For its 19th iteration, Filmfest DC has decided to shake up a few things—but only a few. With a semiresurgent downtown entertainment district at its disposal, the fest has been able to concentrate many of its venues within walking distance of the Metro Center and Gallery Place Metro stations, even if there will still be plenty of screenings on the other side of Rock Creek Park. And for the first time, the fest’s organizers have decided to supplement the audience award with a juried prize, although only eight of the 66 features are in competition for it.
The 2005 fest also has a strong regional focus: the films of India and China. Such a geographic theme is not unprecedented, although the use of guest programmers—in this case, Asian-cinema specialists Manjula Kumar and Chi-hui Yang—is a new twist. Yet veteran festival organizers Tony Gittens and Shirin Ghareeb haven’t neglected their longtime interests, which include the films of Latin America and the Arab world, as well as music documentaries. Missing from this year’s adult programming, however, are any entries from Hong Kong’s ailing movie industry or Japan’s renascent one (although money from both flowed into some co-productions—and Filmfest DC for Kids includes Mitsuhiro Mihara’s Dodge-a-Go-Go!).
As always, the Washington City Paper’s critics have done their best to see as many of the films as possible, watching 35 features, but they ultimately find themselves with an incomplete picture. The films that could not be previewed include some of the prime attractions, including the work of such estimable directors as Theo Angelopoulos (Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow), Olivier Assayas (Clean), Arnaud Desplechin (Kings and Queen), François Ozon (5×2), Jia Zhangke (The World), and E J-yong (Untold Scandal). These movies all have U.S. distributors, so most should return for longer runs on local screens; 5×2 is already set for a July 1 opening.
Of course, the festival is always used to introduce films that will soon reappear commercially. This year, these include Todd Solondz’s Palindromes (opening April 29), Ladies in Lavender, Winter Solstice, and Kontroll (all May 6), Brothers (tentatively May 20), The Holy Girl (May 27), Me and You and Everyone We Know (probably June), and The Other Side of the Street (still unscheduled).
Our critics liked Brother, Kontroll, and Palindromes, but they also endorse a number of films whose chance of a D.C. commercial booking seems remote. These include sexy Bengali period intrigue Chokher Bali, multilayered Swedish family drama Dalecarlians, austerely beautiful Tibetan-frontier adventure Kekexili: Mountain Patrol, admirably restrained father-son road movie Le Grand Voyage, self-referential Brazilian comedy Manual for Love Stories; and Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue, a concert documentary. Not new to Filmfest but eye-popping whether on the first or a subsequent viewing is Dil Se…, which melds political themes and Bollywood-style musical entertainment.
Also recommended, but only to people with a particular interest in the style or subject, are French-formalist exercise Autumn, transgender-fighter doc Beautiful Boxer, Argentine stolen-children drama Captive, Norwegian ensemble piece Hawaii, Oslo, sweet Canadian sports flick Saint Ralph, Turkish social comedy Under Construction, Israeli-border tale The Syrian Bride, Robin Harris documentary We Don’t Die, We Multiply, and two tales of state terrorism in Latin America, Innocent Voices and Machuca.
Washington will never rival the movie-biz importance of Cannes or Berlin, but Filmfest DC does share one thing with 2005’s Berlin festival: “Selling Democracy: Films of the Marshall Plan 1948–1953,” a program of post–World War II shorts designed to promote to Europeans the values of democracy (spelled “c-a-p-i-t-a-l-i-s-m”). Long unseen in the United States because of laws that banned the showing of federally funded propaganda, these movies include documentaries, dramas, and cartoons. If most of them are more interesting as artifacts than art, that’s entirely appropriate for a film festival that’s always been as dedicated to revealing the world as it is to presenting cinematic masterpieces.—Mark Jenkins
Screenings take place at the Avalon Theatre, 5612 Connecticut Ave. NW; the E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW; the Lincoln Theatre, 1215 U St. NW; the National Gallery of Art’s East Building Auditorium, 4th and Constitution Avenue NW; the Regal Gallery Place, 701 7th St. NW; and Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue, 4000 Wisconsin Ave. NW. Admission is $9 unless otherwise noted. For more information, call (202) 628-3456 or visit www.filmfestdc.org.
The Cheater’s Guide To Filmfest DC
If your biggest decision this week is whether to hit Filmfest or that Tarkovsky retrospective over in Silver Spring, see…
Friday, April 15
5×2 (François Ozon unspooling things Memento-style after an opening rape scene? Does it even matter that Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi got best actress for this at Venice? At 9:30 p.m. at Regal Gallery Place.)
Saturday, April 16
Autumn (See p. 30. At 9:15 p.m. at the E Street Cinema.)
Sunday, April 17
Asphalt (You know how you’re always saying that Fritz Lang would’ve been nothing without Joe May? And that Betty Amann was every inch the screen goddess Louise Brooks was? This 1929 silent is your chance to finally prove it. At 4:30 p.m. at the National Gallery of Art’s East Building Auditorium. Free.)
Monday, April 18
Kekexili: Mountain Patrol (See p. 30. At 9:15 p.m. at the E Street Cinema.)
Tuesday, April 19
Songs of Mahulbani (See p. 24. At 7:30 p.m. at Regal Gallery Place.)
Wednesday, April 20
Chokher Bali: A Passion Play (See p. 20. At 7 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre.)
Thursday, April 21
Peacock (See p. 22. At 9 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.)
Friday, April 22
Tell Them Who You Are (The man who filmed Mulholland Falls, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and the original Thomas Crown Affair, filmed and interviewed by his son—if only you coulda been holding the boom…. At 6:45 p.m. at Regal Gallery Place.)
Saturday, April 23
Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow (“A poetic summing up of the century just ended and a visionary relationship with the century we are now traversing through a love affair that challenges time.” If that doesn’t hook ya, try this: Theo Angelopoulos’ first film in eight years. At 5 p.m. at the E Street Cinema.)
Sunday, April 24
Tarkovsky it is: Go see The Mirror at the AFI Silver.
If you’ve been stocking up on pinot ever since Sideways, see…
Friday, April 15
Captive (See p. 32. At 9:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.)
Saturday, April 16
Under Construction (See p. 26. At 9:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.)
Sunday, April 17
The World (A traditional culture threatened by advancing globalization? Yes, indeed, and ever so charmingly: amid a park of miniature buildings and a disintegrating relationship. Gets ya right here. At 5 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.)
Monday, April 18
Only Human (See p. 26. At 9 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre.)
Tuesday, April 19
Brothers (See p. 20. At 9 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.)
Wednesday, April 20
Hawaii, Oslo (See p. 34. At 6:30 p.m. at Regal Gallery Place.)
Thursday, April 21
Le Grand Voyage (See p. 22. At 6:45 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.)
Friday, April 22
Dalecarlians (See p. 22. At 8:45 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.)
Saturday, April 23
Dil Se… (See p. 24. At 2 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre.)
Sunday, April 24
Ladies in Lavender (Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, and that lovely young man from Good Bye, Lenin!? Adding “in 1936” and “on a windswept Cornwall beach” only makes it better. At 4 p.m. at the Regal Gallery Place. $15.)
