Do you believe in magic realism? Filmfest DC does, as it demonstrates this year by presenting movies in which God and a fisherman wander Brazil seeking a fill-in deity, the lives and identities of a Korean monk and his novice change with the seasons, and a 10-year-old girl learns to alter reality while hiding from her parents on a farm in the Polish countryside.
This isn’t exactly a brave new world for Filmfest, which has imported a steady supply of movies from Latin America throughout its 18-year existence. And this year’s featured country is Argentina, whose cinematic output has hardly been ignored in previous fests. The other motifs are also perennials: “Politics in Film” (last year’s official theme) and “Global Rhythms,” as well as the customary programs for kids and seniors.
Traditionally, the Washington City Paper has been skeptical of Filmfest’s worldview, which yields some movies that are of more anthropological than aesthetic interest. Yet our reviewers always find plenty of films to recommend. In fact, each of the three films described above—God Is Brazilian, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring, and Squint Your Eyes—was endorsed by one of our reviewers.
As always, Filmfest includes entries from such filmmaking powers as France, Britain, Germany, Iran, Japan, and China, as well a few from Canada and the United States. The selection also features several movies from the Arab world—to which the programmers dedicate another, smaller fest every fall—but this year none made in India or Hong Kong, both countries whose cinemas have provided many of Filmfest’s finest hours-and-a-half.
Our reviewers saw 33 of this year’s films and can heartily recommend 12 of them. These include two that will have theatrical openings shortly, Kim Ki-duk’s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (May 7) and Yoji Yamada’s The Twilight Samurai (June 4), and one, God Is Brazilian, that has an American distributor. Most of the other Filmfest flicks acquired by U.S. companies, however, were not made available for preview. So the bulk of the movies on our must-see list may very well never be screened here again. These are global-rhythm workouts Bluegrass Journey and The Death of Klinghoffer; minimalist
Chinese gems Green Tea and Uniform; European family dramas Squint Your Eyes, My Children Are Different, and September; and a pair of Latin American fables: Seaward Journey and
With more guarded enthusiasm, we also suggest Al-Jazeera Exclusive; Asshäk, Tales From the Sahara; The Century of the Self; The Kite; The Seagull’s Laughter; Soldiers of the Rock; Some Secrets; The Soul’s Haven; and To Kill a King. Admittedly, some of these are mostly of anthropological interest, but that’s not such a bad thing: After all, filmgoers who don’t have a bit of the anthropologist in them might as well just go see the new Denzel Washington blow-’em-up.
Running in Circles
To these directors, what friends, family, and co-workers think is very, very important. Watch them mind the crowds in:
Qatar-based Al-Jazeera has sparked controversy by running unedited communiqués from al Qaeda as well as by showing the faces of captives and corpses in Iraq. But when a BBC crew observed the channel at work during the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, it found nothing sinister. Working from a building near the U.S. military’s Middle East central command, Al-Jazeera is independent of government sponsorship or control—a rarity in the region—and seems to be staffed heavily by people who speak English with an American accent. The war is the big story here, of course, but Al-Jazeera itself keeps coming to the foreground during the several weeks covered by the film: The channel’s reporters are banned from the New York Stock Exchange, gagged by Saddam Hussein’s government, and bombed—with one fatality—by American planes. Ben Anthony’s 60-minute documentary contains no revelations, but it is recommended to those with an interest in the war, the region, or the profession of TV journalism. —Mark Jenkins
At 7 p.m. Friday, April 23, and 9:15 p.m. Saturday, April 23, at the Avalon Theatre.
The Soul’s Haven
Near the beginning of The Soul’s Haven, a small group of assembly-line workers enter their tire factory in southern Italy just before sunrise, then playfully give each other hell: “We’re running out of medals!” Antonio (Silvio Orlando) shouts to his line mate Mario (Claudio Santamaria). “For what?” “For being a dickhead. Slow down!” Within minutes of the exchange, word arrives that the factory’s American owners are shuttering the plant and Antonio sums up the workers’ reaction: “We’ve all sweated blood, but now they don’t need us.” Led by union rep Salvador (Michele Placido), who finds inspiration in Sioux chief Sitting Bull, the 500 laid-off workers set up a protest outside the factory gate, where they lobby executives and politicians to reopen the plant while exposing the company’s hypocrisies. In the process, the men slowly realize that the factory wasn’t a healthy place to be—a high proportion of line workers have developed cancer—but they still need the jobs. The cast members, particularly Orlando and Placido, do an admirable job of conveying the workers’ growing frustration and infusing the characters’ sometimes questionable actions with emotional justification. Director and co-writer Riccardo Milani fills out the script with clichés—the fiery Italian temper; the rebellious teenage son; the pudgy, Speedo-clad European male—and provides a disappointing finale, but the film is ultimately redeemed by the actors’ genuine camaraderie.
