SIFF: Week 3 Picks & Pans

Slovenly gays resist gentrification. Iranian trannies overcome Islamic strictures. Cannibalism in the Andes. The first mumblecore horror film. See our SIFF Guide 2008 for more.

Wednesday, June 4The Dark HorseWe try to love local movies, but sometimes they make it so hard. First there was the movie about men having sex with horses. Now it's families healing through horses—while also saving the farm, resolving childhood traumas, struggling to connect emotionally, coping with an aging father with Alzheimer's, taking scenic ferry rides to Orcas Island (where the family farm needs saving and the horses await to heal and autistic children can absorb the wisdom of the tidal pools). Can we just go back to bestiality now? Writer-director Cornelia Duryée Moore, an experienced local theater pro, means well in her first feature, but The Dark Horse is simply awful in too many ways to count. It appears that each and every member of the extended McSpadden clan is afflicted with some unique and awful problem—fear! dementia! autism! jealousy!—that needs mending. It's like reading the patient charts in an E.R., only the dialogue is worse than any medical jargon. "When he throws you, you can't give up. You learn by falling down." (Horses, right?) "You can't have roots without dirt." (The farm, get it?) "Green on green equals black and blue." (WTF?) Most of Moore's cast will also seem familiar from local stage productions. They try their best. And, to be fair, the horses are excellent. (NR) BRIAN MILLER SIFF Cinema: 6:30 p.m. (Also: 1:30 p.m. Sat., June 7.)GarageIn rural Ireland, a simpleton named Josie (Pat Shortt) runs the day-to-day operations at a small gas station, and when the owner decides to expand the hours of operation, Josie must train a taciturn teen (Conor Ryan) to be his assistant. A wonderfully knowing portrait of the fading small-town lifestyle of the Emerald Isle, Garage doesn't quite make the pick list because of its ending, which feels like a gratuitous kick in the balls. (NR) LUKE Y. THOMPSON Pacific Place: 9:30 p.m. (Also: Uptown, 11 a.m. Sat., June 7.)Good FoodThis local documentary argues that organic and sustainably raised food is better for farmers, consumers, and the whole durn universe. Filmmakers Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young (Net Loss: The Storm Over Salmon Farming) have interviewed some of the most influential, articulate farmers and sustainable-food advocates in the Puget Sound region, and the duo has fleshed out their 90 minutes with gorgeous shots of fields and on-the-vine produce. (Just watching the film constitutes one of your daily servings of vegetables.) So with that kind of access, and the natural star power of our regional landscape, it's a shame Dworkin and Young simply run down the list of received ideas regarding shopping locally and sustainably: Transporting local foods requires less oil! Laborers on less-corporate farms earn better wages! People who subscribe to CSAs get farm-fresh produce delivered to them! Even as one of the converted, I finished Good Food disappointed that the filmmakers, in their haste to cover every pro-sustainable argument ever made, passed over dozens of dramatic personal stories and ethical quandaries that would've made for a fascinating documentary. Instead, their film's best suited for high-school health classes. (NR) JONATHAN KAUFFMAN Egyptian: 7 p.m. (Also: SIFF Cinema, 4:30 p.m. Sat., June 7.)HuddersfieldBased on a long-running, sentimental play, with its well-practiced ensemble here mostly intact, this Serbian drama stews in post-Yugoslav pathos and anger. Not all Serbs were war criminals during the Balkan wars of the '90s; even those who served in the army, like this central quartet here, seem to have emerged as shambling, ordinary survivors of their country's violent fracture. The friends have split, too: one's an émigré in England (Huddersfield is a mundane suburb of Leeds, though its normalcy is like paradise compared to Serbia); another's a God-obsessed schizophrenic; the third's a corporate underling; and their leader, Rasha (Goran Susljik), is a dissipated nihilist-intellectual. Rasha's drunkard father, who sells their bathroom door for booze, tells this lost generation, "You've give up on this country...the lot of you!" To which they raise another beer and light another joint during their talkaholic one-day reunion. Huddersfield never feels like anything other than a stage work; a couple of flashbacks don't add much clarity to the lager-fueled self-flagellation. (Rasha had a beautiful girlfriend, maybe, who died in a '90s bombardment? Or maybe that's just some random supermodel walking around Belgrade? I haven't a clue.) This, and the few other Serbian films that have come to the U.S., haven't the art and astringency of the New Romanian Cinema. The emotions of loss and humiliation seem too raw, too fresh. But after a few more years of vodka and self-pity, I suspect the movies will sober up. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Pacific Place: 7 p.m. (Also: 4:30 p.m. Thurs., June 5.)Stalags: Holocaust and Pornography in IsraelIn the relatively innocent early '60s, West 42nd Street was a carnival of pinball parlors, freak shows, and, mainly, movie theaters. Some offered western triple bills for 40 cents. Others—smaller, shabbier, and forbidden to kids—featured Olga's House of Shame. What my 13-year-old mind could not then grasp was why, along with amateur documentaries of "nudist-camp volleyball," these theaters also showed atrocity footage of Nazi concentration camps—was it because there were naked women there, too? That pornographic juxtaposition of horniness and horror is the subject of Ari Libsker's Stalags: Holocaust and Pornography in Israel. Named for the German prison camps in which they were set, the "stalags" were soft-core S&M porn in which downed U.S. or British pilots were abused by lustful, bodacious "female SS brutes," ultimately repaying their tormentors in kind. Far too short at 60 minutes, Stalags raises many more questions than it can possibly answer, and the whole issue of Holocaust porn deserves fuller treatment. The abrupt, inconclusive ending has the effect of throwing the problems inherent in teaching, dramatizing, or even representing the Holocaust back at the viewer. The least that can be said is that these issues are raised. However artless its presentation, Stalags presents material that's difficult to shake off and impossible to dismiss. (NR) J. HOBERMAN SIFF Cinema, 321 Mercer St. (McCaw Hall), 324-9996, $9-$11. 4:30 p.m. (Also: 9 p.m. Sun. June 8.) Thursday, June 5BoystownIn this Spanish farce, the (gay) villain is handsome, buff, smooth-skinned, and well-dressed, and the (gay) heroes have beards and tummies. In other words, this film could never have been made in America—it would alienate the core audience. Connecting condo-ification with murder will resonate on Capitol Hill, sure, but the linking of compulsive depilation/gym-going with sociopathy will be a harder sell. The underwear-model-esque villain, you see, wants to gentrify Chueca, Madrid's dowdy but cozy gay ghetto. Whenever some old lady declines to sell her apartment—so it can be converted into an airy white box and flipped to a pair of nesting twinks—he bumps her off. One of the victims has willed her apartment to Rey, so he and his boyfriend, Leo, become prime suspects. Not just suspects, but potential victims: Adorably scruffy and down-market, Rey and Leo pay too much attention to X-Men comics and not enough to ab development—thus rendering themselves unfit, figuratively and literally, for the planned gaytopia. (Rey's idea of roleplay/foreplay is to Scotch-tape ballpoint pens to his knuckles in emulation of Wolverine's claws.) The arrival of Rey's chain-smoking harridan of a mother complicates matters, but a sharp-tongued, severely phobic private eye (think Carol Burnett as directed by Almodóvar) sorts them out again. (NR) GAVIN BORCHERT Harvard Exit: 9:15 p.m. (Also: 4 p.m. Sun., June 8.)DerekNeatly dodging the standard pitfalls of the biographical documentary, Isaac Julien's Derek has only two voices to steer it: subject Derek Jarman (mostly from an apparently exhaustive interview conducted by fellow cult-fave film director Bernard Rose in 1990) and his frequent star/muse Tilda Swinton. In laying out the importance—political and aesthetic—of Jarman's groundbreaking, defiantly queer oeuvre, Julien avoids those twin banes: the irrelevant friend and the hagiographic scholar. Instead, a wonderfully unsparing Jarman discusses with disarming frankness everything from having public sex in the '80s to why he was a cinematic pioneer. The generous sprinkling of clips should orient newcomers; Julien wisely prioritizes Jarman's features and, on an equal plane, his video for the Pet Shop Boys' "It's a Sin." Regardless of how you feel about Jarman's work, it's a fascinating ride, complete with name-dropping (Tennessee Williams stops by for a party) and a journey through London's hip scene, late-'60s-to-'80s version. Oddly enough, it's Swinton who, for once in her life, is the worst thing in the film: Stalking through periodically, she offers overwrought soundbites about how focus-grouping, arbitrary notions of "taste" and "high culture," and mass-market filmmaking is destroying art. Mighty big talk for someone who's been in both Constantine and The Chronicles of Narnia. (NR) VADIM RIZOV Harvard Exit: 7 p.m. (Also: 4:30 p.m. Sat., June 7.)The DrummerJackie Chan's son, Jaycee, isn't much of an actor, but he doesn't really need to be in The Drummer. The spoiled son of a Hong Kong mobster is sent to Taiwan for his own protection, after he romances a rival gangster's girl. There, bored out of his mind in a remote village, he stumbles upon a group of monastic drummers whose sensei says things like, "Here we strive to drum without drumming." Naturally we expect Sid (Chan) to develop some new drumming-style kung fu moves, then go back to Hong Kong to wreak bloody revenge and do awesome stunts like his father. Instead, The Drummer actually improves as it quietly marches in the other direction. There are girls in the drum circle, and one catches Sid's eye. He's made to carry rocks, retrieve water, and unlearn his rock 'n' roll drum technique (he had a full kit back home). It's standard master-pupil stuff, full of aphorisms and nature shots (behold the wisdom of the caterpillar!). But, despite some confusing third-act revenge twists, it generally works—especially as Sid, yes, grows up and casts off his bratty ways. Meanwhile, back in Hong Kong, Tony Leung Ka Fai does all the acting the movie requires as Sid's father; even this brute is given a path to a different kind of peace. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Pacific Place: 7 p.m. (Also: 11 a.m. Sat., June 7.)Man on WireIn 1974, French funambulist Philippe Petit and his determined cohorts smuggled and installed a high-wire rig on top of the World Trade Center, where Petit then walked, danced, and laid down between the Twin Towers—criminal performance art to the ESPN2 extreme. In Brit filmmaker James Marsh's exhilarating doc account—a crowd-pleaser in such witty, poetic ways that even an art-house curmudgeon couldn't deny its tidy vigor—Petit's adventure, from dentist's-office inspiration and eight months of scheming to the ultimate stunt, is reenacted like a slick heist thriller. Errol Morris couldn't have done it better, at least not with such understatement: Never mentioning 9/11 beyond the hint of a poignant photo shot from below, Marsh shows Petit becoming as one with the sky as a nearby plane. (NR) AARON HILLIS Egyptian: 7 p.m. (Also: 11 a.m. Sat., June 7.)A SecretSome people believe that stereotypes exist for a reason. Don't be surprised if they cite A Secret as evidence. It's the kind of moody, overlong, and talky film the French do best (or worst, depending on your point of view). Yet even diehards should have trouble staying awake for this draining 105-minute World War II coming-of-age tale. The story follows little François, a Jewish teen in 1950s Paris, who senses his family has a deep, dark secret. He guesses right on the first try, and the rest of the movie is (a) a flashback to before his birth, and (b) a flash-forward to his life 30 years later. The plot is difficult to follow with the constant time jumps. Before you know it, the whole 20th-century Jewish struggle for survival is reduced to some lush cinematography and weary, drawn-out acting beats. Even the terrific cast, which includes Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) and Ludivine Sagnier (Swimming Pool), is stifled by overzealous period art direction. (NR) FRANK PAIVA Uptown: 4 p.m. (Also: Egyptian, 9 p.m. Sat., June 7.)Friday, June 6Be Like OthersHow far would you go to be with the one you love? In Tanaz Eshaghian's powerful documentary, the answer is a dangerous sex-change operation that carries the additional risk of being permanently shunned by your family. In Iran, where homosexuality is outlawed, these hazards are sadly seen as the only choice for a desperate generation of young gay men. "This is what you have to do to get your identity," says one, staring blankly into the camera a few days before he's wheeled into surgery. Yet surprisingly, these operations are regulated and funded by the Iranian government, which issues special permits so the men in transition can wear women's clothing and not risk being harassed by police. An unflinching look at life in a conservative Islamic society, Be Like Others is too honest to present a collection of happy endings. (NR) AIMEE CURL Harvard Exit: 9:15 p.m. (Also: Egyptian, 1:30 p.m. Sat., June 7.)Half-LifeThe animated portions of this indie ennui study are far more interesting than its live-action scenes. Unfortunately, there aren't enough of the former (even so, the rotoscoped animation tends to repeat itself). Clearly aiming for the suburban strangeness of Mike Mills and Miranda July, writer-director Jennifer Phang comes up short, but her instincts are sound. Some sort of global warming–environmental apocalypse haunts the TV screens in the Wu household, where a single mother—abandoned by her aviator husband—tends to her young son and 19-year-old daughter, a slacker who pushes a broom at the local airstrip where she saw her dad fly away. The mother's also got a new white boyfriend in the house, which introduces the perennial creep potential of The Stepfather. Not entirely arty or pretentious or a tract-house thriller, Half-Life communicates a kind of indoor agoraphobia. Domestic squabbling builds, then explodes into the fanciful animations of Matthew Pugnetti, in which the jellyfish-teeming sea threatens to drown all the Wus; flying manta rays glide into the sunset, perhaps to find the missing father; and the young son expresses superpowers he may actually possess in real life. Perhaps next time Phang should go all the way into anime. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Harvard Exit: 6:30 p.m. (Also: 1:30 p.m. Sat., June 7.)Otto; or, Up with Dead PeopleI only got about 50 minutes through Otto before the DVD started to skip and eventually became unwatchable. Perhaps it was a sign from God. The "first gay zombie movie" didn't fulfill even one-tenth the anticipation I had going into it. It wasn't scary, gory, or sexy. It was pretentious, confusing, and boring. The plot has a movie-within-a-movie concept that I didn't get. (And I've seen a lot of gay movies and zombie movies.) The characters make oblique references to a "gay zombie plague" which may or may not be AIDS. Where's the fun? The movie is directed by Bruce LaBruce, who's very much a love-him-or-hate-him filmmaker. I usually fall into the former category. He'll be in town for SIFF, so maybe I'll catch the last 44 minutes of Otto I couldn't see, then hear the guy explain himself. Still, the prospect of having to sit through the first 50 minutes again makes my stomach churn. And not in a good way. (NR) FRANK PAIVA Egyptian: 11:55 p.m. (Also: SIFF Cinema, 7 p.m. Sat., June 7.)Ramchand PakistaniWhether they come from the Indian or Pakistani side of the border, don't expect movies to present a balanced view of the neighbors across the fence. Real events in 2002 inspired this story of a Pakistani farmboy—apparently from the super-minority untouchable Dalit caste of Hindus—who strays across the border, followed by his concerned father, whereupon both are imprisoned for years in India. Just to be clear: We're talking about years in prison. Years. Maybe five, maybe six, possibly seven. I lost count. Two different actors play the son, Ramchand, who gradually befriends his fellow Hindu jailers (who first treat him like a preteen spy). Along the way, he learns a little English, keeps a pet beetle in a matchbox, and learns to ride a bike. These are the highlights—and I'm reaching deep, deep into my notes. (Meanwhile his mother, Bollywood star Nandita Das, also in SIFF's Before the Rains, pines at home.) Ramchand's jailhouse