Feast of Film II

The Miami International Film Festival, part two

There's a lot to like about the film, besides the scene of a half-naked Cindy Crawford dancing seductively with an old 8mm movie camera. Lovely is the word for it. Weber weaves a tone poem of all that he loves about life and his passion is infectious. Even if you don't have or like dogs, the simple pleasure of living in the moment, cavorting with pets, triggers a nostalgia for the good old days past or present. And with such beautiful photography, a pack of golden retrievers on a sunny day is all it takes, as seen through the lens of Weber. -- John Anderson

A Letter To True screens at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, February 6, at the Regal South Beach Cinema, 1100 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach; and at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, February 7, at the Cosford Cinema at University of Miami campus.

Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer

Charlize Theron has been rightly celebrated for her performance as Aileen Wuornos in the movie Monster; the South African-born beauty has already won a Golden Globe for best actress and is likely to win an Oscar for her transformation into a hard-luck hooker who murdered seven of her johns. Only one other woman could better portray the Central Florida prostitute executed in 2002: Wuornos herself. The ticks, nervous energy, and lightning-quick shifts from an eager-to-please smile to the grimace of rage so impressively mastered by Theron are all the more powerful when performed for real. Wuornos's lack of control over the body that so often betrayed her is an indictment against the society that created her.

The fictionalized Monster humanizes Wuornos by showing us imaginary scenes that reveal the wronged woman's motivations and by couching the murders in a tragic love story. She is guilty, but the world made her that way. The presentation of Wuornos in Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer is at once more direct and more ambiguous. The documentary's directors, Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill, dedicate even more screen time to sifting through Wuornos's heartbreaking childhood than did their fiction film counterpart, Patty Jenkins. Broomfield tracks down the mother who abandoned her as a child, uncovers sexual abuse by her male relatives, and visits the snow-covered fort where neighborhood boys finished the job of fucking up the young homeless girl.

But the simple cause-and-effect of abuse and aggression gets complicated when the condemned woman speaks for herself. Is Wuornos lying when she tells the camera and the judge that she acted in self-defense? Or is she lying when she admits her guilt? Exactly how many men did she kill and why? Certainly the victim's horrific past played a role in making her into a killer, but the real drama of the documentary lies in Wuornos's struggle to wrest control over the way her story is told. She refuses a final press conference before her execution, preferring instead to grant a last interview to the trusted Broomfield. But when she senses that he is more interested in learning about the murders than her theories about how the police hoped to profit by sharing in the movie rights, she ends the interview abruptly. In our ever more pornographic culture, Wuornos's fight to represent herself is even more urgent than her battle over life and death. -- Celeste Fraser Delgado

Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killerscreens at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 5, and at 9:45 p.m. on Friday, February 6, at the Regal.

Dogville

Damn! Lars von Trier has never been one to go easy on viewers. His films are always challenging in their avant-garde treatment of difficult issues. He adheres to the Dogme95 filmmaking manifesto, eschewing all the pretty Hollywood ploys that doll up reality and deliver devastating destruction with gee-whiz special effects. But Dogville is not just an indictment of Hollywood's artifice. Sure, exposing the sound stage with its fake sets on camera at all times is a clever gimmick. It's also a lot more than that. Dogville is a critique of the rotten U.S. reality that, throughout the so-called American Century, Hollywood has worked so hard to hide.

Not that Dogville is agit-prop or shrill propaganda. To the contrary, von Trier demonstrates just how astute a student of Hollywood he is by turning conventions against themselves. He even uses Hollywood star power, casting Nicole Kidman as the lead. Although she may have been born an Aussie, no one more than Kidman better embodies the star system as it survives today. Equally as convincing as she is in the earnestly realist Cold Mountain, Kidman plays a familiar role as the damsel in distress who takes refuge from deadly mobsters in small-town U.S.A. So deft is von Trier at deploying the oldest of cinematic tricks that the audience is sucked into the plot even as he reveals the narrative's sleight of hand. The director takes us deeper and deeper into American pop truisms until, without quite understanding how we got there, we end up in a very ugly place.

In fact von Trier's critique is so sophisticated and subtly executed that he adds a coda to the film just to make sure we know what we've seen. As the credits roll, the director recurs to alternative expressions of American reality -- by documentary photography and, of all things, David Bowie -- to wrench viewers out of the faraway time and place of the film and connect Dogville's message to the present. Exactly what that message means and what you're supposed to do once you get it will keep you stunned in your seat long after the screen goes blank. -- Celeste Fraser Delgado

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