Films shown from 2000 to 2009 Columbia Film Society

Presented at the Theater, Communication Arts Building, Howard Community College Nine Fridays/Saturdays of Film for $30.00


September 22 and 23, 2000 In a rural Chinese village, a 13-year old student becomes an emergency substitute teacher. When one of her charges, a 10-year-old boy, leaves to find work in a vast, nameless city nearby, she abandons her post and sets out to find him. The great Chinese director Zhang Yimou shot this film in a style that might be called austere fabulism. He uses documentary techniques — casting nonactors and presenting the raw concrete walls and dirt roads in all their authentic ugliness. Yet the story is shaped like a fable from the silent-film days, and one gets caught up in it. It becomes a slow-motion chase movie, and the persistence of the young teacher gives the film a tone of hilarious monomania. Intentionally or not, Zhang reveals the meanness and impersonality of contemporary Chinese society. (New Yorker) (In Mandarin)


October 27 and 28, 2000 Like so many characters in Latin American literature, the three major characters in Fernando Perez's lush, hallucinatory film walk around with an awareness of the supernatural that simultaneously inspires and oppresses them. As these passionate, troubled residents of Havana, all three of them orphans, go about their lives, we have an acute sense of their being haunted and held back by religious and ancestral specters. The director's masterstroke is his portrayal of the internal conflicts of the three major characters as a metaphor for the political and economic anxieties gripping Cuba in the twilight of the Castro era. The movie is so deeply in sync with its characters' passions that it sustains a mood of heady sensuality. Love seems to bloom on every Havana street corner, and the throbbing music of Bola de Nieve and Benny More, which punctuates the film, makes its erotic pulse race even faster. (New York Times) (In Spanish)


January 12 and 13, 2001 After World War II the Soviet government undertook a propaganda campaign to entice Russian nationals living in the West to return home. Aleksei Golovine (Oleg Menchikov) and his French wife, Marie (Sandrine Bonnaire), the couple at the heart of this sumptuous, moving historical melodrama, are luckier than most of their fellow returnees, who are killed or imprisoned on arrival. East-West chronicles Aleksei's ambivalence about their new life in a drab, depressing communal apartment and Marie's desperate attempts to escape it. The film uses the resources of old-fashioned emotionally emphatic filmmaking to shed light on forgotten history. East-West is a grand costume pageant, full of grandeur and period detail, but it is also a portrait of a marriage under extreme external and internal pressure, and a showcase for two great film actresses: Ms. Bonnaire, and Catherine Deneuve playing an actress who becomes aware of Marie's plight during a tour of the Soviet Union. (New York Times) (In French/Russian)


January 26 and 27, 2001 Mike Leigh's brilliant re-creation of the most famous partnership in the British theater — the collaboration of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan in the glory era of imperial rule. There are elements here of a traditional bio-pic — failure, triumph, intimations of immortality — but none of the stodginess and self-congratulation that usually plague the form. Sullivan (Allan Corduner), a libertine who nevertheless had serious pretensions as a composer, and Gilbert (Jim Broadbent), formal, irascible, and asexual, but a great theatrical pro, are so dissimilar in temperament that they can hardly bear each other's company. Leigh suggests that the combination of sentimental languor and incisiveness produced the art of The Mikado, whose preparation and first performance take up the second half of the movie. In all, one of the greatest movies about the theater. (New Yorker) (In English).


March 9 and 10, 2001 During the Cultural Revolution, a tailor's teenage daughter (nicknamed Xiu Xiu — pronounced show-show) is sent to the Tibetan plains to learn horse herding preparatory to joining the Iron Girls Cavalry. There she bonds with a nomad and is stranded when the cavalry is disbanded and only the politically well-connected are allowed to return home. Seduced by a handsome peddler and taken advantage of by soldiers, she finally joins with the nomad in a final, courageous act of violence in a film that maintains a poetic distance from its brutal physical facts. The film is directed by the Chinese actress Joan Chen, and has been banned by the Chinese. (New York Times) (In Mandarin)


March 30 and 31, 2001 This beautiful Iranian movie, about a widowed father who is reluctant to care for his blind 8-year-old son is a heartbreaker done with such conviction that it avoids mawkishness. When the special school the boy has been attending won't keep him on, the father takes his son first to the family's woodland homestead, then leaves him in the care of a blind carpenter. The movie evokes nature with an ecstatic sensuousness, and its heady soundtrack teems with the sounds of birds, insects, wind and rain. It is directed by Majid Majidi. (New York Times) (In Persian)


April 27 and 28, 2001 Tarek is the base of a teen triangle including Omar and May. They are from Beirut families of different ethnic/religious groups — Tarek self-describes himself as Phoenician, Omar is Muslim, and May is Catholic. What a world they inhabit: constantly snacking, acting out in school, full of energy, on the outlook for adventures — all with an almost studied lack of seriousness in 1975. Suddenly war comes along and divides Beirut into the West Beirut of the title (which is conceived of as Muslim) and East Beirut (which is conceived of as Catholic). At first the trio maintains their irrepressible and optimistic enthusiasm, but they soon discover that giving a quote from the Koran or wearing a cross can get you either killed or rescued depending on the situation. The struggle to cope wears everyone down, and Tarek, Omar, and May grow up fast as the realities of rationing, lawlessness, and the dangers to their persons and to their country seep in. (In Arabic/French)


May 4 and 5.2001 Kadosh, directed by Amos Gita, today's best-known Israeli filmmaker, focuses on deeply rooted conflicts between personal and political concerns. Rivka is a Jewish woman whose inability to bear children threatens her marriage to an ultra-Orthodox man. Although her husband doesn't want to break up their household, his rabbi argues that childless marriages must be ended if Israel's great "enemy" is to be defeated. The enemy he has in mind is Israeli Jews who oppose ultra-Orthodox rule for their nation. These Israeli Jews will become a political minority if Orthodox families have lots of offspring as quickly as they can. Rivka's experiences are echoed by those of her sister, Malka, who has tried to please her family by marrying a devout but unfeeling man who treats her with appalling insensitivity. Gita handles his potentially melodramatic material with unfailing taste and compassion, encouraging his audience to think long and hard about the moral dilemmas his film intelligently explores. (Christian Science Monitor) (In Hebrew)


June 1 and 2, 2001 The joys of acting, the complexity of human relationships, and the slippery nature of sex and gender roles are among the concerns of Pedro Almodovar's Academy Award winning dramatic comedy about a woman trying to reorder her life after the untimely death of her teenage son. Some will find the movie's sexual antics too explicit and unconventional for comfort. Others will find this Almodovar's most finely crafted picture since the 1988 comedy Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown established him as Spain's most important living director. (Christian Science Monitor) (In Spanish)

2001-2002 SEASON

Presented at the Theater, Communication Arts Building, Howard Community College Nine Fridays/Saturdays of Film for S30.00


September 14 and 15, 2001 The charming Me You Them, by the Brazilian filmmaker Andrucha Waddington, made its way here via the Cannes and Toronto film festivals. The film features Regina Case, a Brazilian TV star, as Dolores, a young woman from a backward province who is abandoned, pregnant, at the altar. Deprived of a husband, Dolores eventually finds herself supplied with no less than three husbands — at the same time, all living peacefully together under the same roof. The film is said to be based on a real-life case of polygamy, and also has echoes of the Brazilian classic Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. It does not sensationalize its story in any way, but simply shows that for someone like Dolores, who is an earth mother without even trying, one things leads to another. (Roger Ebert). Me You Them weds the humor and magic of a folk tale with a very modern feel for the psychological dynamics between men and women and for the subtle politics of male rivalry in a macho culture. (New York Times) (In Portuguese) (107 minutes)


October 19 and 20, 2001 In exchange for three hours of your time, Yi Yi will give you more life. Edward Yang, the Taiwanese filmmaker who wrote and directed this intimate epic of a middle-class Taipei's family's everyday struggles, knows that for a movie to be full of life, it must above all concern itself with specific lives. Yi Yi begins with the chaotic bustle of wedding preparations and ends with the somber calm of a funeral. In the long interval between these events, the members of the Jian family collectively and individually traverse what feels like the full spectrum of human experience, from the mundane to the catastrophic. A memorable treat. (New York Times) (In Mandarin)


November 16 and 17, 2001 This is the quirky, colorful real-life story about a small band of Australian engineers who ended up with the huge responsibility of transmitting the live-feed on that historic day in July, 1969, when man first set foot on the moon. Sam Neill plays the imperturbable pipe-puffing engineer in charge of a radio telescope the size of a football field. There is a particularly touching moment when the entire town gathers around the TV to watch Neil Armstrong’s first step, and they all realize that he and they have become part of history. The Dish has affection for every one of its characters, forgives them their trespasses, understands their ambitions, doesn't mock them and is very funny. It placed second for the People's Choice Award at the 2000 Toronto Film Festival — after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. (Roger Ebert) (In English) (104 minutes)


