Festival director Tiziana Finzi, who was hired in 2009, wants to make MIFF a world-respected festival of contemporary cinema. "I accepted this job as a challenge to bring my taste — cutting-edge, radical films — to this town, a beautiful place where people come for enjoyment, big parties, and holiday and not to see a Russian or Chinese movie."
Her choices can be eclectic, but the 2010 selections are some of the best ever. Two things stand out: the youth of the directors — many are younger than 35 — and the international quality — 45 countries are represented.
Among our favorites, reviewed below, are a British story about soccer and friendship, an Iranian docudrama on censorship, and a Brazilian tale of terrorism.
Looking for Eric
7 p.m. March 5 at the Gusman Center
Eric (Steve Evets) was once a spry young man who met the love of his life at a swing-dance competition; he's now a graying, slouching postman, slowly losing his mind and stuck caring for two teenaged sons. He's so miserable that his fellow postmen stage a little self-help visualization session. It triggers Eric, a rabid Manchester United soccer fan, to begin hallucinating about Eric Cantona, a British superstar soccer player who plays himself in this film. In an imaginary rendezvous with his hero, Eric regains his zest for life, pursuing the woman he deserted. Looking for Eric is a creation of Ken Loach, one of the U.K.'s most important directors, whose realist films have tackled unsexy subjects like labor rights and homelessness. And although this film studies working-class Britain's gun-loving youth, it's an unexpected comedy in Loach's downbeat oeuvre. Loach is able to turn both the overdone British heist movie and soccer hooligan culture on their heads to present a hilarious film in which a regular guy survives hitting rock bottom and starts living again. Amanda McCorquodale
Nobody Knows About the Persian Cats
9:30 p.m. March 8 at Regal South Beach
7:15 p.m. March 12 at Tower Theater
Kurdish director Bahman Ghobadi takes us through the underground music scene in Tehran, where all Western-style music is prohibited. Based on real people, places, and events, the film follows Negar Shaghaghi and Ashkan Koshanejad of the indie band Take It Easy Hospital (yes, a real band) as it attempts to leave home to play a concert in London. It's escorted by a smooth-talking linchpin of the black market, Nader (Hamed Behdad), who promises to find them passports, visas, and additional band members. The film, with its MTV-style music video montages and pop culture references, runs the risk of feeling like a lighthearted documentary. But in the final ten minutes, the tour through Iranian rock makes an abrupt and disturbing turn. Amanda McCorquodale
Blood and Rain
7 p.m. March 7 at Tower Theater
9:15 p.m. March 10 at Regal South Beach
A few hours after midnight, a man and a woman meet randomly on the cold, wet streets of Bogotá. He's Jorge (Quique Mendoza), a taxi driver whose brother was mysteriously murdered. She's Angela (Gloria Montoya), a sexy but emotionally damaged party girl with an out-of-control coke and liquor habit. Gradually, as chance events and targeted violence bring the pair closer, a strange but undeniable attraction develops. Director Jorge Navas leads his characters (and viewers) on a slow, methodical descent into the darkest corners of the Colombian underworld, from after-hours clubs to strip joints to killing fields. Blood and Rain depicts a dark sphere of existence where chaos reigns, outbursts of brutal violence are common, deeply irrational behavior is the norm, and drugs are eaten to erase bad memories. But it's not bleak. One of the reasons is the luridly bright nightscape photography of Juan Carlos Gil, who soaks the streets of Bogotá in saturated blacks and warm yellows that make abandoned lots and trash-filled alleys seem beautiful. Then there's the acting; both Mendoza and Montoya deliver human performances that redeem profoundly fucked-up characters. And finally, consider Navas' clarity of vision. At only 36 years old, he's a mature filmmaker with enough perspective to tackle the inexplicable. S. Pajot
The Wind Journeys
9:30 p.m. March 7 and 9 p.m. March 9 at Tower Theater
4:15 p.m. March 14 at Regal South Beach
This is the story of a man's road trip across northern Colombia trying to return a devil accordion to its master. That's all you really need to know, although you might like to be informed that the wife of our protagonist, Ignacio (Marciano Martínez), has just died, so he no longer wishes to play the instrument. Along Ignacio's journey, we meet long-lost brothers, hoodlums, and former lovers, who all remind him that he can never leave his instrument behind. The Wind Journeys (Los Viajes del Viento) has a stacked résumé: Best Film and Best Director at the Colombian Film Festival (2009) and most recently Best Spanish Language Film at the Santa Barbara Film Festival (2010). Dave Landsberger