The Parent Trap

Secret Défense—which can be translated as "Top Secret"—is a mystery made of long takes and empty spaces in which duration and distance exert their own irrational fascination. Hermetic and somewhat opaque, this perfectly symmetrical tragedy is not for every taste. For those willing to enter the Rivette zone, however, it's a chess puzzle devised by a grand master.

image Larger and more inclusive each year, the Margaret Mead Film & Video Festival continues through Saturday, giving a local showcase to a number of documentaries that have been circulating on the international film circuit.

Crazy English! (Wednesday night), by Chinese independent filmmaker Zhang Yuan, is an unforgettable portrait of the motivational speaker Li Yang, whose enormously popular stadium events are patriotic pep rallies devoted to English-language instruction, or rather the mass chanting of key American phrases ("I made it!" "No problem!" "Sure!"). To an outsider, the spectacle has intimations of the post–World War II Melanesian cargo cults. But Li is not only a parody American go-getter, he seems to have telescoped the last century of Chinese history, harnessing his own sense of cultural inferiority to invent a mock Maoist revolution predicated on the power of positive thinking. A great performer, Li is rivaled only by the hyperkinetic subject of Louis Prima: The Wildest (Wednesday and Friday nights), Don McGlynn's totally uncritical paean to the resilient and once-again-popular Dixieland–big band–r&b–Vegas–Jungle Book–Gap-commercial star—totem or fetish?—whom someone calls "the Mount Rushmore of Italians."

Rain in spain: Roth and Eloy AzorÍn in All About My Mother
photo:Teresa Isas
Rain in spain: Roth and Eloy AzorÍn in All About My Mother

Details

All About My Mother
Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar
A Sony Pictures Classics release
Opens November 19

Secret Défense
Directed by Jacques Rivette
Written by Rivette, Pascal Bonitzer, and Emmanuelle Cuau
At Anthology Film Archives
November 19 through December 2

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The festival closes Saturday night with the world premiere of Arlene Donnelly's Naked States, a documentary on Spencer Tunick and his notorious mass nude photo-ops. Ostensibly the climax to the Mead's body-art sidebar, Naked States shows Tunick traveling cross-country organizing his events. The movie thus has the effect of passing ethnographic judgment on America itself—as refracted through the lens of Tunick's expectations ("the biggest surprise about Fargo was how easy it was to get models there"), his difficulties with California nudists, and the happy ending of a CNN interview.

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