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Last year, Filmfest DC was on life support. Its prognosis was so dire, in fact, that Tony Gittens, the festival’s founder and director, sounded like he was steeling himself to pull the plug. “My board reminds me there’s always a possibility,” Gittens told Washington City Paper. “No one’s stepped up as yet [to financially support it].”

Because Filmfest has had some disappointing, disorganized years, audiences might have once reacted to this news with a shrug. But the better it got, the more money it apparently bled—and 2015, nearly the fest that never was, is looking like the best one yet.

Filmfest DC is offering more than 70 international features, documentaries, and shorts in its 29th year, and we’ve reviewed about half of them. It’s possible that our critics got lucky while picking their assignments, but it’s much more likely that these are going to be 10 great days.

Gittens attributes Filmfest’s revival to new donors, increased contributions, budget adjustments, and keeping screenings to two venues. (Smart move. Unless they could teleport, filmgoers had to make some difficult decisions in previous years when the Filmfest slate was spread around the city.)

What’s truly remarkable, though, is that Filmfest has found a way to both survive and secure impressive selections. Like a 90-year-old who starts running hurdles after hip surgery, the festival has added live musical performances, director Q&As via Skype, and an online catalog that allows visitors to watch trailers on their phones with the Aurasma app.

Between the limited venues and the perks, Filmfest DC promises to deliver a true festival experience this year, creating an inclusivity that filmgoers will feel beyond opening- and closing-night galas—an atmosphere that was often absent in the days of lonely ticket tables set up in the corners of several different theaters. If money woes inspired Gittens and his crew toward this kind of invention, let the struggle continue. —Tricia Olszewski

Tango Glories

Directed by Oliver Kolker and Hernán Findling


The trick of tango lies in the “embrace”—the way you hold your partner. In Tango Glories, the ultimate embrace comes from the dance itself, gripping people throughout their lives even as their partners change and the orchestra switches numbers. The anchor of the film is Fermin (Hector Alterio/Luciano Caceres), who lives in a mental institution in Buenos Aires and only speaks in tango lyrics. Fermin’s condition inspires his psychologist (Gastón Pauls) to immerse himself in the culture of the dance, though the patient’s tango-instructing, sexy granddaughter (Antonella Costa) certainly doesn’t hurt in spurring the doctor’s interest. Tango Glories jumps to different times in Fermin’s life, showing how he ended up a remorseful old man who can only speak in rhymes. The only problem? Fermin is by far the weakest character in a film with a number of winning bit players (especially Centipede, played by Emilio Disi and Oliver Kolker). The movie grants unearned catharsis to someone who thinks that feeling regret is a sufficient condition for redemption. The incredible dancing in the film does the redeeming far better than any crying old man can. —Rachel Kurzius

Thurs. April 16, 7 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie

Finding Gastón

Directed by Patricia Perez


Few people have Gastón Acurio’s career conviction: The day he entered culinary school was the happiest of his life, he says at the start of the documentary Finding Gastón, “because I finally knew that I could begin to do what I was born to do.” Then again, few people draw worshipful crowds wherever they go. The Peruvian chef and TV host has opened more than 40 restaurants worldwide, with one rumored to be coming to D.C. soon. But as he’s portrayed in Finding Gastón, Acurio’s much more than a chef: He’s a patriot, a revolutionary, a humanitarian, an environmentalist, an ambassador—in short, an Atlas carrying his country on his capable shoulders. It makes for a monotonous, fawning film, although it’s rescued somewhat by the protagonist’s charm and the recurring food-porn montages that evoke a kind of real-life Chef, if only Jon Favreau’s character, rather than being treated as a fuck-up, were received as a deity. As Disney would have put it: No one cooks like Gastón. —Aaron Wiener

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

One for the Road

Directed by Jack Zagha Kababie


Getting old sucks, and perhaps nobody knows it more than the four main characters in One for the Road. When one of the four, Pedro, announces during a game of dominoes that he has incurable colon cancer, he tasks the remaining three to fulfill his dying wish: deliver a napkin inscribed with song lyrics and a personal autograph from legendary crooner José Alfredo Jiménez to the singer’s museum in Dolores Hidalgo. What follows is a road trip across Mexico in which the octogenarians face ghosts, brushes with death, and several sudden bathroom breaks. Though the film revolves around the inevitability of death and the awkwardness that comes with old age, it’s a charming dark comedy that deals bitter and sweet in equal portions. —Tim Regan

