In Washington, April is the kindest month, with cherry blossoms on the Mall, daffodils in Rock Creek Park, and, for movie buffs, Filmfest DC at a handful of Northwest venues. 2001 marks the 15th anniversary of this annual event, an occasion for celebration and rededication.
Once again, Filmfest director Tony Gittens and his staff have programmed two weeks packed with screenings and special events, including personal appearances by filmmakers and free programs for children and seniors.
Washington City Paper reviewers Sean Daly, Mark Jenkins, Joel E. Siegel, and Tom Wiener had the opportunity to preview 39 of Filmfest 2001’s programs. Their recommendations include Claire Denis’ Beau Travail (France), Maryam Shahriar’s Daughters of the Sun (Iran), Jiang Wen’s Devils on the Doorstep (China), Rajiv Menon’s I Have Found It (India), Oskar Röhler’s No Place to Go (Germany), and Otto Alexander Jahrreiss’ Zoom (Germany).
This year, the festival departs from its tradition of surveying recent productions from a
particular nation to offer a retrospective of five films by Argentinian writer-director Eliseo Subiela. Filmfest’s brochure regards Subiela as a “poet of the cinema,” but, although our
reviewers were impressed by his command of cinematic technique, they found his themes to be derivative and prosaic.
Since its inception, Filmfest’s announced mission has been to concentrate on Washington premieres, but this year’s schedule betrays an uncharacteristic laxness in the selection process. At least six features have already been screened as part of other area festivals and institutional film series, and five additional attractions, billed as anniversary-marking “Timeframes,” have been recycled from previous seasons. It’s disappointing to find Filmfest, which in the past has kept its eyes focused on the present, lazily looking over its shoulder.
The time and space consumed by these resurrected offerings might better have been devoted to showcasing challenging new American productions. On principle, Gittens rightly chooses to exclude Hollywood movies that are assured of theatrical release, but this year’s festival does not contain a single domestic independent dramatic feature. Talented American filmmakers working outside the studio system deserve the honor of having their work exhibited alongside the films of their foreign colleagues. And the inclusion of more home-grown productions might attract moviegoers who regard the festival’s programming as forbiddingly esoteric.
Perhaps next April, Filmfest DC will come closer to realizing its potential as a cinematic celebration worthy of this most international of cities.
Screenings take place at the American Film Institute’s National Film Theater, at the Kennedy Center; the Embassy of France’s La Maison Française, 4101 Reservoir Road NW; the Lincoln Theatre, 1215 U St. NW; the Loews Cineplex Foundry, 1055 Thomas Jefferson St. NW; the Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue, 4000 Wisconsin Ave. NW; the National Gallery of Art’s East Building Auditorium, 4th & Constitution Avenue NW; the National Geographic Society’s Grosvenor Auditorium, 1600 M St. NW; the Tenley Theatres, 4200 Wisconsin Ave. NW; and Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge, 1927 Florida Ave. NW. Admission is $8 unless otherwise noted.
Devils on the Doorstep
In a small village in Japanese-
occupied China, peasant Dasan (director Jiang Wen) is assigned a perilous task. An unseen Chinese resistance fighter arrives with two prisoners, Japanese soldier Hanaya and Chinese collaborator Dong, and tells Dasan to hold and interrogate them. The resistance man says that he’ll return in a few days, but he never does, leaving the confused, war-wary villagers with the burden of deciding what to do with the prisoners. Over time, Hanaya loses his imperial attitude and becomes grateful to the townsfolk; ultimately captives and captors together devise a plan to ransom Hanaya and Dong for grain. They choose a bad time to turn up at the local Japanese army fortress, however. The commander has just learned that Hirohito has surrendered, and he’s in the mood for one last violation of the Chinese “mongrels.” Like Zhang Yimou’s Red Sorghum, in which Jiang played the male lead, this 162-minute film is mostly comically earthy, but with an undercurrent of dire premonition that’s ultimately fulfilled. Jiang’s masterly second feature makes not one but two shattering transformations; the final one, in which black and white finally yields to color, shows that circumstances can make anyone a devil.
At 6:30 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres.
Downtime is a small-scale, surprisingly effective Irish attempt to replicate a big-budget Hollywood action picture. Its structural template is Speed: a tense, extended central sequence sandwiched between two suspenseful shorter episodes. Like its prototype, director Bharat Nallur’s thriller is wildly implausible but undeniably gripping. The film opens with suicidal Chrissy (Susan Lynch), a single mother, about to leap with her young son, Jake, from an upper floor of a run-down Liverpool high-rise housing project. She’s saved by ex-cop Rob (Paul McGann), an asthmatic crisis-management specialist mourning the death of his child and the collapse of his marriage. Rob later returns to look after Chrissy and Jake in the nearly deserted building, where the handful of remaining tenants are terrorized by the nastiest band of disaffected teenagers this side of A Clockwork Orange. The three soon find themselves trapped with an epileptic old man in a stalled car in a blazing elevator shaft. Nallur devotes an hour to their efforts to escape, then proceeds to a climactic confrontation in the hospital where they are taken following their rescue. Although stuffed with outrageous narrative contrivances, Downtime offers an exciting series of perilous physical feats and pulse-pounding cliffhanger chills. And its depressive characters and setting provide a more substantial emotional context than its escapist American counterpart’s. Nallur and his expressive cast let us know that they are slumming by playing the hospital denouement for laughs—a tacit admission that they regard Downtime as an elaborate joke, a live-action, feature-length Road Runner cartoon. Nallur deserves a project worthier of his talents, but this over-the-top guilty pleasure marks him as a filmmaker to be reckoned with. —Joel E. Siegel
At 6:30 p.m. at the Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens at 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, and at 9 p.m.
Saturday, April 28, at the Loews Cineplex Foundry.
Writer-director Baltasar Kormákur’s very dry, consistently engaging comedy lampoons both the Icelandic temperament and Iceland’s cinema. Post-adolescent protagonist Hlynur (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) lives with his mother (Hanna Maria Karlsdóttir) in 101 Reykjavik, the city’s central zone, which he prefers not to leave. When not sleeping, Hlynur drinks with his friends, smokes dope with his mom, and screws his sometime girlfriend, Hofi. Then bisexual Spanish flamenco instructor Lola (Almodóvar regular Victoria Abril) moves in. Alone together and very drunk on New Year’s Eve, Hlynur and Lola have riotous, apartment-wrecking sex. Soon Hlynur learns that Lola is pregnant. And that his mother and Lola are in love. And that the two women plan on raising the baby together. Oh, and Hofi is pregnant, too. It’s enough to drive a sardonic Icelandic layabout to extremes: Hlynur considers suicide, or perhaps even getting a job. Blur’s Damon Albarn and ex-Sugarcube Einar Orn wrote the score, which includes a series of wispy, bouncy, and hammering variations on the Kinks’ “Lola.”—Mark Jenkins
At 6:45 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres. Also screens at 9 p.m., Saturday, April 21, at the Tenley Theatres.
Billy Jack goes to Islamabad in this messy but entertaining Wild-East Western—with some song-and-dance numbers, of course—about political corruption in Pakistan. The title character (Imraan Peerzada) is a noble outlaw whose father was assassinated for reasons that aren’t entirely clear; he’s a crack shot and moral exemplar, as both an adult and a youth (when he’s played by Babar Peerzada, son of director Salmaan Peerzada). The hero’s principal nemesis is Malik Khan (Jamil Malik), a corrupt businessman who dabbles in opium and slavery when not overseeing his trucking company or running for political office. Zar Gul begins his assault on Khan’s empire by killing some of his employees—all of them convicted criminals who should be behind bars, as is soon learned by a sympathetic journalist and a rare uncompromised police superintendent. “Tell them what I’m doing and why I’m doing it,” Zar Gul declares, but the latter part of his message is hard to pin down. There may be parallels between these characters and actual figures in recent Pakistani history, but for the outsider, Zar Gul is simply a rollicking epic, complete with philosophical musings, chaste love (for schoolteacher Yasmin), and plenty of shootouts.—Mark Jenkins
At 7 p.m. at the Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 22, and Wednesday, April 25, at the Loews Cineplex Foundry. Director Salmaan Peerzada and actor Imraan Peerzada will attend the screenings.
