Julie Taymor, US, 120 minutes
Dryden Theatre, 7 p.m.
Based on Hayden Herrera's book, Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo, and cooked up by at least four different screenwriters, Frida begins in true biopic fashion by showing Kahlo (Salma Hayek) on the verge of checking out before it flashes back to 1922 Mexico City, where the young artist-to-be is portrayed as a free-spirited, sexually ambiguous student. Most of Frida is about Kahlo's tumultuous relationship with notoriously unfaithful muralist Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina), who first became her mentor, then her lover, and finally her husband. A bunch of stuff happens with a lot of other celebrity types --- Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush), photographer Tina Modotti (a horribly miscast Ashley Judd), Rivera's rival David Alfaro Siqueiros (Antonio Banderas), and Nelson Rockefeller (Edward Norton, who also has an uncredited script rewrite) --- but none of it is too exciting, unless you're a fanatical Kahlo fan. But that demographic already knows what's coming.
Coline Serreau, France, 109 minutes
Little Theatre #1, 7:15 p.m.
Hélène (Catherine Frot) and Paul (Vincent Lindon) are on their way out for a night on the town when their car comes upon a frantic prostitute pleading for help. Of course, being French, they don't help at all, opting to watch the woman get beaten to near death by a pack of dangerous-looking men. Hey, at least Hélène feels bad about it, turning up at the hospital the next day and pretending to be a relative of the now-comatose Noémie (Rachida Brakni) so she can work out her guilt through providing physical therapy to the hooker once she wakes up. And when Noémie wakes up --- oh, what a story! Meanwhile, Paul and his son Fabrice (Aurélien Wiik) demonstrate how awful and piggish men are by ignoring their respective mothers and refusing to pick up after themselves while Hélène is at the hospital. Whether or not you dig the message, you'll probably like the film, which was nominated for five Césars (Brakni was the lone winner).
DeMane Davis and Khari Streeter, USA, 85 minutes
Little Theatre #2, 7:30 p.m.
A double nominee at last year's Independent Spirit Awards, this Boston-set drama is about professional shoplifting (or "boosters," if you're down with the street lingo). One of the ISA nominees was star Kerry Washington, who has appeared in Save the Last Dance, Bad Company, and the television show 100 Centre Street. She'll be in Rochester for Lift's screening.
Jeong Jae-eun, South Korea, 112 minutes
Little Theatre #1, 9:30 p.m.
Five secondary school students and a stray cat star in this sluggishly paced but otherwise enjoyable drama about coming of age in South Korea. Each has different wants and goals, which we learn as the cat is passed back and forth between the girls like the talking stick at a Management Team Product Development Retreat. One is a yuppie go-getter with a dead-end job, one does volunteer work, and another dreams of studying abroad even though she lacks the cash to do so. A pair of Chinese twins seems fairly jovial (they're the comic relief) even though they don't have much going on. A nice slice of life about young women from the port town of Incheon, which we last saw when South Korea's win over Portugal put the US into the Round of 16 in this year's World Cup.
Brendan Fletcher and Leah Purcell, Australia, 52 minutes
Little Theatre #2, 9:30 p.m.
As the title suggests, the film is 52 minutes of black chicks talking (it does neglect to mention they're all Australian, as well), but not in the same manner as you might see on Oprah or Jerry Springer. They're all from various backgrounds and economic strata, and through their stories we learn what it's like to be black and Australian... something many of us don't think about quite as often as we should. The most recognizable of the lot is Deborah Mailman, an actress who we'll see later this year in Phillip Noyce's Rabbit-Proof Fence.
Anne Fontaine, France, 98 minutes
Dryden Theatre, 5 p.m.