At 9 p.m. Friday, April 23, and 7 p.m. Saturday, April 24, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
In this deftly kaleidoscopic film, a diverse group of Germans are both united and divided by events on the other side of the Atlantic. Among the characters stunned by the Sept. 11, 2001, assault on the World Trade Center are a woman reluctantly facing divorce, a high-strung policeman, and a Pakistani-born pizza-parlor owner whose German wife is about to have the couple’s first child. The effects are emotional, but also practical: Cops go on alert, stockbrokers face jittery markets, and Muslims are regarded with new suspicion, while bystanders contemplate the unsettling fact that much of the planning took place in their country. Director and co-writer Max Färberböck audaciously mixes documentary, drama, and reverie—and occasionally overreaches. (A birthing class, for example, turns into a Bollywood-style musical number.) Focusing less on Sept. 11 than on the myriad responses to it, this is one of the most effective cinematic evocations of a catastrophe that unfolded in real time throughout the TV-accessible world. —MJ
At 9:30 p.m. Friday, April 23, and 7 p.m. Saturday, April 24, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
Asshäk, Tales From the Sahara
A few stories are told in this film—have you heard the one about Mohammed and the camels?—but Ulrike Koch’s semidocumentary offers more vistas and songs than tales. Beautifully photographed by Pio Corradi, the movie contemplates the lives, rituals, and music of the nomadic Tuareg, who wander through the deserts of Mali, Niger, and adjacent countries. Thanks in large part to the music of such troupes as Ensemble Tartit, the Tuareg have recently come to be known in the West. But Asshäk, which takes its name from the tribe’s code of conduct, doesn’t add much to that knowledge. Although its images are captivating, the film is stingy with information about the Tuareg, whose version of Islam has some interesting wrinkles: It’s the men who veil their faces, for example, and only women are allowed to play the imzad, a one-string fiddle crucial to the tribe’s music. This cultural introduction should really come with a study guide. —MJ
At 6 p.m. Sunday, April 25, and 8:45 p.m. Monday, April 26, at Landmark’s E Street Cinema.
What the protagonist of this Danish melodrama inherits is big trouble: a family-owned steel mill that was going bankrupt when his father committed suicide. As the tale begins, Christoffer (Ulrich Thomsen) is an easygoing restaurateur, living an idyllic upscale life in Stockholm with his wife, Maria (Lisa Werlinder), a beautiful Swedish stage actress. The couple goes to Copenhagen for the funeral, and Christoffer is pressured to stay and save the business. Soon he becomes a ruthless workaholic, alienating most of his relatives, several longtime employees, and, most importantly, Maria. Aside from one spectacularly lurid meltdown, this is tepid stuff, driven less by character than the script’s convenience. Director Per Fly obeys most Dogma 95 strictures, but not the injunction against genre pictures. If he had, he would have been barred from making so conventional a family saga. —MJ
At 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 28, and 8:30 p.m. Thursday, April 29, at Landmark’s E Street Cinema.
The Magic Gloves
With The Magic Gloves, Argentine writer director Martín Rejtman takes an Almodóvaran milieu and plunges it into darkness. Indeed, veteran cinematographer José Luis García shoots many scenes in near blackness. Color isn’t the only thing that’s lacking in this people-on-the-verge farce, however: Driver-for-hire Alejandro (Argentine rock star Vicentico, aka Gabriel Fernández Capello), the film’s protagonist, is bland, passive, and ultimately unbelievable as a man who’s dumped by his live-in girlfriend, Cecilia (Cecilia Biagini) because he always wants to go dancing. But at least there’s more to Alejandro than a one-note quirk: The thinly rendered Cecilia is a zoned-out antidepressant addict. Sergio (Fabián Arenillas) and Susana (Susana Pampin), the couple who offer Alejandro use of an apartment temporarily left empty by Sergio’s brother, are a flaky record producer who inflicts his horrible new CD on guests and a flaky travel agent who gets Cecilia illegal prescriptions. And that brother, Luis (Diego Olivera), is—what else?—a workout-obsessed porn star. The title comes from a get-rich-quick scheme involving the tiny one-size-fits-all gloves that Sergio is convinced will become a must-have item during a predicted Buenos Aires cold spell, but The Magic Gloves doesn’t seem to be about much at all: The characters dance, talk about whether depression is “organic or emotional,” and go to an ear, nose, and throat specialist who does wonders for their hearing. There are a few funny moments in Rejtman’s script, mostly courtesy of Luis’ schtick, but no real narrative to give the characters much to do besides act weird. Of course, for much of the film, it’s difficult to tell what’s going on—much less care.
At 9 p.m. Thursday, April 29, and 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 30, at American University’s Greenberg Theatre.
The Intimates Department
The directors of these films might not mind knocking people down, but they seem to prefer setting them up.
It’s all about pairing—off and on—in:
The Twilight Samurai
Hardly the sort of samurai picture that gets Quentin Tarantino’s blood racing, veteran Japanese director Yoji Yamada’s complex, Oscar-nominated film is mostly concerned with domestic matters. Adapted from several novels, the story is set in the final years of the shogunate, when two centuries of peace had diminished most samurais’ need—and ability—for fighting. Although a member of the samurai class, title character Seibei (Hiroyuki Sanada) is essentially a clerk, a widower raising two young daughters on a tiny income. After he fights an illegal private duel with the abusive ex-husband of his childhood friend Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa), word of his ability spreads. The gossip ultimately leads his clan’s leaders to send Seibei to battle a more dangerous foe, but the movie devotes more time to Seibei and Tomoe’s possible romance than to swordplay. With its shadowy interiors, earth-and-moss color scheme, and focus on everyday life, The Twilight Samurai is remarkably evocative and impressively unglamorized. —Mark Jenkins
At 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 23, and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, May 1, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
Well-meaning but stilted, the late Jawed Wassel’s first and only film is part drama, part romance, and part tribute to the long-suffering people of Afghanistan. It opens in 1979, when Russian troops menace an Afghan village and a boy’s parents send him away. Some 20 years later, Haris (Baktash Zaher-Khadem) is a seemingly successful painter in New York, without relatives or Afghan friends. He happens to meet Laila (Mariam Weiss), an Afghan-American who’s under heavy familial pressure to marry her thuggish cousin. This thin tale is interrupted by vignettes, flashbacks, and brief dissertations on Afghan culture, a schema that might have worked if the director—and the actors—were more skilled. As it is, FireDancer has a big subject, but everything else about it is small. —MJ
At 9:15 p.m. Friday, April 23, and 4 p.m. Saturday, April 24, at the Avalon Theatre.
