Credit: Illustration by Devon Bowman

Filmfest DC does pretty much the same thing every year, but does that mean the event is in a rut? The answer varies from fest to fest and depends to a large degree on the luck of the draw. The 2006 lineup was rutty, but this year’s edition looks more promising.

That’s not because the programmers have changed their strategy: They return annually to the same regions, the same themes, and the same directors. But one year yields limp Latin American magical realism, and the next it musters smart films from reliable producers like France. French cinema is featured in this fest, and if showing Gallic films is hardly a bold notion, it’s worked out rather well: Included are the latest from Alain Resnais, Costa-Gavras, and Robert Guediguian, as well as a powerful Edith Piaf biopic.

Guediguian, whose films rarely get commercial releases in the U.S., is a Filmfest regular. Other repeat directors include Mani Ratnam, whose subversions of the Bollywood musical deserve a wider audience, and Kim Ki-duk, a Korean bad boy whose provocations are inconsistent but always interesting. This is where Filmfest shines: showing movies that really ought to get mainstream U.S. distribution but don’t.

Kim’s Time and Guediguian’s Armenia were available for preview, but Ratnam’s Guru and about 50 others were not. Choosing which films to see this year will involve more guesswork, since fewer entries were made available for press previews. For recent fests, City Paper has been able to review roughly 35 films; this year, we’re down to about 20. (We also include a brief guide to 13 Filmfest movies, some of them previewed, that are scheduled or likely to appear on local screens shortly after the fest is over.)

Of the available films, our critics liked a diverse array of documentaries, including The Cats of Mirikitani (a compelling biography), The First Basket (as in basketball), and The God of a Second Chance (a chapter of local anthropology). They also endorse three films presented under the venerable “Global Rhythms” rubric: Old, Weird America, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, and Vinicius.

Our reviewers praise more than a half dozen fiction films, most of them balanced between comedy and drama: Armenia, Japan’s Hula Girls, My Mexican Shivah, Scotland’s Red Road, and India’s Yatra. Two films show how Filmfest’s longstanding dedication to Arab and African cinema pays off: Sounds of Sand is a grim desert drama that’s hard going but worth the effort, and What a Wonderful World is the sort of blackly comic romp that’s entirely unexpected from the Islamic world.

There is one notable change this year, but it’s logistical: Nearly all the films will be shown at the Wisconsin Avenue Cinemas, recently abandoned by AMC Loews. Having most of the showings at the same complex will be convenient for hardcore film-fest patrons and should give the event the cohesive vibe more akin to that of larger festivals in Toronto and Berlin. But where Filmfest in recent years was becoming part of the vitality of a resurgent downtown entertainment district, this year’s location will strand that energy on a sleepy, quasi-suburban strip without much in the way of cafes, restaurants, or other hangouts.

See you at McDonald’s. —Mark Jenkins

Unless otherwise noted, showings take place at the Wisconsin Avenue Cinemas, 4000 Wisconsin Ave. NW, and admission is $9. For more information, call (202) 628-3456 or visit filmfestdc.org.

Friday, April 20

Red Road

In Glasgow, CCTV cameras are as ubiquitous as shell suits and budgies. Jackie (Kate Dickie) controls the lenses on a particularly grim housing project, calling in the police when she spots crimes or someone who needs help. Sometimes prurience gets the better of her, though, and she’ll zoom in on a cute old lady, a guy walking his dog, a couple shagging against a wall—wait! It’s the guy who killed her husband and daughter! Jackie sets to stalking that fellow, a bit of rough named Clyde (Tony Curran), using the tools of her job at first, then by following him into a cafe and to a party at his particularly grim apartment in that particularly grim project, where she…kisses him. Thus begins one of the tensest, least comfortable screen courtships in recent memory, replete with lines such as, “I was wondering what your cunt tasted like,” and an eye-searing, uncomfortably realistic (or maybe just real) sex scene lit by a lamp knocked over by the participants. Jackie follows this consensual act of athletic congress by tearing her clothes, cutting her face, and calling the police to accuse Clyde of rape. We don’t find out how the characters free themselves of their half-a-person existences, or what events that put them there, ’til the very end. That’s when director Andrea Arnold pulls off the remarkable feat of not only making all these broken people likable but also producing a Dogma film that ends on a note of hope. —Andrew Beaujon

At 6:30 p.m. Also at 9 p.m. Saturday, April 21.

