The Reel Deal

With films from fourteen countries, the Miami Film Festival features a volatile mix of love, lust, and crime

Cisco Kid
Written by Michael Kane and Luis Valdez; directed by Luis Valdez; with Jimmy Smits and Cheech Marin. Screens Saturday at 2:00 p.m.

For years director Luis Valdez (La bamba) has been trying to mount a production based on O. Henry's fictional womanizing Mexican mercenary, the Cisco Kid. He should have waited a few years longer. This half-baked burrito amounts to little more than a vanity vehicle for Jimmy Smits, who appears slightly embarrassed to be involved in the debacle. Only Cheech Marin as Cisco's loyal Juarista sidekick Pancho rises above the cheesy script and movie-of-the-week production values. But, hey, this is the world premiere!

Trahir (Betrayal)
Written by Radu Mihaileanu and Laurent Moussard; directed by Radu Mihaileanu; with Johan Leysen, Alexandru Repan, and Mireille Perrier. Screens Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

The institutionalized horror of totalitarian rule in Romania forms the basis for director Radu Mihaileanu's auspicious debut. Following the publication of a provocative article about the death of democracy in his country, Romania's most popular poet is jailed for eleven agonizing years in a dark waterlogged cell. A suicide attempt convinces the government to offer him a deal: freedom from prison and guaranteed uncensored publication of his poems in exchange for seemingly innocuous information about his friends and colleagues. Against his better judgment the poet accepts, but soon discovers that in a police state, compromise really means manipulation.

A slow-paced but gripping drama based on Mihaileanu's own experiences, this multinational coproduction (France, Romania, Switzerland, and Spain) took Grand Prix honors at last September's Montreal Film Festival.

Latin Jazz on Film: Paquito D'Rivera
Saturday at 7:00 p.m.
More mixed-media event than film, this live presentation hosted by the acclaimed Cuban saxophonist draws from a series of archival film clips to trace the history of Latin jazz on film, from Tin Tan's 1949 Mexican production of "Mambo Bebop" to documentary footage of last year's Heineken Jazz Festival in Puerto Rico.

Written and directed by Iain Softley; with Stephen Dorff, Sheryl Lee, Ian Hart, Gary Bakewell, and Chris O'Neill. Screens Saturday at 10:00 p.m.

You don't have to be a Beatles fan to get a kick out of this narrative based on the story of the legendary fifth Beatle, Stuart Sutcliffe, who died of a brain hemorrhage at the tender age of 22. Set in the heady pre-Sullivan days when the soon-to-be Fab Four were actually a five-piece band (Pete Best preceded Ringo on drums, Sutcliffe played bass, and John, Paul, and George all played guitar), BackBeat beautifully evokes the hard times, the sleazy venues, and the dues-paying the band endured prior to the onset of Beatlemania. Stephen Dorff makes a suitably enigmatic Sutcliffe, and Sheryl Lee is fine as his lover/muse Astrid Kirchherr. But BackBeat belongs to the actors who play the three main Beatles -- Chris O'Neill as George, Gary Bakewell as Paul, and particularly Ian Hart as John. They bear striking physical resemblance to their characters and deliver the acting goods as well. Hart, who was equally amazing as Lennon in last year's The Hours and the Times, absolutely nails the acid-tongued bandleader on-stage and off.

When the band's popularity starts to gather steam, BackBeat really takes off, employing swirling camera work, frenetic editing, and dynamic re-creations of the early Beatles sound (by an all-star band that includes Nirvana's Dave Grohl on drums, R.E.M.'s Mike Mills on bass, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth on guitar, and Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum -- among others -- on vocals). The effect is exhilarating; imagine being at some dank after-hours club in a foreign country, front-row-center, when five raw musicians whose music will one day change the world take the stage.

When I Close My Eyes
Written and directed by Franci Slak; with Petra Govc. Screens Sunday at 2:00 p.m.

One of the most cherished attributes of the Miami Film Festival is its exhibition of films from a broad cross-section of countries. This 1993 Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film comes from a nation that didn't even exist a couple of years ago (Slovenia). Director Franci Slak's atmospheric thriller follows a postal clerk who falls in love with the thief who robs her at gunpoint at a remote post office and then vanishes. Can she find him before the police do? Stylish but only occasionally coherent, Slak's film reveals a budding talent -- but Hitchcock's reputation is safe for the time being.

32 Short Films About
Glenn Gould
Written by Franaois Girard and Don McKellar; directed by Franaois Girard; with Colm Feore. Screens Sunday at 4:30 p.m.

For those unfamiliar with his career, Glenn Gould was a brilliant but eccentric classical pianist who voluntarily stopped performing in public way before any decline in his skills may have warranted it. He died at the age of 50. Colm Feore plays the enigmatic genius in this impressionistic, unconventional narrative patterned after Bach's "Goldberg Variations" into 32 interconnected vignettes. Well-crafted and innovative enough to win four Canadian Academy Awards, including Best Film, it probably won't convert many nonfans to the joys of classical piano. Like Glenn Gould, the movie is interesting but no Amadeus.

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