This Week's Attractions

A Great Wonder, Kitchen Stories, and Latter Days.

A Great Wonder

Runs Fri., March 12–Sun., March 14, at Little Theatre A deserving co-winner of the documentary prize at SIFF last year, the locally produced Wonder follows the first 18 months after three Sudanese refugees arrive in Seattle in 2001. Teenage Martha is placed in a loving foster home but struggles to understand and trust her new surroundings. Abraham, who credits drinking urine for his survival back in the desert, adapts to American culture well, despite his disconcerting foster family, but he still longs for the kin he left behind. Adult Santino is a determined survivor who succeeds in holding down a job and moving into his own apartment; however, he still must cope with his loneliness. In addition to these individual stories, there's much useful background in this hour-long documentary. Dubbed "the Lost Boys" in the media, those refugees over 18 are placed not in foster families but in a group home to learn Western skills like kitchen cooking, shopping, and using a telephone. Over a period of three months, they must find jobs and apartments, which most accomplish despite difficulties. One young man comments that if they now act like children, it's because they had no childhood in the Sudan. (Most speak English quite well, since language lessons in refugee camps were a prerequisite for emigration.) Wonder poignantly shows how these eager new Americans also cling to their own traditions; in particular, dance remains an important mode of cultural expression. Interspersed with scenes of the trio's uneasy assimilation are clips from Sudan's continued refugee crisis and ongoing civil war, now Africa's longest, which pits the Muslim north versus the Christian and animist south. We learn how parents were slaughtered in the villages by northern armies (some 1.9 million have died since the mid-'80s), as their children hid in the fields with the farm animals. These scenes give a sense of how Wonder's three main subjects spent months traveling up to 1,000 miles by foot in a so-called "walking nation" to uncertain refuge in Kenya and Chad. Some 80 percent of the south's population has been displaced by war. An estimated 17,000 Sudanese children faced starvation and persecution in refugee camps. Then, in 1999, the U.S. allowed 3,800 Sudanese to settle in America. Yet even here, feelings of terror and persecution remain: Abraham ponders that perhaps 9/11 was targeted at the Sudanese refugees and that the innocent Americans just got in the way. Speaking of 9/11, this powerful documentary indirectly reminds us how Al Qaeda once operated terrorist bases in the perpetually war-torn Sudan. That country is sadly forgotten in today's headlines, but figures like the orphaned Martha make you want to learn more about the country. Scenes of her at her new Seattle school provide an overwhelming sense of the cultural and geographic distance she's traveled from her homeland. (NR) ZANA BUGAIGHIS Documentary subject Martha Arual Akech will appear following Saturday's screenings for a Q&A. Kitchen Stories

Runs Fri., March 12–Thurs., March 18, at Varsity If you're one to savor the contours of vintage Saabs and Volvos as they pull a procession of identical pea-green teardrop-shaped campers across a snowywhite Scandinavian landscape, this is your movie. It's set in the early '50s, when a band of Swedish home-economics consumer researchers wear homburgs and vest sweaters, smoke pipes, and long for Baltic herring from home. They've caravanned across the border into Norway, which sickens one of their managers from the stomach-churning stress of now driving on the right-hand side of the road. Sweden later made the switch away from left-side motoring, but nothing so eventful occurs here. Instead, Kitchen relates in a dry, meandering, and quietly rewarding fashion—strong emphasis on the "quiet"—how one of the researchers, Folke (Tomas Norstöm), gradually befriends the solitary subject of his study. Dour Norwegian farmer Isak (Joachim Calmeyer) mistakenly thinks he'll get a new horse for participating in the study, in which Folke perches in a ridiculouswooden high chair—rather like a tennis referee's platform—to record Isak's kitchen behavior with strict neutrality. They're not supposed to talk, and for half the movie they don't—which grows tedious for us. We want these guys to bond, bicker, or just do something. The drama in Kitchen, such as it is, comes in the form of misplaced salt shakers, a sick horse, and a package of food sent from home (Baltic herring, of course). Inevitably, after much silent spying on each other, Folke and Isak become buddies, thereby undermining Folke's entire faith in the "positivistic method" of his increasingly ridiculous study. One of his even more disillusioned colleagues gets drunk and sputters, "We sit up there on our pedestals and think we understand everything!" Soon the survey is in dis­array, which isn't much more exciting than it sounds. Kitchen is rich in rural drollery, if poor in plot, a study of friendship forged in the most unlikely andclinical of circumstances. But Sweden's epochal 1967 shift to right-hand driving? Now there's a movie that needs to be made! (NR) BRIAN MILLER Latter Days

Opens Fri., March 12, at Harvard Exit We don't see enough heartfelt, realistic portrayals of religious characters struggling with their carnality. The last notable example might be Robert Duvall's The Apostle; the directorial debut of screenwriter C. Jay Cox (Sweet Home Alabama) falls well short of that standard. Here, it's gay sexuality and Mormonism (aka the Church of Jesus Christ) that are at odds, an interesting premise that Cox freights with welcome-to-L.A. clichés and melodrama. We catapult into the City of Angels alongside 20-year-old Aaron Davis (Steve Sandvoss), a Mormon missionary; what awaits him is a wellspring of accidental blow jobs (supply your own joke here), little black books, sassy actor-waiters of a certain persuasion, and the blandest aspiring singer-songwriters imaginable. Awaiting him as well is Christian (Wes Ramsey), a gym-toned Keanu doppelgänger with an easy way about him—and we do mean easy. He and Aaron meet cute in the laundry room of their apartment complex, and they bond over—what else?—movie quotes. So Days could've been good, trashy fun, or it could've been affecting and provocative: forbidden romance between a Mormon and a sexpot, told convincingly from both points of view in a fresh, dreamy setting. Instead, it's overlong and underdeveloped, padded with minor characters and bothersome subplots. Along the way, Christian tells Aaron what has to be the most ludicrous coming-out story ever captured on film; worse, Aaron's subsequent trip back to Idaho leads to a family confrontation that's both predictable and fraudulent. Ultimately, faith and desire appear as mutually exclusive in Days as in The Passion, only Cox is no Mel Gibson; in light of this tepid effort, you may end up wishing for Sweet Home Alabama 2. Reese would look cute as a missionary, and all her pent-up passion would have to go somewhere. (NR) NEAL SCHINDLER info@seattleweekly.com

 
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