photos courtesy of MSPIFF
Year after year, the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival has steadily ballooned with more movies from more countries and, as a result, cherry-picking showtimes from a list with a couple hundred entries has become a daunting task. This time around the MSPIFF is in its 35th year, and starting April 7, the ante has been upped to new heights with more than 250 films from 71 countries. And if this is the point where you click away, then I urge you to reconsider. The reason: more films simply means more chances to experience something you’ve never heard of, or never expected you’d enjoy.
Being the premier film fest of the upper Midwest, MSPIFF has a proven track record of wrangling in movies with both critical clout and mainstream appeal. (For proof, look to past fests when Boyhood, Love & Mercy, and The Skeleton Twins were shown.) MSPIFF may give the impression of an event solely for the filmmakers and cinephiles of the world, but it’s truly for everyone. If there’s a shred of uncertainty still hanging over your head, let’s break it down.
Do you prefer your movies to be gushing with true love or fake blood? Or perhaps the new Game of Thrones season has you itching for some sword and axe action or a scaly beast scuffle. No matter what your fancy may be, the core genres of film are abundantly represented at this year’s MSPIFF, guaranteeing to satisfy any and all filmgoer preferences. And if it’s any incentive, you may even run across some familiar faces. So to nudge you from your computer screen to the silver screen, we’ve broken down MSPIFF’s massive line-up by genre, presenting you with a complete take on just how accessible the International Film Festival truly is.
Liza the Fox-Fairy (Hungary)
Perhaps the hidden gem of the festival, Liza the Fox-Fairy is equal parts off the wall and winsome. Oozing vivid colors and a wit that’s all at once Wes Anderson and Flight of the Conchords, this Hungarian comedy reels up as many belly laughs as it does “WTF”s. As its title suggests, the film follows a lonely nurse named Liza (played by a Kristin Wiig doppelganger) who has spent the last dozen years caring for Marta, the widow of Hungary’s former Japanese ambassador. Liza, as we meet her, has become Japan-obsessed and is best friends with Tomy Tani, the ghost of a Japanese 60s pop singer who dons a vintage sea foam green suit. As tragedy strikes Marta, Liza’s joblessness manifests into a lovesickness—which doesn’t sit well with Tomy, who cruely afflicts Liza with what can only be described as a Final Destination curse. In expected but darkly hilarious fashion, chaos ensues.
98 minutes | April 19 @ 7:20 p.m., April 22 @ 7:20 p.m. | St. Anthony Main
The Last King (Norway)
Catering unabashedly to today’s Game of Thrones audience, The Last King gives fans the red-bearded Willdling leader Tormund, who in this film plays Torstein, an elite Norwegian soldier who can fight like The Mountain and ski like Bode Miller. After the queen of Western Norway poisons the king, a civil war breaks out as warriors from the east look to seize a kingdom on its knee. Together with the Birkebeiner army, Torstein and his comrade Skjervald have sworn to splatter the snow red to guard the life of an infant boy, Hakon Hakonsson, the illegitimate son of Western Norway’s king. As Tornstein and Skjervald race with child to the West’s royal residence in Nidaros, the two must out-maneuver, out-fight, and ultimately out-ski their bloodthirsty adversaries with the future of the monarchy slung in a knapsack over their shoulder. Director Nils Gaup, Oscar-nominated for Pathfinder, incorporates his adept eye for Nordic nature once again in this historically influenced film. And as a Game of Thrones watcher, if you wished the show never left the snow-packed scenery of Winterfell, then The Last King will serve you well.
98 minutes | April 9 @ 4:15 p.m., April 14 @ 7:15 p.m. | St. Anthony Main
Okay, so this isn’t actually a science fiction flick per say, but don’t let that stop you from witnessing the future according to Oscar-award winner Werner Herzog (the stoic voice from Grizzly Man). This time around, the docu-master opens the can of worms we call the Internet, delving into its early days, its good times and its bad times, how it’s destined to doom us all or quite possibly, save us. To Herzog’s aid are some of the most brilliant minds of the world today, some of whom you know—like Elon Musk—and many who are not household names but equally fascinating—such as Leonard Kleinrock, an early-stage Internet pioneer, and Kevin “the world’s most famous hacker” Mitnick. It’s impossible to assume which moment will baffle you the most: whether its viewing animatronic soccer robots that could one day defeat the FIFA Cup champs, or hearing Werner passively dis “diaper-wearing South Koreans.” Boasting impeccable camerawork and an interviewing finesse that keeps its experts candid, Werzog’s latest will take you through self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, and the colonization of Mars, all before landing on the perplexing question: Can the Internet dream of itself?
