On rivalry, sex, and hidden grief

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m thankful for Fresno Filmworks, the local nonprofit that brings independent films each month to the historic Tower Theatre. Filmworks has been on a particularly solid programming run in recent months, starting with their eighth annual festival and continuing with some outstanding recent picks for their monthly first-run series. Here are a few short reviews.

Directed by:
Joseph Cedar
Format: Big screen
Viewed: Friday 5/11/2012 with my wife at the Tower Theatre in Fresno
At first glance, a film about the deep rivalries between professors of Talmudic studies seems like it’d make a pretty boring movie. But fortunately, the emotional complexity of “Footnote,” an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, far exceeds the mind-numbing minutiae of the real academic world. Plus, I always love father-son stories, and director Joseph Cedar turns this one into a real puzzle, with equal parts oddball wit and brutal reality.

“Turn Me On, Dammit!”
Directed by:
Jannicke Systad Jacobsen
Format: Big screen
Viewed: Friday 6/08/2012 with my wife at the Tower Theatre in Fresno
Everybody loves a good Norwegian sex comedy! Am I right?! This little gem of a coming-of-age film, from first-time director Jannicke Systad Jacobsen, tells the funny, wistful story of Alma, a sex-obsessed teen girl growing up in Nowheresville. The movie, which shows Alma exploring her sexuality through masturbation, phone sex, and various fantasies and embarrassing social situations, was briefly banned in Alabama after protests by religious groups. But I thought such a ban was totally unnecessary, as the film was very sweet and tastefully done.

“Monsieur Lazhar”
Directed by:
Philippe Falardeau
Format: Big screen
Viewed: Friday 7/13/2012 with my wife and our friend Gosia at the Tower Theatre in Fresno
Another Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, “Monsieur Lazhar” tells the heartbreaking story of an Algerian refugee in Canada who is hired to take over an elementary school classroom after a teacher commits suicide. The opening sequence sets a heavy tone, but the perfect performance of Mohamed Fellag as Monsieur Lazhar brings charm, humor, and great humanity to the film. The ending– a fable within a fable– is abrupt but cathartic, and it reminded me that poetry and beauty can be found in even the darkest moments of grief.

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