SIFF Week 4: Picks & Pans

Russian mobsters, Hong Kong gangsters, murder in Italy, sex tourism in Nepal, and sheep rustling in Sardinia—it’s an international crime wave! See our SIFF Guide 2008 for more. By SW staff and contributors

 Wednesday, June 11Fields of FuelApparently this documentary got a standing O at the Beverly Hills Film Festival earlier this year, but Fields of Fuel is likely not going to bring folks to their feet in greenie Seattle, where nearly every month there's a new place to fill up your car with old French-fry grease. However, though Australian director Joshua Tickell will be preaching to the choir in these parts, it's still a sermon with relevance. The wide-ranging eco-doc chronicles Tickell's discovery of biofuel on a trip to Europe and his subsequent cross-country U.S. tour by van. En route, he tries to persuade people to grow their gas rather than relying on the petroleum resources of unstable nations. Fields rambles on from war to refineries to Hurricane Katrina to the Bush family. You won't hear much about the downside of biofuels or the food-for-fuel debate—but, yes, there is the obligatory cameo by Willie Nelson. (NR) AIMEE CURL Harvard Exit: 7 p.m. (Also: 4:30 p.m. Thurs., June 12.)The Girl by the LakeLike Prime Suspect in Italian, one could watch a lot of TV criminal investigations under the acute, weary eye of Inspector Sanzio (Toni Servillo). The emphasis here isn't on shootouts, car chases, or C.S.I.-style forensics, but rather the slow conglomeration of character and detail. Sanzio's wife is in a nursing facility with Alzheimer's. His teen daughter ignores his fatherly advice. In the small village where he's called up from Udine to investigate the drowning of a beautiful teen athlete (a kind of double to his daughter), the local yokels hardly appear dangerous. ("This is the season of the snake," says the village idiot usefully; however, no snakes are in sight.) Based on the Norwegian crime novel by Karin Fossum, Girl by the Lake is an extremely well-edited, smartly paced procedural. That said, director Andrea Molaioli dawdles too much in the details and pathologies beneath the postcard scenery (northeast Italy, near the Dolomites, looks like Switzerland). Besides Sanzio's wife's dementia, there's cancer, autism, infidelity, and paralysis beneath the surface idyll. Catching the killer ultimately seems less a resolution than an invitation to watch the next episode. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Uptown: 9:30 p.m. (Also: 7:15 p.m. Sat., June 14.)Perfect Match . . .You've seen Perfect Match... if you've ever seen any romantic comedy before, but that doesn't prevent it from being charming and entertaining. Upper-crust Hélène, an academic who writes books on class prejudice, meets Valentin, a homeless movie projectionist squatting in the apartment next door. They hate each other at first, of course, but not for long. Carole Bouquet and Marc Lavoine share wonderful chemistry as the two. Yet Florence Foresti steals the movie as Hélène's neurotic sister Roseline, a difficult task when she's up against both a precocious child and an adorable cat. The film works because the storytelling is so natural. It also manages to explore homelessness in a serious way that's not cloying or sluggish. There are no plot machinations or forced gags here, just a sweet tale of two unlikely people falling in love, however predictable it may be. (NR) FRANK PAIVA Uptown: 7 p.m. (Also: 9:30 p.m. Thurs., June 12.)SalawatiOn film and in person, Singapore is downright dull compared to Hong Kong. A highly paternalistic government keeps a tight lid on the ordered and generally prosperous population. Yet that population is fascinatingly divided, like Salawati's story. A 12-year-old ethnic Malay girl, Salawati, tries to cope with the accidental drowning death of her older brother. (She belongs to a close, grief-stricken Muslim family.) Meanwhile a Hindi-speaking Indian barfly hangs out with his buddies at a motorcycle courier service. During which time a hard-working Chinese insurance salesman ignores his wife and child for the sake of his next big account. They're all related somehow, and debut writer-director Marc X. Grigoroff does his best to tease out the suspense concerning a fatal day at the beach. Unfortunately, the interweaving and flashbacks are paced way behind the guesswork of any average SIFFgoer. Someone's to blame, and someone needs forgiveness. We're ahead of Grigoroff, and his young heroine, from the start. The film never catches up. Salawati is told in four languages (English among them), suggesting what a complicated patchwork Singapore comprises. If the lid ever comes off, some good movies might boil out. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Pacific Place: 7 p.m. (Also: 4:30 p.m. Fri., June 13.)Villa JasminShot for French TV, the flashback-heavy tale of Tunisian Jews before World War II has enough colorful history that it might've worked back in the Miramax '90s with Nicolas Cage cast in dual roles as the socialist father lobbying against prewar colonial rule, and as the sensitive writer son who returns to his boyhood home to indulge in endless flashbacks. And I mean endless. Nothing makes sense here unless you assume the son (Clémant Sibony) is visiting Tunis during the '70s (no dates are given). Henry confusingly rechristens himself Serge to honor his late father (Anaud Giovaninetti), a crusading journalist and Freemason during the '30s, who, despite being sent to the Nazi concentration camps, conceived Serge II during the '50s. (Most films would use the Holocaust for suspense, not tell us who survived.) Serge I woos the mother of Serge II. Serge II's wife is pregnant with Serge III. Serge II is uncomfortable identifying himself as Jewish, while Serge I refuses to compromise his ethnicity. Oh, and the ancestral villa smells of jasmine, which Serge II sniffs from across the Mediterranean. And like Hamlet and his father's ghost, eventually Serge I and II meet to discuss their relationship. This would be fine on stage, but I don't recall Hamlet ever hugging his ghost daddy to reassure him this whole Holocaust thing will soon be over. (There's no hugging allowed in French movies!) Otherwise, the women are gorgeous and Tunis ain't bad either. And if I ever have a son, I won't name him Serge. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Egyptian: 9 p.m. (Also: Harvard Exit, 9:30 p.m. Sun., June 15.)Thursday, June 12Apollo 54MST3K, where are you? The worst film I've seen thus far at SIFF could only be made bearable with the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew spontaneously dissing the antics on screen. In fact, that's a live show I would pay to see. This Italian approximation of an Ed Wood flick has a pair of dunderheaded astronauts pilot their spaceship along a tramway—that is, a seemingly endless cable through the cosmos—to stop the source of a mysterious broadcast turning everyone on Earth to idiots. (Otherwise known as American Idol and the Fox News Channel.) En route, they do battle with a drooling idiot tollhouse keeper. Then all three finally encounter the supreme deity of the universe, whereupon the fate of the galaxy is decided by...uh, no spoilers here. Director Giordano Giulivi and his fellow Apollo crew members may attend SIFF to explain their intentions. A love for Buck Rogers serials might partially be to blame. 2001's HAL as a mirrored disco ball—why not? Undoubtedly there's some anti-Berlusconi subtext we Americans will miss. Just don't demand your lire back when "Kazuya the blazing space dragon," announced like the beast from Alien, turns out to be a rubber chicken. Because the killer rabbit was already taken. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Harvard Exit: 9:30 p.m. (Also: 4 p.m. Sun., June 15.)The Bluetooth VirginThe title here is a MacGuffin: All the characters in this shallow Hollywood satire say, "The Bluetooth Virgin—what a great name for a script!" Then they hear the pitch from struggling screenwriter Sam (Austin Peck) and sink into their chairs. It's that bad. Watching the movie has a similar effect. Sam's magazine-editor pal David (Bryce Johnson) is the first unlucky party to read the script, which is already eroding Sam's marriage. (When your husband says, "Honey, I love your notes," call a divorce lawyer, stat.) A better film would've proceeded as a roundelay in which Hollywood's pass-the-buck, don't-tell-the-truth cycle of professional flattery destroys everyone contaminated by this Ebola screenplay virus. But writer-director Russell Brown is no David Mamet, and this ain't Speed-the-Plow. The wittiest lines are chapter inscriptions borrowed from Samuel Johnson and Somerset Maugham. In his tediously talky insider gabfest, Brown is too smugly self-assured that his Bluetooth isn't the other Bluetooth. And he's mistaken. Writers talking about writing is always a bad idea. Actors fretting about acting can be a little more amusing (recall Naomi Watts in Ellie Parker at SIFF '05). What I want to know is, When will the hardworking animal performers in Hollywood finally be able to direct their own movies? Unlike Bluetooth, they probably have something important to say. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Harvard Exit: 7 p.m. (Also: 1:30 p.m. Sat., June 14.)Fairytale of KathmanduIrish director Neasa Ní Chianáin thinks she's springing some great surprise on us in her documentary about gay Gaelic-language poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh. But seriously—he goes to Nepal every year to spend time with the various young male "friends" he supports with gifts and money? What Chianáin thinks is her shocking third-act reveal should've been her starting point in this fundamentally misjudged film. If she were going to make a doc about Catholic priests and altar boys, wouldn't we immediately jump to the same (correct) conclusion? Still, Fairytale isn't a waste of DV tape. Searcaigh grants the filmmaker full access to his life as he walks the hills in Ireland and cruises for poor farm boys in Nepal. Apparently a minor celebrity in Ireland for his Gaelic verse (his apparently self-bestowed moniker, "the guru of the hills," appears on a T-shirt), he's clearly a major attention hound. A sugar daddy in the Third World, he is to Western eyes just another sad, fat, lonely old queen who can't form a stable relationship. The implication here—though Chianáin is too polite, or stupid, to make it—is that Searcaigh can't get laid back home. No Irish boy would have him. (And that Gaelic stuff? Big turnoff.) The age of consent is 16 in Nepal, Chianáin finally tells us (again, way too late). We all disapprove of sex tourism, but the old gay dynamic of older men and younger rent-boys is too complicated to condemn so simply. These would be fascinating issues for another film—and another filmmaker—to address. (NR) BRIAN MILLER SIFF Cinema: 9:30 p.m. (Also: Pacific Place, 11 a.m. Sat., June 14.)Frozen RiverSet in deep winter in way-upstate New York, first-time writer-director Courtney Hunt's Frozen River provides a welcome throwback to the truly independent films of festivals of yore—movies that offered lyrical glimpses of regional American life in parts of the country rarely visited by the dominant Hollywood cinema. The mood of Hunt's film, which follows the desperate measures undertaken by a newly-single mother of two to keep her family afloat in the days leading up to Christmas, is one of lived-in decrepitude and working-class gristle, which proves a perfect fit for the hardscrabble character actress Melissa Leo (21 Grams), who shines brightly in her first major leading role. (R) SCOTT FOUNDAS Pacific Place: 7 p.m. (Also: Uptown, 4:30 p.m. Sat., June 14.)The Secret of the GrainThis overlong but absorbing drama turns an intensely detail-oriented eye to a Franco-Arabic community in a depressed seaside town. Slimane (Habib Boufares), a freshly laid-off dockworker, is the shy and stoic center of a raucous extended family. Prodded by his stubborn but doting stepdaughter (the magnetic young actress Hafsia Herzi), he takes tentative steps toward realizing a dream: opening a restaurant that sells his ex-wife's famous fish couscous (the secretive grain of the title). Some abrupt transitions punctuate the film's long stretches of dense, Altmanesque chatter, but director Abdellatif Kechiche captures his milieu just right—the gossip, the good food, the endless gutting and eating of fish. (NR) JULIA WALLACE Egyptian: 3:30 p.m.VisioneersJudy Greer, James LeGros, Zach Galifianakis, D.W. Moffett, and Seattle's own John Keister: Man, what a promising cast for this quirky, locally shot indie comedy, set in a near future where everyone hates their corporate drone jobs to the point where they're literally exploding. And man, does this movie, a half-dozen laughs aside, absolutely suck. If one is to pull off this high a concept, the dialogue and pacing had best crackle. And I'll be damned if this isn't among the slowest comedies ever committed to celluloid. Plus, the storyline—corporations bad!—just feels so fucking stale and repetitious, especially after Office Space, The Office, et al. Bro-combo Jared and Brandon Drake would have done far better to focus on the marital conflicts between Greer and the increasingly apathetic Galifianakis. But instead, they aim higher—and miss, wildly. (NR) MIKE SEELY Egyptian: 9:30 p.m. (Also: 4 p.m. Sat., June 14.)Friday, June 13Accelerating AmericaThis earnest documentary highlights the Urban Collaborative Accelerated Program (or UCAP), an alternative junior-high school in Rhode Island. UCAP helps preteens failing one or more grades get back on track. (Do all of them make it? No spoilers here.) The movie follows three students with troubled backgrounds for a year. Their tearful struggles are captured in extreme closeup for the emotional manipulation of you, the unsuspecting SIFFgoer. As the days until graduation are counted on-screen, there's the (hopefully) unintentional sense that these kids are competing against one another. It also feels like a reality TV contest, seeing which