If you thought Morgan Freeman wasn’t the only one who should’ve gone bare-knuckle in Million Dollar Baby, see…
Friday, April 15
Morning Raga (Yeah, yeah, it’s Bollywood. But that just means the gnarly bus accident might have a dance number. At 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.)
Saturday, April 16
Beautiful Boxer (See p. 28. At 7 p.m. at Regal Gallery Place.)
Sunday, April 17
King’s Game (The director of Mission Without Permission tries his hand at an action flick for adults. It’ll do. At 8:15 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.)
Monday, April 18
Kekexili: Mountain Patrol (See p. 30. At 9:15 p.m. at the E Street Cinema.)
Tuesday, April 19
The Other Side of the Street (OK, so the vigilante is a 65-year-old Brazilian pensioner. But there’s at least one lethal injection. At 8:45 p.m. at Regal Gallery Place.)
Wednesday, April 20
Move Gozu to the top of your Netflix queue.
Thursday, April 21
Crónicas (Ruthless Ecuadorean serial killer + intrepid American reporter = one John Leguizamo movie that’s gotta be better than Assault on Precinct 13. At 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.)
Friday, April 22
Private (The Israeli-Palestinian conflict just the way you like it: house-to-house and hand-to-hand. This time, the geopolitical is personal. At 6:45 p.m. at the E Street Cinema.)
Saturday, April 23
Kontroll (See p. 30. At 11 p.m. at the E Street Cinema.)
Sunday, April 24
Check your mailbox—maybe Gozu has shown up.
If your life got a whole lot better when Stacked premiered on Wednesday night, see…
Friday, April 15
Absolut (It’s got a computer virus, a car accident, and amnesia. Wanna bet stuff blows up, too? At 9 p.m. at Regal Gallery Place.)
Saturday, April 16
Somersault (First Heidi makes out with her mom’s boyfriend. Then she goes to a ski resort—and we all know what happens at ski resorts. At 6:45 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.)
Sunday, April 17
See Somersault again. (At 8:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.)
Monday, April 18
The Holy Girl (Three words: “ribald medical convention.” At 6:30 p.m. at Regal Gallery Place.)
Tuesday, April 19
The Journey (See p. 32. At 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.)
Wednesday, April 20
Stay home for Stacked, Episode 2.
Thursday, April 21
Saint Ralph (See p. 29. At 9:15 p.m. at Regal Gallery Place.)
Friday, April 22
The Green Hat (The directorial debut from respected Chinese screenwriter Liu Fendou? There’s some hope: He’s the guy who wrote Spicy Love Soup. At 8:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.)
Saturday, April 23
Manual for Love Stories (See p. 26. At 9:30 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre.)
Sunday, April 24
Sin City must be still playing somewhere.
Sometimes your point of view depends on where you’re sitting at the dinner table. See family units pass the dysfunction—and, once in a while, the love—in:
Chokher Bali: A Passion Play
Writer-director Rituparno Ghosh has two movies in this year’s Filmfest, and both star the same actress, Bollywood goddess Aishwarya Rai. Yet it’s easy to distinguish 2003’s Chokher Bali: A Passion Play from 2004’s Raincoat, the fest’s opening-night attraction: The former is the good one. Adapted from a novel by Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore, the movie observes a love quadrangle whose collapse parallels the possible partition of British-ruled Bengal. Widowed after less than a year of marriage, Binodini (Rai) goes to stay with a family friend and becomes close to the woman’s pretty but mostly clueless daughter-in-law, Ashalata (Raima Sen). Ashalata’s husband, Mahendra (Prosenjit Chatterjee), and his best friend, Behari (Toto Ray Chowdury), each rejected Binodini as a bride on the basis of a photograph—an unlikely development, given who’s playing the part—but now that she’s present in the flesh, both men are interested. Mahendra is especially smitten—which could be convenient, because Behari is clearly in love with Ashalata. This is 19th-century India, however, where widowhood is a tightly regulated state and divorce is unthinkable. In compressing Tagore’s novel into a 145-minute movie, Ghosh streamlines the story and scants the political allegory, but the result still has a rich sense of character, culture, and period. And for a movie about a repressed era made under the strictures of India’s prudish movie industry, it’s pretty sexy, too. —Mark Jenkins
At 7 p.m. Friday, April 15, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue and Wednesday, April 20, at the Avalon Theatre.
The Syrian Bride
Filmfest and its Arabian Sights minifest have previously shown movies that involve Palestinian weddings and Israeli checkpoints. Director and co-writer Eran Riklis’ family drama is similar yet different. Imminent bride Mona (Clara Khoury) is a Druze who lives in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, territory also claimed by Syria. She’s never met her intended, a Syrian sitcom star, and once she crosses the border she won’t be able to return: Syria will automatically classify her as a citizen, and Israel doesn’t admit Syrians. As usually happens when extended families convene, numerous stories unfold at once: Mona’s protective sister Amal (Hiam Abbass) battles with her traditionalist husband. Their brother Hattem (Eyad Sheety) returns from overseas, partly for the wedding and partly to end an eight-year estrangement from their father (Makram J. Khoury), who’s banned from the border because he’s on probation for anti-occupation activities. And everybody tries to adjust to the fact that they will never see Mona again once she crosses the frontier. Then they arrive at the checkpoint, where a procedural disagreement between Israeli and Syrian officials threatens to keep Mona from her wedding. It falls to a French U.N. observer—who happens to be the ex-girlfriend of Mona’s other brother—to try to settle the dispute. Riklis, who’s best known for the soccer-heals-all-wounds Cup Final, is not a distinctive filmmaker, but he’s an adept storyteller. And here he has an eye-opening tale to tell, with a stirringly humanist theme and many piquant details. —MJ
At 9:15 p.m. Saturday, April 16, and 6 p.m. Sunday, April 17, at Regal Gallery Place.
