Kids and Scoundrels

That other, smaller, more manageable film festival

Fugitive Pieces was originally a novel by Canadian author Anne Michaels. While Amos Oz, whose own novel inspired The Little Traitor, draws his politics from real life and everyday experience, Michaels comes from poetry. Fugitive Pieces feels far more literary — its subject seems to be the way words can carry history when the raw muscles of memory fail. Like The Little Traitor, this is a good-hearted film about childhood, but it's harder to take. The child of Fugitive Pieces, Jakob Beer, has to navigate much darker terrain than Proffy, and he's not necessarily better for it in the end. The film captures Jakob as both child and adult in alternating scenes. As a child in Poland, he watches his father killed and his family taken by Nazis while he hides under a piano. Later, he lives with another displaced victim of the Nazis, the geologist Athos Roussos, on the Grecian coast. As an adult, he's a lonely, lachrymose man who's lived his whole life in the same Canadian apartment building to which he and Athos fled after leaving Europe. Having never found his family, he writes them into existence along with any unsung victim of Nazism whose name passes his way, capturing or imagining the details of their lives in a book he slowly authors and ultimately will publish. Sometimes Fugitive Pieces seems to stand still, to hold its breath and linger over a line forever, as though the careful unspooling of every slow, twisting Anne Michaels sentence were cause for meditation. "I can tell you what her wrists look like," Jakob says of his true love, "how the hair grows at the back of her neck — but most of all, I know her memories." The contemplativeness that pervades Fugitive Pieces reads like an extension of Beer's desire to get it right, to hold all the fragments of his broken childhood in his mind and see them clearly. The structure he creates is as delicate as Michaels' sentences, as delicate as the archeological dig Athos worked on just before the Nazis arrived. When he's forced into a social situation with young Canadians, their fast and vital conversations seem vulgar. Framed by the deathly still scenes of Beer's solitary life, the assault of their chatter is like waking up to a fluorescent lamp. After spending a couple of hours in the museum of Beer's mind, real life can seem that way too. (Saturday, April 12, 7:30 p.m., Sunrise Cinemas at Mizner Park) Thorp

Reunited at last, Carmen and Carla seek medical help in Cochabamba.
Reunited at last, Carmen and Carla seek medical help in Cochabamba.

Apology of an Economic Hit Man There are too many things wrong here to thoroughly address, so we'll just hit the highlights, in hopes of shaming John Perkins into never again fooling around with celluloid. In theory, Hit Man is the result of Perkins' decision to break his "vow of silence" with regard to a decade of shadowy operations around the world as an "economic hit man" in the employ of Chas T. Main. In practice, Hit Man lacks any such focus. Is this an attempt at cogent political argument? An attempt to lionize Mr. Perkins? A polemic against Paul Wolfowitz and the World Bank? Is it about the real reason the U.S. went to war with Iraq? Or is it a collection of random clips of individual Americans doing embarrassing things in other countries? At various times, Hit Man appears to be all of these. Beginning with an atrociously filmed dramatization of the way economic hit men first set sights on a target — a fast-rolling cheese wheel of a scene featuring vaguely menacing men in suits watching a propaganda film in a smoke-filled room — the movie then proceeds to jabber out a half-baked thesis, reiterated again and again: Emissaries from U.S. companies routinely offer riches beyond imagining to leaders of developing nations, in return for their willful ignorance of the way those companies plunder the nations' resources. No shit, John. Politicians take bribes? For a man claiming long-lasting, intimate involvement in such clandestine operations, Perkins' refusal to name names, cite dates, or describe scenes is suspicious. So is his claim to insider knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the fatal helicopter crash of Ecuadorian President Jaime Roldós Aguilera — especially since Roldós didn't die in a helicopter crash (it was an airplane). As the movie rolls on, it offers no facts, no figures, not even any circumstantial evidence beyond the tiresome, commonsense thesis. Perkins masks this deficit with poorly shot dramatizations of events that even he never claims took place (sinister young American man offers cigar to nameless South American leader; leader accepts cigar, looking troubled; sinister American smiles). While talking about the secret motivations behind the war in Iraq (the pipeline, natch), Hit Man runs footage of a bunch of American soldiers taunting an Iraqi boy with a water bottle. How this relates to the war's economic impetus, I have no idea. FYI: when John Perkins isn't explaining the military-industrial complex to the unenlightened masses, he is a shaman. In addition to the critically skewered book that spawned this mess of a movie, Perkins has authored Shapeshifting and Psychonavigation. The first is a guide to South American shamanic techniques. The second teaches you how to time travel. Have fun. (Sunday, April 13, 12:30 p.m., Sunrise Cinemas at Mizner Park) Thorp

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