.Cinequest 2010 Movie Guide

Anyone you Want

Anyone You Want

(Australia; 80 min.) Bold and upbeat, Anyone You Want is Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild for the 21st century. Set in Sydney, it tells the story of a burned-out, bored businessman named Stirling who becomes fascinated by a homeless girl who tells him that “the everyday doesn’t interest me much.” This turns out to be a gigantic understatement; for starters, every day she changes her name and pretends not to recognize him. He throws himself into her fantasy world, trying on whatever identity fits her fancy. From hippie to punk, he follows her through dress-up exploits of all types and soaks up her theories on life, the universe and everything. But how long can they live a fantasy life and what will they have to face up to? Writer/director Campbell Graham revels in the unadulterated joy of their artificial reality but ultimately treats their characters with toughness and honesty. Socratis Otto and Tabrett Bethell are uninhibited in the lead roles and make this a surprisingly deep look at identity and desire. A world premiere. (SP)

March 3 at 7pm, C12; March 5, 10pm; March 6 at 4:30pm, C12

Applause

Applause

(Denmark; 85 min.) Compelling, close-up drama about Thea, a famous Danish actress (Paprika Steen) currently playing Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? onstage. It’s a role far too close to home for this caustic, alcoholic narcissist who has chased away everyone close to her. Although she’s a great hater of ordinary people, she’s still trying to mend things with the young children she both beat and abandoned. Martin Pieter Zandvliet’s urgent post-Dogme film silhouettes Steen against the harsh white light of hallways and rooms. Thea’s moods are just as starkly contrasted with the infuriating reasonableness of the people around her. Thea never seems like a spoiled child or a serious nutter; this furious woman keeps our understanding and—oddly—our sympathy. (RvB)

Feb. 24 at 6:30pm, C3; March 3 at 1pm, C12; March 6 at 4:30pm, C12

Babnik

Babnik

(U.S.; 81 min.) Just as a beatnik is someone into beat culture, a babnik (in Russian) is someone who is into the babes. Alejandro Adams shows why his work has been getting national attention. His new film is an almost completely sex-and-violence-free tale about a nexus of lives affected by the skin trade. Adams’ usual slipperiness leads to a what-just-happened ending. Let me say that ever since Cinequest started, I’ve been watching semipro actors playing violent criminals in local settings, and it never looked right. By contrast, the actors are believable here, even when the story is more implied than told. As the sympathetic Slavic thug, Michael Umansky is first-rate. The women here have the sharp, expectant look of the performers in Toulouse-Lautrec posters. Adams takes on a regular film noir trope—the beefy hoodlum getting a rubdown—and transforms it into a long scene of a woman getting a facial by a cosmetician. It’s my favorite single shot in this year’s film fest. (RvB)

Feb. 26 at 7pm, SJ Rep; March 3 at 7:30pm, C12

Bank Robbery

Bank Robbery

(Estonia; 90 min.) This strange little Estonian film is a bit misleading in its titling, so in order to keep viewers from the letdown that can come from wasting every minute waiting for the big heist, let me explain that mostly this is a road movie. The young Hannes is a kid growing up in the Estonian underclass, of which Andres Tuisk’s film doesn’t paint a pretty picture. He’s beat up by bullies and menaced by his dad. When his “uncle” Madis shows up after 10 years in jail, Hannes is fascinated by his stories of life as a bank robber and convinces Madis to let him go with him on a car trip. Along the way they run into an alienated upper-class rebel girl, and Madis’ former fiance, and the ride takes some weird detours. Meanwhile, Hannes gets more and more enthralled with the idea of a big score. The film has the green glow that was all the rage in the ’90s, giving it a throwback feel. The acting is solid, especially Marika Barabantshikova as Hannes. He seems so young and innocent that it makes everything he goes through—and all the things he keeps hidden—all the more shocking. (SP)

Feb. 25 at 2:15pm, C12; Feb. 27 at 11am, C12; March 4 at 1:30pm, C12

The Bone Man

The Bone Man

(Germany; 121 min.) Already a sensation in Germany and Austria, this third film adaptation of co-screenwriter Wolf Haas’ Simon Brenner detective novels is a dark, club-footed waltz between old and new Europe. Circumstances reduce hangdog ex-detective Brenner (Josef Hader) to chasing a stolen VW Beetle into a seedy Bratislavian resort with a sinister meat grinder in the restaurant basement (like German cuisine, the film has more dubious meat than a Francis Bacon painting). Groping through the clumsiness, duplicity and gore, Brenner finds a facsimile of love with the innkeeper Birgit (Birgit Minichmayr). The film’s northern European morbidity and the Eastern European absurdity remind us of where the Coen brothers’ sardonic humor was born before it immigrated to the northern plains of America. (DH)

Feb. 24 at 9:30pm, California Theatre; Feb. 26 at 4pm, C12; Feb. 27 at 11:15pm, California Theatre

Bummer Summer

Bummer Summer

(U.S.; 79 min.) John Hughes constructed a nearly perfect world; cinema teenagers are still re-creating it today, always making sure there are a beginning, middle and an end to their perfect problems. Zach Weintraub’s Bummer Summer, on the other hand, is legit. This is what teen life is like: acne, awkward pauses and all. After 17-year-old Isaac breaks up with his very vanilla girlfriend, he embarks on a road trip with his brother, Ben, and Ben’s ex, Lila. It sounds like something that’s been done a million times, but Bummer Summer surprises. There’s little rhyme or reason, and some characters disappear almost as soon as they’re introduced. The meandering plot and constant coming and going make for a wistful and enjoyable representation of summer break, in real time. This is a world premiere for Cinequest. (JA)