Soldier-coming-home films are nothing new, of course, but one that focuses on the recent conflict in Afghanistan stands a better chance than most of seeming fresh. Danish director Susanne Bier’s latest, Brothers, focuses on Michael (Ulrich Thomsen), a major in the Dutch army, and his strained but affectionate relationship with his ne’er-do-well brother, Jannik (Nikolaj Lie Kaas). Michael’s unit has been called up for duty in Afghanistan, and when his plane is shot down, Michael is erroneously pronounced dead. Meanwhile, his wife, Sarah (Gladiator’s Connie Nielsen), and two daughters try their best to move on with their lives, with no idea that Dad is actually being held as a POW. Michael is forced to make some pretty harrowing decisions while a prisoner, and he may or may not be able to deal with them once he returns home. Nielsen, in her first Danish-speaking role, does a wonderful job of playing a woman desperately trying to keep her life in order, but Thomsen gives the meatiest performance, from his tender early scenes with his brother to his stony state of shock as a POW to the frightening and violent outbursts he suffers as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder back home. Bier has a Dogma film on her résumé, and it shows in her use of high-definition video, handheld camera, and natural lighting—all of which lend intimacy and urgency to this small-scale story about the effects of war. —Jason Powell
At 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, and 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
Le Grand Voyage
Le Grand Voyage, in fact, couldn’t be simpler: It features a father-son relationship and a car. After his older brother loses his license for driving drunk, teenage Reda (Nicolas Cazalé) must take on the responsibility of driving his aging father (Mohamed Majd) from France to Saudi Arabia so that he may perform his pilgrimage to Mecca. Writer-director Ismaël Ferroukhi avoids showy camerawork of any kind, shooting most of the movie from one or another of the few vantage points inside the cramped car. Reda’s dad is as stubborn as he is grumpy, stopping to pray in the middle of a customs checkpoint and nearly wrecking the car because he believes Reda isn’t listening to him. And Reda—well, he has a secret girlfriend back home and a penchant for sneaking out to drink while Dad’s asleep. The story takes its sweet time in reconciling the pair’s differences, wisely steering clear of melodrama or a forced moment of understanding as they slowly make their way across Europe. Reda has difficulty understanding his father’s pious, old-fashioned ways, and his dad isn’t quick to forgive Reda as he makes the mistakes and misjudgments common to teenagers from most cultures. But it’s a small gesture, performed off-screen while Reda is asleep, that ultimately communicates the unconditional, nonjudgmental love this father has for his son. —JP
At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, and 6:45 p.m. Thursday, April 21, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
The directorial debut of Fifth Generation cinematographer Gu Changwei, this deadpan anti-epic tells the stories of three siblings, beginning in small-town China in the ’70s. Accordion-playing Wei Hong (Zhang Jingchu), desperate to escape her ordinary life, falls briefly in love with a glamorous paratrooper, then with a succession of men she hopes in vain will rescue her. Perennially hungry Wei Gao (Feng Li) is obese, brain-damaged, and an embarrassment to his brother and sister, who even contemplate killing him. The youngest and smartest, Wei Guang (Lu Yulai), abandons his troublesome family and moves to a nearby town but ultimately returns. With long takes and stately crane shots, Gu and cinematographer Yang Chu create an ironic tension between elegant cinematic form and the mundane settings and petty events of Li Qiang’s script. This is a symphony of humiliations and disappointments that verges on the exhausting, especially when it becomes clear that the movie will rewind after Wei Hong’s chapter and take each of her brothers’ stories in turn. You have to wait for the final scene, for example, to see why the film is titled Peacock. And you can probably guess that the ornate bird will prove just another letdown to the Wei family, if not to Gu’s camera. —MJ
At 8:45 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, and 9 p.m. Thursday, April 21, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
Part of Dalecarlians is the kind of wacky family comedy that requires a crazy uncle who runs around with a shotgun saying things like “Fucking cat! I get so mad!” Mercifully, however, a larger portion of Swedish writer-director Maria Blom’s debut is a moving drama about a particularly painful homecoming. Mia (Sofia Helin) is an attractive, successful computer programmer in her early 30s who’s been living in Stockholm since college. For her father’s 70th birthday, she travels to her backwoods hometown for a decidedly small-time celebration in a meeting hall. Everyone’s happy to see her, including her parents, her two older sisters, and people from her school days whom she doesn’t quite remember. But they tease her about the BMW she drives and about her “Martian” city accent. They also badger her about why she doesn’t have a boyfriend; indeed, the resounding subtext of just about every conversation is What on earth are you doing out there all alone? Helin, a more melancholy Jennifer Garner, nimbly handles the conflicting emotions that such a trip can bring, with Mia gamely enduring uncomfortable moments among those with a tiny worldview and joyfully running toward encounters with more sympathetic old friends whenever she gets the chance. And bit by bit, Blom reveals the heartache in each of the more minor characters’ lives. The result is a multilayered story that, though it occasionally veers toward melodrama, gently reminds that a close family and a happy face don’t necessarily reflect contentment. —Tricia Olszewski
At 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, and 8:45 p.m. Friday, April 22, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
Tiny, annoying slices of technology are nowhere to be found in Cell Phone’s opening scene: It’s rural China circa 1969, and half the town is standing in line to wait a turn at the area’s sole telephone. “The phone’s been toiling all morning, and it needs a rest!” the operator cries before warning people that long-distance calls probably won’t get through because “that’s a lot of telephone poles.” The movie then skips ahead 30 years to tell the story of Yan Shouyi (Ge You), a talk-show host who can’t seem to function without his cellie—though he doesn’t do so well with it, either. The compulsive philanderer tries to juggle three women throughout the year or so the film covers, a feat he might have pulled off were it not for his imbecilic judgment regarding when to answer his phone, when to turn off his phone, and even when to, whoops, let his wife answer his phone. Though the film’s theme of the secrets hidden by digital communicators is mildly interesting—and better handled than it was in Hollywood’s Little Black Book—Yan’s relentless arrogance and stupidity make Cell Phone an irritating and repetitive watch. By the time the closing scenes make the point that personal phones have made relationships “so close, you can’t even breathe,” most of the audience will have long since decided that no matter how bad cell phones may be, they’re not as bad as Cell Phone. —TO
At 8:45 p.m. Thursday, April 21, and 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 22, at the E Street Cinema.
The directors of these films think nothing of giving you an earful—after all, what you hear at the cinema can sometimes be more important than what you see. Find out how they score in:
Of South Indian writer-director Mani Ratnam’s several precedent-shattering attempts to mix heavy political content with effervescent song and dance, this 1998 film is the least coherent. Anyone who lasts as long as the first musical number, however, is unlikely to care that the ideological details are murky: As a train chugs through the countryside, a corps of dancers suddenly appears atop the cars and engine, twirling to “Chal Chaiyya Chaiyya,” one of superstar composer A.R. Rahman’s catchiest numbers. It’s a stunning piece of Bollywood choreography but one that’s almost topped a half-dozen times during the course of this 155-minute marvel. No wonder that the film—initially a box-office flop at home—is one of Ratnam’s most popular overseas, well worth a reprise. (Filmfest DC first presented it in 1999.) The story has something to do with the doomed romance between a radio reporter and a beautiful suicide bomber who supports independence for Assam, a restive province of northeastern India. (Part of this plot was later transplanted to Sri Lanka by Dil Se…’s brilliant cinematographer, Santosh Sivan, but his Terrorist has an edgier, more intimate vibe.) Unlike Ratnam’s harrowing Bombay or poignant A Peck on the Cheek, Dil Se… emphasizes spectacle over current events. Still, as the movie travels the country’s length, from beaches to mountains to desert, it does offer a primer in both Indian geography and cinema. —Mark Jenkins
At 1 p.m. Saturday, April 16, and 2 p.m. Saturday, April 23, at the Avalon Theatre.
This outsized, three-hour 1960 epic is an excursion to Mughal-era India—and to Bollywood in its formative years. Annoyed by the brattiness of son and heir Salim, Emperor Akbar (Prithviraj Kapoor) entrusts the boy to the army at a tender age. Fourteen years later, Salim (Dilip Kumar) returns as the model of manliness and responsibility. But then he falls in love with a commoner, court dancer Anarkali (Madhubala), and father and son are at odds again. Most of the intrigues—and the song-and-dance numbers—are set in the emperor’s palace, but there’s also a massive battle sequence when Salim leads a military revolt against his father. In addition to elaborate sets and vast crowd scenes, the movie comes outfitted with multiple ironies: It’s a tribute to the high principles of India’s former Islamic rulers, made in a land that had recently split with Muslim Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). And the number in which the masses repudiate Akhbar by singing “Love’s revolt can change the world” was designed to entertain viewers whose marriages were most likely arranged. The movie was originally in black-and-white, with a few sequences in color. It’s since been colorized—which in this case is not too troubling: Although not quite an MGM musical, the film has an artificiality that suits the process. The music, by the way, owes as much to ’40s and ’50s Hollywood as to any Indian tradition. —MJ
At 4:30 p.m. Saturday, April 16, at the Avalon Theatre.
