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The Washington City Paper’s guide to the 16th Annual Washington, DC International Film Festival
Screenings take place at
AMC Mazza Gallerie, 5300 Wisconsin Ave. NW
The American Film Institute, in the Kennedy Center
The District of Columbia Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St. NW
The Embassy of France, 4101 Reservoir Road NW
George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st St. NW
The Lincoln Theatre, 1215 U St. NW
Loews Cineplex Janus, 1660 Connecticut Ave. NW
Loews Cineplex Outer Circle, 4849 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Loews Cineplex Pentagon City, 1100 Hayes St., Arlington
Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue, 4000 Wisconsin Ave. NW
The National Gallery of Art, 4th and Constitution Avenue NW
The National Geographic Society, 1600 M St. NW
Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge, 1927 Florida Ave. NW
Admission is $8.50 unless otherwise noted. For more information, call (202) 628-3456.
For most of its 16 years, Filmfest DC has chosen a country or region as a special focus. This year it’s Asia, and the decision to highlight the films of that diverse continent—which provides 10 of the fest’s 65 features—is the principal reason why 2002’s edition of Filmfest is so much more interesting than last year’s.
Of course, the fest’s programmers have included the usual complement of unmagical-realist fables, soggy melodramas, and predictable romantic comedies that would never catch an art-film fan’s attention if they featured English-language dialogue and Chicago or L.A. locations. But the presence of such rigorous, distinctive films as China’s The Orphan of Anyang, Vietnam’s The Guava House, and Taiwan’s Millennium Mambo stiffens the lineup’s spine. And many of the fest’s most promising unpreviewed entries—including Jia Zhang-ke’s Platform, which the 2000 Village Voice critics’ poll hailed as the Best Undistributed Film of the past four years—are also Asian.
As always, there’s some speculation involved in evaluating Filmfest before the fact. Washington City Paper critics Arion Berger, Mark Jenkins, and Joel E. Siegel have seen only 38 of the features—all that were made available by Filmfest, plus a few seen in other circumstances. (Nearly all were previewed on video, a less than ideal way to evaluate any film, especially ones of visual opulence or subtlety.) Some of the fest’s most talked-about features, including Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner, I’m Going Home, and The Piano Teacher, as well as Platform, were not previewed.
In some cases, that’s because the films’ distributors have hopes for a commercial opening in D.C. Still, only a few of these films have set local opening dates: The Cat’s Meow (whose opening-night screening will have passed by the time you read this) and Baran are scheduled for May 3 and Thirteen Conversations About One Thing for June 7. The other films with U.S. commercial distribution are Ali Zaoua, The American Astronaut, Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner, The Bank, La Cienaga, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, Karmen Gei, The Last Kiss, Late Marriage, My Voyage to Italy, The Piano Teacher, The Tunnel, and Warm Water Under a Red Bridge.
There are many reasons why some of those films may never open here, and one of them is a problem that also had Filmfest’s organizers scrambling this year: the lack of available screens in Washington. With the closing of the Foundry adding to the predicament that began when the Tenley Theatres shut their doors two years ago, the festival was forced to move some of its screenings to the suburbs for the first time, enlisting Loews Cineplex Pentagon City to show films in languages that have never before been heard in that usually Hollywood-only venue. It remains to be seen whether several under-construction or stalled D.C. megaplex projects will ease the crisis next year.
Naturally, not all the films the City Paper’s critics liked come from Asia. In addition to such worthy revivals as Jacques Demy’s Lola and Bay of Angels, they recommend Baran, Graduating Peter, Hi Tereska, Karmen Gei, The King Is Dancing, Live Blood, The Miles Davis Story, Taxi for Three, and two films that previously showed in the American Film Institute’s European Union Film Showcase: Mortal Transfer and Under the Stars. At a time when local moviegoing options are shrinking, these films offer a brief look at a wider cinematic world.
The Miles Davis Story
Mike Dibb’s two-hour documentary chronicles the jazz giant’s artistic and personal lives. Davis fans will no doubt be familiar with the film’s summary of his career, but those who know little about the trumpeter’s music will welcome this crash course charting Davis’ evolution from fronting bop quintets, to lyrical orchestral collaborations with arranger Gil Evans, to the modal experiments of the classic Kind of Blue sessions, to the controversial street funk of his latter period. Dibb’s approach is authoritative but conventional, mixing performance footage with talking-head reminiscences by musicians—including trumpeter Clark Terry, drummers Jimmy Cobb and Jack DeJohnette, pianists Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, saxophonists Dave Liebman and Bill Evans, and bassists Dave Holland and Marcus Miller—as well as producers Bob Weinstock and George Avakian and Davis biographer Ian Carr. The film’s few revelations focus on Davis’ turbulent private life and are drawn from newly shot interviews with Irene Cawthon, Davis’ high school girlfriend and the mother of his first three children, and dancer Frances Taylor, his first wife, who offer some off-putting memories of the trumpeter’s infidelity, drug abuse, and misogyny. Some aspects of Davis’ history are casually glossed over, notably his marriages to soul singer Betty Davis and actress Cicely Tyson, his five-year retirement in the ’70s, and the unconfirmed but persistent rumors that AIDS hastened his 1991 demise. Although less than the complete Miles Davis story, Dibb’s documentary is a testament to the musician’s restless art as well as his persistent demons. —Joel E. Siegel
At 6:30 p.m. at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 24, at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge.
Under a Red Bridge
Japanese director Shohei Imamura’s film follows the unemployed Yosuke (Koji Yakusho) as he makes his way to the Noto Peninsula in search of a gold Buddha that’s been stashed away there by a shady friend. He is distracted from his mission when he meets and falls for Saeko (Misa Shimizu), a woman who spouts spring water when she orgasms. The film has a U.S. distributor.
At 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle. Also screens at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, April 21, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
The Waiting List
The Waiting List borrows its premise from Luis Bunuel’s 1962 masterpiece, The Exterminating Angel—a fact obliquely acknowledged early on by one of the movie’s minor characters. In Cuban filmmaker Juan Carlos Tabio’s screenplay, on which he collaborated with Senel Paz, several dozen travelers find themselves stranded in a remote bus terminal, unable to obtain transportation to Havana or Santiago. The marooned voyagers include a young engineer drawn to a betrothed beauty, a blind man who might be feigning his disability, and a quarreling middle-aged couple. Refusing to accept the excuses provided by the government-run transport system, the would-be passengers band together to repair a disabled bus and renovate the shabby depot. About halfway through The Waiting List, the narrative dissolves into a mosaic of fanciful vignettes, a device whose significance is explained by a “surprise” close-to-fadeout revelation. Colorful performances from the cast fail to compensate for Tabio’s reliance on this wheezy device—and for the excess of socialist uplift with which he chooses to cap this intermittently engrossing but cloying film. —Joel E. Siegel
At 6:45 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 23, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
After his father suffers a stroke, Lin Tung-Ching reluctantly takes over the family’s Taipei pawn shop. When he sustains a hand injury that erases his lifeline, Lin is amused by the idea of cheating fate, though his girlfriend, Eiko, worries that he may literally have no future. A suspicious customer may have the answer. This is the debut feature from Taiwanese director Hsiao Ya-chuan.
At 7 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
Prosper Merimee’s story about a femme fatale, the source of Georges Bizet’s 1875 opera, has spawned dozens of screen adaptations, including Otto Preminger’s all-black musical Carmen Jones, Carlos Saura’s ballet drama Carmen, Jean-Luc Godard’s philosophical gangster movie Prenom: Carmen, and Francesco Rosi’s lavishly produced 1984 version of Bizet’s opera. Senegalese director Joseph Gai Ramaka not only changes the spelling of his protagonist’s name but also transforms her from a troublemaking temptress into a bisexual freedom fighter. As incarnated by voluptuous, long-limbed Djeinaba Diop Gai, Karmen defies all forms of authority, beginning with Angelique (Stephanie Biddle), a prison warden whom she seduces to throbbing percussion and the cheers of her fellow inmates. A musical of sorts, Karmen Gei features a soundtrack that combines Senegalese chants with explosive passages by American free-jazz saxophonist David Murray. The politics of Ramaka’s screenplay aren’t much deeper than a collection of bumper stickers, and his transformation of Karmen from a gypsy trollop to a populist heroine is perverse. But his colorful, stylized staging of the film’s set pieces captures the eye and ear, even while the brain reels from the outlandishness of his reinvention of this classic tale. The film has a U.S. distributor.