98 minutes | April 12 @ 5:15 p.m., April 21 @ 7:20 p.m. | St. Anthony Main
Therapy for a Vampire (Germany)
When two vampires tie the knot, eternal love takes on a much more literal meaning. For Count Geza and Countess Elsa, that once red-hot flame now smolders after centuries together—and the Count’s idea of “taking his wife out” align closer with that of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. To shake the cobwebs off their marriage, the Count seeks counsel from renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. “I have a thirst for life,” but “I’m not good at self-reflection,” he cheekily tells Freud. By their second session, The Count shares his wife’s deepest distress: her inability to see herself in a mirror. Freud, while never catching wind of his patient’s abnormalities—the levitating, the vanishing, his moustacheless Vincent Price resemblance—proposes they meet Viktor, a gap-toothed painter who can depict a person’s “true likeness” on a portrait. But in the midst of their introduction, the Count becomes smitten with Viktor’s girlfriend Lucy, which leads to a whole host of fanged confrontations. Although not entirely inventive with the vampire formula, the film’s resemblances to What We Do In The Shadows will scrounge up its fair share of smirks and squirms. However, if indulging on blood-spackled gross-outs—like beating hearts splatting on a brick road—is more your schtick, then Therapy for a Vampire and its tactfully potent gore will surely suffice.
88 minutes | April 22 @ 10 p.m. | St. Anthony Main
Chronic (Mexico, France)
There is seemingly no shortage of movies starring Tim Roth (a Tarantino regular) at this year’s MSPIFF, and Chronic is one of them. Awarded Best Screenplay at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Chronic showed promise before it even began. In it, Roth dutifully plays a home nurse named David who works exclusively with terminally ill patients. David’s boundless dedication to the AIDS, stroke, and cancer victims he treats appears profuse early on, but life-altering decisions from his past—which are revealed subtly throughout—supply context to his extreme altruism. The film’s writer-director Michel Franco employs lengthy still shots to keep the human frame in center view and pose serious questions about non-familial compassion and the jagged frailty of human life. Although emotionally grueling throughout, it is Chronic’s shocking close that will bruise the deepest, and urge viewers to reflect long after leaving their theater seat.
93 minutes | April 9 @ 5 p.m., April 16 @ 11:30 a.m. | St. Anthony Main
Operation Arctic (Norway)
Last year’s The Revenant pitted Leonardo DiCaprio against a bear in the movie’s first act, but Operation Arctic’s bear-versus-human bout occurs within the first minutes. Make that Bear: 2 and Human: 0, as this time it’s Kristofer Hivju (straight from the Game of Thrones) who takes a polar bear claw to the face. And yes, there is fair amount of blood. Immediately the film’s self-claimed “action adventure for the whole family” tag came into question; but in actuality, the violent tones melt away shortly thereafter. Soon enough, 13-year-old Julia and her younger twin siblings Sindre and Ida enter the picture. Upon freshly moving to Bodø, a Nordic coastline town, the three’s schoolyard assimilation efforts go south, causing them to run away and take refuge in a helicopter bound for Half Moon Island in the North Pole. While the oblivious helicopter crew rescues the aforementioned bear victim, Julia, Sindre and Ida ditch their ride and consequently get ditched as well. Faced against a frigid, lifeless landscape—complete with turbulent blizzards and deadly animal inhabitants—the three children take on the ultimate survival test in this contemporary Robinson Crusoe tale. Brimming with captivating long shots and cute animal close-ups, Operation Arctic is often a feast for the eyes—even if your children’s are shielded for just a moment early on.
