You ain’t seen nothing yet

The MSPIFF continues to amaze, elucidate and entertain regret pop music

As the Minneapolis Saint Paul International Film Festival moves into its second week, the excitement shows no signs of abating. For full information regarding what’s left of the Fest, check out the Web site www.ufilm.org or stop by the Oak Street Cinema or the Bell Museum Auditorium for a program and the daily Fest-o-grams that cover changes to the schedule. With so many films to choose from, it is often a bit daunting to try to make a decision, given the multiplicity of venues and the often impossible choices presented (e.g. between two equally great films or between a great film and your boring work or school commitments). Luckily, we, your friends in the Daily’s Arts section, have subverted whatever usual decision-making process you subscribe to. We control the horizontal! We control the vertical! We suggest very strongly that you see the following films:

“Weekend Plot”
China, 2001
Dir. Zhang Ming

“Weekend Plot” was produced as part of the Hubert Bals Fund’s initiative to support filmmakers from developing countries and is presented in conjunction with the Walker’s “Hubert Bals Fund at 15: Making a Reel Difference” exhibition.

This is the second feature film from Beijing Film Academy graduate Zhang Ming, whose first movie, “Rainclouds Over Wushan,” won him international acclaim and a number of film festival prizes.

Shot on a particularly picturesque backdrop somewhere along the banks of the Yangtze River, the film follows the story as it twists like that great river through the lives of five twenty-something friends reunited for a summer holiday. The story starts off slowly enough, but gets continually more strange as more and more bizarre elements are introduced. For fans of other young Chinese directors, this might seem a bit more ‘impressionistic’ than what you’re used to. Other recent films from China tend to be starkly realistic.

“Weekend Plot” screens TONIGHT, Thursday, April 10 at 9:30 at the Oak Street

“To Be and To Have”
France, 2002
Dir. Nicolas Philibert

One of the most popular films released in France last year, this is the largest grossing documentary in the history of French cinema and has won a bucket of awards in its home country. “To Be and To Have” is the story of one year in the life of a rustic village, its one-room school and teacher George Lopez and his students.

The diligence, patience and ultimately the love with which Lopez does his job are truly moving, and will likely conjure some kind-hearted teacher from everyone’s past. The isolation of the small farming community is a feature throughout, and there is a tension between that isolation and the growth, freedom and expansion that learning represents. The changing of season and the preparations for the changes in their lives that the older children will soon be facing pass the time until the end of the year, and with it the end of the movie.

“To Be and To Have” screens Friday, April 11 at 7:30 at the Oak Street.

“Under the Skin of the City”
Iran, 2002
Dir. Rakhshan Bani-Etemad

Iran is proving to have an unimagined wealth of gifted filmmakers. Showing as the festival’s “Iranian Showcase” feature, this film sets up director Rakhshan Bani-Etemad as no exception to that trend. Abbas Kiarostami, Majid Majidi and the Makhmalbaf family (among others, to be sure) have established Iran as a cinematic powerhouse, turning out film after fantastic film.

Controversial subject matter is the norm rather than the exception, and this movie provides it in abundance. Tuba’s four children are pulling her life in four directions, and she feels unable to resist tearing apart like a cloth. After her eldest son loses their house, everything spins out of control and is in danger of coming completely undone, and the whole family is teetering on the brink of ever-greater disaster.

Bani-Etemad uses her background as a television documentarian to capture an exceedingly real and complicated fiction. In fact, the film feels and reads in parts as if it were a classic documentary, following a struggling middle-class family. Focusing on the amazing strength of Tuba, and extending that strength to Iranian women as a group, Bani-Etemad has created a politically important and critical, stereotype-breaking film of substantial emotional, political and social force, and put forth an important new image of her contemporaries.

“Under the Skin of the City” screens Monday, April 14 at 7:30 at the Riverview.

“Amen”
France, 2002
Dir. Costa-Gavras

No stranger to the limelight, director Costa-Gavras has been making internationally renowned films for the past 40 years. Having won loads of awards (including three at Cannes, one BAFTA and one Oscar) and being nominated for many more, he finally set about making a movie he has wanted to do for years.

Costa-Gavras adapts Rolf Hochhuth’s play “The Deputy,” which is based on the true story of Kurt Gerstein, an SS officer who, upon seeing the mass killings in concentration camps contacted a church leader in the hope of preventing further extermination. Written as a character to stand for all of the Roman Catholic priests who protested the atrocities against the Jews, Riccardo Fontana (Mathieu Kassovitz, whom many Americans will remember as Nino in “Amelie”) hears Gerstein’s story and vows to notify the Pope. The Vatican’s failure to respond (for which they issued a mea culpa later) stands in stark contrast to the bravery of those who did what they knew was right and acted to help the helpless to the best of their abilities.

Taut action and constant urgency, fantastic sets and period detail, and great performances all around make this another in the ever-growing list of movies that have been successful in taking on the nearly impossible task of presenting the terror and devastation of the Holocaust without simplifying or hyper-dramatizing it to the point of being just weepy or pandering. The film also pays some attention to the conditions in Germany that account for Hitler and his popularity, the idea that the German people might have been terribly deceived for a long part of the war, and shows Germans predicting the lasting impact the war will have. It also cracks the myth of the “great American rescue.”(By the way, it’s in English).

“Amen” screens Tuesday, April 15 at 7 p.m. at the Riverview.

“Sacrifices”
Syria, 2002
Dir. Oussama Mohammed

“Sacrifices” was produced as part of the Hubert Bals Fund’s initiative to support filmmakers from developing countries and is presented in conjunction with the Walker’s “Hubert Bals Fund at 15: Making a Reel Difference” exhibition.

After a long absence since writing and directing “Stars in Broad Daylight,” a 1988 Cannes Director’s Fortnight pick, Mohammed returns with a disturbing picture of life for a Syrian family centered on three cousins, none of whom have names. Extremely symbolic, each character, indeed everything in the movie, stands for something greater, making this the type of movie that warrants repeated viewing. Drawing acclaim as well as some amazing comparisons, this movie has been heralded as inspired stylistically by Andrei Tarkovsky in its uses of repetition and allegory and Sergei Parajanov in its aesthetics and surrealism.

After taking 14 years to be made it is a bit of a shame to only have a few chances to see this work, but two is a sight better than none.

“Sacrifices” screens Wednesday, April 16 at 8 p.m. at the Walker Art Center and Thursday, April 17 at 7:30 at Oak Street Cinema.