Fall 2002

Sep 12  Monsoon Wedding
Sep 19  Y tu mamá también
Sep 26  Atanarjuat: the Fast Runner
Oct 3  Storytelling
Oct 10  Human Nature
Oct 17  Thirteen Conversations About One Thing
Oct 24  Full Frontal
Oct 31  Italian for Beginners
Nov 7  Cherish
Nov 14  Iris
Nov 21  The Mystic Masseur
Nov 28  Baran
Dec 5  Fubar

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[IMDb] Follow the links to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) for more information about the films.

September 12   Monsoon Wedding (US/India/France/Italy 2001) 114. min.
[IMDb] English; Hindi and Punjabi with English subtitles [IMAGE]
Directed by Mira Nair
With Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey, et al.
The series opens with a wild celebration of colour and joy. If Robert Altman were a woman and an Indian he might have created Monsoon Wedding, an infectiously rambling story of middle class residents of Delhi caught up in elaborate plans for an extravagant ceremony. This naturalistic film revolves around Aditi's (Vasundhara Das) nuptials to Hemant (Parvin Dabas), a handsome geek from Texas whose Indian parents have arranged this marriage. Now living as a resident of the States, Hermant is suddenly thrown back into the old time customs his modern life scarcely remembers. Indeed, the younger generation--cousins and friends of the couple-are scattered across the globe, doing what enterprising young people do these days - everything from computer work to MBAs. The contrast between old and nouveau-global is a source of both hilarity and reflection. Sure, the movie is a romance wrapped inside a roti, but as in all the great wedding pictures, Monsoon Wedding makes for great sociology. This exotic multilingual world reveals itself to be as fascinating as any of ours, and in some ways just as familiar. The Verma family could be anyone's, from Bauline to Bombay. Winner of a Golden Lion at Venice in 2001, this is a must-see opener.

September 19   Y tu mamá también (Mexico/USA 2001) 105 mins.
[IMDb] Rated R for strong sexual content involving teens, drug use and language.
Spanish with English subtitles. [IMAGE]

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
With Maribel Verdú, Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, et al.
Three Words best describe this Mexican romance: hot hot hot. Spice your nachos and settle in for one of the best movies of the year-an astonishingly sexy road movie involving a gorgeous young woman and two younger men on a wild adventure to unpredictable passion. Y Tu Mamá También (translation. 'And your mother, too') isn't about sex, however, so much as it is a study of an emerging Mexico, fraught with class and gender conflict, and huge gaps between rich and poor. Youth is a great leveler, of course, at least as long as it lasts. These two young men might come from different worlds but at this age they both think with their-er--hormones. Maribel Verdú gives a superb performance as the older woman who leads the boys to the Pacific coast and into manhood. Although we are led as much as they are by the wild unpredictability of the plot, the movie explores deeper themes that challenge conventional cinematic images of Mexico. Badges? These kids don't want no stinkin' badges. They want experience, and they get more than they bargained for.

September 26   Atanarjuat: the Fast Runner (Canada 2001) 172 mins.
[IMDb] Inuktitut with English subtitles. [IMAGE]
Directed by Zacharias Kunuk
With Natar Ungalaaq, Sylvia Ival, Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq, Lucy Tulugarjuk, et al.
We really didn't want one more person calling to plead if we could screen this film at the big Mall, so we programmed it as soon as we could, making just about everyone happy. Brought to you by popular demand and out of respect for its sheer stunning audacity, Atanarjuat is an award-winning masterpiece, an all-Inuit production that demands to be seen again and again. Epic in both length and substance, this film unravels no less than a mythic tale of being and becoming. Two men, one woman: could there be a more universal generating circumstance for a story of revenge? Much has been said of the extended chase sequence, as far from Hollywood as the Arctic is from Sunset Boulevard, but there is so much more to this exquisitely shot film than thrills and suspense. Every inch a work of drama yet so persuasively realistic, Atanarjuat bears a strong documentary feel. This shouldn't be surprising since many of us have never heard so much Inuktitut spoken, nor met these visionary characters before, certainly not on screen. Director Kunu is an artist and sculptor, and he makes of his world as beautiful an object as you've ever seen. Atanarjuat actually played in St. John's for a few lonely days last winter, but the seven people who managed to catch it will probably be sitting right beside you.