Don't let your aversion to violence scare you away from this film --- the title is strictly metaphoric. Instead of murder, we get lots of angst. Self-centered doctor Jean-Luc (Charles Berling), who helps the upper crust of Versailles combat the ravages of age, is shocked to see his father Maurice (César winner Michel Bonet) drop into his life after the crusty old coot abandoned him as a boy three decades earlier. It seems that while Jean-Luc was sucking fat, injecting Botox, and shagging his assistant (Amira Casar) behind the back of his young trophy wife (Natacha Régnier), his dad was off in the wilds of Africa practicing medicine on people who really needed help. Sparks fly. Or they mean to, anyway. While the story is a little predictable, the acting is strong enough to keep you interested.
Rebecca Cammisa and Rob Fruchtman, USA, 90 minutes
Little Theatre #2, 6 p.m.
Yet another Sundance winner (the Director's Award for documentaries) is in the house, as Cammisa and Fruchtman offer a nice counterpoint to the glut of Nuns Is Bad films that are making waves on the festival circuit (like Evelyn and, more notably, Peter Mullan's Magdalene Sisters). Of course, Sister Helen Travis could probably hang with the meanest nuns of those films. She's a no-nonsense, smack-talking, recovering alcoholic who also happens to be hell-bent on getting a house full of two-dozen crackheads and junkies cleaned up.
Caroline Link, Germany, 141 minutes
Little Theatre #1, 6:30 p.m.
Winner of five German Film Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director) and a likely contender for next spring's Foreign Film Oscar, Africa might be the most gorgeous picture in this year's festival. Based on the best-selling autobiography by Stefanie Zweig, the film follows the lives of the German-Jewish Redrich family as it narrowly escapes 1938 Europe and heads for a remote farm in Kenya. Don't worry --- it only sounds like the crapfest that was Kim Basinger's I Dreamed of Africa. Most of the attention is devoted to the Redrichs' young daughter Regina (the wonderful Lea Kurka), who acts as the viewer's conduit to the Dark Continent.
Visual Studies Workshop, 7 p.m.
A collection of short films made by the late Maya Deren. Not to be confused with In the Mirror of Maya Deren, a documentary screening at the Festival on Saturday afternoon.
Kathryn Bigelow, USA, 113 minutes
Dryden Theatre, 7:15 p.m.
Back before she struck out this summer with the disappointing submarine flick K-19: The Widowmaker, Bigelow made this smaller, quieter picture that will probably remind a lot of people of Possession. Both films were adapted from popular novels (this one was written by Anita Shreve) and each deals with dual stories --- past and present --- that parallel each other to a certain degree. In the present, a magazine photographer (Catherine McCormack) is sent to New Hampshire's Isles of Shoals to snap pictures of the sight of a murder that happened back in 1873. In the past, we see the murder trial and the events leading up to the murder. It's an intriguing and beautiful film, but those of you who read the book are likely to be disappointed. Costars Sean Penn, Elizabeth Hurley, and Josh Lucas.
Sandra Werneck, Brazil, 98 minutes
Little Theatre #2, 8:30 p.m.
This winner of Sundance's Latin America Cinema Award attempts to answer that age-old question "What if?" as Carlos (Murilo Benício) waits at the theater for his girlfriend Julia (Carolina Ferraz). Werneck blends three different scenarios into her film that are all based on what Julia does. We see three very different versions of Carlos, each living 15 years in the future. A decent romantic comedy that could be Brazil's version of Sliding Doors.
Rose Troche, US, 120 minutes
Little Theatre #1, 9:15 p.m.
An ensemble drama about four interconnected suburban
families dealing with the typical suburban-family troubles (boredom,
infidelity, and the like). Features a huge cast, including Glenn Close, Dermot
Mulroney, Patricia Clarkson, Joshua Jackson, Moira Kelly, Robert Klein,
Takashi Miike, Japan, 113 minutes
Little Theatre #4, 9:30 p.m.
When a director makes roughly seven films a year, you shouldn't expect any of them to be the same. Likewise, anyone who saw Miike's Audition earlier this year at the Dryden shouldn't count on another bloody fright-fest. Katakuris is, instead, a madcap comedy with a bunch of song-and-dance numbers. This isn't The Sound of Music, though, as the subject is the Katakuri family, who open a bed-and-breakfast in what they're told will be an area heavily populated by tourists. When the first few guests die on the premises, you get a good idea where the film is heading. And when the dead bodies start to sing and dance, things only become clearer. Think Beetlejuice as a musical.