Sounds of Sand

At the beginning of this harrowing film, Rahne (Isaka Sawadogo) discusses killing his newborn daughter, Shasha. After all, he’s a poor man, and he already has two healthy sons. But when the baby’s mother attempts to run away with her, Rahne wisely relents. Shasha (Asma Nouman Aden) will live to conquer, almost a decade later, the family’s greatest challenge: a trek across the desert that few of the people or their animals will survive. Adapted from a novel by director Marion Hänsel, Sounds of Sand is as beautiful and appalling as its landscape, whose exact location in Francophone Saharan Africa is never identified. Driven by drought at home, Rahne takes his family into one of the driest places on earth on a desperate pilgrimage to a lake region. And sun and thirst aren’t the only threats, as the region is rife with land mines and patrolled by soldiers and rebels who are equally likely to victimize travelers. This is impeccable filmmaking, but it’s not for the overly sensitive; a scene in which Shasha tries to save a dying goat is almost unbearable. —Mark Jenkins

At 6:30 p.m. Also at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, April 22.

Forever Never Anywhere

Antonin Svoboda’s Austrian entry, Forever Never Anywhere, largely takes place inside a car that has run off the road and is now stuck in the mud, wedged tightly between two trees. Its glass, for a rather amusing reason, is bulletproof. And so its occupants—sparring brothers-in-law Rafael (Dirk Stermann) and Manfred (Christoph Grissemann) and a bad variety-show performer, Schwanenmeister (Heinz Strunk), who they picked up after he had his own accident—are trapped. Svoboda’s story is interesting and, for the most part, well-done. The dialogue is witty (Manfred bemoans a drug store that will offer him nothing but Xanax, saying, “This ridiculous pharmacy has nothing for existential loathing”), and the actors are natural with characters who have both believable quirks—and believable breakdowns the longer they’re in the car. You’ll be either infuriated or entertained by a momentum-goosing twist that involves a masochistic kid who decides to use the victims as a science project; at the very least, you’ll sympathize with the men who are by now going out of their minds. Unfortunately, Svoboda ruins his film with an absurdly abrupt end that couldn’t care less about the time and compassion you’ve invested in these characters. Ultimately, Forever Never Anywhere actually goes nowhere. —Tricia Olszewski

At 6:45 p.m. Also at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 21.

Just Sex and Nothing Else

Hungarian director Krisztina Goda’s Just Sex and Nothing Else sounds Hollywood-tired. A romantic comedy about a career woman in her early 30s who wants a baby but not a babydaddy, Goda’s film has all its clichés in a row: the meet-cute, the jerky/boring/dorky guys, best friends who moan about men, breakups that trigger all-sugar or all-booze diets. But the story of Dora (Judit Schell) and her ticking clock has everything tripe like Must Love Dogs doesn’t. As the lonely dramaturge tries to deal with the advances of an arrogant actor (Kontroll‘s Sandor Csanyi), a goofy market clerk (Antal Czapko), and a seems-perfect composer (Zoltan Seress), dialogue sparkles without being impossibly clever and the plot doesn’t exactly travel the pulverized romcom path. Some of Goda’s ideas are a bit dated—personal ads still carry a stigma here, as does being past your 20s and unmarried. But the characters (such as a coarse but refreshingly self-deprecating theater director) and comic bits (such as Dora’s walk through the donor waiting area of a sperm bank) are so endearing that such missteps are quibbles. An unconventionally good-looking cast doesn’t hurt, either. —TO

At 9 p.m. Also at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 21.

