SIFF 2007: Week Three: Picks and Pans

Alive Russia's been producing some interesting movies about its disastrous military intervention in Chechnya (as we'll soon be doing about Iraq), but this isn't one of them. Young veteran Sergei (Andrei Chadov) returns home to the provinces missing half a leg following an ambush we never see. As he reacquaints himself with his mother and girlfriend, periodic flashbacks to the snowy Caucasus introduce his platoon buddies—and, again, we're not quite sure what became of them. Until, that is, two fellow soldiers show up as ghosts and begin following Sergei through his uneasy homecoming. Why does Sergei flip out into violence when receiving his discharge pay? What does it mean when he's hit by a car, not once, but twice? And what does the third-act appearance of a priest portend? A spiritual journey, of course; and despite the baffling gaps in its story, Alive follows an utterly predictable path. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Lincoln Square: 7 p.m. Thurs., June 7. Neptune: 3:45 p.m. Sat., June 9. Almost Adult English director Yousaf Ali Khan tackles illegal immigration and the heartbreak of refugees, using two nonprofessional performers to dramatize what are essentially their real-life stories. Teenagers Mamie (Victoire Milandu) and Shiku (Ann Warungu) are from the Congo and Kenya, respectively, and meet while attempting to enter the U.K. Though 17-year-old Mamie vows to care for Shiku, 13, like an older sister, the two are soon separated upon arrival after an official realizes they're speaking different languages. While the divergent tales of their lives and experiences in the bureaucratic ringer are rendered with somewhat institutional cinematography by David Katznelson, Ali Khan deftly follows the girls' many ups and downs without overreaching. The fish-out-of-water scenario is nothing new, but telling their story straight-on perfectly relays the cold, almost clinical experience of being a refugee in an often uncaring world. (NR) KARLA STARR Pacific Place: 2 p.m. Wed., June 6. American Shopper Nothing I've seen thus far at SIFF has been funnier. Or as misleading. Do with that information what you will, then try to figure out the catch in the final credits. But you know what? It's a world-premiere documentary, and I'm not giving any spoilers. A persistent, implacable insurance agent in Columbia, Mo., creates what he calls the National Aisling League, then sets out to recruit local townsfolk to compete in the first championship event. Which entails decorating one's shopping cart, devising costume and choreography, then being scored by judges while artfully retrieving items from an assigned list. Among the citizen contestants are a formerly homeless actor, a likable redneck who equips his cart with a marshmallow cannon, an aging hippie chick fond of free-form interpretive dance, and a husband-and-wife pair of cutthroat, type-A competitors, each determined to beat the other. "I'm a win-aholic," says the perky wife, an ex–beauty queen whose husband goes with a Star Trek theme complete with laptop mounted on cart. It's all quite Christopher Guest–worthy, for reasons more than one. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Harvard Exit: 9:30 p.m. Thurs., June 7; 1:30 p.m. Sun,. June 10. Antônia It's like Salt N' Pepa meeting En Vogue as a promising hip-hop group is formed in the São Paulo suburb of Vila Brasilândia. Director Tata Amaral's largely improvised story of four singers (played by Negra Li, Leilah Moreno, Quelynah, and Cindy) has a documentary feel. Maybe because they're musicians in real life (all of them big stars, in fact), their understanding of a young group's struggles—starting as backup, playing crappy venues, securing a questionable manager, etc.—lends their fictional group (Antônia) extra believability. Plus, they even tone down their killer voices—except when Moreno gives Lauryn Hill a run for her money covering "Killing Me Softly." The girls must cope with societal pressures and deadbeat partners, getting knocked up or locked up, as their story follows an unpredictable, satisfying arc. With Fernando Meirelles (City of God) as a co-producer, Antônia always keeps an eye on the Vila's staggering landscape of hills and houses. When a beautiful blast of purple lightning illuminates one of the many dusk-and-dawn shots, it's a good metaphor for the spirit of Antônia. (NR) RACHEL SHIMP Harvard Exit: 5 p.m. Fri., June 8. SIFF Cinema: 9 p.m. Sun., June 10. The Art of Crying Denmark, 1971: What descriptions come to mind? Swinging, sophisticated, miniskirted, uninhibited? Well, maybe if you were a stewardess. If you were 11-year-old Allan, living in a small town, it was mainly a time of buttoned-up neuroses, passive-aggressive manipulation, and not quite understanding what's going on. His family's emotional life revolves around the nightly crying jags and suicide threats of his pathetic, nebbishy father—who, we gradually learn, has excellent reason to hate himself. Mom self-medicates, while teenage Sis, we find, has problems that go far beyond her rebellious fling with a "moped rowdy," one of the local longhaired rocker boys. What begins as dark comedy grows darker and less comic. Somewhere between the second and third funeral, the angst does start to feel a bit gratuitous, but if you're in the mood for tasteful, blue-eyed, sun-dappled domestic misery, you're in luck. (NR) GAVIN BORCHERT Pacific Place: 4:30 p.m. Wed., June 6. Egyptian: 6:45 p.m. Mon., June 11. The Boss of It All Danish provocateur Lars von Trier took a break from his much-ballyhooed (but financially disastrous) U.S.A. Trilogy to make this unexpectedly playful, small-scale farce about the president of an IT company who invents a phantom "boss" to shoulder the blame for his own executive decisions. The movie is, on one level, an ideal workplace comedy for the era of downsizing, outsourcing, and fantasy accounting. On another, it's a revealing checkup on the health and well-being of its own director's career—and of cinema itself—in the digital era. A decade after von Trier and a cabal of filmmaking countrymen took a semi-infamous "vow of chastity" and a movement known as Dogme was born, Boss was made in accordance with a new set of dictates called Automavision, by which a randomized computer