In the ’90s, we were told that history was over, politics had become irrelevant, and Americans were withdrawing for a nice, isolationist snooze. Filmfest DC never bought that. It has always presented fare from the less-touristed regions of the globe, offering glimpses of unfamiliar places, cultures, and issues that were intriguing even when the movies that contained them weren’t artistically outstanding. Whether looking at developmentally disabled children in the school system of Montgomery County, Va., the hardscrabble lives of Moroccan street kids, or the international reaction to a natural disaster in a small Italian town, Filmfest selections have presented a range of social problems with which many U.S. filmgoers might not have been familiar.

So the principal focus of the 17th annual Filmfest, “Politics in Film,” might well have been the unannounced theme of the previous 16. The festival serves many functions, from previewing new films that are about to open commercially (The Dancer Upstairs, Winged Migration) to reviving older ones that haven’t been seen in a while, if at all (Come Drink With Me, Havana). Some of the featured movies are among those that just happen to be available to the U.S. filmfest circuit at the moment; as it does every year, Filmfest DC’s lineup significantly overlaps that of the San Francisco Film Festival, another annual April fest. But it also reflects Filmfest DC’s particular dedication to Third World cinema, especially that of the Arab world. This year, the fest is even reviving Red Satin, a Franco-Tunisian movie that played here commercially last year, as well as a few other films previously seen in Reel Affirmations and the American Film Institute’s European Union Film Showcase.

Washington City Paper critics previewed 38 of the films that will screen in the next 10 days, and they found more than a dozen easy to recommend: multifarious music-and-dance works Bollywood/Hollywood, Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary, Sound of Brazil, and Waves; dramas and mood pieces Blue Gate Crossing, Mondays in the Sun, Nothing More, Sweet Sixteen, and Waiting for Happiness; and provocative documentaries Bus 174, My Terrorist, Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election, and Winged Migration. (Comedies are not a Filmfest speciality.) For those in a congenial mood or with a particular interest in the subject or milieu, the list gets longer: A Little Color, Chico Hamilton: Dancing to a Different Drummer, Clay Dolls, Escape to Paradise, For the Children, Francesca and Nunziata, Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew, Jiyan, Mon-Rak Transistor, and Off to the Revolution by a 2CV.

One auspicious aspect of Filmfest No. 17 is its increased number of venues. The disappearance of local movie houses has been a dilemma for Filmfest’s organizers in recent years, but this time many of the films will screen at theaters that essentially didn’t exist in April 2002: The newly restored Avalon and the new Loews Georgetown are the main ones, but this is also the first year for American University’s Greenberg Theatre (a reconstituted version of the old Tenley) and the AFI Silver (full name: AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center and Jazz Cafe and Inter-County Connector Memorial). Filmfest’s world has always been expansive, but now its neighborhood is growing, too. —Mark Jenkins

Screenings take place at:

The Avalon Theatre, 5612 Connecticut Ave. NW

The American Film Institute Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring

The Embassy of France, 4101 Reservoir Road NW

George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st St. NW

The Goethe-Institut Washington, 814 7th St. NW

The Greenberg Theatre, 4200 Wisconsin Ave. NW

The Lincoln Theatre, 1215 U St. NW

Loews Cineplex Georgetown, 3111 K St. NW

Loews Cineplex Outer Circle, 4849 Wisconsin Ave. NW

Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue, 4000 Wisconsin Ave. NW

The National Gallery of Art, 4th and Constitution Avenue NW

Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge, 1927 Florida Ave. NW

Admission is $8.50 unless otherwise noted. For more information, call (202) 628-3456.

OUT OF SIGHT, NOT OUT OF MIND

Washington City Paper critics previewed 38 of the 66 features in this yearís Filmfest DC—and they still didnít catch all the highlights. Thatís not for lack of effort. The festís organizers made only about half of the scheduled films available for preview, although a few others had screened for reviewers or general audiences here or elsewhere. (Those others include the opening-night film, The Dancer Upstairs, which isnít reviewed in this issue because youíve already missed it.)

The best of the unpreviewed films canít be picked with certainty, of course. But advance buzz and previous accomplishments commend eight of the unseen features, including five that have found American commercial distributors: 11’09″01—September 11 (at 9 p.m. Friday, May 2, and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 3, at the Avalon Theatre), an omnibus of short films by international directors including Ken Loach, Claude Lelouch, and Mira Nair; Amen. (at 8:45 p.m. Wednesday, April 30, and 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 2, at Loews Cineplex Georgetown), the new film from Z director Costa-Gavras, which explores the complicity of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust; Jet Lag (at 9:30 p.m. Friday, May 2, and 9 p.m. Saturday, May 3, at Loews Cineplex Georgetown), the second feature from La Bûche director Danièle Thompson, which features Juliette Binoche as a mixed-up makeup artist; The Secret Lives of Dentists (at 4 p.m. Sunday, May 4, at the Lincoln Theatre; $15), the closing-night film and the latest rueful comedy from Alan Rudolph, a Filmfest regular; and Together (at 9 p.m. Saturday, April 26, and 6 p.m. Sunday, April 27, at Loews Cineplex Georgetown), a string-driven drama from Life on a String director Chen Kaige that follows a small-town violin prodigy whoís just arrived in Beijing.

With their U.S. rights belonging to such companies as Miramax and United Artists, those films will probably return to town for commercial runs after Filmfest concludes. The festival may be the only chance, however, to see several other movies on a big screen: Come Drink With Me (at 9 p.m. Saturday, April 26, at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre and Cultural Center), a newly restored 1966 romp by King Hu, whose work inspired such later Hong Kong action directors as Tsui Hark; Iím Taraneh, 15 (at 6 p.m. Sunday, April 27, and 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 28, at the Avalon Theatre), an Iranian box-office success about the plight of a young single mother; and A Peck on the Cheek (at 9:30 p.m. Friday, May 2, at the Lincoln Theatre and Saturday, May 3, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue), a cross-cultural adoption tale from Mani Ratnam, whose films meld social issues with exuberant Bollywood music (by top filmi composer A.R. Rahman) and dance. —Mark Jenkins

Moving Pictures

By plane, train, and automobile, these films try their best to be transportive. Of course, getting there is sometimes just half the fun—or the battle.

Off to the Revolution by a 2CV

A longtime resident of Paris, Portuguese expat Victor (Andoni Gracia) wants to head home immediately when he hears that his country’s right-wing dictatorship is about to fall. Soon the romantically obsessed and previously aimless Victor and his womanizing Italian roommate, Marco (Adriano Giannini)—as well as the latter’s Citroën 2CV—are driving south. They stop in Bordeaux to pick up Claire (Gwenaëlle Simon), Victor’s obsession-worthy ex, who takes leave of her husband and young son for a revolutionary romp. Cue such songs as “Something in the Air,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “Layla,” and “Love the One You’re With”—it’s 1974, after all—as Victor’s nationalist pilgrimage turns into just another road trip, complete with clandestine border crossings, eccentric aristocrats, car trouble, skinny-dipping, and revolutionary sex. Once Victor and his pals manage to reach Portugal, they help knock down a few signs and rename a square for Salvador Allende. The Portuguese have started the revolution without them, though, leaving the movie—one of Filmfest’s “Politics in Film” entries—without much political content. Still, Italian director Maurizio Sciarra conjures an aura of youthful freedom that keeps this lightweight vehicle on the road.

—Mark Jenkins

At 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 25, and 9:15 p.m. Saturday, April 26, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.

Winged Migration

Birds fly south (or north), breed, and then fly back again. To non-bird-watchers, director Jacques Perrin’s nature documentary may not sound like much, but in fact it’s consistently compelling. To a large extent, that’s because of the camera’s remarkable intimacy with its subject. Perrin and his crew didn’t simply film avian formations from the ground; using long lenses and aerial photography, they got almost as close to the swooping birds as economy-class passengers are to each other. The film follows its feathered protagonists through wildernesses and major cities, deserts and ice fields, and it also spends some time with birds that don’t fly or even migrate. Winged Migration is not all grace, majesty, and solitude, however. It also includes footage of birds being blown out of the sky by rifles in the United States, fouled by industrial pollution in Eastern Europe, and caged by trappers in the Amazon. With some computer effects and at least one scene that looks staged, Winged Migration certainly doesn’t qualify as cinéma vérité. Still, this is one movie in which nature definitely upstages the artifice used to depict it.