Saturday, April 21

Old, Weird America: Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music

If you don’t know who “enthomusicologist” Harry Smith is, Rani Singh’s documentary Old, Weird America: Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music won’t give you a very intimate idea. But you will get some damn fine music. The late Smith has been celebrated for culling his remarkably extensive record collection to create the 1952 anthology, comprising 84 tracks of traditional American music from 1927 to 1934. He won two Grammies for his effort—Rolling Stone called it “a bedrock of our national music identity”—and, in 2005, it became part of the National Recording Registry, cementing it as a culturally important work. Singh’s documentary presents footage of old and new performances of the anthology’s musical selections, including ones by Beck, Sonic Youth, Steve Earle, and the Folksmen (otherwise known as the faux group from Christopher Guest’s A Mighty Wind). It also highlights the collection’s resurgence after a reissue in 1997, which was accompanied by five concerts known as the Harry Smith Project organized by producer Hal Willner. Commentators, including Allen Ginsberg, David Johansen, and Bob Neuwirth, contribute their reverential thoughts on the anthology and on Smith himself. Neuwirth points out that the music has endured because it speaks of emotions from rage and sorrow to joy and love. “If you can’t relate to these,” he says, “you are your TV set.” —TO

At 6:30 p.m. at American University’s Greenberg Theater.

Never on a Sunday

The plot of Mexico’s Never on a Sunday sounds like a Weekend at Bernie’snstyle farce: When a beloved uncle dies on the Lord’s day, his family can’t find a coroner to take care of the body. A favor is called in—and a little money is slipped—to a mortician named Joaquin (Silverio Palacios), who agrees to cremate Julio. Julio’s hangdog teenage nephew, Carlos (Humberto Busto), is charged with taking care of the arrangements but never stays to witness the cremation—quite the mistake, because as Carlos’ medical-school friend soon figures out, Joaquin is really in the business of selling bodies to universities and such, and the ashes that Carlos brings home are those of a couple of dogs. Carlos’ decision to lay his uncle to rest without telling his family about the situation is not played for laughs, though: Respect for the dead is the main theme here, a message that even Joaquin begins to understand when he faces a tragedy of his own. The acting is terrific, especially Busto’s heartbreaking turn as a kid with a reputation as a perpetual screw-up and puppyish Palacios’ complex Joaquin, who’s a gentle, loving family man at home yet callous and violent when business is at hand. —TO

At 9:30 p.m. at American University’s Greenberg Theater. Also at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 22, at American University’s Greenberg Theater.

Sunday, April 22

Yatra

Bengali director Goutam Ghose’s thematically diverse film chronicles the clash between old and new values in contemporary India, only to transcend the conflict. Dasrath (Nana Patekar) is an esteemed novelist whose children live in a world of electronics and consumerism, not literature. When he wins a major literary prize, Dasrath travels to Delhi by plane instead of train—much to the surprise of the awards dinner’s young organizer, who admits to the novelist that she reads his work in English because “my Hindi is not so good.” At the ceremony, Dasrath ruffles the crowd with a speech that denounces contemporary pop culture, then gets drunk. He tells everyone he’s returning home but instead goes in search of the dancer and courtesan who inspired his novel, a story Ghose interweaves with the writer’s own. Dasrath finds the woman whose memory haunts him, but she is not entirely as he recalled. Unexpectedly but confidently shifting from light comedy to bitter satire to philosophical acceptance, Yatra pays rich tribute to the heritage that Dasrath, and apparently Ghose, believes young India is neglecting. —MJ

At 2 p.m. Also at 8:30 p.m. Monday, April 23.

