to eight years in an Israeli prison. Dealing with a husband on the outside, merciless Israeli guards, and giving birth and raising a child in a prison cell, the film is explicit in its message throughout, logging statistics about Palestinian political prisoners at the hands of Israel before the credits roll. But Masri’s film, which follows the story of a pregnant Layla and her time coexisting with fellow Palestinians and Israeli criminals, is more than an examination of the political through the personal. The hollow cells and barbed wire jail yard create a strikingly beautiful backdrop as the horrors of war are mixed with the joys of motherhood and family. The plot thins out toward the back of the film, but comes roaring back as the female prisoners launch a hunger strike, forcing the direction back into its strongest trait—examining the moral consequences of what it means to be a Palestinian, a mother, and a woman. —Quinn Myers

Thurs., April 21, 8:30 p.m., E Street Cinema; Sat., April 23, 9:30 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie

Rebel Citizen

Directed by Pamela Yates
USA

“I don’t know who gives a shit about what I’m saying,” says the late Haskell Wexler early on in Rebel Citizen , a documentary about his five decades as a cinematographer in Hollywood. He may be onto something. The film preaches to the left-wing choir who, if they have not already seen his canonical work, are unlikely to have their mind changed by it. In the ’60s and ’70s, Haskell was a driving creative force behind The Bus , Medium Cool (he says it was “80 percent stolen from Godard”), and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest , and Rebel Citizen deserves credit for shining a light on his contributions, as the topics he documented are still achingly relevant today. Eventually, though, the film succumbs to didacticism, and anyone who came to learn something new about cinema is bound to be disappointed. The film tries to be both a look back at Wexler’s valuable contribution to cinema and a lefty polemic, which means it’s really neither. —Noah Gittell

Fri., April 22, 6:30 p.m., E Street Cinema; Sat., April 23, 9 p.m., E Street Cinema