The Marcorelle Affair
Middle-aged François Marcorelle (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is a successful, respected French government prosecutor. He’s also a cinephile with a troubled conscience. In The Marcorelle Affair’s opening scene, he’s groped in a movie theater by a beautiful woman (Irène Jacob), who then inexplicably slumps dead into his lap. This turns out to be the first of the film’s several fantasy sequences, a symbolic projection of François’ sexual and ethical conflicts. A former Marxist, he’s begun questioning his job of incarcerating and deporting alleged gangsters. While his family is vacationing, he’s picked up by a waitress (Jacob again) who invites him to her apartment, where he’s attacked by, and apparently kills, a brutish stranger—her father or, perhaps, her husband or pimp. Increasingly, François believes that both the government and the underworld are exploiting him, a fear symbolized by interpolated clips of Lon Chaney’s unmasking in The Phantom of the Opera. Despite a potentially intriguing screenplay by writer-director Serge Le Péron, The Marcorelle Affair crumbles under the weight of its pretentiousness and implausibility. Why has it taken so many years for François to reappraise his role as a government enforcer? And why has Le Péron allowed Léaud to give such a cold, alienating performance in a role that demands the creation of empathy? Who could have guessed that François Truffaut’s endearing teenage alter ego in The Four Hundred Blows would grow up to be a hatchet-faced, arrogant stiff crowned with a helmet of dyed-black hair? —Joel E. Siegel
At 7 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres.
An Algerian-born Marseilles teenager rebels against her parents’ culture in this coming-of-
At 7:30 p.m. at the Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens at 9 p.m. Saturday, April 21, at the Loews Cineplex Foundry.
Set in 17th-century Africa, this Ivory Coast drama is named for a tyrant who captures his fellow Africans for European slave traders. The film has a U.S. distributor.
At 8:30 p.m. at the Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 21, at the Loews Cineplex Foundry.
Lynne Ramsay’s first feature is a widely acclaimed account of childhood in a rat-infested Glasgow council flat. It opened in New York last year.
At 9 p.m. at the Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens at 9:15 p.m. Saturday, April 21, at the Loews Cineplex Foundry.
Bread and Roses
British social-dramedy director Ken (My Name Is Joe) Loach transplants his usual concerns to Los Angeles in this tale of a union organizer and a Latina illegal immigrant. The film has a U.S. distributor.
At 9 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres. Also screens at 9:30 p.m. Monday, April 23, at the Tenley Theatres.
The Luzhin Defence
Vladimir Nabokov’s conviction that literature is ultimately about language is one reason so few of the great prose stylist’s novels and stories have been adapted for the screen. Another is that the relative lowbrows who make most movies are ill-equipped to deal with the intelligence, complexity, and sophistication of the writer’s works. Director Marleen Gorris’ stylish version of Nabokov’s novel The Defense contains some striking images and thoughtful performances, but those familiar with the book will scoff at John Turturro’s over-the-top turn as Alexander Luzhin, an eccentric chess master, and the absurd redemptive coda that screenwriter Peter Berry has tacked onto Nabokov’s uncompromisingly tragic ending. Set in the late ’20s during an international chess competition at a luxurious Italian lakeside resort, the film depicts Luzhin’s budding relationship with Natalia (Emily Watson), a young, aristocratic émigrée. Despite her mother’s attempts to marry her off to a handsome French count, Natalia is drawn to the scruffy, unworldly Luzhin, whose chances of winning the tournament are jeopardized by the unexpected introduction of romantic passion into his hitherto solitary existence. Although hardly the blinding beauty Nabokov imagined, Watson’s Natalia is thoughtful and appealing, and the film’s evocation of ’20s Italy has been handsomely realized. But Turturro is ruinously miscast—he resembles a snaggletoothed Ichabod Crane and mutters in an unidentifiable accent—and Berry’s inanely comforting ending will surely set Nabokov spinning in his grave.
—Joel E. Siegel
At 9:15 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres.
Don’t Die Without Telling Me Where You’re Going
Although intended to bolster Eliseo Subiela’s reputation as an unjustly neglected auteur, Filmfest’s retrospective of the Argentinian writer-director’s work has a counterproductive effect. Don’t Die Without Telling Me Where You’re Going, Subiela’s insufferably cloying follow-up to The Dark Side of the Heart, lacks even that overblown film’s eccentricity and visual panache. Subiela’s screenplay focuses on Leopoldo (whey-faced Darío Grandinetti) a theater projectionist who invents a device that captures dreams on videotape. In the process, he conjures up the spirit of Rachel (Mariana Arias), his wife from a previous life, during which he invented motion pictures in Thomas Edison’s laboratory. Leopoldo’s resurrected love for Rachel, whom he alone can see, understandably upsets his present spouse and alarms his friends. Recalling the inspirational metaphysics of Somewhere in Time, What Dreams May Come, and other sappy potboilers, Subiela’s dialogue reads like an assemblage of portentous fortune cookie inserts: “To live well is to love,” “The mind does nothing but create an abyss that only the heart can cross,” “Everything is possible—it’s only a question of doing.” Viewers gullible enough to endure 130 minutes of this rubbish, which Filmfest’s breathless blurb inexplicably deems “vital and timeless,” deserve a free season pass to next year’s event. —Joel E. Siegel
At 9:45 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, at the Tenley Theatres, followed by a CineCafe at 9 p.m. at Chipotle, 4301 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
Filmfest DC for Kids:
Around the World and
Out of This World
This program includes animated shorts by Alice de Champfleury, John Dilworth, Co Hoederman, Heikki Prepula, Michael Sporn, and others.
At 10:30 a.m. at the National Gallery of Art. Also screens at 10:30 a.m. Monday, April 23, through Saturday, April 28, at the National Gallery of Art. All screenings are free.
Filmfest DC for Kids: World Music for Freedom
This program of shorts features Teis Dyekjaer-Hansen’s Sunday in the Park, Iain Gardner’s Akbar’s Cheetah, and Eric Simonson’s Oscar-nominated On Tiptoe: Gentle Steps to Freedom, a 40-minute documentary about South African singing group Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
At noon at the National Gallery of Art. Also screens at noon Tuesday, April 24, Thursday, April 26, and Saturday, April 28, at the National Gallery of Art. All screenings are free.
The Alloy Orchestra composed and performs the score for this screening of the 1922 German expressionist vampire classic. Preceded by Jane Gillooly’s “quasi-silent” short Dragonflies, the Baby Cries, also scored by the Alloy Orchestra.
At 4 p.m. at the National Gallery of Art. Free.