The God of a Second Chance

According to local filmmaker Paul Wagner’s documentary The God of a Second Chance, Anacostia has 65,000 people, one sit-down restaurant, and hundreds of churches. In a place where one of Wagner’s commentators admits, “It’s so easy out here to do wrong,” faith is what many of the residents cling to when violence and tragedy threaten to dominate their lives. Wagner’s doc focuses on two men dealing with different troubles: “Sleepy” is 18, believes “the world’s set up for [black people] to be failures,” and is just starting to make decisions about what kind of life he wants to lead. Richie is 40 and has turned himself around after years of addiction left him without a family or a job. What they have in common is Anacostia’s faith-based support groups: the Community Action Group, or CAG, helped Richie kick drugs and nurtured him into the community leader he is today, while the House, an after-school program founded by former NFL player Steve Fitzhugh, guides Sleepy and his girlfriend, Jennifer, through choices about sex, drugs, religion, and school. The God of a Second Chance meanders occasionally, moving away from the two men to present significant stories about others in the groups. Regardless, your attention shouldn’t sway: Fantastic gospel performances pepper the film, and no matter what your beliefs, the power that these welcoming organizations have on people’s lives is undeniable. But there’s more than heartwarming social work at play here. As Sleepy’s mother says, “If you made a movie about living here in Southeast…it would be a classic. You’d have drama, action, thrillers—you can have it all in one because that’s how it is.” —TO

At 4 p.m. at American University’s Greenberg Theater, followed by a performance by the CAG Gospel Choir. Also at 4 p.m. Saturday, April 28.

The First Basket

In a Nov. 1, 1946, game against the Toronto Huskies, the New York Knicks’ Ossie Schectman, a Jewish native New Yorker, scored the first hoop of what eventually became the NBA—hence the title of The First Basket, filmmaker David Vyorst’s history of Hebrew hoops. Well before the Knicks filled their roster with a Hertzberg, a Kaplowitz, and a Rosenstein, Jews made their marks on the game invented by Dr. James Naismith in 1891—a date that happened to coincide with the beginning of great Jewish migrations from Eastern Europe. Not long after that came heroes like Barney Sedran, who helped his team get to the coveted Inter-Settlement House Championship of 1906, and the great Nat Holman, star of New York’s Original Celtics. The high-water mark of Jewish basketball, the film says, was the great postwar college teams in the New York area and, in particular, the 1950 CCNY squad coached by Holman. But an embarrassing point-shaving scandal was the death knell for the Jewish hoopster, leaving great coaches like Red Holzman and Red Auerbach as standard-bearers (save, of course, for the occasional phenom like Tal Brody, who moved to Israel and never played in the NBA, and Maryland’s Tamir Goodman, who never lived up to his considerable hype). The theme implicit in The First Basket is that basketball was the game of inner-city youth long before African-Americans began dominating the sport in the 1960s; a theme somewhat more explicit, unfortunately, is the corresponding decline of the Jewish player to that of nebulous ideas like “teamwork” and “defense.” No Jew has played in the NBA since Ernie Grunfeld (now the Wizards’ president of basketball operations); Danny Schayes retired in 1999. But Jewish hoops fans can still take some comfort in the fact that David Stern, who grew up watching the players and teams Vyorst lovingly chronicles, still runs the show. —Mike DeBonis

At 5 p.m.

Naming Number Two

What’s more endearing than a bossy, pissed-off grandma and her sulky family? Pretty much anything. Apparently, Toa Fraser feels otherwise. Fraser adapted and directed his feature debut from his 2000 play about an extended Fijian family who perform like angry show poodles whenever Nana barks. Nana (Ruby Dee), you see, demands one late night that she wants a “feast” the next day, complete with all of her grandchildren—not her children, mind you—at a long table with real wooden chairs, and a pig to roast. When planning gets off to a slow start, she yells things like, “I said I want a party.…You get those people down here!” Her reason for wanting the gathering, she finally tells the hordes, is to name her “successor.” Naming Number Two is exasperating from beginning to end. The relationships of its many characters are usually unclear, as is the reason everyone seems to hate one another. No matter how good the acting may sometimes be, it’s not fun when each character’s dominant expression is sourpuss. Do they pull the feast off? What do you think? The only thing that’s worse than Fraser’s predictable story is his tiresome finale, making the movie suitable for presentation only on a Lifetime-like channel between Matlock and Murder, She Wrote. —TO

At 7:30 p.m. Also at 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, April 24.

