In This World

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

March 25 and 26

This comedy of hanging out by first-time Mexican director Fernando Eimbcke is a kind of Cat in the Hat without the cat. The action is confined to a high-rise apartment where a couple of teenage boys have been left to spend their Saturday alone. They drink Coke, play Slayer, and send out for pizza. The delivery guy stays and a neighbor girl, left alone on her birthday, drops by to bake hash brownies. Like the power that flickers on and off, this slight conceit is intermittent in its humor—but it's consistently well acted, especially by the kids. J. HOBERMAN

March 26 and 27

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


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

Set against Argentina's financial meltdown, first-timer Jorge Gaggero's delicate dissection of a mistress-maid dynamic recalls the push-pull between Lana Turner and Juanita Moore in Imitation of Life. Beba, a boozy middle-aged failed entrepreneur, owes Dora, her employee of 30 years, seven months of back pay. Stoic but not masochistic, Dora terminates the dysfunctional relationship. Like the aftermath of all breakups, this one is filled with anger, remorse, and a wistful longing for the other's presence. Norma Aleandro as la señora and Norma Argentina as the hired help ensure that the film never becomes an apologia for bourgie bad behavior. ANDERSON

March 26 and 27

Stunned to have ceded their long-held championship title to Team Canada, the wounded men of the U.S. Paralympics rugby squad vow to "reclaim what's ours"—sans helmets, yet. One of the gung ho murderballers even becomes a recruiter for the payback mission, though the obvious allegory seems to escape the two documentarians, who strap cameras to the wheelchairs, sync up raucous speed metal for the head-on collisions, and keep the blood pumping all the way to the climactic "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" chant. An able-bodied female lover is acknowledged for her "mothering instinct"; box office victory appears assured. A THINKFilm release. ROB NELSON

March 26 and 27

The dead return to life, drifting dazed down Main Street, in Robin Campillo's avant zombie flick, set in a part of France that suggests a well-manicured industrial park. The premise may be extreme but the movie is purposefully dry and even feels slightly sedated. Campillo, who co-wrote Laurent Cantet's Time Out, introduces all manner of emotional content, as well as social and economic problems. Still, They Came Back suffers from long-winded earnestness and, despite some poetic conceits, its allegory ultimately doesn't parse. HOBERMAN

March 27 and 28

Hubert Sauper's staggering documentary is essential viewing on the survival of two ruthlessly fittest species: the Nile perch, which quickly annihilated almost all other fish life in Tanzania's Lake Victoria after its artificial introduction in the '60s, and the omnivorous beast known as winner-take-all global capitalism. Cargo planes descend on the region with weaponry—apparently to restock nearby civil wars—and leave for Europe with loads of Nile perch while the AIDS-racked local population hovers on the brink of starvation. Sauper's stoically despondent film leaves little doubt that globalization's losers are slaves by any other name. WINTER

March 27 and 28

Andrea and Antonio Frazzi are hardly new directors—they've been making Italian TV for more than 20 years. In any case, this nasty but unoriginal entry in the inner-city-kids-slide-into-crime subgenre is flashy, stereotype-crazy, and full of cheapjack ideas—the opening scene in which Neapolitan slum kids dare each other to run across a busy highway might be harrowingly shot but is still a screenwriter's slack inspiration. Los Olvidados or Pixote or City of God this is not, despite the junkyards, child prostitution, and kids-with-guns confrontationalism. Still, the Frazzis are good at finding unorthodox intimacies—a silent moment around a shared cigarette lingers after the rest is forgotten. ATKINSON

March 28 and 29

Produced by Polish veteran Krzysztof Zanussi, Magdalena Piekorz's melodrama opens with a convincing thumbnail sketch of child abuse: In a bleak, nearly monochrome '80s Poland, young Wojciech lives with a father who vacillates between abrupt physical violence and awkward compensatory bonding. Marred by shaky performances and reductive psychology, the second half reveals that Wojciech, now a thirtyish journalist and avid spelunker, has to some extent become the man he ran away from—and is finally ready to be saved by the redemptive love of an inexplicably adoring woman. LIM

March 28 and April 2

Anybody expecting a blast of the reggaetón that's blowing up the I-95 corridor won't find it here. But this look at a group of Cuban underground rappers nicely complements the 2003 raft refugee chronicle Balseros. Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden's doc tells a story of black musicians struggling with a racial gap that, as one commentator notes, is wider now than at any time since the revolution. These conscious lyricists long to join a global artistic (and anti-Bush) community but are stymied by a bureaucratized Culture Ministry that views rap as a domestic threat. SINAGRA

March 29 and 30

Norwegian director Mona J. Hoel treats us to full-immersion Euro-misery in this determinedly bleak comedy. Set in a suburban hellhole of garish strip malls and fugly high-rises, the movie is structured around a daisy chain of family dysfunction that includes a pregnant housewife, her drug-peddling monster-in-law, the teen junkie who can't kick the habit, and the in-denial mother who obsessively scrubs her apartment with the titular cleaning agents. The caffeinated performances keep things brisk and unhinged until the atrocious finale douses it all in syrup. NG

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