Leaps of Faith

Unlike Dreyer's Ordet, Holland's movie requires no leap of faith. Nor does it directly address its central conundrum—why did God bother with one small miracle amid the horrific carnage of World War II? If you believe that the question is absurd, the third miracle will have less to do with Father Frank's faith than your own.

SERGEY DVORTSEVOY has made but three short films, but the avant-garde purity of his spare and beautiful ethno-docs has won the 37-year-old onetime Aeroflot radio engineer a substantial European festival reputation. His fixed camera is obviously present, but only rarely unacknowledged. These observational movies exude patience.

The 25-minute Paradise was made in 1995 as Dvortsevoy's diploma film. The filmmaker lived with a family of Kazakh nomads for three and a half months to produce a movie of perhaps a dozen shots. Is the title ironic? A woman bakes bread in an outdoor pit, a baby finishes a bowl of yogurt and starts to cry. A young guy complains. His father fixes a shoe. There's an intimate scene of the woman washing her hair, to the accompaniment of offscreen snoring. Sound is very important and so are animals. The movie's penultimate scene shows a camel screaming as its nose is pierced.

Highway (1999), Dvortsevoy's longest film at 57 minutes, is another family portrait filmed in extremely close quarters against the photogenic emptiness of central Asia. Dvortsevoy tags along with an itinerant circus troupe—mom, dad and their six children. Dad is the ringmaster. The kids do a bit of tumbling and walk barefoot on glass. The oldest picks up a weight in his teeth. Between shows, they catch a baby eagle. As they bump along in their rusty van on the road to Uzbekistan, the eaglet is just a part of the family—like the unseen filmmaker. Highway gives new meaning to the phrase bird's-eye view.



Mr Death A Lions Gate Films release. Now playing in NYC.
The Third miracle A Sony Classics release. Directed by Agnieszka Holland. Now playing in NYC.
Highway and Paradise A First Run/Icarus release. Two films by Sergey Dvortsevoy. At Film Forum, 209 W Houston St, NYC, 212-727-8110, through January 11.

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