teacher (Maria Wasti) has some kind of romance with a soldier, and the kid feels the first pangs of jealousy. Otherwise, prisoners are mistreated in a kind of Gitmo-lite system of post-9/11 illegal detention. I'm sure the movie will play great in Pakistan. And I'm sure India has already filmed a rebuttal, with seven-year-old assassins creeping across the frontier. Let's just pray that movie, if it comes to SIFF '09, is a Bollywood musical with lots of singing and dancing. (NR) BRIAN MILLER SIFF Cinema: 7 p.m. (Also: Harvard Exit, 11 a.m. Sat., June 7.)Saturn in OppositionFrom Turkish-Italian director Ferzan Ozpetek, whose Facing Windows was a favorite at SIFF '04, this sensitively observed drama follows a month or so in the lives of a circle of Italian friends. One falls terminally ill; another couple breaks up (adultery). This description probably makes the film sound more precious than it is; it's quiet but strong, dramatic without melodrama, compelling throughout. Making the most vivid impressions among the large ensemble cast are Milena Vukotic, as a crisply starched nurse, and Pierfrancesco Favino and Luca Argentero as a convincingly drawn gay couple. (NR) GAVIN BORCHERT Pacific Place: 9:15 p.m. (Also: 11 a.m. Sun., June 8.)Stranded: I Have Come From a Plane That Crashed in the MountainsNo surprises here—first the title, then the prior book (and later movie) Alive, and finally the inevitable cannibalism. We all know the story, now 36 years old. The documentary Stranded looks to be a bore, musty tabloid news, but it ends up being a genuine and moving reflection—from a very middle-aged point of view—on why, despite enduring horror and death, there is a value to our continued, plodding existence. Most of the 16 final survivors of the rugby-team crash in the Andes are interviewed today, interspersed with their own photos and newsreels of the rescue efforts that were—for most of their 72-day ordeal—abandoned. Those boys, now men, came from Uruguay's privileged class—Catholic, conservative, heirs to the colonial elite. It seems wrong, almost sick, to conclude their trial made them better souls, but that's exactly what they profess. Starvation, we know, can lead to a kind of spiritual ecstasy (see: Into the Wild), an ascetic emptying of the mind. And communion and the Eucharist...that symbolism was well-familiar to the initial survivors. They speak of "la comida" and "la carne" in near-religious terms. Says one, "A new society was which a dead body could become the food that I needed." The keyword here isn't food but society. From 16 survivors, we're told, came 100 family members today. Director Gonzalo Arijon reconvenes some of them for a trek to the crash site, weaving in discreet reenactments with the interviews. The result is as close as we've come, in the postwar era, to Shackleton and Scott. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Egyptian: 9:15 p.m. (Also: SIFF Cinema, 9:30 p.m. Tues., June 10.)The WaveWhat will it take to unite today's youth and get them politically involved? That question lies at the center of this terrific, disturbing German drama about a high-school social experiment gone wrong. During a weeklong study of authoritarianism, an unorthodox teacher encourages his complacent students to start their own society to experience life under a dictatorship. Things soon (surprise, surprise) take a turn for the worse, with teens dressing in uniform, attacking outsiders, and giving suspicious hand salutes. The script is based on real-life events in California, and the movie gains immediate weight by moving things to Germany, where the troubling implications are increased exponentially. The young performers give believable performances that are painful to watch as their initial idealism about a life free from social hierarchy slowly disintegrates. Jürgen Vogel is even more heartbreaking as their instructor, a man seeking any method to reach his students. His is a bitter lesson indeed. (NR) FRANK PAIVA Pacific Place: 6:30 p.m. (Also: 1:30 p.m. Sat., June 7.)Saturday, June 7Erik Nietzsche: The Early YearsMovies about movies, on-set Hollywood exposés, films about film school...blech, we've had quite enough of those. But, surprise, Lars von Trier has written a congenial, not-quite-bitter recollection of his formative years behind the camera. (Jacob Thuesen directs; von Trier narrates.) Erik (Jontan Spang) is portrayed as a dimwitted suburban boy in 1979 Copenhagen. Admitted by mistake to the highly competitive state film school, surrounded by preening radicals and free-loving Leninists, he dreams only of making nature movies with the wind rustling through the leaves. He's totally unqualified to succeed, and Erik Nietzsche relates the comic progress of this apolitical idiot as he blunders his way to the top of the class. (He also learns a few Machiavellian tricks and "acquired dishonesty" along the way—this is von Trier, after all.) After Dogville and Manderlay, this is a comparatively slight work, but a welcome one. It's a poison-pen valentine accidentally—or not—dipped in the wrong inkpot. Stick around through the credits, which contain the funniest scene the famously sourpuss Dane has ever filmed. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Uptown: 9 p.m. (Also: 4:15 p.m. Sun., June 8.)MáncoraThe titular beach in northern Peru was recently featured in the New York Times' travel pages, so book your flight and grab your surfboard now. Paradise once filmed won't remain paradise for long, and Máncora the movie presents Máncora the equatorial beach community as a cross between Goa, Maui, and Cabo San Lucas. Drugs, booze, sex, and waves—why else was youth bestowed on the young? That said, this Peruvian road-trip movie isn't so fresh in outline: a directionless 21-year-old dude gets caught up in a romantic triangle and has to reconsider his slacker ways. It's also unclear what relationship Santiago has to Ximena, who comes to visit from New York with her arrogant husband in tow. (Here's my spoiler: Santiago and Ximena are step-siblings, not blood relations.) After the three drive to Máncora together, there are drugs and sex (yet disappointingly little surfing), jealousy and self-discovery, but not much in the way of a cinematic breakthrough. Another addition to the promising new Latin-American cinema, Máncora is no Y Tu Mamá También. It's more a place you want to visit than a movie you want to see. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Harvard Exit: 6:30 p.m. (Also: 11 a.m. Sun., June 8.)Seachd: The Crimson SnowdropMy mom is a difficult person when it comes to cinema—she doesn't like gratuitous violence, and nudity is frowned upon. But she also doesn't like cheesy movies about kids and dogs named Skip. Given this tough standard, it's a rare film that passes the Mom test, but Seachd did with flying colors. Young Angus and his two siblings are orphaned after their parents fall during a treacherous climb in remote Scotland. The death of their parents doesn't just tear apart the small family, it's another hit to the rapidly shrinking group of people who still speak the medieval Scottish Gaelic of their ancestors, outlawed in 1616. (Most of the film is in Gaelic, with English subtitles.) The grandfather of skeptical Angus—Aonghas in the original language—tells his new wards fantastic tales (accompanied by gorgeous cinematography) in an attempt to help them deal with their grief, better know their heritage, and explain the origins of McDonald's fries. Such warmth, tinged with sadness, keeps Seachd from crossing into hokey territory. Subtle glances among the adult cast members advance plot points that your kids may miss. Seachd isn't a kids' film per se, but it's perfect for taking Mom to the movies. (NR) LAURA ONSTOT SIFF Cinema: 9:30 p.m. (Also: 4:30 p.m. Wed., June 11.)TimecrimesThis Spanish-language thriller is the kind of twisty, low-budget B-movie that gets Hollywood panting for the remake rights. Sure enough, David Cronenberg has reportedly expressed an interest. It's easy to see why. The film is an enormously entertaining antidote to this year's generally morose SIFF lineup. It practically begs for a second viewing. During a quiet retreat to the country, a man spies some suspicious activity in the forest through his binoculars. He goes out to investigate, and then things...happen. No spoilers here. Knowing more would ruin the fun. Don't read anyone else's description, either. Just make sure you're paying attention during the first 20 minutes. Not since Memento has a movie required such complete focus and a prompt theater arrival. Timecrimes may lack a certain subtlety and emotional gravitas, but when you're on the edge of your seat the entire time, who cares? (R) FRANK PAIVA Pacific Place: 9:30 p.m. (Also: Egyptian, 7 p.m. Sun., June 15.)When Did You Last See Your Father?Directed by Anand Tucker with the same intelligent tact he brought to Hilary and Jackie, and cleanly adapted by David Nicholls from a brutally frank memoir by British writer Blake Morrison, this minor pleasure of a drama about an aggrieved son (Colin Firth in the Blake role) re-evaluating his relationship with his cantankerous old sod of a dying father (Jim Broadbent as Arthur Morrison) is the kind of superior middlebrow filmmaking at which the Brits excel. Excellent team-player acting from the likes of Juliet Stevenson as the put-upon wife and Sarah Lancashire as the reflexively carnal other woman rounds out Broadbent's characteristically elastic performance as a father more heedless than cruel. But the star is gangly young Matthew Beard, who gives a wonderfully precise reading of the teenage Blake, trapped in a morass of self-righteous arrogance and confusion, yet woefully lacking the experience to fill in the bigger picture. Arthur Morrison's death is as graphically physical, as comically banal, and, finally for Blake, as profound as life itself. The scattering of the ashes allows Arthur's family to celebrate the dead by remembering what a cheap bastard Dad was, and allows Blake to move on from his Big Sulk. (PG-13) ELLA TAYLOR Egyptian: 7:30 p.m. (Also: 4 p.m. Sun., June 8.)Sunday, June 8Alone in Four WallsFirst, you'll notice the unbelievable camera work. With intricate angles, astounding clarity, and extraordinary timing, Alexandra Westmeier's documentary has cinematography Hollywood would envy. Then you'll notice the lack of a narrator. Instead, these Russian reform-school boys simply recount the minutiae of their highly regimented lives and tell how they came to be incarcerated. "I got three years for that," smiles one of the juvie inmates, for stealing "solvents to sniff" and "stuff to smoke." This charming preteen is in with murderers, though, one of whom shares his shocking tale. But without the context that narration might provide, Alone doesn't live up to the images (shot by the director's husband, Inigo). We never gain a true understanding of these seemingly coldhearted yet disadvantaged children. Last, you'll notice there isn't any music in the film, besides a dreadful rendition of "Russian Lad" performed by the boys' choir. The ambient noise in place of a soundtrack is refreshing. I'm just not sure what point Westmeier is making here. (NR) JOSHUA LYNCH Pacific Place: 4 p.m. (Also: 7 p.m. Mon., June 9.)BagheadA frequently bracing lo-fi revisitation of the concept behind the 1972 