program serves as the movie's de facto cinematographer and sound mixer. It's as if von Trier, who has been publicly critical of Hollywood's CGI-laden epics, is showing us how close we are to the time when movies will be directed by machines instead of artists. Perhaps he's telling us that we're already there. (NR) SCOTT FOUNDAS Egyptian: 7 p.m. Sat., June 9. Lincoln Square: 7 p.m. Wed., June 13. The Bothersome Man Hell is other people for Andreas (Trond Fausa Aurvåg), a fairly meek, unassuming Norwegian who decides to launch himself beneath a subway car. Problem solved, except he wakes up in purgatory (actually Iceland), where he's swiftly provided with a pleasant job in a pleasant town (Norway again) with a pleasant apartment surrounded by pleasant people—one of whom is a hottie who agrees to have sex with him. Pleasantly. However, as Andreas gradually rebels against his pleasant, antiseptic, problem-free limbo (think of it as a kinder, gentler Matrix), the wonderful initial weirdness of The Bothersome Man slowly wears off on the viewer. Andreas' options for escape are pretty much the only plot options available, too, and the comedy isn't quite fresh enough to become, say, the Norwegian Groundhog Day. But it's close, and certain details may eerily resonate with our polite, carefully measured lives here in Seattle. There's a great moment when Andreas wonders what his co-workers are examining with such excitement—pornography, maybe? Nope, it's the new catalog from Ikea. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Neptune: 7 p.m. Mon., June 11. Pacific Place: 4:15 p.m. Thurs., June 14 Broken English Parker Posey stars in Zoe Cassavetes' Broken English. You can tell it's a Cassavetes film because everyone smokes and drinks constantly, but obviously not a John Cassavetes film because they don't seem especially damaged by such behavior. Also, there's a plot. Posey's dating woes in the movie ring painfully true, except that in real life, she probably has no such troubles, but then the movie decides that the perfect solution is to hook her up with a skinny French guy who's passionate about women in a way that no mere American mortal can ever be. Great, keep stoking that fantasy in women's minds; bad enough that most of us already don't live up to their high standards. The most unintentionally funny scene is when Posey is on a date with a pretentious actor (Justin Theroux) at a really fancy sushi place, but they appear to be eating California rolls and dyed-pink ginger. Any serious high-end sushi chef would have kicked them both to the curb the moment they asked for a roll of any kind. (PG-13) LUKE Y. THOMPSON Egyptian: 9:15 p.m. Fri., June 8. Lincoln Square: 6:30 p.m. Sun., June 10. Children of the War Something important is being said here, only documentary director Alexandre Fuchs can't produce a coherent phrasing of his topic. Basically he wants to blame Ronald Reagan for today's gang violence in L.A. and elsewhere, seeing it as blowback for U.S meddling in El Salvador during the 1980s. From that civil war came the founding generation of the criminal gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), which FBI officials now describe as a threat on the level of killer bees or Al Qaeda. And it's easy to make fun of white FBI officials in their suits, and of opportunistic, fear-mongering (and again white) politicians invoking this threat from across the border. And surely no one will dispute that social conditions in El Salvador were—and continue to be—appalling. What Children leaves out, however, is the actual violence inflicted by MS-13 on predominantly poor, Hispanic victims up north—never mind how those frighteningly tough, tattooed MS-13 foot soldiers were once innocent young victims themselves. It's only half la verdad. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Harvard Exit: 7 p.m. Fri., June 8; 4 p.m. Sat., June 16. Cold Prey Any time there's a movie combining snowboarding and serial killers, my immediate response is, Sign me up! Nudity and gratuitous sex would be nice, too, but you can't have everything. Cold Prey's Norwegian filmmakers have clearly studied every slasher film in the American canon, and they pack their elements into a smart little package. Five snowboarders get stranded at a remote, abandoned ski lodge, where—cue ominous music—they discover prior guests have checked in, but not checked out! End of plot description. The young cast members are far better than your average American ax fodder, and they're given time to build real characters. And do some ripping in the slopes way up north amid beautiful, snowy peaks. (The helicopter shots, plus a tricked-out new Jeep, strongly suggest this footage was sponsored and shared, shall we say, with other commercial interests.) And when the stranded quintet inevitably finds some old newspaper clippings that provide the necessary backstory, you've got to love the headline—"Hotel of Evil!" (NR) BRIAN MILLER Egyptian: midnight, Fri., June 8. Lincoln Square: 9:30 p.m. Wed., June 13. Day Watch Night Watch, you may recall, told of an ancient feud waged between the forces of Light and Dark. The hero, Anton Gorodetsky (Konstantin Khabensky), found himself tangled in the fates of two über-Watchfolk called the Great Others. Everyone ran around willy-nilly, things exploded, etc. Based on a trilogy of Russian best sellers, the film was a huge hit in Russia and went on to make a decent chunk of change in the States as an art-house/fanboy crossover. Day Watch dawns with a whiplash refresher course in the backstory before diving into an inspired set piece concerning the provenance of the Chalk of Fate. This hilariously lo-fi magic implement will be sought after by Anton to thwart the diabolical schemes of Zavulon (Victor Verzhbitsky), a nefariously nouveau-riche Day Watcher who masterminds a standoff between the Great Others with the help of a vixen in cherry-red leather with a penchant for gunning her sports car across the facades of skyscrapers. Rad, no? Actually, no. Strange to say in a season of mind-splitting mayhem, but not nearly enough shit gets blown up in Day Watch. Timur Bekmambetov lovingly crafts a world you want to see shatter to bits, but he obliges only grudgingly, instead throwing a hug around the inconsequential psychodramas of his vague