Two Summers is the rare teen comedy whose stupidity is believable and whose sweetness won’t make you retch. It’s the story of Chico (André Arteche), a student who vacations at a Brazilian beach in the boring off-season, killing time with his friend Juca (Pedro Furtado). One day, Chico loses his virginity to Roza (the Britney-esque Ana Maria Mainieri), who promptly disappears on him until weeks later, when she calls to say that she’s pregnant. Written and directed by Jorge Furtado, Two Summers relates Chico’s initiation into the world of romance and its inevitable disappointments with gently sarcastic, Wonder Years–esque humor and characters who aren’t as naive as they initially seem. (When Juca hears of another encounter with Roza gone wrong, he tells Chico, “She said, ‘I love you,’ and you said, ‘Fuck you’? You’re not the sucker I thought you were.”) Arteche and Furtado make their Chico and Juda rather likable losers—the kind of outcasts who are charmingly self-deprecating about their pathetic and never-ending attempts to score. And Mainieri keeps Roza, who turns out to be not quite the dream girl Chico met that magical night, a compelling enigma whose hold over Chico is believable even when she’s playing him. The soundtrack is a success, too: sappy but winking, and it includes a Brazilian cover of Harry Nilsson’s weepy “Without You” that underlines the utter pathos of puppy love. —Tricia Olszewski
At 6 p.m. Sunday, April 25, and 8:30 p.m. Monday, April 26, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
This dramedy, which played commercially in the area last year, is in part a tribute to a long-beloved Czech actor. Vlastimil Brodsk«y, who starred in such well-known Jirí Menzel movies as Closely Watched Trains and Larks on a String, plays Fanda, a con artist who’s in it just for fun. He and his pal Eda (Stanislav Zindulka), retired small-time actors living on paltry pensions, enjoy posing as subway ticket inspectors or potential buyers of opulent mansions. They frequently manage to actually lose money on their games, however, infuriating Fanda’s ultrarespectable wife. After several setbacks unnerve the playful old codger, respectability seems to have triumphed, but Jirí Hubac’s script still needs a third act. Director Vladimír Michálek successfully evokes the spirit of Menzel’s work, which is amiable, humane, and unsurprising. Ironically, the vibrant Brodsk«y suffered a debilitating stroke shortly after the film’s completion and then committed suicide. —MJ
At 8 p.m. Sunday, April 25, and 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 26, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
Although it’s not exactly full of surprises, Adolfo Aristarain’s latest film is an agreeably sober look at contemporary Argentina—without the heavy sentimentality or “magical” touches that often characterize that country’s cinema. After crusty but idealistic Argentinian literature professor Fernando (Federico Luppi) is forced into retirement, he and his wife, Lili (Mercedes Sampietro), visit their son Pedro (Carlos Santamaría), who’s escaped the country’s economic crisis by moving to Madrid. Rejecting Pedro’s offer that they join his family in Spain, Fernando and Lili trade their Buenos Aires apartment for a place in the country, which Fernando names 1789 in tribute to the French Revolution. The couple’s goal is not revolutionary, however: They hope to support themselves by growing lavender and making perfume. The movie manages to pay tribute to its central couple’s long marriage while taking numerous opportunities to muse on both personal responsibility and Argentina’s failures. —MJ
At 8 p.m. Sunday, April 25, and 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 26, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
Sometimes wretched, sometimes blissful, Breaking Up is the story of Cabral (writer-director Domingos de Oliveira), a 56-year-old theater director who wants to “take a break” from his fifth wife, 35-year-old actress Glorinha (Priscilla Rozenbaum). We meet the pair in a restaurant, where the eloquent, magnetic Cabral is holding court over his round table of friends and family, talking about the five stages of dying: denial, negotiation, anger, acceptance, and grace. The script, co-written by Rozenbaum, then uses these steps to frame the disintegration of Glorinha and Cabral’s marriage, which involves both of them sleeping with other people and generally going through love-is-hell dramatics. When those two aren’t making each other miserable, the film’s ancillary couples are cheating on each other, until it seems that each in Cabral’s circle has slept with everyone else. Breaking Up brims with characters whose lust for, er, life seems alternately high-minded and self-indulgent, and its exploration of monogamy isn’t always believable. (How likely is it that Cabral’s grown daughter would lap up her father’s story of a casual encounter and reassure him that he has “a right to his experiences?”) But the movie stays refreshingly away from moralizing, instead allowing each character to decide for himself what’s important in a relationship. There’s subtle humor among all the obsession (Cabral woefully tells a friend that Glorinha lately calls him “with a happy voice, like she just came from Hawaii!”), too, and though these colorful, borderline-crazy folks love and lose before most people would even have a second date, all the hot-blooded melodrama is train-wreck-watchable. —TO
At 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 28, and 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 29, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
Character and plot development are fine, sure, but movies
are for looking, right? See films regarding…well, whatever in:
Laid-off young factory worker Xiaojian is an invisible man, toiling listlessly in his parentsí laundry and tailoring shop. Then one day he tries to deliver a police-uniform shirt that was never picked up, only to learn that the cop was in a car crash. So Xiaojian puts on the shirt and suddenly becomes someone other people notice: Heís able to collect ìfinesî from traffic offendersóuseful for paying his ailing fatherís hospital billsóand even attract a girlfriend, Shasha, who works in a CD shop (and on the side as an escort). A fine example of the new Chinese deadpan style, director Diao Yiínanís film is grubby, low-key, and quite beautiful. From the opening shot of a sewing machineís shadow, cinematographer Dong Jinsong renders Xiaojianís little world in shades of yellow and green. Pictorially, Uniform resembles Lou Yeís Suzhou River, while its depiction of adolescent aimlessness in provincial post-Communist China suggests Jia Zhange-keís Unknown Pleasures. Though the story is slight, the atmosphere is complex and enveloping. óMark Jenkins
At 9 p.m. Friday, April 23, and 7 p.m. Saturday, April 24, at the Avalon Theatre.
