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The Great Beauty
God Loves Uganda
Afternoon of a Faun
The Selfish Giant
Fri. - March 7 - 7:00 - 9:00 pm ASat. - March 8 - 7:00 - 9:00 pm ASun. - March 9 - 2:00 pm AMon. - March 10 - Not ShowingTues. - March 11 - 7:30 pm AWed. - March 12 - 7:30 pm SThurs. - March 13 - Not Showing
QUICK SYNOPSIS: THE SELFISH GIANT is a contemporary fable about 13 year old Arbor (Conner Chapman) and his best friend Swifty (Shaun Thomas). Excluded from school and outsiders in their own neighborhood, the two boys meet Kitten (Sean Gilder), a local scrapdealer - the Selfish Giant. They begin collecting scrap metal for him using a horse and cart. Swifty has a natural gift with horses while Arbor emulates Kitten - keen to impress him and make some money. However, Kitten favors Swifty, leaving Arbor feeling hurt and excluded, driving a wedge between the boys. Arbor becomes increasingly greedy and exploitative, becoming more like Kitten. Tensions build, leading to a tragic event, which transforms them all. ~rottentomatoes.com
SELECTED REVIEW: From its opening scene, Clio Barnard’s “The Selfish Giant” strikes a delicate balance between hard-bitten British social realism in the tradition of Ken Loach and Alan Clarke and mist-shrouded fairy tale, a balance that carries through the movie’s shattering, tragic climax and its final hint of redemption. This tale of two dead-end teenagers left to their own devices in the ass-end of nowhere, English division — specifically, on a “council estate” (or housing project) in the West Yorkshire city of Bradford — is not an easy or comforting viewing experience. But it’s so assured and accomplished, so rigorous on both a human and technical level, and so clearly driven by love for this harsh landscape and its hardened people, that I was entirely swept away by its characters and their story. (Yes, the Yorkshire dialect in “The Selfish Giant” will challenge American comprehension, but never fear. Subtitles are provided!)
Barnard is a rising English filmmaker, almost entirely unknown in the United States, whose roots lie in experimental documentary. (Yes, I realize I have just terrified and driven away three-quarters of the potential audience. Shall we proceed?) Although she personally comes from a middle-class, educated background, Barnard grew up in Yorkshire and knows the environment well. While she was making her arresting 2010 documentary “The Arbor,” a semi-biographical film about Bradford-born playwright Andrea Dunbar (who died of a brain hemorrhage at age 29), Barnard befriended two local boys, school dropouts who were ostracized even amid the downtrodden working-class districts of Bradford. They were young but seemed like throwbacks to an earlier era of British life; they weren’t interested in fashionable clothes or Nike shoes and didn’t do drugs. Instead, they spent their days working as “scrappers,” roaming Bradford with a horse and cart collecting scrap metal and copper cable, by fair means or foul.
Barnard’s real relationship with those two boys becomes the basis for her fictional portrayal of a pair of Bradford teens called Arbor and Swifty, played respectively by Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas, two remarkable nonprofessional actors she recruited from Bradford’s council estates. (The name Arbor specifically recalls both the title of Barnard’s previous film, and Andrea Dunbar’s best-known play.) From the perspective of middle-class adult officialdom, Arbor and Swifty are delinquents and misfits: They do poorly in school, get in fights and commit petty crimes, and have evidently dysfunctional family lives. Arbor’s older brother is a drug addict in debt to serious criminals; Swifty’s dad, whose universal nickname appears to be “Price Drop,” survives by way of a low-end scam in which he rents furniture from discount retailers and then sells it for cash.
But we largely see the world through the lens of the ferociously loyal friendship between hotheaded, precocious Arbor and gentle, introverted Swifty, who in spite of everything are devoted to their families and determined to seize the opportunities life presents them. As Barnard has put it, this is a story of profound love and friendship played out against “an adult world where something has gone horribly wrong.” That something could certainly be described, from my perspective, as the profound inequality engineered into the capitalist societies on both sides of the Atlantic since the era of Thatcher and Reagan, which has left poor kids from Bradford to the Bronx permanently excluded from so-called prosperity. On the other hand, I’d love to read an intelligent conservative take on “The Selfish Giant,” which could also be understood as a fable about the risks of entrepreneurship. (If Arbor and Swifty believe in anything, they believe in never relying on anyone or anything beyond themselves.)