Kathryn Bigelow, US, 95 minutes
Dryden Theatre, 9:45 p.m.
Back before Bigelow made a name for herself with high-octane films like Blue Steel, Point Break, and Strange Days, she directed this critically lauded picture which sounds like a blend of both of Joss Whedon's television shows --- the vampire thriller and the western. Adrian Pasdar plays a cowboy who picks up a girl, gets bitten in the neck, and finds himself deep in the world of eternal darkness (hint: it's not Elmira).
Michelle Gallagher, US, 88 minutes
Little Theatre #3, 9:45 p.m.
The latest from Robert Forster was formerly titled Rat in the Can because his character is the kind of lowlife con man who would raise a baby rat in an empty pop can so he could sue the soft drink company once the critter is big enough. Jack's specialty isn't rats, though --- it's game shows. And after a major meltdown on a Pyramid knockoff, he meets a young, good-looking cowboy named Henry (Kip Pardue) and trains him (à la Hard Eight, or even Forster's Diamond Men) how to get on and win a game show called Roads to Riches. When Henry becomes a big hit, Jack sees dollar signs but must contend with an equally unscrupulous stripper (Rose McGowan) whose hooks are already firmly lodged within Henry. An interesting dramedy for people who thought Quiz Show was too long and too serious.
Nan Triveni Achnas, Indonesia/Japan, 106 minutes
Little Theatre #2, 5:30 p.m.
Sounding like a beach resort, or perhaps a lush golf course, Sands is instead an attractive film about the dysfunctional relationship between a teenager and her mother. Berlian (Christine Hakim) likes to keep Daya (Dian Sastrowardoyo) on a short leash, and since she's blossoming into a real beauty, the leash just keeps getting shorter and shorter --- and Daya keeps getting more and more rebellious. When Daya's father, who has been missing for years, returns into their lives, you might think the family dynamic would change for the better. Think again.
Judith Helfand and Daniel B. Gold, US, 98 minutes
Little Theatre #1, 6:30 p.m.
With all the focus on snipers and terrorists, nobody is paying any attention to the deadly foe that's right under our noses --- vinyl siding. That's the point of this nicely edited picture, which won Sundance's Cinematography Award for documentary films. Helfand becomes concerned when her parents decide to re- side their home with the eponymous blue vinyl, and with good reason --- she just had a radical hysterectomy because of a drug her mom took during pregnancy. Now, looking for potential cancer-causing agents like she's the love child of Erin Brockovich and Michael Moore, Helfand decides to blow her "uterus money" on this exposé, in which she uncovers the truth about the various dangers of siding. Features animation by Emily Hubley (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), whose late mother, Faith, was honored at last year's festival.
Kristi Jacobson, US, 95 minutes
Dryden Theatre, 7 p.m.
Produced by two-time Oscar winner Barbara Kopple (who has also won the American Film Institute's Maya Deren Independent Film and Video Artists Award), this documentary chronicles the battle between a trucking company called Overnight Transportation and a Teamsters Union weakened by decreased membership and political infighting. The Teamsters have been trying to organize Overnight's employees for years but have met incredible resistance, which ultimately culminates in a devastating strike they thought would last about three weeks. (They weren't even close.) The ending is fairly anticlimactic, but this is still a classy documentary.
Rebecca Miller, USA, 85 minutes
Little Theatre #1, 8:40 p.m.
Miller, the daughter of Arthur Miller and husband of Daniel Day-Lewis, wrote and directed this film, adapting it from her own novel (which features seven stories compared to the film's three). I was floored at how visual Velocity was, expecting that a movie made by a writer would concentrate more on the story than the appearance. But Miller's direction, punctuated by freeze-framing her digital video and cutting in stills every so often, is the perfect blend of image and narrative. Her "three portraits" tell the stories of three different women, played by Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey, and Fairuza Balk, and concentrate on cookbooks, teenaged runaways, and somebody's glorious, traffic-stopping ass. If you make it to only one film at the festival, this is the one you don't want to miss.
