The Washington City Paper’s guide to the 14th Annual Washington, D.C., International Film Festival
What with Pierre, Marie, Pierette, Madeleine, Didier, Juliette, Aurelie, Jeannette…zut!…this year’s Filmfest DC is the French film festival that refuses to call itself a French film festival. Filmfest directors Tony Gittens and Shirin Ghareeb are spinning the 2000 event as a spotlight on British and Turkish films (a plug-in to the Corcoran Museum of Art’s “Treasures From the Topkapi” exhibit), but they present seven entries by Brits and exactly three features by Turks. Look more closely and you’ll find 13 films made partly or entirely in France.
Unfurl the tricolor and crank up the Marseillaise? Easy does it. Godard and Bresson have no counterparts in Pascal Bonitzer (Rien sur Robert) and Marion Vernoux (Rien a Faire); come to think of it, you might want to cop a clue and avoid anything with “rien” in the title. Which is perhaps why the organizers wouldn’t label this a French film festival: The French films don’t add up to much. On the other hand, of the more than 70 films you can check out between now and the festival’s April 16 closing night—35 of which were previewed by Washington City Paper film critics Arion Berger, Mark Jenkins, and Joel E. Siegel—you should probably focus on several that bear the French touch but are from countries such as Lebanon (Civilisees), Egypt (The Closed Doors), and Turkey (Harem Suare).
Filmfest goes all around the world, but it also includes two works of local interest: James M. Felter’s Rats, which tracks the evil little critters around the District, and Jem Cohen’s Instrument: Ten Years With the Band Fugazi, which follows Ian MacKaye & Co. from the stage to the grocery store and back. As is the case in most Filmfests, several of the films are scheduled to open commercially later this year; for the others, this may be your only chance.
Screenings take place at the American Film Institute at the Kennedy Center; the Embassy of France, 4101 Reservoir Road NW; General Cinema at Mazza Gallerie, 5300 Wisconsin Ave. NW; Loews Cineplex Foundry, 1055 Jefferson St. NW; the National Gallery of Art, 6th & Constitution NW; the National Geographic Society’s Grosvenor Auditorium, 1600 M St. NW; the Ronald Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; and Tenley Theatres, 4200 Wisconsin Ave. NW. Admission is $7.50 unless otherwise noted.
The first film by Indian cinematographer Santosh Sivan, who shot several Mani Ratnam movies, is about a young Tamil woman who has been assigned to blow up a Sri Lankan politician—and herself. This film has a U.S. distributor and has already opened in some cities.
At 6 p.m. at the National Geographic Society. Also screens Saturday, April 8, at 8 p.m. at the National Geographic Society.
This is the latest installment in the fascinating documentary series that has been charting the lives of a group of Britons every seven years since they were 7. The film has a distributor and has already shown in some U.S. cities.
At 6:30 p.m. at the American Film Institute. Also screens Saturday, April 8, at 9:30 p.m. at the American Film Institute.
Discovering that husband Luis is sending money to support an 8-year-old in the remote Argentinian town of Rio Escondido (“hidden river”), chic Buenos Aires interior decorator Ana Otero (Paola Krum) assumes that the boy is Luis’ hidden offspring. Leaving her own 6-year-old son behind, Ana takes advantage of one of Luis’ many business trips to travel to Rio Escondido. There she meets Lucio, who, she discovers, is related to her, but not in the way she assumed. The first half of writer-director Mercedes Garcia Guevara’s film has an appealingly spooky feel, assisted by the emptiness of Argentina’s western plains and the brooding shadows of the Andes. The later developments, however, are harder to credit. Following Ana to the end of her terse yet breathless journey requires
a romantic sensibility bordering on
the perverse.—Mark Jenkins
At 6:30 p.m. at Tenley Theatres.
The title vehicle, ironically named after France’s high-speed trains, is a bus traveling from Senegal to Guinea with only a few passengers, thanks to fears that a rebellious tribal group might attack.
At 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens Saturday, April 8, at 8:45 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry. Director Moussa Toure will introduce the film at both screenings.
Gregory’s Two Girls
Scottish director Bill (Local Hero) Forsyth returns to the site and star of his breakthrough 1980 film, Gregory’s Girl, to show what’s happened to lovelorn teen Gregory, now a middle-aged schoolteacher.
At 6:45 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Also screens Saturday, April 8, at 8:45 p.m. at Tenley Theatres.
Both Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf have made astonishing movies that intertwine documentary and fiction, and fellow Iranian director Ali-Reza Davudnezhad wants to join the club. But his Sweet Agony is mostly agony, as the members of two neighboring families (one of them played by members of Davudnezhad’s own clan) bicker at high volume. The central characters are two teenagers whose eventual marriage has long been anticipated. Reza and Mona have no objections to the plan; indeed, they’d like to be inseparable right away. But their respective authority figures—Mona’s parents and Reza’s grandmother—insist that for now the kids should devote themselves to their studies. When the grandma asks a younger sibling to spy on the couple, Reza tells the boy blasphemies to get a rise out of the old lady. Not exactly American Graffiti, but maybe that’s about as much fun as an irreverent teenager can have in a country—or a film—this circumscribed.—Mark Jenkins
At 7 p.m. at Tenley Theatres.
The Sweet Noise of Life
While rehearsing Othello, actress Sofia (Francesca Neri) discovers that her director-lover, Bruno (Rade Serbedzija), is also getting it on with her leading man. In the course of escaping from this revelation, she finds a newborn baby boy abandoned in a railway-car bathroom. She raises the child and, five years later, tells bisexual Bruno that he’s the boy’s father. Another decade passes, and Sofia and her son encounter a mysterious woman in a waterfront cafe who appears to be the teenager’s real mother. Director and co-screenwriter Giuseppe Bertolucci (filmmaker Bernardo’s younger brother) saturates this soap-opera plot with drippy water-and-mist imagery, luridly colored camerawork, and a grating, nonstop accordion-based score. Nearly every shot is so steeply raked that you need a gyroscope to keep from falling out of your seat. Stir in some arch theatrical conceits—a feminist commedia dell’
arte troupe, Shakespeare staged in a boxing ring—along with half-baked AIDS and incest themes, and the result is a surefire contender for Hell’s Worst Foreign Film Oscar.—Joel E. Siegel
At 8 p.m. at the National Geographic Society. Also screens Saturday, April 8, at 6 p.m. at the National Geographic Society.
