The Palm Beach International Film Festival is a far more manageable affair than its neighbor in Fort Lauderdale. Lauderdale's big festival runs more than a month, dragging in a gazillion theaters and any good, decent, or even just quirky movie it can lay hands on. PFIFF runs just eight days. And though it will open with the new Woody Harrelson poker comedy The Grand — just like FLIFF did five months ago — it then turns into its own thing, with flicks you'll most likely never get a chance to see again from a healthy cross-section of countries. Many are worth your time. Some are so bad you'll want to rip your eyes out before the opening credits are half done. Read on.
La Americana It's easy to see why Nicholas Bruckman chose Maria del Carmen Rojas as his primary subject in this documentary. It's that face — open, stolid, heroic even, though stung by the bitterness of a cruel dilemma. Carmen has the kind of face a sculptor might exult in. An undocumented immigrant from Bolivia, Carmen is a New York cleaning lady/babysitter/dog-groomer who has left her wheelchair-bound daughter back in Cochabamba so she can make enough money in America for medical treatments. In other words, she's just one of the 11 million whose immigration status has fired debate. The one thing that the debate usually sidesteps — besides the by-the-numbers newspaper features about Teresita and Jose in Gringolandia — is the humanity of those "illegals." In a straight-ahead documentary style, with only a few bars of Bolivian quena music here and there and no dramatic reenactments, Bruckman captures their humanity by the gallon in one of the saddest movies I've ever seen. There's the vast, stinging distance between mother and bottomlessly needy daughter, a distance incapable of being overcome thanks to zero tolerance from the immigration system — until, after six years of separation, Carmen decides she's had enough. There are the bitter realities back home in Cochabamba: Carmen's stash of saved twenty-dollar bills doesn't go far to help little Carla (struck down at age 8 by a bus). Carmen must carry her now 15-year-old daughter up and down the stairs of medical buildings where the doctors conclude, sorry, they can't help the girl.
While we're checking out Carmen, she's checking out us, asking politely about this "American dream" thing everybody talks about. In her final days in America, somebody takes Carmen to the Statue of Liberty, where she reads the famous lines: "give me your tired, your poor."
"Words that are as empty as the statue," Carmen says dispassionately. Let's take Tom Tancredo and Joyce Kaufman to the theater, strap them into seats, and force them to watch. (Friday, April 11, 3 p.m., Sunrise Cinemas at Mizner Park) Edmund Newton
The Little Traitor is the rare political work that keeps its politics out of sight, where they belong. It's also the rare movie that seems to actually grok what it's like in a kid's head. By keeping the cameras with Proffy — played with cunning sweetness by Israeli Ido Port — the film creates and maintains the contours of a child's archetypal summer. The days passing in Little Traitor could go in any direction, and the commingled joy and dread in each is vivid, tactile, and totally inexplicable. The dread is surreal, like something out of Grimm, but that's just a question of perspective. Little Traitor takes place in British-occupied Palestine circa 1947, and the adults in the movie's background face a dread far more concrete than Proffy's. Though Israel is on the verge of statehood, there are still strict curfews in place, and British soldiers are likely to interrupt your dinner with a sudden house search. Sensing the zeitgeist, Proffy and his friends meet in secret and plan to blow up Englishmen. These are cute kids, and it feels weird hearing them scream, "Kill the British!" Rushing home one day after curfew, Proffy is apprehended by a gruff, mean-looking English soldier, Sergeant Dunlop. Threatening Proffy with arrest and whipping, and generally trying to scare him straight, Dunlop escorts him home and drops him off with his parents. Impressed by the kid's precocity, Dunlop tells Proffy to pay him a visit sometime, and the two become friends, talking about the Book of Daniel, snookah, language, and girls. This all goes swimmingly until Proffy's friends find out. The grown-up Zionist hardliners in Proffy's neighborhood can't imagine anything so innocent as mere friendship springing up with a British imperialist; Proffy is informally labeled a traitor and his life becomes miserable. This business of putative enemies becoming buds would be insufferably cute if director Lynn Roth had tried to over-moralize the thing, but she doesn't. Proffy's just a kid, and Dunlop's just a guy — a preternaturally kind one, played with expansive good will by Alfred Molina. He's lonely, maybe a little too intellectual for the military life, and Proffy's a little too sensitive to be a good militant. If The Little Traitor is cute, it's not affectedly so — it gets there on the basis of a good, honest heart. (Wednesday, April 16, 12 noon, Sunrise Cinemas at Mizner Park) Brandon K. Thorp