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The Wall / The First Night of My Life

It's no surprise that every film in the "2000 Seen by . . . " series— eve-of-millennium stories commissioned by French television— uses anxiety as its starting point. Of the bunch, Tsai Ming-liang's The Hole has a wit, nerve, and poignant despair that puts it in a class of its own, but this double bill, which screens at Cinema Village for a week alongside The Hole (another four films can be seen next week), is a breezily enjoyable alternative.

Of these two hour-long works, Alain Berliner's The Wall is the more ambitious. An outlandish vision of fissure set against a political landscape of supposedly dissolving borders, the movie amplifies the tensions between the French- and Flemish-speaking halves of Belgium, bringing events to a head with a whopping dose of surrealism. At the literal and figurative heart of the dispute is portly, mild-mannered Albert (Daniel Hanssens), who hails from the francophone north, but whose chips stand is positioned smack-dab on the linguistic border. After an all-night party in the south, Albert wakes to find the country (and his stall) split in two by a massive, Berlin-ish wall, erected overnight by a government that's suddenly devolved into a nightmarish bureaucracy with vaguely fascist leanings.

Berliner, who previously directed Ma Vie en rose, indulges his taste for whimsy with a sweetly daffy Romeo and Juliet scenario, pairing Albert with a newly forbidden Flemish love. Essentially a simplistic cautionary allegory, The Wall benefits enormously from its playful streak— it's cartoon Kafka, with more bite than that implies.

Details

The Wall
Directed by Alain Berliner

The First Night of My Life
Directed by Miguel Albaladejo
At Cinema Village
March 12 through 18

A loose yet neatly interlocking ensemble piece, The First Night of My Life is a welcome antidote to the shrill and fatuous 200 Cigarettes— it's a New Year's Eve ramble that actually ends up somewhere. Setting most of the action in the shantytown outskirts of Madrid ("the butt-end of nowhere," as someone delicately puts it), first-time director Miguel Albaladejo skillfully maneuvers his hapless characters— including a pregnant woman, her social-worker husband, her disapproving father, an inept carjacker, and assorted lost souls— and the contrivances that bring them together or keep them apart over the course of a night. It all goes a little soft eventually, but throughout, there's a warmth and social awareness that keep the film afloat.

 
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