Rien a Faire
In the course of having nothing to do, Pierre and Marie try to reconfigure their existences and in the process find what most French films offer their protagonists: troubled amour. Strangers who have both lost jobs—his executive, hers unskilled labor—at a huge conglomerate, they meet over their shopping carts and begin to pass the time together, filling workless days with job interviews, meetings with friends, many lunches and coffees, and an almost inconceivable number of return trips to the supermarket. Marion Vernoux directs adequately—Rien a Faire puts the viewer in mind of Jerzy Skolimoski’s harshly lit interiors and time-taking sequences—but she seems to have rien a dire as well. The unemployed twosome, who can’t imagine having their days free and yet manage to fill them, almost comment on the industrialized state or consumerism and civilization or labor as self-esteem—but never quite do. They just shop a lot, grow discontented with their respective spouses, and fall in a kind of numb French love that wouldn’t exist were they gainfully employed. The plot threatens to thicken when Pierre gets
a job and Marie is thrown into implausible turmoil, but then [insert Gallic
shrug here].—Arion Berger
At 8:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens Saturday, April 8, at 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry.
The only Doris Dorrie film to get major distribution in the U.S. was called Men, and this one could take the same title. This time, the two middle-aged guys in crisis are brothers who leave Munich for Japan with different goals: Gustav (Gustav-Peter Wohler) is a feng shui expert who has long dreamed of spending time in a remote Zen monastery; the less spiritual Uwe (Uwe Ochsenknecht) simply wants to get away from home, emptied of the wife and five young kids who have just left him. The brothers arrive in Tokyo, where they have some adventures that might have seemed novel 30 years ago: They’re shocked at the cost of a round of drinks, spend all their money, and get lost in the teeming back streets of Shinjuku. Things improve, narratively as well as temperamentally, when the duo finally makes it to the monastery. The brothers find, if not enlightenment, at least a few surprises: Uwe takes better to the rigid routine than Gustav does. This small-scale film’s payoff is modest, but Enlightenment Guaranteed is more appealing when it reaches a state of acceptance than when it’s making stale culture-clash jokes.—Mark Jenkins
At 8:45 p.m. at Tenley Theatres.
A young man leaves his eccentric home to visit Paris in this movie by Swiss director Otar Iosseliani, whose work has been compared to the blithe films of Rene Clair and Jacques Tati.
At 9 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Also screens Saturday, April 8, at 6:45 p.m. at Tenley Theatres.
Having received acclaim at international festivals, D.C. filmmaker James M. Felter’s Rats triumphantly scurries back to the nest from which it emerged. Appropriately, Felter has taken his camera to Willard Street NW for his feature-length documentary about the rodents that, depending on which source you believe, outnumber the District’s human residents by a margin of as many as 14 to one. Felter mixes images of the furry critters foraging through trash bags and bins with interviews of people whose lives they affect: neighbors (a man on nightly firearm patrol, a bickering gay couple), trashmen, exterminators, and representatives of civic and animal-rights groups. Caught off-guard, then-Mayor Marion Barry exhibits his verminous indifference to the city’s rat problem. We’re even offered brief glimpses of omnivores Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp. But the most eloquent subjects are the homeless scavengers and drug addicts forced to compete with rodents for sustenance. Deferring to its sponsors, which include the mayor’s media-development office and the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, Filmfest’s program notes assert that the film explores “the joys and challenges of contemporary D.C. living.” If Felter’s camera captured any joys, I failed to notice them. Just when you think you’ve overdosed on a lifetime supply of rodentiana, Rats concludes with a brilliant coup de cinema—a shot that opens with the July 4th Mall fireworks display and then pans across the city’s rooftops to end in an alleyway crawling with vermin.—Joel E. Siegel
At 9:30 p.m. at the American Film Institute. Also screens Friday, April 14, at 8:30 p.m. at the American Film Institute. Director James M. Felter will introduce the film at both screenings.
This anthology of nine short films is set in the London Underground, with themes including sex, drugs, suicide, music, crime, and religion, and directors ranging from little-known filmmakers to actors Ewan McGregor and Jude Law making their behind-the-camera debuts. Like other anthology movies, Tube Tales suffers from problematic pacing. No sooner have we focused on one story line and set of characters than we’re shuttled off to another. But most of the individual pieces are enjoyable—and a few even memorable. Menhaj Huda’s “Grasshopper,” about a young, paranoid drug dealer’s comeuppance, has a tart ironic edge. Bob Hoskins’ “My Father, the Liar” captures a critical moment in a father-son relationship. McGregor’s charming “Bone,” about a musician’s composition and performance of a sweepingly romantic theme on a late-night train, is counterbalanced by Armando Iannucci’s “Mouth,” the most graphic comedic exploitation of projectile vomiting since Monty Python’s immortal Mr. Creosote. Produced for British TV, which has a tolerance for profanity, nudity, and sexual avidity that would never get past the shears of our own broadcasters.
—Joel E. Siegel
At 9:30 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Also screens Saturday, April 15, at 9:15 p.m. at Tenley Theatres.
Director Carlos Diegues updates the original play by Vincius de Moraes, made famous by Marcel Camus’ 1960 Black Orpheus, with a new score by Brazilian pop star Caetano Veloso.
At 10 p.m. at the National Geographic Society. Also screens Saturday, April 8, at 10 p.m. at the National Geographic Society.
“Filmfest DC for Kids: Program 1”
The local zoo’s polar bear returns a girl’s teddy bear, a wooden cuckoo’s routine is disrupted by some eggs, and two cats disagree over a fat cat’s new suit in some of these six ‘toons about animals and vegetables.
At 10:30 a.m. at the National Gallery of Art. Also screens Monday, April 10 through Saturday, April 15, at 10:30 a.m. at the National Gallery of Art. All screenings are free.
“Filmfest DC for Kids: Program 2”
A pirate, a king, and several houses are the subjects of some of these seven short films from Norway, Canada, Britain, France, and Cyprus.
At noon at the National Gallery of Art. Also screens Monday, April 10, Tuesday, April 11, Friday, April 14, and Saturday, April 15, at noon at the National Gallery of Art. All screenings are free.
Bed and Sofa (1927)
In this remarkably outspoken silent film, a young couple invites a friend to stay in their tiny Moscow apartment, precipitating commentary on several controversial aspects of life in the early days of the Soviet Union. Ray Brubacher accompanies on piano.
At 1 p.m. at the National Gallery of Art. Free.
In this kids’ drama, a 9-year-old sets out to save his favorite tree from construction plans envisioned by his father.
At 3 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. $3.