—Joel E. Siegel
At 8:45 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 20, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade
After World War II, Hiroyuki Okiura’s Japan didn’t become a model of economic parity. Instead, the recovering country experienced extremes of wealth and poverty, leading to the rise of violent revolutionary movements and a brutal counter-reaction: paramilitary police, including one group that officially didn’t exist. That’s the Wolf Brigade of director Okiura’s animated feature, which uses an unusually realistic style—there are no saucer eyes here, even on the obligatory woman-child character—to convey the urgency of the situation. Yet Mamoru Oshii’s script doesn’t just trade in alternate-universe politics; it also draws on the early, brutal version of the Teutonic fairy tale that was eventually diluted into the relatively ungruesome “Little Red Riding Hood.” This tale’s little red riding hoods are revolutionary suicide bombers, one of whom protagonist Fuse pursues through Tokyo’s sewers. Rather than be captured, the woman blows herself up. Traumatized by the sight, Fuse is sent for retraining. He also meets the bomber’s lookalike, Kay, who says she’s the dead woman’s sister. Kay and Fuse begin a chaste sort-of romance, but their relationship could be just another strand in a web of deception and betrayal. Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade looks great, but its overelaborate plot is more wearying than intriguing. The film has a U.S. distributor. —Mark Jenkins
At 9 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle. Also screens at 10:45 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at the National Geographic Society.
Argentine director Adrian Caetano’s film follows Freddy, a young Bolivian who leaves his family to work as a cook in Argentina only to be met with resentment by his restaurant’s xenophobic clientele.
At 9 p.m. at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge. Also screens at 9 p.m. Saturday, April 20, at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge.
As an intern at a daily tabloid, Alfonso (Giovanni Ciccia) is assigned the gory crime-and-accident beat and finds himself horrified at both the seedy stories he must cover and the sleazy philosophies of his boss. This is the latest feature by Peruvian director Francisco J. Lombardi.
At 9:30 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre. Also screens at 9 p.m. Friday, April 26, at the National Geographic Society.
Filmfest DC for Kids: Without
Others, We Are Nothing Program 1
This program of shorts for ages 3 to 8 includes Brendan Gallagher’s Little G, Ed Konyha’s Something Fishy, Valerie Perkins’ Bibbily Bobbily Job, Diana Walczak and Jeff Kleiser’s Little Miss Spider, Lasse Persson’s Karla Rabbit on the Beach, Christina Schindler’s Otherwise, Cilia Sawadogo’s Christopher Changes His Name, Nils Skapans’ Spring, and Graham Ralph’s Second Star to the Left.
At 10:30 a.m. at the National Gallery of Art. Also screens Monday, April 22, to Saturday, April 27, at 10:30 a.m. at the National Gallery of Art. All screenings are free.
Filmfest DC for Kids: Without
Others, We Are Nothing Program 2
This program of shorts for ages 8 and older includes Danny Bergeron’s Fridge Magnets, Michael Sporn’s Yo! Yes?, Emilie DeLeuze’s Letter to Abou, Philippe Jullien’s Without Others, We Are Nothing, Elanna Nicole Allen’s Low Down Underground, Gene Lushtak’s No Problem, Richard Jack and Daniel Greaves’ Rockin’ & Rollin’, and Jennifer Ussi’s The Unique Oneness of Christian Savage.
At noon at the National Gallery of Art. Also screens at noon Monday, April 22, and Wednesday, April 24, and at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 23, at the National Gallery of Art. All screenings are free.
Swiss-American director William Wyler’s 1929 film is an action-comedy about an orphan who redeems the life of a boxer. This early silent by the director of The Best Years of Our Lives will be accompanied by a new piano-and-voice score composed by Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton.
At 3 p.m. at the National Gallery of Art (includes a live musical performance by Donald Sosin and Joanne Seaton). Free.
Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner
Based on an ancient Inuit legend and shot in digital video, director Zacharias Kunuk’s film is set in the Igloolik region of northern Canada. A shaman intervenes in a contest to choose a new tribal chief, supernaturally helping Oki beat the brothers who are the rightful heirs: Amaqjuaq, the Strong One, and Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner. Then Atanarjuat falls in love with Atuat, the woman who’s engaged to Oki, and wins the head-punching contest Oki proposes. Later, Oki and some cronies attack the brothers, but the Fast Runner lives up to his rep, escaping naked across melting ice floes to safety, where he plots his return. The film, cast mostly with Inuit nonprofessionals, has a U.S. distributor.
At 6 p.m. at the National Geographic Society.
A sexy, effervescent triptych of love affairs and their fallout, Possible Loves begins in a dream and ends in the hard reality of romantic choices. In the first sequence, Carlos, married to Maria (Beth Goulart), keeps dreaming about the night his first love, Julia, stood him up at the cinema. Next, Carlos, lover of Pedro (Emilio de Melo), tries to break through the bitterness his ex-wife, Julia, feels toward him for the sake of their young son. In the third panel, mama’s boy Carlos dreams of his perfect woman but spends his time indulging in shallow one-night stands and deep conversations with his elegant, playful, protective mother—until, that is, he meets Julia, chosen by a sort of New Age-techno dating service to be his soul mate. All three Carloses are played by the same actor (Murilo Benicio), as are the three Julias (Carolina Ferraz). The witty screenplay doesn’t delve much below the surface of their affairs, but it has a tropical breeziness to it and puts some very funny exchanges in the mouths of its appealing characters. Directed by Brazilian Sandra Werneck, Possible Loves loses some momentum as the Carloses chase after their respective Julias, but its sparkle returns as soon as things get complicated again. —Arion Berger
At 6:30 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre.
An earthquake shakes the small Italian town of Cacchiano in the prologue to this film, which spends the rest of its running time charting the aftershocks, both seismic and emotional. Dozens of characters are introduced, but writer-director Francesca Archibugi concentrates on three stories: The conflicts within the deputy mayor’s brood are amplified when the family moves into a camper van after its house is condemned; the friendship of two inseparable girlfriends survives the quake, but is then tested by puberty; and a British art restorer and his fertility-drugged wife bicker over the relative importance of their respective obsessions: a damaged Fra Angelico fresco in the local church and her ovulation. The film also
mocks the responses of the outside world, from the costumed newscaster representing Octopus TV
to the company that sends a complimentary shipment of 1,500 Barbie dolls—about 1,450 more than the number of girls in the village. The vignettes are interesting, but they don’t add up to much. It should be noted, however, that the film will surely be more compelling on a big screen than it was on video, which rendered Luca Bigazzi’s chiaroscuro cinematography merely obscure. —Mark Jenkins
At 6:30 p.m. at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge. Also screens at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, April 21, at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge.
I’m Going Home
Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira’s film follows actor Gilbert Valence (Michel Piccoli) as he tries to put his professional and personal lives back together following his wife’s death in a car wreck.
John Malkovich plays the director who casts Gilbert as Buck Mulligan in a cinematic version of Joyce’s Ulysses.
At 7 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, April 21, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
While working at a men’s shelter in downtown Zurich, deaf Antonia meets and falls in love with Mikas, a Lithuanian pickpocket who also is deaf. The new relationship causes the former foundling to question her commitment to the order that raised her, and Antonia soon departs to study at Washington’s Gallaudet University. This feature by Swiss director Christoph Schaub stars onetime Gallaudet student Emmanuelle Laborit, author of The Cry of the Gull.
At 9 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 22, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
Van Van: Let’s Party!