October 3   Storytelling (USA 2001) 87 mins.
[IMDb] Rated R for strong sexual content, language, and drug use. [IMAGE]
Directed by Todd Solondz
With Selma Blair, Leo Fitzpatrick, Robert Wisdom, Maria Thayer, Angela Goethals, et al.
Okay, we know it's been out on video for a little while but not everyone likes to see life reduced to pixels and tracking lines. Storytelling was directed and written by one of our favourite indie talents and we think it deserves a big screen and an appreciative audience. If you remember the troubling Welcome to the Dollhouse and the even more disturbing Happiness, you'll see that Storytelling covers similar themes, the nightmare of suburbia, the agony of parents and adolescent youths. Solondz continues to draw an unsparing portrait of a troubled middle class. Storytelling, however, experiments more boldly with narrative, dividing itself into two apparently discreet sections. The first features stunning Selma Blair as Vi, a creative writing student who gets into quite a tangle with her prof and learns a lesson or two about political correctness. It's a savagely wicked take on sexual and racial politics and it'll make you squirm with raw recognition. The other 'story' centres on a young geeky documentary filmmaker who coincidentally wears Solondz's big dark glasses and turns his camera on a suburban family. Mmmmm, is that self-analysis we see before us? If Woody Allen were thirty years younger he might be making films like this-with Diane Keaton, of course. Storytelling is not for anyone looking for neat and tidy, but it sure makes an interesting mess.

October 10   Human Nature (France/USA 2001) 96 mins.
[IMDb] Rated R for sexuality/nudity and language. [IMAGE]
Directed by Michel Gondry
With Patricia Arquette, Rhys Ifans, Tim Robbins, Ken Magee, et al.
An ambitious title for a modest film, but worthy of its oxymoronic subject. Sprung from the imagination that conceived of Being John Malkovich, Human Nature is an exuberant inquiry into the animal in all of us. Oscar winner Charlie Kaufman wrote the script that challenges the culture that man built. A wild child is raised by his nutcase father as an ape. All grown up and happily dragging his knuckles on the ground, he is inevitably 'captured' in the forest one day; the rest is social history. Of course, he becomes the subject of a bunch of loony scientists-characters who figure like the Three Stooges crossed with Frankenstein-and mayhem results. As these professional experts attempt to turn the ape man into a gentleman, they betray the worst sorts of inhuman behaviours. You can feel the full force of farce here, but Human Nature really is a lot of fun, and its premise is dead serious, as is the case of all strong satires. It's all worth the price of watching Rhys Ifans as the ape man, otherwise dubbed 'Puff,' as the utterly libidinous man-animal, as emblematic of the horny-toed male as we've ever seen.

October 17   Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (USA 2001) 94 mins.
[IMDb] Rated R for language and brief drug use.
This film is being shown as part of the 13th annual St. John's Women's International Film and Video Festival. [IMAGE]

Directed by Jill Sprecher
With Matthew McConaughey, David Connelly, John Turturro, Joseph Siravo, et al.
Roger Ebert called this film 'brilliant.' We call it dazzling. An impressive cast come together to honour the words of director Jill Sprecher and her sister Karen who first collaborated on the wickedly incisive Clockwatchers, a low-budget study of office temps that took our audiences by pleasant surprise. Hunky character actor Matthew McConaughey plays Troy, a smug lawyer who's loudly celebrating his most recent courtroom triumph. Countering such unqualified glee is Gene, played with his usual genius by Alan Arkin. How miserable is this guy? Faced with having to fire someone in his insurance office he targets the happiest guy around, the type who can spot a half-filled glass in a desert. Troy will have none of this misery and insists on getting drunk to prove it. Driving home from the bar he hits a pedestrian and flees the scene, guilt haunting him and his claims to happiness from there on in. Characters who have either direct or unknowing connections with others are introduced and pursued for their own naïve attempts to fix their well being. John Turturro is an academic who leaves his wife (Amy Irving) for a younger babe because that's what middle age intellectuals do; cheery Clea DuVall does domestic service for a glass half-empty kind of client, suffers unfairly, and endures unfair pain. Unfair? Thirteen Conversations About One Thing forces the view that deserve's got nothin' to do with it. If the gods are having sport with us the best we can do is carry on as best as possible with such knowledge. This is a profoundly interesting film, full of wit and wisdom, and so far beyond mainstream crud we dare you to find it anything less than thoughtful.