Big Digital Wave Panel
Directors Roko Belic and James M. Felter—who shot Genghis Blues and Rats, respectively, on digital video—are among the panelists discussing the possibilities of the fledgling medium.
At 3 p.m. at the American Film Institute. Free.
Bed and Sofa/Retro
Pyotr Todorovsky’s remake of the silent classic retains the original’s premise but depicts a less idealistic, more materialistic contemporary Moscow.
At 3:15 p.m. at the National Gallery of Art. Free. Film historian Anna Lawton will discuss the film following the screening.
“Short Stuff 1”
Joao Machado will appear to introduce his Estetyka, an 11-minute film in which a hooker and limo driver are transformed by a cross-country journey. The program also includes nine other shorts, including one by Emily Hubley.
At 5 p.m. at the American Film Institute.
or the Last Days
Newly arrived in Zurich, sweet-natured Russian call girl Irina (Elena Panova) eagerly dreams of being Swiss—and of bringing her family to enjoy the benefits of neutrality and bourgeois respectability. When she’s not pursuing her trade, she’s at the National Museum, studying her adopted homeland’s history and culture. Thanks to fashion designer and madam Charlotte (Geraldine Chaplin), Irina develops a clientele of well-connected and mostly kinky bankers, politicians, journalists, and military men; when scandal looms, Irina fears they will all forget her. Instead, she finds herself at the center of political upheaval in Europe’s most stable country. At first, director Daniel Schmid’s satire seems conventional, but as it widens its scope, the film comes to offer a devastating and hilarious critique of Swiss society and politics. Schmid got his start in the New German Cinema, collaborating with Fassbinder on no-budget films, but Beresina insinuates Fassbinderlike subversive wit into a crisp, high-production-values mainstream comedy. You may have to be Swiss to get all the jokes, but this is one of 1999’s funniest films from any country.—Mark Jenkins
At 6:15 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Also screens Friday, April 14, at 9:30 p.m. at Tenley Theatres.
The Closed Doors
A confused adolescent turns to Islamic fundamentalism in this Egyptian film set at the time of the Gulf War.
At 6:15 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens Sunday, April 9, at 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry.
The title of writer-director Sebastian Schipper’s film refers to the bonds of friendship, which one of its characters regards as “absolutely gigantic.” German Graffiti would be a more fitting handle for this comedy-drama about late adolescents cruising the dreary underside of Hamburg in an orange 1974 Ford Granada coupe. Floyd (dour Frank Giering), released from probation for an unspecified offense, signs on to a merchant ship heading for Cape Town and Singapore. He celebrates his last night on shore with his best buddies: Ricco (Florian Lukas), a slim, hyperactive blond who fancies himself a rapper, and Walter (Antoine Monot Jr.), a sly, moon-faced auto repairman. Their dusk-to-dawn misadventures include stops at several dingy dance clubs, an encounter with some pugnacious Elvis impersonators, frequent consumption of junk food, and an emergency trip to a hospital. Apart from Lukas’ lively performance, there’s little reason to take this brief (77 minutes), joyless joy ride.—Joel E. Siegel
At 6:30 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Also screens Monday, April 10, at 7 p.m. at Tenley Theatres.
of the Angels
Director Olivier Mille and co-writer Jean-Francois Colosimo travel to Siberia and Syria, Egypt and Ethiopia in search of Near Eastern Christian traditions in this rapturous documentary. The underlying link is music, but along their route the filmmakers find much mystery and more than a little tragedy, including monasteries turned into gulags by Stalin, and Armenians who fled to Syria to escape genocide in Turkey. (The film is quiet on the perils of being a Christian today in Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan.) To most Western Christians, both the locations and the rituals will seem exotic. Whether in Eastern Europe or Northern Africa, these worshipers practice a religion that is far closer to the Judaism from which it sprang than to the Euro-American world of organs, clapboard churches, and bake sales. Thanks to the recent commercial success of Bulgarian women’s choruses and Spanish monks, the music will be a little more familiar. Still, its spare, plaintive, vocal-oriented style is otherworldly. The film’s approach is too glancing to please serious musicologists, but it provides a beguiling introduction.—Mark Jenkins
At 7:30 p.m. at the American Film Institute. Also screens Monday, April 10, at 8:45 p.m. at the American Film Institute.
Journey to the Sun
Ethnic divides are traversed as a Turkish man returns the body of his friend, a Kurd killed in a police crackdown, to the friend’s remote hometown.
At 9 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Also screens Sunday, April 9, at 6:15 p.m. at Tenley Theatres.
Blind San Francisco bluesman Paul Pena enjoyed a brief vogue in the early ’70s, when he wrote a song that proves an apt theme for this documentary: “Jet Airliner.” Fascinated by Tuvan throat-singing, Pena later became the first American to learn the style, which involves producing low-pitched, guttural harmonics beneath a simultaneous vocal melody. Pena demonstrated his mastery to visiting Tuvan singer Kongar-ol Ondar while the latter was on an American tour; Ondar was so impressed that he invited Pena to enter a singing competition in Tuva, a semi-autonomous, North Dakota-sized Russian republic once heralded by physicist and philatelist Richard Feynman as the most remote place on earth. (As in all Western explorations of Tuva, the late Feynman plays a role here.) Director Roko Belic and crew accompanied Pena on his 1995 trek, and the result is this sprightly, ingratiating documentary. Pena’s trip is triumphant, but not without complications: While the locals celebrate ceremonies derived from Genghis Khan or the Buddha—the two extremes of Tuvan culture—Pena begins to panic as his supply of antidepressant medication runs low. Such bad vibes aside, though, Genghis Blues is cross-cultural bonding at its most charming. This film is scheduled to open commercially later this year.—Mark Jenkins
At 9:30 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Also screens Sunday, April 9, at 6:45 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Producer Adrian Belic will introduce the film at both screenings.
Filmmaker Rory Kennedy spent a year with a family of Appalachian subsistence farmers to make this HBO documentary, which has been shown several times at local nonprofit venues.
At 4 p.m. at the National Gallery of Art. Free. Director Rory Kennedy will introduce the film.