Feb. 27 at 6:45pm, C12; Feb. 28 at 4:30pm, C12; March 3 at 12:15pm, C12

Camembert Rose

Camembert Rose

(Hungary; 93 min.) Do you know those depressing people who go on about how we have to have a return to modesty? Here’s a movie for them. At first, Barnabas Toth’s film seems to be an interesting sex comedy about the rivalry between a father and son. The debonair old goat Tibor is a bald, bearded Budapest gynecologist whose life is one long one-night stand. His bullied virgin son, Daniel, a pre-med student, feels walled in by the old man’s constant pressure on him to go out and get laid. Daniel has manifested his fear of sex through a horror of cheese (since the father decided to gross out the boy by telling him the scent of a woman is like the smell of Camembert). Hungary has been a real pornucopia, as I’m sure you men know, and this film reacts to the easily downloadable mud slide of smut and its effects on the local morals. In the film’s second half, in the French countryside, Dani meets a gorgeous and available older woman and learns to stop worrying and love cheese. But as he sits and pounds on his Swiss hang (a lugubrious metal hand drum the same size and shape as a wok), Dani’s honorable intentions start to look very prissy. Local color abounds: we see Budapest as a land of petty theft, an inferior power grid and rich humid summers. (RvB)

Feb. 25 at 4:30pm, C12; Feb. 26 at noon, C12; Feb. 28 at 2:15pm, C12

Cellar

Cellar

(U.S.; 83 min.) This arty, low-budget New York character study from Cinequest favorite Steve Staso is a multilingual cultural smashup with a semi-improvised feel. Hell’s Kitchen lives up to its name as three main characters navigate garish and gritty streets while bobbing and weaving in and out of relationships with some incredibly bizarre people. Weal is an attractive young guy in exile from Lebanon; Luz is a writer from Columbia who wants everyone to think she can handle the city no problem while she works as a manicurist, trying to get her green card. Sly grew up in the Harlem projects with a crack-addict mother and an abusive uncle. He joined the Army and barely survived three tours in Iraq; now he’s a super who has plenty of issues. They all do, and living in New York doesn’t seem to be helping. Films with interconnected stories are a dime a dozen nowadays, and the film is far too talky, but Staso succeeds in bringing out the visual flair of the urban landscape, and there are some funny and touching moments. A world premiere. (SP)

Cleanflix

Cleanflix

(U.S.; 85 min.) At first, Andrew James and Joshua Ligiri’s fascinating documentary Cleanflix seems to be about a no-brainer issue. Uncomfortable with sex, nudity and (to a lesser extent) violence, Mormon consumers want to watch cleaned-up DVD versions of mainstream Hollywood fare. Some canny entrepreneurs fill the need by creating Clean Flicks, an operation that uses digital editing software to cut out the swear words and stray boobs from hit movies and then rents the sanitized versions out of franchise stores in and around Salt Lake City.

Of course that business plan rankles advocates of artistic freedom—not to mention copyright-conscious directors and movie studios. But wait. Directors have long stood still for bowdlerized versions of their films on TV and airplanes; many DVDs are recut to have more sex and violence than the theatrical version—so much for the integrity of the original release. If there is such a lucrative market for these DVDs, why doesn’t Hollywood just step in and rake off the profits?

As the film progresses, motives and methods grow murky. The founder of Clean Flicks ends up in competition with some of his own franchisees; two store owners start a running feud. The legal arguments used to skirt obvious copyright violations soon succumb to a concentrated assault of big-firm suits. But a guerrilla market flourishes as the most dedicated and weirdly charismatic of the censored DVD sellers, Daniel Thompson, keeps finding ways around injunctions and other sanctions. By turns creepy, theatrical and even sympathetic, Thompson proclaims his mission to keep Mormons entertained but unoffended, even acting something of a cult leader to the grateful members of his DVD club.

Things start to turn really weird when Thompson’s ex-girlfriend looks into the camera and starts dishing some serious dirt about Thompson. From there, Cleanflix cruises to a twist ending that no screenwriter would have dared propose. The film features many fascinating interviews, with an appearance by director Neil LaBute, who turns out to have a Mormon background. It’s a terrific tale, even if the film never does answer the essential question, why would Mormons even want to see Kill Bill or The Big Lebowski in any form? (MSG)

Feb. 27 at 4:15pm, C12; March 1 at 7:15pm, C12; March 3 at 11:45pm, C12

Cooking History

Cooking History

(Slovakia et al.; 88 min.) Ever find yourself waiting in a dentist’s office thumbing through a New Yorker magazine, when you get sucked into a seemingly uninteresting article about something like the invention of the stapler or the function of dewclaws on cats only to be enthralled by great storytelling and new-found perspectives? The superb, beautifully photographed documentary Cooking History is kind of like that. Through poignant remembrances by aging military cooks, re-enactments of war and chilling archival footage, the films tells the story of six modern European wars through the lens of food. It plays like a secret history of World War II, the Chechen war, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the French war in Algeria and other conflicts. Food is a powerful force of national identity as well as a necessity, even more so when troops are in battle, hungry and facing death. In the end the film, and the multitude of meanings food conjures up, is bittersweet, like the memories of meals with friends and family long since gone. (SH)