Fri. April 17, 6:30 p.m.; Fri. April 24, 9 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie


Directed by Reza Mirkarimi


Today, Iran’s official submission for 2015 Oscar consideration, prompts more questions than it answers. When an upset and bloodied pregnant woman (Soheila Golestani) jumps into a cab while the taciturn driver, Youness (Parviz Parastui), is having lunch, he agrees to take her to a hospital, though he’s not familiar with the one she’s deliriously describing. Two impatient thoughts will cross your mind during the ride: “Shut up, lady!” and “Say something, dude!” Her babbling skills are incomparable, while he maintains the kind of silence you never experience in the real world. Youness’ unwillingness to open his mouth throughout the film’s entirety is incredibly frustrating, and the story’s pace isn’t exactly brisk. Yet viewers will remain gripped, anxious to discover who these characters are and why Youness stays with his fare, letting the side-eyeing hospital staff believe he’s her (much older) husband/lover/relative. Reza Mirkarimi’s film recalls Locke as Youness, who’s hinted at a wife but perhaps not children, chooses to attend to a pregnant stranger rather than come home that night. He initially seems like an ass, but Parastui softens him as the hours go by. In the end, it’s clear that sadness is behind Youness’ stillness—and though Today clarifies little else, it’ll leave most viewers moved. —Tricia Olszewski

Fri. April 17, 8:15 p.m.; Sun. April 19, 3 p.m., E Street Cinema


Directed by Girish Malik


Water is in short supply in this fine introduction to Bollywood style. A parched desert village in India’s Rann of Kutch region puts its faith in Bakka (the charming Purab Kohli), a pompous self-proclaimed “god of water.” His ancient divining rituals are put to the test by foreign conservationists, who arrive trying to save a dying flamingo population. Who’s more endangered: the birds or the humans? Some icky use of female characters puts a damper on things, but Girish Malik’s film is a briskly paced, prescient fable of diminishing resources, high in melodrama and goofy comedy. The lush photography features sweeping crane footage of arid landscapes that could recall the distant past—or not-so-distant future. —Andrew Lapin

Sat. April 18, 4:30 p.m.; Sun. April 19, 2:30 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie

The Nightingale

Directed by Philippe Muyl

China, France

Like any good road-trip flick, The Nightingale throws a big-rig’s worth of obstacles at its protagonists to make their relationship stronger in the end. En rambling route from Beijing to the rural province of Guangxi, grandfather Zhu Zhi Gen (an introspective Baotian Li) teaches his young granddaughter (the believably bratty Xin Yi Yang) to appreciate nature and old-fashioned fun while he grapples with regrets and feelings of inadequacy. (The young’n is an iPad-obsessed latchkey kid whose supervision-dodging tendencies led to a missing child scare and a four-year estrangement between her father and grandfather.) In well-paced, gorgeous shots of the green Chinese countryside and a truly heartwarming ending that wraps up just a smidge too cleanly, China’s entry for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar is a delightful watch, if not a particularly memorable one. —Christina Cauterucci

Sat. April 18, 4:30 p.m.; Sat. April 25, 4:15 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie

Partners in Crime

Directed by Chang Jung-chi


Chang Jung-chi’s Partners in Crime is a mystery, but it’s more about melancholy than thrills. When three young men discover the body of a pretty high school senior on the side of the road, an apparent suicide victim, they develop a mutual obsession. There’s a strange intimacy among them, as if no one else could ever understand their secret, and together they’re capable of monstrous acts that none could accomplish as an individual. The most disturbing thing about Partners in Crime is the malformed logic of high school students, who have a passion for investigation but none of the skill. Because the characters find transcendence in teen suicide, their immaturity carries a tragic quality, and Jung-chi’s utter lack of an adult perspective is claustrophobic. —Alan Zilberman