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…
A Buddhist parable from non-Buddhist Korean writer-director Kim Ki-duk, this lyrical film tracks the seasons of human life. The movie is set entirely in and around a small temple that floats in the middle of an alpine lake, and its setting is as ravishing as the cinematography. Yet Kim, a former painter, is not interested merely in pretty pictures. Best known for his brutal 2000 feature, The Isle, the director depicts violence as integral to life. In the first chapter of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring, a preadolescent novice torments animals, and in the second, the now-grown monk is beguiled by a young woman who comes to the temple to be cured of a never-explained malady. (Her arrival is the first clue that the movie is set in contemporary times.) The novice and the woman begin an affair, which leads the former to the disappointments of the modern world. In subsequent installments, harsh events rebalance life at the temple and the cycle commences again. Though The Isle might be considered sensationalist, this film matter-of-factly places death in a context of renewal and acceptance. óMJ
At 8 p.m. Sunday, April 25, at Landmarkís E Street Cinema.
This lovely, if insubstantial, film is a remarkable switch for Chinese director Zhang Yuan, who previously made the gritty Beijing Bastards and the grittier Sons. Fang (Vicki Zhao) is a prim, husband-seeking grad student who compulsively goes on blind dates, during which she always drinks green tea. She quickly rejects one suitor, Mingliang (Wen Jiang), but heís persistent: Despite her repeated demands that they never see each other again, she always yields to another meeting. Meanwhile, Mingliang is also smitten with lounge pianist Langlang, who looks just like Fang but is outgoing and flirtatious. The sexy doppelgänger is hardly a new ploy for an art film, and Green Teaís love triangle doesnít really pay off. But the slight script is transformed by the movieís beguiling appearance. Zhang uses a gently floating camera, exquisite framing, extreme closeups, and vibrant colors to set the mood. The shots of green tea leaves swirling in tall glasses are so vivid, in fact, that it hardly matters that the serving styleólike the immaculately upscale China in which the story is setóseems to be Zhangís fantasy. óMJ
At 6:45 p.m. Friday, April 30, and 7 p.m. Saturday, May 1, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
Squint Your Eyes
With its spare dialogue, extended moments of stillness, and visual lyricism, Squint Your Eyes is one of those movies people usually call poetic. But donít let that scare you off: The story is straightforward enough. Ten-year-old Mala (Ola PrÛszynska) runs away from her well-to-do, distant parents (Andrzej Chyra and Malgorzata Foremniak) and takes up residence with Jasiek (world-weary, magnetic Zbigniew Zamachowski), a writer-turned-watchman of what appears to be an abandoned farm in the Polish countryside. Malaís city-slicker parents understandably want their daughter to come home, but Jasiek has earned the girlís trust by giving her the attention sheís looking for. Without betraying her, he subtly begins to nudge her back to her family. The title of writer-director Andrzej Jakimowskiís first feature refers to a bit of wisdom Jasiek imparts to Mala: that if she squints her eyes, she can capture what she wants of the present forever and distance herself from what she hates at the same time. Cinematographers Adam Bajerski and Pawel Smietanka give an appropriately magical quality to the landscape, and many of Jakimowskiís scenes play like dreams: a Communist-era police car rolling between green hills; Eugeniusz (Andrzej Mastalerz), a slightly daft friend of Jasiekís, painstakingly spreading plastic to protect the notes heís carved into a slab of concrete; Mala lifting a corner for a peek during a rainstorm at night. Behind such images is the heart of the story, about the natural pace and timing of life and the feeling of captivity we encounter when we struggle against it. But like all things poetic, Jakimowskiís film doesnít need to mean too much to move you; it simply needs to be.
At 6:45 p.m. Friday, April 30, and 9 p.m. Saturday, May 1, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
The Washington City Paper’s reviewers probably know more about the movies in Filmfest DC than anyone but the fest’s organizers. But we don’t know everything. Fewer than half of the more than 80 films were previewable—which makes recommending any of the others a bit risky. After all, last year we suggested that our readers might want to check out the unpreviewed Jet Lag and Together, both of which turned out to be something less than classic. (OK, they were wretched.)
Still, there are some clues about the potential of the unpreviewed films. Several, for example, are the work of well-known filmmakers. Zatoichi (at 9 p.m. Saturday, April 24, and 8:15 p.m. Sunday, April 25, at the Avalon Theatre) is deadpan brutalist Takeshi Kitano’s update of the classic Japanese character, a blind masseur/swordsman. The Saddest Music in the World (at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, April 29, and Friday, April 30, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue) is the latest extravaganza from Guy Maddin, Manitoba’s leading cinematic fabulist. And witty British actor and author Stephen Fry directed Bright Young Things (at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 26, at the Avalon Theatre), adapted from Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies.
Also included are several films that have earned excellent reputations on the international-film-fest circuit, including Turkish foreign-film Oscar contender Distant (at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, April 25, and 9 p.m. Monday, April 26, at Landmark’s E Street Cinema), the Franco-Moroccan romance Raja (at 7 p.m. Friday, April 23, and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 24, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue), Parisian immigrant saga Since Otar Left (at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 24, and 8 p.m. Sunday, April 25, at the Avalon Theatre), and small-town Québécois comedy Seducing Doctor Lewis (at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 30, at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center and at 6:45 p.m. Saturday, May 1, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue), which recently showed here under its French title, La Séduction. All of the above films have American distributors and thus are likely to return to town for commercial runs.