Feb. 24 at 6pm, C12; Feb. 25 at 1:30pm, C12; March 1 at 7pm, C3

Eamon

Eamon

(Ireland; 85 min.) It takes some time for the blond 6-year-old title character to be fully revealed as a demon, but halfway through the film, manic little Eamon drinks a Coke and turns into the cute Irish cousin of The Omen’s Damien. Even so, he isn’t the real monster in this quirky dark tragicomedy—that would be his mother, Grace, a disturbingly selfish and hurtful creature, who barely puts up with the boy while relentlessly criticizing her slavish husband. The first film to be released under the auspices of Ireland’s Catalyst Project, which gives young filmmakers a budget and total creative control, Eamon’s Oedipal tale told in a remote Irish seaside town is a sad commentary on how a family can become something dangerous. (EJ)

March 4 at 6:45pm, C12; March 6 at 11am, California Theatre

Green Waters

Green Waters

(Argentina; 90 min.) The bastard child of some scandalous three-way between Hitchcock thrillers, Polanski mind-melt flicks and ’70s paranoia films, Green Waters just might be the most intense movie you’ll see at Cinequest. First-time Argentine writer-director Mariano De Rosa has taken the simple story of a family on a seaside vacation (at Green Waters, thus the title) and turned it into a sometimes funny, sometimes creepy—but always riveting—portrait of one father seemingly on the road to Crazy Town. Or is he? That’s the question the true paranoia gems keep you asking, right? And there’s a quiver of question marks riddling the first half, as father Juan (Alenjandro Fiore Milagrow) seems to be ruining the family vacation with his obsessive suspicion about his teenage daughter, Laura (Julieta Morav), and a mysterious, good-looking stranger she meets at a gas station who seems to have followed them to their destination. Incredibly, the film only gets more enigmatic and freaky from there, as whispers, glances, cruel smiles and power plays threaten to crack Juan up for good. Is everyone really out to get him? I’m not entirely sure even now, but the end is a shocker no matter how you look at it. Green Waters has more psychosexual subtext than anything I’ve seen out of the United States in a long time. (SP)

Feb. 25 at 4pm, C12; Feb. 28 at noon, C12; March 3 at 4:15pm, C12

Herian

Heiran

(Iran; 88 min.) In rural Iran, the daughter of a hardscrabble citrus farmer falls hopelessly in love with an illegal Afghan immigrant; the boy faces the same problems in Iran that Hispanic illegals face in the United States. Old prejudices meet new troubles as the daughter has her way and follows him to Tehran. This was likely sold to the Iranian authorities as a cautionary tale to young romantics (and it certainly can be read that way), but the film is simple, critical and compassionate, and the last scenes are very affecting. Even lesser Iranian movies have an understated naturalism that makes them models for low-budget filmmakers. Such is the case with this debut by director Shalizeh Arefpour, who unfolds this tragic tale with no discernible melodrama. It’s the last film starring Iranian superstar Khosro Shakibaei, who plays the father of the bride. (RvB)

Feb. 24 at 5pm, C12; Feb. 28 at 2pm, C12; March 2 at 5pm, C3

Kill the Habit

Kill the Habit

(U.S.; 81 min.) Lili Mirojnick (if I say she was in Cloverfield, will you remember which one? I don’t) plays Galia, who gets her recreational drugs from a particularly obnoxious dealer. After an argument about money, Galia clobbers the dealer with his favorite mineral specimen. What do to with the body? Galia enlists the help of her fried Soti (ditto, The Hangover), but the arrival of the dealer’s mouthy ex-wife, Cardamosa (the names are all exceedingly quirky), complicates the operation. Director Laura Neri provides some mild laughs as the trio wrestles with smuggling the dealer’s body past clueless onlookers—most of them coming from Maria-Elena Laas’ Rosario Dawson imitation as the uninhibited, sassy Latina Cardamosa. An interesting layer comes from the revelation that Soti has a lesbian crush on Galia. The film, however, suffers from an excess of small-camera jitters. This is a world premiere for Cinequest. (MSG)

Feb. 27 at 9:30pm, SJ Rep; March 2 at 6:45pm, C12; March 5 at noon, C12

Krews

Krews

(U.S.; 104 min.) Krews starts out like a typical crooks-in-suits crime drama, bathed in the cold silver and blue of Collateral and every other L.A. thriller since Heat. But within the first 15 minutes, it goes crazy, throwing a finale’s worth of twists into the beginning and sending the movie in a whole other direction that has street gangs facing off with high-tech crackers. Will there be alliances, double-crosses and one big standoff where everybody points their guns at each other? You bet! The amateurish performances aren’t up to the character shadings the audience is supposed to buy into, and the music is god-awful over-the-top. A fifth-generation Tarantino rip-off isn’t the worst thing in the world, but about the time the twists start snowballing ludicrously in the last act, it feels like it is. (SP)

Feb. 27 at 9:30pm, C12; Feb. 28 at 6:45pm, C12; March 4 at 4:15pm, C12

La Mission

(U.S.; 117 min.) Benjamin Bratt (TV’s Law and Order, Miss Congeniality) arrives to receive his Maverick Spirit award with this film about a man in crisis, directed by his brother Peter Bratt (of the very PC but static Follow Me Home). Bratt plays Che, an ex-con recovering alcoholic in San Francisco’s Mission District dealing with his drinking problem and working for Muni. The discovery Che makes about the secret life of his son, Jess (Jeremy Ray Valdez), brings him to the crisis point. Co-stars Talisa Soto Bratt, who was in the James Bond movie The Living Daylights. Director Bratt will introduce the film; a conversation with actor Bratt will follow. (RvB)