—MJ

At 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 26, and 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 29, at the Avalon Theatre.

Escape to Paradise

Over a decade ago, Journey of Hope won the foreign-film Oscar for showing the plight of refugees attempting to enter Switzerland. Nino Jacusso’s Escape to Paradise reveals what happens after they get there, and it’s almost as harrowing. After being tortured in a Turkish prison, Kurdish-rights activist Sehmuz (Düzgün Ayhan) takes his wife (Fidan Firat) and three children to the German-speaking side of Switzerland, where they’re given temporary housing in preparation for the interview that—rumor has it—gets nine out of 10 asylum-seekers returned to their home countries. The family’s “Uncle” Aziz (Nurettin Yildiz), who got there first, insists that Sehmuz spend money he doesn’t have to buy forged documents to impress the Swiss interrogator. His wife, however, thinks they should simply tell the truth. Shot with available light, this shadowy film was written by the director and the cast. The central story proves to be Hollywood-conventional, but the movie evocatively depicts the “asylum hotel,” where refugees speak in a babble of languages, call each other by country rather than personal names, and compare scars left by torturers from all over Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

—MJ

At 8:45 p.m. Monday, April 28, and 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 29, at Loews Cineplex Georgetown.

Yank Tanks

Documentarian David Schendel chose a fascinating subject for his 70-minute directorial debut: the cult of vintage American automobiles in contemporary Cuba. Following the Castro revolution and the subsequent U.S. economic embargo, 150,000 Detroit-built gas-guzzlers were left stranded on the island without access to replacement parts. A cadre of obsessive mechanics and their progeny have ingeniously fabricated substitutes to keep these automobiles running four or five decades after they left the assembly line. Schendel interviews some of the country’s professional and amateur restorationists and probes the persistent presence of U.S. automobiles to make some sly observations about Cuba’s rickety political and economic systems. Unfortunately, Yank Tanks runs out of gas just beyond its midpoint—a problem that Schendel attempts to solve by recycling earlier observations and inserting street scenes, public celebrations, and other bits of local color. At half of its present length, Yank Tanks would be at least twice as effective.

—Joel E. Siegel

At 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, April 30, and 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 1, at Loews Cineplex Georgetown.

Waiting for Happiness

Although not recommended to those with short attention spans, Abderrahmane Sissako’s feature is a delightful example of the cinema of quiet observation. Set in a Mauritanian seaside village where nothing but everyday life ever happens, the film is a series of small, luminous vignettes. Nouadhibou is altogether too relaxed and colorful to fulfill Western notions of purgatory, but it is a place where people wait: some for the trip via Morocco and Spain to France, where relatives and better-paying jobs beckon; others for the journey to the next world; still others simply to go home. Sissako, whose charming Life on Earth screened in 1999’s Filmfest, depicts a timeless yet hardly cloistered existence. Chinese-language karaoke, electric lights, and the local photo studio share the frame with vividly hued traditional fabrics, and massive cargo ships loom just off the coast. Whether in a flashback to one woman’s trip to France or in its penultimate scene of people piling into a desert train, Waiting for Happiness conveys the human desire to move on. Yet it also records the gentle appeal of a sojourn in a remote hamlet.

—MJ

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 1, and 9:15 p.m. Friday, May 2, at the Avalon Theatre.

Bus 174

In 1999, a Rio de Janeiro street kid commandeered a bus near the city’s botanical gardens, holding a small group of passengers hostage for five hours as the vehicle was surrounded by TV news crews, clueless cops, and a potentially murderous mob. Jose Padilha’s documentary might initially seem to be just another Cops-style freak show, but as it carefully fills in the backstory, hijacker Sandro Rosa do Nascimento emerges as a disturbingly archetypal figure. Touched by violence at an early age, he survived Brazil’s notorious prisons and only narrowly escaped being killed by Rio’s trigger-happy police. As the film unfolds, local law enforcement becomes central to the story. Poorly trained and equipped, the cops miss numerous opportunities to end the standoff and ultimately lose control of the situations both inside and outside the bus. At just under two hours, Bus 174 is thorough to a fault, but Padilha has structured the film like a thriller, so there’s always another revelation around the corner. For anyone who thought Pixote or City of God was sensationalized, here’s an equally shocking saga of Brazil’s throwaway kids, constructed entirely from talking-head interviews and real-time news footage.

—MJ

At 9 p.m. Thursday, May 1, and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 3, at Loews Cineplex Georgetown.

Outsider Artistry

For some directors, going into exile is what itís all about. If you like your cast with plenty of out-, consider:

Oasis

Set in the alleyways, auto-body shops, and apartment blocks of Seoul, Oasis is an odd, disturbing, and uneven feature by South Korean writer-director Lee Chang-dong. The story begins on the bitterly cold day that ne’er-do-well Jong-du (Sol Kyung-gu) gets out of jail, then sets him loose to wander the streets wearing nothing but a terrifically ugly shirt and a shit-eating grin (Buffalo 66, anyone?). His sniffling and nose-wiping, gestures he repeats as if they were tics, become annoying pretty quickly, but one of the film’s better moments comes along soon enough: When Jong-du winds up in a police station after trying to skip out on a restaurant bill, a cop has just two questions for him—”Why did you order food without any money?” and “Why are you wearing that stupid shirt?” After Jong-du gets a job making deliveries, he meets a woman named Gong-ju (Moon So-ri), who has cerebral palsy and spends her days curled up in a ball of desperation, looking out the window of a dismal apartment and listening to music. Jong-du at first tries to force himself on her, but then the pair begins a tentative love affair that is alternately treacly and inspiring. At its best, Oasis is an affecting study of two unusual people in a culture that not only distrusts but goes out of its way to punish eccentricity. But the film’s touches of magic realism and attempts at uplift are too often cringe-inducing instead of heartwarming. (Fans of such movies as I Am Sam may disagree.) Another liability is the cinematography of Choi Young-taek, whose shots of drifting clouds and ephemeral reflections in car windows come across as one long homage to the floating-bag scene in American Beauty.

—Christopher Hawthorne

At 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 25, and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, April 26, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.

Jiyan

Set in an area that is still officially part of Iraq—but which the Filmfest press is identifying as Kurdistan—Jano Rosebani’s drama uses the tale of a stranger in town to spotlight the suffering of Halabja, where, in 1988, Saddam Hussein’s military killed some 5,000 people with chemical and biological weapons. Kurdish-born American Diyari (Kurdo Galali) arrives in town to supervise the building of a new, larger orphanage, and immediately takes a liking to Jiyan (which means “life”), a shy 10-year-old girl whose face was scarred in the attack. Jiyan (Pirshang Berzinji) becomes Diyari’s mascot as he wanders around town, arranging for construction of the building, fending off prospective brides, discussing Nietzsche and Zoroastrianism, and learning more about the horrors the residents of Halabja have experienced. Finally, Diyari must visit the hospital he’s pointedly avoided, where the sight of dozens of victims causes his own childhood traumas to flood back to him. Jiyan is basically a semidocumentary Iranian film, if slightly more conventional than the best of that genre. Although not a remarkable example of filmmaking, it’s a moving testament to the Iraqi Kurds who endured so much of Hussein’s rule—and America’s indifference.

—Mark Jenkins

At 8:45 p.m. Sunday, April 27, and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 29, at Loews Cineplex Georgetown.