January 11 and 12, 2002 Zhang Ziyi, co-star of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, is delicately arresting in Zhang Yimou's beautifully textured, disarmingly simple movie, The Road Home. She's Zhao Di, an 18-year-old girl who falls in love with, then marries her village's new teacher. Luo Changyu (Zheng Hao). The film starts years later, right after Luo Changyu has died; and city businessman Luo Yusheng (the son of their marriage) returns to the village for the funeral. It's a lovely, romantic trip to the past. And director Zhang Yimou, screenwriter Bao Shi and cinematographer Hou Yong take a small tale and make it almost transcendental. (Washington Post) (In Mandarin) (100 minutes)


February IS and 16, 2002 This tale of crime, punishment and passion in 19th-century French Canada has the bold, earnest emotion of a classic 1940s Hollywood melodrama, and its three principals manifest all the ardor and stoicism of the great movie stars of old. Emir Kusturica plays a fisherman convicted of a senseless murder, who is placed under the supervision of the local military commander (Daniel Auteuil) and his wife (Juliette Binoche) until a guillotine and an executioner can be found. The film's moral seriousness, coupled with the complex triangle of jealousy, honor and sympathy that develops between the condemned man and his protectors, makes The Widow of St. Pierre an unusually satisfying period drama. Even as it moves toward tragedy, it carries a heady, thrilling sense of artistic risk. (New York Times) (In French) (112 minutes)


March 8 and 9, 2002 In the provincial city of Rouen, a married factory owner named Castella falls in love with a local actress after seeing her perform in a production of Racine's Berenice. The actress, Clara, a refined, lonely woman, hangs out with the other actors and a few local artists ¬¬— a closed bohemian circle — and is appalled by her wealthy admirer, who tells blundering, unfunny jokes. From this collision of tastes, Agnes Jaoui creates a wonderfully funny scenario in which all kinds of artistes and bourgeoisie collide and reassess what they want out of life. The film has subtle, tender and acute things to say about romance, art, class and — why not? — interior decorating. It's a winning tribute to the flighty Aphrodite. (In French) (112 minutes)


April 12 and 13, 2002 Spanish director Benito Zambrano has made an extraordinary and heartfelt film about a good-hearted woman, identified only as Mother. Solas ("Alone") takes place over the course of a few days, in which Mother leaves her village for the city, to care for her often-abusive husband, who is recovering from surgery. While in the city. Mother moves in with her daughter, Maria, a 35-year-old single woman who drinks too much and is pregnant by her insensitive biker-boyfriend. Mother also gets to know Maria's downstairs neighbor, a genial widower desperate to share his life and love with someone. Zambrano describes this movie as "committed cinema," which introduces us to ordinary characters whose desperate lives are punctuated by moments of great humanity. That humanity comes from the mother's quiet strength and the neighbor's indefatigable kindness. And their understated connection becomes the guiding light for the whole movie, a memorable chronicle about simple lives and moral complexities. (In Spanish) (98 minutes)


May 10 and 11, 2002 A fine new feature from the French director Francois Ozon: his quietest creation to date, but also his most provocative. Charlotte Rampling plays Marie, whose husband disappears from a beach; everyone but Marie believes him dead, and Ozon finds both method and madness in her noble refusal to meet the truth. What could have been glum or morbid is made almost thrilling by Ozon's ruthless cuts and punchy compositions, and Rampling sways back and forth between the litheness of youth and the fallen hopes of middle age. The ending, suitably enough, is too mysterious for words. (New Yorker) (In French) (95 minutes)


May 31 and June 1, 2002 The latest film from the talented young Hong Kong writer-director Wong Kar Wai makes us pant for adultery. In the early sixties, in a community of Shanghai refugees living in Hong Kong, Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow are next-door neighbors in a friendly apartment building. The perfectly dressed and coiffed couple meet, talk, and realize that their frequently traveling spouses are off having an affair with each other. What to do? The movie is all about sensual anticipation. Nat King Cole croons on the soundtrack and the camera caresses the rain on the streets and the texture of a stone wall in the semi-darkness. This breathtakingly gorgeous movie is dizzy with a nose-against-the-glass romantic spirit that has been missing from the cinema for years. (New Yorker) (In Cantonese and Shanghainese) (97 minutes)

2002-2003 SEASON

Presented at the Theater, Communication Arts Building, Howard Community College Nine Fridays/Saturdays of Film for $30.00


September 20 and 21, 2002 Jean-Pierre Jeunet's exquisite, whimsical fable follows meek, almost saintly Parisian, Amelie Poulain (Audrey Tatou), who makes a quiet decision to transform as many sad lives as she can. And when she meets potential soulmate Nino Quicampoix (Mathieu Kassovitz), a genial loner, Amelie has to decide if her ability to change people's lives applies to herself. Wildly amusing, sometimes sardonic and always touching, the movie's narrative inventiveness and extraordinary visual compositions put most filmmakers to shame. (Washington Post) (In French) (122 minutes)


October 18 and 19, 2002 Powerful acting makes this drama a remarkable tour de force. Kate Winslet and Judi Dench play, respectively, writer Iris Murdoch in her twenties and later years. The story's an intimate, sobering window on Murdoch and her husband John Bayley's complicated life together — a relationship of intense privacy from each other, but also forced intimacy because Bayley had to tend to her physical needs. As the novelist, philosopher, playwright and poet who struggled with Alzheimer's disease, Dench enjoys some of her finest moments. As her husband, academician and writer, John Bayley, Jim Broadbent makes a magnificent counterbalance. (Washington Post) (In English) (90 minutes)


November 15 and 16, 2002 The latest movie from the Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron is a stripped-down road movie; two teenage friends, one rich and one poor, borrow a car and set off to find the perfect beach, in the company of a Spanish woman who is not merely older, but married. Plus, she seems inexplicably happy to take either, or both, of them to bed. All the boys' dreams, in other words, have come true, and they can hardly handle it. What ensues is a sad and sexy picaresque, as everyone's illusions are peeled off along with their clothes. Cuaron's style is so open and relaxed and his actors are so attuned to one another, that not until the final scene, with its litany of revelations, do we see that what felt life-affirming has almost been a meditation on the slide of time, and on the off-stage presence of death. (New Yorker) (In Spanish) (105 minutes)


January 17 and 18, 2003 Mira Nair's latest picture has been hailed as a feel-good spree, but it's better than that — a barely stable compound of the wounding, the confusing, and the appealing. The action takes place in Delhi, where a pair of middle-class parents work themselves into a froth over the nuptials of their daughter. Her marriage is, of course, arranged; for all the racket and buzz of the film's modernity, it finds time to make the suggestion — bewildering, perhaps, to audiences here — that from this archaic arrangement can spring an enduring love. The groom is flying in from Houston, Texas; another relative travels from Australia, and you brace yourself for the cultural collisions. The result is a comedy, but only just. India's stressful poise between orthodoxy and innovation (listen for the clash of peacock and cell phone) leads to a devastating family fracture that is only half-healed by the celebrations at the end. (New Yorker) (In English and Hindi) (114 minutes)


February 7 and 8, 2003 In Majid Majidi's deep, touching movie, an Iranian gofer named Latif becomes angry when his foreman forces him to do hard physical work, and gives his cushy, catering job to an illegal Afghan worker named Rahmat. But the more Latif finds out about his replacement, the more he likes. The performances are powerful. And as with Charles Chaplin's silent-movie classics of the early 20th century, Baran is eloquently visual, heartbreaking and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Humor and tragedy dance a wonderful tango throughout the movie. Thanks to cinematographer Mohammad Davudi's glowing images and Hassan Hassandoost's adroit, on-the-money editing, these moments really hit home. (Washington Post) (In Farsi) (94 minutes)


March 7 and 8, 2003 In this enthralling Australian movie, directed with great subtlety and authority by Ray Lawrence, four married couples, most of them approaching adult life's middle years, are struggling with unmet needs and barely hidden anxieties. The characters are strikingly original; and the performances are great too, particularly from Anthony LaPaglia, Barbara Hershey, Geoffrey Rush, Rachael Blake and Kerry Armstrong. The movie doesn't settle for pat judgments. It examines the darker sides of the morally victimized and the more saintly sides of the victimizers. And it's often wickedly funny. (Washington Post) (In English) (120 minutes)


April 11 and 12, 2003 Lone Sherfig's warm and fuzzy romantic comedy Italian for Beginners is the first movie directed by a woman to follow the rigorous aesthetic principles of the Dogma 95 filmmakers, who insist on natural lighting, hand-held cameras and other supposedly purifying cinematic techniques. It is also the first time the style has been applied to a light romantic comedy, in this case the story of six lonely singles in their 30s who pair off and travel together to Venice. The result is a movie that looks like a John Cassavetes film but ends up emitting the benign feel-good vibrations of a movie like Enchanted April., (New York Times) (In Danish) (118 minutes)


May 9 and 10, 2003 A splendid new film from Argentina about a couple of grifters who team up for a day and night of swindles in Buenos Aires. From the moment that Juan, a young hustler with the baby-faced cool of Antonio Banderas, gets rescued by Marcos, a 40ish, cultivated fellow who looks like a jazz-beatnik version of Mephistopheles, we believe in our guts that these are real, heartless, scrambling guys. The film is as tricky and satisfying as David Mamet's cinematic shell games, only this one has an aura of authenticity that works on pure edge-of-the-moment dramatic terms. (Entertainment Weekly) (In Spanish) (115 minutes)