Ferzan Ozpetek, Italy, 105 minutes
Little Theatre #3, 9 p.m.
Shortly after a woman's husband dies, she discovers he was having an affair... with a man.
Neema Barnette, US, 95 minutes
Little Theatre #2, 9:30 p.m.
A drama full of rap superstars (Mos Def, Da Brat, MC Lyte) that likens prison labor to sharecropping.
Lynne Ramsey, Scotland, 97 minutes
Dryden Theatre, 9:45 p.m.
We saw flashes of brilliance in Ramsey's Ratcatcher, but with Callar, the Scottish director takes a huge leap in both her directing and writing (she adapts Alan Warner's novel here). Of course, it helps when you've got a super talent like Samantha Morton in front of the camera. She plays Morvern Callar, a Glaswegian who wakes up one crisp December morning to find a glowing Christmas tree with her boyfriend's dead body lying underneath it. It's surprising when Morvern ignores the body for several weeks, and even more shocking when she hacks it up and buries it outside. But then she does something even more unbelievable. Morton is, as usual, brilliant. And her long dark hair makes her look like a cross between Emily Watson and Kimberly Williams.
Pascale Bailly, France, 100 minutes
Little Theatre #1, 10:40 p.m.
The mere presence of Amélie's Audrey Tautou should have people lined up around the block. Here, Tautou plays Michèle, a frizzy-haired Paris fashion model whose recent relationship implosion and abortion leave her searching for spiritual answers. Catholicism isn't cutting it, and a short-lived attempt at Buddhism finds her nodding off during meditation. She discovers Judaism at around the same time that she meets François (Edouard Baer), a Jewish veterinarian who is desperately trying to hide his religious roots. When they fall in love, it becomes a feature-film version of an episode of Three's Company. (Picture Chrissy Snow hanging up a mezuzah on secret Jew Jack Tripper's door and imagine the hilarity.)
Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, UK, 89 minutes
Dryden Theatre, 11 a.m.
You've heard of the Curse of the Bambino, but what about the Curse of Don Quixote? Orson Welles spent two decades trying to turn Miguel de Cervantes' classic story into a feature film, and in 2000, Terry Gilliam's years of planning finally took the project further than Welles ever managed to. We join the pre-production in Madrid about eight weeks before filming one of the most expensive European-financed films ever, with the likes of Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradis, and Jean Rochefort. What follows is a colossal string of disasters that would almost be funny if they didn't completely derail the project. The parallels between Gilliam and Quixote are almost too much to take --- both are looking for one last big chance, and both are proven foolish time after time. Gilliam, however, is still looking for redemption in the final reel.
Ning Ying, China, 56 minutes
Little Theatre #1, 11 a.m.
Every August, scores and scores of Chinese --- peasant women, mostly ---from the Sichuan province hop on a train to make the three-day journey to Xinjiang. Is there something exciting happening in Xinjiang? Only if you enjoy the harvesting of cotton. Ying and her crew take the same train and ask the cotton-pickers a bunch of questions in an attempt to get to the bottom of the story. A very interesting and, at times, very touching film.
Liz Garbus, US, 88 minutes
Little Theatre #1, 12:30 p.m.
Garbus's documentary about the execution of Wanda Jean Allen in Oklahoma last year is a must-see for anyone against capital punishment. It's even a must-see for people who think the whole eye-for-an-eye thing is a great idea, because ol' Wanda could be the poster child for why we should kill more criminals. She almost slipped through the cracks after being convicted of manslaughter back in 1981 (sentence: a paltry four years), so why were people shocked and outraged when she was given the death sentence after killing her girlfriend in a fit of rage in 1988? Garbus shows us the three months before Wanda's scheduled execution, as do-gooders try to spring her with the "She was too dumb to know what she was doing" excuse for the cold-blooded murder.
