Cry Woman, Direct Order, The Lover, Minimal Stories, and Oasis


7 p.m. Wed., May 28 at Pacific Place

1:45 p.m. Sat., May 31 at Pacific Place

Hiring a professional mourner to weep and wail at a loved one's funeral sounds like an old SNL sketch, but it's apparently a real custom in rural China. The "cry woman" in question (Liao Qin) ends up back in her village after her no-good husband goes to jail following an assault in Beijing, where she hawked porno DVDs on the street. Worse, she's got an abandoned toddler to care for, and there's no work at homewhere she once sang in the local opera company. Bingo! Her old boyfriend runs a garish shop catering to the funeral trade, and he sets himself up as her manager. Soon she's belting out grief hits like "Earthquake," raking in good money to pay her husband's debts. (Meanwhile, she and her married manager also rekindle their old flame.) Woman's final scene is entirely predictable; its tone is uneven and editing choppy, but there's a sting to its seriocomic tone. "Oh good!" our heroine exclaims at a fatal food-poisoning outbreakdeath is a racket, and she's a star. BRIAN MILLER DIRECT ORDER

7 p.m. Tues., June 2 at Egyptian

You remember Gulf War I? You remember the anthrax vaccine the U.S. military gave to our troops, which purportedly gave thousands the mysterious Gulf War Syndrome? Well, as this hourlong documentary makes clear (with narration by Michael Douglas), this non-FDA-approved vaccine is still churning out collateral damage autoimmune disorders, memory loss, deathamong our folks in uniform. It amounts to a massive, uncontrolled scientific experiment, no consent requiredroll up your sleeves, soldier. (Those who refuse to take a needle for their country get court-martialed and discharged.) Nice deal. Interviews with the vaccine's victims are compelling, but their tales of woe fall apart as a storytelling device. You start hungering for rock-solid scientific evidence that this vaccine is illness in a syringe. (Screens with Unprecedented, a documentary about the 2000 Florida Bush-Gore electoral debacle.) PHILIP DAWDY THE LOVER

4:45 p.m. Wed., May 28 at Egyptian

Grim. If you can stand it, this relentlessly downbeat Russian film features some very cool shots of a battered streetcar pushing through halos of dust and snow as the seasons change. The tram took the suddenly, recently deceased wife of grief-numbed Mitya to meet her lover, Vanya, during the whole of her 15-year-marriage. (There's also a 15-year-old son. Uh-oh.) Shocked by the discovery of an incriminating love letter, Mitya seeks out Vanya, and Vanya seeks out Mitya. But instead of a grudge or rage (though there's a little comic scuffling), the two middle-aged men need each other. "I want to know the truthall of it!" Mitya demands. Their beloved dead Lena is a bond between thema bond they feel compelled to discuss over endless drinks and cigarettes. It could've been a fine Chekhov short story, or conceivably a broad French comedy, but here the pervasive Russian bleakness makes it seem like there's no life after deathnot even for the living. B.R.M. MINIMAL STORIES

9:30 p.m. Thurs., May 29 at Pacific Place

4 p.m. Sun., June 1 at Pacific Place

Something more than these three lovely, braided stories sticks in the mind long after viewing them: the vast, flat pinky-orange vistas of southern Patagonia, real but miragelike. The three storiespoignant, hopeful, hilariousare of an 80-year-old man on a trek to find his lost dog; a poor young rural mother given the chance to compete for a TV-show prize; and an amorous salesman who lives by self-help slogans. Amazingly, only two in this supple, natural cast are professional actorsmost notably Javier Lombardo as the richly comic salesman who pursues a young widow via a birthday cake for her child. Among the amateurs, Antonio Benedictis the dog seeker who sadly fails his driver's-license eye test at the film's openinghad never previously been before a camera (though he's apparently always been able to wiggle his ears). His unsentimental performance puts director Carlos Sorin right up there with Robert M. Young, Ken Loach, and Vittorio de Sicathe great, natural directors of "nonpros." SHEILA BENSON OASIS

6:30 p.m. Sat., May 31 at Harvard Exit

11:30 a.m. Sun., June 8 at Harvard Exit

Lee Chang-dong's melodrama about a goofy nerd's passion for a heroic cerebral palsy victim is so promising, one wants to clap him on the backand then dunk his head in a bucket for blowing the finale. Moon So-ri is convincing and affecting as the plucky girl pretzeled by CP. She's technically less expert than Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot but good enough to win the best new actor award at the Venice Film Festival. Her suitor (Sol Kyung-gu) is a low-IQ misfit whose nonexistent impulse control lands him in permanent hot water with authorities and his own cold family. When he impulsively tries to rape the girl, it's grim beyond Neil LaBute's cruel imagination. Thwarted when she throws a fit, he leaves her his phone number; she calls, and somehow romance blossoms despite family opposition. Fantasy sequences lyrically give us the girl's point of view: The sun reflected from her hand mirror becomes doves and butterflies; the tapestry of an oasis on her wall comes to life; she is beautiful, undisabled, dancing in her lover's arms. An odd, arresting film. TIM APPELO

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