Sat. April 18, 5 p.m.; Sun. April 19, 3 p.m., E Street Cinema

Bikes vs Cars

Directed by Fredrik Gertten


The hot topic of Bikes vs Cars is enough to pack a house. Regardless of whether District audiences more passionately support two wheels or four, one of the documentary’s questions is sure to unite them: “Why is public transportation so expensive even though it’s so bad?” The musing comes from a cyclist frustrated with São Paulo’s system; it’s not WMATA, but the criticism fits. The film, which also screened in D.C. during last month’s Environmental Film Festival, looks at the transportation priorities of cities like Los Angeles (duh), Toronto, and Copenhagen, the last of which is a cycling utopia where a remarkable 40 percent of the population commutes by bike. At the other extreme is Toronto. The doc provides a clip of former Mayor Rob Ford calling bicyclists “a pain in the ass” and heartbreaking footage of bike lanes, installed in 2010, being torn up in 2012. Bikes vs Cars touches on political motives, health consequences, and environmental concerns, plus some history of bicycling around the world, including a surprising and very cool look at L.A. circa 1900, when the wooden “California Cycleway” was the commuter route of choice. Best of all, it avoids black-and-white arguments, giving voice to the ambivalent among us. If you missed the doc earlier, you’ve got another chance.

—Tricia Olszewski

Sat. April 18, 5 p.m.; Wed. April 22, 6:30 p.m., E Street Cinema

Be Known: The Mystery of Kahil El’Zabar

Directed by Dwayne Johnson-Cochran


Kahil El’Zabar wants to be known, but he wants people to get to know him on his own terms. Throughout the six-week tour chronicled in Dwayne Johnson-Cochran’s documentary Be Known: The Mystery of Kahil El’Zabar, the avant-garde jazz legend offers plenty of hints about why audiences, fans, and fellow musicians have been drawn to him for more than 40 years and what some discover when they get close enough. El’Zabar is magnetic onstage, putting on incredible performances, speeches, and music lessons with intensity and unique artistic vision. But El’Zabar’s improvisational approach to everything—performances given without rehearsals; lectures delivered without preparation—blurs the offstage line between brilliance and bullshit. As the documentary progresses, El’Zabar is faced with the consequences of squandering relationships with people who got to know him too well. —Maxwell Tani

Sat. April 18, 6:30 p.m.; Sun. April 19, 7:30 p.m., Goethe-Institut


Directed by Philippe Aractingi

Lebanon, France

At its core, Heritages is a film about exodus and homecoming. When it starts, filmmaker Philippe Aractingi, his wife Diane, and their kids are leaving home on a French military ship. They’re fleeing the 2006 conflict in Lebanon between Israeli and Hezbollah forces that left thousands of civilians dead. But this isn’t the first time Aractingi or his family have had to leave war-torn Lebanon: Using a mixture of dreamlike reenactments, archival footage, and Aractingi’s home movies, we get a snapshot of what it was like growing up in Beirut during its many years of chaos and war. Despite the politically turbulent setting, this isn’t a film with much of a political message. Rather, it’s a deeply personal narrative that reflects on Aractingi’s family memories as he travels between two very different worlds. —Tim Regan

Sat. April 18, 7 p.m.; Fri. April 24, 6:30 p.m., E Street Cinema


Directed by Rakhshan Bani-Etemad


It’s Crash, but in Tehran. That’s probably too kind to the Paul Haggis schlockfest, actually, but the two films’ formats are the same: intersecting lives, hapless characters, social issues, the works. Our protagonists, who pass each other on the streets or in the subway, have little in common besides their repeated struggles with uninterested bureaucrats and a sanctions-wrecked economy. Female characters have it the worst: One woman struggles with an addicted husband; another tries to spring her political prisoner son from jail. No matter their gender, though, every character lives the danger of standing out in the Islamic Republic of Iran. —Will Sommer

Sat. April 18, 7 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie; Sat. April 25, 5 p.m., E Street Cinema

Advanced Style

Directed by Lina Plioplyte


Advanced Style is a glorified commercial for producer Ari Seth Cohen’s blog of the same name, a repository of portraits of over-50 women dressed in glamorous, eccentric, or of-the-moment get-ups. In its profiling of six now-famous blog subjects, the documentary gives Cohen a vigorous pat on the back for celebrating women whose age or bodies set them at odds with popular standards of beauty. But something about the film’s cloying tone rings problematic, making viewers complicit in tokenizing and fetishizing these complex women for their flashy baubles, feathered hats, and homemade fake eyelashes. It’s a navel-gazing vanity project that barely bumps up against the ableism, misogyny, and ageism that sideline elderly women in the first place. Much of the film’s latter half is concerned with the life-changing effect Cohen’s blog has had on its featured women: appearances on the Ricki Lake Show, an ad campaign with Lanvin, and potential starring roles in a Discovery Channel series. Cursory attempts at conflict and intrigue set the viewer up for a sense of meaning that never comes. Why these women? Why now? There’s no story here, just 70 long minutes of beautiful outfits and the kind of platitudes (be yourself! live life to the fullest!) you might find in any serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul. —Christina Cauterucci

