Around the World, Take II

The 16th Miami Film Festival continues this week with even more international fare. On the must-see list are Thursday's presentation of a sublime offering from French newcomer Erick Zonca that created quite a stir at Cannes, The Dreamlife of Angels. Friday Buena Vista Social Club showcases famed German director Wim Wenders' surreal view of a legendary group of Cuban musicians as they assemble in Havana, create a spellbinding album, and dazzle audiences around the world. All foreign-language films include English subtitles. All screenings take place at the Gusman Center For the Performing Arts, 174 E. Flagler St., Miami. Call 305-372-0925 for ticket information. Four full-length reviews follow. See the listings below for a schedule of screenings.

If your love of film still isn't sated after two weeks of movie-watching, make your way to the Wolfsonian (1001 Washington Ave., Miami Beach) on Sunday, February 28, at 2 p.m. Some of the nation's leading film critics will assemble for a roundtable discussion titled "The State of Things," an examination of current trends in cinema. Panelists include the New York Observer's Andrew Sarris, Film Comment's Harlan Jacobson, and New York's Peter Rainer. Admission is free.

The French New Wave of the late '50s and early '60s stands revered by cineastes not just for the extraordinary body of work produced by filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, but also for its liberating influence on a succeeding generation of American directors -- men and women who took to heart its message of movies as an articulation of personal vision. A new French New Wave is currently cresting, with directors such as Olivier Assayas (1994's Cold Water), Claire Denis (1996's Nenette and Boni), and Arnaud Desplechin (1997's My Sex Life... or How I Got Into an Argument) making distinctive pictures, sharing a common pool of actors, pushing their visual styles to the limit, and putting fresh spins on existential questions about life and love.

To their ranks add Erick Zonca, whose 1998 feature The Dreamlife of Angels (in French with English subtitles) is an astonishing portrait of youth, friendship, and the unyielding barriers of the French class system.

When 20-year-old Isabelle (ƒlodie Bouchez, who dazzled in both The Wild Reeds and Full Speed) is first introduced, she is shown selling homemade greeting cards for spare change on the gray streets of Lille. With her entire life strapped to her back, she's a gangly waif, wide-eyed and drowning inside an oversize sweater. She moves from town to town, reveling in her freedom to drift. In Lille she slides into an assembly-line seamstress' job, where she works with a bleak collection of hard-bitten women -- aged beyond their years -- resigned to a fate that Isabelle considers only temporary. There she meets Marie (Natacha Regnier), also 20, the only coworker who seems similarly at odds with her surroundings -- a young woman who smokes a cigarette as if it were a middle finger outstretched at the world.

These two are drawn to each other, and a warm reverie ensues. We watch them move in together, hit the local bars, and goof off, drawing strength from one another whether they're picking a fight or simply relaxing. They aren't children anymore, and yet they refuse to make peace with adulthood. Agnes Godard's cinematography perfectly captures these caught-on-the-cusp moments, letting the camera linger lovingly as Marie rages at a nightclub bouncer three times her size, or stepping back to allow Isabelle to break into a toothy, innocent smile that lights up the entire screen.

Into this dreamy spell steps Chris (Gregoire Colin), a haughty, self-assured club owner and the junior member of what passes for the local landed gentry. He isn't a complex figure: "He's an asshole," Marie notes. Still, she's drawn to him, or rather to the wealthy Prince Charming path he represents. It turns out to be a destructive fling, though, one that drives a bitter wedge between the two women, particularly when it becomes apparent that for Chris his relationship with Marie amounts to just another sexual conquest. "I hope you find the life you dream of," Isabelle tells her friend, providing parting words that become Dreamlife's coda. That line serves as both a fervent wish for the future and a note of protest sounded by this exquisite film.

-- Brett Sokol (Thursday, February 25, 7 p.m.)

Director Maria Ripoll's feature debut, Twice Upon a Yesterday, might be described as a midlife crisis movie about a man in his twenties. For reasons that don't entirely make sense, Victor (Douglas Henshall), an unkempt and self-centered young London actor, tells his live-in girlfriend, Sylvia (Lena Headey), that he's having an affair. She leaves him and eventually becomes engaged to another man. In the meantime Victor realizes that he's made a mistake. Forlorn and near despair, he wanders into a bar, where an especially charismatic bartender (Elizabeth McGovern) comforts him. She also gives him a tattered umbrella to weather the storm that's raging outside.

The umbrella, it turns out, has magical powers. No sooner has the now-drunken Victor braved the downpour than he meets up with a pair of unusual rubbish collectors, who give Victor what he really needs: a second chance. Before he knows it, the guy finds himself transported back in time, plopped down just minutes before he confessed his infidelity to Sylvia. He chooses a different fate and, as is the way with whimsical tales, a different fate chooses him.

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