1/2 the Rent

While computer hacker Peter (Stephan Kampwirth) is preoccupied with a big scam, his pill-junkie girlfriend, Julie (Natascha Bub), drowns—perhaps intentionally—in the bathtub of their Berlin apartment. Stunned, Peter calls for an ambulance and then hops the next train out of town. He ends up in Cologne, haunted by visions of his ex. The only places he can find peace are in other people’s apartments, which he enters after observing where the tenants hide their spare keys. As he loses interest in the computer scheme, Peter becomes fascinated by the lives of his secret roommates, who include a writer, a chess-playing recluse, and an obsessively tidy woman who could be a new love interest. Improbably, these lonely people also become fond of Peter. Shot entirely in digital video with a wide-angle lens, Marc Ottiker’s Wim Wenders-produced debut feature has an offhand look, although it does include the flashy editing gambit of split-screen compositions. Ottiker, who also scripted, takes a lackadaisical approach to storytelling and characterization, so that 1/2 the Rent’s cutting-edge cool easily eclipses its narrative.

—MJ

At 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, April 29, and Wednesday, April 30, at the Avalon Theatre.

Clay Dolls

Omrane regularly travels between his native village and Tunis, transporting poor girls who will become indentured servants to the capital’s wealthy. On one trip, he takes teenage Nejma and the pre-pubescent Feddha, whose clay-doll-making skills will be useless to her in the city. Nejma is easily placed, but Feddha turns out to be a problem. So was Rebeh, who has run away from the household that acquired her. Omrane tells Rebeh’s mother that he doesn’t know where she is, but she soon turns up, befriending Feddha and informing the servant-broker that she’s pregnant. Neither of Omrane’s solutions—first locking her in his apartment, then trying to marry her to a toothless old man—appeal to Rebeh, who escapes to an uncertain future. Nouri Bouzid’s film straddles problem drama and neorealism, raising the issue of women’s roles in Tunisian society but responding with handheld-camera observations rather than tidy solutions. This thematic modesty becomes the film, as do its strong sense of place and involving characters.

—MJ

At 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 2, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle and 8:45 p.m. Saturday, May 3, at the Greenberg Theatre.

For the Children

After death claims her husband and son, Zhang Meili consoles herself by establishing a makeshift school in her village in arid northwest China. A tireless organizer, Zhang eventually arranges for a visiting teacher from Beijing to spend a year in the hamlet. Xia Yu is young and glamorous, and she is initially overwhelmed by both the region’s harshness and the rough-edged Zhang. The local woman, meanwhile, considers Xia and her dry-clean-only wardrobe to be far too fragile—the newcomer seems to have arrived not only from another world, but another age. For entertainment, local arts worker Wong (Zhang’s clandestine lover) still projects silent movies about Lenin while singing odes to the Russian Revolution. But modernity asserts itself, first when Zhang sets out to get a computer for the school, then when Xia hosts Zhang and the kids in Beijing. Yang Yazhou’s film won’t surprise students of the plucky-Chinese-peasant drama, but it’s a charmer nonetheless. The scenario deftly balances sentiment and earthiness—the original title is Pretty Big Feet, a reference to a Chinese proverb that connects Zhang’s foot size to a big heart. An overwrought orchestral score is For the Children’s only too-big gesture.

—MJ

At 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 2, and Saturday, May 3, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.

Nothing More

Cuban filmmaker Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti obviously adores French cinema, especially the New Wave directors of the late ’50s and early ’60s. Malberti’s Nothing More heroine, Carla (Thais Valdes), a bored post-office employee, sports the boyish haircut and horizontally striped sweater that Jean Seberg immortalized in Godard’s Breathless. Carla’s opera-singing parents have expatriated to Miami, and while she waits to see if she will obtain an exit visa, she amuses herself by writing anonymous, inspirational responses to letters that she filches from her workplace. But this Amélie-like gambit, as well as Carla’s defiant battles with her harpy supervisors and romantic fling with a rock-loving younger co-worker, are largely occasions for Malberti to set off music-video-style cinematic fireworks: shimmering black-and-white images with colorized highlights, time-lapse photography, lap dissolves, forced perspectives, altered sounds, and pastiches of expressionist silents. The artistic spawn of Jean Vigo’s iconoclastic Zero for Conduct and Louis Malle’s frenzied Zazie Dans le Métro, Nothing More contains some unexpectedly poetic moments, notably the sequence in which a suicidal cancer patient reads one of Carla’s epistles, along with some wildly zany bits, including a television psychoanalyst’s on-camera breakdown. Although at times exhaustingly antic, Malberti’s farce dazzles the eyes and lifts the spirits.

—Joel E. Siegel

At 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 2, and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, May 3, at the Lincoln Theatre.

A Little Color

An enjoyable confection by Swiss director Patricia Plattner, A Little Color follows Christelle (Anouk Grinberg), a hairdresser who decides to leave her abusive salon-owner husband after he tells her that his hi-tech Cute Curls machine is going to a better-trained beautician. She ends up staying at a motel run by Mona (Bernadette Lafont), matron of a colorful group of lost souls, and begins to work for Mona when she runs out of money. Plattner’s gradual shift of the film’s palette to candy-colored tones works as a visual cue that—no surprise—things are going to be OK: Forced to overcome her timidity when she resolves never to return to her husband, Christelle integrates herself into the simple world she finds at her new home and, using her hairdressing and decorating skills, manages to brighten everyone’s drab workaday life. Grinberg is a likable little firecracker, giving Christelle both an appealing willingness to please and a surprisingly icy boldness that rears its head when she’s threatened by unwanted advances. Lafont’s Mona is also a pleasure to watch, a not-that-old maid who’s happy to live life sans romance but still enjoys the company of the working-class men who call her flophouse home.

—Tricia Olszewski

At 9 p.m. Friday, May 2, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 3, at the Greenberg Theatre.

Principle Photography

Even in Denmark, some movies are more about dogma than Dogma. Watch the camera become a political machine in:

Mondays in the Sun

Mondays in the Sun expands on the melancholy depiction of joblessness that informed the opening reels of The Full Monty. In this sympathetic, sensitively observed ensemble piece, directed and co-scripted by Fernando Le—n de Aranoa, a group of workers, laid off by the Spanish shipyard where they toiled for decades, gather at a friend’s bar and struggle to contain their anger and frustration and sustain their flagging fortunes and spirits. Redundancy not only affects their pride and security, but also tarnishes their relationships with wives and families. Bear-bearded Santa (Javier Bardem) looks out for his pals while attempting to suppress bouts of outrage directed against those responsible for his plight. Anxious Lino (José Angel Egido), in a doomed strategy to compete with younger applicants for office jobs, dyes his hair, dons embarrassingly youthful clothes, and tries to master computer skills. Amador (Celso Bugallo), who refuses to admit that he’s been abandoned by his spouse, drinks himself into oblivion. Sergei (Serge Riaboukine), an out-of-work expatriate from the Soviet Union, wryly articulates the writer-director’s theme: “Everything we were told about communism proved to be a lie. Unfortunately, everything we were told about capitalism proved to be true.” There’s little hope to be found in de Aranoa’s morose study of the emasculating, soul-killing consequences of joblessness, but there’s more than enough compassion and cinematic artistry to make Mondays in the Sun a haunting and illuminating experience. —Joel E. Siegel

At 8 p.m. Sunday, April 27, and 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, April 29, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.

My Terrorist

Yulie Cohen Gerstel’s 58-minute documentary offers a penetrating inquiry into the complexities of redemption. In 1978, Gerstel, then a hostess for the Israeli airline El Al, was working a flight that was hijacked by terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. One of her colleagues was murdered, and Gerstel was wounded. Twenty-three years later, as a photojournalist witnessing the brutal Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, she felt compelled to make a personal gesture of reconciliation. To this end, she communicated with the man who shot her, Fahad Mihyi, who had been imprisoned in England for more than two decades. Gerstel’s efforts to assist in obtaining his release faltered when the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon left her questioning whether terrorism precludes redemption. A philosophical home movie, My Terrorist raises more thorny questions than it—or any other film—could possibly resolve. It concludes tentatively but touchingly, with a long-held shot of Gerstel and her family embracing a new day—a gift to be treasured in today’s perilous environment.

—JES

At 8:45 p.m. Wednesday, April 30, and 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 1, at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge.

