SIFF Week 2: Picks & Pans

By Brian Miller and SW staff

Wednesday, May 274:30 p.m., Harvard ExitSmall CrimeIf nothing else, this agreeable small comedy from Cyprus will inspire you to visit that postcard-perfect little island. That is, if you don't mind a little death in the foreground. A hapless cop (Aris Servetalis) patrols his Greek-speaking precinct on an underpowered moped, his authority completely ignored by the locals. (And also by nude sunbathing tourists when he takes the boat out on patrol.) While the chief's out fishing, a corpse appears at the base of a cliff. With whitewashed villages perched like glaciers atop the island's steep ridges, it's a wonder the shore isn't littered with corpses. But cop Leonidas suspects murder, and his investigation becomes more ardent when lovely TV host Angeliki (Vicky Papadopoulou) returns from Athens to visit her home village. Small Crime is something like The Keystone Kops on vacation, a leisurely vacation. A shady land deal adds some complication, and Angeliki's family secrets are gradually revealed, but the pace of events isn't much faster than Leonidas' moped. Which, truth be told, makes it that much easier for us to enjoy the local scenery. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: Uptown, 7 p.m. Wed., June 3 and Admiral, 7 p.m. Wed., June 10.4:45 p.m., Pacific PlaceIndependent America: Rising From RuinsOn its own, Rising From Ruins seems a retread of every post-Katrina documentary that has rolled off the assembly line since the levees fell. Says one interviewee in the opening montage: "Once you've lived in this culture, it's hard to leave it." And thus the table is set for a well-worn plot thrust: i.e., New Orleanians are an anguished but resilient lot. Corporations and the governments that enable them are bad. Water is wet. But if taken as a sequel to Independent America: The Two-Lane Search for Mom and Pop, local digital documentarian Hanson Hosein's first feature, Rising becomes an earnest, if visually uninteresting, dissection of the tension between the American small-business owner and the corporate chains that threaten his or her livelihood. (NR) VERNAL COLEMAN7 p.m., EgyptianPICK: Passing StrangeI was hoping that the Tony Award–winning rock opera Passing Strange would eventually reach Seattle, but Spike Lee's exhilarating concert doc is the next best thing. This coming-of-age-while-black musical by Mark Stewart (aka Stew) has been a long time brewing. It progressed from the Bay Area to off-Broadway with much acclaim, and finally hit Broadway last year. If you loved Hedwig and the Angry Inch at SIFF '01, Passing Strange packs at least as much power, but with a much tighter band and a more concentrated story. Unlike John Cameron Mitchell playing a transsexual East German in Hedwig, Stew is relating a (slightly embellished) version of his own life story, one also rooted in the '80s, which proceeds from California to Europe and back. And the songs, co-written with Heidi Rodewald, are even better. Surgery is only one path to self-discovery. Music is another. Shooting during the show's final performances on Broadway, Lee sometimes pushes his camera too close, particularly after intermission, but the high-def images are crisp and the sound quality excellent. Besides Stew's band, his ensemble of performers—most in multiple roles on a bare stage—are in equal command of the stage-tested material. Lee will attend this screening for an audience Q&A. The film is probably bound for HBO later this year. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: Kirkland Performance Center, 6:30 p.m. Tues., June 2.Thursday, May 287 p.m., Pacific PlaceThe GardenAnother eco-bore. Municipal politics in Los Angeles have never been known for transparency, nor have politicians always been accountable to those who elected them. But this documentary fails to tease out the dirty particulars of how a city-owned lot in South Central L.A., bought to be a garbage incinerator site in the '80s, somehow reverted back to its owner, and at what price. It's more insinuation than journalism. After the 1992 Rodney King verdict riots, the vacant 13-acre site was transformed into a community pea patch, the largest in the U.S. (Aerial shots are amazing; there's no other green in South Central.) Most of the farmers interviewed are Latino (and some appear to be illegal immigrants), while the politicians who sold the parcel back—in a closed-door 2003 meeting—are black, with a different set of voters (and donors) in mind. Covering several years of protests, courtroom motions, and celebrity photo ops (hello, Willie Nelson and Dennis Kucinich), The Garden earnestly follows the story, but only from one side. The gardeners, chanting their Zapatista slogans, are noble. The pols are likely corrupt. And the landowner is an asshole. But the political calculus among these warring parties remains murky. When Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa shows up, a guy who speaks the gardeners' language and is a probable candidate for governor, he gives a nice speech, then disappears. He has other votes to chase, other funds to raise, elsewhere in the city. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: 11 a.m. Sat., May 30.7 p.m., SIFF CinemaPICK: The Hurt LockerSEE THE WIRE.7 p.m., UptownPICK: Mothers & DaughtersIn seventh grade, I broke my wrist badly enough that it required a cast up to my shoulder. For six weeks I had to depend on my mother to wash my hair. We did not bond during these sessions. Oh, no. We fought constantly. The word "bitch" was tossed around as we fought over the shampoo, how hard she was pulling, even the best way to keep the plaster dry. But my mother is also the person who cheered me on when I quit a lucrative job in marketing, packed my Toyota, and drove to the rural Southwest with a vague notion of becoming a journalist. In such relationships, it's easy for filmmakers either to overdramatize the potential mutual loathing or play up the BFF aspect. Carl Bessai avoids both extremes by having his talented Canadian cast improvise three alternating scenarios in a kind of faux documentary. Two of the segments are winners. Brenda (portrayed with heartbreaking subtlety by Gabrielle Rose) and her daughter reconnect after Brenda's husband leaves her. In the third scenario, a house painter who gave up her child for adoption becomes a late-life mother/mentor figure to a younger, pregnant single woman (who as it turns out was adopted herself). The resulting minidrama elegantly walks the line between heartwarming and sappy. Take your mom. (NR) LAURA ONSTOT Also: 4:15 p.m. Fri., May 29.9:30 p.m., UptownCarmo, Hit the RoadI'm a sucker for road-trip movies, particularly when they wend their way through a scenic country like Brazil. Add to that some guns and criminal mischief, plus two sexy, soulful leads (Fele Martínez as the driver, Mariana Loureiro as the girl he picks up), and all the spicy ingredients are in place. But Carmo—the girl's name—overstuffs the pot, as it were. Madcap adventures become a little too madcap. The goons in pursuit of our hero's smuggled goods are a little too cartoonish to impart real danger. (One is played by Seu Jorge of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and City of God.) And writer-director Murilo Pasta insists on taking things a little too seriously in the end; Carmo is a picaresque that has to have a moral (or two, or three). But it's an enjoyable and hugely energetic ramble en route, as Marco the smuggler's red pickup truck is stolen, stolen back again, and stolen once more before its contents are revealed. The picture is set far from Rio, in the central Mato Grosso region of Brazil, a lawless jungle province with easy crossings to Paraguay and Bolivia. Indeed, Marco and Carmo seem to be escaping in all directions at once—one step ahead of the goons, her family, and sometimes the viewer. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: 1:30 p.m. Sat., May 30.Friday, May 294:30 p.m., Pacific PlaceCity of BordersGays in the Middle East? An Arab-Israeli lesbian couple? It sounds like a sitcom, but this documentary instead takes the predictable, affirmative, "can't we all get along?" approach that will have most gays switching to American Idol when City reaches TV. We meet a few couples in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, plus a lithe, lonely twink from the West Bank who climbs over the security wall not to deliver bombs but to hit the disco. The owner of which, a gay Jewish man on the city council, says that all three of Jerusalem's major religions "are united in their hatred of us." (No surprise, he contemplates a move to more secular Tel Aviv.) Street scenes and interviews with conservative Muslims and Orthodox Jews only reinforce that view. As a result, City is a bore, confirming what we expect at every corner of the Holy Land. Only when the Palestinian kid emigrates to Ohio does the film get slightly interesting. But by then City has run out of resources, so the city of Cleveland will have to wait for another, better filmmaker to explore its borders. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: 1:30 p.m. Sat., May 30.6:45 p.m., EgyptianPirate for the SeaBased in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, the Sea Shepherd Society has surely done some good in the world as the in-your-face, direct-action alternative to Greenpeace. (The two rival groups split in the early '70s.) And Canadian-born Capt. Paul Watson is a reliably outrageous figure on the front line against whaling, overfishing, and clubbing baby seals to death. (Parents be warned: This footage is graphic.) He's certainly committed and courageous—taking a bullet for the cause, noted but not shown in a postscript. But this fawning infomercial does make you wonder whether this pirate shouldn't retire his cutlass. Running out of gas on a rickety old boat in the waters off Antarctica, commanding a nose-pierced, idealistic young volunteer crew, and posturing for the camera (which never seems to shut off) while preparing to ram and sink a whaling vessel, Watson can come across as an eco-buffoon. I learned a lot more about the international politics of whaling from The Cove, screened earlier at SIFF, in which Watson appears only briefly (and where the Japanese are again portrayed as highly unsympathetic adversaries). 102 minutes of the man is way too much, though he's always good for a colorful quote. Of Greenpeace's pacifist, observe-and-report ethos, Watson scoffs, "You don't walk by a child that's being abused, or a kitten that's being killed, and do nothing!" Wait, are the Japanese fishing for kittens, too? (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: 11 a.m. Sat., May 30.7 p.m., Harvard ExitThe Headless WomanI'm a big admirer of Lucrecia Martel's La Ciénaga, which played Seattle in 2002 (and which SIFF will screen at the Harvard Exit, 11 a.m. Sat., May 30). Her latest also centers quite frankly on an exhausted Argentine woman of a certain age, one who's trying to keep up appearances despite the world crumbling around her. Driving home from the country, Verónica (María Onetto) looks down at her ringing cell phone and—bump!—hits something in the dusty road. She stops none too quickly, looks in the rearview mirror (we can't tell what that thing is, either), and drives on. It looks like the opening to a crime or blackmail movie, but Martel has other ideas. The home life and profession of Veró appear in fragments: She's bourgeois, has servants, possibly a husband, lover, and kids. Mainly she worries about her blonde hair, the humidity, and what a mess her gardener is making in the yard. Though gradually it emerges that Veró, a dentist, may have a conscience. And still more gradually that no one wants her to use it. Martel's storytelling can be frustratingly opaque, yet it fitfully sketches a kind of moral journey. And Onetto, who shares some of Joan Allen's stern beauty, keeps us watching. Even when you can't tell what's happening with the movie, you can see something happening within her. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: 1:30 p.m. Sat., May 30.9:30 p.m., UptownDaddy CoolThere are some things a man never wants to see. His child posing in Hustler. His home in flames. And Daniel Auteuil, one of the best French actors of all time, wearing a wifebeater and headband and throwing signs at his homies. In Daddy Cool, Auteuil plays a famed biochemist who returns to France from the States, where he has lived for 15 years, to spend three months taking care of his 15-year-old daughter (Juliette Lamboley). He thinks it's going to be a snap; she thinks he's a shit. Oh, the hilarity! The only thing that differentiates Daddy Cool from American teenage-girl flicks like American Girl and The Princess Diaries is the fact that directors François Desagnat and Thomas Sorriaux don't fig-leaf teenage sexuality. Otherwise it's pure Hollywood: Plug in the requisite wacky neighbors, the hot unattainable guy daughter Églantine's crushed out on, the equally hot male friend with a secret crush on her, a love interest for Dad, and a band called Black Sperm, and calculate the plot trajectory. Even your own 15-year-old won't be surprised. (NR) JONATHAN KAUFFMAN Also: 4:30 p.m. Tues., June 2 and Admiral, 4 p.m., Sun., June 7.9:30 p.m., Pacific PlaceKnow Your MushroomsNo, don't. And neither does this inane documentary by leftie director Ron Mann (Grass) know anything