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Palm Beach, Off the Map

The Insurgents

Since the Palm Beach International Film Festival went competitive in 2003, it's slathered love on a pretty diverse array of films. The award for Best Feature has gone to flicks as quirky as Neo-Ned, a love story about a neo-Nazi and a black chick utterly convinced she's the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler; to films as deadly serious as The Aryan Couple, about a WWII-era Jewish/German industrialist forced to turn his business over to Nazis to ensure his family's escape from Germany; and to movies as schlocky as Small Voices, which was more or less Sister Act II set in the Philippines.

Impossible to know what's going to happen this year, with juries careening from sentimentality to sheerest Dada as they do. The Rocket, reviewed below, may do great things after veritably sweeping the 27th Genie Awards, pretty much the Canadian Oscars (Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress, Best Direction, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Editing, and Best Sound Editing). But it's anyone's game. The jury might despise crowd-pleasing hockey yarns like The Rocket and fall madly in love with the indelible image of Colm Meaney shoveling crustacean spooge down his gullet (A Lobster Tale). Far stranger things have happened, and most of them have happened in Palm Beach.

The Palm Beach International Film Festival will play host to more than 120 films between the screening of The Golden Door and the attendant opening celebration Thursday at Sunrise Cinemas at Mizner Park and the screening of Unbeatable Harold at Muvico Parisian one week later. Fourteen of those are world premieres, 29 are Florida premieres, and 38 are foreign. Full listings can be found at the festival's website, www.pbfilmfest.com.

When perusing the website, worldly filmgoers will want to keep their eyes peeled for the words Israel and South Africa. This year, PBIFF inaugurates a tradition of highlighting the films of two nations per festival. In 2007, Israel and South Africa are it. Four films from Anant Singh, the brilliant South African producer (Get Real, Weapons of Mass Deception, Sarafina!), will be screened at Sunrise Cinemas on Monday: Yesterday, Red Dust, Approaching Union Square, and Dollars & White Pipes. Eight Israeli films will be shown the following day at the same venue. Half are docs, half are features, and they range from the expected (the withdrawal from Gaza in And Behold There Came a Great Wind) to the most uniquely personal (an AIDS-stricken Israeli's mother sets out into the Tel Aviv night to find her son marijuana in Tied Hands).

Among the PBIFF offerings:

The Rocket Joining the ranks of about a gazillion biopics that reduce human lives to story arcs and extract the fiction of morals from the truth of happenstance, The Rocket uses the tale of hockey star Maurice Richard's life and difficult career to mount a harebrained attack on Francophobia, classicism, and, y'know, sports management (but really, bureaucracies in general). Ordinarily, you could abandon the theater at the first sign of moralizing meta-narrative, but you won't here, because The Rocket is a beautiful movie. Goddamn, it hurts to say: Despite the utter moral and artistic bankruptcy that has been piggybacked atop our bizarre jones for sentimental true-life stories, The Rocket manages to do almost everything right. Actor Roy Dupuis has seen all the way into the taciturn Richards, as written by Ken Scott, and director Charles Biname has illuminated the apparent grimness of a whole generation of working-class people as a steely determination to overcome deprivation. The dialogue is soulful and dead-serious. Weird, really, when you consider the movie's scope — say, the mid-'30s through the mid-'50s (if Maurice laughed once during that time, Ken Scott hasn't heard about it), displaying an economy of both histrionics and exposition that is as admirable as it is riveting. Pierre Gill's dark, electric cinematography verges on the noir. Brought to bear on a film that eschews that genre's moral ambiguity, it serves best to illuminate the same ambiguity at the heart of professional sport and in the ruthless drive toward self-preservation that pro sports engender. It's a brutally captivating intersection of sights and ideas. You'll feel dirty and like it. (Friday, April 20, 12:45 p.m., at Sunrise Cinemas at Mizner Park, 301 Plaza Real, Boca Raton.)