principals. He invests in their two-dimensional conflicts at the expense of three-dimensional marvel. (R) NATHAN LEE Neptune: 9:30 p.m. Fri., June 8. Lincoln Square: 9:15 p.m. Sun., June 10. Delirious Almost an oxymoron, this stalkarazzi fairy tale constantly threatens to split apart, as writer-director Tom DiCillo (Living in Oblivion) can't quite sort out his feelings about the subject matter. Does he hate the low-rent paparazzo played by Steve Buscemi, hate the whole insipid celebrity-tabloid economy? Or, despite the ridiculous star-versus-photographer haggling over access, exclusives, publicists, and guest lists, can he still see that scene as a kind of enchanted wonderland, a chance for a handsome, homeless kid (Michael Pitt) to realize his dreams? I say embrace the oxymoron, and I think DiCillo—a better cinematographer than writer—feels the same way. Buscemi is past the point in his career when he can really play a detestable creep, no matter how many "fuck"s DiCillo puts in his mouth. And Pitt exudes such an irresistible dumb sweetness that no villain could truly hate him. His destiny is to be a kind of MTV2 Prince Charming for a pop princess (Alison Lohman), and to him the angry flashbulbs look more like shooting stars. If Delirious is inconsistent in tone, maybe that's because DiCillo has finally learned to laugh at everything that used to make him retch. Extra bonus: a hot, surprisingly funny Gina Gershon; give that woman a TV show already! (R) BRIAN MILLER Neptune: 6:30 p.m. Tues., June 12. Egyptian: 4 p.m. Sat., June 16. Eternal Summer If you like gay teen angst, then you'll love Eternal Summer, which amounts to a really good episode of a Taiwanese soap opera—right down to the beats before the commercial breaks. It's built around an interesting love triangle: Studious Jonathan and slacker jock Shane have been unlikely best friends since childhood, and naturally brooding, gay Jonathan is secretly in love with carefree, straight Shane. (Characters have to go by both English and Chinese names.) Then Hong Kong transfer student Carrie shows up to sleep with Jonathan, who then rejects her; so naturally she then goes and sleeps with Shane. Can you say drama? Unfortunately that drama is rendered with an emo sensibility. Summer's three leads give nuanced performances, and some of the cinematography is gorgeous. But the film moves at a snail's pace, and the minimal story barely fills its 95-minute running time; the big gay secret is anything but. By the time major stuff goes down in the final 15 minutes, we've stopped caring. (NR) FRANK PAIVA Pacific Place: Lincoln Square: 4:30 p.m. Thurs., June 7. Euphoria Who doesn't enjoy wandering around naked on the empty beaches of the Don River? Or careening down white sandy roads cut through the Russian wheat fields east of Ukraine? Or making mad, passionate love in those fields? Or staring at the endless, star-filled sky above the Slavic steppes? Or randomly shooting cows? Or not so randomly shooting the dog that just bit off your child's finger? Or burning down your farmhouse? Or going on a shotgun hunt to find a pair of adulterous lovers? Oh, and one more thing—vodka, lots and lots of vodka to drink. Are you still with me? Euphoria makes no sense, but then it's not really trying. It's simply a mad parable—like some doomy Russian spin on Tristan and Isolde—of uncontrolled ardor and its dire consequences. Go with it, or don't. Lovers Polina Agureyeva and Maksim Ushakov bare their souls, and everything else, with an intensity that makes the subtitles irrelevant. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Neptune: 4 p.m. Tues., June 12. Lincoln Square: 9:45 p.m. Sat., June 16. Four Minutes A bitter and desiccated German women's prison piano teacher (Monica Bleibtreu) with a tragic lesbian past takes on a rebellious, self-destructive student (Hannah Herzsprung) and grooms her for a competition. Yet this somewhat overheated premise is more than redeemed by a very dry, very wicked sense of humor, an avoidance of camp (except a bit at the final performance climax), and the courageous presentation of morally ambiguous characters—both teacher and student can veer, plausibly, from sympathetic to psychobitch in seconds. And, most gratifyingly, by the lack of any hoo-hah about the redemptive powers of music (those Nazi camp guards who liked to unwind with Schubert lieder after a long day of releasing Zyklon-B pellets made it once and for all impossible for Germans to harbor any illusions in that department). "I can help you become a better pianist," says the teacher. "But I can't make you a better person." Maybe not, but her unsentimental attitude does make for a better film. (NR) GAVIN BORCHERT SIFF Cinema: 9:30 p.m. Sat., June 9; 4:30 p.m. Mon., June 11. Goya's Ghosts Everybody at Cannes says Javier Bardem makes a marvelous villain in the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men. Here, Milos Forman makes Bardem into a ridiculously nefarious priest during the late throes of the Spanish Inquisition, just before Napoleon plunged that country into the Peninsular War of 1808–14. Sounds like homework? Well, to put it kindly, history isn't Forman's forte. This Europudding prestige pic has Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård wearing a curious false nose as Francisco Goya, whose paintings and wartime sketches here inspire several scenes. He's mainly a passive witness to history, as Bardem's curiously accented cleric (he's Irish, maybe?) hams it up while persecuting Goya's aristocratic muse, Natalie Portman. (OMG! How could anyone be mean to Natalie Portman? That puts him in company with, like, Darth Vader—you know, the younger, cuter, Canadian one without the mask.) In its occasional lucid moments, Goya's Ghosts plays like a crumpled-up draft novel by Alexandre Dumas (interleaved with the torture manual from Gitmo). Most of the time, however, it's The People vs. Francisco Goya, with Skarsgård the embattled humanist hero and Bardem as the prosecutor and hypocrite-in-chief. (R) BRIAN MILLER Neptune: 6:30 p.m. Sat., June 9. Lincoln Square: 7 p.m. Mon., June 11. GrandHotel The women of the Czech Republic must be desperate. Four beautiful women spend this dozy comedy pining for two remarkably unappealing men, a health-drink hustler who claims to have been to