This is one of those movies that shows the lives of its characters intersecting in the most brief and coincidental ways, à la Short Cuts. We have Matthew McConaughey as a hotshot lawyer, Clea DuVall as a housecleaner, John Turturro as a physics teacher, and all of them employ different philosophies on life and fate. (Most of them are existentialists, however, because their lives suck shit.) 13 Conversations is charming and even sweet in its cynicism. (Julianne Shepherd)
A nine-year-old is left in a cold-war orphanage in Hungary. He is terrorized by peers and staff, but nonetheless, determined.
Anita Takes a Chance (Spain)
Melodramatic would-be spinster Anita worked the ticket counter at a theater for 34 years, only to come to work one morning to find herself suddenly without a purpose, as her workplace was sold to a mega-corporation and destroyed. Instead of a ticket box, she finds a huge pit containing a bulldozer and an inordinate number of hunky construction worker archetypes. With nothing better to do, Anita (kind of a Spanish, hypochondriac Angelica Huston) spends every day at the site, crushing out on the workers and falling into pits. Enter Antoni--the bull-dozer driver many years her junior, but with huge hands, who helps Anita re-discover her genitalia and purpose. (Kate Mercier)
* Business of Fancy Dancing (USA)
I once saw Sherman Alexie speak, and he was awesome. He made fun of people, he was defensive, and he made us laugh. This movie, written and directed by Sherman Alexie, evoked a similar reaction to seeing him. It's funny, provocative, and educational. It's the story of Seymour Polaktin, an Indian who's left the res., and who's written a lot of poetry about life on the res. He has to return home in order to attend the funeral of a good friend, and, in doing so, face the people he's exploited. (Katia Dunn)
Emil and the Detectives (Germany)
Emil is sent to Berlin while his father recovers from a traffic accident. Unfortunately, on the train ride there, a con man in red cowboy boots rips off all Emil's dough. But on arrival, he meets a rag-tag gang of kid detectives. The kids track down the bad guy and show the adults and con men who the real masterminds are. The dearest moment is a random musical number, a rap song where the kids sing to introduce themselves. It's totally weird. (Marjorie Skinner)
Gerry, the latest feature from hometown director Gus Van Sant, is the story of two friends (Casey Affleck and Matt Damon) who go hiking out in the desert and get lost. And that's it. 110 minutes of hardly any dialogue and long, non-edited shots of the boys hoofing it through a barren wasteland. Now, while some film snobby-snobs may try and convince you this is Van Sant's "cinematic homage to the work of Bela Tarr," just smile, nod, and know they're full of crap. In Gerry you cannot wait for these people to die. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
Hi, Tereska (Poland)
In Polish director Robert Glinski's latest film, he follows Tereska (Aleksandra Gietner) as she skips choir practice to smoke cigarettes, drink beer, and flirt with boys, with a backdrop of communist block housing. Like most stark Eastern European films, this Polish KIDS makes you feel as if we are all connected to the same track of despair. (M. Lon Free )
* Italian for Beginners (Denmark)
The characters of Italian for Beginners begin in a state of despair. This being a romantic comedy, their lives begin to intersect through a series of coincidences--coincidences that could feel contrived, but due to the rough integrity of the script, performances, and direction (shaped in part by the monastic rigors of the Dogme 95 ethic), they feel like the organic waywardness of life. (Bret Fetzer)
Karmen Gei (Senegal)
Based on the opera Carmen, this film adaptation stars a black Karmen, takes place in Senegal, and is set in the world of underground smuggling. Karmen seduces the warden of the jail where she is imprisoned and returns powerfully to her world of crime.
The Lady and the Duke (France)
Grace, a young Scottish aristocrat, finds herself in Paris during the Revolution. The film explores her relationship with the Duke of Orleans--the cousin of Louis XVI, King of France. Grace and the Duke are former lovers who are still friends--but are they something more?
