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In This World

Rappers in Cuba, pilgrims in Mecca, killer fish in Tanzania, James Carville in Bolivia

THE HERO
March 23 and 24

Like too many African films, and paradoxically so, given the continent's sociopolitical tragedies and unresolved dramas, Zézé Gamboa's debut is a tepid, earnest mediocrity, portraying a post-civil-war Angola with all the zest and eloquence of an after-school special. Tracking the parallel struggles of a one-legged soldier fresh from 20 years of fighting and of a young teen slipping into crime, the movie has social trauma to spare but opts for clichés and received wisdom instead. Even the central gag-issue of a stolen prosthetic leg is treated without wit or imagination. Gamboa admits to creating simplified, well-meaning propaganda to effect "social change" in a devastated region, and here's hoping it does some good in that sense at least. A California Newsreel release. MICHAEL ATKINSON


SEQUINS
March 24 and 26

Stoically despondent: Darwin's Nightmare
photo: FSLC
Stoically despondent: Darwin's Nightmare

Details

New Directors/New Films
March 23 through April 3
MOMA, Alice Tully Hall, Walter Reade

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French director Eléonore Faucher's first feature concerns the uneasy bond between a pregnant teen and her employer, a grieving seamstress whose son has died in a motorbike crash. Art direction trumps plot as we watch the two pore over elaborate embroidery. In this retro milieu, everything is predicated on the color wheel—witness the way young Claire's coronal red frizz sets off her pea green and cornflower sweaters. A late scene involving the swollen girl's fervent riverside fuck with a neighbor provides the only appreciable frisson, but it's a jolting reminder of the film world's dearth of sexualized moms-to-be. A New Yorker release. LAURA SINAGRA


MILA FROM MARS
March 24 and 26

In Sophia Zornitsa's mawkishly miserabilist debut feature, the titular 16-year-old orphaned heroine experiences the kindness of strangers and the power of love. Turned out like a Bulgarian Siouxsie Sioux, Mila flees her abusive boyfriend and takes refuge in a bombed-out burg where nine dotty elders minister to her. She gives birth, suffers postpartum depression, and meets a hunky hermit who teaches her the Four Great Vows. "I want my soul to fly away and breathe some fresh air," the young mother says to her Zen master. The crazy-making score and schematic road to recovery will also leave you gasping for breath. MELISSA ANDERSON


SOMERSAULT
March 24 and 25

Reeling with guilt and shame after she's caught jumping into bed with her mother's boyfriend, Australian teenager Heidi (Abbie Cornish) flees to a dying mountain town, where she jumps into bed with lots of other people. As a semi-vérité sexual odyssey of a young woman in (figurative) mourning for her mother, Cate Shortland's debut recalls Under the Skin, but it pulls too many punches and suffers from what might be diagnosed as the internalized male gaze, especially when Heidi does a provocative dance in her skivvies. A Magnolia release.JESSICA WINTER


OUR BRAND IS CRISIS
March 24 and 26

Director Rachel Boynton gets intimate access to the would-be Neoliberal World Order, filming James Carville and Co. as they take their War Room tactics global. Their services have been retained by Bolivia's Gonzalo "Goni" Sanchez de Lozada, the American-educated former president looking to get back in the game. With reality show gusto, political adman Tad Devine proclaims, "Our brand is 'Crisis.' We must own 'Crisis.' " But after Goni's eked victory, when racial and class upheaval leave scores dead, it's much less clear who owns the responsibility. Boynton includes lots of reflection from Carville associate Jeremy Rosner, whose careful elocutions reveal even more poignantly the thin line between candor and spin. SINAGRA


LE GRAND VOYAGE
March 25 and 26

An elderly French-Moroccan patriarch, determined to make the obligatory hajj to Mecca, commands his teenage son, Reda, to drive him from France to Saudi Arabia. The ensuing cross-continental journey, a more single-minded version of the one in A Talking Picture, contains plenty of educational asides, all directed at poor, callow Reda—every squabble results in the Westernized lad learning that his pious dad is maybe not just a religious nut job. Ismaël Ferroukhi's fest favorite is predictable and cozily feel-good, but the final scenes, shot amid a throng of Mecca pilgrims, have a near hallucinatory charge. A Film Movement release. DENNIS LIM


TWO GREAT SHEEP
March 25 and 27

When a peasant couple in rural China inherit a pair of prized sheep, their simple lives devolve into a series of nonstop crises brought on by the high-maintenance beasts. Liu Hao's neorealist allegory is a slim but potent disquisition on ownership and (appropriately for China) capitalist anxiety. The director frequently films his characters scurrying ant-like across the barren, wind-scarred landscape—a possible nod to Abbas Kiarostami, and a coup for cinematographer Li Bingquiang. DAVID NG


JUNEBUG
March 25 and 27

An estranged son (Alessandro Nivola) returns to his North Carolina family with his gallery owner wife (Embeth Davidtz), who not only has to endure her kooky in-laws but also close a deal with a local outsider artist. The culture clash fault lines are obvious, but director Phil Morrison exercises a strategic restraint and makes the most of a dependable ensemble: Amy Adams won a Sundance prize for portraying a blabbermouthed and very pregnant young wife, while The OC's Ben McKenzie transitions respectably to dysfunctional indie brooding, but it's the least showy performances (Nivola and, as the mom, Celia Weston) that provide the most resonant ambiguities. A Sony Pictures Classics release. LIM


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