Arbor is delighted that he has finally been expelled from school and can spend his days roaming the urban-rural fringe of Bradford — so memorably captured in Mike Eley’s digital cinematography — in an ever more dangerous quest for contraband metals. (Apparently stripping the copper from overhead train wires and electrical pylons is a significant aspect of Britain’s underground economy.) Swifty has only been suspended from school, and more or less intends to go back, but in the meantime he can pick up a few bob caring for Diesel, a racehorse owned by a nefarious scrap-yard proprietor called Kitten (Sean Gilder, of the British TV series “Shameless”). Kitten is a powerful and ambiguous character, part surrogate parent and part shameless exploiter, and on both sides of the equation he can tell himself he’s teaching these two lost boys how the adult world actually works.
Kitten plans to run Diesel in an illegal “road race,” driven by a rider in a sulky or small cart and run on an empty highway just after dawn. (This is yet another piece of genuine sociology: The road races of rural Britain and Ireland, long associated with the “traveling people,” have made a comeback in the era of YouTube.) Meanwhile Arbor has begun to contemplate braving a high-voltage power line in search of its arm-thick strands of copper wire, and perhaps because the accomplished adult thieves around Kitten’s scrap yard insist it’s an insane and desperate endeavor. Barnard mixes scenes of Swifty and Arbor alone against the impressive Yorkshire countryside with buzzing, chaotic, claustrophobic scenes of family and pub life. (One of the locations she uses is the pub where Andrea Dunbar suffered her fatal hemorrhage.)
The two young boys in the lead roles are amazingly strong, so convincing and absorbing that they almost overwhelm accomplished adult actors like Gilder, Siobhan Finneran and Rebecca Manley. (The latter two are Swifty and Arbor’s mothers, respectively.) While the British media have understandably drawn a comparison to Loach’s groundbreaking 1969 British film “Kes,” Barnard is just as much following in the footsteps of François Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows,” Vittorio De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves” and Ramin Bahrani’s strikingly similar 2007 New York indie “Chop Shop.” I advise you to brace yourself; like those films, “The Selfish Giant” may tear your heart out. But the passion and possibility Barnard shows us among forgotten people in a forgotten place are fully worth it. Review by Andrew O’Hehir, salon.com
Thurs. - March 6 - Not ShowingFri. - March 7 - 6:30 pm SSat. - March 8 - 4:15 pm SSun. - March 9 - 2:30 pm SMon. - March 10 - 7:00 pm ATues. - March 11 - Not ShowingWed. - March 12 - Not ShowingThurs. - March 13 - 7:30 pm (Final Showing) S
QUICK SYNOPSIS: Of the great ballerinas, Tanaquil Le Clercq may have been the most transcendent. She mesmerized viewers and choreographers alike - her elongated, race-horse physique became the new prototype for the great George Balanchine. The muse to both Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, they loved her as a dancer and a woman. Balanchine married her and Robbins created his famous Afternoon of a Faun for Tanny. She was the foremost dancer of her day until it suddenly all stopped. At age 27, Tanny was struck down by polio and paralyzed. She never danced again. (c) Kino Lorber
SELECTED REVIEW: Many documentaries about ballet and its practitioners, even the very best, understandably appeal mainly to a core audience of dance aficionados. Nancy Buirski's mesmerizing, beautifully crafted "Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil le Clercq" proves a striking exception to that rule. While it does profile the work of brilliant dancer, the film also contains two complex and moving love stories as well an account of a physically devastating tragedy followed by an extraordinary tale of struggle and survival.
Tanaquil le Clercq was a muse and love interest of two of the last century's greatest American choreographers, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. Born in Paris in 1929 and raised in privileged, sheltered circumstances in New York, Tanny, as her friends called her, started studying dance as a child and was at Balanchine's School of American Ballet when he discovered her. Though she was only 15, he cast her in lead roles and she quickly became a star, having never served in the corps de ballet.