Wake Up, Love
Ricardo (Juan Leyrado), who sometimes calls himself “Elvis,” decides to organize a reunion of the friends who hung out in his Buenos Aires neighborhood 25 years ago. He first finds Ernesto (Darío Grandinetti), a journalist who used to be a poet and aspiring revolutionary; the latter is astonished (and aroused) to learn that Ricardo married Ernesto’s teenage love, Ana (Soledad Silveyro). Their reacquaintance is a cue for both Ernesto and Ana to re-examine their lives, but also for writer-director Eliseo Subiela to deploy the most hackneyed of coming-of-age flashbacks: a teenage boy tries to drug a girl by putting aspirin in her Coke, another boy is embarrassed to ask for condoms in a pharmacy, and young lovers are distracted by a TV broadcast of Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk, all scored to the likes of the real Elvis and the Beach Boys. These Argentinian Graffiti moments aside, Subiela muses on poetry, the nature of God, and his country’s recent political history. Reawakened, Ana conquers her agoraphobia and Ernesto begins an affair with beautiful, magical Cuban cellist/muse Vera. In another movie, the scene in which Vera plays in a dark room, surrounded by candles, would be unbearably “poetic.” Here, anything that’s not a stale adolescent memory comes as a relief. —Mark Jenkins
At 5:30 p.m. at the National Geographic Society. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 27, at the National Geographic Society.
In the Shadows
of the City
Rami (Rami Bayram) is 12 in 1975, when the Israelis start bombing southern Lebanon and his family flees to Beirut. A bad idea, and they’re soon trapped in the city. Rami shifts from cafe busboy to—12 years later—ambulance driver and then militia fighter, searching for his kidnapped father and dreaming of Yasmine, the girl who used to live next door before her family fled to the other side of the Green Line. Writer-director Jean Khalil Chamoun is a documentary filmmaker who used actual wartime footage—bleached to black-and-white, save for fires and explosions—to ground this fictional film in stark reality. But his characterization of Rami doesn’t seem real at all. From his boyish confrontation with a brutish guerrilla leader to his adult refusal to countenance kidnapping, Rami is a moral exemplar in a world where his scruples don’t make much sense. (The director’s refusal to identify his characters as either Christian or Muslim seems equally high-minded—and equally pointless.) Chamoun’s movie has been compared to West Beirut, but that film is both more morally complex and more believable. —Mark Jenkins
At 6:30 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, April 22, at the Tenley Theatres. Director Jean Khalil Chamoun and actor Majdi Mashmoushi will attend the screenings.
Run for Money
In an Istanbul where everyone seems to talk of nothing but money, men’s clothing store owner Selim (Taner Bisel) is frugal and upright. Then one day he finds $500,000 in U.S. currency in a cab, and everything changes. As he converts the money to Turkish lira—at first $100 at a time but then in increasingly large amounts—his burgeoning spending power is offset by his shriveling soul. Although he enjoys pleasing his long-deprived wife and daughter with presents, Selim is wracked by both guilt and fear: He worries that someone will discover his cash or that the person who lost it will reappear. Reha Erdem’s film is well-made and neatly structured, and its views of everyday Istanbul are compelling, but the narrative arc couldn’t be more predictable. Money makes Selim secretive, dishonest, heedless—watch out for that puppy!—and even lustful. The last sin leads to the film’s melodramatic denouement, but also to a Turkish girlie bar where the featured attraction is a trio of women in tank suits doing a dry-land equivalent of synchronized swimming. No doubt the Taliban would be shocked, but by Western standards Selim’s descent into degradation looks amusingly innocuous. —Mark Jenkins
At 6:45 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres. Also screens at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, at the Tenley Theatres.
Daughters of the Sun
As Maryam Shariar’s film begins, Amangol sits mutely while her hair is shorn, falling in large clumps to the ground. She is to pose as a boy at her new job with a merciless weaver to earn money to care for her severely ill mother. Amangol’s new role as “Aman” is crucial to one plot strand of this austere drama, but the most significant thing about the opening scene is its dialogue-free simplicity. Daughters of the Sun is just a few remarks away from being a silent film, and its elegant style almost upstages the gender issues the story raises. The central calamity stems from the relationship between Aman and another apprentice weaver, Belgheis, who lost her entire family in an earthquake. When Belgheis suggests that she and Aman marry, the latter doesn’t have the presence of mind to devise an excuse; ultimately, of course, Belgheis’ hopes for a new life with Aman must be dashed. Discreet even by the standards of Iranian cinema, the movie doesn’t emphasize the tragedy. Instead, Shariar contrasts the everyday adversities of rural poverty with stunning vignettes—faces framed by the loom, figures passing in the fog—that say more than words. —Mark Jenkins
At 7 p.m. at the Loews
Cineplex Foundry. Also screens at
6:30 p.m. Sunday, April 22, and
Wednesday, April 25, at the
Loews Cineplex Foundry.
Tito Puente, Gato Barbieri, and other Latin-jazz stalwarts perform in this concert film, which has a U.S. distributor.
At 7 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres. Also screens at 9 p.m. Sunday, April 22, at the Tenley Theatres.
I Have Found It
There’s room for just about anything in an Indian romantic musical, even the plot of Sense and Sensibility. Because it opens amid guerrilla combat in the Sri Lankan jungle, I Have Found It doesn’t immediately seem like Emma Thompson material, but gradually an Austenesque plot kicks in: Maj. Bala (Mammooty) loves the stunning (and musically gifted) Meena, but she wants a man who will appear dramatically out of a storm—and sure enough, pudgy financier Shrikanth does. Meanwhile, older sister Sowmya has fallen for fledgling film director Manohar, who must leave her to pursue his big opportunity—a Tamil-language knockoff of Speed. When the sisters and their mother are disinherited, poverty looms, but not as inexorably as in Austen’s England: Sowmya is a skilled computer programmer, and Meena (Aishwarya Rai, seen in The Duo in Filmfest 1998) might become a pop star. Rajiv Menon’s film is not the most skillful subversion of the Bollywood genre Filmfest has ever presented, but it’s still lots of fun. From its battle sequence and satire of Indian-style capitalism to the playful Austen update and, of course, extravagant song-and-dance numbers, I Have Found It has it all and then some. As one character slyly remarks, why make a narrow Western-style movie when you can make a “complete” film? —Mark Jenkins
At 7:30 p.m. at the National Geographic Society. Also screens at 9 p.m. Monday, April 23, at the Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue. Director Rajiv Menon will attend the screenings.
Do you love those movies about Mafia men and their code of honor? Placido Rizzotto has no patience for such mythology. The true story of a labor leader who battled the Mafia in his native Sicily in the late ’40s, Pasquale Scimeca’s film is starkly unromantic. The mood is set by two prologues, one in which the young Rizzotto sees his father arrested and a second recounting Rizzotto’s efforts to save a group of partisans from being executed by German soldiers undeterred by World War II’s official end. Rizzotto (Marcello Mazzarella) returns to his hometown (ironically named Corleone) as a resistance hero, but his efforts to organize peasants and seize land quickly make him a target of the local gang lords. One crucial night, both Rizzotto and his girlfriend, Lia, are attacked, and most of the people who catch a glimpse of what happened will not—or cannot—talk. Sober, powerful, and almost entirely grim, Scimeca’s tale seeks outrage rather than catharsis. The only garnish is the score by the Middle Eastern-inflected Italian troupe Agricantus. —Mark Jenkins
At 9:15 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres. Also screens at 6:45 p.m. Sunday, April 22, at the Tenley Theatres. Director Pasquale Scimeca will attend the screenings.
Angels of the Universe
Fridrik Thór (Children of Nature, Cold Fever) Fridriksson’s latest film is the account of an artistic, high-strung, working-class student, based on screenwriter Einar Már Gudmundsson’s brother. Paul (Ingvar E. Sigurdsson) tells his upper-class girlfriend, Dagney, “I’m not human. I’m a cloud in pants”—and then proceeds to vaporize when Dagney’s snobbish mother insists that her daughter break up with him. Paul loses his way, turns violent, and ends up in an asylum, where his new friends include a guy who insists he writes songs for the Beatles, which he sends to the group by telepathy. (At one point, he painstakingly composes “Hey Jude.”) “Schizophrenia is deeply rooted in the Icelandic character,” explains Paul’s shrink. Despite occasional comic moments, Angels of the Universe has no strategy to uproot it. —Mark Jenkins
At 9:30 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres. Also screens at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 22, at the Tenley Theatres.