Marie de Laubier, France, 100 minutes
Little Theatre #3, 1 p.m.
Philippe (Patrick Pineau), a sailor involved in a race around the world, doesn't seem to mind that he finished in last place and more than two months behind the winner. When he returns home, Philippe has trouble readjusting to life on land, despite help from his wife, Lucie. Looking for a break from it all, Philippe goes to visit a friend in Madagascar, but something goes wrong on the way and Lucie gets a call saying Philippe's boat was discovered adrift and empty. With her husband presumed drowned, Lucie has a breakdown reminiscent of Charlotte Rampling's character from Under the Sand. Co-written by Claire Denis's usual scribe Jean-Pol Fargeau. Take a Dramamine because the boating scenes are pretty intense.
Gail Doglin and Vicente Franco, US, 75 minutes
Little Theatre #2, 2 p.m.
I had never heard of Operation Babylift until I saw this Sundance winner (Grand Jury Prize winner for Best Documentary) about the long-term effects of President Ford's attempt to gain domestic support for the Vietnam conflict. Babylift took hundreds of Vietnamese orphans (and pried a few more out of the arms of crying mothers) and flew them to the US so they could be adopted by nice white families. Now it's 25 years later, and Heidi (formerly Hiep) has become a clueless Southerner (from Pulaski, Tennessee --- birthplace of the KKK) with teased hair and stretchpants. What will happen when Heidi goes back to Vietnam to meet her birth mother? A lot of unbelievable things, including the line, "Y'all are just going to have to carry me off that plane." Danang is a very good documentary about a particularly dark and relatively unknown moment in American history.
Samira Makhmalbaf, Iran, 85 minutes
Little Theatre #1, 3 p.m.
A big hit on the 2000 festival circuit (it won the Jury Prize at Cannes) now preparing for a regular theatrical release, Blackboards is further proof that the epicenter of cool, beautiful, thought-provoking foreign cinema is smack-dab in the middle of Dubya's Axis of Evil. A film that opens with a group of seven men lugging giant blackboards up a dirt road, only to scatter and hide when a helicopter flies overhead, is going to get my attention every single time. The men are teachers looking for students, and, after they split up, we see each go on wacky adventures involving people who just don't care about reading, writing, or 'rithmetic. You might remember Makhmalbaf, the 22-year-old daughter of Iranian master director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, from her terrific debut, The Apple.
Martina Kudlácek, Austria, 103 minutes
Curtis Theatre, 3 p.m.
If you were knocked over by Deren's short films, which screen at the festival on Thursday (October 31), Mirror is your big chance to learn more about the groundbreaking filmmaker. In addition to clips of those shorts, we also see Deren's interviews and lectures, as well as a trip to Haiti that turned the avant-garde artist on to voodoo. I had never heard of Deren before I saw this John Zorn-scored documentary, and Mirror left me hungry for more information about her. Depending on how you look at it, that's either a really good thing or a really bad thing.
Karen Moncrieff, US, 96 minutes
Little Theatre #1, 5 p.m.
Writer-director Moncrieff, who has appeared in four different daytime soap operas, clocks in with an amazing and devastating debut behind the camera. Car tells the story of an Ohio high school student named Meg (a very strong Agnes Bruckner) with a messed-up home life, an uncanny ability to write great poetry, and an AP English teacher (David Strathairn) who might be taking a little too much interest in his prized pupil. While we all silently pray for the film not to venture into Oleanna territory, we still know it's headed there, especially when we see that momentary look of fear in his eyes when Meg asks, "Why are you so nice to me?"
Dierdre Lynch, US, 89 minutes
Dryden Theatre, 5:15 p.m.
Lynch, an Irish-American cinematographer, follows the steps of Life Magazine photographer Dorothea Lange's assignment to County Clare in Ireland in 1954.