June 6 and 7, 2003 Dover Kosashvili's potent feature is set among Georgian immigrants in Israel, where a 31-year-old student trails his parents to matchmaking dates while carrying on a romance with an older Moroccan divorcee. The sexual connection between the pair, while striking in its realism, is no more astonishing than the way that Kosashvili balances comedy and misery. (Entertainment Weekly). As the movie forcefully reminds us, arranged marriage may be an antiquated tradition in the West, but it still flourishes largely unchallenged in many other parts of the world. It also reminds us that marital laws and customs are so fundamental to the structure of any society that they affect every aspect of culture, since they ultimately define what it means to be a man or a woman. (New York Times). (In Georgian and Hebrew) (100 minutes)

2003 – 2004 SEASON

Presented at the Theater, Communication Arts Building, Howard Community College Nine Fridays/Saturdays of Film for $30.00


September 19 and 20, 2003 In 1931, three Aboriginal girls fled a state-run native settlement in Western Australia and walked more than twelve hundred miles to their home village. The director Phillip Noyce presents their journey in a straightforward way, giving patient attention to the desolate landscape and the almost wordless resolve of the girls. The movie only hints at the cruelties inflicted on the Aborigines, but the hints are enough. A heartbreaking, elemental film. (New Yorker)(In English) (94 minutes)


October 17 and 18, 2003 A leisurely warmhearted chronicle of an upper-class Jewish family that flees Nazi Germany to start life over in Kenya. The story tells of Walter and Jettel Redlich (Merab Ninidze and Juliane Kohler), a successful lawyer and his beautiful, elegant wife whose lives are transformed once they relocate to Africa with their young daughter, Regina (Lea Kurka). Despite a shaky narrative focus and dramatic reticence, its journey is consistently absorbing. As its events pass before your eyes, the movie suggests an episodic diorama whose attractive, complicated characters are held discreetly at arm's length. Nowhere in Africa won the 2002 Academy Award as best foreign film. (New York Times) (In German) (141 minutes).


November 7 and 8, 2003 Like all great doomed affairs, Talk to Her is full of lovely, sweet suffering. And when it's over, the realization of how much the movie means to you really sinks in; you can't get it out of your heart. Pedro Almodovar has created a tragic comedy about need, its liberating and shackling powers. Movies haven't been so rapturous about characters plummeting to an awful end at least since the last Almodovar film, All About My Mother (1999). But he doesn't mine the comic strip soap opera mystique so extravagantly here; everything falls into place with an almost surreal delicacy. (New York Times) (In Spanish) (112 minutes)


November 21 and 22, 2003 A half-deaf but observant secretary (Emmanuelle Devos), who reads people's lips and attitudes and feels like a loser, and a mangy ex-con (Vincent Cassel), with a blank look in his eyes and an endless capacity for trouble, make a very odd couple. But the writer-director Jacques Audiard, working close to his actors with a camera devoted to glances, reactions, and tiny gestures, gets us to believe that these two hard cases are destined for each other. The woman requires some waking up, a little danger or excitement, if she is not to expire from boredom and depression; the man needs some sense talked into him if he is not to be sent straight back to prison. They form an alliance and renew themselves by ripping off unsavory characters. The movie turns into a breathless and rather audacious study in the sexiness of a nonsexual relationship. (New Yorker) (In French) (115 minutes)


January 16 and 17, 2004 The French director Patrice Leconte, having flitted from one genre to the next with movies as different as Ridicule and The Girl on the Bridge, has now settled on his most consoling subject: the comedy of good companionship. Johnny Hallyday (who was, in his time, France's answer to Elvis) plays Milan, a low-level hit man who arrives, at the bluish end of a day, in a small French town and accepts the offer of a room from Manesquier (Jean Rochefort), a retired schoolteacher. In Man on the Train, we are granted the languorous—and, to many filmgoers, increasingly rare— pleasure of watching two people lock gently together. They even trade roles: Rochefort, the most playful melancholic in cinema, learns to fire a gun, while Hallyday takes up pipe and slippers. All of this is delectable. (New Yorker) (In French) (90 minutes).


February 13 and 14, 2004 Mostly Martha is the latest addition — and a quite adorable one — to the cooking melo-comedy subgenre, where Big Night and Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? reside. It's a German comedy about a workaholic chef who has to force herself out of her fixation and get a life. The movie succeeds because the writer-director, Sandra Nettelbeck, seems as obsessive as her titular heroine. Martha (Martina Gedeck), a chef in an upscale Hamburg restaurant, is focused and good at her game. When her 8-year-old niece, Lina (Maxime Foerste), arrives at Martha’s doorstep because her mother has been killed in a car accident, Martha doesn't know what to do. The film's humor emerges from the battle of wills between Martha and Lina. (New York Times) (In German) (105 minutes)


March 5 and 6, 2004 Set in the aftermath of the Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein was taking out his defeat on Iraq's Kurdish population by bombing and gassing their villages, Bahman Ghobadi's film could not be more relevant to the current situation: there is still nothing like the movies to give a human face to historical tragedy. The film is structured as a journey, from Iranian Kurdistan to Iraqi Kurdistan, undertaken by a locally famous singer, Mizra (Shahab Ebrahimi) and his two adult sons, Barat (Faegh Mohammadi) and Audeh (Allah-Morad Rashtian), in search of Mizra's ex-wife, Hanareh, a singer who left for Iraq after the Iranian revolution prohibited her from performing in public. Devastating, but with a lovely, elusive, affirmative undertone. (New York Times) (In Kurdish) (97 minutes)


April 16 and 17, 2004 Andrew Jarecki's startling documentary offers an approach to truth as richly nuanced but ultimately as futile as Kurosawa's great Rashomon. In 1987, in Great Neck, Long Island, the police arrested a beloved retired schoolteacher, Arnold Friedman, and his son Jesse on the charge of sexually abusing the young boys who regularly gathered at the Friedman home for computer lessons. Jarecki interviews the police, the attorneys, the judge, and the alleged victims in the case, but the heart of the movie is the family's own footage: the layers of Friedman home movies and stills and the voluminous videos shot by David Friedman, the oldest Friedman boy, throughout the crisis. The two accused men were part of a loving family of five, although Mrs. Friedman, emotionally stranded by her husband, was not part of the jokes and camaraderie. Before our astounded eyes the entire fantastic mess unfolds like a bloody Greek legend—the House of Atreus reincarnated in a middle-class Jewish family. (New Yorker) (In English) (107 minutes)


June 4 and 5, 2004 The stoic mysticism of Niki Caro's cool-handed, New Zealand-set charmer, in which Pai, a young Maori, has to overcome resistance to her assuming her familial destiny as the leader of her tribe, is wickedly absorbing. Much of its power comes from the delicate charisma of Keisha Castle-Hughes, making her acting debut as Pai. Her instinctive underplaying gives the film an added gravity, with the lush remoteness serving as an entrancing contrast to the sugar-rush, you-go-girl empowerment of programmed pandering like The Lizzie-McGuire-Movie. Each shut of the vistas in the breathtakingly lovely village where The Whale Rider takes place is presented with an even clarity, with the director and her cinematographer, Leon Narbey, leaving it to viewers to be seduced by its daunting power rather than overwhelming them with it. (New York Times) (In English) (105 minutes)

2004 – 2005 SEASON

Presented at the Theater, Communication Arts Building, Howard Community College Nine Fridays/Saturdays of Film for $35.00


September 17 and 18, 2004 Omar Sharif sparkles in the title role of a wise and worldly Muslim shop owner who befriends-and ultimately adopts-a troubled Jewish teenager named Momo in this gently moving drama set in 1960s Paris. Taking Momo under his wing when the boy's morbidly depressed father abandons him (this after his mother has run off, too), Ibrahim offers not just love but real insight into the mysteries of life. (Washington Post) (in French and Turkish) (95 minutes).


October 15 and 16, 2004 Like Blake's "Songs of Innocence and Experience," this Buddhist fable has a lyrical simplicity that masks its deep insight into human experience. Filmed at a mountain lake in a South Korean nature preserve, it follows an elderly monk and his young acolyte through the stages of the life cycle and the seasons of the calendar. The placid surface of Kim Ki Duk's lovely film is disturbed by eruptions of intense emotion, occasionally verging on melodrama, and by an intrusive soundtrack. But the film, with its moments of sharp humor (and the beguiling appearances of a white cat, a wry turtle and a quizzical rooster), is both sensual and austere, an exercise in spiritual discipline that sharpens your perception of human nature and the natural world. (The New York Times) (in Korean) (103 minutes)


November 12 and 13, 2004 The writer and director Tom McCarthy has turned his attention to a New Jersey backwater and come up with something lyrical, taciturn, and stripped of sentimentality. Peter Dinklage plays Fin, a dwarf who inherits a cabin-like home beside a railroad track in Morris County, Newfoundland. Fin loves trains and not much else—hardly surprising, given that the world has shown him little more than a laugh and a sneer—and he is none too thrilled when his quiet space is invaded. Over time, though, he warms to the invaders: Joe (Bobby Cannavale), loud and lonely, who sells coffee and hot dogs from a neighboring van, and Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), a painter, still mourning the loss of a young son. The three of them fall in with one another, then fall out, then gradually fall back in; like some of the best short stories, the picture evades grandeur, mature enough to linger on what nearly happens. None of the central performers puts a foot wrong, and McCarthy takes care not to insist that small is beautiful; rather, he and Dinklage leave us reflecting that small can be angry, tired, and tough. (New Yorker) (in English) (90 minutes)