pupil's parental neglect and dysfunctional home life is the most horrifying. The film's noble cause is to shed light on poverty and to ask us to question the American educational system. But subjecting a trio of emotionally traumatized kids to this kind of scrutiny just seems sad. (NR) FRANK PAIVA Harvard Exit: 7 p.m. (Also: SIFF Cinema, 1:30 p.m. Sat., June 14.)Before I ForgetCall me an ageist homophobe, but I find the idea of watching an entire movie in which a 58-year-old gay man morosely performs oral sex on a parade of rent-boys depressing. Thanks to Strand Releasing, the French Before I Forget is getting a limited U.S. release, so maybe there's a bigger market for gloomy-eyed blowjobs than I imagine. Pointless from start to finish, the film is an endurance exercise for the ages. Pierre (Jacques Nolot) is an author trying to block out his friend's death by any possible method. Nolot also directed and wrote the movie, which would be impressive if it were any good. He's most successful in his acting, which is what he's best known for anyway. It's unlikely, however, that Before I Forget would've been better if someone else had directed it. It's a sinking ship from the start, not even partially redeemed by the young male eye-candy that it's (falsely) promoting. On top of all that, it boasts the stupidest ending of any film I've seen at SIFF so far. (NR) FRANK PAIVA Pacific Place: 9:30 p.m. (Also: 4 p.m. Sun., June 15.)Cherry Blossoms—HanamiDirector Doris Dörrie has accomplished a feat no other filmmaker at SIFF could manage: She's made a film about a troubled marriage and bad family life that's emotionally involving, fast-paced, and a joy to sit through. No, really. I'm just as surprised as you are. Trudi and Rudi are an older German couple who have become a nuisance to their adult children. When Rudi is diagnosed with a serious illness, the two realize how little they know each other, and begin to make amends. The plot is full of little twists I won't spoil (also avoid the overly descriptive SIFF program guide). Just trust that you'll be crying by the end and calling everyone you know, telling them to go see it. The movie has a distributor for limited release, but see it now in case it doesn't play beyond New York. Cherry Blossoms ends with the most stunning and beautiful sequence from any film in the festival so far. You'd be remiss not to catch it while you can. (NR) FRANK PAIVA Uptown: 6:30 p.m. (Also: Cinerama, 11:55 a.m. Sun., June 15.)ChrysalisThere have not been enough violent action movies or police thrillers this year at SIFF, and Chrysalis is too little, too late, in both regards. It's also set in a near-futuristic Paris, but not far enough in the future. The cops are like iCops, who wave iGuns and iBadges. Their desks are screens like your iMac. At a mysterious medical clinic, heart surgery is performed with modem and virtual-reality gloves (shades of Minority Report). It's like C.S.I. Kubrick crossed with Phillip K. Dick: Memories are stolen and implanted on chips for storage; plastic surgery has everyone looking like a supermodel; and the government is probably more evil than the Slavic mobsters who traffic in milky-white drugs, virtual sex chambers (Sleeper's orgasmatron? Hel-lo?), and milky-white flesh from the old Soviet Bloc. (Even in the future, it seems, there will be an endless supply of women to traffic from the old Soviet Bloc.) Chrysalis begins with two strong scenes in a row, but the subsequent stitching of police procedural and medical thriller is way too sloppy; you'll guess the connecting tissue long before the cop (a very effective Albert Dupontel). I, for one, would have no problem with a remake starring Bruce Willis and directed by Tony Scott. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Egyptian: 11:55 p.m. (Also: Cinerama, 10 p.m. Sat., June 14.)Hidden FaceYet another sad and boring movie about a marriage falling apart. The characters in Hidden Face all have little flaws: François is a pianist who can't make his way through an entire piece without making a mistake. Isabelle, his wife, is an artist who sometimes forgets things. Together their relationship is a windshield full of tiny cracks, and it takes a listless 93 minutes for it to finally shatter. Plot points are inexplicably interspersed with stories from strangers at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that seem to come from another movie. This is writer-director Bernard Campan's first solo effort after co-helming three features with Didier Bourdon. He could've used the outside help to focus the film and give it a purpose. About the only exciting thing about Hidden Face is looking it up on IMDb. In English, it's the alternate