Her skill as a dancer is evident in the clips director Nancy Buirski provides, but le Clercq was also helped, clearly, by her looks. Tall, svelte and long-legged at a time when most ballerinas were short, she exuded a coltish energy and cut a striking figure on stage. Her face also had a distinctive allure, a mixture of simplicity and understated ethereality, like a more angular Julie Harris with a bit of Lauren Bacall's youthful insouciance.
Already middle-aged when he met her, the Russian-born Balanchine had a history of depending creatively and emotionally on his prima ballerinas. He had married four of them before he met Tanny, and all had eventually left him (rather than the other way around) when it seemed their artistic partnership had run its course. With Tanny, the pattern repeated, but from the testimony of those who knew them, the love on both sides was profound. They married in 1952.
Robbins, a bit older than Tanny, was infatuated with her from the time they met, and said she was the reason he decided to the join the New York City Ballet and work under Balanchine. Some of the most moving parts of the film are excerpts from letters between Jerry and Tanny (read by actors) that bespeak a complex mix of friendship and romantic feeling, one that was destined to leave him both enthralled and frustrated. He apparently was crushed when she married Balanchine.
In 1956, the company went off on a European tour at a time when the specter of polio was terrorizing much of the world. While most of the dancers took the newly invented Salk vaccine before they left, Tanny decided at the last minute not to. She was stricken in Copenhagen and put in an iron lung with expectations that she would not survive. She did pull through, but would never walk, much less dance, again.
The sudden horror of the dancer's illness and her struggle in its aftermath are where the film's fascinating chronicle of a talented artist's ascent turns even more absorbing. In a strange way, it seems that though Tanny's emotions are roiled by her drastic change of fortunes, her spirit is largely unchanged, and perhaps even strengthened. In any case, Balanchine remains an ardent support through her treatment in Warm Springs, GA, and return to New York. And while she complains that Robbins is an erratic correspondent, his letters and photos of her make it clear that his attachment to her is as strong as ever.
Those photos make the point that, where some documentaries need a copious amount of material on their subjects, others manage to turn a paucity of sources into an advantage. Here, there were only a couple of Tanny interviews during her career for Buirski to draw on, and none following her illness (le Clercq died in 2000), and the archival footage of her dancing of course came well before the era of HD and snazzy production values.
But precisely these limitations help draw the viewer even more deeply into Buirski's portrait of the dancer. Watching Tanny's luminous countenance in Robbins' expressive photos or the post-polio Super-8 movies made by friends, one senses a truly amazing spirit blessed with an insight, a warmth and a generosity that were far beyond the normal. As one of her intimates says, "her regard was all acceptance, forgiveness."
Ultimately, a great film about a single person touches upon the mystery of human personality, and "Afternoon of a Faun" does that with uncommon grace. While some viewers are sure to come away from the film wishing they had seen Tanny dance, perhaps even more would wish they had been able to spend an afternoon in the park with her.