Bob Marley Live in Concert
The music is a lot more impressive than the filmmaking in Stefan Paul’s documentary, which consists mostly of material shot at a German concert in 1980, less than a year before Marley’s death. The vastly influential singer-songwriter and his band perform such classics as “No Woman No Cry,” “War/No More Trouble,” “Get Up Stand Up,” and “Lively Up Yourself” in the film, which also includes a few songs from a 1979 Jamaican performance. Interspersed are footage from Marley’s funeral, tracking shots of a Jamaican shantytown, and one split-screen sequence, all of which make this look like a concert movie that wanted to grow up to be a documentary but then ran out of nerve—or money. —Mark Jenkins
At 10:45 p.m. at the National Geographic Society. Also screens at 10:45 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at the National Geographic Society’s Grosvenor Auditorium; former Wailers guitarist Junior Marvin will attend the screening.
With a Friend Like Harry
On his family’s rather unpleasant way from Paris to a country vacation, Michel (Laurent Lucas) encounters old friend Harry (Sergi López) in the men’s room of a highway rest stop. Or at least Harry says he’s an old friend; Michel doesn’t actually remember him, although when Harry starts reciting the poem Michel published in their high school’s literary magazine, it becomes clear that the two have some earlier connection. Harry, it turns out, is rich, and he and his girlfriend, Plum (Sophie Guillemin), are happy to help Michel; his wife, Claire (Mathilde Seigner); and their three young daughters. In his quest to improve Michel’s life, though, Harry has a tendency to go too far. German-born French director Dominik Moll loves Hitchcock, and this stylish creep show proves it. Euro-thriller buffs may also think of Claude Chabrol, as well as The Vanishing (the Dutch original, not the American remake). Moll knows just what he’s doing, but those without a taste for movies about suave sociopaths may not care to see these overfamiliar gambits unearthed one more time. This film is scheduled to open commercially April 27.
At 6 p.m. at the Embassy of France, followed by a cocktail reception. $25. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 23, at the Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue. Actress Sophie Guillemin will attend the screenings.
The Turandot Project
This documentary observes the staging of Turandot, a Puccini opera set in ancient China, in Beijing’s Forbidden City.
At 6:45 p.m. at the Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 23, at the Loews Cineplex Foundry.
In this Norwegian-British drama, a daughter drags her long-lost father back to the titular Scottish city to see her dying mother. This film has a U.S. distributor.
At 8:45 p.m. at the Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens at 6:45 p.m. Monday, April 23, at the Loews Cineplex Foundry.
Young, largely clueless Rosalía (Julieta Ortega) is a moony supermarket clerk who one day has a revelation: She’s a fairy godmother. When not trying to connect with her emotionally distant mother and her runaway father—unseen since she was 8—she reads to blind people and tries to bring good fortune to friends and strangers alike. She also dreams of having a baby, although she imagines herself the sort of woman men don’t find attractive. Little does she know that Santiago (Antonio Birabent), who works at an Argentinian outpost of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), has been amorously monitoring her every trip to the local bus stop via Webcam. This is familiar terrain for writer-director Eliseo Subiela, who consistently combines magical-realist flourishes with the most banal of soap-operatic situations. At least Subiela keeps his clichés busy, piling up parodies of old damsel-in-distress serials, visits to tango parlors, and a makeover sequence. Don’t get me started on that “old Celtic dialect,” though.
At 9:15 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres. Also screens at 6:45 p.m. Monday, April 23, at the Tenley Theatres.
The Big Animal
This Polish NIMBY fable is the story of a man, a woman, and a camel. Middle-aged bank clerk Zygmunt (director Jerzy Stuhr) and his wife, Marysia (Anna Dymna), look out their window one evening and spy the animal, who’s been abandoned by a circus. Charmed, Zygmunt begins taking the camel on walks through town and perusing books of Islamic architecture to design an appropriate shelter for his new pet. The camel is really no bother, but it is kind of, well, big, and soon the couple’s neighbors are complaining. Both entrepreneurs and bureaucrats descend on Zygmunt and Marysia, and the camel-keepers gradually become pariahs; Zygmunt even withdraws from the local brass band, whose conductor doesn’t understand why his clarinet playing has taken on a Middle Eastern flavor. Stuhr, who starred in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s White, adapted The Big Animal from an unfinished 1973 script by the late director, a longtime friend and collaborator; the story has lost none of its relevance from being transplanted from Communist-era Poland to a more or less contemporary setting. The shadowy black-and-white look suggests ’20s expressionism, but the small-mindedness of Zygmunt’s neighbors is timeless. —Mark Jenkins
At 9:30 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres. Also screens at 7 p.m. Monday, April 23, at the Tenley Theatres.
Filmfest DC for Kids: Nightjohn
Charles (Killer of Sheep, To Sleep With Anger) Burnett’s made-for-TV feature about a Southern slave girl who learns to read and write from a fellow slave.
At noon at the National Gallery of Art. Also screens at noon Wednesday, April 25, and Friday, April 27, at the National Gallery of Art. All screenings are free.
and the Special Service
“No soldier can keep his pants on in the jungle”—or so claims a prophetic character in Francisco J. Lombardi’s 1999 kitchen-sink epic, Captain Pantoja and the Special Service. Peruvian army Capt. Pantaléon Pantoja (Salvador Del Solar) doesn’t smoke, drink, or fool around; when his firecracker young bride (Mónica Sánchez) craves some pre-breakfast nookie, the clean-cut Pantoja whines: “But honey, I’m already five minutes late!” This priggishness makes Pantoja (“No flirts in five years,” a superior marvels) the perfect choice to establish and manage the “Service,” a traveling brothel of female “visitors” from Lima who provide “renderings” to dangerously horny soldiers stationed along the Amazon River. Despite his distaste for the assignment, Pantoja, the ultimate military man, tackles his task with gusto, and director Lombardi has great fun transforming his nerdy hero into an even nerdier pimp who keeps the naked particulars of his day job secret from his now-pregnant wife. In fact, for the first hour or so, Captain Pantoja is nothing more than a goofy, tame sex comedy. But as the consequences of Pantoja’s moral disintegration get increasingly severe—by midmovie, he’s smoking and drinking nonstop, not to mention banging away with the ill-fated “La Colombiana” (Angie Cepeda), the most popular “Pantiland” prostitute among both troops and management—the sex scenes get increasingly explicit and the primary prop becomes one very squeaky mattress. Although Lombardi commences Captain Pantoja as a naughty farce, he concludes his 137-minute movie with an unexpected melodramatic turn and a bittersweet—and somewhat too convenient for Pantoja—denouement. —Sean Daly
At 6:30 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 26, at the Loews Cineplex Foundry.
The King Is Alive
In the African desert, 11 stranded bus passengers pass the time by performing a version of King Lear. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Davison, and Janet McTeer are among the stars of this film, which has a U.S. distributor.
At 6:30 p.m. at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge, followed by CineCafe at 8:30 p.m. Also screens at 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge.
Bread and Tulips
On a family vacation, a housewife gets lost, only to end up finding herself in a whimsical Venice.
At 8:45 p.m. at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge.
Blame It on Voltaire
Newly arrived in Paris, a Tunisian illegal immigrant sells fruit in Métro stations and considers a sham marriage to stay in the country.
At 8:45 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres. Also screens at 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, April 25, at the Tenley Theatres.