Havana

Presented as part of Filmfest’s Politics in Film series, this 1990 Sydney Pollack flop is actually an example of Hollywood’s ability to drain all political content from an ideologically charged premise. Set in Cuba in 1958, the film introduces an apolitical American gambler (Robert Redford) to a sexy supporter of the revolution (Lena Olin) and her husband (Raul Julia). The guy ends up getting involved, but more to save the girl than to undermine Batista. A ponderous attempt to evoke the retro glamour of wide-open pre-Castro Cuba, the film certainly looks good. But among muddled tales of romance and intrigue in late-’50s Havana, Richard Lester’s exuberantly incoherent 1979 Cuba is a lot more fun. Pollack will discuss the film after the screening.

—Mark Jenkins

At 8:15 p.m. Thursday, May 1, at the Avalon Theatre. Free.

Iran, Veiled Appearances

The title of Thierry Michel’s documentary is ironic, because the film itself doesn’t reveal all that much. There is a range of opinion: Islamic thugs who attack student protesters and devout Muslims who are happy that their young sons and brothers achieved “martyrdom” in the 1981-1989 Iran-Iraq war are intercut with women who go parasailing in full chadors and secular adolescents who troop into the mountains around Tehran to engage in such controversial activities as dancing and talking to members of the opposite sex. Viewers who know something about contemporary Iran can put such footage in context—which is something the film largely fails to do. Although this is not cinéma vérité, the occasional voice-overs and archival-film inserts provide little information. The film, for instance, doesn’t mention that the despotic government overthrown by the 1979 revolution was originally installed by an Anglo-American coup, and it claims that the uprising was a purely Islamic undertaking. (In fact, there were many factions.) A series of intriguing vignettes can sometimes add up to a movie, but in the case of Iran, Veiled Appearances, the more complete picture is lacking.

—MJ

At 8:30 p.m. Thursday, May 1, and 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 2, at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge.

Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election

Those who jeered Michael Moore’s “fictional president” rant at this year’s Oscar ceremony might regret their catcalls after viewing Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election. This tightly edited 50-minute documentary, produced and directed by Richard R. Perez and Joan Sekler, focuses on the Republican Party’s shameless chicanery in shanghaiing Florida’s electoral votes for Gov. Jeb Bush’s brother. Perez and Sekler interweave television news footage with newly shot commentaries in a narrative that convincingly depicts how the governor, Secretary of State Katharine Harris, and their minions conspired to disenfranchise thousands of eligible voters by falsely accusing them of prior felony convictions, illegally demanding multiple proofs of identity at the polls in minority districts, refusing to permit revotes in areas of demonstrable election irregularities, and employing local and national Republican staffers to orchestrate anti-recount protests. The filmmakers follow the election dispute to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the stalemate was ultimately broken by justices with professional and personal ties to the Bush family. Perez and Sekler’s muckraking film lays bare the systematic subversion of the American electoral process by operatives who feel no obligation to explain or defend their actions. (Jeb Bush and Harris turned down the filmmakers’ requests for interviews, and Clayton Roberts, director of the Florida Division of Elections, fled from their cameras after being asked a pointed question.) If we get through Bush No. 2 alive, Unprecedented will be a useful document in our nation’s efforts to recover its integrity and sanity.

—JES

At 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 2, and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, May 3, at the Avalon Theatre.

Relative Values

For some films, all the time is family time-quality or not. See folks come together—and come apart—in:

Casomai

Make-up artist Stefania (Stefania Rocca) and advertising executive Tommaso (Fabio Volo) choose a remote church outside Milan as the setting for their wedding. At the climax of the ceremony, an eccentric priest (Gennaro Nunziante) delivers a disconcerting sermon about the futility of marriage to the astonished congregation. Writer-director Alessandro D’Alatri and co-scripter Anna Pavignano employ this sequence as a departure point to flash back to the couple’s courtship and then leap ahead to the pair’s troubled future—which consists of a hailstorm of soap-opera clichés including career crises, an intrusive first child, selfishness, adultery, abortion, and divorce. These vignettes are so skeletally developed and so jaggedly edited that the performers can do little to enliven the banal material. Even viewers who manage to summon up some empathy for Casomai’s one-dimensional protagonists will feel betrayed by the film’s cravenly evasive ending, in which the marathon of marital angst we’ve endured turns out to be speculative. It’s a reprehensible ass-saving ploy that both permits a happy ending and betrays the filmmaker’s background as an adman.

—Joel E. Siegel

At 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 25, and 6:45 p.m. Saturday, May 3, at the Avalon Theatre.

The Best Day of My Life

Moviegoers nostalgic for the lost era of prime-time television soaps will greedily devour writer-director Cristina Comencini’s stylishly lurid The Best Day of My Life, a family chronicle of sexual and emotional dysfunction. Irene, played by erstwhile sexpot Virna Lisi, is a widowed matriarch whose stately home and three grown children are slowly disintegrating. Rita (Sandra Ceccarelli) spurns the attentions of her devoted, frustrated husband while melting in the arms of her veterinarian lover. Claudio (Luigi Lo Cascio), a gay attorney, is ambivalent about his sexuality, alienating himself from his family and preventing himself from committing to a lover. Sara (Margherita Buy) is shattered by the premature death of her husband and smothers her increasingly resentful teenage son. The Best Day of My Life, an ironic allusion to a subordinate character’s first communion, is persuasively acted by an attractive cast and richly photographed on locations in and around Rome. But Comencini’s narrative grows so laden with outrageous contrivances and melodramatic revelations (abortion, drug-taking, porn addiction) that its classy veneer fails to cloak its ludicrously trashy core.

—JES

At 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 26, and 8:30 p.m. Sunday, April 27, at Loews Cineplex Georgetown.

Sweet Sixteen

Jean is about to get out of prison, and Liam is sure that if he creates a nice home for her, she won’t get into trouble again. Liam (Martin Compston) is not the official guardian in this relationship, however: He’s 15 years old, and Jean (Michelle Coulter) is his mother. After losing his way in Nicaragua (Carla’s Song) and L.A. (Bread and Roses), director Ken Loach makes an impressive return to working-class Scotland, where heroin is lot easier to find than decent housing—and subtitles are required. Set in a former shipbuilding town, Sweet Sixteen follows Liam and his pal Pinball (William Ruane) as they enter the only trade that will allow them to make money quickly: drug-dealing. Liam’s older sister doesn’t approve of his new activities—or of their mother, for that matter—and his grandfather, his mother’s boyfriend, and the people he ends up working for are all thugs. It’s a bleak tale, of course, but one that’s leavened by wit and lively, persuasive performances. As they did in My Name Is Joe, Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty assemble naturalistic detail as they move to a shattering conclusion.

—Mark Jenkins

At 6:30 p.m. Sunday, April 27, and 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, April 29, at Loews Cineplex Georgetown.

Francesca and Nunziata

Italian filmmaker Lina Wertmüller conquered the United States in the mid-’70s with two highly publicized, wildly overrated hits: Swept Away and Seven Beauties. American moviegoers soon came to their senses, however, acknowledging the shrillness and shallowness of Wertmüller’s work, and since the early ’80s, few of her films have been exhibited in this country. Produced for European television in 2001, Francesca and Nunziata plays less like two hours of typical Wertmüller hysteria than like a lush, simplified imitation of a Luchino Visconti family chronicle. Sophia Loren stars as Francesca, the shrewd daughter of a pasta magnate whose beauty and brains have captivated indolent, pleasure-loving Prince Giordiano Montorsi (played by bewhiskered Giancarlo Giannini, the director’s signature actor and a dead ringer for composer Stephen Sondheim). Fulfilling a religious vow to adopt an orphan if their youngest child, Federico, recovers from an illness, the prince and princess choose 9-year-old Nunziata, who turns out to be as clever and striking as her foster mother. A decade later, Federico (pencil-mustachioed lounge lizard Raoul Bova) and Nunziata (Sharon Stone look-alike Claudia Gerini) succumb to a quasi-incestuous passion that imperious Francesca squelches by manipulating her children to advance her own business schemes. With the passage of yet another decade, emotional crises and reckless business practices threaten to bring down the once-powerful house of Montorsi. Francesca and Nunziata is a pageant of lavishly staged, extravagantly costumed set pieces, framed by Alfio Contini’s painterly cinematography and buoyed by the 67-year-old Loren’s obvious delight in a role that requires her to age from a voluptuous vixen to an embittered crone. Old-fashioned, episodic, and predictable in its plot twists, the film is something of a guilty pleasure, overflowing with indelible images, among them Federico and Nunziata clandestinely kissing in a pasta factory and making love during a screening of the 1912 classic Quo Vadis.

