Film

The Next Director: Ulrich Seidl
(BAMcinématek, October 17 through 20)

If Ulrich Seidl is some kind of cinematic master, then his quotidian subjects are certainly slaves. Austria's second-most notorious reprobate explodes the tension between documentation and staging. But where Michael Haneke uses humiliation to make audiences complicit in cinematic violence, documentarian Seidl focuses on antisocial obsessives searching for love in all the wrong places, assembling slight storylines from hundreds of hours of footage. In Models, he dives into the milieu of coke-snorting, reed-thin fashion divas. In Animal Love, a grotesque collection of fringe-dwelling pet enthusiasts let Seidl film them, Diane Arbus-style, in situations bordering on bestiality. Isolation is preferred: When two dog-walkers meet, one canine attacks the other. In his first fiction film, Dog Days, a painstakingly perverse panoply of misogynistic behavior in a Vienna suburb, people treat fellow humans in ways they would never dare treat their pets. —Mark Peranson

The Business of Fancydancing
Directed by Sherman Alexie (Outrider, opens October 18)

"I'm the affirmative-action poet. They have to let some brown man rail against the injustices in the world," Seymour Polatkin (Evan Adams) smugly remarks in writer Sherman Alexie's directorial debut. Living with his OB-GYN boyfriend in Seattle, where he's feted at bookstores, Seymour returns to the Spokane Indian Reservation after a 16-year absence for a friend's funeral. The predictable conflicts ensue, often in histrionic dialogue declaimed through clenched teeth. Seymour's erstwhile best friend disdains him for his blind ambition and coziness in the white man's world; Seymour says the rez is a prison. Not much in Fancydancing contradicts his view, what with the consumption of rubbing alcohol and gas huffing—scenes of abjection that have provided the fodder for his poems. —Melissa Anderson

The Grey Zone
Directed by Tim Blake Nelson (Lions Gate, opens October 18)

"No poetry after Auschwitz," Theodor Adorno proclaimed. One sometimes wishes he'd added, "And no big-name cinema either." Tim Blake Nelson's new film was inspired by a chapter in Primo Levi's The Drowned and the Saved describing the Sonderkommandos, crews of Jewish inmates at Auschwitz who did the dirty work of collecting corpses and burning them, purchasing a brief reprieve from death. Many chose suicide; a mere handful survived. Their story is told, unforgettably, in Claude Lanzmann's Shoah. In Nelson's version, David Arquette and Steve Buscemi play Hungarian Jews who mount an armed revolt. The film mixes historical fact (two Sonderkommandos did blow up a crematorium) and theatrical posturing. Re-creating Auschwitz somehow domesticates it; the smokestacks look like pieces from an infernal Monopoly board, while the extras appear suspiciously well-fed. And no actor has ever matched the chilling testimony of the men in Shoah, who knew hell and survived it. —Leslie Camhi

The Debut
Directed by Gene Cajayon (5 Card, opens October 18)

Despite a scratch DJ spinning at the titular coming-out party, the overall vibe of The Debutis straight-up '80s: John Hughes's teen-love gazes and S.E. Hinton's class anxiety. No big surprise—this tale of SoCal Filipino teenage immigrant struggle has been through years of rewrites since director Gene Cajayon came up with the concept in 1992. Completed in 2000, the film has a sweet low-budget quality that sometimes slips into TV-movie schmaltz. High school senior Ben (played with convincing ambivalence by Danté Basco) lives in two worlds, bristling even when his white friends seem to like and enjoy his family. Ben's warm, tousling relationship with his sister, who maintains a closer link to the community and its traditions, drives the film. —Laura Sinagra

On Guard
Directed by Philippe de Broca (Empire, opens October 18)

A Classics Illustrated mediocrity handicapped stateside by ignorance of the classic in question (Paul Féval's 1857 serial adventure Le Bossu), Philippe de Broca's dress-up romp is as familiar and cozy as plumed hats and musketeer tunics. The French have yet to tire of the pre-Revolutionary swashbuckler as we have grown weary of westerns, and de Broca's efficient fencing-mania melodrama brings little that's original to the table. The story follows a young swordsman (the not at all young Daniel Auteuil) as he befriends a hedonistic duke (Vincent Perez) and then rescues the man's orphaned daughter. The cast has a high time, but de Broca has little enthusiasm for such antique pulp. —Michael Atkinson

Blink of an Eye
Directed by Van Fischer (Through October 22, at Anthology)

Today's tip for the sullen inmate: If you're in prison, it's best to stay there. 'Cause if you don't, as Blink of an Eyemakes clear, you're fucked. Reintegration into society triggers painful, Metallica-video-esque flashbacks of your abusive father. Worse, you'll be forced into heated confrontations with young gangbanger co-workers chillingly akin to acting-class exercises. Expect further harassment from your shady former employer, a sleazy cripple resembling character actor Richard Sarafian. These undesirables poison any chance at happiness offered by your lovely new paramour. Outside the safety of your cell, a vicious world of cliché lies in wait to claim you. —Nick Rutigliano

Comedian
Directed by Christian Charles (Miramax)

Part Inside the Comic's Studio, part Existential Crises of the Rich and Famous, this all-access video contemplates the ironies of Jerry Seinfeld's what-next dilemma. The comic icon of the 1990s jettisons the material he's been stockpiling for two decades and hones his all-new (but conspicuously same-as-the-old) act at open-mike nights across the country, his tour of duty eased by private jet and ample audience goodwill. Seinfeld's cool professionalism is almost cruelly juxtaposed with the tortured narcissism of heel-nipping tyro Orny Adams, who illustrates the mirror-image view from below. Comedy is pain, whether you're top- or underdog. In a redemptive ending that Seinfeld (or at least Larry David) would have mocked, Bill Cosby shows up in time to remind Jerry what it's all about. —Dennis Lim

 
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