America, and a weather-obsessed schlub who's the nominal hero. Most of these characters work in a mountain hotel. Fleischman (Marek Taclik), a 30-year-old virgin, is bullied by the hustler, an obnoxious boss, and the aforementioned women. A character's social awkwardness stops being funny past the age of 16, but we're supposed to dote on this dolt. Filmmaker David Ondricek is the son of the great cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek, and this film is nothing if not pretty. Viewers will, however, pine for something that's less like a low-budget American indie (Garden State with mountains) and more like one of the classic Czech comedies of the 1960s. (NR) GREGG RICKMAN Egyptian: 9:45 p.m. Sat,. June 9. Lincoln Square: 4:30 p.m. Mon., June 11. The Great World of Sound See the Wire. The Guardian's Son I swear there is an '80s Brat Pack movie trying to get out of this deeply silly Greek drama, which strands four aimless twentysomething types in an empty ancestral village far from Athens. As the spoiled TV producer whose Candid Camera–esque stunt turns bad (the handgun belonging to his father, a policeman, goes missing), Rob Lowe. As the surly, withdrawn yokel who finds the gun and takes it back to the mountainous hamlet where he lives with his father (the village caretaker or "guardian"), Judd Nelson. As the groovy college chick hiding out there from college, Ally Sheedy. As her whiny, pill-addicted younger brother, Emilio Estevez. The village idiot, Anthony Michael Hall. And, come to think of it, the caretaker (paging Paul Dooley) has a new, young Albanian wife who could be played by Demi Moore. All of which would be fine if they sat around getting stoned, shared their most embarrassing teen traumas, and danced feverishly to Wang Chung. But instead they decide to put on a nighttime costume pageant dressed as 19th-century bandits—I am not making this up—to scare off some gun-toting looters because, well, it worked on Scooby-Doo. A must to avoid. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Pacific Place: 6:15 p.m. Sat., June 9. Lincoln Square: 9:30 p.m. Tues., June 12. Her Best Move Here we have SIFF's attempt to draw preteen girls into the film festival and away from Amanda Bynes. The bid may be successful. While the movie certainly breaks no new ground (most of the plot twists are obvious from miles away), it has a certain charm. Our protagonist is Sara, a 15-year-old soccer star with a chance to become the youngest girl ever to join the U.S. national team. Because of her workaholic practice schedule and demanding father, she has little time for anything off the field. When a cute boy enters the picture, Sara must re-evaluate her priorities. Rare at SIFF, Her Best Move carries a squeaky-clean G rating direct from the MPAA. This is a perfect flick to share with your sporty daughter before you (separately) see that horror flick about anarchist lesbian cannibals. Childless? Then walk on by. Nothing to see here. (G) FRANK PAIVA SIFF Cinema: 11 a.m. Sun., June 3; 11 a.m. Sat., June 9. Hula Girls What's a rural Japanese town to do when the coal mine closes? Why, build a Hawaii-themed tourist attraction, of course. It's a charming idea stretched out way too long in Hula Girls. Just as the imported palm trees don't thrive in their new environs, a town full of unemployed coal miners isn't the most fertile ground for the comic frivolity of an imported dance craze. As the girls courageous (or crazy) enough to learn hula stumble slowly through their steps, so does the film—it's one that would have benefited greatly from a Dirty Dancing–esque montage to move things along. And I'd love to hear "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" in Japanese. Unfortunately, '80s-style elevator music permeates each pivotal scene, squelching any emotional reaction (other than a wince). An uplifting finale hews close to The Full Monty formula; perhaps the Brits will do better with a Hula Girls remake. (NR) AJA PECKNOLD Egyptian: 9:30 p.m. Thurs., June 7. Lincoln Square: 4 p.m. Sat., June 9. Invisibles When I saw Blood Diamond a few months ago, I walked out of the theatre with mixed feelings. It was entertaining, and Leo was stellar as usual, but did they really need the Indiana Jones, shoot-'em-up theatrics to get the message across? Apparently I wasn't the only one with this general sentiment, as actor-producer Javier Bardem (Goya's Ghosts, The Sea Inside), along with five international directors including Wim Wenders, here joins with Doctors Without Borders to make Invisibles, which is more or less the anti–Blood Diamond, a collection of five short films about "invisible" human-rights atrocities. The subjects vary, from child soldiers in Uganda to untreated Chagas disease in Bolivia, but each segment has the same basic goal: to shed light on human misery and injustice without the Hollywood spectacle. Alluding to the doc's title, Wenders' short, about serial rape by soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has the female victims gradually fade to invisibility. All five installments communicate a powerful, shocking message about the sorry state of global health. (NR) KEEGAN HAMILTON SIFF Cinema: 4:45 p.m. Wed., June 6. Iska's Journey For only pennies a day, you can rescue this child from abusive parents, scavenging metal from the slag heaps of eastern Hungary, or being abducted into a prostitution ring. Or you could just watch a movie about it. Half of what makes this unrelentingly depressing feature so disturbing is that director Csaba Bollók apparently found his 12-year-old actress, Mária Varga, in essentially the same slag-heap circumstances five years ago. (Not that she's a prostitute today, but still.) The other thing that makes Iska's Journey so depressing is that, like many other titles from the old Soviet bloc also seen at SIFF, it shows those countries slipping backward into something perhaps even worse than the Third World. Iska's mother and father have drowned their parental feelings in drink; the local mining industry (and its by-products) are clearly poisoning the land (and its inhabitants); and when Iska briefly finds kindness and shelter in an orphanage, the culture is so broken that her mother can simply reclaim her. Of this return policy, Iska protests, "Am I worth less than a bottle?" She said it, not me. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Harvard Exit: 7 p.m. Tues., June 12. Pacific Place: 2 p.m. Fri., June 15. Northern Light If this were a movie by the Dardenne brothers (it's not), it would build to a perfectly constructed moment of clockwork epiphany at the end. Yet Dutch director David Lammers shares much of the Dardennes' same concern for strict realism and prole redemption. He also offers nothing new to the overdetermined formula. The hard-ass widowed proprietor of a local gym (Raymond Thiry) is more of a loving father to his young kickboxers than to his glum 17-year-old son (Dai Carter). The cause for their estrangement is gradually revealed, then a strange scene at the son's birthday party—never satisfactorily explained—causes a rupture. Naturalistic to a fault, Northern Light simply relies on familiar father-son tensions without creating new drama. Thiry mainly marches around the film looking miserable and barking out lessons to his pupils ("Life is a risk!") he's unwilling to apply to himself. Meanwhile the kid repairs a motorboat. Northern Light is the kind of movie where it never gets pushed out to sea. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Lincoln Square: 9 p.m. Wed., June 6. Harvard Exit: 9:15 p.m. Sat., June 9. Oh La La! One would reasonably expect a French film called Oh La La! to be, if not bawdy or titillating, then at least mildly entertaining. That's not the case with this quiet slice-of-showbiz-life conclusion to Anne Fontaine's "Augustin" trilogy. Augustin (Jean-Chrétien Sibertin-Blanc, brother of Fontaine) is now a mild-mannered actor in his 40s struggling to make a living. When a client demands a quintessentially French play for an upcoming corporate event, Augustin must cast and direct a doomed love melodrama from the 18th century. The task proves easier said than done. Though full of potentially interesting characters (led by Danielle Darrieux), the film isn't funny enough to be a comedy or dramatic enough to be taken seriously. Curiously, after Augustin (1995) and Augustin, King of Kung-Fu (1999), the movie isn't really about its nominal protagonist. In fact, it really isn't about anyone. It just kind of meanders along inoffensively until you're like, "Oh, it's over? That was all?" (NR) FRANK PAIVA Lincoln Square: 1:30 p.m. Sun., June 10. Neptune: 9:30 p.m. Wed., June 13. Out of Time Surely the quietest, most artful, and human-scaled documentary about globalization I've ever seen, the Austrian-made Out of Time never even uses that word. Instead, director Harald Friedl simply and patiently turns his camera on a few Vienna shopkeepers struggling to make sense of how the retail trade—and an entire European culture of family-run neighborhood stores—is succumbing to Wal-Mart modernity. Butcher, druggist, button seller, leather-goods vendor—these are honest, venerable emporiums founded as early as 1844. And now, Friedl sadly observes, they're all on the verge of closing, kept alive by a dwindling generation. The life of 85-year-old druggist Peppi Kienesbeger encompasses most of recent European history: Hired as a boy by Jews whose shop was taken by the Nazis; conscripted into World War II, then held prisoner in Russia; now proprietor of an empty store stocking goods no one wants, talking only to himself, his dead wife, and the camera. If I'm making the movie sound too sad, it isn't. The dignity of work, and of aging workers, is beautifully rendered. Here is labor divorced, in a sense, from the hourly wage. To do a good job, says the nonagenarian leather-shop owner, "You have to forget that time exists." (NR) BRIAN MILLER Pacific Place: 9:30 p.m. Mon., June 11; 2 p.m. Wed., June 13. The Paper Will Be Blue Yet another remarkable film from Romania, The Paper has in common with the fest's prior 12:08 East of Bucharest a fascination with the precise moment in 1989 when Ceausescu was deposed. Here, after a shocking out-of-sequence prologue, the last fitful night of that fascist regime is experienced by an armored-car crew of militiamen (not full soldiers, an important distinction), one of whose members impulsively decides to join the revolution. For his comrades and sympathetic lieutenant, this isn't heresy, but a hassle. They don't want to have to write up an embarrassing report the next day—and they don't really care who's in power to read it. They just want Costi (Paul Ipate) back and safe, as do his family and girlfriend, as do we. What Costi and the lieutenant (Adi Carauleanu) both experience is a nightmare of paranoid, trigger-happy combatants on both sides. Says Ceausescu on TV, "Tonight no one will be allowed to sleep in Romania," only it's more like the whole country's brain is fried from 24 years without sleep. The national mood is chaos and fatigue, and the national motto is best expressed by one of the rebels: "A fair trial, and then we will execute you." (NR) BRIAN MILLER Pacific Place: 1:30 p.m. Sun., June 10; 7 p.m. Mon., June 11. The Point Point St. Charles is a poor inner-city neighborhood in Montreal, where this docudrama follows some 20 teenagers struggling to survive idiot parents, social pressures, and the temptations of crime. These teens play themselves in a collaborative effort with director Joshua Dorsey, and the results are actually worse than you'd expect. The Point has, for lack of a better word, no point for existing at all. There are too many plot points lost to lazy storytelling and poor sound editing. A good third of the dialogue is impossible or very difficult to hear. The acting is worse than the re-enactments on MTV's True Life. Even though the stories may be rooted in truth, Dorsey feels the Larry Clark–like need to consistently drive his protégés into dark, exploitive territory. The Point manages to be both turbulent and boring. (NR) FRANK PAIVA Lincoln Square: 4:30 p.m. Fri., June 8. Pacific Place: 4:30 p.m. Mon., June 11. Prague Married couple Maja (Stine Stengade) and Christoffer (Mads Mikkelsen, familiar to Americans as the blood-weeping villain in Casino Royale) travel to Prague to reclaim the body of Christoffer's father, who deserted the family when his son was 12. While negotiating with the Czech authorities and his father's retinue, Christoffer also confronts his wife about the affair she's having. Almost a