Sat. April 18, 9 p.m.; Sun. April 19, 5 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie

Ciudad Delirio

Directed by Chus Gutiérrez

Colombia, Spain

A doctor from Spain named Javier (Julián Villagrán) goes to Cali, Colombia for a medical conference and meets a salsa dance instructor, a single mother named Angie (Carolina Ramírez). She struggles to afford costumes for her working-class dance company, the Cali Stars, who are determined to win a competition. The plot of Ciudad Delirio is formulaic, and positioning the doctor as a stiff, nice white guy who can’t dance and Angie’s ex (her child’s father) as an irresponsible, flashy black dancer doesn’t help. But if you’re a sucker for corny romance tales, the drum-and-horn pulse of classic salsa, and Latin choreography glitzed up with Vegas-style sequins and spectacle, you might be able to overlook director and co-screenwriter Chus Gutiérrez’s reliance on stereotypes and clichés. —Steve Kiviat

Sat. April 18, 9:15 p.m.; Wed. April 22, 6:30 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie

Margarita, With a Straw

Directed by Shonali Bose and Nilesh Maniyar


This Indian drama sets up for itself an enormous challenge: telling a coming-of-age story about a girl with cerebral palsy without devolving into Movie-of-the-Week mawkishness. Most of the time, Margarita, With a Straw succeeds due to the charms and talents of lead actress Kalki Koechlin, a rising star in India. Koechlin gives a transformative and heartbreaking performance as Laila, who leaves her home in Mumbai to attend college in New York. Although the story hits some expected notes, co-directors Shonali Bose and Nilesh Maniyar smartly refuse to condescend to Laila’s disability, and the character’s journey of self-discovery takes on a universal quality. When she becomes romantically involved with a blind female activist (Sayani Gupta), Laila struggles to integrate her new life into her old one, and Koechlin’s mesmerizing talents smooth over a production that feels a little rough around the edges. —Noah Gittell

Sun. April 19, 1 p.m.; Sat. April 25, 7 p.m., E Street Cinema

The Dinner

Directed by Ivano De Matteo


If you see your 16-year-old son glued to a web series whose participants, he says, “beat the pants off each other, but it’s cool,” and you just smile and walk away, your “World’s Greatest Dad” T-shirt is a lie. The Dinner, a 2014 remake of a 2013 film adapted from a 2009 book, tells an increasingly tabloid-esque story of a lifelong sibling rivalry (two brothers, a defense attorney and a pediatrician in this version), the friendship of their seemingly angelic teenage kids, and the deeply felt values that are impulsively pushed aside in the face of tragedy. Though the animosity between the brothers and their wives isn’t sufficiently explained—comments like “I just don’t get them” feel baseless—the families interact with wonderful realism and tenderness within each home. The Dinner morphs into a “what would you do?” film once it’s discovered that the teens committed a horrific act after a booze-filled party; the brothers’ history of low-boil hostility shapes the aftermath of what will happen to their kids. The film’s final scene is a bit too sensational even for a sensational story, but on the plus side, this potboiler turn is lightning-quick and much more effective than it would have been if prolonged. —Tricia Olszewski

Sun. April 19, 5 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie; Mon. April 20, 8:30 p.m., E Street Cinema

The Lies of the Victors

Directed by Christoph Hochhäusler


Journalists make great protagonists because of the risks they take. Unlike cops or private detectives, they often lack the experience to understand a dangerous situation and have little authority over the people they interview. German thriller The Lies of the Victors is about two young journalists who nearly uncover a conspiracy, except the shadowy corporation they’re after is always one step ahead of them. We see business executives turn the screws on the gumshoes, undermining their credibility at every turn. Director Christoph Hochhäusler’s style is a bit of a distraction from the material—the camera is always panning in one direction without much purpose, so it’s difficult to determine a shot’s focal point. And since the screenplay lacks meaningful twists, Hochhäusler tries to add depth through one too many meandering sub-plots and an unearned, pretentious epigraph. —Alan Zilberman