Monday, April 23

The Cats of Mirikitani

Linda Hattendorf’s fascinating documentary is a simple character study that blossoms into something much more. When she first encountered “Jimmy” Mirikitani living on the streets of Soho, the “grand master artist” seemed somewhat deranged, if skilled with pencil and brush. Then Hattendorf found him coughing in the thick smoke of 9/11 and invited him to her small apartment. Gradually, she realized that Jimmy was entirely sane and a walking time capsule: a Sacramento-born Japanese-American who spent his childhood in Hiroshima, was interred in U.S. camps during the war, and lost most of his family to the A-bomb. Hattendorf’s search for Jimmy’s past—and, admittedly, another place for him to live—keeps opening forgotten drawers in 20th-century history. Meanwhile, the imperious but ingratiating artist settles in at the director’s place, refusing all aid from the government that incarcerated him and (he thinks) repudiated his citizenship. Both Hattendorf and Jimmy got lucky when they met each other, but this film isn’t just a matter of luck. It’s skillfully constructed for maximum narrative and emotional impact. —MJ

At 6:30 p.m. Also at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 24.

Border Café

When a woman’s husband dies in provincial Iran, custom dictates that her brother-in-law take her as a second wife. But Reyhan (Fereshteh Sadre Orafaiy) would rather support her two young daughters by continuing to run her late spouse’s truck stop than marry the imperious Nasser (Parviz Parastui). At first, Nasser is offended purely on principle. Then Reyhan’s exceptional cooking makes her cafe a sensation, threatening the profits of Nasser’s own restaurant. Adding intrigue to injury, Reyhan’s homey “road hause” (as its new sign identifies it) attracts a diverse array of foreigners speaking Turkish, Russian, and Greek. Gossip intensifies when the nonconformist widow provides a refuge to a runaway 19-year-old Russian girl and attracts the romantic interest of a lovelorn Greek trucker. Writer-director Kambozia Partovi has collaborated with Jafar Panahi—who edited this film—on the scripts for the feminist parable The Circle, but this movie lacks Panahi’s formal innovation. Partovi provides a sobering lesson in the limits of female self-determination in Iran and a colorful snapshot of life on the Turkish border, but he lacks his protagonist’s audacity. —MJ

At 6:45 p.m. Also at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, April 24.

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars

Not the typical act signed to Anti-, whose roster includes Tom Waits and Nick Cave, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars formed in a camp in Guinea after its members had fled a largely inexplicable 1991n2002 civil war in their homeland. Zach Niles and Banker White’s moving documentary begins in that camp, where singer-songwriter Reuben M. Koroma joined with four other people who had suffered horrible crimes against themselves and their families. (Two of them lost hands or entire arms to machete-wielding rebels.) The resulting mix of reggae, high life, and traditional West African music is not exceptional—the film’s most powerful tune is by Malian Salif Keita—but it’s lively and heartfelt. Following the musicians from 2002 to 2005, the film observes as they tour other refugee camps and tentatively return to Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, to record their debut album. These activities have an unusual sponsor: the United Nations, which hopes the All Stars will inspire other refugees to repatriate, even though not everyone in the band’s shifting lineup agreed to return home permanently once the film wrapped. —MJ

At 6:45 p.m. Also at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 24.