companion piece to Lost in Translation, another film about being trapped in limbo, Prague edges its melancholy with black humor. Giving naked, nuanced performances, Mikkelsen projects the shadow of a thousand emotions onto his blank glare, while Stengade flickers between hope and exhaustion—depending on which lover has crossed her thoughts. Gorgeous color-enhanced cinematography and an aching-violins soundtrack show how far director Ole Christian Madsen, whose last feature was the Dogma-espousing Kira's Reason: A Love Story, has migrated away from Lars von Trier and toward Ingmar Bergman. (NR) JONATHAN KAUFFMAN SIFF Cinema: 4:30 p.m. Fri., June 8. Harvard Exit: 9 p.m. Sun., June 10. Red Without Blue This startlingly intimate documentary profiles twin brothers Mark and Alex Farley and their parents. All undergo dramatic changes when Alex decides to transform himself into Clair. In just 77 minutes, this evenhanded film creates a clear, fair picture of each family member. No issue is left unexplored. All seem comfortable directly confronting one another in a calm and dignified manner on camera. Their relationships are delicate, and their problems painful, but the movie never feels exploitive. There's no premeditated agenda or taking sides. It's just real life as it happens (in Montana, of all places), without fancy editing tricks or lurid confessions. While exploring complicated transgender issues and family dynamics doesn't seem like the ideal way to spend an evening, there are many surprisingly sunny rewards in this redemptive story. (NR) FRANK PAIVA Harvard Exit: 4:45 p.m. Thurs., June 7. Salvador If ever a film deserved to lose you at the opening credits, it's this one. The montage of WWII, MLK, Che, Franco, Arafat, and other radicals from the '60s and '70s introduces the story of Salvador Puig Antich, a real-life Catalan anarchist who killed a Spanish policeman in a 1973 shoot-out. After the next two dull hours—student pamphleteering, bank robberies, family background, trial, execution—the closing credits are just as insanely reductive: the Iraq War, 9/11, Bush, bin Laden, the Madrid train bombings of March 11, 2004, Gitmo, etc., etc. Because they're all connected, don't you see? Sure—Martin Luther King, Nazis, fascists, the War on Terror...and Puig Antich is somehow a martyr to the cause. What cause is that? Good versus evil, I guess, and the anarchists here are never represented as being less than good, the cops less than evil. Puig Antich (Daniel Brühl from Good Bye Lenin!) expresses no remorse, and director Manuel Huerga demonstrates nothing but simple-mindedness about that violent, troubled era. The only voice of reason and perspective comes from the radical's girlfriend, who begs, "Let's go see The Graduate." Exactly. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Pacific Place: 4:15 p.m. Thurs., June 7; 9 p.m. Sat., June 9. Sharkwater The worst kind of documentary: It's more about the filmmaker than the subject. Rob Stewart, who directs, writes, co-produces, co-edits, and appears in Sharkwater, among other jobs, shows a genuine love for the titular fish. He, along with some radical Greenpeace offshoots, patrols the waters of Central and South America looking for illegal fishermen who kill millions of sharks annually for their fins. The first half of Stewart's doc contains stunning underwater photography and a succinct evaluation of why sharks aren't as dangerous as we perceive. The second half abandons nature's beauty for layer after layer of human pretension. It begins with droning voice-overs about sharks being the caretakers of all life on Earth. Then come the long woeful looks of despair at the camera (from people, not sharks). Finally, we get several graphic minutes of shark after shark being brutally killed. A warning to parents and nature lovers: You'll see more dead sharks by the time the movie is over than live ones. (NR) FRANK PAIVA SIFF Cinema: 7 p.m. Fri., June 8; 11 a.m. Sun., June 10. Shotgun Stories Jeff Nichols' Shotgun Stories is the kind of thing Breece D'J Pancake would have written had he lived past 30. Set in oppressive rural Arkansas, the film captures the breaking point in a long-standing rivalry between two trios of brothers fathered by the same man but raised under vastly different circumstances. At his funeral, crashed by the first three sons, we learn he was a reformed drunk who abandoned his first family and sought redemption with the second. One son spitting on the casket ignites a feud between the two clans: Fistfights escalate to dog poisoning and finally to a fatal bar brawl. Mostly a cautionary tale about the futility of revenge, Shotgun Stories succeeds because the characters have been so skillfully rendered. Nichols' script is colored with mildly comedic episodes and blunt, unvarnished dialogue. (Sample: "I ought to clean my van up." "Yeah.") Many attempts at portraying rural folk end up as caricatures, but Nichols, a native of Little Rock, has respect for these folks, no matter how inarticulate—and ultimately violent—they are. (R) BRIAN J. BARR Harvard Exit: 9:30 p.m. Mon., June 11; 4:30 p.m. Wed., June 13. The Signal Among the most graphically violent works of art ever committed to celluloid, this mindblower of a film transcends the slasher genre, playing more like a superhip hybrid of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Memento, Mulholland Drive, and Slither. The plot revolves around mysterious broadcast waves interrupting television and telephone traffic in the fictitious town of Terminus. These waves, it turns out, make people homicidally crazy, and much killing with blunt instruments ensues. Meanwhile, a pair of lovers (deftly played by Anessa Ramsey and Justin Welborn) try to escape the murderous wrath of a scorned, jealous madman (A.J. Bowen). Tonally, the film is pitch-perfect, featuring panicked, quick cuts that maintain a creepy, suspenseful mood throughout. And like the aforementioned Slither, there's some great campy comic relief: Chadrian McKnight, in maybe 10 minutes of screen time, damn near walks away with the film as a mustachioed, pussy-starved party guest who's completely unaware of the madness that has engulfed their town. (NR) MIKE SEELY Neptune: midnight, Sat., June 9. Egyptian: 9:30 p.m. Tues., June 12. Soldiers of Conscience More evenhanded