No sooner does Pierette descend upon Paris, where she’s returned from a wreck of a marriage in Switzerland, than she’s crisply asking her son to find her a job and pouting only slightly when she finds out he has only one bedroom. Catherine Frot’s characterization of the blithe, bright-eyed heroine is like a sustained ringing of the purest crystal—brittle, flawless, beautifully turned. Pierette has a curiously inadhesive soul; everything slides off her, from the life disasters she encounters to the ones she engenders. Through it all, she’s adored by simple types who ask for charm and manners from their teacher—she is hired to teach in a rough school—or colleague—she cashiers at a busy cafe, thrilled about the increase in pay from teaching. But Pierette is a deceptively complex woman, her dilettantism truly pernicious and damaging. “I have never been able to deprive myself of anything I wanted,” she explains, in a scene illustrating that point rather too well. With equal parts vivacity and obliviousness, she meddles in her daughter’s career, tries to secure the love of a priest, and lands in an ambiguous legal situation that casts her air of friendly competence, and her entire character, into question. La Dilettante is a philosophic comedy—it argues for the fun of debate—with the rapidly clicking gait of the breezy French crowd-pleaser.—Arion Berger
At 6 p.m. at the Embassy of France, followed by a reception with director Pascal Thomas; $20. Also screens Tuesday, April 11, at 6:30 p.m., at Tenley Theatres.
Ping Pong Bath Station
In Japanese orthography, “‘Domestic arts’ is written ‘flower’ over ‘bride,’ like someone’s being buried,” snaps the pushy talk-radio hostess to caller Sonoko (Keiko Matsuzaka), a discontented housewife who wants to find some meaning in life before the next metaphorical shovelful of dirt hits her face. The production team that brought the winning Shall We Dance? to Western audiences in 1997 has recaptured that film’s good-natured tone and sneakily subversive humor, in the kind of yay-life story the Japanese seem able to make adorable without succumbing to cutesiness. Sonoko finds it too much to bear when she discovers that the talk-show host threatens to close down the idyllic hot spring where Sonoko honeymooned; it’s the last vestige of the last time she was “a woman,” as she puts it, and not a teeth-grittingly cheery servant to a workaholic husband and oblivious hipster son. Before you can say “Tampopo,” Sonoko is whipping up a crew of understandably enchanted men on their way to making the bathhouse the table-tennis Wimbledon. Elegantly shot and featuring a lovely, arch violin score, Ping Pong Bath Station pokes fun at the vanity and history-worship—and sexism—of Japanese society; it’s another low-key comedic winner.—Arion Berger
At 6:30 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Also screens Tuesday, April 11, at 9:15 p.m. at Tenley Theatres and Saturday, April 15, at 6:45 p.m. at Tenley Theatres.
Indonesian film critic Marselli Sumarno’s directorial debut draws on Javan mythology for its tale of a young dancer who tries to seduce the god of the dead so he won’t claim her elderly husband.
At 6:45 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry, followed by a “CineCafe” panel discussion moderated by Muriel Peters. Also screens Monday, April 10, at 8:45 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry.
Third World Cop
The protagonist of this pulpy fiction is called Capone (Paul Campbell), but he’s the good guy—a no-nonsense Jamaican plainclothes cop just assigned to work the tough Kingston neighborhood where he grew up. Executive producer Chris Blackwell, who brought Bob Marley to the world as the head of Island Records, is responsible for the flick, which features a score by Sly & Robbie and Wally Badarou—and lots of reggae tunes. Still, this is no The Harder They Come, even if its director, Chris Browne, is the nephew of that film’s director, Perry Henzell. Slick and lifeless despite the opening sex scene and the many shootouts, the movie will do anything for a laugh, including pointlessly dressing Capone in drag so he can spy on an obviously corrupt cop scheming with the big villain, a gun-runner called Wonie because he has only one hand. The movie tries for dramatic depth with the discovery that Capone’s childhood friend Ratty has become one of Wonie’s lieutenants, but instead Browne should have turned his limited skills toward making the action scenes less inert. The characters’ patois is only intermittently subtitled, but the dialogue doesn’t amount to much anyway.—Mark Jenkins
At 8 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens Wednesday, April 12, at 8:45 p.m. and Saturday, April 15, at 6:45 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry.
Black and White in Color
Powerful Roma singer Vera Bila (Czech for “white”) and her band, Kale (Roma for “black”), are the subject of this hourlong documentary.
At 8:45 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens Monday, April 10, at 8:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry.
Comes by Night
In this Mexican comedy, a popular nurse is quite literally well-loved: She has five content husbands, plus two other men ready to wed her.
At 8:45 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Also screens Thursday, April 13, at 8:45 p.m. at the American Film Institute.
Greenwich Mean Time
A group of selfish, bickering musicians on the brink of adulthood—and the big time—indulge their most melodramatic fantasies in this silly, self-serious, fictional portrait of a young band trying to make it in what’s supposed to be South London but feels more like Fox network Teen Dramaland. The interracial lookers who make up a “jazz-jungle” band— jungle in that you can’t dance to it; jazz because some white kid plays the trumpet—face various cliched life choices while living in their manager’s mansion. There are a pregnancy scare, a traffic accident, descent into drug use, class resentment, and lots of spats over artistic differences. All of it makes too much sense, in its television-movie tidiness, and none of it feels particularly genuine—there are less-self-adoring young people on MTV’s Real World. The film’s main attraction is the music—by Talvin Singh, Lester Bowie, and Tricky, among others.—Arion Berger
At 9 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Also screens Monday, April 10, at 9:15 p.m. at Tenley Theatres.
In Po Chih Leong’s philosophical horror movie, Steven Grlscz (Jude Law) observes, “The line that separates good and evil cuts through every human heart.” He ought to know. A vampire wandering the world since the Renaissance, he has sustained his existence by preying on the love and blood of women. He’s torn between selfless, benevolent impulses and the need to survive. After the body of one of his victims is discovered, he enters into a Dostoyevskian cat-and-mouse relationship with a police investigator (Timothy Spall). While under suspicion, he takes up with Anne (Elina Lowensohn), an asthmatic structural engineer. Sensing that there’s something off about seductive Steven, Anne can’t decide whether to abandon him or succumb to him. It takes uncommon panache to carry off such fancy trash—Tony Scott’s stylish The Hunger with Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie, for example—but Paul Hoffman’s cheesy screenplay abounds with plot holes, and Leong’s direction clunks along from scene to scene without rhythm or momentum. Lowensohn’s weird, duckbilled beauty and heavily accented line readings are additional liabilities, but Law plays his Manichean character for what little it’s worth. Had he not attracted so much attention with his Oscar-nominated The Talented Mr. Ripley performance, it’s likely that this 1998 English production would have remained on the shelf, where it belongs. This film is scheduled to open commercially later this year.—Joel E. Siegel
At 9:15 p.m. at Tenley Theatres.
“Soup to Nuts of
The Washington region’s three government film offices present an overview of making and selling documentaries.