October 24   Full Frontal (USA 2002) 101 mins.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
With David Duchovny, Nicky Katt, Catherine Keener, Mary McCormack, David Hyde Pierce, Julia Roberts, Blair Underwood, et al.
Many of you will wonder what a cinema series is doing showing a movie with the overpaid likes of Julia Roberts, but we felt compelled to bring Soderbergh's latest venture in storytelling to a theatre near you. The critics largely trashed this movie, turning abruptly from their adoring fixation with the creator of Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Out of Sight, Erin Brokavitch, and Oceans 11 to what they saw as the thematic emptiness of Full Frontal. Some, like otherwise stuffy doyen Robert Fulford, said all the critics were out to brunch. Decide for yourself. To be sure, Soderbergh knows how to tell a story. Not to mention a story within a story. Edgy Catherine Keener-whom we loved in Being John Malkovich-plays a neurotic personal assistant married to Fraser's brother-that is, David Hyde Pierce. Big Smile Roberts and Blair Underwood play actors playing in a movie in which he is an actor and she is a reporter. You still there? Shot on digital, no doubt to provide that nervous on-the-fly-realism of Woody Allen's recent pictures, Full Frontal zooms in and out of the 'real' movie-and the movie within. It's largely a study of surfaces, what in fact we are really watching when we gawk at this or any screen, so if that premise bothers you and you're looking for deeper meaning you're in the wrong century. Thing is, you're meant to be wondering at various stages whether you are watching a real or a fake movie, and when you realize how stupid that question is you'll probably relax and enjoy the play, the glam characters, and the loony bits of Hollywood comedy. Full Frontal is really about us-the spectators who sit and watch the flickering screen as if it were life..

October 31   Italian for Beginners (Denmark 2000) 112 mins.
[IMDb] aka Italiensk for begyndere
In Danish with English subtitles.
Rated R for language and some sexuality. [IMAGE]

Directed by Lone Scherfig
With Anders W. Berthelsen, Anette Støelbæk, Peter Gantzler, Ann Eleonora Jørgensen, et al.
Readers of this space will know what a Dogma film is, a product of that Danish movement launched by Lars von Trier in which stark naturalism is favoured over shallow artifice. But unlike some of the more sober examples of the school, Italian for Beginners is a rousing comedy, full of charm and likeable if incompetent characters. The story centres on the locale itself, a suburb of Copenhagen where the services of a sports facility, a restaurant, a hair salon, and a church continually converge. The hair salon is sometimes the epicenter, where everyone comes to chat and trade gossip, get shaved and trimmed, meet others, and fall in love. It's all Pastor Andreas can do to keep everyone straight and happy, as his daily duties demand. Naturally, the restaurant sees the locals come and go for all the same reasons. The delightful Italian waitress plays her ethnically different part, inspiring the natives to appreciate a more liberated sensual life, steal beauty, and visit Venice. The results of this cross-character and cross-cultural pollination is a highly affectionate study of the possibilities of desire and friendship in a narrowly circumscribed world. The sheer cheeriness of this comic vision is bound to banish the dark dreariness of a Halloween night. Come dressed as a Dane.

November 7   Cherish (USA 2002) 99 mins.
[IMDb] Rated R for language. [IMAGE]
Directed by Finn Taylor
Robin Tunney, Tim Blake Nelson, Jason Priestley, Lindsay Crouse, et al.
Robin Tunney is simply fabulous in this amusing variation on the whodunit genre. As Zoe, Tunney is an office worker with absolutely nothing to recommend her, or so it appears to her co-workers. Desperately infatuated with nearby Andrew (crazy race-car driving Jason Priestley), Zoe follows her heart into an unexpected showdown with destiny. Hijacked in her car by a masked stranger she finds herself suddenly arrested for killing a cop, is placed on a heavy watch, and confined indefinitely to her San Francisco apartment. Here's the interesting twist. Bored out of her mind and trapped by the criminal charges, Zoe must find the killer without leaving her cell of an apartment. The situation forces her to take full responsibility, transforming herself from office geek to interesting agent. How she does this is a large part of the fun of Cherish. Various characters enter and exit, and Zoe's natural awkwardness makes for some hilarious encounters. Ultimately, she must find the killer, clear her name, free herself of her old personality, and get a new life. The writing is ingenious and the performances make everything possible. Cherish is a word you will come to associate with a remarkable and widely overlooked little gem.

November 14   Iris (UK 2001) 90 mins.
Directed by Richard Eyre
With Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent, Kate Winslet, Hugh Bonneville, Penelope Wilton, et al.
This season's series is featuring a lot of good acting, and Iris is no small example. Yes, yes, we know the movie played here for four swiftly passing days and that it's been out on video, but as with Storytelling we really believe you want to see such big performances on the big screen. Dame Judi 'Shipping News' Dench plays the Alzheimer's-ridden novelist Iris Murdoch. In his memoir of his struggle to keep his wife grounded, John Bailey composed as moving a love story as ever saw ink. Here we get to see brilliant enactments of Bailey's compassionate account, the film emphasizing the sheer eccentricity of these two unlikely intellectuals, their liberated love, and enduring mutual respect. Kate Winslet plays the younger Iris to a tee, as Iris flashes back to the heady days of the couple's courtship amid the leafy confines of Oxford. The remarkable Jim Broadbent (Moulin Rouge) is Bailey to a tea, with Hugh Bonneville playing his own younger self in equally persuasive ways. These are all brave performances, uninhibited and unpretentious. So it is that in its survey of the two eccentrics the movie traces the path of social history, time's winged chariot, and the heaviness of domestic duty. Well deserving of their Oscar nominations, Dench and Broadbent will move you to read Murdoch and hope to hell you will always remember what you are thinking about from one moment to the next.

