Silver Screenings

The FIU 17th Miami Film Festival

If Orfeu trips up on tragedy, Bossa Nova falls short of comedy. Pompously dedicated to Jobim and François Truffaut, the film fits better in the company of television jingles and sitcom fare. For a U.S. audience grown accustomed to the brilliant collision of coincidence broadcast weekly during the final years of Seinfeld, the clichéd subplots of mistaken identity and misplaced ardor in this comedy of errors plod along an all-too-predictable course. Internet romance. Pretty English teacher. Horny soccer stud. Enough said.

The most genuine moments of Bossa Nova revolve around the tailor shop owned by the Argentine immigrant father of protagonist Pedro Paulo (Antonio Fagundes). In one beautiful scene, the father and his two grown sons bend with their ears to a bolt of fabric, listening for the tell-tale sounds of quality. In another inspired moment, Pedro Paulo secretly measures with his hand the back and shoulders of love interest Mary Ann (played adequately by Barreto's wife, Amy Irving) as they descend in an elevator after English class. When the film sacrifices the father as a convenient plot device, killing him off to set up a series of gags at the hospital and discoveries at the funeral, all hope of a memorable cinematic experience dies with him.

Neither Diegues's Orfeu nor Barreto's Bossa Nova live up to their musical inspiration. Fans of Brazilian music whose collections already hold the best of bossa nova can safely stay home. Those listening for new trends might do well to spend the money saved on movie tickets to purchase the Orfeu soundtrack. The score, created by contemporary legend Caetano Veloso indeed is a tribute to Brazil's rich musical legacy. -- Celeste Fraser Delgado
Bossa Nova screens Friday, February 18, at 7:30 p.m. Orfeu screens Saturday, February 19, at 7:00 p.m.

Love Tangles
Love Tangles

Of all the freakish moments in Orphans, Scottish writer/director Peter Mullan's compelling film from 1997, none is as breathtaking as the image of a man trying to carry his mother's coffin on his back. Bent over to accommodate the weight, he looks like a nightmarish beast of burden, a mule as imagined by Brueghel. By the time he finally succumbs to the impossibility of the task and crawls on all fours only to be knocked to the ground by the crowd of mourners following him, you don't know whether to laugh or shudder.

Much of the film, which follows four siblings through the 24 hours leading up to their mother's funeral, is infused with a similarly odd mood. Oldest son Thomas, the one who ends up with the coffin on his back, spends the night keeping a strict vigil over the body, an act that alienates his brothers and sister and leaves him alone at the funeral. Sister Sheila refuses to stay at the church with Thomas. She forces her wheelchair down the street, where she encounters a family preparing a surprise party. They take her in as a storm ravages the night. The two remaining brothers, Michael and John, find their own misadventures in the streets of Glasgow. Michael is stabbed in a pub but nurses his wound through the night. He wants to claim a worker's compensation injury in the morning. John swears to avenge him, and nearly murders someone.

Punctuated by unsettling hilarity, the film's funniest scenes are those in which someone is either sobbing or terrified. The screams of young hoods at an amusement-park attraction are not derived from glee but rather from terror at realizing that the man they provoked, John, has followed them and is aiming a shotgun at them as they spin around on a ride. Michael insults a bartender and gets thrown into a cellar, where he finds a half-dozen other people who also have offended the barkeep. Sheila's wheelchair gets stuck in an alley and she is rescued by a little girl wearing a princess hat.

To call the movie (which won Mullan a Grand Prix at the 1999 Paris Film Festival) a black comedy is to undersell it. It's more like a marriage between James Joyce and John Ford, in which comedy, tragedy, and other primal elements mix. (You should try to make out the heavily accented dialogue. The subtitles don't do it justice. "Kill the fucking wain" is translated as the much less colorful "Kill the baby.") This is the first feature film for Mullan, who recently starred in Ken Loach's My Name Is Joe, after appearing in films such as Trainspotting, Braveheart, and Riff Raff. As a director Mullan is sometimes a bit heavy handed. At least two of the characters find themselves in crucifixion poses, and the Shakespearean elements -- storm, death, family rifts -- though appropriate, are not subtle. Orphans is marvelously engrossing, however. Dedicated to Mullan's mother, who died in 1993, the film will strike a chord with anyone who has lost a parent, encountered emotional peril, or merely lost his way in the night. -- Robin Dougherty
Orphans screens Wednesday, February 23, at 9:30 p.m.

"Here I'm alone, with the beat of my heart...." Solas, a warm and exquisite piece revolving around the ill-fated lives of its characters, is a film about loneliness, aging, and love.

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