January 28 and 29, 2005 This is probably an unusual but perhaps apt time for this intelligent drama, easily one of the finest pictures of 2003 or any other year. Tareque Masud's expansive fluidity is rapturous, inspired equally by the floating equanimity of Satyajit Ray and the work of the Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, who deftly uses ritual behavior to provide social commentary. Set in Bangladesh in the 1960s, The Clay Bird questions the nature of dedication to Islam. It doesn't attack fealty but eventually rebukes zealotry by showing a boy's reaction to his father's recent total immersion. Ami is sent off to a religious school by his father, Kazi. Kazi doesn't want his son tainted by the outside world. His obedient though doubtful wife, Ayesha, quietly expresses through frowns her concern about Kazi's close-minded new seriousness. She gently reasons with her boy, and the bright Anu resigns himself to his new life. Mr. Masud's sensitivity gives the film a pungent emotional clarity; he recognizes that naivety isn't a province only of childhood. Kazi's a naif, too, and learns the hard way that following a path without independent thought is a fool's errand. He's ultimately devastated when he learns of the civil war and Muslims attacking other Muslims: the revolution is coming, and it claims Kazi's way of life. (New York Times) (in Bengali) (98 minutes).


February 11 and 12, 2005 It is easy to imagine Bent Hamer's charming comedy as a Warner Bros. cartoon, perhaps with Swedish scientist Folke as Elmer Fudd and his Norwegian object of study, Isak, as Bugs Bunny. The tone of Hamer’s dry, gentle tale couldn't be less antic, but the battle between the two has a timeless feel, as if the post-WWII antagonism between Swedes and Norwegians (Sweden stayed neutral; Norway didn't) is just a stand-in for any kind of cultural misunderstanding. Transplanted from his home to study the cooking habits of the Norwegian bachelor, Folke lives in a teardrop-shaped camp in Isak's yard, ascending a tennis-umpire-style chair to spy on him from the corner of his kitchen. At first, Isak regards his airborne guest with suspicion, but their relationship begins to thaw, in the process challenging Isak's friendship with his similarly solitary neighbor. Kitchen Stories has visual flair to match its wry wit, and a beating heart under its frosty Nordic Surface, (in Norwegian and Swedish) (95 minutes)


March 18 and 19, 2005 A traditional quest, superbly told. Nathaniel Kalin seeks to understand the life of his father, the architect Louis I. Kahn, a task made even more difficult by the fact that Kahn had three separate and coexisting families: a wife and two mistresses with one child apiece. For his part, Nathaniel was an illegitimate son and only 11 when his father died; his interviews are laced with raw, uncut feeling for a man he never really knew. Throughout the documentary, he uses Kahn's buildings (beautifully photographed) as a kind of wedge into his father's motivations and personality. He discovers that Kahn's more famous contemporaries, like I. M. Pei, appear haunted by his career: is it better to have designed three or four unexampled buildings, as Kahn did, or to have had a successful, high-profile architectural practice? Perhaps more surprisingly, the women in Kahn's life don't regret the way he treated them. Anne Tyng, Kahn's co-worker and mistress, explains her affection this way: "The ideas that you work on together connect you always somehow." In the end, Nathaniel's homage to his father demonstrates what it was like to be caught in his creative whirlwind. (New Yorker) (in English) (116 minutes)


April 1 and 2, 2005 Although the title character of Julie Bertuccelli's film is seen only fleetingly in blurry snapshots, his presence haunts the imaginations of the three women at the center of this beautifully written and acted drama. Otar, a medical student from the former Soviet republic of Georgia, has fled the bleak, crumbling city of Tblisi in which he grew up to live in Paris where he is struggling to make his way without a visa. Left behind are his doting mother, his sister and his sister's daughter. Like Chekhov's Three Sisters, Since Otar Left is about yearning as a life force. The mother, a painfully stooped hobbling old woman, lives for her son's occasional phone calls and letters. When word comes that Otar died in a construction accident, the sister and granddaughter, afraid to break the news, put on a charade, writing bogus letters that spur the mother to journey to Paris to see her son. The film sustains a fine balance of pathos, humor and a clear-headed realism. (New York Times) (in Georgian and French) (102 minutes).


April 15 and 16, 2005 This first feature by Andrei Zvyagintsev has the startling, irrepressible quality of the best debuts. A pair of brothers, young Ivan and the teen-age Andrey, live peacefully in a fatherless household in a brackish backwater of what used to be the Soviet Union. In the midst of an idle summer, their father turns up from nowhere and starts, with minimum benevolence, to reestablish his authority. Andrey responds well to such tyranny, while Ivan, a mother's boy, glowers at the treacherous interloper. Most of the film takes place on a fishing trip, which ripples with threat and thrill alike; we know that it cannot end well for father and sons, but we hardly dare to wonder what form the calamity will take. Zvyagintsev gets formidable concentration from his youthful actors, and his storytelling moves with the simplicity—calm, chiseled, and suggestive—of a fable. (New Yorker) (in Russian) (105 minutes).


May 20 and 21, 2005 If Laura Ingalls Wilder could write a samurai movie it might look like this thoroughly delightful and completely absorbing family film from veteran director Yoji Yamada and based on the novels of Shuhei Fujisawa. There is enough samurai swordplay to satisfy the most exacting martial arts fan, and yet somehow I can't see Tarantino lifting any of this. It seems to come from a gentler, more reflective world. Hiroyuki Sanada — last seen in Tom Cruise's ersatz drama The Last Samurai — plays Seibei, a low-ranking samurai in feudal 19th-century Japan. A hopelessly untidy widower, he must look after his elderly mother and two small daughters on his own. Then he finds out his childhood sweetheart, Tomoe, has come back to her hometown, having been divorced from her drunken husband. She pays Seibei a visit and is entranced by his daughters — it's clear that Seibei and Tomoe are more in love than ever. Then the ex-husband arrives, abuses Tomoe and this intolerable insult causes Seibei to challenge him to a duel. You will be on the edge of your seat for this showdown, and for the rest of the film. It is terrific, old-fashioned storytelling with a rich sense of time and place. (Guardian) (in Japanese) (129 minutes)

2005 – 2006 SEASON

Presented at the Theater, Communication Arts Building, Howard Community College Nine Fridays/Saturdays of Film for $35.00


Sept. 16 and 17, 2005 In this superbly poised independent film, Maria (Catalina Sandino Moreno), a willful seventeen-year-old, unhappily pregnant and stuck in a factory job, agrees to serve as a "mule," carrying in her stomach little pellets of heroin from her native Colombia to New Jersey. Joshua Marston, a 35-year-old N.Y.U. film-school graduate, nosed around Colombia and New York's immigrant neighborhoods before beginning to shoot Maria, his first full-length feature, and the way he dramatized the material seems instinctively right: he goes step by step, detail by detail, emotion by emotion, eliding nothing, exaggerating nothing. When Maria swallows the pellets in Bogota, for example, Marston doesn't emphasize the sardonic associations with sexual and religious rituals. He also expects us to understand that the exploitation of women is merely one aspect of the cruelty of a society corrupted by drugs. In his calm and lucid way, he has made one of the emblematic coming-to-America stories of our time. (New Yorker). (101 minutes) (in Spanish).


Oct. 28 and 29, 2005 In 1952, Alberto Granado, a 29-year-old chemist, and his pal Ernesto Guevara, a 23-year-old medical student, set out from Buenos Aires to explore South America. Their journey might have vanished into private recollection were it not for the fact that Ernesto went on to become Che, political idol, revolutionary martyr and pillar of the T-shirt industry. Walter Salles's film, based on Granado and Guevara's notebooks, is partly a political coming-of-age story in which Ernesto (Gael Garcia Bernal) awakens to the injustice that plagues the continent. But the movie is also a rambunctious buddy picture (thanks in part to Rodrigo de la Serna's high-spirited portrayal of the Falstaffian Granado), a breathtaking travelogue and an unusual love story. The love in question is Ernesto's sensual and spiritual connection to the continent itself, beautifully communicated through Eric Gautier's sublime cinematography. Mr. Bernal's soulful performance is sure to enhance his reputation as one of the most magnetic young actors around, but the real stars of the movie are the rugged Chilean highlands, the peaks of the Andes and the misty banks of the Peruvian Amazon. (The New York Times) (128 minutes) (in Spanish).


Nov. 11 and 12, 2005 The director Alejandro Amenabar's follow-up to his big American hit (The Others) is a Spanish-language film — the true-life story of Ramon Sampedro, a quadriplegic who led a campaign in favor of his right to die. As Sampedro, Javier Bardem gives a small miracle of a performance. Confined to his bed, unable to move, Bardem has an uncanny ability to express mystery and resilience. The movie centers on Sampedro's loving family and the two women who try to change his life (one supports his euthanasia, the other doesn't). The dialogue is, at times, poetic, and there's a moving, somnambulistic feel to the film-it slowly drifts asleep. (New Yorker) (125 minutes) (in Spanish).


