We might say that in constructing his tale of cruel adolescence and cultural identity, first-time Kyrgyzstani feature-maker Aktan Abdykalykov walks a thin line between making a movie about a village outsider and making an outsider’s film. Amid all the stunning images – predominantly of silky black and white, with the occasional, logical spasm of color – he seems to have assumed an alien’s view of what happens to his alienated foundling...Around this lack of familiarity swirls a vague suggestion of contempt. At the same time, "The Adopted Son" or "Beshkempir" (which means five grandmothers, because that’s who adopts the boy in the movie’s opening ritual) is a gorgeous visual achievement, a large-hearted film – and as good a portrait of adolescent maleness and its attendant peculiarities as any movie since "Stand By Me." (John Anderson, Newsday) Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
At first glance, "Limbo" seems to be precisely the kind of ferociously independent and passionately original film one would expect from the reigning king of independent cinema, John Sayles. In the tradition of "City of Hope," "Passion Fish," "Lone Star," "The Secret of Roan Inish" and "Men With Guns", the director's latest is yet another unconventional character study set in an exotic, distinctive locale--in this case a remote, pastoral Alaskan settlement. Similarities to Sayles' previous efforts, however, abruptly end there. For "Limbo" takes added risks that may surprise even the most ardent Sayles admirers--risks that demand as much of the audience as the audience is likely to demand of the film. For the better part of its first half, "Limbo" is a straightforward ensemble piece, painting a portrait of a rural village struggling to find middle ground between the economic need for change and the fervent desire of its citizens to keep things as they've always been. As the story progresses, three players emerge more forcefully and drive "Limbo" to its powerful, provocative conclusion. (Wade Major) Official Selection, 1999 Cannes Film Festival.
Palindrome, n.: word, verse, sentence, etc., that reads the same backward as forward (e.g., madam, radar)... There is a certain kind of mind that enjoys difficulties. It is not enough to reach the objective; one must do it in a certain way. We begin by not stepping on the cracks in the sidewalk. Some never stop. Ernest Wright wrote an entire novel without using the letter "e." Hitchcock made a film without a single visible edit. There are paintings made of dots, piano compositions for one hand, and now here is a strange and haunting movie that wants to be a palindrome. "Lovers of the Arctic Circle" tells the story of Ana and Otto, whose names are palindromes, and whose lives seemed governed by circular patterns. Events at the beginning are related to events at the end. The movie is about love--or, rather, about their grand ideas of romance. It is comforting to think that we can love so powerfully that fate itself wheels and turns at the command of our souls. (Roger Ebert)
"I Stand Alone" is the story of a retired horsemeat butcher who hopes to rebuild a new life with his pregnant lover. But when his hopes turn into bitterness violence explodes. While popular tastes have crowned the anti-cinematic juggernaut that is "The Blair Witch Project" as the most disturbing film of the year, I would disagree and give that honor to Gaspar Noe’s "I Stand Alone." It’s a film that uses an overwhelming interior voice ("like a tornado," Noe explains, "inside the head of a psychopath") that is reminiscent of the writings of L.F. Celine – it transports you into somebody else’s horrifying and existential hell. And what, I ask you, could be worse than being stuck inside the head of, among other things, a racist? Whereas "The Blair Witch Project" gets its strength from a sense of immediacy, something that television has made popular and accessible, "I Stand Alone" dares the viewer to turn away by constantly challenging its audience with Godardian bravado at every corner – it is the exact opposite of television. It is also influenced by Pasolini, Scorsese, Peckinpah, Boorman, Tsukamoto, and Argento, and it ambitiously taps into all that is furious, raw, and cinematic. Those who can stand it won’t soon forget it. (Pablo Kjolseth, IFS Director) Screened in conjunction with FACSEA’s TOURNEE program.