At 6:30 p.m. at the American Film Institute. First come, first served. Free.
If Only You Understood
Cuban director Rolando Diaz aspires to make a musical but gets distracted telling the stories of the eight women who audition. This film has a U.S. distributor.
At 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens Wednesday, April 12, at 9:15 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry.
The title of this Spanish drama means “alone,” but “alone together” might be more appropriate. Looking a little too glamorous for her life as an alcoholic cleaning woman, Maria (Maria Galiana) lives friendlessly in Seville. (She has a lover, but he’s a creep, and their relationship is only sexual.) Maria’s mother, Rosa (Ana Fernandez), comes to stay with her daughter when Rosa’s abusive husband, Maria’s estranged father, is brought to the city for emergency surgery. The widower downstairs develops a crush on Rosa, and the older woman is taken with the man’s gentility, but of course she must stay with her brutal husband. Perhaps, however, the lonely neighbor can play a role in Maria’s life, especially now that the younger woman is pregnant. Benito Zambrano’s film is terse and unflowery, but ultimately seems a bit of a cheat: In the film’s final minutes, the central characters—despite being psychically destroyed or despairing—find their way to a cozy domestic arrangement.—Mark Jenkins
At 6:30 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Also screens Tuesday, April 11, at 9:45 p.m. at Tenley Theatres.
French neo-realism in drab. Madeleine goes about her drab life in a drab Paris full of gray parks, dirty hallways with flickering lights, and lovelessness and empty vanity. In the dreary dress shop where she works, the 35-year-old spinster observes vulgar bourgeois women’s bodily and financial neuroses. Her own relationship to romance is no less bizarre—a series of odd encounters builds a contradictory portrait of a shabby, lovelorn, surprisingly passionate woman who depends on daily horoscopes, personal ads, and homemade superstitious bargains to control her day. The color scheme is a miserable pale blue, with intense touches that emphasize Madeleine’s alienation—silence and ambient noise, suspenseful tight closeups, slow pans between characters that continue past them. Laurent Bouhnik plans to follow up Madeleine’s story in a series of films that track a decade of her life, a sort of fictional French 7 Up.—Arion Berger
At 6:45 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens Tuesday, April 11, at 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry.
Throne of Death
As long as films like this one exist, the world will never be as small and homogenized as it often feels in this global age. Marana Simhasanam’s splendidly photographed, tranquilly directed fable about culture and bureaucracy lingers over its tight close-ups—all of them ravishing—and contains almost no dialogue except for the plot-advancing kind. It derives its power from the images and that eerie, complacent tone. In a fleaspeck island in Kerala, sharecropper Krishnan steals some coconuts from his landlord. Because it is election time and a prominent landowner has been murdered, Krishnan—whom no one dislikes or even condemns for the theft—is accused of the crime and sentenced to die. Some rabble-rousers protest, while others complain that this course of action seems very unfair, but Krishnan’s ignominious martyrdom to bureaucracy takes on mythic shape when a fancy new “electronic chair,” imported from America, arrives to do the honors. The screenplay captures the overwhelming resignation and complacency of the villagers through subtle, seemingly disconnected moments—the reading of a newspaper report about U.S. intervention in Kosovo; a sinuous song whose lyrics about the flower-and-gold anointing of a bride mirror the homage paid to the village’s human sacrifice. A truly difficult, unsettling film, Throne of Death was awarded Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 1999.
At 6:45 p.m. at Tenley Theatres.
Like his debut feature, Steam: The Turkish Bath, director Ferzan Ozpetek’s Harem Suare takes place in an exotic enclosure that functions as a sensory and spiritual liberation zone. Contained in a complex double narrative framework, Ozpetek’s and Gianni Romoli’s screenplay depicts the rise and fall of a young Italian woman who becomes part of the sultan’s harem in the twilight of the Ottoman Empire. Safiye (a role shared by Marie Gillain and the great Lucia Bose as the character’s young and older incarnations) forges a romantic alliance with Nadir (Alex Descas), a black eunuch—yes, they have a sex scene—in her ascent to becoming one of the Sultan’s favorites and the bearer of his child. But history and fate betray Safiye, who ends up supporting herself by dancing in music halls and recounting her life story to a sympathetic stranger in a railway station. With its exotic women, sumptuous decors, and costumes, Harem Suare is a much grander and more explicit production than the relatively spare, teasingly enigmatic Steam. Although slowly paced and marked by several confusing narrative twists, its poetic moments far outweigh its longueurs.—Joel E. Siegel
At 8:45 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Also screens Wednesday, April 12, at 6:30 p.m. at Tenley Theatres.
This boisterous social satire and coming-of-age comedy opens on Christmas 1967, and because it’s set in Czechoslovakia, you can guess when it will end: August 20, 1968, with the arrival of the Warsaw Pact tanks that halt the country’s attempt at liberalization. Until then, ideology is mostly a matter for heated conversation between the members of two neighboring families, one headed by a loyal Communist, the other by an anti-Communist former resistance fighter. Like many a cinematic bildungsroman, however, Jan Hrebejk’s film is more concerned with young love and budding cinephilia: Michal, the son of the Commie, desperately loves Jindra, the daughter of the anti-Commie, but she loves Elien, the hip, long-haired boy whose parents send him trendy Western clothing from their home in D.C. The supercool, if slightly nasty, Elien is also the guy who projects Jean Marais and John Wayne films on an outside wall for the edification of the neighbors. The youthful yearning seems real enough, but the political commentary—notably a running gag on the superiority of Soviet Bloc plastic—is less than subtle.—Mark Jenkins
At 9 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Also screens Tuesday, April 11, at 9 p.m. at Tenley Theatres.
Israeli director and co-writer Arik Kaplun’s Yana’s Friends offers a fool’s bargain: two unsatisfying movies for the price of one. Its first half consists of typical Filmfest misery. Yana, an attractive Russian immigrant, arrives in Tel Aviv just before the Gulf War. Soon abandoned by her husband, she’s broke, pregnant, and forced to share an apartment with Eli, a horny, voyeuristic would-be filmmaker who stalks and covertly videotapes her. Other denizens of this vale of tears include an elderly paralyzed war hero turned street beggar by his family, a no-nonsense landlady, and Yana’s little dog, easily the movie’s most appealing presence. Once Iraqi missiles start flying, Yana’s Friends inexplicably turns into a comic romantic fantasy, filled with blissful couplings and contrived reunions that would make even Nora Ephron guffaw. There’s little
to recommend here apart from a few pleasant performances and some neo-documentary glimpses of the Israeli metropolis.—Joel E. Siegel
At 6:15 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Also screens Wednesday, April 12, at 9:15 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Star Moscu Alcalay will introduce the film at each screening.