Left Side of the Fridge (Canada)
After Christophe ditches his engineering job, Stephane begins filming his roommate's subsequent journey through unemployment, documenting the trials of low-budget dating and the discovery that what Christophe would really like to do probably won't be financially viable. In a witty and humorous way, Christophe confronts this unhappy side effect of capitalism. (Suzy Lafferty)
Little Crumb (Netherlands)
I imagine this movie is the Dutch equivalent to Home Alone. It may be hard to believe, but there actually is an actor more pukey than Macaulay Culkin. Ruud Feltkamp plays Kruimeljte (or, in English, "little crumb," isn't that just adorable), a lonely orphan who travels around the village getting in trouble and charming his way into the hearts of and souls of the kind Danish folk. Everyone is way, way too cute. As a side note, people in the Netherlands have a point .19 percent rate of HIV, which seems pretty low considering all the sex they have. (Katia Dunn)
* Me Without You (Britain)
In Me Without You, two girls grow up in London as best friends--Marina is always being told she's the pretty one, and Holly is always surrendering to her command, even though Marina's a total backstabber. As they get older, it becomes obvious that Holly is more intelligent, motivated, together, and even better-looking, but they cling to their set patterns. The film expertly shows the twisting of their relationship over time, as Holly slowly becomes aware that she can't be herself with Marina--that, like a condescending parent, Marina always tries to keep her in an inferior role. (Katie Shimer)
Orphan of Anyang (China)
While eating at a noodle stand, the owner hands Dagang (a 40-something factory worker) a baby. There is a note in the baby's blanket that says whoever takes care of it will receive $25 a week--a fortune to Dagang. He meets the mother, a Manchurian prostitute, agrees to care for the baby, and promptly gets sucked into a crazy relationship with the mother and her dying pimp.
* Short Cuts I (various)
Shorts from all over the world. Included are Zen and the Art of Landscaping, a comedy about a landscaper sucked into the seductive plot of a bitter wife, and In Absentia, based on a true story about a woman in an asylum who obsessively writes the same letter.
The story of two sisters who have nothing in common. One sister is a dressy-bessy hoity-toity, and one is a tough girl who hates dressy-bessy. That is, until they are forced to be friends and comrades because of situational, familial obligations. Will they poke each other's eyes out? Watch and see.
Sobibor, October 14 (France)
Documentarian Claude Lanzmann expounds on a 1979 interview with a Holocaust survivor (shot originally for inclusion in his film Shoah). He reconstructs the past from the survivor's memories and sets the images against a view of modern-day Poland. As a whole, the film successfully critiques cinematic fictionalizing of the Holocaust.
Song for Martin (Sweden)
A woman goes on loving her husband, even though he has Alzheimer's. She marries him after leaving her first husband, and the two have a beautiful, musical relationship. Of course, that's all before he gets the disease, and everything goes awry.
* Time Out (L'Emploi du temps) (France)
Apparently, even the French have mind-bendingly boring suburban lives. Vincent is a hapless-but-likeable consultant who can't quite get in the rat race groove. After being canned from his job, he fails to tell his family, filling his days instead with aimless driving. Vincent struggles with a profound and elusive quality: self-worth. As Vincent tries to uphold his illusions, the film is surprisingly tense, and deeply stirring. (Phil Busse)
To Love, Too Much (Mexico)
Beatriz works a boring job in Mexico City, in hopes of saving enough money to move to Spain and open a boarding house. However, an encounter with romantic Carlos opens her eyes to the possibilities that surround her, in love and life, and shift her priorities.
* What time is it there? (Taiwan/France)
A deadpan comedy involving a French woman, who coaxes a young Taipei street vendor into selling her his dual time watch. Once she is gone, he becomes obsessed with her, all the while having to deal with his mother, who has nearly gone crazy after the death of his father. The French woman is consistently reminded of Hsiao after she returns to Paris, and eventually, their paths cross again.