title for the 1954 Ed Wood noir Jail Bait, whose DVD cover alone provides more stimulation than its grim French counterpart. (NR) FRANK PAIVA Pacific Place: 7 p.m. (Also: 4 p.m. Sat., June 14.)In Search of KennedyNo, don't. Oscar-winning montage artist Chuck Workman again drags us back to Camelot, trying for boomer-centric reasons I can't fathom to re-establish or re-examine the legacy of JFK. Which means the usual parade of D.C. talking heads, cameos by Barack and Hillary, the pink mist of the Zapruder film, and a thoroughly unconvincing school field trip in which some black teenagers reverently lay a wreath at the eternal flame marking the grave of our 35th president, who was assassinated 45 years ago. Why JFK? Why now? Workman utterly fails to make a new case out of iconography that is beyond tired. Time magazine covers? Life magazine covers? Marilyn singing "Happy Birthday?" Though salted with computer screen shots and Google-Earth images (gotta reach those kids and their newfangled Internets!), In Search of Kennedy will bore those who remember November 22, 1963. Those who don't, the Obama Generation, have already moved on. It's an example Workman would do well to follow. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Egyptian: 4 p.m. (Also: SIFF Cinema, 7 p.m. Sat., June 14.)Letting Go of GodSpokane-raised Irish Catholic girl Julia Sweeney won SIFF's Golden Space Needle award back in 1998 for her family-affliction monologue God Said, Ha! She developed this new one-woman theodicy piece four years ago in L.A., and toured portions of it in Seattle in 2006. Portions. Not the whole Goddamned 130-minute credo, filmed with a live audience that chuckles and nods in all the right places. And Seattle, too, is surely as atheist-affirmative a place as the likable writer-performer—still best known for SNL and It's Pat—could hope to encounter. She's no simple church-basher. I'm sure the Uptight Seattleite will be in the seats when Sweeney appears with her film. She's nothing if not a warm, engaging performer (and funniest when dealing specifically with her family). She generously footnotes her spiritual odyssey with citations ranging from the Nicene Creed to Richard Dawkins. Oh, how we laugh when she exclaims, "Deepak Chopra is full of shit!" But it took her 40-plus years to reach that conclusion, to read the Old and New Testaments more critically? And she never gets to Kierkegaard? I'm sorry, but while the What the Bleep Do We Know? congregation might find this doc disturbing (not that they'd go), and a few fundamentalists might claim blasphemy (not that they'd go), I think most SIFFgoers reached Sweeney's point of secular liberation by the ninth grade. (NR) BRIAN MILLER SIFF Cinema: 6:30 p.m. (Also: 4 p.m. Sun., June 15.)Some Assembly RequiredIt wouldn't be SIFF without a new documentary about adorable children participating in some wacky competition. Last year it was jumping rope (Doubletime), this year it's toy building. Who better to come up with the newest Barbie or Tickle Me Elmo than the kids who'll be playing with them, right? Some Assembly follows six teams from around the country as they brainstorm, build, and present their Toys 'R' Us–ready prototypes to a team of engineers headed by, of all people, astronaut Sally Ride. (Surely evil Mattel executives are lurking in the background somewhere.) We learn either too little about the kids on the various teams or too little about their creation, making it difficult to root for anyone. The doc also feels like a long-form corporate informercial, as if someone in marketing had seen Spellbound and Mad Hot Ballroom and said, "Hey! This kind of thing could raise our profile too!" Not if we stay away, it won't. (NR) FRANK PAIVA SIFF Cinema: 4 p.m. (Also: 11 a.m. Sun., June 15.)SonetàulaThis is a long, slow, difficult Italian movie set entirely on the island of Sardinia. Which, I believe, has its own native language that is spoken in the film. Much of the action concerns sheep, and sheep rustling. World War II comes and goes to little notice; it matters less than the sheep. It's hard to tell which characters are related to whom. When electricity arrives after the war, residents burst into a spontaneous, spiral dance around the town square—and that embedded pagan custom seems more significant than the novelty of alternating current. In a solemn, deliberate story (based on a 1960 novel), Sonetàula shows us an implacable, impoverished island culture of filial duty, long-simmering grudges, delayed revenge, and sexual attraction between first cousins. (This last point is key: Brigand hero Sonetàula—played by the remarkable Francesco Falchetto from ages 13–28—covets a girl, the luminous Manuella Martelli, you might otherwise think is his sister.) So that's about a dozen issues that make Salvatore Mereu's movie sound awful, but it's possibly the strongest title I've seen at the fest. And I definitely intend to watch the entire 157 minutes again. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Uptown: 9:30 p.m. (Also: 4:30 p.m. Sun., June 15.)TriangleHong Kong greats Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam, and Johnnie To direct Triangle tag-team style; each is responsible for a half-hour of this gangster flick, which entertains despite confusing plot turns and rapid tonal shifts. All three sections are well-made, but they never gel together into one movie. Triangle starts as a sophisticated betrayal thriller (after a robbery goes wrong), morphs into a sullen crime drama, and settles on being a good old-fashioned shoot 'em up. The last segment, helmed by To, is the most successful—mainly because it's the payoff for the complicated prior episodes. Diehard HK action fans will likely be pleased, but considering the talent involved, Triangle really should've been better. SIFF is tossing the film a huge bone by booking it at Cinerama, where the gigantic screen will distract from its lesser qualities. Stay through the credits for a haunting coda to the serpentine plot. (NR) FRANK PAIVA Cinerama: 4 p.m. (Also: 9:00 p.m. Sun., June 15.)The 27 ClubGreat concept, uneven execution. The 27 Club makes you wonder if SIFF's programmers actually watched this drama, or if they were simply sold on the synopsis and moved on. The title refers to the curious coincidence of legendary musicians (Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, etc.) dying at age 27, at the peak of their careers. Here, Elliot (Joe Anderson) is one half of a famous rock duo, and a bandmate falls victim to the curse. (To explain, the movie uses more flashbacks than an episode of Family Guy to show their rise to fame.) Elliot must then choose between overdosing to join his friend in death—right, I'm sure that's exactly what the other two guys in Nirvana considered—or being chauffeured cross-country to attend the funeral. The whole thing's rather contrived (there's even an inspirational homeless gospel choir), but strangely affecting by the time things wrap up. Anderson perfectly fits the bedraggled rock-star persona, and David P. Emrich, as the grocery-store clerk hired to drive Elliot to New York, is charming as a God-fearing goody-two-shoes. (NR) FRANK PAIVA SIFF Cinema: 9:30 p.m. (Also: Harvard Exit, 11 a.m. Sat., June 14.)The Unknown WomanFrom Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso), this dark tale follows Irena (Ksenia Rappoport), an Ukranian woman who comes to Italy via the sex trade. Her life has been filled with hardship, loss, and pain, and it becomes clear early on that she is on a mission of sorts, perhaps seeking revenge or the return of something precious. Irena finds an apartment and a cleaning job in the building across the street from the one where she befriends the housekeeper for the wealthy parents of young Tea (Clara Dossena). After the housekeeper has an, um, unfortunate accident on the grand spiral staircase (one of the many Hitchcockian references seen throughout the film), Irena takes over the household. She bonds with fragile Tea, and teaches her how to fight back against schoolyard bullies (leading to some disturbing, psychologically violent scenes). Meanwhile, bits of Irena's troubled past are revealed through searing flashbacks. She is a victim whose efforts to regain control of her life don't always make sense—or spare others from tragedy. Tornatore has produced a taut, violent, and unexpected thriller, complete with a masterful score by Ennio Morricone—his shrieking violins combined with yearning piano reveal as much of Irena's trauma as the dialogue. It's not a pretty story, to be sure, but it offers redemption, which is more than many women in Irena's position might expect. (NR) CAROLINE PALMER Cinerama: 1 p.m. (Also: Uptown, 8:30 p.m. Sun., June 15.)The WacknessSEE THE WIRE, FRIDAY.Saturday, June 14Bottle ShockA gauzy celebration of the California wine country, SIFF's closing-night gala title will make you thirsty. And that's a good thing, since your special ticket ($35–$40) gets you into the after-party at the nearby Pan Pacific Hotel, where the corks will be pulled with alacrity. Featuring some handsome young talent (including Rachel Taylor, Eliza Dushku, and Freddy Rodriguez), Bottle Shock is based on true events of 1976, when upstart American labels got their chance against the haughty French in a blind tasting that all—perhaps including the event's sponsor, here played by Alan Rickman—expected the French to