2011 SLIFF Preview | Joe Hodes

SLIFF smDon’t let the opportunity that SLIFF affords to see some of the best in the indie and world cinema to pass you by.

JH 9-06Can we truly know another person? Can we truly know ourselves? These questions are tackled by the excellent Slovenian crime procedural/psycho drama 9:06 (11/14 Frontenac 9:15 p.m.; 11/15 Frontenac 9:15 p.m.). 9:06 features a police detective who becomes obsessed with discovering the motives behind a random suicide he is assigned to investigate. As he copes with the endless shockwaves of the death of his own daughter—and his possible role in it—his obsession with the case deepens as the detective assumes the suicide’s life an attempt to sort out just what happens. Increasingly unable to cope with the mysteries in his own life, he tries to find solace in solving someone else’s, down to the last.

Working from her own script, first-time feature director Aimee Lagos constructs a deep nightmare of poor choices, bad luck, and unintended consequences with 96 Minutes (11/11 Tivoli 9:30 p.m.). Two upwardly mobile twentysomethings are carjacked by two teenagers whose lives, before now, were trending in very different directions. Nifty editing, fine performances, and a nimble narrative structure drive what is otherwise a story and characters we’ve seen before.

The high costs of repression—political, social, and sexual—are at the heart of the claustrophobic drama The Invisible Eye (11/18 Frontenac 1 p.m.) from Argentina. Set in 1982 as the post-Peron military junta is beginning to lose its six-year grip on the country, the action is centered on a young, female teacher at an elite urban school that is colorless and aspires to be military in its regulation. Utterly adrift, she fixates on a handsome, enigmatic student while nurturing a crush on her strict, fatherly supervisor. Like a soda bottle compulsively shaken, sooner or later the pressure is going to be released. Cautioned to root out “subversion” by observing the students like an all-seeing “invisible eye,” she tries to spy upon potential malfeasance (smoking, if you can believe it) in the boy’s bathroom, with disastrous results. The film is driven by the excellent performance of its lead actress Julieta Zylberberg, who holds us rapt and never loses our sympathy.

JH holywarsTwo excellent documentaries illustrate the rise and consequences of fanaticism. The first is Holy Wars (11/20 Webster U./Moore 5 p.m.), an examination of two fundamentalist proselytizers—one Christian, one Muslim—and how each feeds, , and tried to spread his radical beliefs. The problem with such a thoroughly contemporary documentary featuring characters with beliefs at the fringes of society is that one spends much of the film desperately wanting to reach into the screen and slap some sense into each of them. The doc highlights the many parallels between apparently diametrically opposed viewpoints. While the doc features many fascinating conversations and situations, nothing quite compares to the first few minutes, when Irish Muslim convert Khalid Kelly is shocked when he is pursued by the Pakistani police for “just talking about Islam” in a majority Muslim nation.

The second documentary is a must-see for anyone interested in the Holocaust or how the human spirit adapts and tries to thrive under impossible circumstances. Song of the Lodz Ghetto (11/20 Frontenac 1:30 p.m.) provides a history of the Jewish ghetto in the Polish city of Lodz, concentrating on Yankele Herskowicz and other troubadours whose songs made life under the Nazi thumb livable. Adapted from existing Polish, German, and Yiddish tunes, the lyrics ranged from ditties poking fun at the ghetto’s reviled ruler, Nazi puppet Chaim Rumkowski, to ballads of anguish at lost families and a lost world. The film features many remarkable sequences, not the least of which are current-day clips of ghetto survivors happily singing tunes they haven’t heard in over half a century, but were either seared into their minds or were their only refuge during that horrible time. More than just a documentary, it is also a concert film, as modern-day Jewish quartet, Brave Old World, bring the songs to life. The film is an excellent blend of interviews with scholars and survivors, period photos and clips from newsreels, and performances by the modern-day band and some of the singer survivors themselves. The film even raises (even if it can’t fully answer) the question of did the singers do some harm as well as good. Not unlike the band on the Titanic, did these singers encourage calm and complacency when resistance and struggle were called for? The ghetto boss Rumkowski may have sensed it himself, as he is quoted in the film as having said, “Better a singer on the street than a murderer in [my] office.”

Don’t let the opportunity that SLIFF affords to see some of the best in the indie and world cinema to pass you by. And don’t assume that in this age of worldwide distribution, YouTube, and entertainment on demand, that if you miss an interesting film, you can just “catch it on video.” I’m still waiting for a film from the 2001 SLIFF to be available in the United States in a decent format. | Joe Hodes

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