Directed by Ogawa Shinsuke and Peng Xiaolian
March 31 through April 6, Film Forum

Elegant as a print by Hokusai, Red Persimmons is the fruit of a posthumous collaboration between the late Ogawa Shinsuke and his Chinese disciple Peng Xiaolian, who combined footage shot in 1984-85 with her own additions some 15 years later. Their documentary is a study in local knowledge—the cultivation and harvest of persimmons in tiny Kaminoyama. Highly astringent when picked, these recalcitrant fruits are clipped, sorted, peeled, and left to dry, before being packaged as candy-sweet delicacies. Human industry and ingenuity is the film's true subject. One woman recounts with gratitude how, when she couldn't master her mother-in-law's peeling method, her late husband devised a special knife to save her thumb from being cut repeatedly. The fabrication of a mechanical peeler from bicycle gears forms a separate chapter, with different villagers taking credit for the innovation. The film is a moving revelation of a microcosm soon to vanish. LESLIE CAMHI

Directed by Stephen Chow
Miramax, opens April 2

HK icon Stephen Chow's Shaolin Soccer delivers on its cog-diss title, pitting a group of down-at-the-heels martial arts monks against the pharmaceutically enhanced ball-booters known as Team Evil. Chow sings, sprints, and kicks with boundless energy, but for all his enthusiasm, he keeps his cool. Crammed with wild action, obvious but well-mounted gags, and playful effects, the film is refreshingly silly. Bend it like Stephen! Hopefully this will start a trend of defeated players being forced to wear their opponent's tighty whities on their heads. ED PARK

Written and directed by John Carlos Frey
Abramorama, opens April 2, Village East

Unable to find backing for a project about undocumented Mexicans seeking passage to the U.S., veteran TV bit-player John Carlos Frey produced, wrote, directed, and financed The Gatekeeper himself. Frey plays a bigoted (and secretly half-Mexican) border patrol agent who goes undercover with a group of would-be illegal immigrants to expose the inadequacy of Uncle Sam's defenses against the "Mexican invasion." The DIY approach entails significant limitations, including barely TV-quality visuals and the Seagal-like stiffness of Frey's performance, but the truly hellish portrayal of the workers' post-crossing indentured servitude in a meth lab makes up for a sluggish opening act. JOSHUA LAND

Written and directed by Matthew Ryan Hoge
Paramount Classics, opens April 2

Hoge's wretched debut turns the murder of a retarded child into a wide-eyed meditation on "all the sadness" in the world—the victim is stabbed, but might just as well have been suffocated with the plastic bag from American Beauty. As Ryan Gosling's suburban teen killer scribbles pouty platitudes in his jailhouse journal, his asshole literary-superstar father (Kevin Spacey), opportunistic would-be novelist prison teacher (Don Cheadle), and smacked-up girlfriend, who also happens to be the victim's sister (Jena Malone), sit around asking why. Trick question! Who needs reasons when you have juvenile existential pretensions? The movie's idiotic fascination with the senselessness of its central act is scarily close to a fetish. DENNIS LIM

Directed by Vicente Amorim
Film Movement, opens April 2, Quad

A true Brazilian story of vague human-interest value—an unemployed man bikes with his wife and five children over 3,000 miles to Rio looking for work—gets a heavy-handed treatment. Director Vicente Amorim's dramatic instincts evoke after-school specials (most of the drama entails the clan's brooding teenager chomping at the parental bit), and his visual ideas are restricted to aping City of God's fish-eye ambience and hectic editing. Claudia Abreu, as the tolerant wife, burns through the haze of repetition and obviousness. MICHAEL ATKINSON

April 1 through 11, BAMcinématek

The 12 movies made between 1977 and 2002 by this French photojournalist turned filmmaker have little in common but a straightforward yet contemplative style that recalls early Godard. Whether his subject is a recalcitrant camel (Untouched by the West), a chatty Parisian mental patient (Emergencies), or the somber faces in a crowd observing 10 Minutes of Silence for John Lennon, Depardon stands back and observes and invites us to look and listen just as closely. Although his subjects range from petty criminals and freaked-out addicts to the weathered owners of small family farms, Depardon's dramas are understated. Even in his fiction films, he slows the pace and allows intensity to build quietly, scene by scene. In Untouched by the West, the study of a solitary African hunter, Depardon watches a group of men setting up a fence of netting in the desert but records a performance so artful and lovely it might have been a dance. VINCE ALETTI

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