November 21   The Mystic Masseur (India 2001) 117 mins.
[IMDb] Rated PG for mild language. [IMAGE]
Directed by Ismail Merchant
With Aasif Mandvi, Om Puri, James Fox, Sanjeev Bhaskar, et al.
No, this is not a porn film. If you know your Nobel laureates you'll recognize that The Mystic Masseur is adapted from the V.S. Naipaul novel of 1957 that launched his career. As with many of his works to follow, this one exposed the complex Indian community of 1940s Trinidad to critical scrutiny. This is Naipul's originating world, one of a colourful colonial culture, where indentured Indian workers cultivated their own gardens of tropical insularity amid the dominant powers. Amazingly, this is the first of Naipul's many works to be adapted for film, and who better to do so than the experienced set decorator and period piece magician Ismail Merchant? The film centres on the life of Ganesh, a teacher who worships books and who is encouraged to write one of his own. His publication is overwrought and overrated, but he's the last to know. With a naïve mission to carry his alleged healing skills to the people, an increasingly famous Ganesh ends up marrying the daughter, Leela, of a conniving local businessman, Ramlogan. In some ways the event is a variation on Monsoon Wedding, as groom and father-in-law cross eyes and tactics over who is supposed to pay the bills. The post-nuptial follies of Ganesh and his family are at once hilarious and moving, just as Naipul once wrote of them. Ganesh ends up shifting his base from the rural backwaters to the urban centre, bringing with him a host of false assumptions about his privilege as an Indian and a man. The subject of an innocent shaped by power and empire is an old one, but the delivery is funny, tender, and entirely original.

November 28   Baran (Iran 2001) 94 mins.
[IMDb] Rated PG for language and brief violence.
Farsi with English subtitles. [IMAGE]

Directed by Majid Majidi
With Hossein Abedini, Zahra Bahrami, Mohammad Amir Naji, Hossein Mahjoub, et al.
We can't get enough of these movies from countries that begin with 'I' and end up being the scourge of George W. If films are good for something they ought to be educating ignorant westerners about lands, cultures, and people who exist on the other side of a media divide. Baran goes a long way to humanizing the unknown, and we recommend it highly for that reason alone. That said, in its own right Baran is a powerful fable about Lateef, a young labourer who is building something near the Afghanistan border. Actually, he is not so much building as helping the builders, scores of Afghanis who have fled their war-torn country in search of freedom or at least a decent wage and peace. In Iran they are protected to a point, but they are underpaid and treated poorly. Lateef, who as an Iranian escapes the hard labour of the refugees, is suddenly faced with having to do real work when circumstances throw him back into line, hauling concrete sacks. Lateef isn't happy, to put it mildly, and he seeks revenge against the boss who assigned him and the person assigned to his milder duties. But one thing leads to another and soon Lateef benefits from the inversion of his world. Good things can happen in bad circumstances, and so it is that Lateef grows up by discovering love and tolerance. This might sound sappy and sweet, but in fact Baran offers up the sort of social realism we crave. Director Majid Majidi hit the mark with his The Children of Heaven in 1997, and he continues here with a beautifully shot tribute to the forces that sustain a vexed, misunderstood, and underrepresented slice of the world.

December 5   Fubar (Canada 2002) 76 mins.
[IMDb] Rated AA. [IMAGE]
Directed by Michael Dowse
With Paul Spence, David Lawrence, Gordon Skilling, et al.
This is the perfect end of semester antidote to winter, exams, being, and non being. Not surprisingly, this lively mockumentary follows the lives of a head banging generation-in other words, guys who are F***** Up Beyond All Repair. Not that there's anything wrong with that. A smash hit at Sundance, FUBAR revolves around Dean and Terry, two mullet-headed guys who would no more attend MUN than they'd shop at the Mall. These guys drink beer, play ear-splitting heavy metal music, joke about bodily functions, and live life as unrespectably as possible. The narrative device is a yuppie doc filmmaker who follows the boys on their unpredictable escapades. Shots happen. Canada rocks. By now many of you will have decided to stay home and rearrange your stamp collection, but be assured that FUBAR is actually hilarious in a very irreverent Canadian sort of way. We know these guys. They're everywhere, and they're here. Some scenes are side-splittingly funny, others are anarchically puzzling, leaving you wondering where the real actors end and the extras begin. Bring the rebel in you to this film.