Rien sur Robert
Rien sur Robert fulfills its titular promise. Writer-director Pascal Bonitzer’s screenplay does not contain a character named Robert or, unfortunately, much else of interest. Fabrice Luchini is all too convincing as Didier Temple, a wormy Parisian film critic given to reviewing movies he hasn’t seen. (A case in question is Emir Kusturica’s Underground, the subject of intense squabbling among French intellectuals.) As the film opens, he’s dumped by his sexually volatile live-in girlfriend, Juliette (Sandrine Kiberlain), who immediately takes up with a director of TV documentaries whom she picks up in a park. Mistakenly crashing a dinner party, Didier is intimidated by a handsome young rival writer (Laurent Lucas) and seduced by passionate, emotionally disturbed Aurelie (Valentina Cervi). Thanks to Christophe Pollock’s sunny camerawork and the striking presence of both Kiberlain and Cervi (who share one of the most graphic discussions about sex ever filmed), this tail-chasing movie is easy enough to sit through. But after nearly two hours, we scarcely know more about Bonitzer’s characters than we did upon first encountering them; the experience is a waste of talent (his) and time (ours).
—Joel E. Siegel
At 6:30 p.m. at the American Film Institute. Also screens Wednesday, April 12, at 9 p.m. at the American Film Institute.
The Five Senses
Canadian writer-director Jeremy Podeswa’s compassionate, elegantly structured and executed ensemble piece is surely one of Filmfest’s highlights. Set in Toronto during a weekend in which the city is consumed by the mysterious disappearance of a 3-year-old child, The Five Senses introduces us to a collection of individuals at crossroads in their lives. The title refers to the screenplay’s association of characters with particular senses: a widowed masseuse (Gabrielle Rose) whose healing touch cannot soothe her alienated teenage daughter (Nadia Litz); a divorced, music-loving ophthalmologist (Philippe Volter) who is going deaf; a baker (Mary-Louise Parker) whose special-order cakes look better than they taste; and a disillusioned gay housekeeper (Daniel MacIvor) who can “smell” love. (Podeswa apparently devised this conceit, which never becomes obtrusively schematic, as a hook for a project that might otherwise have seemed too complex in tone to attract backing.) Exquisitely photographed by Gregory Middleton, the film boasts a gallery of first-rate leading actors and lively supporting performers, including Marco Leonardi as Parker’s energetic, nurturing Italian lover and Brendan Fletcher as Litz’s cross-dressing fellow teen outcast. Although several of the plot resolutions are a shade too pat, The Five Senses’ appealing, multidimensional characters and unexpectedly shifting moods prove to be consistently entertaining and deeply satisfying. This film is scheduled to open commercially later this year.—Joel E. Siegel
At 6:45 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Also screens Wednesday, April 12, at 9 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Director Jeremy Podeswa will introduce the film at both screenings.
Show Me Love
Two 15-year-old girls from very different circumstances fall in love in Lukas Moodysson’s film, a category-defying box-office smash in its native Sweden. This film has a U.S. distributor and has already opened in some cities.
At 7 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens Wednesday, April 12, at 6:45 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry.
A group of lively Central American women is imported to a small Spanish town whose mostly male inhabitants are dour but financially comfortable. This is the second film by former actress Iciar Bollain, who appeared in Land and Freedom before making Hi, Are You Alone?.
At 8:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens Wednesday, April 12, at 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry.
Golden-haired, sweet-faced Siv (Hege Schoyen) lives through longing. Her upcoming marriage to Fred has brought out all the blushing giddiness of a bride-to-be awash in gowns and flowers; her work for the opera—as a prompter, a silent presence—entails literally encouraging the artists, and the music enchants her routinely. But over the course of these two enterprises—marriage and work—Siv begins to give way more and more. After putting aside her own needs, catering to Fred’s difficult children, and whispering from underneath the stage—the very symbol of the place she has never taken—Siv finds that the exquisite pain of yearning is no longer enough. A friendly tuba player (Philip Zanden), whose passion for Siv is something she’s never before encountered, adds to her confusion. The Prompter is filmed as if it were one of the opulent, fluttery operas it refers to, all Baroque gold and angles, and its vivacious pace and sensible but romantic heroine deepen the quandary over whether one can reverse life’s course or only let the show go on.—Arion Berger
At 9 p.m. at the American Film Institute. Also screens Thursday, April 13, at 6:30 p.m. at the American Film Institute.
A la Place du Coeur
Marius et Jeannette director Robert Guediguian’s latest is another politically charged tale of lovers in his native Marseilles; this film’s couple must confront the charges of a corrupt racist cop.
At 6:15 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Also screens Friday, April 14, at 9:45 p.m. at Tenley Theatres.
Earth and Water
In a remote region of northern Greece, charismatic nature boy Nicolas is having a passionate, secret affair with high-schooler Constantina; when she gets pregnant, her older brother takes her for an abortion and tells Nicolas he’ll kill him if the lovers ever meet again. Nicolas leaves his family’s village home for the big city, where he gets an education in vice. The former goatherd takes a job in a nightclub, and he soon meets that staple of recent European films: the young Eastern European refugee who’s using prostitution to make a new life in the West. Constantina moves to the city, too, becoming a clothing-shop clerk, but in the debased circumstances of urban life, she and Nicolas can never recapture the innocence of their former love. Writer-director Panos Karkanevatos’ film is somber, elliptical, and a little ponderous. His rendering of rural life’s primal connection is sometimes overwrought—at one point, he intercuts Nicolas and Constantina’s lovemaking with the ritual butchering of a calf—and his notions of urban corruption are glib.—Mark Jenkins
At 6:30 p.m. at the American Film Institute. Also screens Saturday, April 15, at 7:30 p.m. at the American Film Institute.
