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Waved off

By MICHAEL ATKINSON  |  January 28, 2010

Soeren Senn’s KUSSKUSS (2005; January 22 @ 8:45 pm + January 24 @ 8:30 pm) has at least the crucible of Third World illegal immigration — a female German scientist discovers an Algerian woman hiding in her lab and takes her home — and the beguilingly beauty and deftness of Carina Wiese and Saida Jawad to carry it. But soon enough the resort to contrivance (a love triangle) and fake-sensitive feel-goodism takes hold. It’s enough to send you scrambling to the opposite end of the spectrum, toward the grueling, artless minimalism of Albert Serra’s HONOR DE CAVALLERIA (2006; January 23 @ 7 pm), a Catalan daydream that dares to adapt the most loquacious novel in human history — Don Quixote — as an all-digital travelogue in which Quixote and Panza (non-pros Lluís Carbó and Lluís Serrat) wander and sit in the gorgeous Spanish countryside (moodily shot) and say next to nothing to each other.

Or perhaps to Pedro Costa’s JUVENTUDE EM MARCHA|COLOSSAL YOUTH (2006; January 27 @ 6:30 pm + January 28 @ 8:45 pm), a two-and-a-half-hour film by the premier documenter of Cape Verdean émigré angst in Portugal. Patiently expressive of both the filthy Lisbon slums from which his aging hero, Ventura (the character based largely on the actor resident himself), is being ousted and the cheap, antiseptic public housing intended to replace them, the movie squats like a drunken angel, observing yards of pointless conversation and mute brooding at an often deranged, wide-angle tilt. After the first fiery monologue-at-knifepoint, you anticipate the film’s living up to its iconic title, but the arch compositions and artificial stillness drain the thin material of heat. Whatever observant state the new minimalism is supposed to create in the viewer’s experience is a poor substitute for realism and humanity; there is such a thing as detouring too far away from the nuts-and-bolts of story, character, and action. No-budget filmmakers everywhere from Greece to Sri Lanka to sub-Saharan Africa have been wowing the fest circuit with this emaciated mode lately — I can only assume exhausted critics are grateful for the nap time.

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