win. If you're not an oenophile who knows the famous outcome, you can guess it anyway. Bill Pullman plays the struggling owner of Napa's Chateau Montelena. If you have a few bottles of its chardonnay from that bicentennial year in your cellar, they've probably appreciated quite nicely. As for the movie, it's scenic, pleasant, full of gorgeous aerial vistas sure to inspire a Napa Valley driving/tasting tour. The '70s kitsch aspect adds a little texture, but the movie is fruity and bland, without the sharp adult undertones of Sideways. But who wants to see a depressing movie before a party? (R) BRIAN MILLER Cinerama: 6:30 p.m.Fugitive PiecesIn this English-language Canadian drama, based on the award-winning novel by poet Anne Michaels, Jakob, a young Polish Jew, watches the Nazis slaughter his family while he hides in a cupboard. He's rescued by Agnos, a Greek archaeologist, who smuggles the boy back to Greece and, after the war's end, brings his now-adopted son to Canada. Fugitive Pieces tracks Jakob back and forth through the decades as the boy emerges from his fearful silence, and as the man struggles against his memories. The film looks fantastic, conveying the rough knit of Jakob's tatty, soiled sweater and the smell of the spray evaporating off the Aegean rocks. But its vividness is smudged by several soap-opera performances and by an eagerness to amp up the sentimentality, thanks to director Jeremy Podeswa. (He's one of SIFF's "Emerging Masters" this year, and his 1999 The Five Senses screens at Pacific Place, 11 a.m. Sun., June 15). A movie with English Patient aspirations and Lifetime-movie outcomes, Fugitive Pieces only succeeds in capturing the emotional force of the original novel when Jakob reads from his journals and books—in short, reciting Michaels' undiluted words. (R) JONATHAN KAUFFMAN Pacific Place: 6:30 p.m. (Also: 1:15 p.m. Sun., June 15.)Lakshmi and MeIf you and I were liberal, educated, middle-class urbanites living in Mumbai, we'd have domestic servants, just like filmmaker Nishtha Jain does. The poor are so poor, and so plentiful, that basically anyone in the social strata above can afford someone to cook and clean for them. So, like any good liberal with a guilty conscience, Jain made a documentary about her part-time maid, Lakshmi, who's apparently from a much lower caste. (Is she a Dalit, or untouchable? A Tamil? Jain doesn't explain these things for non-Indian viewers.) But Jain is curious, a self-professed feminist—like the other educated women who employ Lakshmi—who follows the young woman through her arduous day and back home to a slum. There, her father is passed out drunk on the floor. Diseases like tuberculosis and chicken pox are common. At a labor rally for domestic workers, Lakshmi is asked about politics. "We're illiterate," she replies, "so we don't know." When Jain tries to seat her maid among friends for lunch, Lakshmi protests, "I'm like this one black person amongst them." As Jain discovers, and without any kind of forced resolution, she and her servant are both bound into a system that no documentary could possibly change. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Harvard Exit: 4 p.m. (Also: 11 a.m. Sun., June 15.)ViceFinally! Crime and depravity we can care about! Some of SIFF's best titles this year have been from Russia, and Vice is tops among the festival's gangster flicks, too. In a provincial rust-belt city, Denis has the ideal life—spinning records as a DJ, a beautiful girlfriend, and some kind of funky garage-apartment. Only he's poor, and everyone around him is poor, and there seem to be zero prospects for reaching Moscow. Also, Denis is loyal to his two shit-for-brains best friends, which leads him indirectly into the obligation/employment of the local drug lord, who's being pursued by a psycho cop...and you can kind of see where this is going. Vice—i.e., Denis is caught in a vice between his employer and the law—is a traditional, cautionary crime tale, but one that's extremely well-made (by Valery Todorovsky) and shot (cinematographer Roman Vasyanov is expected to attend the fest). As the camera prowls the ghetto-fabulousness of the New Russia, all NBA jerseys and designer drugs, you can't help being sucked in along with wide-eyed Denis. (Actor Maxim Matveev looks like the Slavic Orlando Bloom.) Whether it's pushing drugs or orchestrating the dance floor with his turntable, he's told by his boss (the scary-charismatic Fyodor Bondarchuk), "You give them life." But death comes just as fast in Vice, like flipping over a record. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Uptown: 9:30 p.m. (Also: 11 a.m. Sun., June 15.)

 
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