Each Filmfest unearths at least one exercise in soul-crushing, mind-boggling, heart-stopping tedium. German producer-director-co-writer Veit Helmer’s allegorical Tuvalu is this year’s soporific horror, almost as difficult to describe as it is to endure. Employing tinted black-and-white photography and barely 100 words of dialogue, Helmer attempts to emulate the visual texture of silent movies—an effort counterbalanced by a hyperactive soundtrack. In what substitutes for a plot and characters, an old man and his son attempt to keep a dilapidated public swimming pool operative while dreaming of setting sail on an equally ramshackle ship for the titular South Seas island. Helmer cannibalizes an assortment of impressive influences, including silent German expressionist films, Guy Maddin’s neo-primitive features, Keaton’s The Navigator, Chaplin’s Modern Times, Jerzy Skolimowski’s surrealist bathhouse comedy-drama Deep End, and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. But Tuvalu entombs these borrowings in excruciating pretentiousness and punishingly lethargic pacing, then frosts them with a suffocating layer of leaden Teutonic humor. I would prefer having root-canal surgery without anesthesia to suffering through this self-indulgent fiasco again.—Joel E. Siegel
At 7 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Also screens Thursday, April 13, at 6:30 p.m. at Tenley Theatres.
The Limit of Time
Like Water for Chocolate editor Carlos Bolado’s directorial debut, which has been compared to the works of Antonioni, follows a man who travels into the desert to atone for his role in a hit-and-run smash-up.
At 8:45 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Also screens Thursday, April 13, at 9 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Director Carlos Bolado will introduce the film at both screenings.
A Time to Love
This Italian film tells three interconnected stories of love, set during the Boer War, in France during World War II, and in contemporary Italy.
At 6:15 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Also screens Friday, April 14, at 6:45 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Director Giacomo Campiotti will introduce the film at both screenings.
Such performers as Beres Hammond provide the music for this glimpse of dancehall reggae culture in London, which focuses on one woman with ambitions to be more than decoration to the scene. The film has a U.S. distributor.
At 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens Saturday, April 15, at 9:15 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry.
This brutal and discomfiting portrait of a people at war with itself refuses to lay blame or even judge the numb, violent behavior of Lebanese people dehumanized by 20 years of civil strife. Instead, Randa Chahal Sabbag’s alert, unblinking camera merely watches the juggernaut of horrors as it rolls souls flat—families split up; feral self-preservation becomes the order of the day; the smallest child is not immune to greed, vanity, or exploitation. Civilisees roughly follows the paths of servants holding down the lavish forts while the local bourgeoisie escapes to Europe. There are a couple of young terrorists learning on the job, a sturdy sniper who plays cards with a dead man, a French doctor whose presence further destabilizes the landscape, and timorous maids pushed around by older servants who are as despondent as—but more resilient than—their teenage counterparts. The everyday brutality is shocking and exponential; and Sabbag’s cinema verite style has a convincing offhandedness that gives this patchwork of broken lives an undeniable cumulative power.—Arion Berger
At 6:30 p.m. at General Cinema Mazza Gallerie, followed by a “CineCafe” panel discussion with director Randa Chahal Sabbag, who will also appear at the screening Friday, April 14, at 6:30 p.m. at the American Film Institute, which will be followed by a reception at the Jerusalem Fund.
Talk about looking for love in all the wrong places: Maria (Karolina Dryzner) works in a switching tower at a remote Polish rail junction, where the only men seem to be lecherous, middle-aged (and usually married) train-crew members, drug dealers (a segment of the population that includes her brother), and a retarded guy who follows her around. Maria’s brash friend Krystyna (Ewa Lorska) actively pursues the rail workers, although she’s usually disappointed. Frustrated and lonely, Maria eventually emulates Krystyna’s wardrobe—but discovers that shortening her skirts isn’t enough to transform her into a party girl. Not that Krystyna’s having all that much fun, anyway; she doesn’t even want to talk about what happened when she went to the city to take a job at an escort service. Urszula Urbaniak’s bleak vignettes capture the drabness of life on the margins of Polish society all too well. Despite the occasional rape or death, The Junction is really nowheresville.—Mark Jenkins
At 6:45 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens Friday, April 14, at 9:15 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry.
An Affair of Love
A man and a woman answer each other’s ads seeking “anonymous, pornographic sex” but find themselves getting emotionally involved. This Belgian film (originally called A Pornographic Affair) has a U.S. distributor, which made a title change so as not to frighten squeamish or irony-impaired Americans.
At 6:45 p.m. at Tenley Theatres.
A Glass of Rage
The battle of the sexes is fought naked in this encounter between two unnamed lovers, a female journalist (Julia Lemmertz) and a male builder (Alexandre Borges) who meet at the latter’s compound on the edge of the ominously fecund Brazilian jungle. Director and co-writer Aluizio Abranches adapted the scenario from a novel by Raduan Nassar, and the proceedings do eventually get talky. The first half-hour, though, is virtually wordless, as the couple moves from halting conversation to a lengthy bout of athletic sex. (Given the opportunity, the MPAA would surely deem the movie NC-17.) The man offers occasional remarks in voice-over, but most of the dialogue is yelled in a flurry of postcoital imprecations that range from “Fascist!” to “Shitty journalist!” to “My filthy love!” Whatever.—Mark Jenkins
At 8:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens Friday, April 14, at 9:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry and Saturday, April 15, at 9 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry. Director Aluizio Abranches will introduce the film at all screenings.
When the Dead
In this dark comedy, two refugees decide to return home from Berlin to Croatia—one in a coffin, the other posing as the casket’s attendant.
At 8:45 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Also screens Friday, April 14, at 9:15 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Director Krsto Papic and producer Tony Mandich will introduce the film at each screening.
Love and Basketball
Gina Prince-Bythewood directs midgame combat like the college athlete she was, capturing its swiftness and the competing senses of mental serenity and physical frenzy. Her Hollywood-style saga of two young athletes who fall for each other while trying to live out their hoop dreams is sweeping and intimate, an earnest look at how love of the game changed the game of love in the Title IX years, and how hiphop, feminism, and the golden promise of athletic success have shaped a generation of young African-Americans. Quincy (Omar Epps) is the arrogant son of an L.A. Clipper and his trophy wife; Monica (breakout star Sanaa Lathan) is a gangly, brave tomboy who believes that talent is all she needs. Scenes of the two on the court have a sparring, teasing competitiveness and sweetly sexy confidence. Despite her old-fashioned, decade-spanning love story, Prince-Bythewood is too honest to allow for simplicities to iron out these kids’ lives; their decisions are difficult, their humiliations great, their regrets numerous, and their fates a bittersweet compromise. This film is scheduled to open commercially later this year.—Arion Berger
At 9 p.m. at General Cinema Mazza Gallerie. Also screens Saturday, April 15, at 9:30 p.m. at Tenley Theatres.
