Global dreamtime

Four films of interest from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival's first week

For North Americans who lived through the 1970s and 1980s, the wars and coups that tore apart Central and South America seemed far away and slightly unreal. From the long-term civil wars in Guatemala, Colombia and El Salvador to former President Ronald Reagan’s terrorist army in Nicaragua, much of the hemisphere was awash in blood and fascism.

“Machuca” tells the story of one of those conflicts – the 1973 CIA-backed coup in Chile – from the perspective of two preteen boys. Gonzalo Infante comes from an upper-middle class family. Pedro Machuca, who comes to Gonzalo’s exclusive prep school as a scholarship student, lives in a shanty town and works selling flags to both left- and right-wing protesters.

Unlike many similar coming-of-age films that play around with politics, “Machuca” doesn’t pull any punches. Social upheaval is matched by family dysfunction, and none of the characters escapes unscathed.

“Machuca” remembers a horrific episode in Chilean history, but it does so with poignancy and a hope for better things to come. (Niels Strandskov)

“Cool!” is the final film from controversial Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. He was killed in 2004 by a Muslim extremist, apparently because of the way the director portrayed Islam in his movies.

His death was unfortunate, because, while controversial, van Gogh’s interest in Islam seemed genuine.

“Cool!” doesn’t focus on religion, but it does follow a group of young Arab immigrants as they struggle with gang culture in the Netherlands.

The film is all over the place in terms of its overall message, but van Gogh succeeds in sparking an interesting discussion on race, alienation and youth culture in Northern Europe.

After the film’s group of small-time thugs ends up at an experimental correctional facility, they begin to question their lifestyle. But they also see firsthand the state’s problematic response to youth disenfranchisement.

While the story of “Cool!” doesn’t totally hold together – its tragic, Shakespearian ending is a bit forced – the film’s depiction of young hip-hop-obsessed hoodlums is original and striking. (Tom Horgen)

Most U.S. moviegoers don’t know it, but there are only a few real film industries left in the world. Outside the strong movie scenes in India, China and a few other countries, Hollywood films have been smothering foreign cinemas for years.

This stranglehold is making it hard for filmmakers, such as Benoit Jacquot, a modern master, to get noticed in their own countries, much less in the United States.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival has put together a tribute series for the French director, which highlights a career overshadowed by Hollywood’s global expansion.

“A Single Girl” is one of Jacquot’s best films. But with its experimental style, it’s easy to see why the director would get pushed aside for Hollywood fluffery.

Shot in real time, “A Single Girl” depicts a morning in the life of a beautiful young woman named Valerie. On this day, she tells her boyfriend she’s pregnant over coffee and then reports to a swank hotel for her first day as a room service waitress.

For 90 minutes, we watch her walk to work, change clothes, deliver continental breakfasts and take smoke breaks.

It might seem as if nothing happens in this movie. But something does. Life happens.

And while Valerie’s life might not be that exciting, it’s funny how days after seeing the movie, you’ll still be thinking about the way she put bread baskets together. Now, that’s master filmmaking. (Tom Horgen)

Few films defy description. Most of the time, genre, plot and cinematography stake out a familiar place in our imaginations and go from there. Every so often, however, a film such as “McDull, Prince de la Bun” comes along and shatters the mundane distinctions of everyday cinema.

The narrative of this bizarre example of Hong Kong animation twists back on itself multiple times. The visual style varies from video-gamelike computer animation to crudely drawn cartoon pigs. And what kind of genre involves dream sequences shot from the point of view of a quasireal character whose life story gets rewritten every 10 minutes?

The film tells the story of a young pig boy who lives in a rapidly redeveloping Hong Kong with his single mother. As a bedtime story, she tells him a metaphorical story about his father, a prince with a bun for a head, who goes on a quest and winds up stuck in a port city, living a marginal existence as a short-order cook. There’s more to it, of course, but that’s the gist of it, minus all the postmodern stuff.

With its absurd dialogue, Pythonesque animation, unutterable sadness and surreal cityscapes, “McDull, Prince de la Bun” offers something new every minute, despite its recursive and complex narrative structure.

No survey of recent animated films will be considered complete if it does not come to terms with this wonderful masterpiece of the unexpected. (Niels Strandskov)