Reel Wrap

Our critics review a sampling from week one of the film fest.

La Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon): The festival's opening-night selection is the feel-good tale of a nine-year-old Mexican boy's odyssey to reunite with his mother, who has lived in Los Angeles for four years. The film is part adventure story, part study of the hardships engendered by illegal immigration on both sides of the border. But these halves do not quite add up to a whole, mostly because the social realism feels so rote and the script feels at times like it's been written by a nine-year-old. We get a heartless WASP employer, faceless INS agents, even a reluctant adult travel buddy who comes around to the wisdom and charm of his young companion ("You're nuts kid, you know that?"). Peril is encountered at nearly every turn of the boy's voyage, it's just as quickly averted, and none of it is the least bit convincing. The lead performances — Kate del Castillo as mother Rosario and Adrian Alonso as young Carlitos — are credible, but the actors are as abandoned by the screenplay as their characters are forsaken by society. — Frank Houston February 28 at 7 p.m. Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, 174 E Flagler St, Miami; 305-374-2444.

Invisibles: Oscar winner Javier Bardem gathered five filmmakers, including Isabel Coixet and Wim Wenders, to make these short films about the suffering of some of the poorest people in the world. The segments are set mainly in Latin American and African countries; each sheds light on a particular struggle. Letters to Nora is a film about a surprisingly little-known affliction called Chagas' disease, also referred to as "sudden death disease" because of its swiftness and power. The pathogen, which afflicts primarily poor South Americans, might be susceptible to modern pharmaceuticals, but no one knows, because the big drug companies aren't interested in a market consisting largely of the poor and uneducated. Wenders's Invisible Crimes portrays moving testimony from victims of tribal violence in the Congo. With the subtlest of touches — the interview subjects simply tell their stories, in monologue form, as they periodically vanish and reappear on the screen — the director creates a strong sense of place and a gripping narrative of loss. —Frank Houston February 29 at 4:45 p.m. Colony Theater, 1040 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach; 305-674-1040.

Miami Noir: The Arthur E. Teele Story: Like the Rakontur team that gave us Cocaine Cowboys, filmmakers Josh Miller and Sam Rega are Miami boys telling one of Miami's best stories: that of former city Commissioner Arthur E. Teele's tragic journey from Washington, D.C.'s political inner circle to death on the floor of the Miami Herald lobby by his own hand. Teele's life needs no embellishment, and Miller and Rega, with the exception of a couple of overwrought dramatizations, are generally pretty good about not providing any. The pace moves quickly, thanks to proficient editing, and the number of interviewees speaks to their journalistic desire to get it right. So, do they? Although the portrait of Teele feels fairly presented, it doesn't go much deeper than the news stories locals already have in their memories, leaving the man himself the same mystery he was before. — P. Scott Cunningham March 1 at 2 p.m. Colony Theater, 1040 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach; 305-674-1040.

La Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon)
La Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon)

Stalags: Holocaust and Pornography in Israel: Holocaust and pornography? Surely those two concepts do not fit together in the same movie title, but incredibly they coexist comfortably and intriguingly in this documentary about the Stalag book phenomenon. With their pulp fiction covers depicting busty, lusty female SS officers torturing Allied soldiers, the paperbacks swept through Israel in the Sixties. Like most porn, the plots were standardized: Stalags inevitably featured soldiers who were imprisoned by sadistic female Nazis who raped and tortured them. The books were written by Israelis who pretended to translate them from English, and the documentary enlists regular citizens, scholars, a writer and publisher, and even Stalag addicts to talk about their appeal. Former Israeli officer Lian Eyal discusses "getting turned on thinking of this gentile German, that I fuck her in the name of the six million." For a generation of Israeli men, the Stalags became the only source of information, however sketchy, about the Holocaust, which was not openly discussed at the time. All of which makes for a fascinating social history of the Holocaust and its reverberation through Israeli society, in ways most viewers would never have expected. — Frank Houston March 1 at 9 p.m. Regal Cinemas South Beach, 1100 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach; 305-674-6766. March 4 at 5 p.m. Sunrise Cinemas Intracoastal, 3701 NE 163rd St, North Miami Beach; 305-949-0064.

Once upon a Time in the West: If a movie ever begged to be restored, this 1969 Sergio Leone Western fills the bill nicely, with its stunning cinemascope vistas of the West. (Actually it's mostly Italy and Spain, but there is an appearance by the real American West — Monument Valley, John Ford's favorite location.) Unlike Leone's earlier spaghetti Westerns (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More), Once upon a Time in the West was made with a budget big enough to fit its epic aspirations, and looks it, even if he still passed off Italy for Utah. Leone's counterprogramming was as impeccable as his eye, making Charles Bronson a hero and Henry Fonda a villain. The story — about an unlikely duo (played by Bronson and Jason Robards) that comes to the rescue of a recently widowed woman (Claudia Cardinale) whose land is coveted by the approaching railroad — is more suggested than plotted. But Leone is more interested in creating atmosphere and tension, and his attention to details — from the interior of a railroad car to the beads of sweat on a gunman's face — rivals his knack for delivering the big images. The whole thing ought to look gorgeous (even the grime) in this restored version, which is having its U.S. premiere right here in our own sweaty city. — Frank Houston March 2 at 4 p.m. Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, 174 E Flagler St, Miami; 305-374-2444.

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