Life in One Day

Life in One Day

(Netherlands; 91 min.) The conceit of the title, based on a Dutch science fiction novel, is a world where humans are born, grow, love, breed and die in one day. A pastor describes this as heaven. Every experience is new, never to be repeated. The film is indeed frantic and ecstatic during this day. Gini (Lois Dols de Jong) and Benny (Matthijs van de Sande Bakhuyzen) meet but want the day to last. Their devil’s bargain results in some empty but well-photographed trysts and in very compelling use of split-screen photography for the duration. (DH)

Feb. 24 at 7pm, California Theatre; Feb. 27 at 9:45pm, C12

Little Fish, Strange Pond

Little Fish, Strange Pond

(U.S.; 90 min.) A couple of white guys walking around L.A. talking and killing women. Yes, Sweet Stephen (Callum Blue of Smallville) and his alter ego, Mr. Jack (executive producer Matthew Modine, looking dapper), owe plenty to Tarantino’s hit men in Pulp Fiction, but despite their philosophizing, they’re no Travolta and Jackson. The film peaks early when the chattering pair enter a porn store where the manager, Bucky (Zach Galifianakis), lives by the credo “Don’t fuck around.” When yet more speculations on the nature of being prolong a botched hold-up attempt in the store, Bucky shouts, “What the fuck is this, my robbery with Andre?” If only screenwriter Robert Dean Klein had followed Bucky’s advice and reduced the chatter, the film might not try the viewer’s patience so much. (DH)

Feb. 26 at 9:15pm, SJ Rep; Feb. 27 at 11:59pm, C12; March 1 at 9:15pm, California Theatre

Lost Persons Area

Lost Persons Area

(Belgium et al.; 109 min.) Marcus, Bettina and their daughter, Tessa, live in a trailer amid a bleak, spare landscape crossed by high-tension towers. Marcus leads a crew that works on the towers. Bettina lives an aimless life marooned in the trailer, where she runs a commissary/cantina for the workers. As for little Tessa, she’s largely ignored by everyone as she ditches school and roams about the dusty and bleak surroundings collecting animal bones, stones and strange bits of trash that only have meaning for her. Hungarian immigrant and worker Sobolz enters the trio’s life as a lone force of good in all the grinding despair and selfishness that define Marcus and Bettina’s relationship. Director Caroline Strubbe paints beautiful if desperate portraits of these lost lives, particularly that of Tessa, a self-possessed girl driven slowly mad by her mother’s neglect. It’s tempting to dismiss the film for the crushing despair it instills, but the stories and lives it depicts have a way of haunting your thoughts for days. (SH)

Feb. 28 at 6:15pm, C3; March 2 at 3:45pm, C12; March 5 at 4:15pm, C3.

Love Life of a Gentle Coward

Love Life of a Gentle Coward

(Croatia; 90 min.) “Come October, we all start telling the truth in my city. And if we accept the sadness that October brings us, then we have a chance to be happy.” The city is Zagreb, Croatia, and the speaker is a divorced dad, a restaurant critic named Sasha. His sadness is in part tied to that of his countrymen, as Croatia and all of the Eastern European frontier enter another winter, with so much turmoil so close on their heels. But what lends this elegant film so much poignancy is the specific sorrow of the title character, a feckless, cuckolded writer, who, over the course of the coming season, will find some courage. (EJ)

March 1, 7pm, C12; March 3 at 9:30pm, California Theatre; March 5 at 2pm, C12

Low Lights

Low Lights

(Lithuania, Germany; 92 min.) Antonioni goes to Vilnius. Laura and Tadas are a disaffected young urban, professional couple, stuck in a lousy half-built flat thrown up during the last economic boom in a district called “The Box” for its stunning architectural brutality. The couple—numb from the ugliness around them—go their separate ways for the course of a night: the wedge is the husband’s old pal from school, Linas, who turns up like a bad penny. He takes Tadas out for a drive to nowhere on the freeways of the city. Despite what you’ve heard about the charms of Lithuania’s capital, you just about won’t see a building more than 10 years old in this movie, and aside from a turn in a scary forest, the only natural thing you’ll see is the grass in the median strips. The landscape is thoroughly Americanized in the night-lighted gas stations and aimless rituals: Radas and Linas even go in for an automobile sideshow, burning some of the rubber on Tadas’ Mercedes. Identity games ahoy, with the Mimi Rogers–like Laura turning up tarted up with lipstick and spinning out in a fancy ride of her own. Clearly, a wakeup call to the Baltic States. (RvB)

Feb. 24 at 9:15pm, C12; March 5 at 5pm, C12.

No Tommorow

No Tomorrow

(U.S.; 80 min.) A gritty, emotional documentary-within-a-documentary that focuses on the life and grisly murder of a former ward of the state. Back in 2004, filmmakers Roger Weisberg and Vanessa Roth chose 18-year-old Risa Bejarano as
the subject of their documentary film Aging Out, following one year in the life of the young woman as she was emancipated from the L.A. foster care system and went off to college. After the film wrapped, however, Bejarano was brutally shot to death by a gang member. Suddenly, the duo’s documentary took on a whole new meaning in the hands of the prosecution. In No Tomorrow, Weisberg and Roth narrate their moral and ethical struggles as Aging Out is used as courtroom evidence to tug the jury’s heartstrings and condemn the young woman’s killer. Ultimately, this is a dramatic, suspenseful look at a death penalty trial and a commiseration over the right of the state to take a life for a life. Be warned: the filmmakers show many graphic photos of Bejarano’s bloody, shot-up dead body, and the bodies of other gang victims. (JF)