According to Los Van Van founder Juan Formell, there are two tricks to making music that will have a wide appeal: writing songs in which listeners recognize their own lives, and appealing to the dancers. “If they’re not dancing, you’re in trouble,” he declares. This 30-year-old Cuban big band faces no trouble in that regard, although its apolitical party music sometimes manages to bump into controversy. Formell admits to having listened to the banned-in-Cuba Beatles, and one Los Van Van tune was ostracized from Cuban airwaves for sanctioning God. On this side of the strait, the group’s 1999 appearance at the Miami Arena brought anti-Castro demonstrators to a boil, and footage of rioting Floridians gives Liliana Mazure and Aaron Vega’s easygoing documentary a helpful jolt. Percolating salsa beat aside, Los Van Van’s endorsement of eclecticism, inclusiveness, and good times is a little flat. When Formell says the band doesn’t want to cause any trouble, he’s eminently believable. As if to prove his case, the film ends with Los Van Van winning that certificate of inoffensiveness known as a Grammy.
At 9 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre (includes a concert by Sin Miedo following the screening). Also screens at 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, April 23, at Loews Cineplex Janus.
Director Robert Connolly’s debut feature follows two stories that eventually intertwine: that of an Australian bank CEO (Anthony LaPaglia) who hires a software designer (David Wenham) to create a program that will predict stock-market fluctuations and that of a middle-class couple who sue the bank as part of a class-action lawsuit that could threaten the economic stability of the entire country. The film has a U.S. distributor.
At 9:30 p.m. at the National Geographic Society. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 24, at Loews Cineplex Pentagon City.
In this feature by American director Finn Taylor, a lonely computer animator (Robin Tunney) attempts to find love on a date with a co-worker (Jason Priestley) but is instead accosted by a stranger and then accidentally runs over a policeman. As she tries to outwit her stalker, she finds solace in her favorite radio program, which provides the film’s ’70s-soft-rock soundtrack.
At 9:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
In Indian director Satyajit Ray’s biggest box-office success, a hot-tempered truck driver with a passion for American cars falls in love with an opium runner.
At 5 p.m. at the National Gallery of Art. Free.
Chinese director Jia Zhang-ke’s film follows a state-owned dance troupe that is privatized during the cultural shift of the early ’80s. The group sets out to make money by taking disco and breakdancing to rural towns and villages.
At 5 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle. Also screens at 6 p.m. Monday, April 22, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
Hollywood is unlikely ever to make a domestic comedy about Lebanese immigrants in Sweden, but the cultural context is the only nonformulaic aspect of writer-director Josef Fares’ romantic farce. Lebanese-born park custodian Roro (Fares Fares) and his Swedish girlfriend, Lisa (Tuva Novotny), are happy together; the only matter of dispute is Roro’s refusal to introduce Lisa to his family. Meanwhile, Roro’s co-worker and best friend, Mans (Torkel Petersson), has been cursed with the low-comedy part of the scenario: He’s become impotent, which leads to tension with his girlfriend and several futile trips to the local sex-toy shop. Then Roro agrees to pose as the fiance of fellow Lebanese emigre Yasmin (Laleh Pourkarim), whose high-strung brother will return her to the old country if she doesn’t marry soon. Of course, Yasmin’s family tries to stampede the phony couple to the altar—the movie’s title means “hurry! hurry!” in Arabic—which naturally upsets Lisa but provides an entirely predictable opportunity for Mans. Co-produced by Lukas Moodysson (Show Me Love), this was a Swedish box-office hit. Importing sappy, shallow romantic comedies into the United States, however, is like shipping reggae to Jamaica. —Mark Jenkins
At 5:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Pentagon City. Also screens at 9:30 p.m. Monday, April 22, at Loews Cineplex Pentagon City.
A Hell of a Day
French director Marion Vernoux’s film follows a group of contemporary Parisians (including Venus Beauty Institute’s Helene Fillieres, With a Friend Like Harry’s Sergi Lopez, and pop chanteuse Jane Birkin) as they struggle to get by.
At 6 p.m. at the Embassy of France. $25 (includes a cognac cocktail reception following the screening). Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 22, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
Take Care of My Cat
A year after she and her four friends graduate from an Inchon girls high school, Hae-joo is growing apart from her old pals. The only one of the gang to have moved from the rough-edged port city to relatively glamorous Seoul, Hae-joo (Yu-won Lee) has taken a job at a brokerage. Meanwhile, aspiring textile designer Ji-young (Ji-young Ok) is unemployed, and Tae-hee (Du-na Bae) works at her father’s downscale bathhouse for free. (The other two women, twin sisters Binyu and Ohnjo, are less central to the story.) At Hae-joo’s 20th birthday party, Ji-young presents the honoree with Titi, a kitten she found in an alley. Over the course of the story, Titi passes back to Ji-young and then on to Tae-hee and eventually to Binyu and Ohnjo, a furry symbol of the shifting links between the five characters. Director Jae-eun Jeong’s loose, naturalistic, and ultimately moving dramedy empathizes with the two women with the largest dreams and smallest means, but gradually reveals the pressures on Hae-joo, who’s not as unsympathetic as she seems at first. The film boasts fine performances, a strong sense of place, and a visually striking approach to the words—from poetry to their frequent mobile-phone text messages—that shape the women’s lives. —Mark Jenkins
At 6 and 8:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Janus.
Between Two Worlds
Documentarians should know better than to let their subjects narrate their own life stories, but if the filmmaker can’t resist, then it helps to have a ruthless editor on hand. Case in point: Director Mark Kidel’s biography of sitar legend Ravi Shankar meanders like a raga—but without the sense of purpose or interior structure. Shankar speaks vividly of his life, his music, and his relationships, in a long and elaborate story illustrated by the director with lingering scenes of everyday life in India. The film is beautifully shot—India is hard to uglify—but creeps from magnificent sunset to gathering on the Ganges to fascinating early footage of Shankar with little rhyme or reason, making this interesting man’s life less than compelling. The subject’s own stories drive the narrative: his discussion of the vivacity of Hinduism in modern Indian culture, his family’s colorful history, his love of theater and stagecraft (he was once a dancer), his magisterial first teacher, and his childhood travels to Europe. Shankar had been taken up by the West and by the musical avant-garde long before George Harrison got to him, and his pre-celebrity musical ambassadorship is an engaging study in midcentury cultural swapping—even if the rest of the film is a bit disconcerting.
At 6:15 p.m. at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 22, at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge.
Like his fellow contemporary Iranian directors, Majid Majidi makes semi-documentary films about everyday people and frequently enlists such people to play the principal roles. Yet Majidi also has a taste for old-fashioned genre conventions; his films tend to shift from naturalism to melodrama by their final reels. Baran ends on a quieter note than such predecessors as The Children of Heaven, but it, too, has elements of a genre flick—it’s sort of a West-Asian-adolescent Hepburn-Tracy romance, minus the happy ending. Iranian teenager Latif (Hossein Abedini) prepares food for construction workers at a building site of dubious safety and legality; his boss, Memar (Mohammad Amir Naji), employs many Afghan refugees, who must hide every time government inspectors visit. After being injured in a fall from the structure, one Afghan sends his son Rahmat (Zahra Bahrani) to work in his place. Because Rahmat is young and slight, Memar soon gives the boy Latif’s job, forcing the latter to take more strenuous tasks. Bitterly resentful, Latif tries to sabotage Rahmat, but he soon learns the boy’s secret: He’s a she. Suddenly, Latif is smitten, and his attempts to learn more about Rahmat (who’s really named Baran) allows Majidi to depict the life of Afghan refugees in Iran. Of course, the situation in Afghanistan has changed since this film was made. Still, its depiction of Islamic gender rules and roles remains compelling. The film is scheduled to open in D.C. this spring. —Mark Jenkins
At 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 23, at AMC Mazza Gallerie (includes a CineCafe discussion at Borders Books and Music, 5333 Wisconsin Ave. NW, following the screening).
In this debut feature by Israeli director Dover Koshashvili, Yasha (Moni Moshonov) and Lily (Lili Koshashvili) fret that their 31-year-old son, Zaza (Lior Louie Ashkenazi), has not yet found a wife. So the Tel Aviv traditionalists introduce their son to various suitable women, while he pursues a doctorate in philosophy and hides his affair with Judith (Ronit Elkabetz), a divorcee with a 6-year-old daughter. The film has a U.S. distributor.
At 6:30 p.m. at the National Geographic Society. Also screens at 8:30 p.m. Monday, April 22, at the National Geographic Society.