Of the ones that lack U.S. distribution, the best bets include Werner Herzog’s Wheel of Time (at 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, April 28, and 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 29, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue), a documentary about the world’s largest Buddhist festival, and the four-and-a-half-hour Route 181: Fragments of a Journey to Palestine-Israel (at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 1, at the Avalon Theatre), which documents a journey taken by an Israeli and a Palestinian filmmaker. Closer to home is Super Size Me (at 4 p.m. Sunday, May 2, at the Lincoln Theatre), a first-person investigation of the American fast-food diet. That last film, however, is scheduled to open commercially May 7, so you might want to save your precious Filmfest viewing hours for riskier business. —Mark Jenkins
Some characters are so imposing that everyone else is just
part of the scenery. From dads to divas, these films are full of
masters and commanders:
The Century of the Self
Sigmund Freud’s notion that we’re all controlled by unconscious sexual drives had arguably more impact on the 20th century than any other idea. In his four-part, four-hour BBC documentary, The Century of the Self, Adam Curtis argues that the psychoanalyst’s theories not only led people to focus inward, but also forced marketers to adjust to navel-gazing consumers. The first segment profiles Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays, the American marketing guru credited with pioneering movie product placement, public relations, and most significantly, the deployment of Freudian ideas in advertising campaigns. (Women like to smoke because they want penises, natch.) Though Curtis perhaps gives Bernays too much credit for the creation of such techniques, and the film’s voice-over is far too repetitive—you’ll never want to hear a Brit say the phrase “unconscious desires” again—all the great-man theorizing doesn’t restrict the film’s scope or blunt its impact. Using both vintage commercial footage and excitable academic talking heads, Century of the Self convincingly charts the shift of consumerism from a culture of needs to a culture of wants. Even if you don’t see Freud’s dirty fingerprints all over everything from cake mix to the politics of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, it’s pretty clear that big business appeals to the basest desires of consumers. Curtis proves that that’s just the way we like it. —Josh Levin
At 1 p.m. Sunday, April 25, at the Avalon Theatre.
What Jackie Knew
What the former first lady knew, to reduce this film to its essence, was French. While skillfully interlacing a wealth of footage from the ’50s and ’60s, director Patrick Jeudy’s 55-minute cinematic essay purports to enter the mind of the Jackie Kennedy who knew all about her husband’s promiscuity but loved him because he was secretly ill and weak. Yet Gérard Miller’s comically condescending text—read in English by Hester Wilcox—is mostly concerned with the Gallic sophistication Kennedy supposedly absorbed during the year she spent at the Sorbonne: Although a mere “flat-chested brunette,” she had “French elegance,” and her “intelligence far surpassed that of average Americans.” And one of Kennedy’s last works of cultural evangelism, the narration haughtily explains, was bringing the Mona Lisa to the National Gallery—“as if Jackie were trying one last time to impose France on America.” Could be, but then again, maybe Jackie also knew that Leonardo da Vinci was Italian. —Mark Jenkins
At 8:30 p.m. Monday, April 26, and 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, April 27, at the Avalon Theatre.
The Seagull’s Laughter
When the auburn-haired Freya returns to her Icelandic fishing village after a few years in America, she sports a newly svelte figure, seven trunks of chic clothing, and Rita Hayworth’s perfume of choice—but no husband. Upon arriving at the home of her aunt, she explains his death thus: “He had a heart attack while I was defrosting the fridge.” “You had a fridge?!” Freya’s aunt and cousins quickly warm to her; the sole holdout is her 11-year-old second cousin, Agga (Ugla Egilsdóttir). Strong-willed, frank, and an intrepid investigator, Agga warns the town’s policeman that Freya (Margrét Vilhjálmsdóttir) is “cold as a corpse” and develops a theory about her: She’s a murderer. Of course, the policeman dismisses Agga’s theories—primarily because he, like seemingly all the men in town, is sweet on Freya. Working-class Freya (her aunt is known as one of the town’s “old socialists”), naturally, falls for Björn Theódór (Heino Ferch), the town’s wealthy, globe-trotting playboy. The film does feature a few clichéd characters and an inexplicable plot hole, but they’re easy to overlook. And if Laughter’s examination of class and gender roles during the ’50s is overfamiliar from American cinema, its setting certainly isn’t. Director Agúst Gudmundsson filmed the movie along Iceland’s lush and rocky coast: It’s to the location’s credit as much as the lead actress’s that a quickie beneath a row of fish-drying racks still looks enticing. —Matthew Summers-Sparks
At 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 27, and 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, April 28, at Landmark’s E Street Cinema.
My Children Are Different
The members of the Strasbourg-based Erhardt and Debart families, all of them classical musicians or composers, are mostly a lonely lot. For the older folks, that reflects a prickly dedication to their art that keeps mere mortals at bay. For the youngest—teenage cellist Adèle and her little brother, Alex, a pianist—it’s a matter of being virtually imprisoned by their father in their prospective careers. Alex, a Napoleon buff, has a friendly relationship with his Uncle Gérald (Mathieu Amalric, the best-known in the United States of the film’s actors). But Gérald is disdained by his own father because he supports his serious-composing career by writing music for commercials. Adèle has no one until she falls in love with her new accompanist—a relationship her father immediately seeks to destroy. Writer-director Denis Dercourt’s film should interest classical-music buffs for its frequent musical passages, but it’s equally compelling as a study of family dynamics, and Dercourt is an assured practitioner of the novelistic, multicharacter narrative common in recent French films. —MJ
At 6:45 p.m. Thursday, April 29, and 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 30, at the Avalon Theatre.