—JES

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 28, and 9 p.m. Thursday, May 1, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.

A Trumpet in the Wadi

A Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner for contemporary Israel, Lina and Slava Chaplin’s film transpires in the Wadi, the Arab quarter of Haifa, where Muslims and Christians coexist but Jews are regarded with suspicion. Soon after Huda (Khawlah Hag-Debsy) turns 30, thus achieving spinsterhood in her mother’s eyes, a new guy moves in upstairs. Alex (Alex Sendrowitz) is a trumpet player and a student, and so short that the local women mockingly call him a dwarf. But he’s also sensitive and attracted to Huda. If they were to marry, it would solve a lot of problems—notably for Huda’s younger sister Mary. But Alex is a Russian Jew and Huda an Arab. (Her family is also Christian, but that’s of less concern.) Both of the couple’s mothers are stunned by the romance, yet a wedding still seems possible until one more issue comes between Alex and Huda. A mix of culture-clash comedy and romantic tragedy, A Trumpet in the Wadi doesn’t depict Alex and Huda’s relationship all that persuasively, but it is an intriguing sketch of the society in which they live.

—MJ

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 29, and 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, April 30, at the Avalon Theatre.

I’m the Father

A lot has happened between Marco and Melanie before the viewer is introduced to them in German director Dani Levy’s I’m the Father. The chaotic but loving opening scene shows the couple being awakened by their young son, Benny (Ezra-Valentin Lenz), and scrambling to get ready for the day. When freshman architect Marco (Sebastian Blomberg), jubilant that his first proposal has been accepted, returns from work to a suddenly cold Melanie (Maria Schrader), it takes both him and the audience some time to figure out that his marriage is not as happy as it initially seemed. Marco, it turns out, not only tends to forget his sick son’s prescription, but blanks on his wedding anniversary and serves beer to 6-year-olds. Melanie’s request for divorce shocks the playful, shallow Marco into examining his own partially motherless upbringing and, naturally, realizing that his family is too important for him not to change his ways. Shot on digital video, I’m the Father is full of not-quite-right lighting and unsteady camerawork, which lends it an uncomfortable, almost cinéma vérité feel. Marco’s attempts to see his son and win back his wife are often touching, and Blomberg and Schrader are adept at wordlessly expressing their characters’ roller-coaster emotions. Ultimately, however, the script’s lack of backstory makes the couple’s too-cyclic love-you/hate-you relationship ring false.

—Tricia Olszewski

At 7 p.m. Friday, May 2, and 9:15 p.m. Saturday, May 3, at the Avalon Theatre.

The Sea

Although set almost as far north as human civilization goes, Baltasar Kormákur’s film is an overripe family-meltdown saga that suggests the tales of such Southerners as Faulkner. When a crusty Icelandic patriarch (Gunnar Eyj—lfsson) summons his offspring to discuss the future of the family fishing business, Agúst (Hilmir Snær Gudnason) doesn’t want to leave his music studies in Paris—where he’s supposed to be majoring in business—to make the trip. His pregnant French girlfriend, Françoise (Hélène de Fougerolles), insists that they go, but she soon learns why Agúst tried to skip the family showdown: His hometown is bleak and dying, his clan a cauldron of rage, greed, and jealousy. Director and co-writer Kormákur, who previously made the more playful 101 Reykjavik, has said he wanted his second film to be very different, and in some ways it is. Shot in widescreen, The Sea has a dramatic look and a melodramatic mood. But such motifs as ennui and pregnancy—as well as a touch of incest—linger from the previous movie. If this film accurately expresses the mood of declining small-town Iceland, then all of Kormákur’s characters would be better off in Reykjavik—or Paris.

—MJ

At 9 p.m. Friday, May 2, and Saturday, May 3, at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge.

Sex Changes

Or at least thatís what the directors of these films believe. Watch the physical become a little more meta- (and maybe catch some not-so-brief nudity) in:

Blue Gate Crossing

Blue Gate Crossing starts off like a Taiwanese Swimfan, seemingly telling the story of Lin Yueh-chen (Liang Shu-hui), a shy high-school girl with an obsessive crush on cute swim-club member Chang Shih-hao (Chen Bo-lin). Lin’s tough best friend, Meng Ke-rou (Guey Lun-mei), gets tired of accompanying her swooning pal as she stalks Chang by night and pores over a box full of his snatched belongings by day, so she corners him and reveals Lin’s affection. The tentative relationship that then develops between Meng and Chang may seem straight out of Hollywood, but this teen movie is refreshingly lacking in pretense: These kids can make each other laugh or put someone in his place without the too-clever one-liners most American scriptwriters force-feed their teenage characters. The film’s modesty also nicely sets up its central revelation—though Meng accepts Chang’s chivalrous advances, she eventually confesses that she loves Lin. Lun-mei is Blue Gate’s obvious star, gangly and with a scathing glare that lends itself to Meng’s teen awkwardness and emotional honesty. Quick to speak her mind and unafraid to express discontent, Meng is most fun not when she’s giggling with Lin, but when she’s jutting herself into an adversary’s no-good face.

—Tricia Olszewski

At 9 p.m. Friday, April 25, and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, April 26, at the Avalon Theatre.

Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary

Eccentric Winnipeg-based director Guy Maddin is at it again, and if anything, he has sunk even deeper into his fever dream of Sternberg, Freud, and fourth-grade plays. With less magnificence but a much more genuine beauty than his previous full-length wonderlands (Archangel, Tales From the Gimli Hospital, Careful), Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary adapts the vampire legend for dancers from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. The film is not so much acted as performed, a gorgeously framed and lit melodrama flowing into dance sequences that behave like movie scenes—Maddin never points his camera at the dancers’ feet or frames their movements as in filmed ballets. It edges closer to silent film than his earlier work, with copious use of title cards, fuzz-edged irises, luminous black-and-white photography, and actor/dancers whose faces are so vivid and mobile they don’t need voices. This Dracula is dazzling, mysterious, zany, and deeply haunting.

—Arion Berger

At 9:15 p.m. Friday, April 25, and 7 p.m. Saturday, April 26, at the Avalon Theatre.

Red Satin

The long, complex tracking shot that opens Red Satin foreshadows the narrative’s first hour: A severely dressed middle-aged woman laboriously cleaning her house stops in front of a mirror to execute a few faltering dance steps before returning to her domestic chores. Later, respectable Tunisian widow Lilia (Hiam Abbass), worried about her teenage daughter Salma (Hend El Fahem), mistakenly searches for her in a cafe where belly-dancers perform for a randy male audience. Befriended by one of the performers, Lilia literally lets down her hair and, after briskly conquering her inhibitions, becomes a dancer herself, reveling in her sexuality and the response that it awakens in onlookers. In a plot twist that ’50s-Hollywood-weepie director Douglas Sirk would have relished, Lilia commences an affair with the cafe’s drummer, unaware that he’s also her daughter’s secret lover. Writer-director Raja Amari seems to view Lilia’s transition from housekeeping to exhibitionism as some sort of liberation, though the goatish men she entices are rather pathetic examples of humanity. And although Lilia’s transition from frump to siren is convincingly presented, the Stella Dallas- like resolution of the mother-daughter-lover triangle smacks more of soap-opera contrivance than of feminist consciousness-raising.

—Joel E. Siegel

At 6 p.m. Sunday, April 27, and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 30, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.