German Director Roland Suso Richter’s film tells the true story of Hasso Herschel, an East German swimming champion who made
one of the earliest and most spectacular escapes from Berlin Wall-
era East Berlin. The film has a U.S. distributor.
At 7:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Pentagon City. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 22, at Loews Cineplex Pentagon City.
The first film in years from director Jean-Jacques Beineix is a comically kinky reminder of the French enthusiasm for Hitchcock. Laconic psychotherapist Michel (Jean-Hugues Anglade) can’t help falling asleep while his seductive patient Olga (Va Savoir’s Helene De Fougerolles) recounts tales of her kleptomania and S&M relationship with her criminal husband, Max. After one session, Michel wakes to discover Olga dead, and he fears that he killed her while in a dream state. His attempts to hide the body, depicted in impeccably timed slapstick set pieces, complicate Michel’s new romance with high-strung artist Helen, as well as his relationships with his own shrink, a homeless pyromaniac, an old friend who happens to be a cop, a techno DJ with a taste for necrophilia, and Max, who shows up looking not for Olga but for the 7 million francs he says she took from his safe. Visually elegant and sexually explicit, this blackhearted widescreen romp is a bit like The Trouble With Harry relocated to the realm of Gallic Freudianism. It’s Beineix’s most cogent work since 1986’s Betty Blue and his wittiest since his debut, 1981’s Diva.
At 8:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
During a summer beach vacation, Kate (Sarah Peirse), an alcoholic mother of two, slips into an affair with Cady (Marton Csokas), another materfamilias. Kate’s teenage daughter, Janey (Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki), discovers the liaison and, spurred by curiosity and jealousy, competes with her mother for Cady’s affections. This debut feature by New Zealander Christine Jeffs won three acting prizes at
the 2001 New Zealand Film and TV Awards.
At 8:45 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
Anita Takes a Chance
Upon returning to Barcelona from a vacation urged by her cowardly boss, Anita (Rosa Maria Sarda) finds that the neighborhood movie house where she’s worked for 34 years has been torn down. A lonely 50-year-old widow who used selling movie tickets as a substitute for the stardom she craved as a child, Anita is bereft. She’s drawn to the cinema’s former site, where she’s soon adopted by the crew building a new megaplex. Anita is particularly fascinated by Antonio (Jose Coronado), a hunky heavy-machinery operator, and it turns out that he returns her interest. Soon, Anita has replaced celluloid voyeurism with a flesh-and-blood romance, albeit one that isn’t quite so perfect as the onscreen amours of Greta Garbo and Vivien Leigh, which Anita has committed to memory. Yes, this is another stroll down the aisle of Cinema Paradiso, where big-screen dreams collide ironically with small-life realities. Director and co-writer Ventura Pons tries to enliven his routine tale with cinematic references, an Annie Hall-ish lampoon of pretentious art-film regulars, and an animated sequence, yet this celebration of the magic of cinema remains resolutely unenchanting. —Mark Jenkins
At 9 p.m. at the National Geographic Society. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 22, at the National Geographic Society.
The King Is Dancing
Belgian director Gerard Corbiau follows up his international hit Farinelli with another steam-heated melange of history, music, and sexuality. The King Is Dancing depicts the tempestuous relationship between Louis XIV of France (Benoit Magimel) and Italian-born composer-choreographer Jean-Baptiste Lully (Boris Terral). In an attempt to endear himself to the public, the young Sun King becomes a ballet dancer, trained, accompanied, and costumed by Lully. The screenplay, on which Corbiau collaborated with three writers, blends fact and fiction, focusing on Lully’s obsessive, unrequited infatuation with his monarch. At times, The King Is Dancing approaches the luridness of Ken Russell’s notorious biopics, but the film is superbly acted (including an affecting turn by Tcheky Karyo as Moliere), lavishly staged and costumed, and filled with beautifully executed music and dance.
Overwrought but consistently entertaining, this homoerotic period musical stands out from the general run of somber Filmfest fare.
—Joel E. Siegel
At 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Janus. Also screens at 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday, April 23, at Loews Cineplex Janus.
It’s appropriate that Jan Dara’s first childhood memory is of a couple screwing in bed next to him. Coming of age in an upscale family compound in ’20s Bangkok, Jan (Suwinit Panjamawat) is surrounded by sex: His widowed father has installed a couple of “aunts” to amuse himself, the servants have plenty of time for trysts (with each other and their employers), and even Jan soon joins in the fun. For reasons that will eventually be explained, Jan’s father has always hated him, but the boy finds plenty of people, mostly women, who are interested in comforting him. Based on Utsana Pleungtham’s once-scandalous semiautobiographical novel The Story of Jan Dara, this is also an account of a writer’s developing consciousness; one of the aunts offers Jan access to her library as well as her boudoir. Director Nonzee Nimibutr gives his tale of bourgeois decadence and tangled bloodlines a shadowy, appropriately humid atmosphere, but in condensing the novel to a series of (mostly erotic) incidents, he runs the risk of reducing it to farce. As the story is told here, Jan’s ultimately unhappy fate seems arbitrary. And you can’t help but notice that much of the narrative would evaporate if only the characters remembered to lock the doors to their bedrooms and bathrooms. —Mark Jenkins
At 8:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
Living lives carved out of the unforgiving stones and baked by the relentless sun, the inhabitants of an unnamed town in southern Italy are hardhearted and hotheaded, loud and confrontational, fearless, raucous, and doomed. A produce seller by day, middle-aged Zimba (Pino Zimba) skirts the law—and sometimes bumps into it—smuggling contraband cigarettes and carrying out favors for the local crime boss to provide for his widowed mother, ex-wife, and two children. He also plays tambourine on and off in a local folk band, which harbors hopes of being heard by a “big record producer” but half the time is driven offstage by the boredom of young audiences craving more up-to-date sounds. Zimba’s younger brother Donato (Lamberto Probo) sinks deeper into the thug life, getting high and pulling various trifling but brutish crimes. As the brothers head toward a tragic confrontation, the characters interact with such reflexive aggression that the film’s sense of entanglement—lives bound up, families eternally united, deals and vengeances cementing relationships, even physical space virtually public property—is both stifling and exhilarating. The narrative takes time to show all its colors and connections, but the tapestry director Edoardo Winspeare finally weaves is rich and troubling. —Arion Berger
At 9 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Janus.
David Turnley photographed and directed this black-and-white documentary about a working-class dance hall on the outskirts of Havana. The open-air Salon Rosado Benny Moore, popularly known as La Tropical, is the proving ground for emerging Cuban dance trends and musical groups, including the Grammy-winning Los Van Van. Turnley intercuts footage shot at La Tropical with profiles of the establishment’s staff, performers, and patrons, touching on Cuban race and class issues. La Tropical would have made an interesting half-hour documentary, but its subject is too slight to carry the film’s 96 minutes. The music and dancing lack sufficient variety to sustain the coverage that the filmmaker devotes to them, and the social commentary fails to offer penetrating insights into the thorny problems it raises. Sympathetic but superficial, Turnley’s movie is more effective as a promotional film for La Tropical than as a study of Cuban popular culture.
—Joel E. Siegel
At 9 p.m. at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 23, at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge.
The mid-’70s arrival of television to a remote village in southeastern Turkey stirs up its denizens in this ensemble comedy, co-directed by Omer Faruk Sorak and screenwriter Yilmaz Erdogan. The beleaguered mayor promises townspeople that this newfangled “radio with pictures” will connect them to the outside world, owners of the local open-air cinema fear that they will be forced out of business, and the village’s slow-witted, much-maligned radio repairman struggles vainly to figure out how the contraption works. Far from a Turkish delight, this broadly acted, heavy-handed movie, stuffed with far more condescendingly drawn characters than it can comfortably contain, dithers along, making smug, obvious points about hinterland resistance to progress. A box-office sensation in its homeland, Vizontele lacks sufficient energy and wit to appeal to international audiences.
