SIFF Week 3: 30 New Picks & Pans

Wednesday, June 27 p.m., NeptuneAmerican Faust: From Condi to Neo-CondiBack when Will Ferrell did his live HBO-on-Broadway special reprising his dimwitted W. character from SNL, a smokin'-hot dancer came out as Condoleezza Rice to grind her hips like a ho. It seemed unnecessary and mean-spirited, like this documentary. If you want to continue hating on Bush and Cheney, fine, but the former Secretary of State seems like more of a D.C. careerist than a despicable war criminal. Sebastian Doggart's doc is a one-sided clip job whose sources all fall predictably left. She's reduced to the "my husband" slip and "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud" Iraq War testimony before Congress. Her private life is opaque or smeared: A bitter ex-boyfriend, then a receiver with the Denver Broncos, sneers of their relationship, "She chose power over love." (Dude, really? Maybe you're just an ex-jock signing old football jerseys, which she correctly foresaw.) If Rice benefited from affirmative action and promiscuously (if chastely) jumped from mentor to mentor to reach power; and if she then fudged the truth while in Washington, D.C., how does that make her much different from any politician there today? You can be a war-hating Democrat and still despise this film. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: SIFF Cinema, 4:30 p.m. Thurs., June 3.)7 p.m., Harvard ExitThe AthleteYes, there is a movie to be made about Ethiopian distance-running legend Abebe Bikila, but that movie is contained in the archival footage included in this fatally clumsy biopic. The Olympic marathon champion in 1960 and 1964, Bikila is seen in majestic color newsreels and excerpts from Kon Ichikawa's famous documentary Tokyo Olympiad. In context, his triumphs were part of post-colonial Africa's struggles for national freedom. Running to barefoot victory in Rome, we are too often reminded here, was a repudiation of the Italian invasion of his country in 1935. The Athlete means well, and co-director Rasselas Lakew—who also plays Bikila in dramatic recreations—plainly wants to honor his heroic countryman. Students of the sport will already know of Bikila's 1969 car crash; this movie adds little to the historical record. That it ends with a dogsled race in Norway, set to the keening of Sigur Rós, just makes the hagiography more awkward. But with shoes or without, maybe it'll inspire a few runners to attempt a marathon. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: Egyptian, 4:30 p.m. Thurs., June 3.)7 p.m., EgyptianI Killed My MotherIf you enjoy being trapped in a small car while a French-Canadian mother and her gay teen son scream at each other (not once but twice), this is your movie. Plus there's more screaming at home, on the sidewalk, on the phone—it's just like reliving your own bitter teen coming-out years, right? In French. Turned up to 11. Writer-director Xavier Dolan penned this autobiographical, self-validating screenplay when he was 17, so his gay hurts are still raw at the mature age of 21—when most kids are in college, but he was walking the carpet at Cannes. And because the domestic strife gets so shrill, the kid so sulky and spiteful, and his mother so clueless, you just know they're eventually going to reconcile. (How else to get to Cannes? Let's add queer-bashing, too, and make the kid a poet.) Dolan's filmic technique is crude, and a final fantasy sequence idiotic. But he's got a keen grasp of the obvious tensions that afflict many families, whatever the sexual dynamic at work. When Hubert lambastes his mother's "revolting clothes that make me want to barf," every grown woman in the audience will likely remember once saying the same thing to her mother, too. Only without making a movie about it. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: 7 p.m. Sun., June 6.)9:30 p.m., EgyptianGordosDaniel Sánchez Arévalo's Spanish dramedy has a group of overweight men and women meet for therapy sessions to lose weight. Among these neurotic, insecure people, Gordos achieves the rare feat of not containing a single likable character. Enrique, once the spokesman for a weight-loss program called KiloAway, struggles with anger management as well as weight issues. He loses weight when he starts habitually vomiting and having sex with his business partner's wife. Sofia and her fiancée Alex are pious Catholics who have never seen each other naked. She rapidly starts dropping pounds once she finally finagles Alex into having sex with her. Leonor gained weight in a supposedly subconscious attempt to get her boyfriend to dump her; she loses weight once she starts having sex with 20 random strangers. This movie isn't about fat people trying to get healthy; it's about fat people desperately wanting to look attractive so that they can have sex. Even the therapist, Abel, turns out to be a snaky bastard: He loses interest in his pregnant wife once she starts putting on baby weight. In one horrible juxtaposition, her giving birth is intercut with Abel having sex with another woman. But, on the bright side, I burned a few calories hating this shallow, distasteful, pointless movie. (NR) ERIN K. THOMPSON (Also: Pacific Place, 