Feb. 27 at 1:45pm, C12; Feb. 28 at 11:30pm, SJ Rep; March 6 at 6:30pm, C12

Oil Rocks: City Above the Sea

(Switzerland; 54 min.) For those with qualms about off-shore drilling, Oil Rocks will be a shock. After World War II, the Soviet Union constructed an “oil city” in the middle of the Caspian Sea—an entire complex of oil rigs, dormitories for workers and bridges linking everything together and even connecting to the mainline. Now the facility, which still produces some high-grade crude, is run by the Azerbijan government, which isn’t sure what to do with the place. Wear and ocean waves have taken their toil, and spills and pollution remain a problem. This short documentary combines some fascinating period propaganda footage with modern-day glimpses of life in the middle of nowhere. The workers seem to have adjusted reasonably well to their isolated, dead-end jobs, and one 80-plus-year-old woman regales the camera with feisty anecdotes. This Swiss documentary offers a fascinating look at a place unknown to the West, but as a film, Oil Rocks is strictly History Channel material. (MSG)

March 3 at 9pm, C12; March 6 at 11am, C12

Outsourced

Outsourced

(2006) Welcome back to this good-natured, open-minded film on an unlikely subject; it won the Cinequest voting for all-time favorite festival entry. Hapless Seattleite Todd Anderson (Josh Hamilton) works for a company that sells Stars and Stripes–covered gewgaws to our born-again patriots. His boss orders him to India to open a call center. The “O” in Todd’s name is mispronounced from his arrival in the subcontinent. Now known as “Mr. Toad,” Todd receives a wild ride to the site of the call center: a half-finished pile of cinderblocks surrounded by lounging cows. He quickly picks an assistant, Asha, played by Ayesha Dharker, who was Queen Jamillia in Star Wars: Episode II, since she is flesh and blood, George Lucas hardly noticed her there—far less did he note Dharker’s smile, so lush and so wide that it seems to unfold in sections. Hamilton’s affable, lightweight performance is just right. Director John Jeffcoat and co-writer George Wing’s aims are modest. Outsourced has the pleasure of a travelog: the things that make this movie shine are humble commonplace events. It’s clear that only people who met India halfway could have made this movie. (RvB)

March 6 at 4pm, California Theatre

Parallels

(U.S.; 16 min.) Norman Mailer once said you measure schizophrenia not by how many selves there are but by how well the selves can speak to one another. In Parallels, we see Emilie Germain weaving and bobbing between two different pieces of herself. One character is a French-speaking woman fresh from a bloody encounter in a man’s apartment—she escapes without too many clothes on. The other character represents the rational side of the psyche, trying to suppress the first character. Several layers of meaning emerge right from the very start, as the Blondie tune “In the Flesh” opens the film. Later, we see Germain contemplating a Warhol print of Debby Harry on the wall of a dude’s apartment. “She looks so disconnected and conflicted,” says the character. Ah! Now we’re getting somewhere. This short shows with Hell Is Other People. (GS)

Feb. 27 at 4:15pm, SJ Rep; March 3 at 7pm, C3

Paulista

Paulista

(Brazil; 82 min.) In an early nightclub scene, volatile chanteuse Justine (Danni Carlos) sings Radiohead’s “Don’t Leave Me High, Don’t Leave Me Dry.” This Brazilian ballad of sexual dependency and desertion is at once exotic and matter-of-fact. To start her acting career, country girl Marina (Silvia Lourenço) moves into her cousin Suzana’s (Maria Clara Spinelli) apartment in Paulista, São Paolo—the best neighborhood in the biggest city in Brazil. Marina soon discovers the unpredictability of loving someone “exciting.” Suzana falls for another lawyer in the macho enclave of a South American law firm. Although not particularly original, Paulista is a sophisticated and worldly story of carnal desire and disappointment. (DH)

Feb. 27 at 7pm, C12; March 1 at 3pm, C12; March 5 at 11pm, C12

Passenger Side

Passenger Side

(Canada; 85 min.) With a wit dryer than the Joshua Tree desert in its middle third, Passenger Side is a hyperverbal, daylong meandering drive through a greater L.A. and through the minds of two disaffected brothers. Their mood is sullen, but their banter is as well timed as a jazz combo’s. Novelist/ad copywriter Michael (Adam Scott) tells his actor-with-a-drug-problem brother Tobey (an excellent Joel Bissonnette) about his next semiautobiographical novel. Tobey asks, “Is this the one where the stupid white guy sadly wastes his life or the one where the sad white guy stupidly wastes his life?” An ironic ’90s indie-rock soundtrack (including Santa Cruz’s Camper Van Beethoven) is the third character in this road film. Despite the self-pity, this is Sideways for thirtysomethings. (DH)

Feb. 25 at 7:15pm, SJ Rep; Feb. 27 at 11:30am, SJ Rep; March 4 at 11:30am, C12

Peepers

Peepers

(Canada: 83 min.) Seth W. Owen’s vision of a cluster of Montreal voyeurs is well worked out, even if the premise has the dead-end quality of an academic joke. Steve (Joe Cobden) is the lynchpin of a group of roof crawlers who meet in all sorts of weather; their dedicated window peeping is disturbed by a college professor (Janine Thériault, very good) who has come to study them. But her own clear shot at the Hassenpfeffer Fellowship is disturbed when her interest grows: not in destroying sexist paradigms of the watcher and the watched but in the lowbrow pastime of catching glimpses of dicks, balls and girls with big nipples. To the film theorist, all moviegoers are voyeurs; naturally, Peepers cites Rear Window and Peeping Tom (aside from a Scrabble board, is there any other use for the word “scopophilia” than to describe that Michael Powell movie?). One gets a “where was Brian de Palma when they needed him” vibe when watching this. To the rescue: the skin scenes and Montreal’s sturdy tradition of improv comedy, evinced by the sweet Quinn O’Neill as a girl who turned exhibitionist (a turn-off to these peepers); and Daniel Perlmutter and Mark Slutsky as the obnoxious rivals who are caddish enough to sell what they’ve watched on their website. (RvB)