Naked

Based on director Doris Doerrie’s play Happy, Naked intrudes on three young couples who get together for a dinner party at the palatial, mod home of nouveau riche Dylan (Mehmet Kurtulus) and his wife, Charlotte (Nina Hoss). A Woody Allen-esque gabfest (though with more Husbands and Wives-style vitriol than Annie Hall-ish whimsy), the film shows each couple—one of which has just broken up—interacting before and after the less-than-successful party. Already strained relations between the competitive friends and lovers come to a head after a softcore experiment that tests whether two of the pairs can recognize each other’s bodies blindfolded—a welcome quiet scene that seems to be one of the few moments in which most of Naked’s characters are happy. Character development is in short supply, with the women often shrill and the men often clueless, yet each couple’s unique situation throws off enough realistic tension to easily prove the film’s none-too-surprising thesis: that familiarity does indeed breed contempt.

—TO

At 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 30, and 6:15 p.m. Thursday, May 1, at the Avalon Theatre.

The Dark Side of the Heart 2

Oliverio is looking for a woman who can fly, and he will settle for nothing less. The premise screams cheap magic realism, and this studiously romantic film by director Eliseo Subiela couldn’t get any cheaper. Oliverio (Darío Grandinetti), a poet who makes his living selling his verse on a street corner, has an ejecto-bed that dumps one-night stands into an abyss, and his need to take flight is a transparent metaphor for the gravity-defying transport of a love he’s never felt. When he meets Miranda (Carolina Peleritti), he’s delighted to find out that she studies physics and may have a clue as to a method of soaring. But her physics are too Newtonian, so he moves on to trade poetry (which is what passes for much of Oliverio’s communication) with other earthbound sirens, including the tango-dancing beauty who introduces him to a helmet-clad seer who may be Death himself. Meanwhile, multiple Oliverios show up in his apartment, complaining about aging, hair loss, and the pull of their collective history. He tracks down his former flight instructor, Ana (Sandra Ballesteros), but finds they can’t reach the heights anymore. Finally, he discovers a circus tightrope walker, and to her credit, she doesn’t respond to the ridiculous poetry with which he introduces himself. The self-importance of this film is stifling: the 10th-rate Wim Wenders-isms, the perverse color scheme, the swinish machismo masking as romantic appreciation. And the poetic aphorisms about love, death, verse, and life aren’t worthy of being stitched on pillows.

—AB

At 9:30 p.m. Friday, May 2, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 3, at the Lincoln Theatre.

Small Wonders

The directors of these shorts would definitely argue that size doesnít matter. Sometimes theyíd even be right.

Short Cuts 1:

Secret Love

Director Paul Bush used a strange technique to create what is surely one of the strangest shorts ever made: Live actors were filmed and then their images were somehow erased and re-created with what look like colored-pencil scratchings. Placed against a black background, the bright, single-color images make Secret Love’s story pop out violently. At a village dance of obscure historical specificity, a father questions his daughter in song (Percy Grainger’s “Father and Daughter”) while their neighbors cavort in the background. A strain of nasty apprehension informs the music and the action—torches are lit, blades are unsheathed, laughter is slightly hysterical, all building to a climax in which the daughter answers back. A truly extraordinary few minutes.

—Arion Berger

Après l’Enfance

In this coastal pastoral by director Thomas Lilti, Atmen returns to the French seaside town where his mother is selling their old house. He goes through some mementos, meets up with an old girlfriend who had the bundle of kids she once wanted with him, and hangs with his friends, trying to decide whether the music of his childhood was great. It doesn’t add up to much, but the ephemeral seaside atmosphere is the perfect setting for a state of fleeting happiness.

—AB

Neo-Noir

Chase Palmer’s 10-minute film is a stylish little scherzo in the key of hard-boiled, with a narrative that tracks an apparently accidental death by Russian roulette to its murderous source. The detectives are tough and terse, the widow a little too cool, and the husband’s best friend suspiciously smooth. If it feels as if you’ve seen all this before, Palmer knows it: This series of gumshoe inside jokes takes careful aim and then shoots a stream of water into your face.

—AB

Ladies

Director Will Stewart looks at women with problems in bathrooms. One sulks and smokes and tells her mother to leave without her. Another cooks and shoots up drugs in the hospital where she works. An actress primps and lies to her boyfriend on the cell phone. A cleaning woman cleans up the mess. Elizabeth Stewart plays all roles, to the sound of violin and guitar and to no apparent purpose.

—AB

Jeff Farnsworth

Ross is just about the dweebiest club bouncer ever: His little sister drops off his lunch at the velvet rope, his dad picks him up from work, and he doesn’t even recognize Big Kenny, the club’s owner. The titular Jeff Farnsworth is a mythical monster we never see: a stockbroker friend of the family and, for Ross, the threat of an ordinary future. In the meantime, his present is no picnic. He has to choose between being broke and getting beaten up pretty much every night or begging a jerk for a soul-crushing office job. Directed by Paul Cotter, Jeff Farnsworth is a nicely nasty film for the post-slacker generation.

—AB

Gate

Three Australian ranchers sit on a bench in the shade and argue about who left the gate open, letting out 800 sheep. Gus, the nasty one, and his taciturn toady, Willie, taunt the recently hired city boy, Dave-O. Their conversation occasionally slips into self-conscious absurdity, and the basic thrust—how many Foster’s Lagers can dance on the head of a pin—gets kind of silly fast. Still, Gate is cute and earnest, a picture of masculine subterfuge in the service of breadwinning.

—AB

For Our Man

How to kill a man? With every manner and method of death at your fingertips, which is the most aesthetically and morally pleasing? A freak accident dependent on a chain of seemingly random events? What if the victim is invincible? The bushy-bearded writer who chuckles to himself and shakes his head considers and rejects ideas while director Kazuo Ohno’s camera helpfully illustrates them. Evocative industrial and sci-fi sound effects set the action tingling, and the camera whips and spins like a dervish as the writer’s quicksilver mind runs through possibilities. Rich with flashbacks, illustrative miniscenes, and the kind of free-associative slippage that is the bane and wonder of a writer’s brain, For Our Man is experimental in the best, most accessible sense.

—AB

“Short Cuts 1” screens at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 26, at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge.

Short Cuts 2:

Yoake: A Chewing Gum Story

A banker meets up with an old friend, a musician, in Austria. Yoake: A Chewing Gum Story is a slow drift of connection and separation—nothing much happens, but everything changes. The two protagonists admire European church art, have their pictures taken, and reminisce in a bar over the things they miss most about Japan. For the man, tied to his career at the bank, it’s the workaday ramen noodles of a salaryman’s lunch; for the more free-spirited woman, the sour gum from sidewalk vending machines. And that’s it. The adaptable woman, it turns out, enjoys even Europe’s sweet gum, but the man refuses it—a tidy metaphor for his life choices.

—AB

Fueling the Fire

Tanja Mairitsch’s 22-minute film looks at crime in black and white. Quiet tension is the mood and violent conflict is in the air for a young white woman running out of gas as she drives her kids through a Bad Part of Town. She witnesses a robbery and shooting at an all-night gas station and gets away with a license-plate number. The film then steps back for another view: A middle-aged black man driving his mother home witnesses the same crime. Both characters’ cultural prejudices end up getting the real story wrong. Director Mairitsch ultimately backs away from her own premise (the film would be stronger if the perceived perpetrators had been switched), but Fueling the Fire is an economically shot and expertly paced cautionary tale.

—AB

Diana’s Smile

Diana has just moved into a long-empty apartment, overrun with dusty bottles and controlled by an army of spiders. Like any young woman, she longs for love, and, as the narrator explains in rapturous poetics, she finds it: Aganore, the bravest and strongest of the spiders to escape her Raid-spraying, shoe-whapping ministrations. She gives him a grape (accidentally, but love finds omens everywhere); he leaves a fine dead bug on her pillow, in a gesture she takes the wrong way. Then one tragic day she brings home a date….The spider’s attempts to capture the attention of a pretty young lady are thoroughly sweet, and playful music keeps the story perking along.