significant or new about fungus. Mainly it follows a couple of graybeard hippies to the Telluride Mushroom Festival, where these mycology experts spew a few random facts, lead classes, get stoned, and wake up on the lawn. The snickering psychedelic subtext overwhelms everything else: Shrooms are natural and good and should be legalized! Stick it to the man! Lip service is paid to using one variety of fungus to clean up oil spills, but no outside scientists appear to verify this or any other claim made in the film. It's a movie made by and for fungus partisans. If you'd like a little help with actual mushroom recipes, their nutritional value, what variety to buy—organic or otherwise—at Safeway or Uwajimaya, or how resource-intensive they are to grow compared to other crops, this film has absolutely nothing to teach you. (Other than: Avoid Telluride during Mushroom Fest.) Try the cooking section of your local bookstore instead. Note: Mann is scheduled to attend both screenings. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: Uptown, 1:30 p.m. Sun., May 31.9:30 p.m., Harvard ExitPICK: The Overbrook BrothersAs indie road comedies go, John Bryant's The Overbrook Brothers is about perfect. Centered on a bombshell familial revelation that forces two quarreling adult brothers into a used Lincoln and on the long road from Colorado to Texas, virtually every scene belongs to Mark Reeb, who plays Todd, the chief egger-on of the sibling pair. Reeb so nails his hilarious character that the movie's only real shortcoming is that it isn't 20 minutes longer, to give Reeb more room to run. That's not to take anything away from Nathan Harlan, the more subdued, artsy brother, Jason, who can't help but stoop to Todd's level time and again. In both looks and deadpan demeanor, Harlan is reminiscent of Jason Bateman, the ultimate comedic straight man (who's usually funnier than his not-so-straight collaborators). If there's any justice in the cinematic world, Reeb and Harlan's pairing will go down as one of the greatest of its genre. The film's climactic scene also features one of the more originally shocking penile gross-out sequences ever captured onscreen. (NR) MIKE SEELY Also: Pacific Place, 3:45 p.m. Sun., May 31.Saturday, May 3011 a.m., SIFF CinemaPICK: Wallace & Gromit in "A Matter of Loaf & Death"Presented as part of the "Family Picture Show" package of shorts (other programs play SIFF Cinema all weekend), the latest claymation charmer from Aardman Animations is definitely worth the early wakeup call. Cheeky pun-filled fun, the half-hour adventure has our heroes encounter a serial killer! And this secret menace is dispatching all the town's bakers, just as our boys' new business, Top Bun, is, ahem, rising. What will they (forgive me) dough about it? Ever-unflappable Gromit is silently disapproving (as ever) when Wallace thinks he's found love. Add to that a hot-air balloon, a bakery assembly line run out of control, and Wallace's eventual declaration that "I've got a bomb in me pants!" (A line that should be used at least once in every movie.) A spirit of old Ealing Studios murder comedies runs through Loaf & Death, but some things never change. Among the old cassette tapes in the lads' delivery van is—get ready for it—The Hound of Music. (NR) BRIAN MILLER4 p.m., Pacific PlaceThe End of the LineUW professor Ray Hilburn is among the academics and journalists who testify to the dangers of global overfishing in this alarming documentary. Here in the Northwest, of course, we already know about the fate of the Pacific salmon. New England's cod and the Mediterranean tuna fisheries are also cited, while China and Japan are branded the chief culprits of overharvesting today. (Though it was the U.S. and Europe that developed industrial-scale fishing in the '50s.) On the major oceans, says Hilburn, "the basic problem is too many boats," even if in the U.S., "fishing policy here is set by science." Based on the eponymous book by British science writer Charles Clover, Line is entirely depressing and convincing—even if not news, since so much has been written on the subject. Some, like Taras Grescoe in Bottomfeeder, argue we should eat jellyfish to save the higher species. Ick. And here Clover insists, reasonably, that "we have to change our eating habits." But to what protein source? Cattle raised on hormones, antibiotics, and corn? Line rejects fish farms, a growing industry in our state (and part of the big agribusiness portfolio). It's a dilemma you can only partly resolve by letting your vegan friends choose the restaurant after the screening. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: 5 p.m. Mon., June 8.4:15 p.m., EgyptianFood, Inc.Didn't Eric Schlosser already get his movie made? And along with Fast Food Nation, haven't we already seen Super Size Me? And Our Daily Bread and a slew of other food docs? Now director Robert Kenner adds to the organic stack, using Schlosser and über-foodie Michael Pollan as his primary sources. Problem is, no matter how much SIFFgoers will (inevitably) agree with all the eat-local, food-miles, and change-big-agribusiness arguments here, we've already had our stomachful from prior books and films. We already shop at Whole Foods and PCC. Who else is this movie trying to reach? For a broader message, recruit Zac Efron and Miley Cyrus to campaign against McDonald's, Tyson, and Monsanto. Kenner's film is clear and well-presented, and the requisite trips to the slaughterhouse aren't too gory for children. His most engaging new advocate is Virginia organic farmer Joel Salatin, who slaughters a few chickens for us on camera, surely a valuable lesson for kids curious about the poultry beneath the shrink-wrap. But with a new administration running the FDA and USDA, with the old Bush (non-) regulators returned to the industry from whence they came, Food, Inc. usefully suggests that the next big battle for our nation's health will come not in the cornfields but in the corridors of Washington, D.C. (PG) BRIAN MILLER Also: 7 p.m., Sun., May 31.6:30 p.m., Harvard ExitThe Firm LandBased in France, Iranian filmmaker Chapour Haghighat traveled to India, where he employed a mostly nonprofessional cast to make this rather tedious post-colonial parable. Illness plagues a poor seaside village in the south. Six elders are dispatched to the city for government relief. Naturally these rubes are robbed at every turn, but they endure each misfortune—plus some moments of Slumdog Millionaire kindness—with stoic dignity. They're like Diogenes times six, patiently looking for honest assistance in the corrupt provincial capital. Lawyers come off worst, though an old rich widow shows a little pity. The Firm Land is closer to ethnodocumentary than drama; only when the six briefly become media figures does the film spark to life. Suddenly they're on TV, and India's famously sluggish bureaucracy must heed their passive appeal. But as one street observer tells them, "You need disaster to keep people interested." And in India, there's always another disaster to bump these guys off the evening news. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: 11 a.m. Sun., May 31.9:30 p.m., Harvard ExitDownloading NancyYou've got to admire the fearlessness of Maria Bello. In indies like The Cooler and A History of Violence, she's been willing to use her body, all her body, to express sexual need and desperation that aren't always pretty. And in Downloading Nancy she doesn't back down from the challenge of portraying a self-harming, cybersex-addicted housewife who abruptly flees her sexless, joyless, childless marriage in the middle of winter. (Rufus Sewell is the bland, golf-loving husband she flees; Jason Patric is the creepy loner she flees to, a guy who loves his dog, computer, and huge VHS collection in precisely that order. Uh-oh.) If this sounds like a Craigslist casual encounter gone bad, that's more or less true. The film, blue-lit by cinematographer Chris Doyle to match the chilly season, vaults back and forth beyond an event we don't want to see, but which Nancy pathologically craves. Therapy sessions with her shrink (Amy Brenneman) make explicit, and rather too tidy, the reasons for her self-destructive impulses. If the film fails to convince that this unhappy assignation could occur, Bello will surely make you believe that there are an awful lot of unhappy people like Nancy on the Internet. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: 4 p.m. Sun., May 31.9:30 p.m., Pacific PlacePICK: The MaidNot many films, or actresses, would let the central female role of a movie be underestimated for so long. Blank-faced, bone-tired, and implacable, Catalina Saavedra delivers a wonderful, slow-brewing performance as Raquel, a 41-year-old Chilean maid who's served one family her entire working life. Bustling around her, the haute-bourgeois Valdes clan is both appreciative of and indifferent to her constant labors. They own an expensive Santiago home with a swimming pool; the wife is a university professor, while her husband plays golf and builds model ships; and it's Raquel who organizes the lives of their four kids. Señor and Señora Valdes need Raquel, but she's replaceable. (Also: She just doesn't seem very happy or appreciative. Doesn't she ever smile?) And when loveless, childless Raquel suffers some fainting spells, the Battle of the Maids begins. Hired helpers and potential replacements dare to usurp her place, and she fights back with cunning. Writer-director Sebastián Silva dedicates this film to the two maids from his childhood home, so you've got to assume some of Raquel's stratagems are true. And some are very, very funny—though the movie's not strictly a comedy. Rather, it's a powerful character study of delayed self-realization. And one of the best titles I've seen at SIFF so far. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: 1:15 p.m. Sun., May 31.Sunday, May 3111 a.m., UptownPICK: Cloud 9SEE THE WIRE.6:30 p.m., UptownPICK: The Wedding SongThis French film is set in 1942 Tunisia during the six-month German wartime occupation, when the Nazis electrified ethnic tensions between Muslims and Jews that had already been buzzing since the French colonization began. Despite their fierce love for each another, best friends Myriam (Jewish) and Nour (Muslim), both desperately poor, both awaiting marriage, are swept into the rising hatred. Filmed almost entirely through cool blue gels, the film dwells on intimate scenes from a vanished epoch: women grooming one another in the public baths, the clack-clack-clack of a sewing-machine treadle, a crowd of mothers and aunts ululating joyously outside the wedding chamber when a bloody gown is delivered. There are moments when the film is overtaken by social responsibility, others when the sensuous, self-proclaimed femininity of Karin Albou's directing becomes soft-core porn (a depilation scene in the public baths may leave you equally aroused and grimacing). Albou, a member of France's Tunisian Sephardic community, is searching for the roots of virulent anti-Semitism in the Muslim world—and finding them in Christian Europe. JONATHAN KAUFFMAN Also: 4:30 p.m. Mon., June 1.9 p.m., Harvard ExitForastersThe same Barcelona apartment building houses two generations of a Catalan family in Ventura Pons' sepia-tinged historical melodrama. The same characters pop up as their older and younger selves as Forasters hopscotches from conservative late-'60s Spain to today's post-Franco liberalism. Parallel themes abound in this soap opera: forbidden love, rebellious teens, the exotic, alluring upstairs neighbors, and the constant specter of illness and death. Gestures, names, and scenes are reiterated in a kind of generational recurrence; the script is like a DNA helix that keeps repeating and meeting in the middle. (Only the apartment building remains solid and rooted in place.) Sorting out the names, and who's related to whom, is nearly impossible. And unless you can tell Catalan dialect from Andalusian, the subtitles don't clarify matters. The film is anchored somewhat by Anna Lizaran, who forcefully plays two different roles in different eras. I'm giving away nothing in this Spanish telenovela to say that she gets to enact a deathbed scene twice. And if Pons had pushed this family history back into the 19th century, she would've died with just as much gusto then, too. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: SIFF Cinema, 9:30 p.m. Thurs., June 4.Monday, June 17 p.m., EgyptianA Sea ChangeIf you know anything already about climate change, or saw An Inconvenient Truth, then this documentary might not be for you. There is a fine line between informative and captivating, and in A Sea Change, that line remains uncrossed. The doc follows a retired Norwegian history teacher, Sven Huseby, around the world in search of the cause of ocean acidification. Narrated partly as a letter to his grandson, Huseby retraces his life, most of which revolved around the sea, in an attempt to understand what's happening to the oceans. Director Barbara Ettinger renders this as a beautiful sea voyage, and personalizes the eco-politics with Huseby's warm relationship with his startlingly intelligent grandson. But A Sea Change fails to impart much urgency. Statistics are stated but not emphasized; solutions are mentioned but not elaborated on. SIFFgoers like me will be alarmed by ocean acidification, yet this well-intentioned film gave me no idea how