Feb. 26 at 9:30pm, C12; Feb. 28 at 9:15pm, C12; March 2 at 1:30pm, C12

Raspberry Magic

Raspberry Magic

(U.S.; 88 min.) Although not as harrowing as The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Raspberry Magic is a well-acted, modest and inspiring family drama hinging on a girl in a science fair. Eleven-year-old Monica Shah (Lily Javaherpour) wants to succeed in the school science fair and to keep her family together. The parents in this economically troubled middle-class family emigrated from India, but writer/director Leena Pendharkar doesn’t fuss over that fact. She focuses on the efforts of Monica to corral her younger sister, engage her father (Ravi Kapoor) and cheer up her mother (Meera Simhan), who is attempting to write a cookbook. Both the family and the film are a long way from Bollywood. (DH)

Feb. 24 at 7:15pm, C12; March 5 at 7:15pm, C12; March 6 at 7pm, C12

The Robbers

The Robbers

(China; 92 min.) In a remote Chinese village long ago, two bandits—equal parts rakish and buffoonish—try to shake down a local man and his daughter. Soon, some imperial soldiers show up and do a lot worse. The bandits side with the villages, the villagers turn on the bandits, the bandits turn back against the villagers and so it goes in the rice paddies. Director Yang Shupeng milks the historical warrior genre mostly for laughs: an oft-repeated dirty joke, plenty of mugging, lots of exaggerated scowling and excessive shouting. (MSG)

Feb 25 at 6:45pm, C12; Feb. 27 at 1:30pm, C12; March 4 at noon, C12

Road to Sangam

Road to Sangam

(India; 135 min.) When India’s greatest martyr died, he asked that his ashes be divided into 20 parts and sent off with the flow of the nation’s 20 rivers. Amit Rai’s proudly humanist film is a fiction, yet it’s based on the real-life discovery, some 60 years on, of a cask of the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi. In Utter Pradesh, a terrorist bombing sets off repression by the Indian police against the Muslims; meanwhile, a humble but farsighted Muslim mechanic in Allahabad gets the job to fix the engine of a vintage V8 truck—little realizing that this truck had once been used long ago to transport some of Gandhi-ji’s ashes, and that the authorities hope to use the truck in the upcoming ceremony. But a general strike by outraged Muslim merchants threatens the mechanic’s task. Star Paresh Rawal and the regal Om Puri engage in a discourse about the partitioning of India that’s real food for thought. (RvB)

Feb. 24 at 8:30pm, C12; Feb. 25 at 1pm, C12; Feb. 28 at 1:15pm, California Theatre

Slovenian Girl

Slovenian Girl

(Slovenia et al.; 90 min.) Judging from Slovenian Girl, student loans trouble college kids there as much as they do here. Dark-haired Aleksandra (Nina Ivanisin) tries to solve her financial woes by working as a prostitute—a most disaffected and dispirited one, but apparently her ability to speak English is a real plus with the tourist trade. Damjan Kozole’s film begins with a very large red herring as one of Aleksandra’s clients drops dead of a heart attack after gobbling two much Viagra. He turns out to be a major EU official, setting off a police hunt for the mysterious “Slovenian Girl” who was with him last. Although the police sirens continue to blare throughout the film, this is really a story about a troubled, lost young woman who keeps constructing elaborate lies to hide from the choices she needs to make. Her biggest problem (aside from some scary pimps) is coping with her broken family: Dad Edo (Peter Musevski), a shambling ex-rocker coping with depression, is separated from Aleksandra’s bitter and unyielding mother, who dismisses Aleksandra’s halting effort at reconciliation. The best scenes belong to Edo, who hopes to reunite his band Electroshock (“If it hadn’t been for punk, we’d still be gigging”) while staving off his own suicidal nightmares. He is a deeply sympathetic character, while Aleksandra remains a cipher. (MSG)

Feb. 24 at 7pm, C12; Feb. 27 at 2pm, California Theatre; March 1 at 1:45pm, C12

Sonosopher

The Sonosopher: Alex Caldiero in Life … In Sound

(U.S.; 66 min.) A self-styled Sicilian-born, Brooklyn-raised beatnik Mormon, poet Alex Caldiero must puzzle his fellow LDSers in Utah, where he teaches at Utah Valley University. Caldiero practices a particularly abstract form of “sound” poetry, intoning words until they unmoor themselves from meaning—think Allen Ginsberg times 10. He even composes elaborate written flurries of repeated letters that only he can translate. A voluble, bearish man, Caldiero expounds excitedly in this adoring documentary. He must be a hell of an entertaining teacher, although he grows tiring after about 45 minutes—sometimes, he’s a bit too much like a crank yelling on a street corner. In the best parts, the filmmakers combine Caldiero’s wilder soundscapes with rapid-fire edited images that recall the best experimental films of the 1950s and ’60s. (MSG)