11 a.m., Fri., June 4, and Uptown, 9:20 p.m. Mon., June 7.)Thursday, June 37 p.m., SIFF CinemaDisco and Atomic WarIf you ever doubted that David Hasselhoff was the '80s embodiment of everything good and decent about America, this strange little Estonian documentary may convince you otherwise. Growing up in Tallinn, director Jaak Kilmi recalls his Knight Rider- and Dallas-infatuated childhood and the Soviet efforts to block such pernicious TV programming being broadcast from Finland. Young Jaak even made laborious, handwritten summaries of Dallas episodes for a cousin who lived outside the samizdat zone. Along with talking heads and Cold War experts explaining covert CIA support, Kilmi and his kin cheerfully recount their love for our forbidden trash. Vintage propaganda and TV clips from all sides of the conflict are hilarious: Communists warn of "the Western dance craze," while Finnish supermarket ads display luscious veal cutlets that Estonians lusted after like pornography. (On which subject, the 1987 TV broadcast of Emmanuelle was effectively a national holiday.) Disco provides a charming little slice of Cold War history, when illegal TV antennas and smuggled VHS tapes were the height of modern technology. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: Egyptian, 9:30 p.m. Mon., June 7, and Kirkland Performance Center, 7 p.m. Wed., June 9.)7 p.m., Harvard ExitStolenThis Australian documentary has come under a ton of fire over whether directors Violeta Ayala and Dan Fallshaw have pushed the envelope of fact-based filmmaking into the land of the skewed. Stolen essentially claims, and supposedly proves, that slavery still exists in Algerian refugee camps—a charge subsequently disputed by many, including some of the folks featured in the film. But in a world where Michael Moore wins Oscars, hasn't the bias envelope already been permanently unsealed? Does anyone really expect pure, unfiltered objectivity—or even accuracy—from so-called documentaries anymore? Let's assume for the sake of argument that the answer is no. Given that precondition, Stolen is a glacially paced, sometimes boring, sometimes moving film that raises questions about alleged human-rights abuses in Western Sahara. To raise those questions is fair, even if the filmmakers' conclusion is debatable. What's neither fair nor debatable is their decision to skimp on context and portray themselves as freedom-of-speech heroes who bury their footage in the desert to avoid confiscation by unnerved local authorities. At 75 minutes, the film couldn't have been hurt by another quarter-hour of narrative underpinning. (NR) MIKE SEELY (Also: 9:15 p.m. Sat., June 5.)Friday, June 44 p.m., SIFF CinemaThe Tillman StoryAn atheist who, before deploying to Afghanistan, told his wife he didn't want a military or religious funeral service if he died in combat, Pat Tillman ended up being mourned in the stadiums where he was previously a football star. As we get to know his family in this somber, affecting documentary, they speak of that awkward spectacle—grieving in public, cheerleaders prancing before them, fans wearing Tillman's No. 40 Arizona Cardinals jersey in tribute. What a way to go for such an intensely private and thoughtful young man. Director Amir Bar-Lev (My Kid Could Paint That) gains excellent access to the very sympathetic Tillman clan, who remain angry but resigned to the government and media misappropriation of their son as martyr and war hero. He adds little, unfortunately, to what's been well-reported since Tillman's 2004 death by friendly fire. It's impossible to prove a White House cover-up, no matter how many news clips he interjects of Bush, Rove, and Cheney. Climactic congressional hearings in The Tillman Story prove to be anything but. And, six years later, over 1,000 U.S. troops have died in Operation Enduring Freedom, which surely would've outraged Tillman today, had he lived past 27. Returning from their first tour in Iraq, a platoon buddy recalls him saying, "This war is so fucking illegal." Their son's skepticism and constant questioning, say his parents, is the best example he leaves for young soldiers today. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: 7 p.m. Sun., June 6.)4:15 p.m., Pacific PlaceAll That I LoveJanek lives the rough-and-tumble life of a typical teenage boy. He goes to the beach with his friends, smokes cigarettes, has a cute girlfriend, and is the singer in a punk-rock band called All That I Love. But Janek also lives in 1981 Poland, amid government repression, curfews, and the rising Solidarity political movement. His father is a Communist military officer, making Janek unpopular with some of his friends. In portraying our punkish rebel hero, Mateusz Kosciukiewicz is warm and endearing, particularly when his band unwittingly becomes a youthful emblem for Solidarity. As Janek's father, Andrzej Chyra brings a certain humanity to his tortured character—not at all the stern military stereotype. And director Jacek Borcuch smoothly interweaves their adult and teen worlds, showing how parents and children alike are affected by Poland's turmoil. Speaking of Janek's band, a scandalized teacher asks his father, "Do you realize what they scream