—AB

Chaperone

This evocative little pas de trois by Victor Buhler is a tale told in glances, with the director never stooping to the obviousness of explaining things with words. Teenage Claudia has a date with slackerish Owen, an outing her spinster Aunt Dorie has promised to oversee. To say anything more about this delicious little film would destroy its delicate charm—suffice it to say they go to a fair and cruise up Broad Street, and Claudia’s girlish whims and wiles, gleaned from the pages of glossy magazines, prove to be insufficient preparation for womanhood.

—AB

Journey Man

Escaping a fraught Sierra Leone after his father’s murder, the man of the title stows away to Wales, where he finds a cruel and strange landscape of white folk celebrating Christmas. The language barrier isn’t lowered—there are no subtitles—so we the audience struggle just like the English-speaking characters with dismissing or striving to understand the stranger. The gap is bridged a little when a middle-aged lady with bright red hair and a fondness for cheap, shiny silks takes him in, learning about Muslim dietary strictures and cherishing his joy during his first snowfall. What she can’t do is relieve him of his memories. Journey Man is a beautiful small film, both hopeful and painful.

—AB

The Support Group

The ridiculousness of E-Z therapy is the subject of this raucously funny and meticulously acted short about a men’s group session run by a nervous, well-meaning psychologist named Sikorski. John, a scabrous yuppie boiling with rage, Clarence, a weepy, wimpy truck driver, and Alec, a guy who seems to have stumbled into the wrong room, confess, parry, and snap at each other, while the therapist watches helplessly. Psychobabble has never sounded so funny, so meaningless, and yet so vaguely useful as it does in this 11-minute film by Daniel Milder, John Viener, and Josh Weinstein.

—AB

Leunig: How Democracy Actually Works

Woebegone claymation characters and simplistic clay sets tell ever so briefly and ruefully a tall tale of how a democratic government is elected. It starts with ballots being shoved into a giant furnace and ends with the words “Your vote does matter.” Andrew Home’s film of the cartoon by Michael Leunig isn’t for the true believer of either party, but it goes by so fast that there’s hardly time to be offended.

—AB

Tom Hits His Head

There’s no dialogue—just voice-over and busy camerawork—as well-meaning nebbish Tom tries to track down what happened to his sense of balance after he hit his head during a blood-drive faint. Is it just a concussion, is it a chronic disease, or is he going mad? Tom goes on eBay sprees, stocks up on guns, scans the Internet for porn, hears voices, and wears a theme-park Napoleon hat around the house. The narration and the images complement each other to hysterical effect: Tom runs down his symptoms in a rising arpeggio of absurdity, admitting, “I become briefly convinced that the house is haunted, but I’m afraid to leave” as someone in a sheet menaces him spoofily in the background. Filmmaker Tom Putnam is as sharp as he is clever—and funnier than a barrel of anxiety-ridden middle-class men inventing insane fantasies to cope with their normality.

—AB

Stone of Folly

Dark doings in a sinister hospital created with creepy Brothers Quay-like stop-motion animation and the music of an atmospheric cabaret band. Jesse Rosensweet’s 8-minute film won Best Short Film award at Cannes last year, and for good reason: Stone of Folly is moody, economical, and leavened with humor.

—AB

“Short Cuts 2” screens at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 3, at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge.

The Chicago Loop

The Hollywood musical wasnít really dead, it seems—it was just waiting for more Oscars. Of course, some contemporary filmmakers were hoofing it—or at least belting it out—on the big screen well before the rest of us found out that RenÈe Zellweger could be so gosh darn splendiferous.

Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew

A cult figure for more than four decades, singer Jimmy Scott belatedly won recognition with his Grammy-nominated 1992 comeback album, All the Way. Since then, he’s recorded seven more solo CDs, and his heart-rending life story has been chronicled in a Bravo documentary, as well as in David Ritz’s biography Faith in Time. Filmmaker Matthew Buzzell opens his feature-length profile of Scott with shots of the wizened 77-year-old vocalist concertizing in Japan backed by a string orchestra. In a series of talking-head interviews interspersed with archival film clips and photographs, Buzzell traces the long, thorny path Scott traveled to reach his latter-day acclaim: the onset of Kallman’s syndrome (an affliction that arrests the onset of puberty) at 12, the death of his beloved mother seven months later, indentureship to a crooked record-company owner, a long silence in which he abandoned music and was assumed dead by all but a passionate cadre of fans. An endearing oddity, Scott charms Buzzell’s camera, convincing us of his survivor’s courage and passionate belief in his art. If You Only Knew tends to idealize its subject, soft-pedaling or sidestepping some of the problems detailed in Ritz’s book. (Buzzell, like Ritz, also chooses to ignore the fact that Scott’s voice has deteriorated to a quavering, short-breathed, off-pitch ruin—a ghostly shadow of the forceful instrument of the singer’s heyday.) But Scott’s gift for tear-jerking storytelling remains, and that’s sufficient to sustain his reputation as a living legend.

—Joel E. Siegel

At 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 25, and Tuesday, April 29, and at 9 p.m. Monday, April 28, at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge.

Swing

Kind of like a Buena Vista Social Club for kids, Swing disjointedly tells the story of Max (Oscar Copp), a 10-year-old boy who discovers Django Reinhardt’s style of manouche guitar one summer while he’s visiting his grandmother in Alsace. Trading a CD player to an androgynous-looking girl named Swing (Lou Rech) for his first guitar, Max is directed to a gypsy (Tchavolo Schmitt) for lessons. The plot, however, largely ends there—a love interest and a sudden death are poorly handled afterthoughts. The remainder of Swing is a weird mesh of party scenes and impromptu, overlong musical performances.

—Tricia Olszewski

At 6:45 p.m. Friday, April 25, at the Avalon Theatre and 7 p.m. Saturday, April 26, at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.

Bollywood/Hollywood

In an awkward but winning attempt to combine two deeply tradition-bound styles of filmic storytelling, director Deepa Mehta builds vibrant song-and-dance sequences into a romantic comedy about secret identities and changing cultures. Marriageable Rahul (Rahul Khanna) has distressed his rich family by taking up with a white pop star, the “Britney of Canada.” After the singer is killed in an accident, Rahul meets a mysterious beauty of obscure ethnic origin in a club. Vowing no strings and no romance, he hires Sue (Lisa Ray) to pretend to be the perfect East Indian girlfriend to make his overbearing mother and grandmother happy while the family tends to his sister’s wedding. Sue’s secret identity will come as no surprise to Eastern or Western moviegoers, and neither will the inevitable romance, split, and reconciliation. But Bollywood/Hollywood is a great deal of fun nonetheless. Mehta splashes around the sing-song, as it’s called in the film, giving even the Anglos a long number on a rooftop; throws in a cameo by a devastatingly handsome Bollywood hero; and introduces Bolly tropes with self-conscious titles. The film may be thin gruel for fans of East Indian extravaganzas, but it makes a far better introduction to these through-the-looking-glass spectaculars than Hollywood’s own The Guru.

—Arion Berger

At 8:45 p.m. Friday, April 25, and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 26, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.

Chico Hamilton: Dancing to a Different Drummer

Jazz percussionist Chico Hamilton attained national recognition in the ’50s, initially as the drummer with the groundbreaking pianoless Gerry Mulligan-Chet Baker Quartet and later as the leader of his own unorthodox quintet featuring cello, woodwinds, guitar, and bass. The success of Hamilton’s innovative (if somewhat bloodless) ensemble brought offers to score movies, notably Alexander Mackendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success (1957) and Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965). At a robust 81, Hamilton continues to front his own groups, but his visibility and reputation have declined in recent decades—an injustice that Julian Benedikt seeks to correct in his documentary Chico Hamilton: Dancing to a Different Drummer. Intelligent and eloquent, Hamilton asserts his conviction that, beginning with the human heartbeat, rhythm is mankind’s universal language. Extensive interview footage with the percussionist is enhanced by archival clips of his ’50s and ’60s performances (including his spellbindingly subtle mallet solo from Bert Stern’s 1959 Jazz on a Summer’s Day) and testimonies by Mulligan, Polanski, record producer George Avakian, Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, and Hamilton’s striking, long-suffering wife, Helen Hamilton. Originally edited and broadcast in 1994 as an hourlong European television documentary, Benedikt’s film is 25 minutes longer in this expanded director’s cut, which devotes too much time to recent club and concert performances by Euphoria, Hamilton’s current fusion band, but barely mentions Eric Dolphy, the ill-fated revolutionary horn player whom Hamilton championed. Odder still, the film contains no reference at all to Chico’s brother Bernie Hamilton, a prominent screen actor of the ’60s and ’70s. Despite such omissions, Benedikt’s admiring profile captures the essence of a provocative, passionate artist.

