Your user’s guide to the 2011 Nashville Film Festival 

Reel Nashville

Reel Nashville

Page 5 of 6

Monday, 18th

(1 p.m.; also 8 p.m. April 19)

"Comedy is the soft spot of all dictators," narrates director Mads Brügger in this brave documentary about life in ultra-secretive North Korea. Brügger and Danish-Korean comedy duo The Red Chapel infiltrate the country under the pretense of a comedy performance and a pro-regime making-of documentary. In reality, they are trying to expose North Korea's isolationism, repression and crimes against humanity. The footage is reviewed each night by the secret police, so they must put on happy faces as they encounter increasingly surreal staged scenes of North Korean life. Self-described "spastic" comedian Jacob Nosell is the only one who can truly speak his mind because the secret police can't understand his slurred Danish speech. After the state-mandated "artistic director" steps in, the show goes from being a cultural exchange to a North Korean propaganda piece, most notably in confining Jacob to a wheelchair, not letting him speak, and making him stand during curtain call to fool the audience into believing he's merely "acting" disabled. The implications are truly chilling when Jacob asks, "Where are all the disabled people in North Korea?" In Danish and Korean with subtitles. —TONY YOUNGBLOOD

(3 p.m.; also 5:30 p.m. April 21)

At times, Nicolas Philibert's quiet meditation on a 40-year-old orangutan's daily existence in a Parisian zoo teeters precipitously on the fine line between hypnotic and boring. But the thoughtful cinematography by Philibert (To Be and To Have) and Katell Dijan tips it toward the former, casting Nénette more as an art film than a documentary. Nénette has lived in captivity for 37 years, survived three mates and given birth four times. Though we hear voices of zookeepers and patrons, the camera stays focused on the inscrutable protagonist and her fellow orangutans, offering only occasional glimpses of humankind via reflections on the glass of the animals' enclosure. Such shots are an obvious visual metaphor for the visitors seeing the apes as reflections of themselves, and some reviews have suggested the film is a condemnation of the practice of keeping animals in captivity. But Philibert seems less interested in delivering a pat message than in creating a unique experience — and at that, he definitely succeeds. —JACK SILVERMAN

(3 p.m.; also 5:15 p.m. April 21)

Not many films open with a brutal rape and murder, then somehow get even more harrowing from there — but pinku eiga auteur Koji Wakamatsu's scalding anti-war drama does. Kyuzo Kurokawa, a Japanese lieutenant, returns from the Second Sino-Japanese War limbless and disfigured. For his heroism, he is a "War God" in the empire's eyes. But he is a monster in his wife's — and as Shigeko struggles to be a dutiful spouse, we learn the depth of that monstrosity. While striking and profound, the film's broad historical strokes — including newsreel footage of war casualties and pointed jabs at obsequious patriotism — are nothing compared to its devastating, point-blank portrayal of the horrific intimacy between a husband and wife transformed by war. Deeply unsettling. In Japanese with subtitles. —STEVE HARUCH

(5:45 p.m.; also 1:45 p.m. April 20)

One of this year's must-sees. It's the story of British playwright Andrea Dunbar, a poor 15-year-old growing up in project housing who, in the early '80s, had a successful play (called The Arbor) about her own kitchen-sink existence. This was followed by two more plays, alcoholism and near-obscurity. She had three children, each by different fathers; one of the kids, Lorraine, was half-Pakistani, something Andrea never fully accepted. The second half of The Arbor tells Lorraine's equally tragic story. Director Clio Barnard's coup is in conducting actual interviews with the key participants, and then having those audiotapes lip-synched and performed onscreen by actors in semi-artificial circumstances. The result is a documentary/fiction hybrid whose distancing strategies paradoxically result in heightening this real-life drama of maternal dissolution. —MICHAEL SICINSKI

(7 p.m.)

Part anthropological survey, part avant-garde nature film, part God's-eye view of the universe from a decidedly materialist standpoint, Le Quattro Volte functions in some ways as a set of vignettes — a collection of interrelated stories of the Earth and its various inhabitants. The almost wordless film is filled with unexpected surprises and delights, and this is made all the more impressive by the fact that its trajectory, its overarching theme and structure, is wholly determined, perhaps even deterministic. Somehow, director Michelangelo Frammartino generates a firm cycle of mandatory events and orchestrates wonder within them. His fixed points are simply a man, a goat, a tree, and finally a lump of coal — and yet somehow these manage to encompass virtually everything. Highly recommended. —MICHAEL SICINSKI

(10 p.m.)

André Ovredal's Norwegian "found footage" creature-feature follows a group of student filmmakers into the wild, where they encounter a gruff, eccentric hunter on a covert mission to control the country's troll population. The trolls are funny and creepy, and it's clever the way the heroes try to bait them (e.g., putting three billy goats on top of a bridge). But not so good? The hunting. A good hour-plus of the movie is dedicated to short shots of the Norwegian landscape from a moving vehicle, and while the countryside is beautiful, the shaky-cam cinematography gets tedious. In Norwegian with subtitles. —NOEL MURRAY

Tuesday, 19th

(5:45 p.m.; also 12:15 p.m. April 21)

The debut fiction feature by documentary director Sergei Loznitsa depicts Russia as a Kafkaesque hinterland filled with highwaymen both literal and metaphorical. My Joy follows Georgy (Viktor Nemets), a trucker carrying freight along a backwoods border route. After witnessing a young, attractive woman being molested at a roadside police checkpoint, Georgy finds his passenger seat suddenly filled by a rogue hop-on. He's a World War II veteran whose story takes us deeply into a period flashback, wherein we witness his systematic abuse at the hands of Stalinist army officers. The old man's tale (only the first of many bizarre surprises Loznitsa has in store) sets the stage for everything we're going to see throughout My Joy: craven abuse of power, rampant misogyny and xenophobia — essentially the fetid soul of Russia, decaying from the inside out. In Russian with subtitles. —MICHAEL SICINSKI

(10 p.m.; also 3:30 p.m. April 20)

Todd Rohal's gleefully dopey comedy stars Steve Little (best-known for playing Kenny Powers' dim-witted yes-man on Eastbound & Down) as a bumbling priest who invites an old high school acquaintance (played by the scruffily avuncular Robert Longstreet) on an increasingly weird canoe trip. Unlike Rohal's quirk-in-extremis debut The Guatemalan Handshake, The Catechism Cataclysm is more in the vein of Eastbound or Pineapple Express (whose writer-producer-directors Jody Hill and David Gordon Green produced Cataclysm). Even after the movie gets surreal, it remains rooted in funny reaction shots, and in Rohal's clever riff on the idea of stories nested within stories, with no clear escape route. Rohal will attend. —NOEL MURRAY


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