Jan. 13 and 14, 2006 Zana Briski, a New York photojournalism spent several years in the red light district of Calcutta, where she ran a photography class for the children of prostitutes, encouraging them to document the squalor and the vibrant humanity that surrounded them. The seven children featured in this lovely documentary are not only Ms. Briski's subjects, but her collaborators, and it is thrilling to watch them discover their own artistic talents. This flowering is counterposed with a chronicle of Ms. Briski's efforts to get the children out of the red light district and into boarding school, a story that yields both optimism and a recognition of just how cruel and intractable the conditions that face these children and others like them really are. (The New York Times) (85 minutes) (in Bengali and English).


Feb 3 and 4, 2006 Eyal (Lior Ashkenazi), a hard-bitten and sardonic Mossad agent whose job normally entails such things as assassinating Palestinian terrorists, gets assigned to two young Germans visiting Israel-Axel (Knut Berger) and Pia (Caroline Peters), a brother and sister whose flower-child tolerance infuriates Eyal. Yet he takes the assignment: the grandfather of these two is an unimaginably ancient Nazi war criminal living in Argentina, and the Mossad wants the old man dead. This gentle but ambitious Israeli film, directed by Eytan Fox and written by Gal Uchovsky, is a political thriller that turns into a moral fable. Axel, who is gay, and as openhearted as Eyal is embittered-Ashkenazi, who has the heavy lids and five-o'clock shadow of Clive Owen, is a suitably inexorable presence-pulls the agent out of his shell, and the movie, in Axel's spirit of reconciliation, tries to put an end to the Nazi era once and for all and also end the Israeli insistence on vengeance. (New Yorker) (104 minutes) (in Hebrew).


Feb. 17 and 18, 2006 Based on the true story of four children abandoned by their mother in a small Tokyo apartment, Hirokazu Kore-eda's fourth film is at once harrowing and tender, an urban horror story with overtones of fairy tale. Restricting himself to the children's point of view, the director creates an almost unbearable sense of dread in the audience; you can't help but suspect that, at every moment, something terrible is about to happen. But at the same time, because the children themselves do not perceive the full terribleness of their situation, the terror is mitigated by a sense of wonder and adventure. The keys to this meticulous and deeply humane film are Mr. Kore-eda's deft camera sense and the remarkable performance of 12-year-old Yuya Yagira as Akira, the oldest of the four siblings, who must somehow preserve his own innocence while protecting his more vulnerable brother and sisters. (The New York Times) (141 minutes) (in Japanese).


March 17 and 18, 2006 In its limited way, perfect. The title character in Mike Leigh's new movie is a middle-aged cleaning lady (Imelda Staunton) who races through her London working-class neighborhood singing to herself. The time is 1950, and though the dark and depressed city still suffers from wartime austerities, Vera brings the light. The short, pudding-faced woman drops in on invalids, offers a few words of sympathy, and then makes her way to the luxurious flats of the wealthy, whose objets d'art and fireplace grills she dusts and polishes, sometimes on her knees. Vera gives of herself freely and easily, and it is precisely in that selfless and attentive way — brisk, efficient, consoling — that Vera, using a tube and a noxious solution, terminates one unwanted pregnancy after another. Working with an almost preternatural calm, Leigh sets up the repressive and sexually inarticulate atmosphere of the time; Vera's furtive activity is part of an entire system of shadowy reticence and embarrassed dithering. And Leigh captures, without sentimentality or condescension, the grave and stoical spirit of the English working class. The movie is hushed and intense; it evokes an entire way of life. (New Yorker) (125 minutes) (in English).


April 21 and 22, 2006 Ousmane Sembene, the 81-year-old Senegalese filmmaker, is often referred to as the father of African cinema, but he is a patriarch with evident feminist sympathies. Set in a village in Burkina Faso, his latest film tackles the subject of female genital mutilation, but its political resonance is hardly limited to the parts of Africa where that custom is practiced. Colle, the tough-minded second wife of a village elder, offers protection to four young girls who have fled the knives and starts a revolution. In chronicling her struggle with male power and deeply-rooted tradition, Mr. Sembene also paints a rich and complex tableau of village life, which gives the film, in spite of its harsh topic, a remarkable buoyancy of spirit. Unflinching both in its condemnation of genital mutilation and in its warm-hearted optimism, "Moolaade" is an example of humanist cinema at its finest, a movie that reminds you of the dignity and heroism of ordinary life. (The New York Times) (124 minutes) (in Bambara and French).


May 12 and 13, 2006 The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is the true story of a Bohemian St. Francis and his remarkable relationship with a flock of wild green-and-red parrots. Mark Bittner, a homeless street musician in San Francisco, falls in love with the flock as he searches for meaning in his life, unaware that the wild parrots will bring him everything he needs. The film celebrates urban wildness, Bohemian and avian, and links the parrots' antics to human behavior. A surprise ending ties the themes together and completes Mark's search for meaning. (83 minutes) (in English).

2006 - 2007 SEASON

Presented at the Theater, Communication Arts Building, Howard Community College Nine Fridays/Saturdays of Film for $35.00


September 15 and 16, 2006 Watching Junebug, a wise, bittersweet, beautifully acted comedy about a Southern homecoming, should bring to mind thoughts of You Can't Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe's great final novel. Played to suave, courtly perfection by Alessandro Nivola, George Johnston is a lean Southern golden boy who has flown the family coop to live in Chicago. His return to his parents' North Carolina homestead after a three-year absence is an extension of a business trip undertaken by his beautiful, cultivated new wife, Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz). Madeleine, a British diplomat's daughter, is everything George's family is not. If the homecoming lands the couple in the thick of America's culture wars, Junebug is much too subtle and knowing a film to turn its characters into talk-show clichés. Directed by Phil Morrison from a screenplay by Angus MacLachlan, this story of a troubled homecoming envelops us in texture of a world the movies rarely visit. We get to know these people deeply. The film also reminds us that going home is never easy, even when you're the family's chosen one. (The New York Times) (106 minutes) (in English)


October 27 and 28, 2006 There probably aren't too many directors with a resume like Khyentse Norbu, a.k.a. His Eminence Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche. A Bhutanese nobleman, Norbu (The Cup) is also regarded as one of the most important incarnate lamas in Tibetan Buddhism. In the breathtakingly lovely Travellers and Magicians, Norbu takes viewers deep into his remote homeland of Bhutan, the reported inspiration for Shangri-La in Lost Horizon. With the inestimable help of his cinematographer Alan Kozlowski, Norbu captures images of surpassing beauty, yet the dramatic Himalayan scenery never overwhelms his beguiling, seriocomic depiction of two men consumed by dreams of better lives. It is the secular humanist Dondup, a petty government official assigned to a remote village in the tiny Himalayan kingdom, who learns to suspect his affection for all things Western and regain a respect for traditional Buddhist ways. Hitchhiking to the capital city, he meets a traveling monk who tells him a fable meant to persuade him that happiness resides at home. (108 minutes) (in Dzongkha).


November 10 and 11, 2006 Winner of the Cannes Best Director Award, Michael Haneke's psychological thriller centers on wealthy French couple Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne (Juliette Binoche), who begin receiving threatening videotapes and phone calls. Eventually, Georges realizes who the perpetrator is but refuses to tell Anne, causing a rift. Flashbacks of George's childhood reveal the mystery, a story that illuminates France's damaged relations with Algeria. Hidden is Michael Haneke's masterpiece: a compelling politico-psychological essay about the denial and guilt mixed into the foundations of western prosperity, composed and filmed with remarkable technique. "It is one of the great films of this decade." (The Observer) (117 minutes) (in French).


January 19 and 20, 2007 For the past decade, the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have been building one of the most passionately engaged bodies of work in contemporary cinema. Like the Dardennes' other recent fiction films ( La Promesse, Rosetta and The Son), L'Enfant takes place in an industrial town far from the tourist cathedrals and squares. The story opens with Sonia, a pretty young blonde with a newborn son, Jimmy, in tow. She is anxiously searching for the man we soon learn is her boyfriend, Bruno . When she finds him, he greets her warmly but barely registers the mewling bundle in her arms. The next day, while Sonia's attention is directed elsewhere, Bruno sells Jimmy on the black market. Why make a film about Bruno? The same might be asked about Raskolnikov. Like Robert Bresson, whose Pickpocket informs L'Enfant and is itself a loose reworking of Crime and Punishment, the Dardennes are not interested in passing judgment on a grievously flawed character. Rather, what interests the Dardennes — what invests their work with such terrific urgency — is not only how Bruno became the kind of man who would sell a child as casually as a slab of beef, but also whether a man like this, having committing such a repellent offense, can find redemption. (New York Times) (100 minutes) (in French).


February 9 and 10, 2007 After shooting a woman and driving off in her car, a ruthless Johannesburg thug known only as Tsotsi is surprised to discover that he isn't alone, kept company by a crying infant in the backseat. Unable to leave the little nipper behind, he grudgingly takes the child home and through his efforts to care for the tyke, Tsotsi slowly rediscovers his compassion, self-respect and capacity to love. Tsotsi is a positive movie, with a message of redemption, and has a decent faith that the shantytowns of South Africa are not simply places of despair, but communities where poverty does not rule out the possibility of doing the right thing. This is a gutsy and heartfelt story. It won the Academy Award for best foreign film in 2005. (94 minutes) (in Zulu/Xhosa/Afrikaans).