zombie flick Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things—ham actors isolated in the woods can't decipher if the horror stalking them is real, or their own theatrical prankishness run amok—the Duplass brothers' latest imagines four Hollywood never-beens holed up in an isolated cabin to write themselves a breakthrough. The earmarks of a recently fashionable strain of improv-driven indie naturalism are present, including dialogue that blatantly displays every motive (though in characters whose days are filled with sitcom auditions, such banality has a plausible source). And despite the familiar fetish for sad-sack emasculation, what's resonant are the empathetic portraits of beautiful people who've watched their prospects recede each passing year: Ross Partridge as a hired jawline who might've paid a decade's rent standing in for Mel Gibson, and modelesque Elise Muller's character, who can't figure where it all went wrong, bragging that Jim Harbaugh asked her out a beat before realizing that she's dated herself. (NR) NICK PINKERTON Egyptian: 6:30 p.m. (Also: 4:30 p.m. Mon., June 9.)EmptiesJan Sverák can only coast on Kolya for so long. No, I'm wrong, he's still coasting 11 years after that foreign-language Oscar winner. Like Kolya, Empties again stars his father, Zdenek, who also wrote the script about a 65-year-old schoolteacher having a belated midlife crisis in modern, uncaring Prague. His classroom is full of teen punks who talk back and send text messages in class, so he quits. (Kids today!) He tries to be a bicycle courier, but he's too old, so it doesn't work out. (Wacky, I know.) And for a while he finds happiness working at the bottle-exchange counter in a grocery store—hence the film's title. Meanwhile, Josef's long-suffering wife and divorced adult daughter attempt to cope with his dour moods. (We in the audience, feeling no such family obligation, can skip out for popcorn or send text messages.) Oh, and his daughter has an adorable son, just like Kolya. None of this changes the fact that Josef is an asshole, one to whose sexual fantasies we're granted a privy view—just to make him even more disagreeable. Now I'm all in favor of depressing movies from Eastern Europe that make you want to put your head in the oven. But here's a case where the filmmakers really ought to go first. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Egyptian: 9 p.m. (Also: 7 p.m. Mon., June 9.)EncarnaciónYou've heard about Argentina and plastic surgery. Reportedly, it's the national pastime down there. Baring her body for us to see, playing an aging bombshell (usually called "Erni" for Encarnación), Silvia Pérez has clearly had some work done. She's not ashamed of it, the movie's not ashamed of it, and her character wants more of it—if she's to keep working, that is, if she's to keep attracting men. Erni is desperate, dignified, and sad, and there's not a whole lot else happening in Encarnación. She goes to auditions in Buenos Aires, films a commercial, travels to the birthday party of a niece in the campo. And she lands a few men—one a regular, the others not. With deliberate pacing and considerable sympathy, director Anahí Berneri (A Year Without Love) gives her heroine emotional space to consider her life. There's no suggestion that Erni is deluded about her sagging beauty or age; she just has to work that much harder. (Tending her fan site, she tells her teenage Web master to remove her age, 48, and emphasize her older photos.) I can't imagine any American actress of Pérez's age—IMDb her if you must—letting the lens so close, letting her clothes slide off so readily. And she looks great. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Pacific Place: 6:30 p.m. (Also: 4:30 p.m. Mon., June 9.)Still OrangutansBefore Capitol Hill went all condo, one of the more enjoyable summer activities on Broadway was people-watching, as gorgeous hipsters and crazy homeless people packed the sidewalk. Still Orangutans is the cinematic equivalent of this pastime. The film consists of a single 81-minute take of random Brazilians behaving badly. Their actions pass by like so many stupid pet tricks: A lesbian couple beats up an inebriated man dressed as Santa Claus on a bus. A pair of drunken lovers down bottles of perfume and lick sticks of deodorant. A man crashes a wedding party, claims to have already taken the bride's virginity, and threatens everyone with a hand grenade. The shenanigans amount to nothing, aside from stupidity and a hole in your wallet. Eighty-one orangutans with 81 cameras would definitely make 81 movies better than this one. (NR) FRANK PAIVA Pacific Place: 9 p.m. (Also: Uptown, 9:30 p.m. Tues., June 10).Tulia, TexasThose who believe America has achieved color-blindness would do well to see this documentary about the repercussions of a 1999 drug sweep in a tiny town in the Texas panhandle. At the prompting of a regional task force, undercover agent Tom Coleman conducted an 18-month investigation that ended with the arrest of 46 people, 39 of them black. Coleman used no surveillance or wiretapping that could be presented as evidence in court. Nevertheless, despite solid alibis and witnesses, juries sent away the defendants for up to 99 years solely on Coleman's word. Directors Cassandra Herman and Kelly Whalen, both former writers for PBS' Frontline, deserve kudos for easing the viewer into this harrowing story. At its outset, the racial divide seems fairly mild. But by the time law-enforcement officers, former jurors, townspeople, and Coleman have had their say, the racism is plainly revealed to be as entrenched as it was when Tulia was finally integrated—only 40 years ago. (NR) JESSE FROEHLING