Nina Simone: Love Sorceress
Nina Simone was a bit of an asshole. Even if you’ve been enchanted by her odd, smoky-sweet voice in the past, that’s the biggest impression you’ll get from Nina Simone: Love Sorceress, 65 minutes of footage from a 1976 concert in Paris. Simone is a walking mood swing in this Earshot Jazz Festival performance, which was her first show after she moved from Africa to Europe. Her opening bow, deep and long, is an apt indication of what’s to come: At first you marvel at her humility; then it occurs to you that maybe she’s not moving because she thinks herself worthy of more applause. In her between-song banter, Simone proves as much, ranging from quips along the lines of “I should stay with you if—I’m permitted to” to belligerent orders for the audience to clap at her cryptic stories. She also gets irritated when no one responds to her when she asks, “Is David Bowie here?” and admonishes a crew member who can’t get a handle on her unwieldy mike. Of course, she also sings once in a while, most impressively in “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” which she begins as a jaunty piano-bar tune and then turns into a passionate, gut-wrenching manifesto. Her prickliness doesn’t always take a breather while she’s making beautiful music, however, especially in her incendiary interpretation of Morris Albert’s schmaltzy “Feelings,” in which she interrupts herself to say, “What a shame to have to write a song like that!” The singer quickly follows with the assertion that she’s not making fun of Albert—a point that did need some clarification—but that she feels horrible he experienced such romantic devastation. Simone then turns the number into a ragtag singalong, and after a few seconds you can indeed hear her fans’ gentle warblings in the background. They were probably too terrified to do anything else.
At 9 p.m. Thursday, April 29, and Saturday, May 1, at the Avalon Theatre.
Some films are all about placeógetting there or getting away. Find out where things stand in:
Feature-length films don’t come much more compact than Seaward Journey. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: First-time writer-director Guillermo Casanova accomplishes an astonishing amount of character development in the movie’s low-key 77 minutes. It helps that there isn’t much plot to speak of: This is a road movie at its most elemental, with much of the action taking place in the back of a pickup truck as six men set out from the landlocked Uruguayan town of Minas to see the ocean. Along the way, they argue, drink, and run into a few snags, most involving the overheating of their ancient vehicle. Juxtaposed with the wide-open expanses of rural Uruguay, most of the action feels almost claustrophobically intimate, especially a scene in which a midafternoon rainstorm forces the travelers to erect a crude tarp for cover. While Rataplan (Diego Delgrossi) bangs on an overturned bucket and Vasco (Héctor Guido) absently plucks a cigar-box guitar, the group sings—chants, almost—the name of Siete y Tres Diez (co-scripter Julio César Castro), a fellow Minas resident who sells lottery tickets for a living. The truck’s owner, Rodriguez (Hugo Arana), suggests that a trip doesn’t even begin until one has returned and begins recounting it—but that’s a bit of wisdom lost on his less-well-traveled companions. To the filmmakers’ credit, so is the grand finale: Rataplan wonders where the ships are, Vasco is most impressed by the sand, and Quintana (Julio Calcagno) says to himself, “Can’t help but feeling a little homesick.” —Chris Hagan
At 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 23, and 9:15 p.m. Saturday, April 24, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle and at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, May 1, at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.
If Seaward Journey sounds like your thing, know this: Most of Alice Nellis’ own claustrophobic road movie, Some Secrets, takes place with the windows rolled up. The film’s setup is as simple as its front-seat/back-seat scenography: Granny (Nada Kostrová) wants her son’s ashes scattered in Nové Mesto Nad Váhom, the Slovakian city where he was born. So the extended family sets out from the Czech town of Rakovnik: Mother (Iva Janzurová), daughters Zuzana and Ilona (Theodora and Sabina Remundová), sons-in-law Pavel (Igor Bares) and Lubor (Dan Bárta), and grandson Leon (Jakub Chrbolka), who provides minor relief to the sometimes tense interactions between the adults. It’s clear that Nellis’ family doesn’t share all that much: Zuzana, for instance, confesses her affair to her mother, while husband Pavel struggles merely to accept his failing marriage. Mother’s tendency to tell white lies to pacify everyone seems to reflect her socialist upbringing, and it’s significant that the journey involves a border crossing: A geography that was once unified and coherent—if Soviet—is now split, and the family is passing from familiar to alien territory. If that symbolic divide seems too tidy, it is. But it doesn’t make the rest of this tale of a family’s close-quartered disintegration any less powerful or nuanced. —CH
At 6:45 p.m. Friday, April 23, at the Avalon Theatre.
Set in the halves of a Druse village that’s bifurcated by the Lebanon-Israel border, The Kite is a complex, tense, and ultimately perplexing film by Lebanese director Randa Chahal Sabbag. In the gripping first scene, 15-year-old Lamia (Flavia Behara) loses her kite in the fortified, uninhabited land that separates the two countries. To retrieve it, she must step over razor wire, ignore her young brother’s plea not to run across a mine field, slink through a barbed-wire fence, and disregard an Israeli soldier’s warning shot. The scene is emblematic of what follows: In pursuit of her ideals, Lamia tunes out restrictive cultural and political realities, including her forthcoming arranged marriage to cousin Samy (Edmond Haddad). Telephoneless women on either side of the border arrange the nuptials by megaphone, and in some of the film’s most amusing exchanges, they frankly and loudly swap details of the youngsters’ intelligence and childbearing capabilities. Of course, once Lamia and Samy are married, she comes to fancy Youssef (Maher Bsaibes), a fellow Druse who serves as a guard along the border on the Israeli side. The tension and beauty of its setting are among The Kite’s chief assets; Sabbag’s script provides little context for those unfamiliar with the Lebanese-Israeli conflict or the Druse people. Still, this densely packed and sometimes jarringly edited 78-minute film successfully expands the simple story of a young girl chasing a child’s toy into something nearly as complex and troubling as the region it depicts.