Mobutu, King of Zaire
Contrary to the title of this film, Mobutu Sese Seko never declared himself king of Zaire. That would have been too small-time for a man who imagined himself both a god and the populist president of the country he renamed (from the Congo, which it is again) and remade in his own image. Belgian director Thierry Michel’s documentary provides a useful overview of the journalist-turned-dictator’s career, from his 1965 overthrow of Patrice Lumumba in a CIA-endorsed coup to his 1997 death. Although hardly a force for democracy, Mobutu never went Communist, thus guaranteeing Belgian, French, and U.S. support for his bloodthirsty, incompetent regime. Still, in archival footage he’s seen with Mao, Ceausescu, and Indira Gandhi as well as Nixon, de Gaulle, and the elder George Bush. The last was supposedly a close friend—which makes sense, because Mobutu was in large measure a creature of the CIA. Despite many clips of interviews with him, little sense of Mobutu emerges. He knew Machiavelli’s The Prince “by heart,” claims one former associate, and made a point of bedding his closest advisers’ wives, but if he had any motivation other than vanity and greed, this account can’t find it.
At 9 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens Friday, April 14, at 6 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry. Director Thierry Michel will introduce the film at both screenings.
Mehdi is a good man with a good job—he’s a functionary of the convoluted and often arbitrary Turkish bureaucracy. When he returns to his tiny desert village, Hislihisar, to set up a border crossing with Syria, it’s as a hero—the villagers give him a beautiful white horse (he names it Napoleon, in one of the many jokes on the nature of empire) and await the wedding of his son Adem to the daughter of Rahim, the local circumciser. Unfortunately, according to the government’s measuring tape, the border divides the young lovers’ houses. This is no Romeo and Juliet—it’s a raucous, absurdist comedy about the transitory divisions between people and the permanent attachments of family and culture. Director Sinan cetin’s phrasing is perfect, the photography beautiful without being showy, and the acting hilariously—or heartbreakingly—natural. While the villagers try to work their sheep-trading and village businesses around the barbed-wire border, the lovers panic, and Mehdi’s wife stages an obdurate protest, Mehdi himself must reconcile his duty to the government with his duty to his people, and the result is a delicious political comedy bathed in desert dust.—Arion Berger
At 9:15 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Also screens Friday, April 14, at 6:30 p.m. at Tenley Theatres, and Saturday, April 15, at 7 p.m. at Tenley Theatres.
A young widow awaits a supernatural sign that her only daughter is not really dead in this Mexican magical-realist tale, which won the Latin American Award at Sundance in 1999. The film has a
At 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry. Also screens Saturday, April 15, at 6:30 p.m. at Loews Cineplex Foundry. Director Alejandro Springall will introduce the film at both screenings.
Split Wide Open
In Dev Benegal’s intricate narrative, a guy from Bombay’s mean streets meets a beautiful TV host who’s returned to India from England in search of her heritage.
At 7 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. Also screens Saturday, April 15, at 9 p.m. at Tenley Theatres.
Ten Years With
the Band Fugazi
Avoiding the mainstream is one of Fugazi’s central principles, and this arty documentary by longtime band pal Jem Cohen certainly does that; you probably had to be there for at least some aspect of the band’s career to really appreciate it. A hyperactive collage of concert, rehearsal, interview, and on-the-road clips, Instrument won’t make much sense to outsiders, despite the energy of some of the music and the beauty of many of the rough-edged Super-8 and video images. (Cohen is credited as second-unit director on the new Ethan Hawke version of Hamlet, which certainly shows the influence of his low-res sensibility.) More live footage would have made the thing more engaging; Guy Picciotto’s onstage abandon is a lot more interesting to watch than footage of highway signs or the guys shopping at supermarkets. Ian MacKaye is heard to explain, not once but twice, that Fugazi wants neither to be defined by others (too manipulated) nor define itself (too manipulative). Still, some of the film’s most stirring moments come when the band is taking a stand: playing against the Gulf War, denouncing gay-bashing from the stage, stopping violent slam-dancing. Picciotto’s plan to kill George Burns is pretty good, too. Cohen and members of the band will attend the screening.
At 10:15 p.m. at the American Film Institute. Also screens Saturday, April 15, at 9:45 p.m. at the American Film Institute. Director Jem Cohen and members of Fugazi will introduce the film at both screenings.
Directors whose work is featured at Filmfest DC gather to discuss their cinematic approaches.
At 3 p.m. at Borders Books and Music, 1800 L Street NW. Free.
“Animation for All Ages”
At 3 p.m. at Tenley Theatres. $3.
The Alloy Orchestra
Live With “Masters
National Gallery regulars the Alloy Orchestra accompany three silent comedies made between 1917 and 1929: Buster Keaton’s One Week, Laurel and Hardy’s Big Business, and Charlie Chaplin’s Easy Street.
At 3:30 p.m. at the National Gallery of Art. Free.
“Short Stuff II”
The much-anthologized Billy’s Balloon, a cartoon in which a balloon batters a stick-figure kid, is one of nine shorts in this program.
At 5 p.m. at the American Film Institute.
Portuguese master Manoel de Oliveira’s latest film transports the premise of the 17th-century French novel La Princesse de Cleves to contemporary Paris, with Chiara Mastroianni as a young married woman concerned with seemingly outdated matters of virtue and spirituality.
At 4 p.m. at the National Gallery of Art. Free.
A frothy comedy about a plump Madrid schoolboy and his working-class family, Spanish director Miguel Albaladejo’s movie will no doubt prove to be a Filmfest closing-night crowd pleaser. Adapted from a comic strip, this brief, undemanding feature recounts the misadventures of Manolito and his toddler brother (dubbed “the Moron”), exasperated mother, hard-working father, sympathetic grandfather, and unruly classmates. Little Manolito’s narration stitches together the fragmentary plot, which includes a shifty sleight-of-hand contrivance that allows the movie to end with the family frolicking at a beach resort, despite their ongoing hardscrabble existence. The choice of an unchallenging commercial entertainment lacking any trace of formal or thematic creativity as this season’s finale dramatizes the impasse Filmfest DC faces in its 14th year: Will the event continue as a second-class assemblage of leftovers from the previous year’s international film festivals? Or will directors Tony Gittens and Shirin Ghareeb dig in and upgrade it to attract innovative new productions by first-rate filmmakers? As before, Filmfest gives us a welcome opportunity to see works that otherwise would never be screened in Washington. But it has yet to realize its potential as a world-class cinematic showcase in the capital city.
—Joel E. Siegel
At 4 p.m. at the Ronald Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, followed by a closing night party at Palomino’s, $25.