Tuesday, April 24

Sound of the Soul

Every spring, musicians from around the world travel to the Moroccan city of Fez to participate in a pan-religious festival of sacred music. For the event’s 10th anniversary, director Stephen Olsson (Last Images of War) went along, both to capture the celebration on digital video and to quiz the musicians on the nature of devotional expression. While the result contains engaging performance footage, Sound of the Soul is weighed down with goobery mysticism and threadbare politics. An unnecessary narrator often frames un-revelatory interviews composed of Yoda-esque quotes such as “The main language is a musical language, everybody understands this language.…You go to the heart with this language.” Olsson also tries to implant a political subtext—mainly through footage of a Buddhist monk haranguing World Bank representatives—but his efforts are one-sided and underdeveloped. The concert footage, however, is gorgeously captured on the picturesque streets of Fez. Portuguese crooners, Afghan singers, and Irish chanters all perform alongside one another; a Harlem shout band blows Dixieland tunes amid ancient ruins. It’s a sight worth seeing, but Sound of the Soul features little interaction among these groups. For all of Olsson’s wide-eyed hopefulness, his world still feels pretty divided. —Aaron Leitko

At 8:45 p.m. Also at 8:45 p.m. Thursday, April 26.

Wednesday, April 25

Armenia

Director Robert Guediguian has long set his warm, humane fables in his native Marseilles, but recently he’s been venturing farther from home. This time he travels to Armenia. A mix of travelogue, satire, and gangster flick, the story begins when cardiologist Anna (Ariane Ascaride) diagnoses her father’s serious condition. She wants to send Barsam (Marcel Bluwal) to the hospital; instead he heads to Armenia, forcing his daughter to follow. Anna has a few contacts in the old country, which she’s never before visited, but they’re in no hurry to connect her with Barsam. Instead, they want to show her historic sites, invite her to dinner, ask for jobs in France, and denounce communism. (Anna is, of course, an erstwhile commie.) Soon, the French doctor is seeing patients, unraveling black-market plots, and—in the movie’s least convincing development—­trading gunfire with thugs. There’s a little too much going on here, but Guediguian frequently manages to achieve his trademark blend of gentle comedy, political communique, and community portrait. —MJ

At 6:30 p.m. Also at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 26.

These Girls

Intimacy is one key to an effective cinéma vérité documentary, but persistence is also important. Tahani Rached’s study of Cairo street kids, which concentrates on three young women, is certainly not hampered by the Islamic world’s customary reticence about the lives of women. Short-haired Tata, the toughest of the three, and her friends talk frankly about abuse, rape, prostitution, sniffing glue, skirmishes with the cops, and the terrible dishonor of having a scarred face. Listing all her lovers, a pregnant urban castaway announces that her baby is “the son of the people.” Rached stays around for the child to be born, but that’s not long enough to complete the portrait. It would be useful, if most likely shocking, to learn just how many months or years Tata can survive on these streets. Yet despite this limitation, the film provides some remarkable episodes—and not just of rage and deprivation. The homeless hustlers also have moments of release, notably when they take to Cairo’s avenues on horseback in both a literal and metaphorical quest for freedom. —MJ

At 7 p.m. Also at 6:45 p.m. Thursday, April 26.

Thursday, April 26

What a Wonderful World

A movie that kills as many of its major characters as this one can’t be called a comedy, but no one could mistake Moroccan writer-director Faouzi Bensaidi’s hyperstylized romp for a tragedy. The opening credits, modeled after the work of great animator Saul Bass, invoke ’50s and ’60s Hollywood, yet what follows is more in the spirit of French director Jean-Jacques Beineix’s left-field 1981 hit, Diva. Bensaidi himself plays Kamel, an impassive Casablanca hitman who falls in love with the voice of Kenza (Nezha Rahil), a pistol-packing traffic cop who makes extra money by renting out her cell phone. Kenza’s friend Souad (Fatima Attif), a housemaid, dancer, and sometime hooker, and Hicham (El Mehdi Elaaroubi), a would-be European, also feature in the tangled scenario; some of their lives intersect, and others merely overlap. With his playful use of music, animation, and superimposed text, Bensaidi rejects Third World neorealism with every frame—even if desperate schemes to reach Europe animate one of the subplots. The exuberant dabbling with fate doesn’t lead to a profound conclusion, but Bensaidi’s machinations are consistently inventive and amusing. —MJ

At 9 p.m. Also at 9:15 p.m. Friday, April 27.