Filmmaker Claire Denis’ critically acclaimed adaptation of Herman Melville’s novella Billy Budd illustrates the power of formal austerity. In Marseilles, anguished Galoup (Denis Lavant), a dismissed French Foreign Legionnaire, recalls his experiences as a staff sergeant in Djibouti. In rigorously framed, strikingly photographed images, Denis, who grew up in Africa, ritualistically conveys Galoup’s trim, muscular comrades at work (playing arduous war games, repairing roads beneath a blazing sun) and play (performing balletic gymnastics, swimming in the Gulf of Aden). Galoup’s intense, sexually ambiguous attachment to his commanding officer (Michel Subor) is threatened by the arrival of Sentain (Grégoire Colin), a young, selfless recruit who bravely rescues a downed helicopter pilot. Jealous of his commander’s growing attraction to Sentain, Galoup plots to get rid of his rival. Paring the film’s language to a few lines of dialogue and some brief excerpts from Galoup’s diary, Denis and co-screenwriter Jean-Paul Fargeau obliquely contemplate the dynamics of militarism, racism, and male bonding. Melville’s allegorical theme—the battle between good and evil—is downplayed by the stone-faced cast who, like the nonactors in Robert Bresson films, deny us access to the characters’ emotions. Painstakingly, sometimes monotonously paced, Beau Travail demands more concentration than some moviegoers will be willing to provide but casts a spell that lingers long after more accessible films fade from memory. —Joel E. Siegel
At 9 p.m. at the Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 25, at the Loews Cineplex Foundry.
The Season of Men
Separated from her husband for most of the year, a Tunisian woman gets him to promise that they can live together in the city—but the condition is that she must first produce a son.
At 9 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres.
Also screens at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, at the Tenley Theatres. Director Moufida Tlatli will attend the screenings.
This docudrama recounts the career of Patrice Lumumba, the Zairian independence leader assassinated in a CIA plot. This film has a
At 6:30 p.m. at the Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue. Director Raoul Peck will attend the screening. Also screens at 9:15 p.m. Wednesday, April 25, at the Tenley Theatres.
Rock, salsa, and Sinatra provide the score for this romantic ensemble comedy, set in London’s bustling club scene.
At 6:45 p.m. at the Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at the Loews Cineplex Foundry.
In Andalucía, where the people whitewash the buildings and the sun bleaches everything else, Caco (Antonio Canales) is the acting patriarch of a clan that’s involved in a blood feud with another family. His brother Mario, who’s now in hiding, killed Sandro Caravaca, and, in revenge, the Caravacas have threatened the life of Mario’s retarded son, Diego (Orestes Villasan Rodriguez). Looking out for Diego and arranging frequent parties, Caco seems upbeat, but he’s haunted by the memory of his dead daughter, Pepa, and seems almost to crave a confrontation with the Caravaca family. The plot of this retribution waltz would barely furnish a half-hour short and, as always, writer-director Tony (Latcho Drom, Gadjo Dilo) Gatlif has music on his mind. The tough-guy stuff is just an excuse for a series of exuberant musical set pieces illustrating the French-Algerian director’s fascination with gypsy, flamenco, and North African traditional music. (He even has some fun with this obsession, in a scene in which a group of young bodyguards discuss the record label they run on the side.) In a film titled Vengo (“vengeance”), some sort of violent clash is inevitable, but Gatlif is
more interested in sun and sound than blood. —Mark Jenkins
At 7 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres. Also screens at 6:45 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at the Tenley Theatres.
The Gleaners and I
Nouvelle Vague veteran Agnès Varda makes a well-reviewed return with this personal documentary, which uses gleaners—scavengers who traditionally have a right to unharvested crops—as a metaphor for her own work. The film, which has a U.S. distributor, opened in New York last month.
At 8:45 p.m. at the American Film Institute. Also screens at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 25, at the American Film Institute.
Divided We Fall
Czech housewife Marie (Anna Sisková) falsely announces that she’s expecting, even though it’s widely known that her husband, Josef (Boleslav Polívka), is sterile. This deception wouldn’t be a political matter, except that the year is 1943 and Marie has concocted her tale of pregnancy to keep a Nazi official from moving into the couple’s apartment, whose pantry harbors a Jewish concentration-camp escapee, David (Csongor Kassai). Now the archly named Marie and Josef need an immaculate conception—or a sperm donation from their clandestine boarder. Like Life Is Beautiful, Divided We Fall transplants farce conventions to an era that resists farce. The result isn’t exactly dishonest, but it does sometimes seem off-key. This film, by Czech director Jan Hrebejk, was a 2000 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee. —Mark Jenkins
At 9 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres. Also screens at 9:45 p.m. Wednesday, April 25, at the Tenley Theatres.
Lisbon-born actress Maria de Medeîros (Henry and June, Pulp Fiction) was 8 years old on April 25, 1974, when a coup d’état overthrew more than 40 years of right-wing rule in Portugal. When de Medeîros’ April Captains debuted at Cannes last year, she told one interviewer that she had been researching the coup ever since she was a teenager and planning virtually all her life to make this film. De Medeîros and her co-writer, Eve Deboise, have concocted a script that mixes fictional characters (de Medeîros plays an activist professor; Frédéric Pierrot is her soldier husband) with historical figures, most notably Capt. Salgueiro Maia, the point man in the takeover, which was carried out by junior military officers. (The army’s generals sided with the ruling regime.) Played by Italian actor Stefano Accorsi, Maia comes off as that rare army officer who’s less interested in power than in solving problems with violence. And as long as the film focuses on Maia and his struggle to pull off the impossible, it’s on solid ground. The fictional story, revolving around the professor, her husband, and one of her students, has much less dramatic impact. Nonetheless, de Medeîros vividly captures the strangeness and euphoria of that spring day: When a column of armored vehicles enters the city at dawn, it stops for a traffic light; later, the rebel officers promise usurped Portuguese leader Marcello Caetano safe passage to the airport so he can escape into exile and secretly load him into a tank. As it rumbles through the streets, protesters happily slap the side of a vehicle they associate with a new era. Inside, Caetano can only see hands slapping the tank’s tiny windows, and he shrinks back in fear. —Tom Wiener
At 9:15 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 25, at the Tenley Theatres.
Man Facing Southeast
In his third feature, Argentinian writer-director Eliseo Subiela lavishes spellbinding cinematic technique on a banal and derivative screenplay. Man Facing Southeast is a superbly crafted film: precisely controlled, affectingly acted, and exquisitely photographed in a restrained palette of cool blues and greens. But the content of Subiela’s “original” story is embarrassingly secondhand: Julio (Lorenzo Quinteros), a despairing psychiatrist forced to confront his spiritual emptiness (Equus); Rantes (Hugo Soto), his patient who claims to be an extraterrestrial sent to Earth to investigate man’s inhumanity (The Man Who Fell to Earth); a mental hospital whose benumbed inmates are revitalized by the alien’s arrival (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). Even the subplots come with footnotes: a female replicant programmed to reproduce all human attributes except emotion (Blade Runner), the alienated psychiatrist’s solitary solace in playing the saxophone (The Conversation). Even the most obtuse viewer will quickly recognize that Rantes is a Christ figure—a point that Subiela relentlessly underscores by having a nurse place white medication wafers on his tongue; having Rantes, in response to shock treatments, inquire, “Doctor, why do you forsake me?”; and arranging the patient and a comforting female friend in a Pietà-inspired composition. Several remarkable sequences blend image and sound to transcend the filmmaker’s overexplicitness, however: In a cafe, Rantes uses telekinesis to transfer a plate of food from a prosperous patron to a poor mother with hungry children, and, in a startling concert scene staged to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” Rantes commandeers the conductor’s baton and rouses an audience of beggars and comatose madmen to ecstasy. But Subiela might well have heeded Christ’s own practice of conveying spiritual lessons obliquely; the pile-driving methods of Man Facing Southeast make the film’s meanings all too easy to resist. —Joel E. Siegel
At 9:30 p.m. at the Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
Syncopations and Kleopat’Ra
The filmmaker/dancer performs excerpts from two of her works, Syncopations and Kleopat’Ra, the latter of which was inspired by Japanese Noh theater.
