A&E Staff Film Reviews

Directed by: Guillaume Canet
Screenings: April 20, 7:20 p.m., April 23, 8 p.m., St. Anthony Main Theater, 115 Main St. N.E., Minneapolis, www.mspfilmfest.org

A&E Rating: 2/5 stars

Dr. Alexandre Beck has been mourning the murder of his wife for eight long years, when he receives an e-mail on the anniversary of her death. Containing information that suggests his wife may still be alive, Beck is sent on an adventure to figure out what actually happened to his wife and who was responsible.

While the premise is good and the plot contains all the necessary twists and turns, this French thriller is anything but. Maybe it’s that everything sounds nice in French, even cursing and death threats, or maybe it’s that the film never makes us feel for any of the characters, resulting in suspenseful scenes where we really just don’t care.

Stephanie Dickrell

STARRING: Sergio Kleiner, Sharon Zundel
DIRECTED BY: Alejandro Springall
PLAYING AT: St. Anthony Main Theater, April 25, 4:45 p.m., April 28, 5:05 p.m.

A&E Rating: 4/5 stars

Putting sheets over the art, abstaining from sex, praying often – it all seems like a sound formula for mourning death. But this particular Shiva, a seven-day Jewish mourning ritual, can’t seem to glue the cracks in the family enough to keep out the scandal and the bizarre.

Pent in one house together, the tension gets high until kissing cousins and confessions of atheism create more drama than elegy. It might have something to do with the main character, the recently deceased Moishe, who seemed to be at the vertex of the family’s chaos. He makes little appearance in the movie; instead the viewer must piece together his story using anecdotes from his late-life lover and a couple of white-bearded wise men.

A few heavy spiritual questions are brought up but are worked into the dialogue with an expert’s subtlety.

At a moment of crisis, the frazzled daughter of Moishe angrily throws away what the maids are cooking, scolding them that mixing meat and milk is a sin.

“Throwing away food is also a sin,” the maid retorts.

In a moment of surrender, the daughter tightens her elegantly aged face and decides, “In the end, everything is a sin.”

As the wise men debate whether the good angels or the bad angels will escort Moishe on his journey, his Shivah proves how tricky such a question may be.

Becky Lang

STARRING: Ellen Page, Ari Cohen and Julian Richings
DIRECTED BY: Bruce McDonald
PLAYING AT: St. Anthony Main Theater, April 25 8:30 p.m.

A&E Rating: 4/5 stars

Canadian quirkstress Ellen Page is no stranger to dark roles – about half of 2005’s “Hard Candy” was devoted to her administering a torturous quasi-castration – and her latest, “The Tracey Fragments,” carries in that darker tradition. The film centers on Page’s character Tracey Berkowitz as she endures the abuses of her dysfunctional family, questionable psychiatrist, bully-ridden school life and a brother who thinks he’s a dog. The film uses several angles of the same shot all appearing on the screen in fragmented boxes at the same time. Visually, it can be overwhelming, but also compelling as certain boxes prove revealing when they focus on subtleties like nervous hand gestures or other minute details.

Everything comes to a head when Tracey’s brother goes missing under her watch. The film is filled with monologues by Tracey as she rides shrouded in the back of a city bus searching for her brother. In the course of her ride she delves deep into the societal underbelly of the city and parts of her story become obvious hallucinations.

The film is a frantic and twisting rabbit-hole journey through Berkowitz’s psyche and the line between fantasy and reality becomes increasingly blurred. Page continues her tradition of picking challenging roles and carrying films on her immense talent. Her virtuosity, combined with a capable supporting case, unique plot and creative production, make “The Tracey Fragments” a fine Canadian export and deserving winner at the International Film Festival.

Jay Boller

STARRING: Asia Argento, Michael Madsen
DIRECTED BY: Olivier Assayas
PLAYING AT: St. Anthony Main Theater, April 25, 9:15 p.m.

A&E Rating: 3/5 stars

Actress Asia Argento is the daughter of Italian horror film director Dario Argento, the same Dario Argento whose 1977 film “Suspiria” receives a perfunctory shout-out in “Juno.” The kudos comes during the emotionally disarming scene that confirms a budding friendship, just moments before the pregnant adolescent and the married man stand within breathing distance of one another. Like Ellen Page, Lady Argento steals the international show that is “Boarding Gate” (English, French and Cantonese are its currency). Unlike the morally sound adolescent, she gets much closer to the men in her life and leaves them on their backs in their high-rises, breathless.

Olivier Assayas confines the leading lady within his handheld frame like a stalker eyeing his object of obsession with the burning tip of his cigarette, as if he were focusing a dart at the target. From head to toe, nearly start to finish, Argento is there, with the wings of an angel tattooed across her pelvis.