Sun. April 19, 7 p.m.; Mon. April 20, 8:30 p.m., E Street Cinema


Directed by Naji Abu Nowar

Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, United Kingdom

In the unforgiving desert, it’s often survival of the fittest. Theeb follows the film’s namesake character, a young boy from a Bedouin tribe in the Arabian Desert, as he learns that lesson firsthand during World War I. When his older brother, Hussein, is enlisted on a mission accompanying a British soldier, curious Theeb follows. But once the mission goes awry, Theeb, a boy who’s unable to muster the fortitude to slaughter a goat, is forced to make life-or-death decisions on a human scale. With gunfights, a sweeping score, and grandiose shots of the sun-baked desert, Theeb could nearly pass for a Western. But under that action is a tale of lost innocence and traumatic emotional aging rarely found in modern adventure films. —Tim Regan

Sun. April 19, 7 p.m., E Street Cinema; Tues. April 21, 6:30 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie

Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed

Directed by David Trueba


Here’s a free life hack: You can improve anything by adding the Beatles. The Spanish-made Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed is a simplistic, well-meaning story made infinitely more charming by the infusion of John Lennon’s (mostly) offscreen presence. Antonio (Javier Cámara) is a schoolteacher and first-class Beatlemaniac who travels to the southern coast of Spain one weekend to meet the singer, who is filming a movie there (1967’s How I Won the War). Along the way, he picks up two hitchhikers: a pregnant young woman escaping from a convent (Natalia de Molina) and a teenager running away from home (Francesc Colomer). Sweet and amiable, this film is a special treat for Beatles fans—Lennon does make an appearance, kinda—and for everyone else, it’s as pleasantly refreshing as a weekend trip to the beach. —Noah Gittell

Sun. April 19, 7:15 p.m., E Street Cinema; Sat. April 25, 6:30 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie


Directed by Danis Tanovic

India, France, United Kingdom

As you’ve probably assumed, Tigers is not about the animal. It’s about a potentially more dangerous creature: the pharmaceutical rep. As so many films are these days, Tigers is based on a true story: Ayan (Emraan Hashmi), a young Pakistani salesman, thinks he’s struck gold when he’s hired to peddle big pharma. But when Ayan discovers that the baby formula he helped popularize can be fatal and that his overlords don’t care, he blows the whistle—an action, it seems, that most corporations don’t like. Tigers adopts a Life of Pi framing; here, a documentary team wanting to film an exposé video-chats with Ayan to go over the story. With the bulk of the film told in flashbacks and the documentary conceit forgotten about for significant stretches of time, the approach is an irritating distraction. The film largely feels rather Disease of the Week, all good intentions and not-so-great execution. But if there were an award for Best Ominous Sitter—an (in)action I’ve never really considered—one of Tigers’ many bad guys would be a shoo-in. —Tricia Olszewski

Mon., April 20, 6:30 p.m.; Tues., April 21, 6:30 p.m., E Street Cinema

The Chambermaid

Directed by Ingo Haeb


Lynn (Vicky Krieps) loves her job working as a chambermaid. The guests fascinate her—she sniffs the detritus they leave behind, tries on their clothes, and even hides under the bed as they sleep. But her comfortable intimacy stops there; she’s nearly unable to get up the nerve to speak to them face-to-face. Sexual encounters with her schleppy boss (Steffen Muenster) are passionless and framed in shots that emphasize negative space. When Lynn hides under the bed during a guest’s session with a dominatrix (Lena Lauzemis), something clicks for Lynn and she starts scheduling her own sessions. Adapted from a German novel, The Chambermaid is a slow, quiet movie whose action plays out entirely on the lead actress’ face. Your interest will depend entirely on whether Lynn’s interior processes compel you. —Rachel Kurzius

Mon. April 20, 6:30 p.m., E Street Cinema; Thurs. April 23, 6:30 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie

The Clearstream Affair

Directed by Vincent Garenq

France, Luxembourg, Belgium

Shady corporations, bugged rooms, anonymous calls, guys who whisper things like, “You don’t know who you’re dealing with!”… Are these just conspiracy movie clichés, or could they actually happen in real life? The fact that the Vincent Garenq political thriller The Clearstream Affair doesn’t answer this question by the film’s end demonstrates its main problem. Based on a series of scandals that rocked France for almost a decade, the film admirably attempts to detail the banking conspiracies uncovered by investigative journalist Denis Robert, seen in the film seeking justice out of the back of his convertible. Garenq’s attempt to pack in maximum plot weighs down the film, papering over the kind of exposition and detail that helps audiences believe in a scene. There’s little time to examine the existing evidence before the film jumps to another scandal/murder/double-crossing at an even higher level of government. Those familiar with the real Clearstream affair will undoubtedly get more from this film, but many U.S. viewers may find themselves struggling to keep each of the empty-parking-garage scenes straight. —Maxwell Tani