At 6:30 p.m. at the American Film Institute. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 26, at the American Film Institute.
Documentarians Chris Hegedus (The War Room) and Jehane Noujaim observe the development of govWorks.com, a Web site that must have seemed like a great idea two years ago. The film is tentatively scheduled to open in Washington next month.
At 6:30 p.m. at the Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue; directors Jehane Noujaim and Chris Hegedus and producer D.A. Pennebaker will attend the screening. Also screens at 6:45 p.m. Thursday, April 26, at the Tenley Theatres.
The Dark Side of the Heart
A masterful visual stylist, Argentine writer-director Eliseo Subiela has yet to encounter an idea or symbol too banal to embrace. The Dark Side of the Heart, a magical-realist allegory about a nonconformist poet’s quest for an all-consuming erotic relationship, blends fantastic imagery with grating clichés. Oliverio (Darío Grandinetti), who, when necessary, moonlights as an advertising copywriter, demands nothing less of a woman than the ability to fly. (When his conquests fall short of this requirement, he pushes a button on his nightstand, triggering a trapdoor that plunges his bedmates into an abyss.) In Subiela’s repetitious narrative, the restless Oliverio spouts overheated verse to obtain food, commiserates with a transgressive artist who sculpts giant penises and vaginas, amuses himself with roller-coaster rides and toy trains, and seduces a number of women, notably a voluptuous prostitute and a blind girl who can determine the colors of objects by touch. He’s also dogged by female nemeses including a pale-faced woman called Death, who keeps badgering him to find a responsible job, and his deceased mother, who has been transmogrified in a scolding cow. With its stylized settings and vibrant color schemes, The Dark Side of the Heart overflows with eye candy and weird details, including a bizarre nightclub act featuring three showgirls costumed as Columbus’ ships. But, in two lumbering hours, the film provides no fresh insights into matters of the heart or the groin. After Oliverio ultimately experiences airborne intercourse with the prostitute, he tells her, “I don’t understand how you can leave so poor when you have made me so rich”—a bewilderment that viewers exiting Subiela’s exasperating movie may well share. —Joel E. Siegel
At 7 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres.
A Night With Sabrina Love
The life of an Argentinian teenager is transformed after he writes a letter to a porn star.
At 9 p.m. at the Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 26, at the Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue.
Two for Tea
In the Almodóvarlike opening of Spanish writer-director Isabel Gardela’s romantic comedy, 30-year-old Gabi (Núria Prims) frantically smokes a joint in a public toilet prior to appearing at a press conference to discuss her award-winning novel The Vertical Smile, based on the sexual exploits of her fast-living circle of lovers and friends. While awaiting inspiration for her next book, she meets Jalil (Zack Qureshi), a Muslim florist, with whom she embarks on a tentative love affair. Forced to negotiate conflicting sexual and cultural principles, puritanical Jalil struggles to overlook Gabi’s past promiscuity, and she begins drinking tea instead of smoking it. Gardela’s episodic direction fails to find the humor and pathos latent in this cross-cultural romance, devoting excessive footage to sketchily developed secondary characters—Gabi’s vindictive former lover, xenophobic mother, exasperated younger sister, and indulgent best friend. Apart from solid performances by vivacious, dark-eyed Prims and soft-spoken Qureshi, Two for Tea is a jumbled effort whose tonal and thematic ambitions never quite cohere.
—Joel E. Siegel
At 9 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres. Also screens at 9 p.m. Thursday, April 26, at the Tenley Theatres. Director Isabel Gardela will attend the screenings.
Cinema for Seniors: Sparkle
Sam O’Steen’s 1976 musical recounts the rise and fall of a girl group from Harlem; soul singer Curtis Mayfield composed the fictitious band’s songs.
At 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the American Film Institute. Free.
Dust to Dust
The death of a family patriarch in Mexico City sparks tensions over his estate—and an important discovery about his life—in this light, predictable drama by Mexican director Juan Carlos de Llaca. After Rodrigo Carnicero (Xavier Masse) drops dead during a family argument at his birthday party, his two greedy sons are more interested in a secret bank account he has left to a buddy in Acapulco than in disposing of his ashes, also in Acapulco. So their teenage sons, stoner Rocco (Osvaldo Benavides) and straight arrow Rodrigo (Rodrigo Cachero), decide to take off with the urn containing their grandfather’s remains to fulfill his final wish. De Llaca, working from a smooth script by Antonio Armonia and with a cast of performers from Mexican TV, takes full advantage of the luscious Acapulco scenery. That the initially squabbling teens grudgingly learn to get along—and that the timid Rocco meets a lovely, pliant girl (Ana de la Reguera) in Mexico’s pleasure capital—is wholly unsurprising. —Tom Wiener
At 6:30 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 27, at the Tenley Theatres.
Ousmane (Camp de Thiaroye) Sembene’s latest movie uses the story of a businesswoman and single mother to investigate the state of women in Senegal today. This film has a U.S. distributor.
At 7 and 9:30 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres.
Wild About Harry
In Wild About Harry, director Declan Lowney has better luck with a plotline that Mike Nichols fumbled in Regarding Henry: A successful but soulless middle-aged man gets an opportunity to resurrect his life after suffering a brain injury. Brendan Gleeson stars as Harry McKee, the boorish host of a popular Belfast television cooking show whose alcoholism and womanizing have made tabloid headlines and embittered his wife, Ruth (Amanda Donohoe), and son, Billy (Henry Deazly). The night before facing Ruth in divorce court, Harry suffers a beating by young thugs and lapses into a coma. Regaining consciousness a week later, he has no memory of the past 25 years. At first, Ruth suspects that Harry’s transformation is a ruse to forestall the end of their marriage, but his rediscovered sweetness gradually convinces her that he’s truly reverted to the 18-year-old she fell in love with. Gleeson, who resembles Benny Hill, is effective in both of Harry’s incarnations, especially in an outrageous on-air sequence in which he gleefully exposes a politician’s bisexual peccadilloes, and Donohoe blends toughness with vulnerability as his fed-up mate. Despite the formulaic underpinnings of Colin Bateman’s screenplay, Wild About Harry is a well-paced, often touching comedy with a restrained, guardedly hopeful resolution. —Joel E. Siegel
At 7 p.m. at the Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens at 8:45 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at the Loews Cineplex Foundry.
Ali Farka Touré: Springing From the Roots
Were the Delta blues born along the Niger rather the Mississippi? That’s a question Malian singer-guitarist Ali Farka Touré doesn’t exactly answer while leading a French camera crew through Timbuktu and the villages of Kanau (his birthplace) and Niafunké (his current home, memorialized by the title of his latest album). “Blues doesn’t mean anything to Africans,” he says, perhaps disingenuously, in between playing guitar riffs that alternately suggest John Lee Hooker and King Sunny Ade. Sometimes unassuming and sometimes proud, Touré introduces some of the traditional music that inspired him—one variety of which sounds very Middle Eastern—and plays both an outdoor concert and a wedding reception. Yves Billon and Henry Lecomte’s loosely constructed hourlong portrait will interest Touré fans, but it may bewilder those who don’t already know something about the guitarist’s life, music, and Western crossover success. Shown with The Spitball Story, a short film about a famous onstage incident involving Cab Calloway and Dizzy Gillespie.—Mark Jenkins
At 8:30 p.m. at the American Film Institute. Also screens at 9:30 p.m. Friday, April 27, at the American Film Institute.