February 23 and 24, 2007 In Eran Riklis's warmhearted comedy about the bureaucratic madness engendered by Middle East conflicts, Mona, a Druze woman in the Golan Heights, is about to move to Damascus to marry Hammed, a Syrian television actor - which will make it impossible for her to see her family again. The story is elevated by the fierce, noble performances of Hiam Abbass as Mona's older sister, Amal, who is the family's moral center but suffers through a loveless marriage; Eyad Sheety as their brother Hattem, a worldly apostate who brings his Russian wife and son to the village and the family that he left eight years earlier; and a large multinational troupe of actors who seem deeply committed to the simple fact of working together. In the end this film is simply a why-can't-we-all-get-along dream, its sweetness embittered by the common knowledge that it remains a dream. (New Yorker)(97 minutes) (in Arabic, Hebrew, English, Russian, and French.).


March 9 and 10, 2007 Set in 1938 in the twilight of colonial India, Water focuses on a group of women condemned by Hindu law to spend the rest of their lives in an institution, or ashram, on the banks of the Ganges because they are widows. While the devout Shakuntula spends her days assisting a local holy man, the limpid-eyed Kalyani is forced into prostitution by the ashram's domineering housemother. The arrival of Chuyia, a bewildered 8-year-old whose husband has just died, encourages Shakuntula to question her faith and Kalyani to begin a love affair with a Gandhian idealist. Written and directed by Deepa Mehta, Water is an exquisite film about the institutionalized oppression of an entire class of women and the way patriarchal imperatives inform religious belief. Serene on the surface yet roiling underneath, the film neatly parallels the plight of widows under Hindu fundamentalism to that of India under British colonialism. Though Gandhi and his followers are an insistent background presence, the movie is never didactic, trusting the simple rhythms of the women's lives to tell their story. (The New York Times) (117 minutes) (in Hindi).


April 20 and 21, 2007 The tightest thriller in town, Jean-Pierre Melville is widely worshipped for his gangster sagas, such as Le Samourar and Le Cercle Rouge, but this tale of the French Resistance, though no less stylish (hats and dark suits still abound), has an added pulse of the heartfelt. It stars Lino Ventura as a stalwart of the underground movement, who slips the shackles of the occupying Germans and rejoins his small band of fellow-heroes. Not that their heroism is remotely flamboyant; what concerns Melville is the courage of the stoical, the phlegmatic, and the formidably organized. His direction honors that efficiency with a series of set pieces (one in a barber shop, another at Gestapo headquarters, a third in the face of a firing squad) in which the suspense grows almost intolerable. The movie, though made in 1969, has never been released here before. To miss it now would be a gross dereliction of duty. With an unflappable Simone Signoret. (New Yorker) (136 minutes) (in French).


May 4 and 5, 2007 The great Joan Plowright plays an elderly lady who books into a London residential hotel to gain some independence. We meet her fellow boarders, including the brisk Mrs. Arbuthnot (Anna Massey) and the amorous Mr. Osborne (Robert Lang). Mrs. Palfrey's grandson ignores her telephone messages, but a young man who lives in a basement flat (Rupert Friend) becomes her confidant, and she persuades him to play the role of her grandson. A sweet, warm, elegiac comedy in which old age is allowed to be old age, without plastic surgery or hip-hop grannies. (Roger Ebert) (108 minutes) (in English)


JANUARY 12 and 13, 2007 This year, the Columbia Film Society is sponsoring a bonus documentary weekend, in which the four documentaries described below will be shown. Showings are for Columbia Film Society members only. There is no additional charge.


Friday, January 12, 2007 - 6:30 PM In the summer of 2004, a group of volunteer American hairstylists, financed by the beauty industry, arrived in Afghanistan to open a school. In The Beauty Academy of Kabul, the director Liz Mermin documents the hilarious, moving and sometimes fractious meeting of diametrically different cultures, one that has suffered unimaginable horrors and one that believes a good perm is the answer to everything. Though you may squirm at the Americans' shockingly insensitive behavior — one stylist harangues students for not coming to class in full makeup —there's no doubt that over the curling rods, a kind of healing is indeed taking place. Despite terrible memories of Taliban-sanctioned mutilations for the sin of wearing nail polish, the Afghan women prove to be as enthusiastically vain as we are. (New York Times) (74 minutes) (in English and Persian).


Friday, January 12, 2007 - 8:30 PM Appearances to the contrary, Davis Guggenheim's documentary is not really about Al Gore. It consists mainly of a multimedia presentation on climate change that Mr. Gore has given many times over the last few years, interspersed with interviews and Mr. Gore's voice-over reflections on his life in and out of politics. Mr. Gore is, rather, the surprisingly engaging vehicle for some very disturbing information. His explanations of complex environmental phenomena are clear, and while some of the visual aids are a little corny, most of the images are stark, illuminating and powerful. As unsettling as it can be, the film is also intellectually exhilarating, and, like any good piece of pedagogy, whets the appetite for further study. This is not everything you need to know about global warming: that's the point. But it is a good place to start, and to continue, a process of education that could hardly be more urgent. "An Inconvenient Truth" is a necessary film. (New York Times) (100 minutes) (in English)


Saturday, January 13, 2007 - 6:30 PM The Boys of Baraka gives a poignant human face to an alarming statistic: 76 percent of black male students in Baltimore city schools do not graduate from high school. The documentary, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, tells you why. A toxic inner-city environment destroys hope and undermines self-esteem. In this experimental program 20 "at risk" 12- and 13-year-old black male students are transported 10,000 miles to the Baraka School in rural Kenya. Founded in 1996 on a 150-acre ranch where there is no television or full-time electricity, it offers academic instruction and strict but gentle discipline in an environment where giraffes and zebras roam. The Boys of Baraka follows four of the students chosen in 2002, during their first year away from home. The Boys of Baraka is so rich that you wish there were more of it. (New York Times) (84 minutes) (in English)


Saturday, January 13, 2007 - 8:30 PM As Peter and Santino, Sudanese orphans, prepare to leave their refugee camp in Kenya for a new life in the United States a tribal elder tells them: "Don't act like those people who wear the baggy jeans, who do all the bad things in America." It's a startling and prescient statement, encapsulating both the welter of American race relations and the sense of obligation the boys will feel to the people left behind. The documentary filmmakers Megan Mylan and Jon Shenk follow the pair for a year as they adjust to a "land called Texas." Santino finds a menial job in an electronics factory, while Peter moves to Kansas City and navigates the wilds of high school. Like those of many immigrants, their experiences are bittersweet; the scene in which Peter is invited to a pizza party with Christian teen-agers is one of many surreal and heartbreaking moments. (New Yorker) (87 minutes) (in Arabic/English/Hebrew/Russian/French)


Presented at the Smith Theater, Howard Community College Five Fridays/Saturdays of Film for $20* *An abridged season because of the renovation of the Smith Theater.


September 7 and 8, 2007 The first feature from the young German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck starts in 1984, in East Berlin. A successful playright (Sebastian Koch) and his girlfriend (Martina Gedeck), hitherto trusted by the state, are placed under Stasi surveillance. Their investigator, a lonely ascetic by the name of Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe), is told to entrap them, instead of which, little by little, he lets them off the hook. Given the movie's cross-weave of envy, terror, paranoia, and endangered principle, Donnersmarck might have been expected to tie himself in knots; yet the outcome, after two and a half hours, remains taut and clear, and by the end you feel exhausted and oddly uplifted. What was the last new movie that put you through so much yet convinced you that the ordeal was worthwhile? Winner of the 2006 Academy Award For Best Foreign Language Film. (New Yorker) (137 minutes) (in German).


September 28 and 29, 2007 Director Susanne Bier and screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen, who collaborated on the Danish dramas Open Hearts (2002) and Brothers (2004), continue their winning streak with this 2006 feature. A 2006 nominee for the Best Foreign-Language Film Academy Award, After the Wedding stars Mads Mikkelsen (the bleeding-eye villain in Casino Royale) as a humanitarian trying to save his orphanage in India from going under. He travels to Copenhagen to meet a millionaire (Rolf Lassgard) interested in financing the project, only to learn that the businessman has a more personal motive for bringing him to Denmark. After the Wedding builds on what appears initially as a rickety foundation with such dexterity and grace that it eventually emerges as a deeply moving experience. (120 minutes) (in Danish).


October 19 and 20, 2007 In her remarkable debut film, the young Bosnian writer-director Jasmila Zbanic deftly tells the story of a single mother, Esma (Mirjana Karanovic, in a radiant performance), and her adolescent daughter, Sara (the scrappy Luna Mijovic), who live in Grbavica, a former war internment camp in Sarajevo (stunningly photographed in shades of gray). Sara takes great pride in her belief that her father was a shaheed (a war martyr) and asks Esma for the documentation attesting to this, which will get her a free pass for her class trip. Esma, a cocktail waitress in a sleazy night club, is perpetually reminded of the war—in a pillow fight with her daughter, by a man's hairy chest on the bus, by a fish being killed in a shop. Zbanic infuses the simple plot with subtle insights into the psyche of a people trying to heal, and reveals the aggression that victims of violence dole out consistently and unwittingly. (New Yorker) (107 minutes) (in Serbo-Croatian).


