Film Fanaticism, Take Two

The sixteenth Miami Film Festival continues this week with even more international fare. On the must-see list are Thursday's presentation of a sublime offering from French newcomer Erick Zonca that created quite a stir at Cannes, The Dreamlife of Angels. The same day Buena Vista Social Club showcases famed German director Wim Wenders's surreal view of a legendary group of Cuban musicians as they assemble in Havana, create a spellbinding album, and dazzle audiences around the world. All foreign-language films will include English subtitles. All screenings take place at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, 174 E. Flagler St. Call 305-372-0925 for ticket information.

If your love of film still isn't sated after two weeks of movie-watching, make your way to the Wolfsonian (1001 Washington Ave., Miami Beach) on Sunday, February 28 at 2:00 p.m. Some of the nation's leading film critics will assemble for a roundtable discussion titled "The State of Things," an examination of current trends in the cinema. Panelists include the New York Observer's Andrew Sarris, Film Comment's Harlan Jacobson, and New York's Peter Rainer. Admission is free.

Director Maria Ripoll's feature debut, Twice Upon a Yesterday, might be described as a midlife-crisis movie about a man in his twenties. For reasons that don't entirely make sense, Victor (Douglas Henshall), an unkempt and self-centered young London actor, tells his live-in girlfriend Sylvia (Lena Headey) he's having an affair. She leaves him and eventually becomes engaged to another man. In the meantime Victor realizes he's made a mistake. Forlorn and near despair, he wanders into a bar, where an especially charismatic bartender (Elizabeth McGovern) comforts him. She also gives him a tattered umbrella to weather the storm that's raging outside.

The umbrella, it turns out, has magical powers. No sooner has the now-drunk Victor braved the downpour than he meets up with a pair of unusual rubbish collectors who give Victor what he really needs: a second chance. Before he knows it the guy finds himself transported back in time, plopped down just minutes before he confessed his infidelity to Sylvia. He chooses a different fate and, as is the way with whimsical tales, a different fate chooses him.

This English-Spanish production (the director and screenwriter are Spanish, the film was made in London, and the leading man has a pronounced Scottish accent) also features Spanish actress Penelope Cruz as a woman who falls for Victor as he's trying to put his life back together. But the picture's prevailing personality is that of musician and first-time screenwriter Rafa Russo, on whose real-life love affair the story is based. Russo's experience may have been heartbreaking and fascinating to him -- it always is when it happens to you -- but despite the fact that he introduces elements of magical realism, Russo hasn't made this account of failed love anything but generic.

It doesn't help that Henshall isn't a particularly compelling actor. We never understand why any of the women Victor encounters would find him appealing. (Is it just coincidence that all three of them are drop-dead gorgeous while he's a schlub?) Set in London's ethnically diverse Notting Hill neighborhood, Twice Upon a Yesterday isn't the first film in which the production design -- with interiors painted in bright mango and Caribbean-yellow, and exteriors reflecting the dappled, rain-swept streets -- is more interesting than the story. Rather, it's one of countless mediocre movies during which you stop paying attention to the characters and start wondering where they bought their furniture. (Saturday, February 27, 9:30 p.m.)

-- Robin Dougherty

A van full of German tourists, a car-jacker, the car-jacking victim, an expectant couple, and a man dressed as a rabbit are all driving around Madrid on the last night of 1999. (Your punch line here.) The car-jacking victim, who happens to be the father of the pregnant woman, has been picked up by another motorist. The man dressed as a rabbit (and his friend, who is dressed as a lobster) are on their way to a New Year's Eve party. The car-jacker is taking his "new" vehicle to pick up his girlfriend (she thinks he's rich). While waiting for him the girlfriend meets the guy whose car her boyfriend stole. The First Night of My Life (in Spanish with English subtitles) is the road movie's answer to Grand Hotel (1932), with a story whose sprawling plot lines trace the misadventures of characters whose fates casually and profoundly intertwine.

The directorial debut of Miguel Albaladejo (and written by Spanish New Wave-ist Elvira Lindo), this 1998 film can't be described as a fresh take on a familiar formula. No one will be surprised to learn, for example, that as these people wander around Madrid, losing their rides for various reasons, the same cab picks them up sequentially. Or that the entire group ends up at the same place just at midnight. Or that the couple's baby is born at the stroke of ... well, you can figure that out. A bigger problem is that long before the film was made the thrill of entering the new millennium had expired. In fact the characters' conversations about their hopes for the future already seem a few years out of date.

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