The Sentimental Teaser
In this Chilean film, a radio call-in show provides the link between three listeners’ personal tales.
At 9 p.m. at the Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at the Tenley Theatres.
They Call This…Spring
Every Filmfest schedule contains at least one offering so misbegotten that one can’t help wondering whether the selection committee was bribed to include it. This year’s big misfire is They Call This…Spring, a putative comedy written and directed by former Cahiers du Cinema critic Hervé Le Roux. Three 30-ish women, at least two of whom are sisters—although not one bears the slightest resemblance to the others—abandon their mates and giddily careen around Paris like middle-school students on Ecstasy. On the run from apartment to apartment and man to man, they indulge in casual sex and shopping sprees, including an interminable romp in a costume store. Presumably, Le Roux’s vengeful heroines intend to punish their partners for unspecified slights, but the hapless males are much more appealing than this mean-spirited, self-indulgent trio of addled postfeminists. Interspersed musical numbers, featuring the men singing baroque songs in Three Musketeers outfits and the women warbling a soothing nocturne, punctuate the inanity. If Le Roux’s film sounds intriguing to you, you’d better catch Filmfest’s screenings, because the odds are minimal that any sane theater owner or film-series programmer will ever show it again. —Joel E. Siegel
At 9:15 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres. Also screens at 7 p.m. Friday, April 27, at the Tenley Theatres.
Swedish director Daniel Lind Lagerlöf’s first feature, uncomfortably reminiscent of the 1987 Nick Nolte movie Weeds, opens on a promisingly lively note. During a stage performance of a door-slamming bedroom farce, Reine (Björn Kellman) learns that a fellow actor has been unjustly sacked and quits in protest. Strapped for money, he accepts a position as recreation director at a high-security prison. Drawing on his theatrical experience, Reine decides to produce a play featuring the facility’s inmates. The prison’s wary staff warns him about the inadvisability of this scheme, which the surly prisoners regard as a potential opportunity to escape. Initially, Reine’s faith in the redemptive power of drama bears fruit: Rehearsals appear to liberate the embittered spirits of his sociopathic charges. Then an unexpected act of violence suggests that screenwriter Malin Lagerlöf is aiming for something more ambitious and complex than the The Full Monty in stripes. But this deceptive touch of realism soon passes, and the film builds to a cheesily contrived feel-good resolution. Apart from Kellman, an unprepossessing actor with greasy hair and a fishy smile, Breaking Out’s ensemble cast performs admirably, and cinematographer Jens Fischer’s images of the penitentiary are palpably claustrophobic. But Daniel Lind Lagerlöf’s manipulative insistence on imposing a laughable uplifting ending on recalcitrant material neutralizes the contributions of his collaborators. —Joel E. Siegel
At 9:30 p.m. at the Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 27, at the Loews Cineplex Foundry.
Short Stuff: D.C. Views
Of this quintet of short films set in Washington, the best is the one whose most powerful scenes take place largely outside the city. Fortunately, it’s the last film in the sequence, causing the program to end on a decidedly high note. The Lunch Lady is a cleverly constructed portrait of Sharon Adl-Doost, the cook at the U.S. Geological Survey’s cafeteria, whose recorded messages describing the daily menu, complete with her interpretations of popular songs, have made her a national cult figure. Leslie Mello’s film is really about her subject’s fans, who rhapsodize to the camera about Adl-Doost. At 27 minutes, however, The Lunch Lady overplays its hand; the film would have been perfectly timed at a Warholian 15 minutes. A Different Kind of Black Man is about nine gay black men, identified by first names only, who appear as talking heads making sense of their experiences. All are articulate and excessively polite professionals; emotion, disappointingly, barely enters the picture. Lucy Gebre-Egziabher’s At the Second Traffic Light is set at a Foggy Bottom intersection, where a traffic mishap offers the chance for a central casting collection of D.C.-area types (professional mom, Indian cab driver, Final Call vendor) to interact in ways they rarely really would. The punch line, although too easily set up, is the film’s best moment. Sowande Tichawonna’s Talkin’ Shop takes place in a barber shop at 8th and Kennedy Streets NW, with the banter between the cutters and their customers offering little new in the way of insight. Parine Jaddo’s Aisha is not only this collection’s most ambitious work, but also its most accomplished. An impressionistic drama of an Arab woman making a documentary about her cousin, its most compelling sequences are set in Baghdad, where both the documentarian’s and her subject’s families live under the threat of U.S. bombing. The film, subtitled “Surviving,” is about their means of getting by as well as about a contemporary Arab woman living in the West, making sense of her new world.
At 5 p.m. at the American Film
No Place to Go
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 may have been cause for celebration around the world, but for at least one German, Gisela Elsner, it was the beginning of the end. Elsner had made her reputation as a writer committed to Leninism, and the liberation of the German Democratic Republic, where her books had become best sellers, left her without a home for her ideas. As portrayed by actress Hannelore Elsner (no relation), Gisela Elsner (in this film called Hanna Flanders) is a hard-drinking, chain-smoking woman given to following her denunciations of consumerism with a trip to her favorite boutique for the comforting purchase of a designer-label coat. The news of the Wall’s fall prompts Hanna, in search of more comfort, to move from her chic apartment in Munich to Berlin’s drab eastern sector with Joachim, her publisher and onetime lover. Later, Joachim’s rejection of Hanna leaves her adrift in a city she once idealized. Even when she’s treated with kindness, Hanna is determined to be miserable and alienated. A chance encounter with her ex-husband, also a writer with leftist ideals, prompts a one-night stand, but that ends badly, too. Hanna’s physical deterioration lands her in a hospital, from which there is only one means of escape. Hannelore Elsner, brilliantly using just two props—a wig right out of the Liz Taylor/Cleopatra collection and a never-ending supply of cigarettes—strikes the right balance of emotions in making Gisela a figure of faded dignity who’s becoming increasingly aware of her irrelevance. As remarkable as her performance is, writer-director Oskar Röhler, clearly influenced by the early black-and-white films of Fassbinder, deserves equal praise. That Gisela Elsner was in real life Röhler’s mother makes even more impressive the film’s honest portrayal of a woman who can’t reconcile her own contradictions or deal with the inevitability of history. —Tom Wiener
At 6:45 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres. Also screens at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at the Tenley Theatres.
Doing Wim Wenders one better, filmmaker Karim Dridi leaves Havana behind and sets out for the territory, documenting Cuban music’s rural manifestations.
At 7 p.m. at the Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens at 6:45 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at the Loews Cineplex Foundry.
In these seven short films, Irish and Romanian performers battle for busking space on a train platform, a singing and dancing chorus follows a guy called Ed, and animated penguins team up to sink the Titanic.
At 7:15 p.m. at the American Film Institute.
Before the Tokugawa shogun’s 1868 fall, homoerotic attractions undermine discipline among a pro-shogunate militia’s samurai trainees. This comeback film by Japanese New Wave director Nagisa (In the Realm of the Senses) Oshima opened to good reviews last year in New York.
At 8:30 p.m. at the National Geographic Society.
