Reel Wrap Redux

Week two at the Miami International Film Festival.

Mataharis: Three women who work as private eyes at a Madrid detective agency find that their cases illuminate troubling aspects of their own lives. Ines (María Vázquez) goes undercover at a factory and winds up enmeshed in a power play between the company and union workers opposed to its outsourcing plans; she is also led to question her own ethics. Eva (Najwa Nimri) is a mother of two trying to return to work when she discovers her husband is leading an alternate life in another city. And Carmen (Nuria González), the wisest of the three, meets a client who accidentally uncovers his wife's adultery; Carmen, meanwhile, talks more to her TV set and house plants than she does to her husband. It all sounds like a contrivance, and it is, but within its framework, Mataharis works surprisingly well. Director Iciar Bollain's film uses its conceit to probe ideas of honesty and fidelity in relationships. Because of the strong performances and a tight script, the overly neat schematics of the story disappear behind a messiness that looks a lot like real life. — Frank Houston March 6 at 9:30 p.m. Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, 174 E Flagler St, Miami; 305-374-2444.

Querido Camilo (Dear Camilo): As New Times recounted last year ("Camilo's Retreat," May 3, by Francisco Alvarado), Miami's own Sgt. Camilo Mejia was the first Iraq soldier to refuse to serve a second tour based on conscientious objector status. He was also the first to be convicted for his stance. Querido Camilo tells Mejia's story from the perspective of friends and family members, sketching in his background with snapshots, interviews, and narrated letters that begin in 1995, when Mejia arrived in the United States from Nicaragua. "I thought it would be more fun, more beautiful. But it's really very different," Mejia says of the United States in an interview with filmmakers Julio Molina and Daniel Ross Mix. They explore military enlistment as a last resort for the working class, especially immigrants. What isn't explored, however, is the idea that Mejia and others made a commitment to service — a voluntary one — and whether they had an ethical obligation to fulfill it. Instead Mejia is presented as valiant. This is understandable, but it makes the documentary more hero worship than honest examination. — Frank Houston March 6 at 9:15 p.m. Bill Cosford Cinema. University of Miami, Coral Gables; 305-237-3456. March 7 at 9:15 p.m. Regal Cinemas South Beach, 1100 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach; 305-674-6766.

XXY: Alex (Inés Efron) is just your average Argentine teenage hermaphrodite living in Uruguay, helping her father rescue sea turtles, punching her best friend in the nose, and trying to sleep with the boy whose family is staying over for the weekend. The story obviously shares some common elements with Jeffrey Eugenides's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Middlesex, but instead of expanding the theme of a duel-gender bildungsroman into a multigenerational epic, XXY stays focused on one eventful week in the life of its hero/heroine. Efron is beautifully cast as the 15-year-old girl hiding a big secret, and the character strikes a perfect balance between confidence and helplessness. Like the subject that defines her, she makes everyone around her nervous, but refuses to apologize for her uniqueness. In many ways, the film betters Middlesex on the subject of gender, for every element seems symbolic of it in some way. The house's location on the edge of the ocean, the turtles, and the bluish hue that dominates the lighting all speak to the blurred biological line that supposedly divides male and female but, as this story reminds us, is more like a fence erected by the cultural border patrol. It's still standing only because many of us are terrified of what would happen if we took it down. — P. Scott Cunningham March 7 at 7 p.m. Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, 174 E Flagler St, Miami; 305-374-2444.

American Teen: Among the more highly anticipated offerings during the early half of the Sundance Film Festival last month, Nanette Burstein's American Teen plays like The Hills set in Warsaw, Indiana. It's an entertaining but ultimately how-come compendium of every single cliché to populate a senior-year blowout — from the timid band geek to the head-cheerleader hellion to the artsy girl who wants to make movies, poor thing. Which isn't to say the doc from the Kid Stays in the Picture codirector isn't without its considerable charms, chief among them the intimacy with which the story is told; there are things here no child should say and no parent should hear. But it adds nothing new to conversation: R.J. Cutler's American High on Fox did this better and far earlier (in 2000), while, oh, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Sixteen Candles and Paul Feig's NBC series Freaks and Geeks simply did it much, much better. Worse, Burstein too often removes us from the action via animated sequences more fartsy than artsy; they distract and often detract from the story, in which the improvised still proves predictable. But, you know, these are kids, so we care. Kinda have to — the future and all. — Robert Wilonsky March 8 at 3 p.m. Colony Theater, 1040 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach; 305-674-1040.

 
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