The "2000 SEEN BY..." series presents seven independent filmmakers who each represent seven different countries and seven different perspectives on the issue of what will happen when we enter the next millennium – be it the second coming, the end of the world, or an unlikely romantic encounter that cuts across social boundaries. IFS kicks off this series with "The Book of Life," directed by Hal Hartley ("Henry Fool"). In this darkly comic retelling of the Apocalypse, Jesus (Martin Donovan) arrives at JFK airport with his intriguing assistant, Magdalena (PJ Harvey). While the world ponders the meaning of this second coming, Jesus battles the Devil for human souls, risks the wrath of God, and struggles with himself over whether these lives are worth saving. US, 1998. Color, in English. 63 mins., 35mm. Unrated. The second film is directed by Alain Berliner ("Ma vie en Rose") and involves a comic allegory set in a food stall in Brussels, where the enterprising and romantic Albert sells french fries served with fortune-cookie messages who is horrified to find his shop cut in two by an impenetrable wall – with Albert trapped on the Flemish side.
"The Celluloid Closet'' was directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, who won Oscars for their two previous gay-themed docs, ``The Life of Harvey Milk'' and ``Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt''; their track record encourages their interview subjects to open up. Playwright and actor Harvey Fierstein recalls that when he was young he always liked the ``sissies'' in the movies, and Lily Tomlin, narrating a montage that shows how very many sissies there were (from Peter Lorre to Anthony Perkins), says sissies made the other characters seem ``more manly or more womanly, by filling the space in between.'' ``The Celluloid Closet'' surveys movies from the earliest times to the present, showing characters who were gay even though the movies pretended not to know (Marlene Dietrich in trousers in the 1930 film ``Morocco,'' for example, or a musical number named ``Ain't There Anyone Here for Love?'' in 1953's ``Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,'' in which Jane Russell dances smolderingly through a gym where the body-builders studiously ignore her). It gives full due to the ground-breaking 1970 movie ``The Boys in the Band'' and such recent films as ``Philadelphia.'' (Roger Ebert)
Elodie Bouchez plays Isa, a twenty-year old French girl with wide-open eyes and a heart to match. She's trying to get by as best as she can, travelling from town to town with nothing more than her backpack and a vague but sturdy sense of hope. This burnished optimism is dimmed somewhat when she lands in Lille, and can only find work in a garment plant. In the few hours between the time she's hired and then fired, she meets Marie (Natacha Regnier). Marie is far more jaded, but she can't resist Isa, who possesses the tail-waggish appeal of a newborn puppy. The two leads have attracted a great deal of notice at the European film festivals, including a shared Best Actress award at Cannes. The attention is warranted; under director Erick Zonca's sensitive direction, they've fleshed out portraits of a depth rarely seen on screen... Zonca has created a miniature realm -- recreated, perhaps, since every mundane detail is so real it feels lifted from someone's life -- any sane person would attempt to escape. Not because of any direct menace; the threat of this suffocated, lower-class life is more abstract. It's an unlovely place, to be sure. But in an enervated atmosphere, Bouchez and Regnier have sparked a nearly blinding light of pure beauty. (Elizabeth Weitzman, Film Comment)
A beautifully directed film from China, with a style true to its mother country's aesthetic traditions, East Palace, West Palace nevertheless created a firestorm after being chosen for inclusion in the '97 Cannes "Un Certain Regard" competition. A furious Chinese government revoked director Zhang Yuan's passport, and pulled fellow director Zhang Yimou's Keep Cool from the event. Zhang Yuan is no stranger to obstacles, however. Since 1994, he's been on a blacklist of directors whom no one is to supply with equipment or support in any way (he responded by marching into Tianamen Square with a 35mm camera, making the documentary The Square), and while he continues to live and make films in China, he somehow manages to get footage of his films outside the country. His direction of Cu Jian's Wild in the Snow won the Best Asian Video at the '91 MTV Awards, and in 1994 Time magazine selected him among the "100 young world leaders for the next century". East Palace, West Palace is a remarkable and brave film which spirals around the overnight interrogation that follows the arrest of a young man in Beijing's Forbidden City.