Tango Salón: La Confitería Ideal
“How did the Argentine hurt himself?” goes an old South American joke. “He jumped off his ego.” And in a country renowned for its fierce sense of cultural pride, Jana Bokova’s Tango Salón: La Confitería Ideal suggests, nothing is a greater source of satisfaction than the bold and dramatic national dance. Set against the backdrop of Argentina’s massive economic collapse in 2001, the documentary is a collection of camcorder-shot interviews with regulars at the storied Buenos Aires dance hall of the title. The likable milongueros of La Ideal are a speckled and colorful crew, from living legends to talented upstarts to captivated Japanese visitors. Yet despite the loveliness of the dancing itself, on vivid display here, it’s the Argentines’ sadness and defiance at how their rich and confident country could collapse under the weight of governmental mismanagement that form the emotional core of Tango Salón. Unfortunately, it’s a core that’s insufficiently probed. Though Bokova’s film ably conveys La Ideal’s status as a treasured refuge for many, it doesn’t tell us enough about what the legendary hall is a refuge from. —Mario Correa
At 7 p.m. Monday, April 18, and Tuesday, April 19, at Regal Gallery Place.
Songs of Mahulbani
India looks exotic to many Americans, but there are parts of that country that seem just as unusual to many Indians. These include the regions of the northeast that are home to the “tribals”—long-isolated forest and jungle dwellers whose cultures and languages are distinct from those of mainstream India. In writer-director Sekhar Das’ drama, three altruistic Bengalis—civil servant Damayanti (Roopa Ganguly), doctor Alatak Roy (Shilajit Mazumdar), and teacher Somesh Gomes (Sabyasachi Chakaraborty)—enter the West Bengal region of the tribal Santals, where they encounter resistance from both the local culture and the distant bureaucracy. As narrator Damayanti explains while revisiting the area 12 years later, the Santals’ aspirations for more self-determination, their suspicion of outsiders, and a traditional healer’s resentment of the doctor roiled the village of Mahulbani until a crisis broke. Derived from Tapan Bandopadhyay’s semiautobiographical novel, the film is as melodramatic as it is naturalistic, yet Das does capture the conflict inherent between Santals who can see no reason to change their ways and Bengali officials who believe the locals deserve no special treatment, as well as something of the surviving forest culture. Like a Bollywood musical, Songs of Mahulbani includes songs and dance numbers, but without flashy production values; indeed, much of the music here reflects the region. The film ends with change and continuity: Damayanti notes that the area has been modernized, yet an old man tells a creation myth that belongs to Santal tradition. —MJ
At 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, and 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, at Regal Gallery Place.
Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue
Here’s some context for ya: Director Murray Lerner begins his look at Miles Davis’ switch from acoustic jazz to electrified whatsis with Stanley Crouch. Like many jazz critics in the Age of Aquarius, the cranky conservative reviled the trumpeter’s new psych- and funk-informed direction. About listening to 1969’s epochal Bitches Brew, Crouch says, “I felt somebody had my hand tied down to a table and [was] slowly driving nails through it.” Davis fan Joni Mitchell, on the other hand, sees the sniping for what it really was—fear of change: “I already went through this in the folk circles,” the singer-songwriter says. “You know, Pete Seeger crying when Bob plugged in.” Lerner builds the argument with circa-2003 interviews such as these, and just about every important Davis sideman from the era weighs in, too. But more compelling is the film’s latter half, which presents the live evil of Davis’ Aug. 29, 1970, set at the Isle of Wight Pop Festival. The footage is surprisingly vibrant, full of exit-sign red and police-light blue, and a perfect complement to the music. Before an audience of some 600,000 hippies, Davis and his plugged-in band—saxophonist Gary Bartz, keyboardists Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett, bassist Dave Holland, drummer Jack DeJohnette, and percussionist Airto Moreira—jam out a seamless, 38-minute piece of improv that the laconic leader titled “Call It Anything.” Davis’ point was that he and his group were making up the music on the spot. But the title also works as a jab at the folks who claimed that Davis had turned his back on jazz. Call it what you want, Electric Miles’ core performance remains electrifying in any context. —Brent Burton
At 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, and Thursday, April 21, at Regal Gallery Place.
The Boys and Girl From County Clare
In Europe, where the Corrs are an arena-filling act, the big news about this competent romantic dramedy is that Andrea Corr acquits herself well—as both a fiddler and an actor—in her first leading role. For nonfans, however, the movie plays as just another treacly trifle from the international-co-production concession stand. The Irish pop idol is the film’s “girl,” Anne, who’s pulled in several directions at once by the various “boys” (and her stereotypically bitter mother). It’s 1963, or perhaps 1968—director John Irvin and scripter Nicholas Adams don’t seem to know the difference—when the Liverpool Shamrock Ceili Band arrives in Ireland for a musical showdown. Anne is a member of the group led by John Joe McMahon (Bernard Hill), whose rivalry with the Liverpudlians is intense: They’re led by his long-estranged brother, Jimmy (Colm Meaney). To complicate things further, Anne immediately plunges into love with Ted (Shaun Evans), the Liverpool group’s flutist, and begins to suspect that Jimmy could be her unknown, never-discussed father. In a movie like this, of course, “could be” means “is”—there are no surprises in store, save for one jokey development that has the advantage of finessing the brothers’ conflict but the disadvantage of being preposterous. Musical highlights include the McCoys’ “Hang On Sloopy”—which must mean the filmmakers didn’t have the budget for anything by Gerry and the Pacemakers. —MJ
At 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 22, and 9 p.m. Saturday, April 23, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
Whether their comedy is farcical, satirical, or even physical, these films all have the same idea: The world does some funny things to people. Humor yourself with:
Turkish construction workers Ali (Emre Kinay) and Sudi (Sevket Coruh) while away dreary afternoons with dreams of a windfall that will finance a new life in Italy. The blue-collar chums stumble into a new revenue stream when they catch their boss burying a corpse on the construction site they’re minding. Within days, they’ve become the go-to guys for manslaughterers and murderers who are “victims of fate.” Director and co-writer Omer Vargi presents the ensuing burial game as a lighthearted affair, more shovels, dirt, and small talk than severed heads and overpowering stenches. And then there are the silly plot developments: Ali and Sudi become videographers, Ali and Sudi get girlfriends, Ali passes out amulets to pilgrims who think he’s the grandson of a famous sheik. Though Under Construction would have been twice as good with a script half as zany, the understated leads keep the film from careening too far out of control. Kinay and Coruh play the amateur undertakers as genial louts forced to live with one foot in the gravedigging biz and one foot in a not-so-progressive society. When Sudi tells the tale of how he was nearly shot for protecting a disgraced young woman from her murderous parents, their ramshackle backyard cemetery suddenly gets a lot less funny. —Josh Levin
At 9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 16, and 5:30 p.m. Sunday, April 17, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
In writer-directors Teresa de Peligri and Dominic Harari’s guess-who’s-coming-to-dinner burlesque, the hosts are Jewish and the potential son-in-law is Palestinian. This culture clash takes place in Spain, which might be far enough from the West Bank to forestall hostilities, if only the family’s son hadn’t just decided to become ultra-Orthodox. The family home is already packed before Leni (Marián Aguilera) and Rafi (Guillermo Toledo) arrive: There’s Leni’s neurotic, sex-starved mom (Norma Aleandro); her older sister, a promiscuous belly dancer, and the sister’s high-strung young daughter; that irksome little brother; a blind, gun-toting grandpa; and a metaphorical convalescent duckling. There’s also Dad, whose absence becomes a major issue after Rafi begins to worry that the injured man he and Leni left sprawled on the sidewalk might be his potential father-in-law. Adding raw ethnic hostility to a door-slamming farce doesn’t make the genre seem any more relevant, and the final Leni-vs.-Rafi meltdown seems contrived. But then, finding the pleasure in contrivance is the key to enjoying such high-pitched comedies, and Peligri and Harari have cleverly structured their script, connecting every improbable event to a subsequent one. Of all these characters’ intertwined stories, only the duckling’s is left unraveled. —Mark Jenkins
At 9 p.m. Monday, April 18, and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, at the Avalon Theatre.
