This year's Wisconsin Film Festival runs April 4-7, and I thought I'd jump the gun by reviewing films that will screen on opening night. One film I was unable to screen is Thirteen Conversations About One Thing, by former Madisonians Jill and Karen Sprecher. If their first film, Clockwatchers, is any indication, the festival will be off to a great start.
Also on tap:
101 ReykjavÃk (Orpheum Theatre, 9:30 p.m.): In the proud tradition of Spanking the Monkey and The Tao of Steve, this wonderfully depressed Icelandic comedy presents us with a slacker dude who has a way with the women. You may recall that the woman whom the slacker dude in Spanking the Monkey had a way with was his mother. Likewise, 101 ReykjavÃk's Hlymur, at age 30, is still living with dear old mom, who's there with a warm towel when he finally decides to get out of the bathtub. Unemployed and perhaps unemployable, Hlymur needs to grow up, obviously, but writer-director Baltasar Kormakur links our hero's lifelong funk to Iceland's long, long winters, when the sun may disappear for years at a time. Even the bar where Hlymur hangs out, ground zero for what the press material facetiously calls "ReykjavÃk's swinging nightlife," has a dull, yellow sheen, like a nicotine stain.
Still, Hlymur might be content to pass his days surfing the Web for new porn sites if not for the arrival of Lola, his mom's new Spanish lesbian lover. That his mother's now a lesbian would be enough for this arctic Oedipus to deal with. Further complicating matters is the night of hot sex he has with Lola while mom's visiting grandma. Somehow, the movie works everything out ' a little pat, I suppose, but it's fun spending time with these downbeat deadbeats.
Rocks with Wings (Bartell Community Theatre, 7 p.m.): Anyone who likes 1) women's basketball, 2) women's sports, 3) sports or 4) stories about people who overcome adversity and fulfill dreams they barely knew they had will want to check out this inspiring documentary. Director Rick Derby spent over a decade tracking the Lady Chieftains, whose home court is located in the small Navajo town of Shiprock, N.M. Perennially beaten by the nearby Kirtland Broncos (Kirtland being a primarily Anglo community), the Lady Chieftains saw their fortunes rise upon the arrival of Jerry Richardson, an African American coach whose favorite word was "discipline."
Not just one but three state championships followed, but as Rocks with Wings makes excruciatingly clear, it wasn't easy. Drugs and alcohol, those twin demons of reservation life, had to be exorcised, and Richardson's Fab Fives were so used to their third-class status that they had to be taught how to look him in the eye. The documentary also suggests that Richardson, who'd used sports to pull himself out of poverty, had a few things to learn about dealing with 1) women, 2) Navajo women and 3) Navajo women who kick ass on a basketball court.
New Wave North: Recent Films from QuÃbec: Some eight million French-speaking Canadians make their homes along the Saint Lawrence River, and if this series is any indication, their film community is about to make waves on the international scene. If asked to name a QuÃbecois director, most of us could only come up with Denys Arcand (Jesus of Montreal). And by "most of us," I mean Canadians as well. I've read that QuÃbecois films are often shelved in the international sections of Canadian video stores. Quel dommage! Then again, there is a certain European quality that runs through several of the festival films. Just don't ask me to explain what I mean by that.
The series opens on April 4 with a screening of Catherine Martin's tightly corsetted Mariages (Orpheum Theatre, 7 p.m.), which is about a young woman in turn-of-the-century QuÃbec who wanted to loosen her own corset a little bit. On April 5, Philippe Falardeau's The Left Side of the Fridge (Majestic Theatre, 9 p.m.) follows a young mechanical engineer around as he haphazardly (not to mention half-assedly) looks for a job. Shot on digital video, this mock documentary deftly combines Roger & Me with This Is Spinal Tap. And by the time it's through, globalism has gotten a thorough lashing with a wet noodle.
Another QuÃbecois film I really like is MaelstrÃm, which doesn't screen until April 7 (Orpheum Theatre, 1 p.m.), but I'll mention it now so you can storm the box office. A Kieslowskian meditation on life, death and the hidden forces that seem to guide us from one to the other, MaelstrÃm is narrated by a fish that's about to be filleted. And if that little piece of tragic/magic realism doesn't pique your interest, perhaps the main character, a poor little rich girl named Bibi Champagne, will. TrÃs jolie, Bibi has fallen into an ugly funk of late. Then she runs over an old man with her car, one of the many unhappy accidents that propel writer-director Denis Villeneuve's stylish film toward its happy-sad conclusion.
When Two Won't Do (Bartell Community Theatre, 9:30 p.m.): David Finch and Maureen Marovitch's film takes a good, hard look at polyamory, the art of loving more than one person at a time. And if you don't think it's an art ' something that has to be worked on and dealt with creatively ' then check out this feature-length documentary, which shows both how difficult it is to pull off these relationships and how important it is, for some, to nevertheless keep trying. Focusing on Finch and Marovitch themselves, When Two Won't Do is a video diary of the couple's effort to come to grips with the fact that, for Marovitch, two's company but so is three, four and five. And so, despite Finch's touching reluctance, he and Marovitch crisscross the United States looking for guidance ' a swinger's convention in Las Vegas, a polyamory convention in New York, a group marriage in San Jose.
Part of me wanted to shake Marovitch by the shoulders and shout, "Don't you see what a sensitive hunk David is?" But she does see what a sensitive hunk he is. In fact, their scenes together are almost too sensitive; there's little drama. Until Will and Robin, a Wisconsin couple, enter the picture. When Marovitch takes up with Will, we see just how high the stakes are when you flirt with that green-eyed monster, jealousy. For letting it all hang out, and for capturing most of it on video, Finch and Marovitch deserve some kind of award. And each other.
Maya (UW Memorial Union Play Circle, 9:30 p.m.): When the 12-year-old Maya (Nitya Shetty) has her first period, it's a cause for celebration. Guests are invited, caterers are hired, and the local priests are brought in to deflower her. Actually, "rape" would be a better word. "Based on true practices," Digvijay Singh's feature debut is an exposÃ of the devadasi tradition, which is outlawed in India but apparently persists in remote regions of the country. That hundreds, if not thousands, of Indian girls are subjected to this religious gang-bang has been confirmed by groups such as Human Rights Watch. But those of us who are unfamiliar with the practice will have to take it on faith that Maya accurately reflects what's going on. Singh has made the movie's victim a middle-class child, for instance, whereas most of them are plucked from the untouchable caste. Whatever its inaccuracies, Maya, after lulling us with its pastoral setting, paints a picture of budding womanhood as harrowing as the one depicted in Brian De Palma's Carrie.
Oh, and a quick plug for the cheese-flavored comedy No Sleep 'til Madison (Orpheum Theatre, 9 p.m.), in which a group of thirtysomething hockey fans hit half the high school rinks between here and Fond du Lac.