—JES

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 28, and Wednesday, April 30, and 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 29, at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge.

Sound of Brazil

The samba is often a snooze, tropicália is more interesting in theory than in practice, and Mika is the lesser Kaurismäki brother. So a tour of Brazilian music led by the Finnish director might seem easily skippable. But Sound of Brazil has more conviction and spirit than Kaurismäki’s fiction films, and it avoids the tastefully upscale precincts of Brazilian music in favor of rough, bustling areas that are much more compelling. Working his way from the poor but vital rural Northeast (whose forro resembles zydeco) to hyperurban Rio de Janeiro, the director emphasizes the Indian and African—as well as African-American—elements in Brazilian music: traditional Indian rituals, the Yoruba-Catholic hybrids of Candomble, a Rio drum-and-voice battery thumping James Brown’s “Sex Machine.” Although Margareth Menezes is glimpsed, few performers who are well-known outside Brazil are featured. Kaurismäki is interested not in star turns but in the fabric of musical and personal connections, which he (and editor Karen Harley) evoke by tightly interweaving scraps of performance and interview. “We are the joy of the city,” claims one Bahian song, and this propulsive documentary conveys that joy.

—Mark Jenkins

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 28, and 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 29, at Loews Cineplex Georgetown.

Mon-Rak Transistor

When Pan convinces pretty Sadaw to marry him, he seems the luckiest young man in their small Thai river town. But the prologue of this frequently scatological satire has already indicated that his luck will not hold: The film begins with Pan (Suppakorn Kitsuwan) on a jail toilet, being forced to excrete the stolen necklace he swallowed. Pan’s troubles start when he’s drafted and must leave his pregnant bride to embark on what turns out to be an odyssey of degradation. Deserting from the army to pursue his dream of becoming a singer, Pan has a brief taste of success, but he spends much of his time mopping floors and cutting sugar cane, and he eventually ends up in prison. Meanwhile, remarkably good-natured Sadaw (Siriyakorn Pukkavesa) understandably gives up on him; she turns to a handsome traveling salesman who peddles patent medicine to expel intestinal worms. With its many digs at Thai hypocrisy, Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s film may seem daring in its native land. To an outsider, however, Mon-Rak Transistor is only intermittently striking—and less for its social commentary than for the incongruous musical numbers featuring the songs of ’60s Thai C&W star Surapol Sombatcharoen.

—MJ

At 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 29, and 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 1, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.

Waves

The Mani Ratnam films previously shown at Filmfest—Bombay, The Duo, and From the Heart—audaciously injected political issues into the Bollywood musical. This 2000 movie, a return to the Tamil director’s native region and language, is simply a romantic melodrama: Headstrong Karthik (Madhavan), the son of a wealthy lawyer, glimpses Sakthi (Shalini), the daughter of a lower-middle-class railway worker, taking the train to medical school. She initially resists his advances, and when the two decide to marry, their fathers clash so bitterly that matrimony seems impossible. But the young lovers wed secretly—only to be so severely tested that Sakthi begins to wonder if God disapproves of their match. Structured as a series of flashbacks while an increasingly anxious Karthik awaits his missing spouse at the local train station, Waves follows a conventional route, but with such energy and style that it’s irresistible. Although hardly Ratnam’s most wide-ranging film, it does augment the central story with nicely staged comic moments, brilliantly hued song-and-dance numbers, and an eclectic score by A.R. Rahman, who began his career with Ratnam a decade ago and is now India’s top filmi composer.

—MJ

At 6:15 p.m. Wednesday, April 30, and 8:30 p.m. Thursday, May 1, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.

THE CHEATER’S GUIDE TO FILMFEST DC

If you renewed your Cahiers du Cinema sub last week, see…

If you get excited whenever you see the letters “M-I-R-A-M-A-X,” see…

If your idea of edge is Henry Fonda without glasses, see…

If the only Italian you know is “Asia Argento,” see…

Friday, April 25

Dracula: Pages From a Virginís Diary (At 9:15 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre.)

Blue Gate Crossing (At 9 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre.)

Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew (At 6:30 p.m. at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge.)

Warriors (Spanish peacekeepers become ass-kickers when situation normal gets all fucked up. Yeah! At 6:30 p.m. at the Greenberg Theatre.)

Saturday, April 26

Sisters (Both leads won the Best Actress award at the last Bratislava International Film Festival. But you already knew that. At 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.)

Bollywood/Hollywood (At 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.)

Together (A 13-year-old violin prodigy discovers what life, love, and music are all about. Awww. At 9 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Georgetown.)

Come Drink With Me (At 9 p.m. at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.)

Sunday, April 27

Sweet Sixteen (At 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Georgetown.)

Mondays in the Sun (At 8 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.)

Tanguy (A 28-year-old sues his parents for bed and board. Those crazy kids! At 3 p.m. at the Embassy of France.)

The Hard Word (Robbery, double-crossing, and Guy Pearce. Australian guns are bigger, right? At 8:45 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre.)

Monday, April 28

I’m Taraneh, 15 (At 6:30 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre.)

The Heart of Me (Three words: Helena Bonham Carter. Two more: England, 1934. At 9 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre.)

Chico Hamilton: Dancing to a Different Drummer (At 6:30 p.m. at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge.)

Loco Fever (A busful of Chilean prostitutes moves into an aphrodisiac-rich town. This is Filmfest, right? At 9:15 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre.)

Tuesday, April 29

Mondays in the Sun (At 8:45 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.)

A Trumpet in the Wadi (At 6:30 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre.)

Winged Migration (At 9 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre.)

1/2 the Rent (At 8:45 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre.)

Wednesday, April 30

A Beautiful Secret (A fictionalized biography of Mexican screen goddess Katy Jurado—remember how she almost got that Oscar for Broken Lance back in í54? At 8:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Georgetown.)

Amen. (At 8:45 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Georgetown.)

Yank Tanks (At 6:45 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Georgetown.)

Naked (At 9 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre.)

Thursday, May 1

Redes (Paul Strand behind the movie camera and a classic score by Silvestre Revueltas—played live. At 8 p.m. at George Washington Universityís Lisner Auditorium.)

Francesca and Nunziata (At 9 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.)

A Raisin in the Sun (Part of Filmfestís Cinema for Seniors series. íNuff said. At 10 a.m. at the Avalon Theatre. Free.)

Last Witness (A loose-cannon cop, a prison break, and a man with a dagger in his chest. Itíll do. At 8:30 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre)

Friday, May 2

11í09″01—September 11 (At 9 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre.)

Nothing More (At 6:30 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre.)

A Peck on the Cheek (An Indian couple adopts a 9-year-old Sri Lankan girl. And they sing about it. Awwwwww. At 9:30 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre.)

11’09″01—September 11 (At 9 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre.)

Saturday, May 3

The Sea (At 9 p.m. at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge.)

Jet Lag (At 9 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Georgetown.)

A Little Color (At 6:30 p.m. at the Greenberg Theatre.)

The Black Pirate (OK, itís a silent, but Douglas Fairbanks was the Mark Dacascos of 1926. At 3:30 p.m. at the National Gallery of Art.)

Sunday, May 4

The Secret Lives of Dentists (The ever-eccentric Alan Rudolph adapts The Age of Grief. What more could you want? At 4 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre. $15.)

The Secret Lives of Dentists (See above. Itís not that weird.)

The Secret Lives of Dentists (See above. On the other hand…)

The Secret Lives of Dentists (See above. Sorry, itís the only game in town.)