—Joel E. Siegel
At 9 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue. Also screens at 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 23, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
Letter to America
Ivan (Philip Avramov) lives a peaceful life in the hills of Bulgaria until he learns that his best friend, who lives in America, has been involved in a serious car accident and is now in a coma. Ivan decides to send his friend a video containing a song the friends learned as children, which is believed capable of resurrecting the dead. Unfortunately, Ivan doesn’t remember all of the words and must travel to a remote village to visit his grandmother, the song’s author. This is the newest feature from Bulgarian director Iglika Triffonova.
At 9:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle. Also screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 23, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
The Guava House
For a man whose mental development ended at 13, when he suffered a head injury, Hoa (Bui Bai Binh) seems to have a satisfactory life. He has steady work as an artist’s model and a sister who looks after him. But Hoa has one disruptive obsession: the guava tree his father planted at their old house, back when Hoa’s family was part of Hanoi’s aristocracy. Now the ruling class is the Communist Party, and Hoa’s childhood home, confiscated during the war, belongs to a party official. At first, Hoa’s interest in the tree frightens Loan (Pham Thu Thuy), the beautiful college student who has the house to herself while her father is on assignment in the south. Loan soon realizes, however, that Hoa is harmless. She allows him to move into the house he considers home and to take care of the tree. But when Loan’s father returns, he vetoes his daughter’s kindness, with calamitous results. Though hardly as sentimental as most Hollywood movies featuring mentally challenged protagonists, writer-director Dang Nhat Minh’s melodrama seems a little pat. Still, the film effectively conjures everyday life in Hanoi, and it’s noteworthy as a rare example of dissent from contemporary Vietnam.
At 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle. Also screens at 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 24, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
The title character of this Casablanca-set film is a preteen street kid who finally achieves some dignity. The cruel irony is that Ali’s status improves only after he dies, struck down by a rock aimed at his head by a member of the gang Ali and three friends have recently quit. After the boy’s death, his friends try to bury him but are hindered by lack of funds, harassment by their former cohorts, and the fact that they are not considered “good Muslims.” The boys aren’t sure if they can trust the only two adults who cared about Ali: a boat captain with whom Ali shared his dream of becoming a sailor and the dead child’s mother, a hooker from whom Ali ran away in embarrassment. Shot on some of Casablanca’s meaner streets and featuring nonprofessional actors, Nabil Ayouch’s film is often bleak, but it would be better if it were bleaker. To depict Ali’s fantasy world, Ayouch uses brief animated sequences, sappy music, and rays of sunlight that suggest a Renaissance painting of the Annunciation, conveying a sense of an enchanted alternate universe somewhere between a 10-year-old’s imagination and heaven. Far more moving—and complex—are the childish attempts of Ali’s three survivors to deal with adult burdens. The film has a U.S. distributor.
At 9 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 24, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
Peter Gwazdauskas was one of the first developmentally disabled children educated in the Montgomery County, Va., school system after a law passed allowing mainstreaming. Graduating Peter follows him from sixth grade to graduation, and Washington-based director Gerardine Wurzburg shows admirable restraint in refusing to editorialize this painful trajectory. All sorts of facets of a well-meaning system are in place to help nudge along Peter’s development—understanding teachers, yeoman grade aides, accommodating fellow students, medication, psychotherapy, “functioning academics,” job internships, and life-skills programs—but his disability, a severe case of Down syndrome that leaves him a virtual 2-year-old, taxes even these resources. As Peter shuffles one step forward and two steps back, he is propelled by the fierce ambition of his mother, a calm, smiling, sensible-looking woman who insists that, at the end of all this exquisitely velvet-gloved mainstreaming, her boy will be able to hold down a “normal” job. She may be right, but the process is horrifically difficult, as the overage-and-growing child’s impulsiveness and aggression threaten other students who have become de facto caretakers in the classroom and job after job devolves into an extensive baby-sitting session for Peter’s patient trainers. Unflinching and powerful, Graduating Peter is hardly your typical uplifting documentary.
At 9 p.m. at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge.
Code Unknown: Incomplete
Tales of Several Journeys
In this film by German-born director Michael Haneke (The Seventh Continent, Funny Games, The Piano Teacher), a random encounter on a busy Paris street corner causes several lives to intersect, including those of an actress, a war photographer, an African teacher, and an illegal Romanian immigrant.
At 9:15 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle. Also screens at 9 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
Filmfest DC for Kids:
Help! I’m a Fish
In this animated feature by directors Stefan Fjeldmark and Michael Hegner, friends Fly, Stella, and Chuck have been magically turned into fish and must find an antidote before time runs out.
At 1:30 p.m. at the National Gallery of Art. Also screens at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, April 25, and at noon Friday, April 26, and Saturday, April 27, at the National Gallery of Art (director Michael Hegner will answer questions following the last two screenings). All screenings are free.
In writer-director Yamina Benguigui’s semiautobiographical culture-clash soap opera, Zouina, an Algerian woman, voyages to a provincial French town, where she’s reunited with her laborer husband, who has been living abroad for a decade. After bidding a wrenching dockside farewell to her mother, she arrives with her three children and gorgon mother-in-law to find herself trapped with an indifferent, abusive mate in a society whose customs she does not comprehend. Although repressed by her husband, his domineering mother, and their xenophobic neighbors, Zouina is encouraged by several liberated female acquaintances to taste the freedoms enjoyed by women in her new homeland. Well-meaning but cartoonishly melodramatic, Inch’Allah Sunday is something of an antique, a didactic, first-generation feminist tear-jerker made palatable mostly by Fejria Deliba’s committed performance as Benguigui’s downtrodden heroine. But her efforts are undermined by a crudely manipulative screenplay that fails to convincingly motivate this cloistered Muslim housewife’s sudden thirst for independence.
—Joel E. Siegel
At 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue. Also screens at 9 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
You Really Got Me
There are no heroes in director Pal Sletaune’s Norway, only different varieties of losers. Like his previous Filmfest entry, Junk Mail, You Really Got Me introduces some desperate people, both to the viewer and to each other. Jan (Robert Skjaerstad), who lives with his domineering father, has just lost his girlfriend, Helle (Andrine Saether), and is about to lose his business, a fast-food carryout with no visible customers. Meanwhile, Bent (Trond Hovik) plays drums for Anal Scream, a metal band fronted by the domineering Iver Mo (Philip Zanden), and fears he’s losing his girlfriend, Grete (Berit Boman), to Iver. Bent’s solution is to hire some thugs to kidnap his nemesis, but when the kidnappers crash their car on their way to collecting the ransom, the bound-and-gagged Iver is left without supervision in a remote shed. That’s where the incompetently suicidal Jan happens on him and begins to hatch a plan: He’ll collect the ransom and use the money to save his carryout. This plot doesn’t end exactly as Jan planned, but it does reunite him with Helle. Sletaune’s grim farce has all the elements of farce except amiability, but it may amuse viewers who—like the director—prefer the Kinks and Teenage Fanclub to Viking metal. —Mark Jenkins
At 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Janus. Also screens at 9:15 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at Loews Cineplex Janus.
The Orphan of Anyang
The discreet opening credits note that this film was adapted from a book by writer-director Wang Chao, but it sure doesn’t play like a based-on-a-novel flick. Chao’s tale of an unromantic triangle is rendered in industrial browns and grays and a deadpan minimalist style, suggesting Bresson transplanted to industrial China. Dagang, who’s just been laid off from a factory that hasn’t paid its workers in months, scrapes together a few yuan for a meal at an open-air noodle bar. There he discovers a baby and a note, promising 200 yuan a month to anyone who will care for the child. Dagang takes the deal and goes to meet the mother, a prostitute named Yanli. Dagang sets up a sidewalk repair shop where he can watch the baby as he works—and also becomes friendly with Yanli. There’s one complication: The local gangster who could be the baby’s father has just learned that he’s dying, and he may decide to claim the child as his heir. The scenario has great potential for heart-warming, but sentiment—and nearly everything else—is kept to a minimum. There’s no music, no artificial light, no big emotional payoff. Instead, the film’s considerable power derives from its austere imagery and economic visual storytelling.
At 6:45 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle. Also screens at 6:45 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
The Man in the Glass Booth
New York industrialist Arthur Goldman (Maximilian Schell) lives in luxury in a Manhattan high-rise until Israeli secret agents arrest him for crimes he committed as a Nazi war criminal. Director Arthur Hiller’s film exposes Goldman’s guilt as well as that of his accusers.