In his 50th film, Chabrol borrows a little from his idol Alfred Hitchcock, pays homage to his fellow cinematic revolutionists Francois Truffaut and Louis Malle, and even swipes a little from the new kids on the block like Quentin Tarantino. Refusing to be just another who's-conning-who thriller, The Swindle smartly combines a comic twinge and film noir sensibility to play out an uncertain relationship between aging con-man Victor (Michel Serrault), 40something seductress Betty (Isabelle Huppert) and her would-be lover Maurice (Francois Cluzet). When hotel convention con-artists Victor and Betty come across an unexpectedly big score, they find that the road to the easy life is not without its share of distrust and faltering allegiances. The highlights: Huppert and Serrault, two of France's most renowned stars, are great together; and Jean-Francois Balmer as Monsieur K is the most entertaining psychopath I've seen since Man Bites Dog. Chabrol's prowess as a veteran writer-director is obvious, as he breathes new life into a re-hashed premise. (Brian Sites, Rough Cut)
Winner of seven Goya Awards (Spanish Oscars), this sophomore feature by Amenábar is a deeply complex psychological mind warp of a film that begs to be viewed more than once, if only to unpeel the multiple layers of meaning that drench every scene like the webbing surrounding an arachnid's lunchtime fix. To say that this is a "thriller" hardly does Amenábar or his cast justice; Open Your Eyes is a brilliant puzzlebox caught on celluloid, beautiful to look at but difficult to figure out. Amenábar combines elements of science fiction, horror, and German Expressionism with the more traditional elements of a love story and Hitchcockian "wrong man" turns, and then somehow manages to make it all fit into a skewed sort of logic. You may not get it at first, but the effort is well worth it when you do. Eduardo Noriega plays César, a wealthy young Madrid gadabout who values his looks and his libido above all else. (Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle)
The term 'once-off show' takes on special meaning when applied to musicians 70 and older. And when these singers and players are some of the last great practitioners of their style, all records of that performance have a poignancy that commands attention from even marginal fans. This, in part, explains the success of the 1997 Buena Vista Social Club album. Assembled by American guitarist Ry Cooder, it was a sampler of newly recorded son and bolero classics by Cuban stars who became famous in the Forties and Fifties while playing in the legendary Havana night club of the title. Improbably, BVSC became a huge international hit, turning millions on to near-forgotten Latin-Caribbean musical forms. The CD's robust sales led to the ultimate triumph for the performers: sold-out shows in Amsterdam, followed by New York's Carnegie Hall. Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire; Paris, Texas; Kings of the Road) gives us ample footage from those shows in his low-key documentary, but Buena Vista Social Club is obviously intended less as a concert film than as a set of cinematic liner notes about the vanishing musical culture. (Russell Smith, Austin Chronicle)
This landmark film is a loose retelling of the Oresteia cycle of tragedies by Aeschylus. Betrayal, revenge and redemption are only part of the story. It takes place in Greece between 1936 and 1952, years filled with fascist dictatorship, war, Axis occupation, civil war and repression. Greece's traumatic history is seen through the eyes of a traveling company of actors, who travel all around provincial towns to perform a single play: "Golfo", a pastoral tragedy told in folk-song-inspired rhyming couplets. This is not a movie for action-loving, short-attention-span viewers. Theo Angelopoulos and long-time collaborator, renowned cinematographer Yorgos Arvanitis, have developed a very distinctive style, and "The Travelling Players" is an uncompromising example. There are no close-ups, very little panning, some slow tracking; shots are long (both in point of view and time); almost every shot is filmed in overcast conditions; actors are dwarfed by their surroundings, which are all unglamorous, even depressing in their wartime run-down look. One could say that the purpose is to accentuate the tragic, the sense that the characters are cogs in the machine of history. The result is both haunting and lyrical. (Yorgos Papatheodorou)
The "2000 SEEN BY..." series presents seven independent filmmakers who each represent seven different countries and seven different perspectives on the issue of what will happen when we enter the next millennium – be it the second coming, the end of the world, or an unlikely romantic encounter that cuts across social boundaries. "The Sanguinares" is the first feature film by Laurent Cantet, a prize-winning short film director. The story: To escape the global hysteria and the final countdown to the new millennium, a group of friends decide to flee Paris and exile themselves on a remote Mediterranean island called "The Sanguinaires." France, 1997. Color, in French with English subtitles. 68 mins., 35mm, unrated. Director Abderrahmane Sissako’s work has covered fiction, documentary, the political, the poetic, and presents one of the strongest and most candid views of the African continent in years. Story: On the eve of the year 1000, Sissako goes home to visit his father in a small village in Mali, where he films stunning landscapes and encounters a young woman.