Friday, April 27

My Mexican Shivah

The title suggests sombreros and “oy veys,” but director Alejandro Springall is careful with the clichés. Set in present-day Mexico City’s Jewish quarter (which here looks like any middle-class urban housing bloc), My Mexican Shivah revolves around a character who doesn’t get much screen time: Moishe, a pillar of the community, kicks the bucket early in the film, setting in motion the shiva, or seven-day rite of mourning. Two spirits invisible to the kin—complete with wide-brimmed hats, white beards, and ringlets—sit in judgment as the family unfurls its web of dysfunction and its general shortage of old-fashioned piety. Moishe was no moral beacon; he had a scandalous affair with a shiksa cougar named Julia Palafox (Blanca Guerra). But he was vibrant and beloved, so his middle-aged kids can’t possibly measure up. Raquel Pankowsky gets the meatiest role as daughter Esther, whose midlife crisis is more potent than her grief. And the grandkids? Oy vey. Drug dealer turned orthodox convert Nicolás (Emilio Savinni) is the other focal point. Overall, the film nails the emotional messiness of big, ritualistic family gatherings, even if the direction is much too stagey at times. It avoids corniness, too: There’s a mariachi band (of course), two plain-Jane Catholic housemaids, and multiple Jewish stereotypes (a hippie mom, an annoying shiva organizer, some pantsuited yentas), but they’re never played for cheap laughs. In fact, blatant comedy is in short supply—this one is about knowing grins, the kind that sometimes come with a wince. —Joe Warminsky

At 6:30 p.m. Also at 9:15 p.m. Saturday, April 28.

Hula Girls

An Asian twist on Brassed Off and Billy Elliot, this uplift dramedy is set in a coal-mining town in 1960s Japan. The mine is cutting back, and the village elders have decided on an economic strategy that sounds absurd but is in fact historically authentic: They’ll build a new tourist attraction on a Hawaiian theme. While most of the locals are hostile, a few young women sign up when a hard-drinking but talented dancer, Madoka, arrives from Tokyo to teach the hula. Enlisted by a friend whose fate will provide the story’s darkest undercurrents, 18-year-old Kimiko soon proves a fine dancer. Yet her growing skill doesn’t impress her mother, who labels her a “stripper.” Japanese-Korean director Lee Sang-il’s film is charming, if a bit predictable, and not the best example of recent Japanese cinema’s popular girls-pulling-together genre. Matsuyuki Yasuko is suitably fiery as Madoka, and Aoi Yû (who played Alice in Shunji Iwai’s much more complex teen-girl fable, Hana and Alice) again balances endearingly between childish gawkiness and womanly grace. —MJ

At 7 p.m. Also at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 28.

Vinicius

Until his death in 1980, the co-writer of “Girl From Ipanema,” Vinicius de Moraes, was Brazil’s Ellington, Hefner, and Buddha. Filmmaker Miguel Faria Jr. has the burden of capturing the man’s many phases, from poet to diplomat to screenwriter (Black Orpheus) to bossa and afro samba guru—not to mention his nine marriages. Faria wisely bolts from documentary convention, making the movie feel more like impressionistic tribute, weaving contemporary performances and readings of his poetry with the usual talking heads. The thread of de Moraes’ life, the film argues, is pursuit—of women, of the perfect new song, of great big glasses of whiskey—and so the cameras move with an appropriate sinuousness. The readings get tiresome, but the camerawork doesn’t, letting Brazil’s luminaries tell their stories well. Faria smartly makes room for the hangovers and moments of absurdity, too. There’s something nearly romantic about the footage of a dissipated de Moraes late in life, sitting in his lair, puffed out, comb-over in full effect, tumbler in hand, giggling in the dark about all those wives. —Jason Cherkis

At 9:30 p.m at American University’s Greenberg Theater. Also at 6 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at American University’s Greenberg Theater.