Andrés Wood, US, 94 minutes
Little Theatre #4, 5:30 p.m.
Set in Chile, Fever depicts the zaniness surrounding a lift on the ban of catching a particular kind of shellfish that many believe has certain aphrodisiacal qualities. You know what that means, don't you? More fishermen and more hookers.
Andrea Kalin, US, 57 minutes
Little Theatre #2, 6 p.m.
This short, Morgan Freeman-narrated documentary portrays the little-known origins of open-heart surgery, which was pioneered by an unlikely duo back in 1944. Dr. Alfred Blalock came from a family of rich, white, Georgia sharecroppers, while his partner, Dr. Vivien Thomas, was a black, high-school-educated child of a Nashville carpenter. The site of their experimentation on curing "blue babies" was the now-legendary Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, where the duo had to create its own instruments and deal with the hospital's segregation policies. Heart features one of my favorite lines of the festival --- "We got along like a sick kitten and a warm brick."
Paul Greengrass, UK/Ireland, 107 minutes
Little Theatre #1, 7:40 p.m.
It's January 30, 1972, in Derry, and Greengrass drops us into what will shortly become Bloody Sunday. His film is a lot like Black Hawk Down in that it portrays a horrible event by lowering viewers into a dizzying, volatile pressure-cooker of a situation that quickly spirals out of control. Greengrass focuses on the "what" much more than the "why" --- everyone has different ideas about why it happened, but this is what happened. Like Down, Sunday wasn't as much written as it was choreographed, and its characters are empty cinematic cutouts, with the exception of the blazingly charismatic James Nesbitt, whose Derry Civil Rights Association leader comes off damn near Giuliani-esque, especially during the post-tragedy news conference. One cool flick with a cinéma-vérité style that makes it look like archival footage of the incident.
Todd Louiso, US, 90 minutes
Dryden Theatre, 8 p.m.
Incredibly talented Fairport native Philip Seymour Hoffman, who once again channels Daniel Clowes' mouthbreathing loser Dan Pussey, plays Wilson Joel, a web designer whose wife Liza recently offed herself with what we can only assume was little or no warning. The film is dark. Make that very dark. It offers little background about its protagonist. There is no character arc. Its ending is ambiguous. It's about suicide. It's about mourning. It's about addiction. And it's about huffing gas fumes. Hoffman, whose older brother Gordy wrote the award-winning script (see our interview with him on page 11), carries the entire film on his back. There's no Elisabeth Shue-type sidekick here as he huffs himself into next week. Jim O'Rourke provides an appropriately erratic score, while Louiso's (he's best known as the guy who wasn't John Cusack or Jack Black in High Fidelity) direction is fairly low-key and unobtrusive, allowing Hoffman to work his magic.
A.J. Shnack, US, 102 minutes
Little Theatre #1, 10:30 p.m.
One would hardly expect a documentary that begins with a monologue from Illinois Senator Paul Simon to have anything to do with either Istanbul or Constantinople, but strangely enough, Gigantic does. It tells the story of They Might Be Giants, concentrating on both the band's history and the preparation of its first studio album in five years. The history is what makes the film enjoyable, as we learn about everything from the Giants' early appearances in illegal apartment clubs and the Dial-a-Song phenomenon, to a rare chance to perform with Doc Severinsen on The Tonight Show. In between portrayals of the past and the present, we see interviews with Johns Flansbugh and Linnell, praise from a flock of people the band has influenced (like Frank Black, Dave Eggers, and Jon Stewart), and several very funny (yet seriously delivered) lyric readings by the likes of Harry Shearer, Janeane Garofalo, and Andy Richter. Aside from Katakuris, Gigantic is the closest High Falls comes to having a real Midnight Movie.
Laurie Lynd, UK/Canada, 104 minutes
Little Theatre #3, 1 p.m.
Extra! Extra! Boy thinks he was a rat; adoptive parents baffled!
For more of Jon's movie ramblings, and additional High Falls coverage, visit Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com).