That last detail is perhaps the defining image of the film, especially in consideration of the following:

1. The 12 inches (approximate, though Ms. Argento is not a big woman) from the innermost thrust of one of her hipbones, to the corresponding part of the opposite hipbone, is exposed often enough to make this observation possible.

2. Argento’s character Sandra, a former prostitute to high-paying clients, kills a man handcuffed in the privacy of his own home.

3. The second half of the film takes place in Beijing, and Ms. Argento is fully clothed throughout.

“Boarding Gate” is about a woman who can’t disappear. For an hour and 40 minutes she is there, in the flesh, before your eyes. The premise being, if you happen to be at a boarding gate, you probably want to be somewhere else.

Michael Garberich

STARRING: Michael Sardina (Lightning), Claire Sardina (Thunder)
PLAYING AT: St. Anthony Main Theater, April 26, 5:20 p.m.

A&E Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Upon reading the summary of what may be the best documentary ever created, “Song Sung Blue,” you know it’s going to be totally amazing. Oh yeah, baby – with a husband and wife Neil Diamond tribute band from Milwaukee, an accident that leaves one of them crippled for life, their mounting money woes, the tentative grip one holds on fleeting, fickle fame, and a cameo by Eddie Vedder, this one is a classic for the ages.

(But viewers beware: the film starts with a close-up of Lightning’s slightly saggy lower region in a pair of white briefs – don’t let that scare you away! Keep watching!)

Greg Kohs’ film, about said Milwaukee duo Lightning & Thunder, is alternately devastating and deliciously inspiring. He follows the couple on their difficult journey to fame while making a lingering statement about the triumphant human spirit and its ability to hang onto hope, even when things are bleak, when you can’t pay the rent and health woes loom overhead.

Michael and Claire Sardina, who go by their stage names during the course of the film, get by the best way they know how: singing their hearts out. They were wildly popular in the Wisconsin area and played countless venues. Lightning bears an uncanny resemblance to Neil Diamond while onstage, so much so that sometimes a double-take is necessary.

Throughout their various troubles, all of which are documented in Kohs’ film, the two retain their starry-eyed vision of fame and glory. Their ultimate goal in life is “to make people happy and forget their problems, cares, and worries.” And though “Song Sung Blue” is at times difficult to watch because of its glimpse into the Sardinas’ tough reality and its cast of characters are not always lovable, in the end you find yourself rooting for Lightning & Thunder; they fulfilled their goal many times over.

Kara Nesvig

DIRECTOR: Johan Kling
SCREENINGS: April 26, 2:45 p.m., May 1, 7:35 p.m., St. Anthony Main Theater.

A&E Rating: 3.5/5 stars

In the United States, a film involving a spoiled brat and a 61-year-old recently divorced man forced to work at McDonald’s would be an endearing big budget comedy. In Sweden, however, it is the epitome of subtlety, where no one ever gets too excited.

Our brat is 24-year-old Eva (Michelle Meadows), who’s never really had to worry about money until she loses her cushy retail job and her mother, who usually bails her out, jet-sets off to Dubai with a new boyfriend. Bernhard (Michael Segerstrom) is the kind-hearted, recently divorced 61-year-old who can’t make ends meet between his financial commitments and his pension check. McDonald’s brings these two together for an unusual friendship, but you’re never quite sure how all of this is going to end.

The film’s clever use of music, Eva’s skills at acting bored all the time, and dear, poor Bernhard’s bad luck make this a film to see and worthy of is award nominations, including best film, screenplay, direction, actor and actress. However, Segerstrom was the only one to walk away with the Swedish equivalent of the Oscar, the Guldbagge.

Stephanie Dickrell

STARRING: Xenia Rappoport (Irena)
DIRECTED BY: Giuseppe Tornatore
PLAYING AT: April 27, 1:45 p.m.; April 30, 7 p.m., St. Anthony Main Theater.

A&E Rating: 4/5 stars

“La Sconosciuta” (The Unknown Woman) tells the enchantingly horrific story of Irena (Xenia Rappoport), a Ukrainian woman who forces her way into a family of Italian jewelers to try and piece her past together.

The 2006 Giuseppe Tornatore film is fascinating from start to finish. From the opening second of the movie, string crescendos trouble the environment.

Rappoport’s work as a housekeeper is framed as a series of dreadful flashbacks. The film’s strong point is its artful use of vague images and dialogue that refuses to reveal Irena’s underlying intention. She delivers a haunting performance that induces laughter, chills and weeping.

The direction and lighting are executed perfectly, both subtle and effective in the portrayal of the human balance between charm and deception.

John Sand