Manual for Love Stories
Here’s a manual for enjoying Manual for Love Stories: (1) Don’t get hung up on the plot. (2) Forgive yourself for laughing at all the dumb jokes—including each time someone mentions murdering “Barbara barbarically.” Apparently patterned on Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler—or maybe Craven’s Scream 3—Brazilian director José Roberto Torero’s latest guides us step-by-step through the well-worn conventions of a romance flick. A smartass narrator vocalizes everything from marketing decisions (“Our main character…has to be a woman; 54 percent of cinema audiences are women”) to the next plot turn (“This is when our hero shows audacity, courage, and boldness”). The story within this story concerns Alan (Cassio Gabus Mendes), who falls for Laura (Denise Fraga), who mistakenly believes that Alan killed his wife, Barbara…barbarically. But all of this is secondary to the real action in the film: the ping-ponging from one rom-com convention to another. Not surprisingly, there are moments—when the characters begin talking back to the narrator, say—when this film-within-a-film concept is too clever by a half. But for the most part, Manual keeps you laughing, even when you’re not so sure it should. From a blind old woman’s movie rentals (Eyes Wide Shut, For Your Eyes Only) to the sex scene in which the couple moans in English (because, well, “the climax has to be in English”), the action here is silly, winning, and hardly in need of a guidebook to be enjoyed. —Mario Correa
At 7 p.m. Friday, April 22, and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 23, at the Avalon Theatre.
We Don’t Die, We Multiply
Even if you don’t recognize the name Robin Harris, you’ve probably heard of Bebe’s kids, who’ve made it into an animated feature, a Super Nintendo game, and even Urbandictionary.com. Harris, a Chicago-based comedian whose career was just taking off when he died of sleep apnea in 1990, is the subject of this documentary by Topper Carew, one of the creators of TV’s Martin. The title is taken from Harris’ most famous bit, the oft-told story the demon children a man gets stuck with when he offers to take a potential girlfriend and her son to an amusement park and finds out too late that her friend’s brood is coming along as well. Carew’s doc weaves together the usual elements—interviews with Harris’ friends and family and the comedians he inspired (including Bernie Mac and Cedric the Entertainer), as well as footage from a few of Harris’ shows. While the interviews aren’t exactly enlightening—talk of the comic’s early years offers only variations on “He was funny,” and the commentary from other black comedians about how influential Harris was gets repetitive—the concert clips nicely show off Harris’ trademark skill: zinging audience members with an acuity that got him labeled “the black Don Rickles.” Carew’s handling of Harris’ death at 36 is bittersweet, with the inclusion of Harris’ final interview, reports of the wild success of the show he put on just before he died, and, most touching, a rap performed by Harris’ soft-spoken son, who never got to meet his dad—and who, Harris would be happy to know, seems nothing like one of Bebe’s kids.—Tricia Olszewski
At 9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 23, at Regal Gallery Place.
In these movies, it isn’t whether you win or lose, but how you play your part. See folks jab, back tackle, and maybe even fartlek in:
It seems unlikely that Sylvester Stallone would ever remake Beautiful Boxer, which is a pity: He’d be perfect for the part of the musclebound Japanese wrestler who, in the climactic sequence, takes on a transvestite kickboxer. Unfortunately for Sly, it’s the kickboxer who’s the hero—or, more justly, heroine—of this engrossing Thai import, which dramatizes the real-life career of Nong Toom, a gender-conflicted young man who has the novel idea of financing his sex-change operation by whupping a little ass. Cannily promoted, Toom—whose postoperative alter ego, Parinya Charoenphol, is currently a Bangkok model and actress—sashays into the ring in full makeup and proceeds to defeat his butch opponents with fast-flying feet and immaculate technique. When an interviewer asks Toom why he makes a point of kissing the often unconscious men he vanquishes, he responds, “I wanted to say I’m sorry. I don’t like to hurt strangers.” Writer-director Ekachai Uekrongtham shows us what a sensation the actual Toom must have been with some scintillating fight sequences, but he turns oddly reticent on the subject of his protagonist’s sex life, which seems to amount to only a few wistful looks and embraces. And for all its fleetness, Beautiful Boxer can’t quite escape the trajectory of most Hollywood boxing pics: Asanee Suwan’s appealing but relatively nuance-free star turn as Toom makes it tough to tell whether the fighter actually desires the media attention he attracts, and the film even has the classic gasser of a dead mentor hurrying back from the afterworld with timely advice. Even so, this is a quirky, sometimes elegant take on an old formula—and a reminder that gender is less about packaging than inner prompting. —Louis Bayard
At 7 p.m. Saturday, April 16, and 9 p.m. Monday, April 18, at Regal Gallery Place.
Boxers and Ballerinas
In Havana, a boxer and a dancer practice. In Miami, so do a boxer and a ballerina. These four people are connected by the facts that they all are boxers or dancers, all of Cuban citizenship or descent, and all live on one or the other side of the Florida Straits. If that last sentence seems painfully obvious, so is Mike Cahill and Brit Marling’s exasperating documentary, in which almost nothing happens—and then happens again. As Yordenis, Annia, Sergio, and Paula train—and as Craig Wedren’s guitar meanders—the filmmakers cut in scraps of dubiously relevant archival news footage, as well as shots of seagulls, the Havana waterfront, the Miami skyline, Miami Metrorail, a Cuban train, fast-motion clouds, and more Havana waterfront (just in case you missed Buena Vista Social Club or Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights). Various French words—“montage,” “cinéma vérité,” “ennui”—can be used to describe Boxers and Ballerinas, but not to justify it. —Mark Jenkins
At 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 18, and 9:15 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, at the E Street Cinema.