Harvard Exit: 1:30 p.m. (Also: 7 p.m. Mon., June 9.)XXYThe Argentine drama XXY is an issue movie that only scratches at the surface of its issue. When said issue is a 15-year-old intersex (or hermaphrodite) teen raised as a girl, an understated approach is surely better than sensationalism. Here, however, first-time director Lucía Puenzo's subtlety has the unfortunate side effect of making her weighty topic seem slight, which I doubt she intended. The plot follows pubescent Alex (Inés Efron), born with both a penis and a vagina, who now must choose between the two. (Who says angsty teen movies are just about the prom?) The film stays afloat on Efron's shoulders. She gives a harrowing performance that is at times difficult to watch. Audiences may recognize her from Glue, one of SIFF's worst offerings last year, which also followed a group of teens with issues. While it's certainly not as bad as that debacle, XXY doesn't commit fully enough to its troubling subject matter to create a lasting impression. (NR) FRANK PAIVA SIFF Cinema: 6:30 p.m. (Also: Pacific Place, 4:30 p.m. Tues., June 10.)Walt & El GrupoHe may've been a right-wing, union-busting bastard, but during the late Depression, with his studio in peril and World War II looming, Walt Disney took a lucky handful of his young animators and staff to South America. Collaborating with local artists in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile during the 1941 trip, Disney subsequently produced two animation works, Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, both of which are excerpted in the documentary Walt & El Grupo. But what's wonderful about the doc is the sourcing and archives: It's a film full of people who could draw and sketch and doodle (their letters home are affecting, too, particularly when read by their children and grandchildren.) We get to see the rough drafts of the finished products, and the tour was extensively documented with home movies, photos, and newsreels. The pre-war decorum will make viewers of any age feel nostalgic: men wear suits and woman gloves, and the spirit of pan-American friendship seems sincere. (Something we could use more of today.) In one letter home, an animator writes admiringly of the locals, "Their tastes are more boisterous and lusty than ours." Extra bonus: filmmakers Theodore Thomas and Kuniko Okubo are expected to introduce the screenings. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Uptown, 511 Queen Anne Ave. N., 324-9996, $9-$11. 6:30 p.m. (Also: 4:30 p.m. Mon. June 9.) Monday, June 9Buddha Collapsed Out of ShameWhat, no love for the Taliban? The 2001 destruction of the famous giant Buddhas in the Bamiyan region of Afghanistan has already been the subject of a documentary or two. What Hana Makhmalbaf—of the famous Iranian filmmaking family—hoped to do with the subject isn't clear in this tortuously slow, grindingly obvious debut feature. Never have I studied my watch so intently during an 81-minute movie. Mohsen Makhmalbaf and other Iranian New Wave directors have often used child actors in little dramas with subtle political parables woven discreetly in their fabric. His daughter Hana, 18 when she made this movie, simply has annoying tots shriek their lines and poke one another with sticks in the service of the crudest possible allegory. Yes, the Taliban are awful. Yes, Afghan women should be educated. Yes, war is hell. Terrorism also sucks. And sometimes the American response to same is no better...we get that idea, too. Only when Buddha pulls back for vistas of the parched, dusty landscape do we guess how this ancient Silk Road depot—without a shade of green in sight—has always been a disputed locus. There are no resources here, only barter, bullying, and the clash of ideologies. Life would be no better with Buddhism or without Islam. As for young Ms. Makhmalbaf, her formative years would be more fruitfully spent on Facebook, like any normal teen. (NR) BRIAN MILLER SIFF Cinema: 9:15 p.m. (Also: Egyptian, 7 p.m. Wed., June 11.)Under the BombsAt the end of this half-important docu-melodrama, director Philippe Aractingi provides a helpful postscript. The film, about a Lebanese mother searching for her young son following Israel's misguided 2006 war in her country, is meant "to tell the suffering of the innocents." Because we apparently didn't learn from World War I, World War II, and millennia of human conflict that military bombardments also affect women and children. The wealthy mother (sexpot Nada Abou Farhat) comes from Dubai to Lebanon, where she's sent her kid to a sister's for refuge from a nasty divorce back home. She hires a cabbie (sad-eyed clown Georges Khabbaz) to help retrieve her only child. Their driving tour—with the actors improvising and meeting real refugees en route—is revelatory, a deep immersion in Arab suffering and humiliation. Bridges have been pretzeled by Israel's precision air strikes. Villages have been atomized by less-guided munitions. The TV news and radio constantly warn of cluster bombs supposedly salted to maim curious children. Hezbollah and Nasrallah exist only as benign slogans and banners. It's like Israel crashed a picnic or something. Raised in Beirut and educated in France, Aractingi has reason to be angry about his divided, impotent homeland. But that anger only puts half the picture in focus; the rest is a smear. (NR) BRIAN MILLER SIFF Cinema: 7 p.m. (Also: 4:30 p.m. Tues., June 10.)Tuesday, June 10Days and CloudsElsa and Michele are at a standstill in their marriage: She just finished school and is restoring a Renaissance painting on the ceiling of an old building. He just lost his job and is doing construction work