91 minutes | April 9 @ 11 a.m., April 16 @ 12:30 p.m., April 17 @ 3 p.m., April 18 @ 2 p.m. | St. Anthony Main, Rochester Galaxy 14 Cine
My King (France)
Since the infancy of filmmaking, fractured love stories and France have been synonymous. (By now, it’s likely become the nation’s largest export, making up a third of its GDP. That’s just a guess.) My King, as it turns out, doesn’t break terribly far from the romance movie mold, but it incorporates a lot of working parts. Above all else, the domestic drama’s linchpins are its leads Tony, (Emmanuelle Bercot) and Georgio, (Vincent Cassel, also the suave seducer/ballet instructor from Black Swan). Following a ski accident that lands her in months of physical therapy, Tony begins to reassess her and Georgio’s ten-year relationship from its flowery beginnings up to their stormy marriage life. Refreshingly told from the female perspective, the film moves briskly with the unwavering message that undying love is anything but monotonous. Or, more specifically, as Georgio claims during their umpteenth fight: The ups and downs of relationships are akin to the shock of an EKG. “Like that,” he says, making a roller coaster with his hand, “you’re alive.” Whereas when it flatlines, as he demonstrates again, “like that, you’re dead.” Given its ongoing intensity, Nicholas Sparks enthusiasts would best steer clear of My King, but those unfazed by films like Blue Is The Warmest Color may find a genuine and insightful romance here.
125 minutes | April 11 @ 9:40 p.m., April 13 @ 7:05 p.m. | St. Anthony Main
Tale of Tales (Italy, France)
Italian director Matteo Garrone’s English-language debut gives new meaning to “surreal.” Like Alice in Wonderland told by the Grimm Brothers, the movie interweaves three mystical stories from neighboring kingdoms, each loosely derived from the work of 16th century poet Giambattista Basile, best known as the originator of fairy tales like Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. At its start, we meet the king and queen of Longtrellis (John C. Reilly and Salma Hayek) whose wish to bear a child can only be achieved by the queen eating the heart of a sea monster. In the next kingdom over, the ruler of Strongcliff (Vincent Cassel), who seems thoroughly entertained with his playboy lifestyle, unexpectedly and desperately falls for an angelic singing voice belonging to a sheepish, old woman. In the third and final kingdom of Highhills, the king (Toby Jones) rears a flea, feeding it thick-cut steaks and his own blood, until it reaches the size of a sheepdog and suddenly dies. Later on, to appease his daughter’s request for a husband, he holds a contest with the hide of the flea, proclaiming any man to name the creature it came from would win the princess’s hand in marriage. To both of their dismay, an ogre answers correctly. Given its bizarre script, star-studded cast and spellbinding mise en scene, Tale of Tales provides fantasy connoisseurs with a uniquely enchanting cinematic joyride that proves fairy tales aren’t only for kids.
125 minutes | April 12 @ 9:30 p.m., April 17 @ 7 p.m. | Uptown Theatre, St. Anthony Mai
The Seventh Fire (USA)
The Seventh Fire is a number of things. Arguably one of MSPIFF’s crown jewels this year, it is also the fest’s closing presentation and a damn fine documentary to boot. Executive produced by Terrence Malick (director of The Tree of Life and The Thin Red Line) and Natalie Portman (yes, that Natalie Portman), this nonfiction dive into the drug and crime underbelly on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Pine Point, Minnesota, is a visual splendor and ultimately heartbreaking. Rob Brown, “an OG” of the area’s gang community and frequent flier of the state’s penal system, has just been sentenced to three years in prison, his fifth such conviction after 12 years prior behind bars. While in hiatus until the start of his latest sentence, Rob mulls over his life, lives up his remaining days, and gives caution to 17-year-old criminal up-and-comer Kevin Fineday, whose present aspiration is upgrading from drug peddling middleman to kingpin. Nothing is sugarcoated in this years-long account. Not the fistfights, the meth consumption, the abandoned newly single mothers, or the raging parties left in a fallout of cigarette butts, used needles and patches of hair. “Raw” may be the most apt descriptor for director Jack Pettibone Riccobono’s documentary, and The Wire its closest relative. For those who desire sincerity in their cinema, The Seventh Fire never shies from its subject.
76 minutes | April 23 @ 7 p.m., April 23 @ 7:30 p.m. | St. Anthony Main