Miami International Film Festival

2002 Week two: Cuba, Spain, Iceland, Poland, U.S.A., and more

The 2003 Miami International Film Festival is in full swing, with four nights remaining for the marathon run of features, documentaries, and shorts from all over the world. Tonight, however, is the last night to experience "Beachstock," the series of free screenings on the beach at Nikki Beach: Victor/Victoria, a comedy about cross-dressing and gender confusion, will run for two showings. On Saturday at the Regal South Beach Cinema, the not-so-lighthearted U.S. documentary premiere Pandemic: Facing AIDS will be followed by a moderated discussion with activists, policymakers, and filmmakers regarding child sex trafficking and AIDS. Limited tickets will also be available for the wrap-up awards night (starting at 7:00 p.m.), which includes the awards ceremony, screening of Jet Lag, and the closing-night street party outside the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts. Sunday, however, will still afford a final chance to soak up some of the festival's finest fare. (The festival's hotline is 305-348-5555.)

Nada Más Directed by Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti; Cuba, 2002

Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti's debut film is a surrealistic metaphor of contemporary Cuba. A highly stylized look at the question of whether to stay on the island or emigrate if given the chance, it is essentially a meditation on the values of human relationships versus material things.

The Sea: A contemporary King Lear with too many subplots
The Sea: A contemporary King Lear with too many subplots
Washington Heights: Urban Latin life is more than drug deals, but not here
Washington Heights: Urban Latin life is more than drug deals, but not here

Carla (Thais Valdés) lives alone in a big apartment with a sweeping view of Havana, left to her when her parents moved to Miami. Waiting to find out if her number comes up in the U.S. government lottery to be granted a visa, she is encouraged by her mother, who sends frequent postcards bearing pictures of fat ladies on South Beach. Carla works stamping letters at the post office. She lives in a vacuum, with no friends and virtually no contact with her fellow workers. Her life, like that of those she observes around her, is nada (nothing).

Quite by accident Carla begins reading the letters in her charge, and she decides to answer them. Taking on the identities of the letter writers and their recipients, she becomes obsessed with bringing happiness to their lives. She rewrites a bitchy daughter's hasty note to her father boasting of her comfortable life in Spain, replacing it with a loving missive from afar. She takes an insulting diatribe to a bumbling TV commentator and makes it into a poetic fan letter. And so on. Carla resembles a more jaded Amélie as she becomes obsessed with helping people. Her own life is enriched when she realizes her small gestures can really make things better all around her, and when she ends up winning the visa lottery she is faced with a serious spiritual quandary.

Nada Más is by design an art film, meticulously shot in black and white and painted with symbolic splashes of color. Cremata is a neotropical Fellini who parades curious Cuban characters before us throughout the film and provides visual stimulation through hyper-styling of every outfit and interior. The movie's slow pace captures the sultry rhythm of Cuba. Like Buñuel and Almodovar, whose early films Nada Más recalls, Cremata is a socially critical fantasist with an artist's eye. -- Judy Cantor

Playing on Wednesday, February 26, at 7:30 p.m. and Friday, February 28, at 10:00 p.m. at the Regal South Beach Cinema, 1100 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach; 305-674-6766.

The Sea Directed by Baltasar Kormákur; Iceland, 2002

You may not think about it much, but the long-lost Viking culture still echoes today. Take the words "saga" and "berserk." Both are still in English usage and both are purely Viking in origin. Both also come to mind when watching Baltasar Kormákur's Icelandic drama The Sea, a tale of one family's descent from prosperity toward utter destruction.

The setting is a small fishing village on the Icelandic coast, where aging patriarch Thordur reigns over his family's fish-processing company, the town's main livelihood, as he has done for decades. But the modern world has come to traditional Iceland. The fisher folk are abandoning their boats and moving to the cities. Lacking workers, the remaining companies must resort to despised Asian immigrants for labor. At the same time, huge corporations encroach on the established family businesses.

Thordur's eldest son Haraldur, who runs the day-to-day operations, knows their enterprise is doomed and insists the family sell out to a conglomerate. Embittered daughter Ragnheiour also wants out. But Thordur holds fast and calls together his family for a mysterious announcement. His youngest son, Agust, who lives in Paris with his lovely fiancée Françoise, doesn't want to return home and doesn't want her to go either, but he won't say why. In the end they do attend the family gathering. At an awkward dinner party Thordur unloads his plan: He has cut off his children from any further monetary support in order to reserve funds in an effort to keep the business going. He also plans to tap Agust as its new chief. The family is aghast and all immediately begin making plans to thwart Thordur.

This contemporary King Lear, which switches between the Icelandic and English languages, gets off to a portentous, compelling start. Cinematographer Jean-Louis Vialard captures the beauty and isolation of the landscape while director Kormákur draws some fiery performances from his ensemble cast. These Vikings are as gorgeous and as desolate as their countryside.

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