This unique documentary comes off as a They Shoot Horses, Don't They? for the late 1990s. The marathon contest here is not as spectacular as the Depression dance of that classic film and novel, but it ends up being just as devastating to the contestants who inevitably fail as their talent for endurance is tested. Just as They Shoot Horses gradually turned into a microcosm of life's occasional triumphs and more common defeats, so does Hands on a Hard Body become, in its final scenes, a surprisingly touching tale of dreams and hopes demolished for the simplest of reasons: There can be only one winner. The opening scenes couldn't be more mundane. Indeed, the basis for the drama seems absurd: 24people are selected to compete for a brand-new, 15,000 Nissan pickup truck in Longview, Texas. All will try to keep their hands on the truck for as long as possible. The last person standing, with at least one hand on the pickup, gets to drive away with it. "It's gonna come down to whoever loses their mind," says one commentator. The filmmakers can't know the outcome, so neither can we. Hands on a Hard Body never functions like a fiction film. After a certain point, you can't stop watching. (John Hartl, Film.com)
It's interesting to note that Greek director Angelopoulos had originally intended casting Marcello Mastroianni as the central figure in his new film, Eternity and a Day, a role that instead went to German actor Bruno Ganz. Had Mastroianni lived long enough to play the part, he would have brought to the film the same great comic sadness that he offered in all of his pictures, particularly those by Federico Fellini. With Ganz in the center ring, Western audiences will mostly refer to one or two of the actor's previous pictures by director Wim Wenders, most notably Wings Of Desire, in which Ganz plays an angel, Damiel, who desires to be human. This is not so dissimilar to the part he plays here as Alexander, a weary, aged scholar who recognizes that his imminent trip to the hospital will be his last. The difference is that the angel Damiel has never been allowed access to the playground, whereas Alexander never fully committed himself to living. Both films are about souls in exile. Alexander seeks redemption, salvation, some kind of justification for his long life. In the wake of The Phantom Menace, so too does the cinema, and Angelopoulos offers a kind of esthetic redemption in his sad and beautiful ghost story. (Henry Cabot Beck) Winner of Palme D’Or at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.
Although The Blair Witch Project does not represent the first time that a faux-documentary style has been employed by the horror genre, it does represent the first time that it has succeeded on such a large commercial scale. It also marks the first time that the internet has been a key and creative player in the promotion of a film (www.blairwitch.com). The two young minds (Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanches) behind the Blair Witch took early remembered thrills watching Leonard Nimoy’s "In Search of..." program and wed this to the creation of their own myth, which has enjoyed an organic life of its own (not to mention an impending franchise). The result was a stratospheric and jaw-dropping rise of an independent film that cost $40,000, and which has now earned well past $100 million. Much has also been made of the "behind-the-scenes" technique that added to the feeling of authenticity. Also worth noting is how The Blair Witch Project is making news as a film that has crowds barfing in the aisles. Not because "it’s the scariest movie of the year," as so many critics keep saying, but because of motion sickness suffered by those who can’t quite adjust to the amateur handheld camera style. If you are such a viewer, we here at IFS kindly ask that you do not sit close to the screen but, rather, toward the back (and close to the exits).