New Directors/New Films

Vodka Lemon
April 1 through 3

With a wry pH balance between Kaurismäki and Paradjanov, this Armenian comedy about a post-Soviet mountain village, its boondocks cemetery, its single bus, and two sexagenarians finding love in the ruins is a wonder, filthy with eccentric images, unpredictable relationships, and an acerbic but generous view of life on the pauperized edge of nowhere. Paris-based Kurdish filmmaker Hiner Saleem has the visual confidence and subtle screwball rhythms of a master. MICHAEL ATKINSON


Balancing act: The magical Kounandi
photo: FSLC
Balancing act: The magical Kounandi

Checkpoint
April 1 and 3

The emblematic tableau of post-industrial social control, the racial-screen checkpoint, finds its perfected embodiment in Israel, where Yoav Shamir casts a gimlet eye on the Gaza Strip and West Bank spots where Palestinians are subjected to quasi-fascist segregation. It's Kafkaesque bureaucracy meets martial law, where one hour you're allowed to go to work, the next you're not allowed to go home, and toddlers stand sobbing in the rain. Shamir remains largely a mute offscreen presence, but both the soldiers and the humiliated Arabs seem relieved to have their absurd struggle documented. A knockout, and unsurprisingly, no U.S. distributor. M.A.


Le Monde Vivant
April 2 and 4

Perfection. Eugène Green's Christian allegory, a knight's tale performed in modern dress, features a goldilocks damsel, an ogre, an enchanted forest, and a lion played by a golden retriever. Part C.S. Lewis, part Robert Bresson, this stylistically ascetic production addresses such weighty religious issues as fidelity, honor, and resurrection with the gentle touch of a children's storybook. And is that . . . why, if it isn't Balthazar! DAVID NG


Control Room
April 2 and 4

Despite its adherence to the fairness doctrine, Jehane Noujaim's network news exposé catalogs countless distinctions between last year's coverage of the Iraq war's victims and the coalition's "victory" by Al Jazeera and CNN/NBC/ABC/E!, shrewdly exposing the myth of journalistic impartiality during wartime. Noujaim (who co-directed Startup.com) secures amazing access to both the Arab independent news network and to Central Command, which conveniently includes the United States' major Middle East military base and its major TV news outlets under the same gigantic roof. A Magnolia release. ROB NELSON


Kounandi
April 3 and 4

The protagonist of this magical short feature from Burkina Faso is an orphaned dwarf. Thrown out by her abusive adopted father and rejected by nearly everyone in the village, Kounandi is befriended by a kind young man afflicted with a shrewish wife. Director Apolline Traore conjures a startling climax. Her absorbing account of the transformative power of love is handled with sweetness and simplicity. One of the finest African films in recent years. ELLIOTT STEIN


Berlin Blues
April 3 and 4

Leander Haussmann's formulaic romantic comedy is set in 1989 Kreuzberg, "West Berlin's answer to the Lower East Side." A mild-mannered bartender loves and spars with the prettiest young chef in this slacker bohemia. Cute gags get shuffled in along with dull stretches, but fortunately the leads are supported by a gaggle of exuberant and simpatico second bananas. E.S.

 
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