The Miracle of Bern
Some historians credit West Germany’s rousing victory in the 1954 World Cup for kick-starting the country’s post– World War II “economic miracle.” The Miracle of Bern asks you to believe that the miracle extended to the hearth. When shellshocked paterfamilias Richard (Peter Lohmeyer) returns home after 11 years of internment by the Soviets, he laments to his wife that “our oldest son is a bigmouth with Communist ideas, our daughter a soldier’s whore, and the kid wants to run away.” The kid, gangly 11-year-old Mattes (Louis Klamroth), spends his days kicking a soccer ball that looks as if it had been made from old wigs and mooning over a player on the German national team called the Boss (Sascha Göpel). Director Sönke Wortmann intercuts the family melodrama—say, maladjusted Richard’s turning Mattes’ pet rabbits into a sumptuous family feast—with the national team’s pre-Cup practices and a completely inessential subplot about a reporter who goes to cover the World Cup with his bride. Though the buildup to the climactic big game is predictable to the point of boredom, the final-reel soccer action is well-paced, -shot, and -choreographed. Of course, to non-Teutonic audiences, The Miracle of Bern’s insistence that our hearts be warmed by this German revival may be a bit off-putting—after all, Dear Old Dad used to be a Nazi. (Richard insists that he had to join the party; eldest son/Communist sympathizer Bruno isn’t sympathetic.) Luckily for those who don’t want to root for the Germans, the story line is so generic that it’s elementary to mentally substitute in any team, setting, and family. —Josh Levin
At 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 18, and 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, at the Avalon Theatre.
The majority of the ninth graders in Saint Ralph have relatively uncomplicated concerns: “I need to see naked girls!” one says to explain his sudden interest in the school pool and the alleged spot from which a showering miss might be spied. And though Ralph (Adam Butcher) is likewise burdened by an “energy surplus”—which manifests itself in rope-humping and abusing the pool’s jet action—he also has other worries, the most serious being his comatose mother (Shauna MacDonald), who will leave him an orphan if she dies. So when a nurse (Jennifer Tilly) tells him that it would require a “miracle” for his mom to wake up, Ralph decides to take advantage of the cross-country running he’s been forced to do since the pool incident and starts training for the Boston Marathon. The 14-year-old Catholic-school kid from Hamilton, Ontario, even has the intention to win—which his reluctant coach, Father Hibbert (Campbell Scott), says would indeed be a miracle. Written and directed by Michael McGowan and set in 1954, Saint Ralph tempers its mildly lewd portrayal of horny teenage boys with its treatment of religion as a source of hope instead of oppression. Scott’s liberal priest—the kind who teaches Nietzsche against school rules—makes a likable, no-bullshit mentor, while the innocent-faced Butcher gives Ralph the right balance of charm, rebelliousness, and decency. And though McGowan has made a film that is ultimately feel-good, he doesn’t take you there in quite the way you’d expect—which is probably miracle enough. —Tricia Olszewski
At 9:15 p.m. Thursday, April 21, and 9:30 p.m. Friday, April 22, at Regal Gallery Place.
These pictures move in more ways than one: Whether to a Tibetan mountain pass or the French underworld, they take you someplace else. Expand your worldview with:
The name Ra’up McGee is hard to place geographically, but the American writer-director’s feature debut sure isn’t: It’s so French it could make your head hurt. Ostensibly, the flick is a mystery to be solved. Newly reacquainted childhood pals Jean-Pierre (Laurent Lucas) and Michelle (Irène Jacob) are engaged in all kinds of shady stuff and are furthermore linked by something terrible they saw together in the forest when they were kids. Perhaps “character” isn’t the right word for that particular location, but this is a film in which certain things and places are more eloquent than the people, who don’t say much and seem to mean even less. The narrative logic is primarily visual, with links established by the recurring appearance of apples, keys, bombs, Polaroid photos, a metal briefcase, falling leaves and falling bodies, and the French game of pétanque. McGee is also the film’s editor, and he’s brilliant at cutting things together—and apart. He coolly connects Jean-Pierre (an homage to New Wave godfather Jean-Pierre Melville?) and Michelle to graying gangster Noel (Michel Aumont) and a variety of lesser toughs, many of whom meet appropriately dreadful—though not entirely explicable—fates. Blackhearted and darkly amusing, Autumn is great fun for formalists, but it’s likely to drive the literal-minded far, far away. —Mark Jenkins
At 9:15 p.m. Saturday, April 16, and Sunday, April 17, at the E Street Cinema.
Kekexili: Mountain Patrol
Spare and beautiful, director Lu Chuan’s latest manages to encompass both Chinese-Tibetan politics and an endangered species without seeming preachy or educational. Based on an actual Beijing journalist’s exposé on the poaching of a Tibetan antelope prized for its softer-than-cashmere hide, Kekexili: Mountain Patrol follows reporter Leng (Zhao Xueying) as he covers the battle between the poachers and a group of civilian volunteers sworn to catch them. Lu, in keeping with the reality-based story, takes a pseudo-documentary approach with his camerawork, but he doesn’t neglect the astonishing views the scenery affords. From a quicksand-laden desert to snow-covered mountains, the beauty of the landscape is matched only by the bleakness of both the poachers’ and the mountain patrol’s existence. When finally depicted onscreen, the poachers aren’t two-dimensional baddies but simply poverty-stricken Tibetans trying to eke out a living. (A word of warning to animal-lovers: The film’s frankness includes displays of point-blank antelope shootings and the skinning of carcasses.) Likewise, the members of the patrol are hardly beyond reproach; they rough up witnesses and at one point even sell some of their confiscated pelts to provide medical treatment for one of their own. Like a good journalist, Lu stays objective and concentrates on the people behind the story, lending it all the more power. —Jason Powell
At 9:15 p.m. Monday, April 18, and 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, at the E Street Cinema.
Set entirely in Budapest’s subway, director Nimród Antal’s shadowy yet playful allegory of death and redemption seems at first to be a series of random vignettes. But it gradually reveals the tightly plotted story that’s, uh, underneath. The subterranean transit system draws an array of oddballs, including bewildered tourists, grizzled veterans, thuggish fare beaters, and a young woman who always wears a teddy-bear costume. All these people come and go, unlike ticket inspector Bulscú (Sándor Csányi), who’s a permanent resident of the underworld. In addition to confronting the unticketed, Bulscú and his crew of inspectors are engaged in bitter rivalries with other subway employees. Some challenges, however, Bulscú must face alone—indeed, the lurking, hooded man who pushes riders in front of oncoming trains is so unearthly that he could be Bulscú’s private hallucination. The director, presented in a facetious intro as something of a moral philosopher, is actually a slapstick-noir provocateur whose taste for gags that go splat (and music that goes bang) suggests Quentin Tarantino or Danny Boyle. What ultimately elevates the movie above Antal’s baser comic instincts is its surprisingly ingenious structure. When one of the subway employees’ dopey diversions turns out to be essential to the plot, Kontroll’s dark tunnels and grimy trains are revealed to be parts of a satisfyingly orderly system. —MJ
At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 21, and 11 p.m. Saturday, April 23, at the E Street Cinema.