At 7 p.m. at the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center (includes a discussion between director Arthur Hiller and local filmmaker Aviva Kempner).
The Last Kiss
Italian writer-director Gabriele Muccino’s feature follows four couples as they explore the rewards and obstacles of commitment. The film has a U.S. distributor.
At 8:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Pentagon City. Also screens at 9 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at Loews Cineplex Pentagon City.
Participating in a round-the-world solo boat race, Philippe (Patrick Pineau) finishes last, two months after his anticipated return. Although reunited with his adoring girlfriend, Lucie (Julie Depardieu), and their young son, Vincent (Thibault Patell), remote, distracted Philippe appears to have undergone a sea change. He takes Vincent to see his boat and then, unexpectedly, sends him back to Lucie alone on a train and subsequently disappears. When his vessel is discovered intact with no sign of its owner, Philippe is assumed dead. Authorities and friends vainly attempt to convince Lucie to accept the apparent fate of her missing lover, but she refuses. Inquiries lead her to suspect that he might have escaped to Madagascar, so she dispatches skeptical insurance adjuster Guy-Auguste (Guy-Auguste Boleat) to investigate her theory. Director Marie de Laubier coaxes thoughtful performances from her cast and creates some striking images, notably the spectacular opening footage of Philippe’s boat at sea. But the screenplay, on which she worked with two collaborators, slogs from one predictable scene to the next—a failing underlined by the filmmaker’s torpid pacing. Thematically similar to Francois Ozon’s vastly superior Under the Sand, Veloma is not a poor film, but it is an unmemorable, self-consciously profound effort unlikely to enjoy much exposure beyond the festival circuit.
—Joel E. Siegel
At 8:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Janus. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at Loews Cineplex Janus.
Nuts for Love
Two young Argentines—leftist college student Alicia (Malena Solda) and clueless high-schooler Marcelo (Nicholas Pauls)—have a brief fling and then keep meeting by accident over the course of 25 years in this dramedy, which could have been titled Same Time, Next Junta. The action is keyed to important events in the history of young Argentina, beginning with the farewell concert of rock band Sui Generis and including the Falklands War, the pardoning of the country’s tyrannical former leaders, and other events too serious to be credibly invoked by such a frivolous tale. Alicia has a daughter by a man who is then “disappeared,” and she flees to Spain; Marcelo marries, becomes an accountant, and has two boys. The two lovers don’t have ideology or experience in common, yet they’re profoundly linked, as you can tell because—well, because director and co-writer Alberto Lecchi keeps bringing them together. Solda and Pauls give appealing performances (especially the former), but their characters are contrivances whose vicissitudes are neither satisfying nor convincing. —Mark Jenkins
At 9 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
The Piano Teacher
Director Michael Haneke’s film follows Erika (Isabelle Huppert), a lonely piano teacher who lives a rigid and unhappy life with her mother. When a young student attempts to seduce her, she accepts his advances with one qualification: He must fulfill a list of her desires. The film has a U.S. distributor.
At 9 p.m. at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge.
Robert Glinski’s bitter account of the corruption of an adolescent Polish girl combines the compassion of Robert Bresson’s Mouchette with the exploitative sordidness of Larry Clark’s Kids. Raised in a dehumanizing high-rise, 15-year-old Tereska, the spawn of an alcoholic father and an exasperated mother, enjoys the apparent good fortune of admission to a school where she hopes to study fashion design. But the institution turns out to be more like a sweatshop reformatory, where Tereska is befriended and manipulated by Renata (Karolina Sobczak), a cynical, streetwise classmate. Toughened by smoking, drinking, and a date-rape defloration, Tereska exerts her newly found power over Edek (Zbigniew Zamachowski), a slavering, wheelchair-bound pedophile whose ardor she awakens, burning his numb legs with cigarettes and pummeling him with a club. Photographed in wintery grays, Hi Tereska is relentlessly grim, and, at times, Jacek Wyszomirski’s screenplay seems morbidly contrived. But Aleksandra Gietner, whom Glinski plucked from a reform school to play the title role, gives an achingly persuasive performance, descending from the sweet-faced first-communion celebrant of the opening reel to the hard-eyed teen dominatrix of the unsettling climax. —Joel E. Siegel
At 9:15 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle. Also screens at 9:15 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
Violet Perfume (Nobody Hears You)
Mexican director Marysa Sistach’s film follows Yessica (Ximena Ayala), a young girl whose poor mother marries a loutish man with a similarly mannered son. After the boy rapes Yessica, she turns to her pal Miriam (Nancy Gutierrez) for support—and is subsequently forbidden to see her only friend.
At 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Pentagon City. Also screens at 6 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at the National Geographic Society.
Horns and Halos
In 1999, writer J.H. Hatfield, whose previous books included cut-and-paste fan biographies of Ewan McGregor and Patrick Stewart, made a brief stir with Fortunate Son, a life of George W. Bush that contained allegations about the future president’s early ’70s drug use. Capitulating to legal threats from the Bush family and stunned by the disclosure that Hatfield had served a five-year prison term for his involvement in a failed attempt to murder a former employer, St. Martin’s Press quickly withdrew the book. The rights were subsequently purchased by Sander Hicks, the punkish founder of Soft Skull Press, initiating another round of litigation. Documentary filmmakers Suki Hawley and Mike Galinsky chronicle Hicks’ and Hatfield’s tortured struggles to distribute and market Fortunate Son, but this potentially juicy subject is diminished by the failings of its protagonists. A sequence shot at a booksellers’ convention press conference, at which the pressured author spuriously claims that one of his sources was Bush adviser Karl Rove, undermines his credibility, and the film offers no other substantiation of Hatfield’s assertions. With his sweaty skin, bad teeth, and worse grammar, Hatfield seems less like a crusading journalist than a seedy film-noir fall guy. Unctuous, self-dramatizing Hicks makes an even poorer impression, especially onstage at a music club, where he spews a cliched fuck-the-system rant. Although it’s not uninteresting to watch as publisher and author slowly sink into defeat and doom, one increasingly wonders whether this real-life tale merits recounting, especially at feature length. Horns and Halos tends to engender unlikely sympathy for Bush, who appears to have been the target of an opportunistic muckraker, and requires us to lavish more attention on a talentless writer and a smartass publisher than either deserves. —Joel E. Siegel
At 9 p.m. at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 26, at the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center (includes a CineCafe discussion with filmmakers Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky and publisher Sander Hicks following the screening).
Cinema for Seniors:
The Green Pastures
American director Marc Connelly’s 1936 film links a series of Bible stories with classic spirituals sung by the Hall Johnson Choir.
At 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the American Film Institute. Free.
The arresting, deftly edited opening sequence of Lucrecia Martel’s feature-length directorial debut announces the arrival of an estimable filmmaker. Thunder ominously rumbles above La Mandragora, a decaying summer house in northwestern Argentina. Middle-aged alcoholic Mecha (Graciela Borges), her narcissistic husband (Martin Adjemian), and their friends get potted around a murky, unkempt swimming pool. In the surrounding hills, their sons slaughter animals, and, in the damp, run-down house, their daughter Momi (Sofia Bertolotto) mourns the imminent departure of her only friend, the abused housemaid Isabel (Andrea Lopez). The hot, torpid afternoon is shattered when Mecha keels over, lacerating her chest on a broken wine glass, and her oblivious companions can barely rouse themselves to take her to receive medical care. Martel’s detailed, obliquely framed compositions and expressive soundtrack—tinkling ice cubes, patio chairs scraping on concrete—create a Chekhovian atmosphere of bourgeois stasis. Nothing in the remainder of La Cienaga equals its masterful beginning, but the subsequent scenes, which involve Tali (Mercedes Moran), Mecha’s less affluent cousin, and her more sympathetic family, penetratingly delineate upper-middle-class Argentine decadence. Tales of voracious African rats hint at terrors to come, while television reports citing visions of the Virgin Mary offer a dim hope of redemption. Martel’s realistic style insidiously lures us into the darkest regions of the psyche, creating a horror movie in which the monsters are all too recognizably human. The film has a U.S. distributor. —Joel E. Siegel
At 6:30 p.m. at the American Film Institute. Also screens at 9 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at the American Film Institute.