Feb. 28 at 4pm, C3; March 2 at 7:15pm, C3; March 4 at 2:45pm, C12

Strigoi

Strigoi

(U.K.; 106 min.) This very dry and amusing feature taps into a new vein in the seemingly inexhaustible vampire genre. A young man conveniently named Vlad comes back to his village in Romania. A medical student who failed his final exams, Vlad has been working abroad selling fast-food chicken in Italy—a source of much amusement for his fellow villagers. While he’s been gone, a minirevolt put the local autocratic landowner and his wife in their graves, although they stubbornly refuse to stay put. Vlad is drawn into this intrigue when he learns that his name has been forged on the death certificate of an elderly local man. When the landowner’s wife returns from the dead with an insatiable appetite for raw food, all the old myths about “strigoi” (vampire both living and dead, apparently) take hold. First-time director Faye Jackson cleverly connects Romanian folk beliefs with decades of history—the Communists were, in their way, blood suckers, and their influence still causes rancor in the village. (There are other scapegoats as well—Vlad’s cranky grandfather blames everything on either the Communists or the Gypsies.) The mix of ghoulishness, superstition and Vlad’s helpless appeals to what’s left of rationalism in an irrational world is extremely witty—even the would-be doctor must put his surgical skills to work cutting the hearts out of bodies that just won’t stay in the ground. (MSG)

March 3 at 9:45pm, C12; March 5 at 11:59pm, C12

Tercer Mundo

(Costa Rica, Chile; 85 min.) The young Chilean filmmaker César Caro Cruz is inventing a new genre: the contemporary 20-something coming-of-age road-trip science-fiction movie. Tercer Mundo (Third World) is not like other sci-fi films. It feels at times like a very-low-budget farce, a la Troma’s Toxic Avenger. Moments later, it’s like a very-low-budget indie romantic flick, in this case about a trio of restless young people looking for love and trying to make sense of the world while en route from Chile to Bolivia to Costa Rica. Along the way, these earnest, good-looking kids deal with the classic sources of angst—plus a vague obsession with the upcoming 2012 solar eclipse predicted in ancient Mayan texts and the extraterrestrials that have arrived to prepare the Earth for doom. This weird juxtapositions work for the most part. Here’s an easy test to determine of you’re the type of person who will enjoy this film: If you think the title’s a clever pun, go; if you think it’s lame, skip it. (EJ)

Feb. 24 at 7pm, SJ Rep; Feb. 25 at 8:45pm, C12; Feb. 28 at 3pm, C12

The Tijuana Project

The Tijuana Project

(U.S./Mexico; 61 min.) The sunny dispositions of the six kids in this documentary belie its tragic setting: a Tijuana trash dump in which they and their families live and scavenge for survival. The Fausto Gonzales neighborhood is as desolate as a trash-strewn moon. The only other adults around are drug peddlers and addicts living in an adjacent cemetery. Yet a schoolteacher invites an art and music teacher into the two-room dump-side school. Director John Sheedy ably captures the children’s most endearing and enduring trait: the ability to improvise fun anywhere. (DH)

Feb. 26 at 7:15pm, C12; Feb. 27 at 7:15pm, C12

The Over the Hill Band

The Over the Hill Band

(Belgium; 100 min.) How do you say, “We’re getting the band back together” in Flemish? Well, somewhere in this movie, you’ll find the answer. Nevertheless, The Over the Hill Band is a poignant, funny and highly entertaining film about a newly widowed woman in her 60s—”The same age as Mick Jagger”—who decides to reunite her rock group, the Sisters of Love, from decades earlier. After her husband dies, she pays a visit to her estranged son, Alexander, who just happens to be a failed hip-hop musician and behind on his rent. Together, they set off to conquer the world and some lovely scenes emerge—young vs. old; family vs. loneliness; and the street language of rap vs. melody. A touching, heartfelt, intergenerational comedy set against the backdrop of a small Belgian city. (GS)

Feb. 26 at 7pm, C12; Feb. 28 at 6:45pm, C12

The Puck Hogs

The Puck Hogs

(Canada; 96 min.) It’s one thing for a mockumentary to be inspired by This Is Spinal Tap—they all are, in one way or another—but this Canadian film is practically a retelling. From the opening segment and occasional appearances by the goofy and overzealous documentarian “Gyan Singh” to the plot about an over-the-hill band (of amateur hockey players) limping through their last tour of duty with one more shot at glory, it follows the template at every turn. OK, there’s something to be said for stealing from the best, but as Tap themselves used to say, there’s a fine line between clever and stupid. The Puck Hogs trips right over it; it has the mockumentary style down but no substance. Worst of all, it’s just not very funny. Compare the classic “Stonehenge” or tour-bus gags in Tap to this knee-slapper: one player’s gym bag smells up the locker room, and the team finds a dead mouse in it. But the bag still smells worse than the mouse, so they reach in again and find a dead cat. Rim shot? I don’t even know. Tap’s No. 1 contribution to the genre is probably the idea of fairly stupid people desperately trying to sound smart in interviews, but over the course of any mockumentary, we have to end up caring about the characters for some reason, no matter how dumb they supposedly are. No one on the Puck Hogs team is interesting enough to get behind, and the games themselves are shot so poorly (even the big climax) that it makes hockey look like maybe the most boring game ever devised. That’s too bad, since hockey isn’t lacking for comedy material. Is Slap Shot the best we’re ever gonna get? (SP)