Who Loves the Sun Here's something Matt Bissonnette knows: People can really act like assholes around their families. It's not something that's talked about too often — all the times we're reduced to senseless blubbering or find ourselves jabbering inanities at the sky or screaming out the most useless, vituperative shit at the people we love most in the world. Everybody does it sometimes, saints and sinners alike, and that's pretty much what Who Loves the Sun is about. The catalyst for all the nastiness is a scrappy-looking young man named Will Morrison (Luke Haas), appearing suddenly at the lake house owned by his former best friend's parents after disappearing for five years. The reasons for said disappearance are twisted yet strangely pedestrian (in the same way that most ugly family drama is twisted and strangely pedestrian), and we're filled in quickly. Not a lot of minutes go by before ex-friend Daniel (Adam Scott), ex-wife Maggie (Molly Parker), and Daniel's parents (R.H. Thomson and Wendy Crewson) are all there together, getting drunk, behaving badly, owning up to their foibles, and trying their best not to be crazy. It's funny, sweet, a little awkward, maybe even a little tedious from time to time — a description that applies to both the film and to ordinary family life. Filmed in Manitoba on the heart-rendingly beautiful Falcon Lake, the simple and unpretentious goodness at the film's heart is reflected in its sylvan set; unfortunately, so is its prosaic plainness. (Friday, April 20, 7 p.m., at Sunrise Cinemas at Mizner Park, 301 Plaza Real, Boca Raton.)  

Freddie Mercury: Love of Life, Singer of Songs — The Untold Story Although this movie has a hideously unwieldy title and the look and feel of an amateur college doc, it's still maybe the finest film ever made about the man once known as Farrokh Bulsara. Not because it's great cinema, per se — the average VH1: Behind the Music crew, for example, would have known not to traipse around Zanzibar with a buck-toothed pre-adolescent in a half-assed re-creation of young Freddie's daily walk to school — but because of the obvious love directors Rudi Dolezal and Hannes Rossacher had for their subject. These people went deep, traveling to Panchgani, in Maharashtra, India, to film the school where Freddie boarded at age 8, interviewing the daughter of his former art teacher, learning from the current principal that Freddie was a "thoroughly mediocre cross-country runner." Interviewing old college friends, they discover a cache of his pictures from art school — images of Cliff Richards, Paul McCartney, and Jimi Hendrix rendered with extraordinary skill; paintings that look like Peter Max prints filtered through art nouveau. Why other documentarians have failed to dig these up remains a mystery. Once we move into the Queen era, however FM:LoLSoS — TUS becomes more conventional, the only remaining surprise being the great attention paid to Montserrat Caballe. The Spanish soprano, whose voice was already on the wane when she and Freddie collaborated on the one-off popera record Barcelona, receives more screen time in Dolezal and Rossacher's film than Brian May. It makes sense, in a way: Barcelona was more important to Freddie than just about any work he ever did. Maybe he loved it, or maybe he thought singing with a diva made him legit. Regardless of Freddie's motivations, Dolezal and Rossacher are sweet for honoring his taste. One does wish they'd spent a few moments as journalists instead of fans, however. Never do the filmmakers address the question of whether Freddie's hesitance to talk about his AIDS in the '80s slowed public acknowledgment of the disease or whether the man could have helped stabilize race relations in Britain and Europe by admitting to his Indian ancestry. Of course, nobody ever asks those questions. Farouk Balsara is fast on his way to becoming St. Mercury, and this little picture constitutes another step toward his canonization. (Saturday, April 21, 9:30 p.m., at the Theatre, 854 S. Conniston St., West Palm Beach.)

The Insurgents The movie opens with these words: "If you're watching this movie, I guess I'm dead. And if you're watching this and I'm not, then everything's fucked and I guess I might as well be." It's not an intro that gives folks a lot of time to get settled, and there is no subsequent reprieve. Flashing through time, we meet disenfranchised young people who have come under the influence of an aging, soft-spoken revolutionary ("Robert," played by John Shea). Equal parts Noam Chomsky, Jason Bermas, Weatherman Maoist, and Theodore Kaczynski, we watch as he turns his youthful sycophants into a small band of would-be Timothy McVeighs. The kids — Henry Simmons' hulking, rage-filled Marcus, who had his balls blown off in the war; Juliette Marquis' Hana, who went from turning tricks to building bombs; Michael Mosley, a daft, earnest pawn in Robert's game, or so we're led to believe — are extraordinarily unhappy and utterly seduced by the notion that their unhappiness might be the fault of "the system." They as good as say this, which is unfortunate, but it's also the only incidence of audience spoon-feeding in Scott Dacko's otherwise admirably dispassionate film. There are times when Robert's appeals to nobility and extremism are very convincing — you know you could rationally defeat them, maybe, but the rhetoric and the movie containing it move too quickly for anyone to mount a reasoned response. The Insurgents flashes by, dropping impressions instead of ideas; the hurried, don't-look-back quality of the story a perfect reflection of its subjects' fractured lives. (Sunday, April 22, 1 p.m., at Sunrise Cinemas at Mizner Park, 301 Plaza Real, Boca Raton.)  


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