November 9 and 10, 2007 In a refreshingly direct, unassuming manner, Away From Her considers two great human mysteries: the persistence of love and the workings of the brain. It takes the twilight of a long, mostly happy marriage as a vantage point from which to look back at youth and forward into the waiting darkness. The first feature written and directed by Sarah Polley, one of the most interesting actresses to come out of Canada in the past decade, the film is by turns sharp and somber, alive to the lacerations of ordinary experience and quietly attentive to grand absurdities and small instances of grace. "A little bit of grace" is what Fiona, a slender and elegant woman with Alzheimer's disease, counsels in response to its ravages. And grace is what Julie Christie, who plays Fiona, manifests in every scene, even as Fiona feels the tissue of her self begin to crumble and fade. NY Times (110 minutes) (in English).


November 30 and December 1, 2007 Periodically — about twice a year, by my calculation — someone tries to breathe new life into the movie musical by putting together a lavish song-and-dance spectacle like the ones they used to make, full of big numbers and bigger emotions. (See, most recently, Dreamgirls and, before too long, Hairspray.) Against this trend, Once, a scrappy, heart-on-its-sleeve little movie directed by an Irishman named John Carney, makes a persuasive case that the real future of the genre may lie not in splashy grandeur but in modesty and understatement. Filmed on the streets of Dublin, Mr. Carney's movie, a favorite at Sundance earlier this year, does not look, sound or feel like a typical musical. It is realistic rather than fanciful, and the characters work patiently on the songs rather than bursting spontaneously into them. But its low-key affect and decidedly human scale endow Once with an easy, lovable charm that a flashier production could never have achieved. The formula is simple: two people, a few instruments, 88 minutes and not a single false note. (New York Times) (88 minutes) (in English).

2008 - 2009 SEASON

Presented at the Smith Theater, Howard Community College Nine Fridays/Saturdays of Film for $35* *Please note our new 5:30 Friday showing.


November 7 and 8, 2008 The Austrian winner of the best foreign-film award is the true story of Salomon Smolianoff — known in the movie as Salomon Sorowitsch, or Sally (Karl Markovics), the most skilled counterfeiter in prewar Berlin, and also a bon vivant, ladies' man, cynic, and opportunist. Arrested in 1936, Sally, a Russian-born Jew, is sent to Mauthausen concentration camp, in Germany, where he survives for five years by painting Nazi kitsch. In 1944, he's transferred to another camp, Sachsenhausen, just outside Berlin, and placed at the head of Operation Bernhard, a counterfeiting workshop run by the S.S. and staffed by Jewish prisoners skilled as printers and graphic artists. Sally's unit produces the British pound in bulk, but his perfect design for the dollar is sabotaged by a Communist printer in the group, Adolf Burger (August Diehl), a fiery anti-Nazi who can't bring himself to help the German war effort. The movie is devoted to Sally's genius for survival, his efforts to keep the group together and to prevent the heroic Burger from attaining the martyrdom he appears to long for. Markovics has a hatchet face, aggressive but guarded, even closed off, but with a glint in his eyes. The movie keeps us close to him, and we learn, with increasing admiration, how his mind works. The Counterfeiters is a testament to guile. The writer-director, Stefan Ruzowitzky, scored the picture with tangos, which are meant to be Sally's music—eductive, insolent, triumphant. New Yorker (98 minutes) (in German/ Russian/ English/ Hebrew)


November 21 and 22, 2008 If the luscious red orb that sails through Flight of the Red Balloon like an airborne cherry looks as if it flew in from another movie, in some ways it did. The film, the latest wonderment from the Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien, takes as one of its inspirations AiDert Lamonsseis 1956 classic, The Red Balloon, about a young boy and the taiismanic sphere that follows him through the gray streets of Paris like a dog, a lover, a ghost — as much a reminder of the precariousness of life as an emblem of innocence. There is a young boy in this red balloon film too, Simon (Simon Iteanu), a moppet with sandy hair and serious eyes who lives with his mother, Suzanne (Juliette Binoche), in a tiny bourgeois-bohemian Parisian flat bursting with books and bric-a-brac. Mr. Hou's films can be crushingly sad; as with Bresson and Ozu, his restraint only deepens the emotional power of his work. But whether because of that red balloon — which alternately invokes the spirit of liberty and its elusiveness — or because he was practicing his art in one of the world's most beautiful cities, Mr. Hou has made a film that is, to borrow a line from one of his characters, "a bit happy and a bit sad." (New York Times) (113 minutes) (in French).


January 16 and 17, 2009 In 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, a ferocious, unsentimental, often brilliantly directed film about a young woman who helps a friend secure an abortion, the camera doesn’t follow the action, it expresses consciousness itself. This consciousness — alert to the world and insistently alive — is embodied by a young university student who, one wintry day in the late 1980s, helps her roommate with an abortion in Ceausescu's Romania when such procedures were illegal, not uncommon and too often fatal. It's a pitiless, violent story that in its telling becomes a haunting and haunted intellectual and aesthetic achievement. 4 Months deserves to be seen by the largest audience possible, partly because it offers a welcome alternative to the coy, trivializing attitude toward abortion now in vogue in American fiction films, but largely because it marks the emergence of an important new talent in the Romanian writer and director Christian Mungiu. (New York Times)(113 minutes) (in Romanian).


January 30 and 31, 2009 There are six principal characters in The Edge of Heaven: two mothers, two daughters, a father and a son, all arranged in more or less symmetrical pairs. In the course of this extraordinary film by the German writer-director Fatih Akin (which won the best screenplay award in Cannes last year) children are lost, lost parents are never found, and generational and geographical distances grow wider. Yet at the same time, as the lives of the characters cross and entwine, there is a sense of human connections becoming stronger and thicker, of a fragile moral order coalescing beneath the randomness and cruelty of modern life. And even as the movie bristles with violence — accidental and systematic, sexual and political — its tone is curiously gentle. (New York Times) (122 minutes) (in German/Turkish/ English).


February 13 and 14, 2009 In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of French Elle, suffered, at the age of 43, a massive stroke that left him able to move nothing but his left eye. The little book that Bauby composed by blinking while a secretary ran through the alphabet serves as the basis for this astounding movie, which was directed by Julian Schnabel and written by Ronald Harwood. At first, we see only what Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) sees: a blur of faces, which turn out to be the doctors and nurses at the hospital, who float into view in fearsome close-up, like deep-sea monsters. Consciousness arrives, and we experience the discomforts of Bauby's treatment. But then, by degrees, the movie opens up to the great world: Bauby's life and past, his fantasies and dreams. The associations are wild and free, yet nothing feels arbitrary or showy (one thinks of the visionary episodes in silent films rather than of Fellini). We need this free-flowing beauty; we deserve it; the movie, in the end, is an overwhelming sensual experience. (New Yorker)(112 minutes) (in French).


February 27 and 28, 2009 Because the last shot of Ramin Bahrani's Chop Shop is as quiet and matter-of-fact as most of the rest of the film, it takes a moment to register as a metaphor. For nearly an hour and a half we have been immersed in the rhythms of daily life in the battered Willets Point section of Queens, and Mr. Bahrani's hand-held camera has remained studiously fixed at street level. Now, all of a sudden, it pitches upward to follow a flock of pigeons breaking toward the sky, a shift in perspective that also changes, subtly but unmistakably, our understanding of the movie. Like its prosaic title, or like those homely birds, Chop Shop, written by Mr. Bahrani and Bahareh Azimi, dwells mainly in the realm of the literal. Filmed inside shady auto-repair businesses, on bleak overpasses and in vacant lots in the shadow of Shea Stadium, this film, like Mr. Bahrani's 2006 feature, Man Push Cart, is concerned principally with the kind of hard, marginal labor that more comfortable city dwellers rarely notice. But there is nonetheless a lyricism at its heart, an unsentimental, soulful appreciation of the grace that resides in even the meanest struggle for survival. (New York Times) (84 minutes) (in English).


March 20 and 21, 2009 When we first meet Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins), he is in a state of emotional inertia that clinicians might identify as depression. He does not seem acutely unhappy, but then again, he doesn't seem to feel much at all, locking whatever inner life he might have behind an aloof, unfailingly polite demeanor and keeping a glass of red wine handy in case further anesthesia should prove necessary. A professor of economics at Connecticut College and a widower, Walter plods through an existence that looks comfortable and easy enough, but also profoundly tedious. He recycles old syllabuses and lecture notes for his classes, and suffers through piano lessons in a half-hearted effort to sustain some kind of connection to his wife, who was a classical concert pianist. Early in The Visitor, Tom McCarthy's second film as writer and director (the first was The Station Agent), it seems inevitable that something will come along to shake Walter out of his malaise. And sure enough, when he reluctantly travels to New York to deliver a paper at a conference, Walter finds that the Manhattan apartment he keeps but rarely visits has been surreptitiously rented to Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), a drummer from Syria, and Zainab (Danai Gurira), his Senegalese girlfriend, who sells handmade jewelry at flea markets. Walter's initial dismay and irritation gives way to an instinctive flicker of compassion, and he invites the couple to stay, at least for a short while. The curious thing about The Visitor is that even as it goes more or less where you think it will, it still manages to surprise you along the way. (New York Times) (108 minutes) (in English/Arabic).