Feb. 28 at 4:30pm, Rep; March 2 at 9:30pm, C12; March 6 at 11:15pm, C12

Upperdog

Upperdog

(Norway; 90 min.) Another degrees-of-separation drama, this one set in an Oslo circle that includes a dry-cleaners’ daughter, an upper-class cad, a Polish maid and a traumatized NATO soldier whose accidental shooting of an Afghan boy ends up on an antiwar poster. While the playful, unforced sex scenes help out, director Sara Johnsen (Kissed by Winter, Cinequest ’06) has an engineering problem: while the cast is full of good-looking people, she doesn’t have the level of acting she needs to make us care about these characters, their separation anxieties, their rivalries and their hurts. And it’s hard to laugh at them, either, despite the invitation we get to laugh from the classical music contrasted with the farcical behavior. Upperdog has its moments, but films like this are the reason why Crash has been called the worst movie of the Oughties, if only because of the kind of filmmaking it influenced. (RvB)

Feb. 24 at 8:45pm, C3; Feb. 27 at 9:30pm, California Theatre; March 2 at 2pm, C12

Will You Marry Us?

Will You Marry Us?

(Switzerland; 90 min.) This lighthearted Swiss-German date-night film is certainly not breaking any new ground with its love triangle parable, but the charming cast and startlingly humanlike female leads are refreshing compared to the usual American romcom cadre (no needled-nosed Anistons here). Marie Leuenberger plays an overstressed and underloved small-town marriage official who has the unenviable task of wedding her old flame, played by a rail-thin Dominique Jann, to his prima donna movie-star girlfriend. The romance between the two is reignited through a series of very low-drama tribulations and quibbles in preparation for the big day. Besides a willingness to flirt with the idea that marriage ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, there’s nothing new here, but pretty people falling in love is not something audiences seem to tire of. (JL)

March 1 at 7pm at California Theatre; March 5 at 4:30pm at C12; March 6 at 9:15pm, C12

SHORTS PROGRAMS

Shorts 1: The Darker Side of Growing Up

Best of this round of shorts are two from New Zealand, both on the subject of punishment: Summer Agnew’s Patu Ihu concerns some Maori children taking five from a ritual funeral and an uncle (Calvin Tuteau, excellent) who uses a rough card game with penalties to help the kids get in touch with their feelings. The Six Dollar Fifty Cent Man by Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland concerns a dreamy kid, the butt of his schoolyard, whose fantasies of being Steve Austin the Bionic Man end him up in the headmaster’s office, awaiting the Strap. The close-up, impressionistic focus on children’s lives is something done to perfection in Anzac cinema. Loved the headmaster, presented to us for most of the story as an unshaven jowl and a burning cigarette.

Ana’s Playground by Eric D. Howell is an ambitious calling card, demonstrating the wow-factor of digital effects in a story of a pack of kids surviving a day in Gaza/Bosnia/future America. Main problem: the child actors don’t look like they’ve been through a war, and the waste of ammo would distress any professional soldier. Runar Runarsson’s Anna has a lot going for it: Danish seaside exteriors that are like visual versions of Kurt Cobain songs (“Something in the Way” in particular), as a teen girl faces up to her parents’ breakup. Good, but long and irresolute.

Mary Bing’s Brother: I liked the feral qualities in this tale of a rich ballerina-loving girl-child’s search for a solution to the problem of her stinky little brother. Reminded me of those erudite kid’s shorts they used to play on CBS in the late 1960s, complete here with the Manhattan vistas and the requisite piano and flute soundtrack. (RvB)

Feb. 25 at 6:30pm, C3; Feb. 28 at 1:15pm, C3

Animated Worlds

*Shorts 4: Animated Worlds

Kyle T. Bell’s The Mouse That Soared concerns a flyblown rodent fostered by a pair of birdies: promising work with fine gag writing. Her Morning Elegance, about a Manhattan girl dreaming her way to her job, won a music-video Grammy, and you’ll see why: Shir Shomron is the pixilation-animated sleeping beauty; the songwriter is Oren Lavie, both under the direction of animators Yuval and Meranth Nathan. Ollie and the Baked Halibut: pretty bad, slightly racist and the halibut is grilled. Ariadne’s Thread is a Hungarian animated version of the story of Theseus, with an alternative ending; I liked the bored Minotaur kicking a human skull around like a soccer ball. Dustin Grella’s Prayers for Peace uses what is reputedly the oldest form of animation: chalk on chalkboard (as per 1906’s Humorous Phases of Funny Faces). It is a story of one life lost in the Forever War, containing a last message from the front. Very touching. As for the Spine by Oscar winner (1994) Chris Landreth: I’ve seen National Film Board of Canada cartoons that I’ve thought about for decades, and this is going to be another of them. Dan is a corpse-colored figure, rotting from the head down: at group therapy, he experiences a moment of connection with a troubled fellow patient. Will this free him from his blimp-size ogress of a wife? The death in war that Grella reports is tragic. This is somehow worse, the highest kind of tragedy, the potential for beauty and love warped by the every-day horror of bad chemistry: the cell that metastasizes, the brain that breaks down, the tiny gland that goes wrong. The verse quoted is by John Dowland (1563–1626). (RvB)

March 2 at 9:30pm, C3; March 5 at 7pm, C3

Our Cinequest coverage was provided by Jody Amable (JA), Richard von Busack (RvB), Michael S. Gant (MSG), Steve Palopoli (SP), Jessica Fromm (JF), Don Hines (DH), Eric Johnson (EJ), Jessica Lussenhop (JL), Stett Holbrook (SH) and Gary Singh (GS).

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