Mon. April 20; Fri. April 24, 6:30 p.m., E Street Cinema

In Order of Disappearance

Directed by Hans Petter Moland


For Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgård), proper revenge means a higher body count than is probably necessary. As an upstanding rural snowplow driver whose son is killed by a drug gang, Skarsgard channels Taken’s Liam Neeson in his rigid, determined performance. His adversaries lend a pitch-black comedic tone to the violent affair, with a sadistic, fastidious vegan kingpin (Pål Sverre Hagen) furnishing the film’s best moments of Nordic humor. Director Hans Petter Moland’s breakneck action flick spills a lot of blood, but doesn’t dwell on it—In Order of Disappearance is always digging new graves to fill. It’s got its limitations (women characters seem to exist solely to annoy men), but Dickman’s grim quest is unequivocally thrilling. —James Constant

Mon. April 20; Wed. April 22, 8:30 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie

Unlikely Heroes

Directed by Peter Luisi


Glum divorcée Sabine (Esther Gemsch) volunteers over the Christmas holiday at a refugee house for asylum seekers in Switzerland, and the group proposes to mount a production of Friedrich Schiller’s play William Tell—language and culture barriers be damned! The cast squabbles, makes up, falls in love, struggles with deportation, and in the end, the locals all turn out to cheer on the production, and everyone’s happier for it. The plot’s practically tied up with a neat little bow as the credits roll. While the film will likely be a huge crowd-pleaser, I wish Unlikely Heroes had given the audience a grittier look at the issues asylum seekers face—the exception is the scene in which a young boy’s mother is carried, kicking and screaming, from the group house after their application is rejected. Still, it’s impossible for this film not to warm the cockles of your cold little heart. And any warmth is welcome, because the jaw-droppingly beautiful Swiss backdrop looks cold as hell. —Emily Q. Hazzard

Tues. April 21, 6:30 p.m.; Fri. April 24, 8:30 p.m., E Street Cinema

God Loves the Fighter

Directed by Damian Marcano

Trinidad and Tobago

Damian Marcano’s vibrant, meandering look at a Trinidad and Tobago slum announces its intent from the get-go. A drifter wanders through the streets of eastern Port of Spain, the slums of the capital city where dozens of murders occur every year, preaching about “the real Trinidad.” Everyone in God Loves The Fighter needs money, and crime seems the only way to get it. A series of vignettes coalesces into the tale of a mob worker; his heavily tattooed, racist boss; a shame-ridden sex worker under her boss’s thumb; and a small boy with a penchant for mischief. Comparisons to City Of God are inevitable, as both films employ ultra-saturated color, handheld cameras, and quick editing to show how poverty pushes young people into darkness. Marcano’s film is a bit too aimless, and its religious allegory too on-the-nose to match its predecessor, but an inviting style and a bumping reggae soundtrack by Freetown Collective help make this worth a look. —Andrew Lapin

Tues. April 21; Wed. April 22, 8:45 p.m., E Street Cinema

PAN! Our Music Odyssey

Directed by Jérôme Guiot

Trinidad and Tobago, France

The sound of steelpan is familiar to anyone who’s heard Sebastian the crab sing “Under the Sea” in The Little Mermaid. Made from 55-gallon oil drums, steelpan is the only acoustic steel instrument created in the 20th century. It plays an enormous role in the musical culture of Trinidad and Tobago, where it was developed. Jérôme Guiot’s film PAN! Our Music Odyssey tells the story of the instrument’s evolution in two parts: reenacted vignettes that chronicle the rise of steelpan in the early 1900s, and a contemporary look at the 50th annual Panorama competition, which pits players from around the world against one another. Among the Panorama musicians highlighted are a middle-aged New Yorker, a French woman who learned pan from her father, an aspiring musician who traveled from Tokyo to join a legendary pan group, and a young boy participating in his first competition. Their excitement, combined with the upbeat music and fact-packed narration, makes for a compelling watch. —Caroline Jones