It should be noted that Buirski and editor Damian Rodriguez have done a superb job of telling their story through interviews and footage of dances that, though old, remain striking. The most hypnotic of all, which opens and closes the film, is from the eponymous "Afternoon of a Faun" piece that Robbins created for Tanny and Jacques d'Amboise. In an old black and white kinescope, the dancers perform as in a studio, but with the camera where the mirror should be. Somehow the effect is spell-binding even decades later, proof of the magic that two figures on a bare stage can create. Review by Godfrey Cheshire, rogerebert.com
In Italian w/ subtitles
Thurs. - March 6 - 7:00 pm AFri. - March 7 - 8:30 pm SSat. - March 8 - 4:00 - 8:00 pm A-SSun. - March 9 - 6:30 pm SMon. - March 10 - Not ShowingTues. - March 11 - 7:00 pm SWed. - March 12 - Not ShowingThurs. - March 13 - 7:00 pm (Final Showing) A
QUICK SYNOPSIS: Journalist Jep Gambardella (the dazzling Toni Servillo, Il divo and Gomorrah) has charmed and seduced his way through the lavish nightlife of Rome for decades. Since the legendary success of his one and only novel, he has been a permanent fixture in the city's literary and social circles, but when his sixty-fifth birthday coincides with a shock from the past, Jep finds himself unexpectedly taking stock of his life, turning his cutting wit on himself and his contemporaries, and looking past the extravagant nightclubs, parties, and cafés to find Rome in all its glory: a timeless landscape of absurd, exquisite beauty. (c) Janus
SELECTED REVIEW: It's both frustrating and exciting to see Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino persistently compared to Federico Fellini. The comparison is warranted, to an extent. Like Fellini, Sorrentino ("This Must Be the Place," "The Consequences of Love") has a baroque and immersive style. He also has a carnivalesque/sideshow sense of humor: his new film "The Great Beauty" features, amongst other things, a self-described "dwarf" and a nun with two crooked teeth. Also like Fellini, Sorrentino's fascinated by contemporary society's obsession with looking young and energetic.
"Beauty" can be read as an update of "La Dolce Vita," but while it is definitely Fellini-esque, it's also a crystallization of Sorrentino's own distinctive style. This 43-year-old filmmaker is a major talent. Though he may not be the second coming of Fellini, his films all have a funny, refreshingly complex perspective, and his latest work is a perfect example of why he is the next big Italian thing.
"The Great Beauty" is a character study that presents contemporary Rome through the eyes of Jep Gambardella (the brilliant Toni Servillo), a simultaneously overstimulated and underwhelmed taste-making intellectual. Jep is a writer, though he doesn't really write. His first and only novella disappeared into obscurity. He spends his time performing as a public figure, a fixture of the city. He wants to remain young and important for as long as he can (he's 65), so he uses botox. But he also mocks anyone who makes vague, pseudo-intellectual claims about ethics, art, and staying young.
On a basic level, Jep recognizes in himself everything that's provincial and ugly about Rome. But through bon mots and helpless smirks, he breezes through life, looking for an elusive source of inspiration. He seems to find it in Ramona (Sabrina Ferili), a whip-smart stripper, but their romance is insubstantial. "The Great Beauty" is Jep's show. He's clever enough to know what his problems are, but not ready to solve them yet.
Jep is morbidly self-involved, but Sorrentino excels at subtly navigating the contradictions that either undermine or support his persona. People come and go in Jep's life. They all make him a little wiser, even if they don't realize it. Airhead celebrities talk about Marcel Proust. A lecherous old man hisses, "I want to fuck you" at a bevy of spray-tanned twentysomethings. Then there's Ramona, a woman smart enough to call Jep out when he blames his boredom and writer's block on living in Rome.
Jep is like Sorrentino's other great protagonists: impotent, charming but smug men who can't bear the thought of starting over. Jep casually boasts about how comfortable he is in his environment, but he also hopes that there's more to life than what he already knows. He grapples with many of the same preoccupations as the heroes of Sorrentino's other films. He is, to use an image from Sorrentino's "One Man Up," a big fish circling his own private fishbowl. His prison is defined by clipped and cutting arguments and visually rapturous tracking shots.
Sorrentino overwhelms viewers with information, but each scene is constructed with such care and attention that it's easy to miss that each new scene elaborates on Jep's latest theory or dilemma. His character arc is engrossing because it's not just full of complex ideas, thanks to Sorrentino and Umberto Contarello's screenplay, but visual beauty as well, courtesy of Luca Bigazzi's cinematography.