The Adventures of God
Eliseo Subiela’s latest film is a dreamscape that owes as much to the writing of his fellow Argentine Jorge Luis Borges as to the films of Alain Resnais, Luis Buñuel, and David Lynch. An unnamed man (Pasta Dioguardi) who emerges from the ocean fully clothed and carrying a large duffel bag finds his way to a hotel whose lobby is filled with luggage. It’s a “Hotel California” scenario: When he asks a mysterious woman named Valeri (Flor Sabatella) what she’s doing there, she says, “The same as everyone: waiting.” The first half of the film presents a series of surrealistic images (a flock of sheep wandering through the lobby) and cryptic conversations (Valeri: “Go to your room and wait for me.” Protagonist: “Will you come?” Valeri: “No, just wait for me.”). The protagonist begins to understand he’s in a dream, but whose dream is unclear. Wanting to free himself, he decides to eliminate those characters he suspects have created his world. Finally, he gives himself over to Valeri, who’s portrayed as a goddess of fertility who regularly gives birth to inanimate objects and animate creatures. The Adventures of God—the title refers to an unopened book sealed in a glass case in the hotel lobby, and Jesus Christ is one of the hotel’s residents—is by turns ponderous, witty, elliptical, and provocative. It falls short of the standards set by Buñuel, still the master of this genre, but it’s nonetheless a work of substance and style. —Tom Wiener
At 9 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres. Also screens at 9:15 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at the Tenley Theatres.
The infertile Bozena (Veronika Zilková) desperately craves a baby; Alzbetka, the young girl who lives next door, wants a playmate. And Bozena’s biological clock turns out to be connected to a time bomb. To please the increasingly crazed woman, her husband shapes a tree trunk into the form of a baby, only to see the wood come to life and develop an insatiable appetite. Thanks to her book of fairy tales, Alzbetka recognizes the creature for what it is: Otesánek, who eats everything in his path. Rather then be alarmed, however, Alzbetka tries to take care of the monster, beginning by feeding him the dirty old man who keeps looking up her skirt. Innovative Czech fabulist Jan Svankmajer’s fourth feature is a mostly live-action film that uses animation to create disturbing, surrealistic images of hunger—for food and for offspring. The visuals are more interesting, however, than the overlong narrative, which eventually seems like little more than a succession of gory meals. —Mark Jenkins
At 9 p.m. at the Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at the Loews Cineplex Foundry.
Among other things, the title of German filmmaker Otto Alexander Jahrreiss’ Zoom alludes to its quicksilver pacing and the lens used by its protagonist, a pale-faced Berlin slacker who obsessively stalks and videotapes a Romanian prostitute living in his apartment building. After shadowing Wanda (Oana Solomon) on her outcalls, Thomas (Florian Lukas) shakes down her johns, then anonymously slips a portion of the proceeds into her mailbox. The pair meet when Wanda knocks on Thomas’ door in search of flour to bake a birthday cake for her young son, who is used by her abusive husband as a pawn to force her to turn tricks. Gradually, we learn that Thomas’ interest in his neighbor isn’t erotic but benevolent; he’s determined to liberate her, against her will, from a life of degradation. Jahrreiss and co-scripter Markus Hoffman weave elements from Vertigo, Peeping Tom, Mona Lisa, Wings of Desire, and Bonnie and Clyde into a compulsively engrossing film with a strikingly original visual style. Hannes Hubach’s greenish cinematography, punctuated by accents of yellow and red, features boxed inserts of details of larger compositions, creating layered images recalling both cubist paintings and Peter Greenaway’s experiments with videotape overlays. Till Brönner and Martin Todsharow’s brooding score, inspired by Miles Davis-Gil Evans recordings, reflects the filmmaker’s interest in jazz (as does his protagonist’s first name, an allusion to the legendary pianist Thomas “Fats” Waller). Overflowing with narrative and formal surprises, Zoom is one of this year’s Filmfest revelations.
—Joel E. Siegel
At 9:15 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres. Also screens at 8:45 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at the Tenley Theatres. Director Otto Alexander Jahrreiss will attend the screenings.
Actor-director Takeshi “Beat” Kitano (Hana-Bi, Kikujiro) plays a mobster who’s ousted from his Tokyo gang and moves to L.A. to teach his younger brother how to do gangbanging right. This film is tentatively scheduled to open commercially in D.C.
At 9:30 p.m. at the Tenley Theatres. Also screens at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at the Tenley Theatres.
Marshal Tito’s Spirit
Director Vinko Bresan’s 1999 comedy about a present-day sighting of long-dead Marshal Jozip Broz Tito on a run-down Croatian island claims to be “according to a true story.” But, seeing as how Bresan has obviously been influenced by such esteemed American storytellers as the Coen brothers and the Three Stooges, one wonders about the veracity of his tale. After a small gathering of gray-haired communists—stealthy, in this new Croatia, when it comes to hiding their tattered red flags and crumbling busts of Lenin—see the ghost of the former Yugoslav leader walking in a graveyard, a cop from the mainland (the sad-faced Drazen Kuhn, almost always shot in exaggerated close-up) is summoned by the island’s concerned capitalists to investigate. But once the supernatural news spreads across the sea—and the Tito sightings continue to mount—the island’s cash-starved bar/hotel owner is enthusiastically welcoming the incoming flood of loyal (and rather flatulent) partisans: “We’ll have Honecker’s ghost brought in! The German market means money! Then Stalin’s ghost and Mao Tse-tung: 120 millions Russians and a billion Chinese. Think locally, act globally!” Soon enough, the communists have taken the outnumbered capitalists hostage, “Agent Mulderic” and “Agent Skullic” of the Bureau for National Security have been called in to investigate, and Bresan’s charming film—true story or not—has become more about the politics of slapstick than the politics of change. —Sean Daly
At 9:30 p.m. at the Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens at 9:15 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at the Loews Cineplex Foundry.
The Fencing Master
“Fencing is an art, not a fight between two farmhands,” intones Don Jaime Astarloa at the outset of this modest but effectively presented period drama from Spain. Don Jaime is a man given to aphorisms, but then, he is a master of a discipline that, he readily admits, is no longer fashionable. Set in 1868, at the moment when the Bourbon monarchy is about to give way to more democratic forces, The Fencing Master tells the familiar story of an aesthete drawn unwillingly into the turmoil of his times. The middle-aged Don Jaime lives modestly off the fees of his few pupils, one of them a dissolute aristocrat, the Marquis de Ayala. When a mysterious young woman, Adela de Otero, signs on for lessons with the recalcitrant maestro—he’s a traditionalist opposed to women’s taking up foils—Don Jaime is attracted to her, but the marquis makes his move first. For a moment, it seems as if we’re in the midst of a typical love-triangle story, but something richer develops, as Don Jaime learns about political connections involving both his student and best friend. Italian actor Omero Antonutti is perfectly cast as Don Jaime, a dignified relic with more than a touch of melancholy about his brooding features. Assumpta Serna smolders nicely as Adela, a woman well-schooled in more than one kind of fencing. —Tom Wiener
At 10:30 p.m. at the National Geographic Society. Also screens at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at the National Geographic Society.
French director Alain Cavalier, who’s best known for the austere Thérèse, turned to digital video to make this compendium of documentary portraits.
At 2:30 p.m. at the National Gallery of Art. Free.
House of Wax
Vincent Price stars in this 1953 horror classic, presented in original (and essential) 3-D.
At 4, 6, 8, and 10 p.m. at the American Film Institute.
The death of the village chief leads to a tense transition in this Tibetan-language drama, picturesquely set among the world’s highest peaks. This was a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee and has a U.S. distributor.
At 8:30 p.m. at the National Geographic Society.
The second feature-length film from Lukas Moodysson, whose charming Show Me Love showed at Filmfest last year, is a counterculture comedy set in a ’70s Stockholm commune.
At 4 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, followed by a dance party. Actress Lisa Lindgren will attend the screening.
The revolution comes to a posh English boys school in Lindsay Anderson’s 1968 classic, filmed just before the streets of Paris and Chicago erupted.
At 4 p.m. at the National Gallery of Art. Free.