At 9:15 p.m. Friday, April 23, and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 24, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
Gate to Heaven
The mystery of what lies at the end of those long luggage-conveyor belts at the airport has puzzled man since the dawn of the Jet Age. German director Veit Helmer’s solution is full of irony if not plausibility: The baggage lands underground, in the midst of a bustling refugee community. As thousands of passengers pass through the sky each day, these unfortunates can only look up, stuck beneath the only means of escape from their stateless existence. After bolting from a holding area in Frankfurt Airport, Alexei (Valeri Nikolayev) joins the shadow economy deep in the airport’s bowels. The Russian shuffles bags all day in an attempt to coax counterfeit immigration papers from his shady boss (Udo Kier); at night, he sleeps in the boiler room with the other illegals and dreams of another rendezvous with cleaning lady Nisha (Masumi Makhija). Helmer’s occasional flights of fancy, including a Bollywood-style musical sequence that springs from the fertile imagination of aspiring flight attendant Nisha, do occasionally liven up the proceedings, but Gate to Heaven is both far too simplistic in depicting a heterogeneous pan-immigrant community in which everyone loves and helps each other and far too clumsy in its deployment of metaphor. Alexei, of course, dreams of being a pilot. If only we too could fly far, far away. —Josh Levin
At 6 p.m. Sunday, April 25, at the Avalon Theatre.
Yet another Latin American meditation on the nature of narrative, this satirical fable begins with a guy telling a story—which turns out to be about other people telling stories. The occasion for the latter is the planned construction of a dam, which will engulf the small Brazilian town of Javé. The only hope, the locals believe, is a book about the village that proves its historical significance. So they summon the exiled Antônio Biá (José Dumont), a small-time scoundrel, to compile everyone’s memories into this tome. Of course, no one agrees on how Javé came to be, or whose ancestors did what. “Telling stories these days is very difficult,” announces Biá, whose status is temporarily much improved by his task. Director and co-writer Eliane Caffe’s film is funny, lively, and earthy to a fault. (At one point, Biá offers a lengthy treatise on farting.) Both the milieu and the moral, however, are overly familiar. —Mark Jenkins
At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 27, and 9 p.m.Thursday, April 29, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
Soldiers of the Rock
Vuyo (Vuyo Dabula), the protagonist of Norman Maake’s Soldiers of the Rock, notes, “The gold mines of Johannesburg were once a place of dreams.” The business student, whose father died in the mines, heads into the depleted underground to try to “put his spirit to rest.” But when the gold starts to run out, nothing’s left but building resentment: The muscle-bound, sweat-covered miners Vuyo joins violently attack the rock walls with their drills—if the job is hopeless and dangerous, at least it’s a good outlet for anger against the mine’s owner. When ex-gangster Suto (Michael Dlamini) suggests that the workers pool their wages and buy a mine, the dream of ownership becomes too much weight for the hollow mountain to bear. Vuyo’s frequent voice-overs offer guideposts in the tough-to-follow plot, even if his pronouncements are often stilted. (At one point, he lectures one enraged miner: “You have a disease called hatred.”) But Maake, who began working on Soldiers as a graduate project at his South African film school, does well evoking the squalor and claustrophobia of the mine shaft on a limited budget. When the compatriots devolve into sniping, fighting, and killing amidst the rubble, it’s as if they’ve made the final, fateful adaptation to a brutal environment. —JL
At 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, April 27, and 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, April 28, at the Avalon Theatre.
Cleopatra wants to be a Latin American Thelma & Louise, complete with a frustrated pair of women, an impromptu road trip, and a hunky stranger. But despite nuanced performances from its two leads, Norma Aleandro and Natalia Oreiro, writer-director Eduardo Mignogna’s latest feature is too disjointed to make anyone drive-off-a-cliff joyous. Aleandro is Cleopatra, a retired teacher who’s trying to make ends meet with odd jobs after her depressed husband, Roberto (Héctor Alterio), loses his own. Oreiro plays Sandra, an upcoming but already frustrated TV star who’s tired of the superficiality of her glamorous life. The two meet when Cleo botches an audition in her first attempt at acting; she then inexplicably decides to stay with Sandra. Soon enough, they’re leaving Buenos Aires for a long trip to Anywhere—and Mignogna and co-scripter Silvina Chague are placing them in contrived situations for the sake of wackiness. In one completely unexplained scene, someone comes to the women’s hotel room and whisks Cleopatra off for an “audition”—which really means that she’ll be waitressing at a wedding party. If you can put up with such non sequiturs, Cleopatra does offer some well-acted and heartwarming moments in which its characters find joy in things as simple as a song on the radio. If you can’t, you’ll feel as confused as Cleopatra’s poor abandoned husband. —Tricia Olszewski
At 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 27, and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 28, at the Avalon Theatre.
Talk About The Passion
…or don’t: Mel isn’t the only one keeping the faith. These films are about folks whose spirituality moves them, whether they believe in bluegrass, beings who live in rocks, or even the Big Guy Himself.
Documentarians Ruth Oxenberg and Rob Schumer know how to deliver on a title: Bluegrass Journey gives us lots and lots of bluegrass, and it is indeed played on the road. The action takes place mostly at the annual Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Ancramdale, N.Y., where the scene is basically music festival as cult. Though it offers the crappy weather conditions, artery-clogging food, and preponderance of shirtless wonders typical of sonic get-togethers, the most notable characteristic of Grey Fox is the utter dedication of its participants. Bluegrass Journey goes heavy on the performances, including turns by the Del McCoury Band, Tim O’Brien, and the “newgrass” Nickel Creek, whose way-animated wunderkind, Chris Thile, rocks a mandolin with all the blissed-out theatrics of a windmilling ax man. O’Brien also provides much of the film’s commentary, taking viewers back to the roots of bluegrass in the ’30s and ’40s and gushing that the Bill Monroe–pioneered music is “honest” and “from the heart.” The prevailing idea here is that once you start listening to and playing bluegrass, you’re hooked. (As one enthusiast gushes: “You’re a slave to it.”) After watching Oxenberg and Schumer’s exuberant, lovingly captured footage—including one scene of a purple-togged couple getting married at the fest—you’ll understand, even if you aren’t quite ready to get on the road to Glory Land yourself. —Tricia Olszewski
At 9:30 p.m. Friday, April 23, and Saturday, April 24, at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.