Wed. April 22, 6:30 p.m.; Thurs. April 23, 8:45 p.m., E Street Cinema

Happy Times

Directed by Luis Javier M. Henaine


For viewers who’ve accrued a certain amount of relationship experience, Happy Times will vividly recall some unhappy times. Max (Luis Arrieta, a Jason Schwartzman type) and Monica (Cassandra Ciangherotti) have been dating for five years, but he wants to end the relationship. The problem is that, despite many break-up attempts, Max is too nice to make it stick. So a shadowy person refers him to a shadowy agency he can hire to do the job. That Max aspires to be a cartoonist is apt, because the film has Wes Anderson-ian touches (which, ahem, are used judiciously, Wes) and characters exaggerated just enough to provide a steady run of laughs. The couple’s dynamics are largely universal, making for palpable moments of joy, frustration, confusion, and sorrow. The agency’s weirdness and the film’s mysterious end also supply a fair amount of humor. Happy Times serves as a reminder that these days, delivering a smart romantic comedy is no joke. —Tricia Olszewski

Wed. April 22, 6:30 p.m.; Sat. April 25, 4:30 p.m., Mazza Gallerie

The Treatment

Directed by Hans Herbots


This eerie Belgian adaptation of Mo Hayder’s 2002 novel has it all: drama, suspense, crime rings, and a drearily crowd-pleasing noir feel. When an officer named Nick Cafmeyer begins investigating the creepy case of a kidnapped local boy, he’s thrust back into the still-smarting and still-unresolved childhood trauma of his own young brother’s abduction. As he dives deeper into the case—director Hans Herbots leads viewers down a winding path of possible suspects and their baffling behaviors—Cafmeyer begins to fear that this latest case is related to his brother’s disappearance. Could both be part of a massive pedophilia criminal network? With on-point acting, compelling characters, and resonant plot twists, The Treatment will excite fans of smart thrillers. —Laura Barcella

Wed. April 22, 8:45 p.m.; Sat. April 25, 9 p.m., E Street Cinema

Limited Partnership

Directed by Thomas Miller


Now that equal marriage rights are all but a foregone conclusion in the U.S., a documentary about the first gay couple to bring their marriage before a federal court could have felt quaint. But Thomas Miller’s film about Filipino-American Richard Adams and Australian citizen Tony Sullivan, who petitioned for a green card for Sullivan after marrying in Boulder in 1975 (the INS not only ditched the application, but also called the couple “faggots” in its denial letter), dwells on the personal, not the political. It looks at a wide swath of LGBTQ history—1952’s restriction on gay immigration, the AIDS crisis, the death of DOMA—through the sweet story of a loving couple living in fear of Sullivan’s deportation. The film’s a safe bet for the politically illiterate and gay-ally n00bs, too, though—it’s full of historical footage, dates, and headlines, the overabundance of which is its biggest flaw. Marriage equality isn’t the be-all and end-all of gay rights, but this film rightly positions it as a hard-won step in the right direction. —Christina Cauterucci

Thurs. April 23, 6:30 p.m.; Sat. April 25, 9:15 p.m., E Street Cinema

Rahsaan Roland Kirk:

The Case of the Three Sided Dream

Directed by Adam Kahan


The tragically short life of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, the virtuosic blind jazz musician best remembered for his ability to play multiple instruments simultaneously (an idea that came to him in a dream), is brilliantly told in Adam Kahan’s documentary. Through archival footage of Kirk’s performances, interviews with his friends and fellow players, and ’60s-style animation, the film shows Kirk as the genius he was and pushes back against the “gimmick” label (he played a specially rigged recorder through his right nostril) that followed him throughout his career. “Sound was his life,” says poet Betty Neals of Kirk, who died at age 44 a few years after he suffered a stroke. “His religion was the religion of dreams.” But in real life, Kirk was unafraid to express his frustration with unfair treatment of black Americans through stunts (he and a group interrupted the Dick Cavett Show with whistles) and songs like “Blacknuss.” The Case of the Three Sided Dream goes a long way to preserve Kirk’s legacy beyond remembrances of his unusual playing. —Sarah Anne Hughes