about? About freedom, a better future, and such things?" Janek's father still stands by his son. It's a touching moment—perhaps he realizes that a place where the police won't allow a high-school band to play at prom is no place to live at all. (NR) ERIN K. THOMPSON (Also: Harvard Exit, 9:30 p.m. Sun., June 6.)5 p.m., Harvard ExitGeneral Orders No. 9Sometimes a documentary can be too clear—too many experts, too many graphics, too many pins in the butterfly. Robert Persons' oddball doc about urban sprawl and Southern U.S. history is an entirely different breed. It is a poetic film of fragments and long-held images, musty relics and partially excerpted old speeches. The title comes from Gen. Robert E. Lee's farewell address to his defeated troops, but the elegiac tone hardly seems like a tribute to the Confederate South and its injustices. Quoth the narrator, "The Lord loves a broken spirit; pray that we are well broken." Is this Lee's language or Persons'? We're left to guess. What's being mourned is the old, simple hub-and-spoke model of county seats and dusty roads connecting farmsteads. The North isn't the enemy, but paved highways and interstates. And the agrarian South, with its underlying model of slave labor, can't be revived. "You are not a witness to the ruin," we're told. "You are the ruin." There's no going back, only documentation, only tracings on the old map. The mood is rueful, like a cross between the movie Junebug and the band Lambchop: a hymn sung at a funeral for someone you never knew when he was living, but you're sad to see him dead. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: 9:15 p.m. Tues., June 8.)6:30 p.m., Pacific PlaceBlessedThere is a danger, as explained in Tropic Thunder by that great film scholar Robert Downey Jr., of going "full retard." Yet some movies insist on those grandiose moments of suffering, stupidity, or pathos, nailing their stars to the cross of Oscar ambition. The big death scene. The death of a child. Incest. Self-sacrifice. The hideous physical handicap or an embrace of evil. Or maybe all those things at once. Essentially an Australian soap opera, Blessed leads up to just such a moment; and it's excruciating, because a talented actress we like willingly allows those nails to be driven through her palms. But to get to that insufferable point means first enduring the parent/child dysfunction of some four Melbourne families—about a dozen surly teens and a handful of wounded women whose stories are helpfully broken into two chapters: children and mothers. (First we see one side, then the other. Yawn.) So we have runaways, sexual abuse, underage gay pornography, theft, blood, suicide attempts, and great dialogue like "I hate you! I hate you!" All of it drivel. What little interest director Ana Kokkinos can summon has to do with the specificity of Greek immigrant strivers—a devoutly religious seamstress and her rebellious kids. But for a much better treatment of similar terrain, go read The Slap by Australian novelist Christos Tsiolkas instead: no nails, no cross, no martyrs. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: 4 p.m. Sat., June 5.)7 p.m., NeptuneAgoraNot lacking for conviction or cojones, Alejandro Amenábar's Agora is a big, broad, stridently atheistic sword-and-sandal entertainment that recounts a tragic turning point in world history. Rachel Weisz plays Hypatia, a brilliant astronomer in fourth-century Alexandria whose life and work is increasingly threatened by a bloody societal shift toward reactionary, virulent Christianity. To its credit, the film calls out Christianity's ignominious imperialism and locates a valid historical analogue to the religious extremism of today. Yet good intentions shan't save Amenábar from his own ham-fisted methods. It's one thing to depict crusaders hurling a cynic onto hot coals, ritually slaughtering pagans, stoning and massacring Jews, and enforcing total faith—but need they wear uniformly dark, ragged cloaks and snarl through unkempt faces, while pagans dress brightly, bathe frequently, and no doubt smell really good? Servant-boy-cum-wispy-indie-rocker-of-antiquity Max Minghella even comes to learn that slavery is far better than belief. Amenábar's camera assumes extreme low and high angles, setting heroes against starry skies before freely zooming back to assume a celestial POV (praise be to Google Maps). What's missing is a satisfying, plausible middle ground where heady ideas and metaphors coalesce into compelling drama. Amenábar (The Others, Open Your Eyes) has the ambition, but not yet the skill of a Kubrick or Spielberg, to make visual flourishes function emotionally. The music swells, characters glower and suffer in slo-mo, and Amenábar champions the life of the intellect by condescending to ours. (NR) ERIC HYNES (Also: 4 p.m. Sun., June 6.)7 p.m., Harvard ExitImaniWe can only commend a film from Uganda, though a documentary would've been a better idea for debut filmmakers (and sisters) Caroline and Agnes Kamya. Its three stories, not well-stitched together, concern a 12-year-old former child soldier returning to his village, a maid trying to bribe her sister out of jail, and a hip-hop entrepreneur who runs afoul of an old buddy, now the self-proclaimed "king of the ghetto" in Kampala. Dramatically, Imani doesn't work. But there are fascinating little ethnodoc moments that make you want to learn more about the resurgent, newly stable, not-quite-democratic Central African nation. An entire sofa is perched on the rack of a motorbike. The maid always kneels to address her (black) masters. A bicycle carries a live, protesting goat. The hip-hop dancers perform to modernized folk music. And when the former child soldier returns home, he's made to cross a symbolic threshold of reeds and step on a fresh egg. Even if the movie ends on a joyous, peaceful note it doesn't quite deserve, you wish a similar harmony for Uganda today. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: 4:30 p.m. Sun., June 6 and Fri., June 11.)9:30 p.m., Harvard ExitDouble TakeAlfred Hitchcock lives! This very cleverly assembled hybrid takes the director's old movie cameos and TV-show intros, adds a body double and vocal impersonator, then grafts them all onto a story by Borges. All the machinery is revealed, yet director Johan Grimonprez creates a neat little fugue of time-traveling implausibility and murder. "If you should meet your double," says one of several Hitchcocks here, "two of you is one too many." Meaning someone has to die. Generous use of newsreels and citations from The Birds add a Cold War context, too: There are two pairs of doppelgängers, Hitch vs. Hitch and the U.S.A. vs. the U.S.S.R. Thus, "It's the murderer who will tell the story"—whoever strikes first, whoever survives. (Our political system is represented by old Folger's Coffee ads that Hitchcock mocks, but they're actually quite funny.) Between the Borges framework, a new screenplay, and the quippy old director, it can be hard to tease out the lines of authority. Not that it matters in this droll confection. Says Hitchcock himself, "The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of a human bladder." Double Take clocks in at 80 minutes; Grimonprez has learned well from the master. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: SIFF Cinema, 11 a.m. Sun., June 6.)9:30 p.m., SIFF CinemaMeet Monica Velour"You screw a few hundred men," says Kim Cattrall, "and the whole world turns against you." Don't remember that line from Sex and the City 2? That's because Cattrall here plays a former '80s porn star, now living in an Indiana trailer park, drinking jug wine, hoovering lines of coke, turning the occasional trick, and losing custody of her daughter. Yet Meet Monica Velour is a fairly sunny little comedy, written and directed by former Seattle resident—and former Seattle Weekly contributor—Keith Bearden. It even starts in Auburn, from whence 17-year-old dork Tobe begins his road trip/pilgrimage to find Monica, driving the family hot-dog vending truck with a giant wiener on top. That, and a retro-jazz soundtrack, signal Tobe's oddball, ahistorical interests. Besides '80s porn on VHS (Saturday Night Beaver, Pork 'n' Mindy, etc.), he's into vintage vinyl and Russ Meyer movies. But Monica, when he finally meets her, wants little to do with the past. Cattrall allows herself to be considerably deglammed for the role—not slatternly, but tired and saggy, almost flattered by the virginal enthusiasm of a horny fan young enough to be her son. (A different actress portrays younger Monica in clips from her oeuvre.) If motherless Tobe is looking to commit symbolic incest, the movie doesn't condemn him for it. And Monica's generosity suits the tone of the film: whimsical, predictable, satisfying. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: Neptune, 1:30 p.m. Sun., June 6.)Saturday, June 51 p.m., Kirkland Performance CenterCarlitos and the Chance of a LifetimeProbably the only Spanish SIFF movie that doesn't feature a steamy love triangle. Carlos, 11, lives at a fortress-like orphanage. Adorable though he is, with each passing day, his chances of being adopted diminish. Fútbol is a way out, though; and as it happens, the orphanage's caretaker is an ex-star ready to mentor him. But to try out for the Spanish national team and make it to the European Junior Cup, he'll have to outwit the jowly, villainous headmaster. The film's every bit as zippy, corny, and predictable (if expertly crafted) as anything on Nickelodeon, proving America no longer has a monopoly on tweener brain candy. If your kids like soccer and can handle subtitles, they'll eat it up. PC caveat: Girls are all but invisible here; among Carlos' circle of pals, everyone has one distinguishing trait, and the female's, Smurf-like, is merely that she's female. (NR) GAVIN BORCHERT (Also: Pacific Place, 11:30 a.m. Sat., June 12.)1:30 p.m., EgyptianLeaves of GrassLeaves of Grass is an ambitiously highfalutin pothead laffer—which is not to say it's in any way outrageous, visionary, or even particularly funny. The most notable thing about Tim Blake Nelson's movie is its stunt casting. Edward Norton plays twins—identical and equally improbable: Billy Kincaid is a straight-arrow Ivy League classics prof who transcended his dirt-farmer roots, while laid-back brother Brady stayed put to become the down-home king of hydroponically farmed cannabis sativa. Brady, of