to address it. (NR) KASSI RODGERS Also: Kirkland Performance Center, 4 p.m. Tues., June 2.9:30 p.m., Pacific PlaceBoyThis is exactly the kind of film we make fun of when we make fun of sensitive gay coming-of-age dramas. A protagonist identified only as The Boy. A seemingly hopeless fantasy love that through persistence (and in this case, 6,500 pesos) is realized. Gratuitous undressing. Soulful acoustic-guitar music. Purposeful undressing. A seven-minute twink-on-twink sex scene filmed through a fish tank. Risible poetry. Close-ups of pouring water (metaphor, or just a cinematographic fillip?). A drag queen delivering a be-true-to-yourself sermon. And not a chest hair in sight. Wandering into a go-go bar, The Boy falls for buff dancer Aries ("18 years old. Complete set of teeth. Seven-and-a-half-inch dick," says the pimping bar hostess, getting her priorities straight), and one transaction later they spend New Year's Eve and Day together. What makes Boy well worth seeing: The Boy's mother, with hopes and disappointments of her own, is a warm and attractive character. And the film's milieu, the culture clash between middle-class and slum-dwelling Filipinos, will certainly be new and unfamiliar to most SIFFgoers. Even if it is announced with dialogue like this: "I'd like to see your world." "My world is a filthy rotten place." Yes, but those abs go a long way to compensate. (NR) GAVIN BORCHERT Also: SIFF Cinema, 4:30 p.m. Fri., June 5.Tuesday, June 24:30 p.m., SIFF CinemaPICK: William Kunstler: Disturbing the UniverseWilliam Kunstler was the kind of lawyer who got J. Edgar Hoover's panties in a twist—the FBI even rented an apartment across the street to monitor him. Kunstler represented radicals and disenfranchised parties of every stripe—from Black Panthers in Chicago to Indians in Wounded Knee. But he later went on to defend Leona Helmsley, as well as a cat charged with crimes against humanity. His daughters, Emily and Sarah Kunstler, endured daily protests outside their home and grew weary of their late father's attention-hungry ways. This documentary is their attempt to come to grips with their father's legacy, warts and all (he died in 1995). But the film is less a study of Kunstler's seeming contradictions than an examination of the series of events that radicalized him, turning him from suburban, liberal lawyer to fist-raising revolutionary. And with the help of remarkable archival footage (including white police officers celebrating with shouts of "white power" after killing inmates in Attica), the Kunstlers tell this story quite well. Kunstler was a man of extraordinary talent; few could achieve what he did. But what the film shows, and what he wanted people to recognize, was how ordinary his outrage was; you'd feel the same way if you allowed yourself to see what he saw. Note: Emily Kunstler is expected to attend both screenings. (NR) DAMON AGNOS Also: 7 p.m. Thurs., June 4.7:30 p.m., Pacific PlacePICK: Laila's BirthdayToward the end of Palestinian filmmaker Rashid Masharawi's tragicomedy about daily life in his West Bank hometown, the frustrated protagonist shakes his fists at the heavens and blames the 60-year Israeli occupation for his woes. That's the only direct polemic in Laila's Birthday, and this beguiling second feature, after his respectfully received Ticket to Jerusalem, is all the better for keeping its head close to the ground of the surreal business of getting through the day in Ramallah. Veteran Israeli-Arab actor Mohammed Bakri (whose son, Saleh, played the hunky young Chet Baker fan in The Band's Visit and who has a small but significant role here) plays Abu Laila, an unemployed judge eking out a living as a taxi driver, who heads out to work at the beginning of the film, charged with bringing home a gift and a cake for his little girl's birthday. Prickly, unbending, and a rigid follower of rules, Abu Laila is hopelessly ill-equipped for the bedlam of a city plagued by corruption, inefficiency, and the occasional missile from across the border. Part Tati, part Chaplin, part absurdist satire in the manner of Palestinian director Elia Suleiman (Chronicle of a Disappearance), Laila's Birthday is beautifully shot and overlaid with a spare, lyrical score that lends rueful emphasis to Masharawi's exasperated fidelity to a chronically malfunctioning city. (NR) ELLA TAYLORSee www.seattleweekly.com/siff for more new daily reviews all during the fest.

 
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