ripping walls down. This fancy metaphorical juxtaposition is about as exciting as things get during this Italian kitchen-sink drama, which drags along for a butt-numbing two hours. It features neither days nor clouds—just dreary nights of regret and clear blue skies of infidelity. As Elsa and Michele's relationship gets worse, it also gets less interesting. In the central roles, Margherita Buy and Antonio Albanese give nuanced performances, but the script ultimately isn't about anything, so their efforts are in vain. SIFF touts the film as being from the director of the charming 2000 romance Bread & Tulips. Fans expecting the same magic again from Silvio Soldini will be sorely disappointed. Fans of Schadenfreude—or whatever the equivalent term is in Italian—should be pleasantly surprised. (NR) FRANK PAIVA Uptown: 7 p.m. (Also: 1:30 p.m. Sat., June 14.)Hold Me Tight, Let Me GoThis unflinching documentary is like two hours of watching paint dry, but the paint is screaming, emotionally disturbed children. Hold Me Tight takes the viewer into the bizarre world of Mulberry Bush School, a boarding school outside of London that cares for children afflicted by trauma or neglect. The preferred method of treatment appears to be watching them scream, or shout obscenities, or spit in the caregivers' faces, or restraining them if necessary. The camera also captures the parents coming to visit—and often appearing glad to leave—their wailing and flailing children. Director Kim Longinotto's work is revealing in the sense that the camera seems to go unnoticed by her subjects, allowing us an unfiltered window into the chaos. And, to be fair, the occasional moment of tenderness. But it does little to explain the method or context for what she's illuminating. (NR) AIMEE CURL Harvard Exit: 6:45 p.m. (Also: SIFF Cinema, 9:30 p.m. Wed., June 11.)In the Land of the Head-HuntersWith the "entire drama enacted by primitive Indians," per the original poster, there is no way to defend the landmark local pseudo-documentary by Edward S. Curtis or argue for its historical authenticity. The 1914 In the Land of the Head-Hunters is both a fake and an important historical artifact. Curtis (1868-1952) used real members of various Puget Sound tribes to portray Native Americans in a kind of staged, idealized representation of their life before the ruinous arrival of white settlers and the theft of their land. It's a cinematic myth, but the filmmaking process entailed using real canoes, artifacts, and rituals—and the performances of our region's original inhabitants. Curtis' sentimental, romantic pastiche is still probably the most important movie ever made in the Northwest. Significantly, the silent film had its world premiere at the Moore 94 years ago. The original score will accompany the restored 47-minute print. And members of the Kwakwaka'wakw tribe—some of whose ancestors acted in the movie—will also perform. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Moore Theatre, 1932 Second Ave., 324-9996, $13-$17. 7 p.m. Postcards from LeningradThis film certainly lives up to its SIFF billing as a dark comedy. In fact, if its major themes didn't include guerrilla warfare, torture, and death, I'd almost call it adorable, thanks to the quirky innocence of its unnamed 6-year-old narrator (Claudia Usubillaga), the daughter of two rebels in '60s Venezuela. As she relates her adventures, you find yourself getting goosebumps and the giggles at the same time. Crucial moments include her nonsensical explanation of her father's plan to escape from prison by becoming "Frog Man," which we see—and comprehend how it's been (mis)translated into a child's understanding. Writer-director Mariana Rondón's reliance on a child narrator leads to a somewhat disjointed narrative, with a few loose ends left untied. It can be a chore to connect Postcards' many jumps in time, but the film always holds your interest, leaving you satisfied and slightly creeped out. It's the pistol-packing Hispanic love child of Donnie Darko and Amélie. (NR) EMMA BREYSSE Pacific Place: 9:15 p.m. (Also: 4:30 p.m. Thurs., June 12.)Theater of WarJohn W. Walter's doc tells the backstage story of New York City's Public Theater's 2006 staging of Bertolt Brecht's 1939 Mother Courage and its status as (says artistic director Oskar Eustis) "the greatest antiwar play ever written." Theater itself is all over the place: Here composer Jeanine Tesori is writing the play's songs, taking inspiration from Meryl Streep's line readings. ("Couture," Tesori calls the process of fitting music to performer.) And over here's a footnote about Japanese-American internment during World War II. But everything's interesting enough to carry you through the leaps in time and topic. A discussion of Brecht's Marxism is illuminatingly interwoven with scenes of the production's actual manual laborers: the wardrobe mistress (looking for costume-design ideas for characters ravaged by war, she says "research is in every day's newspaper") and the props master, who builds a fake Jeep out of a golf cart. The film's most historically resonant sequence is also just about its most fun: 1947 footage of Brecht testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee, making apparent through his puckish non-answers just what a Kafkaesque—or Brechtian—comedy the hearings were. And everyone interviewed is refreshingly unpretentious about theater's political power. Rather than change the world, translator Tony Kushner admits, the best art can do is to be "in dialogue with the terribleness of the moment." (NR) GAVIN BORCHERT SIFF Cinema: 7 p.m. (Also: 4:30 p.m. Thurs., June 12.)

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