than you might expect, this documentary about conscientious objectors in the U.S. military doesn't just preach to the choir, it reaches five or six pews beyond. Unfortunately, it's still not a very good movie. Focusing on a repetitive series of soldiers who decline to bear arms in the Iraq war, the filmmakers gloss over some larger, important issues. Is there any moral context that makes it OK for an intelligent, thinking person to kill in wartime? Like the Holocaust, maybe? Or if those WMDs had actually existed? And what makes Iraq different from World War II, or other past wars, when conscientious objectors served with honor? These questions linger on the periphery. Soldiers was made with official permission from the U.S. Army (God knows how they managed that one) and features some chilling footage of boot-camp brainwashing. It has the virtue of including voices from across the ideological spectrum, yet its unnecessarily long shots of brutal violence, its championing of lefty dissent, and its overdramatic CNN-style score make clear where its sympathies lie. (NR) FRANK PAIVA SIFF Cinema: 7 p.m. Thurs., June 7. Harvard Exit: 1:30 p.m. Sat., June 9. Sons See the Wire. Spider Lilies There must be something in the water in Taiwan, as Spider Lilies is SIFF's second movie from that country fraught with melodramatic homosexual longing. While Eternal Summer is strictly for gays, Spider is strictly for lesbians. Or anyone excited to watch young Asian women making out. Patrons interested in good filmmaking will be less moved, as our two lovers are more interesting apart than they are together. Takeko (Isabella Leong) is a mid-20s tattoo artist still reeling from the earthquake that killed her father and injured her brother. Teenage Jade (Rainie Yang) is a lonely amateur Internet porn star with abandonment issues. Most of their interaction is via chat room and webcam, two activities that are fine for midnight surfing at home, but sure make for a boring time at the movies. Even when they're face to face, they lack chemistry. A handful of confusing flashbacks and plot twists kill things for good. (NR) FRANK PAIVA Pacific Place: 7:15 p.m. Thurs., June 7. Harvard Exit: 4:30 p.m. Tues., June 12. Stealth If you had a gorgeous, devoted boyfriend and a great writing job in radio, why would you suddenly decide your deadbeat Polish great-grandfather makes you a true Pole, move a Polish au pair into your house, and then dump your boyfriend to marry her, so infuriating your sister that she dumps her own boyfriend to drag you on a road trip to Warsaw in the hope of curing your insanity? Seriously, why would you? Francophone Swiss filmmaker Lionel Baier wanted to make a quirky and appealing film starring a half-fictionalized version of himself, but doesn't realize that he's too insufferable (think recent Woody Allen) to carry an entire film. Thankfully, Lionel's fictional but far more realistic sister, Lucie (Natacha Koutchoumov), can. The more we follow her incredulous devotion to Lionel and figure out the real reason she accompanied him to Poland, the more appealing the film's quirks become. By the time the two reach Warsaw, in fact, Lionel almost seems like a real person. (NR) JONATHAN KAUFFMAN Pacific Place: 6:30 p.m. Tues., June 12; 4:15 p.m. Wed., June 13. A Sunday in Kigali Adapted from a novel by Gil Courtemanche, this Francophone Canadian film by Robert Favreau broods, on both the personal and the political levels, on whether Canada could have done more to stop the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Québecois journalist Bernard (Luc Picard), who has settled in Rwanda to live the life lush, is filming a documentary about AIDS, but his film is slowly eclipsed by the rising violence. As the country disintegrates, Valcourt falls in love—tentatively, and too late—with Gentille (Fatou N'Diaye), a young waitress at his hotel who, despite her Hutu father, looks too much like her Tutsi mother for her own safety. The plot intercuts between the buildup to the massacre and a period three months after its outbreak, when Bernard rushes back into the country to search for Gentille. Jumping back and forth in time, the story zeroes in on the moment when genocide began and the two were separated. This crisis point is also the moment when Favreau finally achieves the immediacy and intimacy he's aiming for; before and after, however, his love story never transcends the issues of race and power it spells out so plainly. (NR) JONATHAN KAUFFMAN Pacific Place Cinema: 7 p.m. Fri., June 8; 11 a.m. Sat., June 9. Surveillance Deeply irritating on many levels, this British thriller makes an empty style fetish of modern technology: Everywhere there are images on computers, on TVs, on cell phones, on little BlackBerry thingies; screens feeding off screens, with most scenes shot all angle-y and handheld-y as if filmed via hidden camera. Visually, Surveillance suggests the modern loss of privacy, yet its simple-minded plot concerns an evil cabal trying to suppress "a scandal that could destroy the monarchy." Which, in the end, they actually do succeed in keeping a secret. You could say this is ironic, or you could say the script hadn't been thought through very well. Our hero Adam (young, cute, butch, and he windsurfs! Sigh!) finds himself the cabal's main target after a random one-night stand with photographer Jake, "son of media magnate Lord Raven," who then goes missing. The real mystery to us is not who wanted Jake silenced or what's in those photos, but why some characters get offed while others are left untouched. Lesser irritations include clichéd, implausible dialogue, a wasted Simon Callow, and—in an ostensibly gay-sympathetic movie—a dance club depicted, as usual, as the second circle of hell. (NR) GAVIN BORCHERT Egyptian: 9:30 p.m. Mon., June 11; 4:30 p.m. Tues., June 12. Sway Bohemian Tokyo fashion photographer Takeru rarely ventures out to the sticks where his brother and just-widowed father run a gas station. Returning home after his mother's funeral—not an occasion for many tears—would be his top priority, were it not for a fatal accident on a rickety suspension bridge in a local park. Or was it murder? Either way, his dorky older brother is soon on trial for the death, and Takeru has to reluctantly stick around as a witness. A taciturn man of images, not words, he's not eager to reveal that he slept with the dead woman—on whom his brother was obviously and perhaps inappropriately crushing—the night before. The sibling rivalry and sexual resentment could make for a tense courtroom thriller, or a decent episode of Law & Order, but Sway never lifts the lid on what exactly bothers Takeru about his brother. Rashomon-style flashbacks show different scenarios for the woman's death; mostly they make you wish for a different movie. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Lincoln Square: 9:30 p.m. Thurs., June 7. Harvard Exit: 11 a.m. Sat., June 9. Sweet Mud Hey, are you up for a real downer? Beautiful shots of the Israeli countryside are pretty much the only comfort in this exhaustingly lachrymose tale of mid-'70s life on a kibbutz. You start to feel like you're seeing the same scene over and over, as 12-year-old Dvir is forced to support and succor his heartbroken, mentally ill mother. Israeli artists and historians have lately been re-examining many of their country's prized mythologies, sometimes with a pretty blunt revisionism, and this time it's the idealized, communitarian kibbutz that comes in for a thrashing. Not a socialist paradise after all, we're told, but a joyless, licentious environment full of cartoonish bullies. We're asked to wonder whether Dvir's mother is really crazy—or just sees the brutal truth! Director Dror Shaul does an impressive job with young Tomer Steinhof, who as Dvir portrays a child struggling with a caretaker role beyond his years. But the director's bleak vision might have been more convincing and less Hollywood if he hadn't also given Dvir a stunningly gorgeous 12-year-old love of his own. (NR) MARK D. FEFER Neptune: 7 p.m. Wed., June 6; 4 p.m. Thurs., June 7. To Get to Heaven First You Have to Die You may already be rolling your eyes at the title, and when I tell you this is a drama of self-discovery from Tajikistan, it'll sound even more like the sort of SIFFocatingly earnest film that's so easy to mock. Kamal is 19, sharp-featured, geeky-handsome (imagine that Paul Reubens and Yoko Ono had a son), prematurely married, and impotent. He spends his days developing short-term fixations on women he sees in public, following them around aimlessly. He visits a cousin who suggests some dubious remedies: eating nuts, dried fruit, and honey ("You have to wait two months," however), and hookers. Eventually Kamal trails a troubled young woman to her place, falls in with her thuggish husband's criminal line of work, and—well, suffice it to say his manly powers are restored. Any other filmmaker would have made some overt point about the connection between violence and sexual satisfaction, but director Djamshed Usmonov, presenting in Kamal a protagonist so blank and affectless he occasionally approaches self-parody, never does anything so obvious as try to make any kind of a point about anything. His peculiar film is lovingly crafted but patience-trying. (NR) GAVIN BORCHERT Pacific Place: 2 p.m. Thurs., June 7. Harvard Exit: 6:30 p.m. Sun., June 10. Trail of the Screaming Forehead The first 10 minutes of Trail are so funny that its eventual decline into mediocrity becomes profoundly disappointing. The movie is big on concept and style, but falls short on story and laughs. When vicious alien foreheads—yes, you read that correctly—invade a 1950s Americana town, it's up to two sailors and a librarian to set things right. The invasion coincides with controversial findings from two renegade scientists that the forehead, not the brain, may hold the entirety of man's knowledge. Trail is the latest film from Larry Blamire, who wrote and directed 2001's similarly campy The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. Blamire has a pitch-perfect ear for old B-movie dialogue, but the delivery of his actors is too self-aware, so the jokes mostly fall flat. Worse, Trail quickly runs out of ideas and starts recycling those jokes. Your brow will furrow in frustration. (NR) FRANK PAIVA SIFF Cinema: 9:30 p.m. Fri., June 8. Egyptian: 4 p.m. Fri., June 15. Vitus An excellent argument for a vasectomy, the Swiss-made Vitus offers up another one of those annoying child prodigies who just wants to be a normal child, no matter that he's a genius pianist/financier who can afford to buy and sell normal childhoods a million times over. (Isn't stock market manipulation a bad thing for kids to learn? Never mind....) But we must try to sympathize with Vitus (played by two child actors at different ages), and listen to the sage advice of his wise grandfather (Bruno Ganz, showing the same twinkle in his eye that he employed playing Hitler in Downfall). Vitus belongs to what might be called the Euro-cute school of cinema, and its few tolerable scenes mock continental pieties toward culture and family. (The actor playing 12-year-old Vitus, Teo Gheorghiu, is an actual piano prodigy who does a very funny take-down of Russian romantic overkill at the keyboard.) Fortunately the Swiss know better than to make their chocolate this sweet. (PG) BRIAN MILLER Lincoln Square: 7 p.m. Fri., June 8. Egyptian: 9:30 p.m. Wed., June 13. White Palms This Hungarian drama follows gymnast Miklós Dongó through his arduous childhood training during the early 1980s and his career comeback as a coach in Canada 25 years later. Zoltán Miklós Hadju plays Dongó as an adult. His brother, Szabolcs Hadju, writes and directs. Both were gymnasts, and White Palms—the chalk applied to keep their hands dry, get it?—is grounded in realism; real athletes play all the major roles, which makes the training and competition sequences genuine and exciting. (2004 Olympic gold medalist Kyle Shewfelt fills one role.) The sport is actually quite thrilling on a big screen without an announcer in the background; why there aren't more good movies about it is beyond me. Also raising the stakes is Péter Politzer's editing, which crosscuts between past and present without ever losing the audience. His expert cutting makes the finale genuinely heart-pounding. Coupled with its true-life ending, White Palms is the perfect antidote to your typical slow-motion sports schlock. (NR) FRANK PAIVA Pacific Place: 7:15 p.m. Wed., June 6; 2 p.m. Fri., June 8.

 
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