Fernando Pérez has said that his goal in making Suite Habana was to show life in Cuba without recycling the imagery we’ve seen countless times in documentaries: the crumbling buildings, the dance hall, the fevered Castro oration. Even for those who are tired of lyrical meditations on the state of the frozen-in-time island, there’s no denying Pérez’s brilliant visual sense. The director, who still lives in Cuba, is a bit too fond of showing people chopping vegetables and chewing, but it’s rare that a minute passes without a memorable shot: the weathered face of a white-haired peanut vendor, the foamy surf crashing over the asphalt of a waterside road at daybreak, and, OK, a crumbling building or 20. Suite Habana, however, often feels less like a movie than an 80-minute slide show. This documentary with “elements of fiction” follows a dozen or so ordinary Cubans, but its unadorned style makes it hard to follow the inaction. Though Suite Habana does include ambient noise and music, there’s no dialogue, and the only backstory comes in a brief text-based epilogue in the closing credits. Pérez’s decision to show without telling seems far too drastic: Not all narrative is didactic, just as not every image of an old man chewing is poetic. Besides, it’s hard to ruminate on the impact of an outdated political system when you’re trying to remember which character is which. —Josh Levin
At 9:15 p.m. Thursday, April 21, and Saturday, April 23, and 6:45 p.m. Friday, April 22, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
It’s rather fitting that near both the beginning and end of Standalone, one of the film’s main characters growls, “OK, what the hell is going on?!” You’ll likely be asking yourself the same thing while watching this debut from writer-director Sean Hagan. With menacing music and short bits of conversation alternating with black-and-white credits, Standalone is introduced like a thriller—which seems downright laughable, given that the opening scenes show Mandla (Andrew Owiti), a dreadlocked giant, complaining that he can’t land any parts in musicals. Turns out, though, that Mandla’s alleged acting ability is his ticket into the Wrongman system, a rather nonsensical scheme in which shady-looking types can earn big bucks distracting the cops from true criminals. Mandla is initiated into the supersecret fraternity by Miguel (Hagan), a goateed tough-talker who laboriously teaches his protégé the system’s unsubtle hand signals. And, of course, he emphasizes the most important part of the Wrongman code: If you somehow give up the game, you’re a “standalone,” and that means big trouble, buddy. Hagan’s movie has “amateur” written all over it, from its home-movie look to its unconvincing fight scenes to dialogue consistently burdened by failed attempts at thug ’tude, including Mandla’s gem to an interrogator: “The truth is, I’m the color of what comes out of your ass!” The acting is terrible and the plot confusing—though if you’re a fan of so-bad-it’s-good cinema, Standalone may be the right Filmfest choice for you. —Tricia Olszewski
At 11 p.m. Saturday, April 23, at the E Street Cinema.
When the directors of these films use a camera, they might as well be seeing through the eyes of a child. Find out what’s wrong—and right—with the kids today in:
Zeze Gamboa’s well-intentioned but forgettable nondocumentary debut, The Hero, charts the Angolan landscape after the end of the country’s 30-year civil war. Carla Baptista’s script tells the separate stories of Vitório (Oumar Makéna Diop), a soldier whose two-decade career ended with one of his legs being blown off by a mine, and Manu (Milton “Santo” Coelho), a misbehaving 10-year-old being raised by his grandmother because his father hasn’t been heard from since he went off to fight. Predictably, the two narratives eventually intersect, but in the meantime, The Hero excels in backing up one character’s description of Angola as “this land of misery.” Manu runs wild through dirt-poor shantytowns with his friends, more concerned with black-marketing stolen booty and avoiding the local toughs than studying, and the homeless Vitório’s fate after serving his country for more than half of his life is tragic: He has to fight to get a prosthetic leg, yet even with one, he’s unable to convince anyone to give him a job. The movie gets increasingly muddled, however, as it introduces Vitório’s various dalliances with prostitutes and, later, suddenly shifts to focus on Manu’s earnest teacher, Joana (Patrícia Bull), and her reunion with an old boyfriend. Add in an ending that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and The Hero officially joins John Boorman’s In My Country as an Afrocentric film whose execution isn’t nearly as laudable as its ambition. —Tricia Olszewski
At 6:45 p.m. Friday, April 15, and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 16, at Regal Gallery Place.
On the Web site for Palindromes, writer-director Todd Solondz requests of the movie’s audience, “[E]ven if you’re not sure you understand the what or why of it all (and I’m not sure I do), just let yourself go.” The advice is good—not to mention refreshing. Because although Palindromes is enjoyable to watch, full of the sadness, humor, and perversity that has defined Solondz’s oeuvre, it ultimately feels like the kind of meaningless party trick a more self-serving director would tirelessly defend. The story revolves around Aviva, a 13-year-old girl who longs to have lots of babies so that she’ll always have someone to love—and wants to start immediately. But the wanderings of a child slut aren’t what folks will be talking about after leaving the theater. Rather, it’ll be Solondz’s decision to use eight actors, including a boy, a black woman, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, to play Aviva. The director claims that his intention was to present a character who’d be sympathetic to anyone, as well as show that Aviva’s more delicate qualities can transcend age, stature, and gender. The conceit is interesting if ineffective: The Aviva rotation is a bit too frequent, ensuring that even if you’re particularly drawn to one characterization, you won’t really get the chance to warm up to any of them. Ignore this, though, and there’s plenty in Palindromes to admire: Ellen Barkin’s portrayal of Aviva’s shiny, abortion-happy mom; an indictment of the hypocrisy of Christian fundamentalists in the relentlessly cheery segment about Aviva’s temporary caretaker, “Mama Sunshine” (Debra Monk); and the kind of fucked-up-but-funny dialogue that will make you laugh and feel guilty at the same time. (Here’s a little: a blind albino girl’s singsong description of her negligent mother who “died after choking on her own vomit.”) And though you may not see yourself in the many faces of Aviva, her desperate neediness cuts through the gimmickry to ensure that you feel for the poor girl/boy/woman all the same. —TO
At 9 p.m. Friday, April 15, at the Avalon Theatre.