See You Later

With about 70 films unspooling in less than two weeks, Filmfest DC can be daunting. Fortunately, not all the selections are exclusives, and some will get commercial runs. Seeing it first is fun, but in the interest of time management, here’s a guide to the movies you probably don’t have to rush to see in the next 10 days.

The Boss of It All (9 p.m. Friday, April 27, and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 28): Danish cinematic troublemaker Lars von Trier (Dogville) satirizes both the corporate world and acting—and thus, indirectly, filmmaking. Has an American distributor.

Eagle vs. Shark (9 p.m. Wednesday, April 25, and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 28): Two young outsiders develop a sort of romance in this deadpan New Zealand comedy. Has stateside distribution.

Exiled (6:30 p.m. Friday, April 20, and 9:15 p.m. Saturday, April 21): Like many Hong Kong directors, Johnnie To (The Mission) is wildly uneven, but this tale of HK gangsters who relocate to casino-clogged Macao is one of his serious efforts. It’s featured in AFI’s China Film Festival, which runs May 3-7 at the Silver, and has an American distributor.

Fay Grim (9 p.m. Friday, April 20, and 7 p.m. Saturday, April 21): Hal Hartley returns with a sequel to 1997’s Henry Fool, not one of his better efforts. Set for a May 18 opening.

Lights in the Dusk (6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 25, and 7 p.m. Thursday, April 26): A security guard who pursues the wrong woman is the latest of supercooled Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki’s hapless protagonists. Has American distribution.

The Page Turner (6:30 p.m. Monday, April 23, and 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 25): The latest from French director Denis Dercourt is a chilling tale of revenge set in the world he knows best: classical music. Opens May 4.

Paris, Je T’Aime (3:30 p.m. Sunday, April 29, at Regal Cinemas Gallery Place): Filmfest DC’s closing-night attraction is a series of five-minute sketches of Paris by 19 different directors, most of them not French. Showed last fall in AFI’s New Films from France survey and has an American distributor.

The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (2 p.m. Sunday, April 22, and 1 p.m. Saturday, April 28): This philosophical analysis of some 40 major films shows for free April 26 and 27 at the Hirshhorn Museum. See City Lights.

Private Fears in Public Places (8:30 p.m. Thursday, April 26, and 8:45 p.m. Friday, April 27): Alain Resnais’ second adaptation of an Alan Ayckbourn play continues the French New Wave master’s fascination with theater (and Parisian real estate). Has an American distributor and should open this summer.

Red Road (6:30 p.m. Friday, April 20, and 9 p.m. Saturday, April 21): A Scottish woman becomes a stalker in Andrea Arnold’s directorial debut. Opens May 25.

Ten Canoes (7 p.m. Wednesday, April 25, and 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 26): Set in lush northern Australia, this film interweaves two ancient stories from the aboriginal tradition. Opens June 8.

The Tiger and the Snow (6:45 p.m. Friday, April 20, and 9 p.m. Saturday, April 21). Self-important clown Roberto Benigni heads to Iraq for this film, which has been savaged by overseas critics. Has an American distributor.

Time (8:45 p.m. Wednesday, April 25, and 8:45 p.m. Thursday, April 26): An intensely jealous Korean woman turns to plastic surgery to remake herself for her boyfriend in this creepy romantic parable, not one of the better films by Kim Ki-duk (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring). Will be shown in “Korean Film Festival DC 2007,” May 13 at the Freer Gallery and has an American distributor.

La Vie en Rose (6 p.m. Thursday, April 19, at the Lincoln Theatre): This Edith Piaf biopic features a story every bit as woeful as Piaf’s ballads and an extraordinary performance by Marion Cotillard in the title role. Returns for a commercial run on June 15.