Taxi for Three
Taxi driver Ulises (Alejandro Trejo) is a moral man with normal human weaknesses who likes a flurry at the track when money’s tight. Greater temptation arrives in the unlikely form of two lowlife hoodlums, a snarling veteran who talks like a gravel-throated Speedy Gonzales and his mouth-breathing protege, who hijack Ulises’ cab to pull off a series of muggings and robberies with the appalled hostage at the wheel. Chilean director Orlando Lubbert’s zippy, cleverly scripted film sends Ulises, true to his name, on a discomfiting interior journey through the convolutions of his own morality. The robbers want to give him a cut of every take for which he plays getaway driver, and the money starts to look less soiled after the cabbie begins to exchange knowledge with the feckless thieves. Soon, the heady mix of good fortune and bad choices has Ulises on a dizzying spiral—the cops are after him, as is a beautiful sandwich-shop owner, and money is flowing into his household faster than he can make double payments on his taxi. Taxi for Three is entertaining, very well-acted, and never self-righteous, a dispassionate but pointed look at slippery ethics in a world of crushing poverty. —Arion Berger
At 6:30 p.m. at the National Geographic Society. Also screens at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at the National Geographic Society.
Director Nan T. Achnas’ film follows the changing relationship between an Indonesian mother (Christine Hakim) and daughter (Dian Sastrowardoyo) as they struggle to make ends meet and outwit a murderer who terrorizes their village.
At 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle. Also screens at 5 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
Under the Stars
Twenty-five years after losing his mother, father, and home village in the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, bitter Greek Cypriot Lukas (Akis Sakellariou) hires sexy smuggler Phoebe (Myrto Alikaki) to take him across the Green Line to see the remains of his former life. Although they have similar backgrounds, Phoebe and Lukas couldn’t be more different; open-minded and opportunistic Phoebe makes friends easily on both sides of the frontier, whereas Lukas can barely restrain himself from attacking every Turk he sees. (A few Turks react the same way to him.) The film neatly sketches the everyday concerns that link the two populations: When some Turks are excited to find that Lukas has a Greek coin, he thinks his cover is blown; it turns out that they just want to be able to play an old pinball machine that takes only Greek money. Christos Georgiou’s film mixes Third World naturalism and magical realism in a way that Filmfest DC regulars will find entirely familiar, but fortunately it goes easy on the magic. Although the enchanted final epiphany is fairly awful, most of the movie is sharp and fresh. —Mark Jenkins
At 7 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle. Also screens at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
The Ballad of Bering Strait
Local filmmaker Nina Gilden Seavey’s behind-the-music parable follows an aspiring country septet with a gimmick: It’s from Russia. First introduced to traditional bluegrass picking and fiddling by their Moscow classical-guitar teacher, Natasha, Ilya, Lydia, Sergei, and the rest of Bering Strait relocate to Nashville just in time for the late-’90s country-music crash and subsequent major-label cutbacks. So they bide their time, feeling homesick and frustrated as they drive their manager into bankruptcy. Nonetheless, the documentary ends with a moment of triumph, a gig at Wolf Trap opening for Trisha Yearwood. The young musicians are talented and personable, and their family histories are compelling, but the film would have been more interesting if it had taken a skeptical view of Bering Strait’s careerism. The band members never explain why they abandoned bluegrass for pleasant but bland country-pop-rock, or why they preferred to wait for a record contract instead of simply going out and playing. The Ballad of Bering Strait suffers from a number of unasked questions, and here’s mine: What would have happened if Bering Strait had met Steve Albini instead of a bunch of Nashville sharpies? —Mark Jenkins
At 7:30 p.m. at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium (includes a concert by Bering Strait after the screening).
Without overlooking the indignities of domestic service, Brazilian filmmakers Fernando Meirelles and Nando Olival’s Maids manages to be more upbeat than such explorations of servitude as Jean Genet’s The Maids and Claude Chabrol’s La Ceremonie. An adaptation of Renata Melo’s play Domesticas, Maids focuses on the largely comic experiences of five Sao Paolo housekeepers, alternating workplace frustrations with glimpses of their off-duty quests for romance and independence. Employing techniques evolved from their experience in commercials, Meirelles and Olival structure their film as a cine-collage, interweaving snippets from the hardscrabble lives of their indefatigable heroines. Although often amusing and empathetic, Maids is excessively fragmented and disappointingly superficial in its determination to sweeten the darker, Marxist implications of its theme. —Joel E. Siegel
At 9 p.m. at the American Film Institute. Also screens at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at the American Film Institute.
At first, Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien’s latest tale of stalwart women and trifling men seems the antithesis of its highly formal period-flick predecessor, The Flowers of Shanghai. Beautifully shot with handheld camera by Mark Lee, the movie is loose and impressionistic, with hot, smeary, artificial colors and lots of close-ups (which Hou usually avoids). As the film unfolds, both the long takes and the story come to echo Shanghai, the director’s account of colonial-era courtesans and their patrons. Vicky (Shu Qi, who co-starred with Jackie Chan in the aptly named Gorgeous) is a sometime bar hostess entwined in a futile relationship with pathologically jealous no-hoper Hao-hao (Tuan Chun-hao). She occasionally takes refuge with Jack (Hou regular Jack Kao), a benevolent gangster, and once joins two half-Japanese brothers on a trip to snowy Hokkaido. Narrated by Vicky 10 years later, Millennium Mambo is a period flick in reverse, and it has a sense of loss that recalls Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (much of which was also shot by Lee). This relatively short film—cut since its 2001 Cannes debut—may not be one of Hou’s major works, but it’s a fascinating one nonetheless. —Mark Jenkins
At 9 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
About One Thing
Irony wields a sledgehammer in this Amerindie feature, yet another film about the intertwined fates and overlapping lives of apparently unconnected people. These New York-based characters are either appropriately gloomy or headed for a deserved comedown. A bitter, divorced insurance investigator (Alan Arkin) takes revenge on life by firing the cheeriest member of his crew. A cocky assistant prosecutor (Matthew McConaughey) commits a crime and then is haunted by his deed. A freelance housekeeper who believes she’s blessed (Clea DuVall) loses hope after becoming the victim of a random assault. A methodical physics professor (John Turturro) disrupts his routine by having an affair with a colleague (onetime Fassbinder star Barbara Sukowa), only to lose his wife (Amy Irving). Inspired by her own serious mugging a decade ago, director Jill Sprecher (who co-scripted Thirteen Conversations About One Thing with her sister Karen Sprecher) set out to explore the effects of strangers’ offhand or random acts. The movie’s structure and dialogue are so studied, however, that happenstance seems to have nothing to do with it. Thirteen Conversations would make its point more persuasively if it relied more on characterization and less on contrivance. The film has a U.S. distributor. —Mark Jenkins
At 9 p.m. at the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center. Also screens at 7:15 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
The American Astronaut
Bay area rock musician and performance artist Cory McAbee wrote, directed, and stars in this futuristic comedy, drawing on Guy Maddin’s willfully primitive features, Ed Wood’s jerry-built Plan 9 From Outer Space, and W.D. Richter’s shaggy-dog The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. The plot, if it can be called that, involves an intergalactic space cowboy (played by McAbee) who transports contraband from one planet to another while attempting to evade his evil nemesis, Professor Heiss (Rocco Sisto). Shot in smudgy black-and-white to resemble a fifth-generation photographic dupe and employing neolithic special effects, The American Astronaut generates much of its humor from the contrast between the state-of-the-art computer graphics of contemporary Hollywood sci-fi movies and McAbee’s bargain-basement production values. Viewed at midnight in a chemically altered state with a voluble audience, this scamped silliness, with its deadpan performances and whimsical musical numbers, might seem amusing. But it’s out of place in a film festival, where its self-consciously arcane private jokes and agonizingly slack tempo provide more punishment than pleasure. The film has a U.S. distributor.