The government-sponsored disappearance of thousands of Argentines during that nation’s “dirty war” in the late ’70s and early ’80s is a dark period of history that the nation’s cinema has explored on a number of occasions, most notably in 1985’s The Official Story. That Oscar-winning film was the searing account of an upper-class mother who learns that her adopted daughter was forcibly taken from her natural parents. Captive, the first feature from writer-director Gaston Biraben, examines a similar crisis, this time from the “appropriated” child’s point of view. Newcomer Barbara Lombardo plays Cristina, a 15-year-old upper-class Buenos Aires girl who learns that the mother and father who raised her are not her parents—and that they may have been complicit in her abduction at birth. After she resettles with her blood grandmother, Cristina struggles to unravel the questions surrounding her adoption, the disappearance of her natural mother, and the bloody histories of her two opposing families. Captive is notable in its restraint, which for the most part, works to its advantage. The story unspools quietly and matter-of-factly, allowing its steady stream of revelations to build in power and effect. Yet the numbness with which Cristina reacts to the various tragedies she discovers might be too restrained. This is a tale that cries out for—well, a little crying out, as Argentine actress Norma Aleandro did so effectively in The Official Story. Still, Captive’s quiet approach is hardly a damning flaw: The film remains a moving account of one of the saddest periods in Latin American history.—Mario Correa
At 9:30 p.m. Friday, April 15, and 9:45 p.m. Saturday, April 16, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
South Indian writer-director Ligy Pullappally’s romantic melodrama has a major twist—but one that’s surely more provocative in Kerala than in Washington. Kiran (Suhasini V. Nair) is a sophisticated Hindu, Delilah (Shrruti Menon) a naive Christian. They’re neighbors, classmates, and longtime pals when adolescence hits. They encounter a fortuneteller who reads the girls’ palms and prophesizes true love but looks alarmed; a few shots of Kiran’s longing glances at Lilah explain why. Borrowing a few pages from Cyrano de Bergerac, The Journey has Rajan (Syam Seethal), Lilah’s most ardent male admirer, ask Kiran for help in wooing her friend. She responds by penning rapturous love letters that charm Lilah, but that plot line is quickly abandoned: Kiran admits that she’s the real author and, after a few hesitations, the two young women pledge their eternal love. Then word gets around, so Lilah’s family rushes to find a groom for her. (It’s not the hapless Rajan.) For those interested in India and its culture, The Journey provides lush subtropical scenery, Isaac Thomas Kottukapally’s tabla-driven score, and an intriguing look at a region where religious differences don’t seem to polarize the local population. For anyone else, exotic anthropological details won’t be enough: This is just the incredibly unadventurous story of two girls in love. —Mark Jenkins
At 9 p.m. Monday, April 18, and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
I Love Cinema
Osama Fawzy’s I Love Cinema wants to be the Egyptian Cinema Paradiso. Set in ’60s Cairo, the film tells the softhearted story of Na’eem (Youssef Osman), a cinema-mad 7-year-old who rarely gets to indulge his passion because his strict Coptic father, Adly (Mahmoud Hemeida), believes that watching movies and television is sinful. Meanwhile, Na’eem’s mother, Ne’mat (Laila Elwy), is struggling with her husband’s puritanical views herself: A former artist who abandoned her nude drawings to become a respectable headmistress, she has her creative fire rekindled when a liberal associate sees one of her old pieces. It’s obvious that relief from oppression is the theme of Hani Fawzy’s semiautobiographical script. But although Ne’mat’s story is the sharpest and most interesting among Cinema’s tangle of minor and clumsily handled subplots, it’s Na’eem’s that is the focus. Osman’s tiny, bratty movie lover is saddled with cute little glasses and annoyingly precocious dialogue (to his mom: “I don’t know how you can live with that man. May God be with you, you poor thing”). Worse, his filmgoing is never really glorified as the life-altering experience it’s supposed to be; more often, Na’eem’s going to a show seems merely an act of rebellion—and something he uses to get out of anything the adults around him ask him to do. Anyone who truly loves cinema likely won’t love this. —TO
At 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 18, and 9:15 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
The multiple stories told in Hawaii, Oslo intend to illustrate the idea that angels live among us. But good luck believing: Harald Rosenløw Eeg’s script ultimately seems to be less about divine intervention than extraordinary luck. Still, the film’s five full-of-woe story lines are beautifully acted: The main characters are Vidar (Trond Espen Seim), a nurse plagued by prophetic dreams about people’s deaths; Leon (Jan Gunnar Røise), a patient at the home where Vidar works who’s anxious about whether a childhood girlfriend will make good on a 10-year-old pact; Trygve (Aksel Hennie), Leon’s imprisoned brother, who tells him he’s living in Hawaii and is granted a one-day leave to visit Leon on his birthday; Frode and Milla (Stig Henrik Hoff and Silje Torp Færavaag), a young couple who find out their newborn will die unless a risky, expensive operation is performed; and Mikkel and Magne (Benjamin Lønne Røsler and Ferdinand Falsen Hiis), brothers who are left orphaned after their father dies but resist being taken by the state. Director Erik Poppe likes to keep his handheld camera trained on his actors’ faces when they’re hearing bad news—an approach that magnifies both the film’s stomach-churning plot developments and the subtlety of its actors, especially the adolescent Røsler and Hiis. Their work is exactly what Eeg was going for: a revelation. —TO
At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, and Thursday, April 21, at Regal Gallery Place.
Recounting a few small-scale incidents surrounding the overthrow of Salvador Allende, this Chilean political drama attempts to pump up the empathy by using preteens as the protagonists. Pudgy, pink-faced Gonzalo Infante (Matias Quer) is the archetypal poor little rich boy, resentful that he has to hang out at a stranger’s house most afternoons while his imperious (and married) mother screws a wealthy Argentine. One day, the liberal priest who runs Gonzalo’s English-language Santiago prep school brings some new boys into class; these poor kids from a nearby shantytown include Pedro Machuca (Ariel Mateluna), who becomes lonely Gonzalo’s best friend, as well as his ally against the (inevitably blond) schoolyard bully. Gonzalo begins spending time with Pedro’s family, which includes beguiling older sister Silvana (Manuela Martelli), joining his new pals in selling cigarettes and flags to demonstrators on both sides of the country’s political divide. (Silvana makes it clear, however, that she prefers the leftists.) Director and co-writer Andrés Wood’s semiautobiographical tale includes lots of routine coming-of-age stuff—first drink, first kiss, first awareness of the class divide—while keeping the country’s growing desperation in the background. Then the coup occurs, and the film’s backbone stiffens. The last 10 minutes are suitably harrowing, and Gonzalo’s final words harshly illuminate the racism that underlies much Latin American fratricide. —MJ
At 9:30 p.m. Thursday, April 21, and Friday, April 22, at the Avalon Theatre.
Set in ’80s El Salvador, Innocent Voices is a companion piece to Machuca—both are boy’s-eye views of U.S.-backed state terrorism in Latin America. This film’s protagonist, however, is closer to the edge: Chava (Carlos Padilla) is 11 in a country where 12-year-olds are routinely drafted into the army. Like most of the people in his village, Chava is less sympathetic to the government than to the leftist guerrillas, who include his closest adult-male role model, his mother’s brother. (Seems Dad went to the United States at the start of the war and hasn’t been in touch.) Although director Luis Mandoki’s film is reputedly based on a true story, Oscar Torres’ script is packed with the sort of neat coincidences and providential developments that suggest Hollywood wishful thinking. Mandoki, in fact, has made a half-dozen undistinguished Hollywood movies; perhaps he’s doing penance here by depicting gringo soldiers who are training Salvadoran troops, Chava is told, “to kill us.” That warning is not idle banter: In the film’s more harrowing scenes, government troops do brutalize everyone who gets in their way, from the local priest to more than a few of Chava’s peers. If this film’s childhood idylls are a little too delightful and its hero a little too lucky, at least when the bullets start to fly, Innocent Voices sobers up quickly. It potently immerses the viewer in a landscape of burning buildings and heaped corpses—all of which might as well be labeled “Made in U.S.A.” —MJ
At 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 22, and 9:15 p.m. Saturday, April 23, at Regal Gallery Place.