MSPIFF week three: Picks and pans

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At the halfway point of MSPIFF, the theaters have been packed, audiences have been bouncing from theater to theater—mostly with smiles, some with panicked looks (my guess is, trying to make another screening before it starts)—and there has been plenty of entertainment down at the Aster Café, just down the street from St. Anthony Main Theatre. For the most part, of the 29 titles I’ve seen, most of them have been fairly good. MSPIFF has brought in some titles I didn’t think I’d get a chance to see including two French-Canadian titles over the past weekend: Anne Emond’s sexual charged drama Nuit #1 and Jean-Marc Vallee’s sprawling family drama Café de Flore, both of which will both get released later in the year courtesy of Adopt Films.

The first, Nuit #1 (or Night #1): Emond’s story is straightforward. After meeting at a rave, Clara (Catherine de Lean) and Nikolai (Dimitri Storoge) go back to Nikolai’s decrepit apartment and engage in rapturous sex for the first reel of the film, before Clara decides to slip out in the middle of the night, only to be caught by Nikolai wondering why she is leaving.  Coming off as a more sexed-up version of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise though not quite as the sexually explicit as Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs, the film has the two talk, and talk and continue to talk the rest of the evening and explain their fears, secrets and the truth about one another. Emond’s screenplay at times feels forced and some of the dialogue spoken by Clara and Nikolai is tepid, but thanks in large part to de Lean’s fierce performance and the isolation of Nikolai’s cramped quarters, the film has a suffocating atmosphere of hypnotic proportions.

Café de Flore, a fine if overlong drama, tells two stories taking place in the present and in 1969, with both of the stories unrelated at first; they do wind up intersecting. In the present, father and DJ Antonie (a fine debut performance from musician Kevin Parent) is trying to balance to an adjusted life of leaving his wife for a younger woman, while taking care of his two daughters and needing to figure out what he wants in life. The other story focuses on single mother Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis, who should be in more films) raising her son Laurent (Marin Gerrier), who has Down Syndrome. It seems unclear at first how the two stories intersect, but this is a compelling script by Vellee (best known stateside for The Young Victoria), who manages to juggle both storylines. The editing scheme works up to a point; it only begins to flame out when the film begins to drag in the last 20 minutes or so. Had Café de Flore trimmed some of its dead wood down, it would have been a marvelous achievement; it still ends up being highly entertaining and thought-provoking for most of its screen time.

For films coming to MSPIFF this upcoming weekend, I can recommend a few that I have seen and one that I’m looking forward to seeing:

Marvin, Seth and Stanley, by local writer, director, and actor Stephen Gurewitz, looks to be one of the highlights of the festival, making its local premiere with actor/writer/director Alex Karpovsky also starring in the film. Seth and Stanley are brothers traveling from L.A. back to northern Minnesota for a weekend camping trip to deal with family issues. This has been a hot ticket since it is only screening once, and most of the cast and crew will be in attendance. (Only screening: Friday, April 27 at 7 p.m.)

Rubberneck, the fourth film directed by Alex Karpovsky (best known around this area as the director of 2005’s The Hole Story), charging up from his usual offbeat humor into more serious terrain. Karpovsky plays a researcher who is infatuated with a female colleague after having a weekend tryst with her and is fixated on trying to rekindle the flame.  Going into a thriller mode, Karpovsky’s vision has expanded and he is a director on the brink of blowing up. Karpovsky will be present for the first screening only. (Friday, April 27 at 9:30 p.m. and Monday, April 30 at 9:40 p.m.)

Andrew Bird: Fever Year. In this long-awaited documentary about eclectic musician Andrew Bird, director Xan Aranda goes in-depth on Bird’s songwriting process and endurance on the road. The doc is a mix of concert footage and behind-the-scenes shots, featuring Annie Clark of St. Vincent and local musicians Martin Dosh and Jeremy Ylvisaker. Watching Bird create his sound is truly remarkable—especially his whistling skills. “Failure is part of the show” is refreshing to hear from one of our most unique artists performing today. Aranda will be present at both screenings, along with local musicians. (Saturday, April 28 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, April 29 at 1 p.m.)