course, is just as brilliant as Billy, and a lot craftier—stuck in a jam, he cleverly lures his estranged brother back to Oklahoma to unwittingly provide him with a physical alibi while he sorts out his messy business with a drug lord in Tulsa. Norton is fully capable of shouldering the movie's comic burden, although Nelson surrounds him with a gaggle of hambone performances. The liveliest cameo is provided by Richard Dreyfuss as the toughest Jew in Tulsa, who at one point wields a menorah in self-defense. With its comic regionalism and ethnic stereotypes, sudden shifts in tone and cultivated eccentricity, farcical violence and escalating body count, Leaves of Grass is highly evocative of another brother act, namely Joel and Ethan Coen. Unfortunately, Nelson is not nearly so gifted a filmmaker. I don't much care for the Coens, but the sad truth is that their cynical nihilism is a lot less spurious than Nelson's earnest sentimentality. (R) J. HOBERMAN4 p.m., Harvard ExitThree Days With the FamilyEngineering student Léa, like any moody, self-respecting 21-year-old, has no respect for herself. Hergrandfather's funeral brings her back from France to her Catalan hometown,where she endures her emotionally aloof family members one awkward car ride at a time. There is a lot of driving in this movie, yet none of its characters have any direction. Instead of talking, they smoke endless cigarettes during the course of grandpa's three-day wake. The gang's all here: the drunken mother all too eager to reconnect with her ex; the cold, workaholic uncle who dangles a job offer at Léa (depicted as a sinister act); and the subtly perverted cousin from Léa's childhood. Meanwhile, we wait for the anticipated big, tearjerker speech that will bring this distant clan together. (Though Léa seems less than delighted when it comes—she's not the hugging kind, but the running kind.) By the time the credits roll, as the cemetery employees put the mundane finishing touches on Grandpa's grave, you want to go back to France with her. (NR) A.J. TIGNER (Also: 7 p.m. Mon., June 7, and SIFF Cinema, 9:30 p.m. Fri., June 11.)5:45 p.m., Kirkland Performance CenterHipstersCommunism collapsed in the Soviet Union because it couldn't satisfy the people's unquenchable need for chartreuse checked suits and electric-blue socks. Or so suggests this fable-like—and fabulous—musical. In Cold War Moscow, a clique of young adults lives for neon clothes, hot swing, and Americanized nicknames ("Fred," "Bob," "Betsy") in an ultra-conformist society where everyone else wears, looks, and acts gray. Jazz is a corrupting, treasonous impurity; as we're told, "A saxophone is only one small step away from a switchblade." But Mels, one of a brigade of ideological marauders who break up the Hipsters' samizdat dances, is seduced into leaving the Party and joining the party, taking the name Mel. (Since he was acronymically named for Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin, dropping the S is no small act of rebellion.) Hipsters' hot-cha production numbers are fantastic, though it's somewhat slow going from one to the next (and the film definitely needn't be two hours long). But the finale is absolutely worth the wait: an explosive, blissed-out shout of individual freedom in a context where that actually means something. I can't recall the last time I got such a lift from a musical. And even though the film is far less grim than it could be—John Waters, not George Orwell, is the guiding spirit here—the triumph still feels fully earned. (NR) GAVIN BORCHERT (Also: Egyptian, 6:30 p.m. Thurs., June 10, and Pacific Place, 2:30 p.m. Sat., June 12.) 6:30 p.m., EgyptianHugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and RebelThe one thing no one wants to discuss in this very authorized, adulatory documentary, particularly its 84-year-old subject, is aging. Hugh Hefner made himself an icon, and Playboy a major American brand, by celebrating the pleasures of pert young flesh. But as we see in his interviews here, and tributes from James Caan, Dick Gregory, Tony Bennett, and others, that flesh will inevitably sag and decay. All the cocktails and cigarettes catch up to you in the end; all the failed marriages and one-night stands take their toll. Though the assignment of director-for-hire Brigitte Berman is clearly to make Hefner look good, to reel off his virtues (championing civil rights and free speech among them), there's something necessarily sad about the whole fawning infomercial. It's like an open-casket wake for the Mad Men era, 50 years later. The Eisenhower-age pleasures are long past, and there's no mention of the hardships to come—not just AIDS, but the ubiquity of free Internet porn and near-collapse of the entire magazine industry. And that, more than women, was Hef's true love: He launched Playboy after working at Esquire; and his own magazine achieved a paid circulation of seven million by the '70s. Far from a den of iniquity, the first Playboy Mansion in Chicago allowed him to work round the clock, surrounded by page proofs, cartoons, and, yes, photos of half-naked women. Not a bad life. But like our own sexual urges, not something that can be sustained forever. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: 1:30 p.m. Sun., June 6 and 9:30 p.m. Wed., June 9.)7 p.m., Pacific PlaceAngel at SeaAngel at Sea is about a bright-eyed Belgian boy named Louis who just wants to chase girls and kick soccer balls. The tone is initially light and playful; this 12-year-old's only care in the world is memorizing a Baudelaire poem for school. But the film, set in Morocco, takes a decidedly harsh turn when Louis is told a soul-crushing secret by his cripplingly depressed father Bruno. This secret will send him into long, angry bicycle-riding sequences overlaid with cryptic, whispery inner monologues that shake the foundations of his tiny world. Meanwhile, his mother and uncle plot to screw him up further by hooking up behind Bruno's nearly-catatonic back.(For amusement, Bruno forces Louis to trap cats, so he can drown them and laugh. It's that kind of movie.) This Bildungsroman cuts deep, but often seems more concerned with the abuse Louis receives than any kind of wisdom earned. I came out of Angel at Sea feeling like I'd just seen a childhood snuff film. Which is great if you're into that sort of thing. (NR) A.J. TIGNER (Also: 1 p.m. Sun., June 6, and Kirkland Performance Center, 3:30 p.m. Sun., June 13.)9:30 p.m., SIFF CinemaWhite WeddingOK, this movie is broader and more predictable than your average TV sitcom; it embraces every cliché about errant grooms and jittery brides, but is rendered absolutely irresistible by its South African setting and mixed-race cast. Chubby, good-natured Elvis has to drive 1,000 miles with his best friend, Tumi, from Johannesburg to his Cape Town wedding, encountering every obstacle, delay, and indignity en route. (Recently jilted English hitchhiker Rose, a doctor, joins them midway; but you might not recognize actress Jodie Whittaker as Peter O'Toole's tarty teen crush in Venus.) Meanwhile lovely Ayanda is being wooed anew by handsome, scheming Tony. How will they ever get to the church on time? The clock is ticking, and the dress hasn't even been paid for yet. You don't have to speak Afrikaans, English, Xhosa, or Zulu to anticipate the car breakdowns, suspicious rednecks (here meaning Afrikaaners), cute animals, gay wedding planners, gorgeous landscapes, and musical interludes that follow. It's all terribly conventional and tremendously pleasing, mainly because of the warm, convivial cast. In particular, as Elvis, co-writer Kenneth Nkosi exudes the supreme confidence of a man who's found love, and believes that love can heal any past divide. That this comedy is plainly meant as a hopeful parable for modern South Africa only makes it the more winning. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: 9:30 p.m. Wed., June 9, and Kirkland Performance Center, 6 p.m. Sun., June 13.)Sunday, June 611 a.m., Pacific PlaceEleanor's SecretThis animated feature comes from Dominique Monfery, whom some film buffs may recognize as the director of the 2003 short Destino, a mashup of Walt Disney and Salvador Dalí. Eleanor's secret comes out immediately—the quirky matriarch of a French family has passed away, leaving a treasure trove of first-edition children's books to her 7-year-old grandson. Unfortunately, Nathaniel doesn't know how to read yet, and money problems compel his parents to sell his inheritance. The film starts slowly until he's shrunk by the evil fairy from Sleeping Beauty down to the level of inch-high children's-book characters. Here, Nat is given his mission—finish learning how to read, then save the world of fiction from Neverending Story–type destruction. Helped by a stubborn elder sister and a kooky, wild-haired neighbor, Nat and his colorful friends must find their way back to Eleanor's library. Also, they must avoid being sold to snooty book collectors who'd rather decorate their libraries with the classic stories than actually read them. The fairy-tale cast of Eleanor's Secret might not be as hip as certain green ogres, but there's something charming about a new cartoon that hasn't been orchestrated by a studio marketing department. Note to parents: The film is dubbed into English, not subtitled. (NR) A.J. TIGNER (Also: 5 p.m. Tues., June 8, and Kirkland Performance Center, 1 p.m., Sat. June 12.)4:30 p.m., EgyptianGoing SouthPut four sexy French youths in an old Ford station wagon, hide a gun in the glove box, add lots of sexual tension, and have them drive south to the beach, where they play volleyball and wrestle naked. It's a perfect formula for...boredom. The gun is fired, people have sex in varying combinations, and none of it is remotely interesting. Everyone's got secrets, all of them laughably obvious. Only 90 minutes long, Sébastien Lifshitz's road movie soon has you wishing the quartet would meet a serial killer or become vampires or encounter Mickey Rourke from Iron Man 2. (Maybe he could whip some energy into the picture.) But the dull affair drags forward, bogged down in protagonist Sammy's childhood flashbacks, while you the viewer think back fondly to Y Tu Mamá También. Now there was a good movie, which Going South resembles only in outline. If it could be said to belong to any particular cinematic genre, it deserves a new appellation all its own. Fordgy? Boreplay? Romantic quadrangle? Sullen-mathon? No, I've got it: sexytedium. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: 9:30 p.m. Thurs., June 10, and SIFF Cinema, 4 p.m. Sun., June 13.)6:30 p.m., Pacific PlaceAu Revoir, TaipeiLike a dreamy, gently comic stepchild to Wong Kar-wai, Au Revoir takes place mostly within one long night before a love-struck student hopes to fly to France. Kai's old girlfriend is studying in Paris—"a world of love," as he imagines it, far different from the drudgery of working in his parents' restaurant. But of course he's wrong about the girl and wrong about Taipei. With songs by Django Reinhardt and snippets of Henry Mancini–style xylophone, Au Revoir paints the city in its own romantic colors. Having agreed to deliver a package for a local mobster, Kai finds himself pursued through crowded night markets, hiding among ballroom dancers practicing in the park, and jumping on a scooter stolen by a shy bookstore clerk, Susie. The package is only the MacGuffin, also linking a handsome, jealous cop and Kai's gangly best friend with love problems of his own. Every so often, the gangsters deliver romantic advice; TVs play in the background of most scenes. In an endearingly digressive fashion, Au Revoir suggests how all these characters are too intent on preconceived images—postcard Paris, tough-guy poses, faithful sweethearts—to appreciate the beauty around them. It's a small, charming debut from Arvin Chen, an American filming in his parents' homeland. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: 4 p.m. Mon., June 7, and Kirkland Performance Center, 6 p.m. Sat., June 12.)9: p.m., UptownOndineA bad drunk dried out into a luckless loner fisherman, Syracuse (Colin Farrell) lives for visits with Annie (Alison Barry), his wise-beyond-her-years crippled kid stuck in the custody of her still-boozing mom. One morning, Syracuse pulls up his net and finds a shivering woman—or is she a mermaid?—and soon his fishing fortunes change. While Annie hits the books looking for a mythical explanation, her dad falls in love with the mysterious creature, who calls herself Ondine (Alicja Bachleda). Writer/director Neil Jordan gradually builds up the possibility of fairy-tale magic in an identifiably real world, and then systematically knocks it down. This might have played as a welcome correction to today's brand of contemporary indie film, which pairs poverty and whimsy neatly, if Ondine didn't indulge in its own modern movie claptrap. Eccentric yet unwittingly carnal, prone to atonal gibberish, Ondine is a grade-A manic pixie dream girl, bringing a curmudgeonly outcast back to life with her kindness, tolerance, and perfect breasts. Ciphers aside, Ondine effectively sustains a mood of hazy melancholy most affecting when nothing much is happening: Colin Farrell has the Best Enigmatic Stare in current cinema, and Christopher Doyle's gorgeous cinematography, all foggy blankets of blue and green, gives Syracuse's uncertainty a tangible texture. The spell is broken with the plot's final twist, which suggests that the film's core mystery wouldn't have been much of one had Syracuse been a fan of Icelandic ambient band Sigur Rós. Yes, seriously. (PG-13) KARINA LONGWORTH (Also: Pacific Place, 11:30 a.m. Sun., June 13.)9:30 p.m., EgyptianTehrounThough the Iranian New Wave has been mostly commonly identified with the philosophical and often allegorical works of Kiarostami, Makhmalbaf, and company, it's the crime movies that may hold up longer. But Italian neorealism is an influence here, too. Tehroun could be called The Baby Thief, since it concerns a beggar who rents an infant from a gangster to help solicit handouts in the busy traffic of Tehran. Like the Pioneer Square panhandler with the dog, he seems more sympathetic that way. Far from his home village, where his pregnant wife resides, Ibrahim lives in a flophouse with two buddies. And he's tender with the rented tyke, not at all a bad parent. But then, inevitably, the baby is stolen. And Ibrahim must pay a huge debt to the gangster. Or else. And so small crime leads to larger illegality—robberies, shakedowns, beatings, blackmail, smuggling, and murders. Nader T. Homayoun's first feature is grounded in the simple facts of Tehran's underground economy; the police are entirely absent, prostitutes patrol the parks, and the economy makes criminals of anyone without connections, prospects, or education. The rental babies—and there are more than one—are merely the byproducts of that system, commodities like any other. Even he were capable of being a better man, Ibrahim might not be able to resist its pull. "I don't recognize you any more," his wife despairs. In Tehroun, the movie makes plain, she's talking about an entire city. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: Uptown, 7 p.m. Tues., June 8.)Monday, June 76:30 p.m., Pacific PlaceAltiplanoEqual parts fable and ethnodoc, Altiplano comes from the same team, Peter Brosens andJessica Woodworth, that made Khadak (2006), which was set in the isolated, beautiful Mongolian plains. And again an indigenous culture is under threat—this time Indians living high in the arid Chilean Andes, where gold is being mined on a brutal scale. So, a simple story of peasants versus rapacious industrialists? Yes, but much more. Probably the most gorgeous film at SIFF this year, Altiplano refuses to be categorized. The native Quechua culture is an intense amalgam of Christian and pagan beliefs. Scarecrows, looking like blonde-haired conquistadors, are posted like eerie sentinels to ward off the predatory pishtaco demons of folklore. Gringos are often attacked as such, violently, though the visitors are diverse: a Belgian eye doctor, concerned about a sudden epidemic of blindness among the villagers; later his Iranian-born wife, a war-traumatized photographer. Altiplano's own camera reveals deadly, quivering puddles of mercury; photographs of the dead floating in a clear mountain stream; receding glaciers framed against indifferent blue sky; a roofless, ruined church in Belgium, where faith is gone. By contrast, a statue of the Virgin Mary is revered in the Quechua village, whose champion is the fierce, beautiful Saturnina (Magaly Solier of Madeinusa). She tells the photojournalist, "Without an image, there is no story." Altiplano can feel like opera in the Andes, but there's no forgetting its powerful images. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: Egyptian, 4 p.m. Wed., June 9.)Tuesday, June 89:15 p.m., Kirkland Performance CenterCargoThis Swiss sci-fi flick begins on a suitably solemn note of eco-catastrophe. Earth circa 2267 is a cross between Silent Running and An Inconvenient Truth. Everyone wants to leave our ruined planet, but it costs a fortune to relocate. So physician Laura, hoping to join her sister's family on a distant colony planet, signs up to work on a hulking space freighter for four years. The giant cargo ship and its fractious crew inevitably suggest the Nostromo of Alien. (Here the ark is called Kassandra, symbolism alert.) Cargo isn't a bad movie, but it gradually steams into a familiar sea of other outer-space flicks you know too well. There are stowaways, mysterious cargo, suspended animation pods, evil corporations, and eco-terrorists who cry "Down with the machines!" And to stop them, just one brave woman, like Ripley. Directed by Ivan Engler, Cargo has a suitably grand, cold look. And its TV commercials for the all-powerful Kuiper Enterprises cleverly suggest how corporations will outlive cockroaches. ("People need something to believe in," says one loyal employee.) But Dr. Laura isn't just fighting the system, she's fighting the script, which also appears to have been frozen during its long voyage. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: Egyptian, 9:15 p.m. Fri., June 11, and 1:30 p.m. Sat., June 12.)9:20 p.m., UptownV.O.S.With so many movies about moviemaking, the whole meta genre is pretty played out for us poor filmgoers. But V.O.S. is different: A Spanish stage play, originally, about a foursome whose decision to have a baby together complicates their already complicated and intertwined romantic lives. And more, they seem to be characters in a movie who are aware of the process, perhaps even rewriting the screenplay as they go. Hence, the four lapse into muttered, out-of-character asides and arguments about how their story should be told. This can make V.O.S.—or the movie-within-the-movie—look sloppy, but you're never quite sure at which level these "mistakes" are being made. (Possibly it's the translation from stage to screen.) Still, the original stage cast has undeniable chemistry, the plot is incredibly well-structured, and it's hard to be as self-aware as V.O.S. without having something interesting to say. By the end of the film, I wanted to see the play. (NR) A.J. TIGNER (Also: 1:15 p.m. Sat., June 12.)9:30 p.m., Pacific PlaceTuristas"I'm not very intuitive," says Carla, a biochemist with stern eyeglasses. She's a woman of science, age 37, on vacation from Santiago with her husband. He wants children, she says no, and he abandons her by the side of the road. From there, wandering into the Siete Tazas national park with a cute blonde backpacker who says he's gay, Carla gets in touch with nature. This means many shots of bugs and forest, some friendly zoology lessons from a paunchy ranger who used to be a pop star, and much consideration of her life. Along with Tilda Swinton in I Am Love and Patricia Clarkson in Cairo Time, actress Aline Kuppenheim is one of a trio of women wandering through SIFF unmoored in life. Does she really need a man or child? She's not so sure. To the broken Spanish of the hitchhiker, she tries to explain the meaning of "ripe," a keyword in the movie. Is she at the point of fertility or decay? Again, Carla isn't sure. The ranger tells her of children, "You have to have them when you're young; it's a law of nature." Director Alicia Scherson pushes her heroine against that law without insisting on outright comedy or drama. The film is more observational, almost like an experiment (introduce subject X to new environment Y; see if she survives or mates). Turistas' big philosophical question comes from an ATM: "Do you need more time?" Again, Carla isn't sure. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: 4 p.m. Wed., June 9.)

 
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