To Kill a King
Just to prove it’s not an old-fashioned costume drama, this account of England’s Puritan Revolution and its aftermath opens with a battlefield full of bloody corpses. Yet To Kill a King is basically an old-fashioned costume drama, reducing the events of that period to the actions of four people: Thomas Fairfax (Dougray Scott), who led the New Model Army to victory but did not wish to destroy the aristocracy; his wife, Anne Fairfax (Olivia Williams), who tried to influence her husband to a more moderate course; King Charles I (a surprisingly uncampy Rupert Everett), who maintained his divine right to rule until the end; and Oliver Cromwell (Tim Roth), who ignored Fairfax’s misgivings and became king in all but name. Director Mike Barker uses a handheld, highly mobile camera to quicken the pace, yielding a watchable, if oversimplified, history lesson. —Mark Jenkins
At 6:45 p.m. Monday, April 26, and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 27, and Wednesday, April 28, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
Investigation Into the Invisible World
Before the Icelandic government starts on any new road work, municipal officials consult with psychics to make sure they won’t disturb the local elf population. “Such courtesy doesn’t cost the Road Office much,” explains one employee in Investigation Into the Invisible World. French director Jean Michel Roux’s documentary reveals how courtesy to the “hidden people” originated with longstanding fables about the island’s natural phenomena. Not only do Iceland’s supernatural creatures watch over the nation’s natural bounty of hot springs, waterfalls, and ice caves, they also spurred Magnus Ver Magnusson to four victories in the World’s Strongest Man competition—or so he claims. The reminiscences in the film—of encounters with rock-bound trolls, monsters in the sea, and dead twin children—are notable for both their individuation and their universality: The phantasmagoria isn’t something that happens to a neighbor or a friend of a friend, though it only seems as if every one of Iceland’s 270,000 inhabitants stares sternly into Roux’s camera to offer a testimonial. One woman describes an elf university that uses a holographic-projection system for lecture slides. Another interviewee explains ruefully how he lost the ability to play with his imaginary friend when his testicles descended. And even Iceland’s best-known film director, Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, appears, to relate an encounter with elves/aliens who chased him down a beach in a mini 2001 monolith. But for all the delightful strangeness and amusing tidbits, Investigation is far more boring than a movie featuring elf universities and mini monoliths has any right to be: Roux, it seems, packed all the fun stuff in the first reel. As the film drags to the finish, with the earnest interviews and dead-person sightings piling up like cordwood, you’ll know exactly why the huldufolk keep to themselves: Humans are tedious. —Josh Levin
At 8:45 p.m. Friday, April 30, and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 1, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
God Is Brazilian
What if God were one of us? Well, He’d look like George Burns, some kid on Joan of Arcadia—or, if writer-director Carlos Diegues had his way, an unassuming, white-bearded Brazilian guy. In God Is Brazilian, the Almighty alights on the fishing boat of a rakish 20-something named Taoca (Wagner Moura), who works in his father’s shady tire-repair shack when he’s not on the run from loan sharks. When Taoca doesn’t buy God’s rap, the rascally Lord gets some fish to fly through the air and slap the disbeliever about the face. The newly fast friends then kiss, make up, and hit the road for some wacky buddy-movie action in search of a guy who can take over for a while so He (Antônio Fagundes) can enjoy the bounty that He created. Though God Is Brazilian has a few chuckles and does manage to avoid treacliness, it would be decidedly run-of-the-mill if one of the buddies hadn’t created the Heavens and the Earth. He is what He is, though: commanding, slapstick-loving, and just a bit tired. (When a man reads him poetry written by his dearly departed son, He scoffs, “I’m sorry, but your son died in vain. These verses are hogwash.”) And inconsistent, too: He refuses to perform miracles in exchange for bus fare but does make a coconut tree grow out of his hat. Diegues’ rather delightful God, it turns out, really is just one of us: a stranger on the bus who likes to slap people on the face with fish. —JL
At 8:45 p.m. Monday, April 26, and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 27, at the Avalon Theatre.
The Death of Klinghoffer
Like great stage tragedies, each suicide bombing or broken-off peace talk in the Middle East is both the result of individual actions and an inevitability generations in the making. Penny Woolcock’s The Death of Klinghoffer, based on the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship by four Palestinians and adapted from John Adams’ opera on the incident, traces the lineage of a single moment—the murder of wheelchair-bound American hostage Leon Klinghoffer—over more than a half century. Flashbacks and flash forwards place the hijackers and cruisers in 2003, amid a rise in Islamic fundamentalism and jihadism, and in 1948, as the state of Israel is born. To Woolcock’s credit, she waves the bloody shirt for both Israelis and Palestinians—for each remembrance of the Holocaust, there’s a scene of a Palestinian child dodging a hail of bullets. Once you overcome the prima facie ridiculousness of an opera-cum-docudrama—sample line: “If we are betrayed, the ship will explode, and you will be deh-uhhhd”—the overwrought chanting begins to feel less like a clever ploy than a heartfelt unleashing of grievances. The only thing that Klinghoffer lacks, it seems, is hope for the future: For Israelis and Palestinians, maybe a parallel history of sorrow just isn’t enough to spur reconciliation. —JL
At 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, April 27, and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 28, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.