April 17 and 18,2009 Roman de Gare — a witty yet ultimately poignant guessing game in which nobody is quite what he or he seems — is arguably Claude Lelouch's (A Man and a Woman) best film. Its title translates as "airport novel" and Lelouch pays homage to the lure of those high adventures by mining one of his typically extravagant plots for both humor and pathos, raising provocative questions of identity and of the confusion of truth and fiction. Roman de Gare is the rare trick film in which all the tricks reveal something amusing, involving or poignant about its characters. (Los Angeles Times/Baltimore Sun) (103 minutes) (in French).


May 22 and 23, 2009 Not a musical comedy but a low-key study of thwarted musicians, touched with comic grace. Written and directed by Eran Kolirin, it tells of an Egyptian police band that gets badly lost on a trip to Israel. The travelling musicians wind up in a desert town, dependent on the mercy and generosity of Dina (Ronit Elkabetz), the owner of a local cafe, who feeds them and finds them places to sleep. Their entire stay requires a delicate maintenance of dignity on both sides; the peace between old enemies is all the funnier for being so frail. Dina, one of the more forceful female characters in recent cinema, enjoys a melancholy half-flirtation with the band's leader (Sasson Gabai) and a more straightforward dalliance with one of his underlings. The music, when it finally strikes up, has an air of quiet celebration, and rightly so. (New Yorker) (87 minutes) (in Arabic/Hebrew/English).

2009-2010 SEASON

Presented at the Smith Theater, Howard Community College Nine Fridays/Saturdays of film for $35


October 2 and 3, 2009 A taxi passenger named William (Red West), perhaps seventy, a pouchy-eyed white Southerner, demands to be taken, in a week's time, to a mountain perch outside the city called Blowing Rock. We're in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and the driver, Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane), a Senegalese immigrant, young, handsome, and endlessly cheerful, refuses to help William carry out his apparent plan for suicide. Solo tries to reconcile his passenger to life, even moving in with him in his motel room, where they make a very strange couple. The independent writer-director Ramin Bahrani (Chop Shop) establishes the streets of Winston-Salem clearly enough, particularly at its squalid edges. Yet the movie, with the help of its realistic base, lifts off into an existential fable: one man's exuberant embrace of life crashes into the other's adamant rejection of it. Why does the old man want to die and the young man so badly need to save him? The power of the fable is derived from Bahrani's unwillingness to solve these mysteries beyond a few hints. Red West has a voice like raw whiskey; Savane's smile and rapid movements light up any space that he inhabits. You will think of them both for days after seeing the movie. (New Yorker) (91 minutes) (in English and French).


October 30 and 31, 2009 Departures (2008’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film) follows Amigo Kobayasni, a devoted cellist in an orchestra that has just been dissolved and who is suddenly left without a job. Daigo decides to move back to his old hometown with his wife to look for work and start over. He answers a classified ad entitled "Departures" thinking it is an advertisement for a travel agency only to discover that the job is actually for a "Nokanshi" or "encoffineer," a funeral professional who prepares deceased bodies for burial and entry into the next life. While his wife and others despise the job, Daigo takes a certain pride in his work and begins to perfect the art of "Nokanshi," acting as a gentle gatekeeper between life and death, between the departed and the family of the departed. The film follows his profound and sometimes comical journey with death as he uncovers the wonder, joy and meaning of life and living. (Regent Releasing) (130 minutes) (in Japanese)


December 4 and 5, 2009 Ordinary Matty has nothing but three kids to her name. She works at the post office, and her husband has run off to the bedroom of one his students. At 43, life is pretty hopeless. Then she gets in a fender-bender at the grocery story with 29-year-old Johnny. After some harsh words, Johnny finds himself enamored with Matty, who finds that she likes being wanted, and decides to take a chance on Johnny. A romance ensues just as the wandering husband comes home. Now Matty finds she is the center of attention. Matty must choose to settle back into the life she was leading or to break into something new and step into the unknown. This heart-felt movie is covered in subtle humor making the story like a well-made meal. (NeoClassics Film) (102 minutes) (in Flemish and Dutch).


January 8 and 9,2010 Lemon Tree is Eran Riklis's engaging human drama of one woman's struggle to preserve her way of life in the midst of political turmoil. The wonderful Hiam Abbass (The Visitor) is Salma, a Palestinian widow who earns her living tending to her late father's lemon grove. When an Israeli government minister moves next door and declares the grove a potential security threat, Salma struggles to defend her peaceful livelihood. Personal drama gives way to political controversies as Salma forms an unexpected bond with the minister's lonely wife, and takes her protest — with the help of her young lawyer — all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court. (IFC Films) (106 minutes) (in Arabic, Hebrew, French and English).


February 12 and 13, 2010 Everlasting Moments, a Swedish film made by Jan Troell (best known for 1971's The Emigrants), will stun you with simple pleasures: a naturally lit kitchen; a country dance captured austerely from a respectful distance. The drama starts in 1907, and to its absorbing credit, feels like it wasn't made long thereafter. Maria loves her family and her husband. Sigge is a womanizer and a drunk, at a time when such problems were intractable for wives. After Sigge is fired from the dock, Maria hopes to pawn her old camera. But the polite shop owner, Sebastian, shows her how to use it, awakening in Maria an idea of art, of a community of sensitive people—and, subtly but profoundly, a notion of control. Troell, serving as his own cinematographer, takes Maria's modest approach as his own; if you can slow down your heart rate, his film will impress you. (131 minutes) (in Swedish and Finnish).


March 19 and 20, 2010 Slimane Beiji, the sad, still center of The Secret of the Grain, Abdellatif Kechiche's bustling and brilliant new film, might be described as an accidental patriarch. A stubborn, taciturn immigrant from Tunisia, Slimane has spent 35 years working in the shipyards of Sete, a rough little French port city on the Mediterranean coast. The other members of his large, cantankerous family — his former wife, Souad, and their assorted children and grandchildren — live mostly in a battered high-rise housing project. Slimane, meanwhile, keeps a modest room in the blue-collar hotel run by his lover, Latifa, and her 20-year-old daughter, Rym (the amazing Hafsia Herzi), on whom he dotes as if she were his own. The chief token of his benevolence is the fish Slimane collects from his fisherman buddies and dutifully delivers on his motorbike to the important women in his life: Souad; his older daughter, Karima; and Latifa. Their freezers are overflowing with the mullet that is, in Tunisian tradition, served with couscous, the grain of this film's title. The richness of The Secret of the Grain lies in the close, tireless, enthusiastic attention it pays to the most mundane daily tasks, especially those involving food. (New York Times) (151 minutes) (in French, Arabic, and Russian).


May 7 and 8, 2010 There is something undeniably noble and beautiful about the love of sports: the appreciation of grace and excellence for their own sakes, the pleasure of competition, the discipline of training. But the practice of big-time sports is often cruel and corrupt, a business built on the exploitation of young people and the peddling of impossible dreams. This basic contradiction is, at least implicitly, a central concern in Sugar, a wise and lovely new film by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. Sugar, which follows a young pitcher from a training camp in the Dominican Republic to a minor-league club in Iowa (and beyond), is infused with a deep affection for baseball, the rhythms of which are nimbly captured by a narrative pace and editing style that quicken and relax as necessary. (New York Times) (114 minutes) (in English and Spanish).


May 21 and 22, 2010 Extraordinary. Francois Begaudeau, a teacher in a Paris public school in the Twentieth Arrondissement, published a novel in 2006 chronicling a year in his classroom. Along with the director Laurent Cantet and the writer Robin Campillo, he then condensed and reshaped the material into a two-hour drama centering on the teacher (Begaudeau, playing himself) and a small number of students (all played by actual students, though not the same ones he wrote about). Begaudeau, who is in his 30s, is handsome, lean, and quick, with a strong voice; his slouching or rowdy 14-year-olds are mostly of African or Caribbean descent—still outsiders in France, and rightfully touchy about it. Some of them are resistant to education, which disrupts the pleasures of adolescence, and Begaudeau aggressively comes after them, challenging, correcting, teasing, criticizing. The students are alive to him and come back hard, questioning French notions of discipline and manners. In all, The Class is a prime document of French post-colonial blues, though its relevance to American urban education could not be any greater if it had been shot in the Bronx or Trenton or South Los Angeles. (New Yorker) (128 minutes) (in French).


June 4 and 5, 2010 If you see only one comic love story from Kazakhstan this year, choose this prize-winning honey. Tulpan is the saga of Asa, a shy young man who searches for a wife under extreme conditions. He's a nomadic shepherd just returned from military service, the Kazakh steppe he calls home is vast and empty beyond imagining, and the only eligible young lady for miles around — her name's Tulpan — rejects him because of his big ears. There's no room for mush in filmmaker Sergey Dvortsevoy's triumphant, intimate drama, not when the necessities of daily life are so elemental, and so tenderly observed. (Entertainment Weekly) (100 minutes) (in Kazakh and Russian).