—Joel E. Siegel
At 9:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle. Also screens at 9 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
My Voyage to Italy
A follow-up to the director’s 1995 film Personal Journey Through American Movies, Martin Scorsese’s My Voyage to Italy takes viewers on a tour of modern Italian cinema through clips from more than 30 movies. The film has a U.S. distributor.
At 1:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Outer Circle.
American moviegoers didn’t catch up with French New Wave writer-director Jacques Demy until his third feature, 1964’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Filmfest DC fills in the gap with screenings of Demy’s first film, Lola (1961), along with his second, Bay of Angels (1963) (both recently restored by his widow, director Agnes Varda). Lola is Demy’s masterpiece, a widescreen fairy tale shimmeringly photographed in black and white by the New Wave’s wizard cinematographer, Raoul Coutard. Employing a circular structure reminiscent of Max Ophuls, to whom Lola is dedicated, Demy’s screenplay focuses on a collection of interrelated characters awakening to the magic of first love or attempting to survive romantic disillusionment. Darkly beguiling Anouk Aimee plays the title role, a dance-hall entertainer steadfastly sustaining the illusion that her sailor lover, Michel (Jacques Harder), who seven years earlier abandoned her, will return. Lola has a casual affair with Frankie (Alan Scott), a young American sailor, who in turn encounters starry-eyed Cecile (Annie Duperoux) at a carnival—who, at 14, is the same age Lola was when she met Michel in the same setting. Lola sparkles with allusions to the movies Demy loved: the title character echoes Marlene Dietrich’s Lola-Lola from The Blue Angel and Ophuls’ Lola Montes; Frankie and his shipmates are descendants of the affable, amorous sailors that Gene Kelly played in wartime MGM musicals; Frankie and Cecile’s slow-motion sequence on a carnival ride pays homage to the rebellious schoolboys’ pageant in Jean Vigo’s Zero for Conduct. But moviegoers need not recognize these references to surrender to the lyrical charm of this bittersweet fable, in which a series of seemingly chance encounters reveal that Demy’s moonstruck and melancholy lovers share a life whose joys and sorrows are repeated, with only slight variation, from generation to generation. One of Louis Malle’s models for the creation of his own seaside romance, Atlantic City, Lola has grown even more enchanting with the passage of time. —Joel E. Siegel
At 3 p.m. at the National Gallery of Art. Free.
Short Cuts 1
This year’s shorts weren’t chosen around a single theme, but certain thematic threads seem to weave through the films nonetheless. They are for the most part very short, there are a number of wordless or near-wordless entries, and the battle of the sexes is a strong recurring motif; as usual, their quality varies widely. Benita Raphan and Clayton Hemmert’s 2+2 is an impressionistic retelling of the story of John Nash, the mathematician/mental patient at the center of A Beautiful Mind. As loosely linked images swirl, a monotonous voice-over goes over the salient facts of Nash’s life. 2+2 is pretty, pretentious, and pointless, less informative than the slick, factoid-ridden feature. Nehoc Davis’ Orphan Street does no justice to the wonderful horror short story on which it’s based, Graham Greene’s “A Little Place Off the Edgware Road,” creating neither drama nor tension as a man realizes to whom he’s just been rather aggressively chatting. Danny Goldfield’s beautifully paced, framed, and photographed Apology to Josh Fleischman is just that, a graceful little wordless confession about a boyhood transgression. Amateurishly acted and shakily photographed, La Americanita lingers with either prurience or vanity over the modellike beauty of its young protagonist, Miami teen Marisol, as she pouts, slouches, and sasses her family as they await the arrival of a cousin from Cuba. Clinton: The Musical, is not about Bill Clinton per se, nor is it a musical, but it is hilarious and absurdist, a tale of tenuous connections linked by a cup of coffee Clinton ordered in a Norwegian cafe narrated with deadpan pomp. In N.G. Bristow’s Hide…, a man emerges from—or is called from—a shower to find himself in a surreal naturalist fantasy. It’s silly, disturbing, and very, very funny. Rachel Tillotson’s sharp, charming Fuel finds four older women running out of gas just as they pull into the Garage of Swarthy Dreamboats. The point is anyone’s guess, but ridiculous, sensuous vehicle-soaping is involved, and the kicker is delicious. Maurice A. Dwyer’s Whoa is a creepily lighthearted treatment of a horrible assault; it’s very professionally done—and kind of unpleasant. Last and very much least, Erica Lutzker’s Orbiting Pluto follows three sub-sub-sub Sex and the City ditzes as they try to hook up the lead ditz (another model with lousy diction and no acting skills) with the man of her dreary, sexist-fantasy dreams. —Arion Berger
At 3 p.m. at the American Film
Short Cuts 2
A dog walks into a bar. No, really, that’s how Myung-ha Lee’s Existence begins. This computer-animated tear-jerker looks at a brief exchange of confidences between a doggy and a kitty on adjoining bar stools, accompanied by touching Charlie Brown-like piano music composed and played by director Lee. David Greenspan’s Bean Cake, set in a Tokyo school in 1933, looks back to discover that children haven’t changed much; we watch in sumptuous black and white as newly transferred country boy Uchido loses the BMOC vote but gets the girl. Shot in a palette of cool blues, warm golds, and hopeless, faded greens, Rene Castillo’s Down to the Bone matches SirmuMs’ urban poetry to a series of images that never quite form a narrative but do draw a clear picture of the dreadlocked protagonist’s heart and mind. A Touch of Coffee and One-Eyed Jacques are a couple of comedic gems about marriage, food, and mistrust. In Coffee, everything goes pear-shaped for the everyman at the story’s center—a sort of Dutch Jack Lemmon—when his wife decides to switch to a new, um, coffee. And in Jacques, we watch the title character’s dinner out with his wife from the point of view of his glass eye, which gets splashed with pasta sauce and enjoys an attention-attracting adventure. But the real must-see here is Guy Maddin’s Heart of the World. The Manitoba oddball whose von Sternberg obsession runs as deep as his Douglas Sirk obsession—and whose talent rivals either’s—was commissioned, along with nine other Canadian directors, to come up with a short in honor of film itself for the 2000 Toronto Film Festival. In his earnest, lovely, ludicrous silent homage to the sturdiness of the art form, state scientist Anna has discovered that the world’s heart is about to give out if we don’t resurrect it with “KINO,” as the title cards read. Throw in brothers feuding for her affections, a gloss on silent-era melodrama, affectionate treatment of stock characters, and commedia dell’arte emotions, and you have one beautiful, bizarre piece of cinema. —Arion Berger
At 5 p.m. at the American Film Institute.
Bay of Angels
Although not as inventive or as complexly structured as 1961’s Lola, Jacques Demy’s feature debut, the writer-director’s second film is an alluring romance, sparked by one of Jeanne Moreau’s signature performances. Moreau, who partially funded the movie, stars as Jackie, an edgy, compulsive gambler who has sacrificed her husband and child for her obsession with roulette. Clad in an all-white Pierre Cardin wardrobe and crowned with a platinum wig, Moreau’s flamboyant Jackie draws on the looks and mannerisms of legendary screen goddesses, including Marilyn Monroe’s disheveled voluptuousness and Bette Davis’ pop-eyed volatility. In a casino, Jackie meets a young bank clerk (Claude Mann), a novice at gambling. Initially, they bring each other luck, winning enough money for a luxurious Riviera fling. But when he falls for her and, like her husband, asks her to renounce the capricious thrills of the casino, she angrily refuses. Demy ends Bay of Angels with a hauntingly ambiguous tracking shot, implying that love is, ultimately, the riskiest of all gambles. With his gifted collaborators, cinematographer Jean Rabier and composer Michel Legrand, Demy creates a swirling, sun-struck Nice, as inviting as Lola’s Nantes (the filmmaker’s boyhood home) and the seaside settings of his subsequent musicals, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort. —Joel E. Siegel
At 4 p.m. at the National Gallery
of Art. Free.
This digital-video feature from director Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas, The Loss of Sexual Innocence) follows several interlacing plot lines among the cast and crew of a movie being made in and around Venice’s Grand Hotel Hungaria Palace.
At 4 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre (includes a closing-night party at 2:K:9, 2009 8th St. NW). $20. CP