Thurs. April 23, 8:30 p.m.; Fri. April 24, 6:30 p.m., E Street Cinema

This Is My Land

Directed by Tamara Erde


There is a breathtaking moment early in Tamara Erde’s This is My Land, a documentary that peeks inside classrooms in Israel and Palestine to see how each side teaches the history of their decades-long war. Erde asks a child student at a state-run Israeli school his opinion of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and he responds, “What does ‘conflict’ mean?” Sadly, such illustrative moments are rare in this well-intentioned but unshaped documentary, which provides only fleeting glimpses of teachers and students that beg for a deeper look. Instead, This is My Land inundates the viewer with repetitive classroom footage, making it the documentary equivalent of raw vegetables: highly nutritious but fundamentally undercooked. —Noah Gittell

Thurs. April 23, 8:30 p.m.; Sat. April 25, 6:30 p.m., E Street Cinema


Directed by Ferdinando Vicentini Orgnani


Ferdinando Vicentini Orgnani’s film noir Rewined is the kind of cerebral dark comedy that provokes questions like “How did our lives get this way?” and “Who needs another drink?” The vino-centric film about a wine connoisseur who may have committed a murder ages decently—what’s initially unsettling about the genre switching, perspective swapping, and brash chauvinism becomes palatable as it’s revealed that Orgnani is making statements about the futility of all kinds of things. He accomplishes his directorial goals; the film’s intentionally disorienting plot pacing is indeed disorienting, and the absurd situations are indeed absurd. But with so many threads to weave and existential musings to play out, Rewined leaves little time for tired narrative concepts like “character development” and “motivation.” The results are less than highbrow: cardboard characters, unintentionally clunky lines, and little to inspire any emotional investment. Some viewers may find that these shortcomings are “the point,” while other viewers may need another glass of wine to get through the thing. Neither are wrong. —Maxwell Tani

Fri. April 24, 6:30 p.m.; Sat. April 25, 9 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie

The Monk

Directed by The Maw Naing

Myanmar, Czech Republic

To tell the story of a pair of pensive Buddhist monks, The Maw Naing wraps his protagonists in a rich sensory environment. Beautiful long takes and wide shots of the monks in the countryside linger on details without glamorizing them as a more impatient film would do with a montage. The characters almost function as set pieces, melting into the scenery as they go about their lives with little dialogue, communicating through glances, long pauses, and sentimental gestures. Much of The Monk has to do with the limits of these kinds of restraints; it’s a classic culture-clash narrative, as old-fashioned values face changing attitudes and stubborn-yet-sympathetic folks struggle to find their places in a world in flux. Naing is skillful enough to poke holes in the dichotomy he sets up, instead creating a real world that’s murky and fascinating from all angles. —Maxwell Tani

Fri. April 24, 8:45 p.m., Goethe-Institut; Sat. April 25, 4:30 p.m., E Street Cinema

Tap World

Directed by Dean Hargrove


For the people who only know tap dance through Broadway musicals or children’s recitals, Tap World does a serviceable job showing what a diverse and exciting art form it can be. Unlike dance styles that are problematically designed to favor thinner bodies, anyone with rhythm and metal-plated shoes can tap. This low barrier to entry, as the film shows, makes tap a unifier on a micro level (a group of domestic violence survivors tap together in Harrisburg, Penn.) and a macro one (the film features dancers, young and old, from all over the world). The film fluctuates between interviews with dancers—like a formerly homeless college student in New York and a teen in Japan who works three jobs to pay for lessons—and solo and group tapping. The documentary is at its best when it focuses on the latter, which makes the ending, a cheesy choreographed number starring one of the film’s producers, an especially hard letdown. —Sarah Anne Hughes

Fri. April 24, 8:45 p.m.; Sat. April 25, 6:30 p.m., AMC Mazza Gallerie

I Can Quit Whenever I Want

Directed by Sydney Sibilia


On one level, the Italian comedy I Can Quit Whenever I Want sounds like a knockoff of the acclaimed television series Breaking Bad. Its hero is a desperate, brilliant chemist who develops a popular street drug after he loses his job, and the drug trade proves too dangerous for him. But instead of brutal thrills, director Sydney Sibilia delivers an ensemble comedy that’s a critique of academia and modern Italian life. All the heroes are overeducated losers who work menial jobs, and there’s a running gag about how no one understands their academic jargon. I Can Quit Whenever I Want has fun with Italian stereotypes, too, in histrionic arguments and adult men who act like children. While there are a few strange musical cues, including ill-advised use of the Offspring, the film maintains a pleasant dizzying high with an easy comedown. —Alan Zilberman

Sun. April 26, 4 p.m., Lincoln Theatre