More importantly, Servillo, a frequent Sorrentino collaborator and a theatrically-trained actor, makes Jep arresting. He's like an Italian Tom Wolfe. You hang on his every word, even when you're about to hear something gossipy and mean-spirited, because you know it'll probably be true, or at least well-said. A subtle brittleness defines Servillo's performance, and it only comes out when he wants it to. He and Sorrentino are both at their best in "The Great Beauty," making comparisons to Maestro Fellini's work at once inadequate and appropriately grandiose. Review by Simon Abrams, rogerebert.com
Thurs. - March 6 - 7:30 pm SFri. - March 7 - Not ShowingSat. - March 8 - 6:00 pm SSun. - March 9 - 4:30 pm SMon. - March 10 - 7:30 pm STues. - March 11 - Not ShowingWed. - March 12 - 7:00 pm (Final Showing) AThurs. - March 13 - Not Showing
Quick Synopsis: Academy Award-winning filmmaker Roger Ross Williams (Music by Prudence) explores the role of the American Evangelical movement in fueling Uganda's terrifying turn towards biblical law and the proposed death penalty for homosexuality in this enlightening but shocking exposé. Thanks to charismatic religious leaders and a well-financed campaign, these draconian new laws and the politicians that peddle them are winning over the Ugandan public. But these dangerous policies and the money that fuels them aren't coming from Africa, they're being imported from some of America's largest megachurches. Using vérité, interviews, and hidden camera footage, the film allows American religious leaders and their young missionaries that make up the "front lines in a battle for billions of souls" to explain their positions in their own words. (c) Variance
Those who demand pure objectivity from their documentaries may stumble on God Loves Uganda, which never pretends to be impartial, probably because it’s next to impossible to do so when tackling this topic. (As both sides of the debate would likely agree, this is a moral issue.) Still, Williams mostly plays fair, even going as far as affording some of the missionaries the opportunity to condemn the bill on camera. (In a truly cowardly display, two of them feign ignorance over the specifics of the law, relinquishing themselves of the responsibility of weighing in on its righteousness.) Mostly, the director allows his interview subjects to make the points for him; among the featured opponents of the bill are a Zambian reverend living in Boston and former bishop Christopher Senyonjo, excommunicated from the church for supporting Uganda’s LGBT community. That latter figure may be the film’s moral center, devoted as he is to counteracting the ocean of intolerance flooding into Africa from the West. “If you teach your child to love other people when he is young, he’ll grow up loving them,” he tells a small congregation. Like his hate-mongering opponents, Senyonjo knows that Uganda’s future rests with the next generation. Review by A.A. Dowd, avclub.com
SELECTED REVIEW: When news first broke of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, introduced in 2009 and still under consideration in the country’s parliament, outrage spread quickly among the international community. Not surprisingly, many have framed the prospective law, which would not only fully criminalize same-sex relationships in Uganda but also make them punishable by death, as a symptom of an aggressively backward-thinking culture. But where did the sentiments behind the resolution originate? The thesis of God Loves Uganda, an eye-opening, often-infuriating new documentary, is that the roots of the so-called Kill The Gays bill can be traced not to Africa, but to conservative Middle America. It’s from there that a self-proclaimed army of evangelicals have emerged, setting their sights on the poorest regions of Africa. “I think everyone wants to replicate their values,” chirps a young missionary—and indeed, what’s troubling about these pilgrimages to the “firepot of spiritual renewal” is that church groups, like the far-reaching International House Of Prayer, are importing their prejudices along with the gospel. As slain LGBT activist David Kato points out in an archival clip, doctrines of hate are being fed to impressionable youths, who then take the law into their own hands.
Kato, who was murdered in 2011, was the key figure of Call Me Kuchu, the year’s other documentary on homophobia in Uganda. Like that film, God Loves Uganda has advocacy aims, and director Roger Ross Williams occasionally overplays the theatrical dread—cutting, for example, between ominous slow-motion shots of children running and close-ups of U.S. churchgoers in the throes of a religious experience. Yet he also approaches the connections between the two countries with muckraking clarity, demonstrating how dangerous ideas are spread from one to the other. It’s not just mainstream Christianity that’s finding a foothold: Fringe figures like Scott Lively, who teaches that homosexuals invented Nazism, are being treated as theological experts in Uganda. Williams also takes a couple of fascinating detours, as when he explores how the nation was once a model in AIDS containment, thanks to its condom-awareness program, but lost that distinction when the Bush administration threatened to cut U.S. funding if abstinence wasn’t encouraged instead.
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