Film feast (from left): Modigliani, Faithless, The Edukators
Film feast (from left): Modigliani, Faithless, The Edukators

Really Big Show

The buzz is golden, the word is out, and this festival is going to be big.

The opening night screening of Andy Garcia's Modigliani at Gusman sold out so fast a second showing was added at the Regal Cinema in South Beach for the following afternoon. And so it goes all over town, from the Cosford in the Gables to Little Havana's Tower Theater and the Sunrise Intracoastal in North Miami Beach. Now in its second year under the direction of Miami Dade College, the Miami International Film Festival (beginning February 4 and concluding February 14) boasts the biggest lineup in its history. Tickets are moving furiously for 118 pictures from 47 countries, including a slew of world premieres and U.S. premieres as well as special events that range from the fabulous to the bizarre, from the deadly serious to the seriously giddy.

"It feels great," says MDC president Eduardo J. Padron, who pledges that the festival will continue at the nation's largest community college "as long as we get the community response we got last year, the response we already have been getting this year. As long as the community wants it.


Miami Film Festival

"For us, it is a win-win situation," continues Padron, "for multiple reasons. First, we have our school of entertainment technology, and our film school is perhaps the best in Florida. The festival complements their academic programs in a significant way, allowing us to provide not just the festival for the community but also seminars and other special events for our students and faculty."

Then there are the movies. The 2005 MIFF is eclectic by any standards and pointedly appropriate for a city that is fast becoming the cultural heart of the Americas. It's not just that a renowned Cuban-American MDC alumnus stars in the festival's opening salvo. It is also that the categories abound with surprises and rediscoveries, with distinctive competition categories in Ibero-American Cinema and World Cinema, both in dramatic and in documentary features.

"It is not just the number of films. It is the quality of the premieres," says Padron. "You know, they don't give these films to just anybody. We have been able to do what we do because we have a lot of people with the passion, with the commitment to make things happen. And of course we have a director of incredible vision."

That would be Nicole Guillemet, the MIFF director who was recruited from FIU and has made the transition to Miami Dade in style. In addition to what amounts to several minifestivals within the overall program, the Sundance Festival alumna has scheduled a touching Liv Ullmann Career Achievement Tribute ("You need to see her as a director -- her one faceless role.") and a lineup of rarities in tribute to the revered cult documentary filmmaker Jean Rouch, who died last year. She is even managing to shake up her baby boomer audience by including Bob Rafelson's iconic 1970 Five Easy Pieces among the series of "Classic Films: Movies That Transcend Time and Imagination."

Is it a little soon to proclaim a classic to an audience that was there for its premiere?

"Thirty-five years is not so recent," laughs Guillemet, whose disarming French accent is thick as crme fraiche as she justifies the inclusion of Pieces as a "classic." "The film is such an event. I watched it again -- what an incredible story. So we invited Bob Rafelson to be on our jury, and we started to create an event. Karen Black agreed to come too. We are all totally part of a wonderful generation. So much happened. This is a tribute to those times."

For more recent times, Guillemet sees no limits. "We can move from the idealism of young people in the 1960s and '70s to today. Look at The Edukators," one of two films boasting a breakout star of last year's festival: Daniel Brühl. After the bittersweet German comedy Goodbye Lenin, the young actor is represented at this year's MIFF with both The Edukators and with a lovely piece called The Ladies in Lavender, where he costars with Dame Maggie Smith and Dame Judi Dench. "He is really a young actor to watch," says Guillemet.

Chances are he won't be alone. The opportunities to discover talent from Spain to Colombia, Norway to Brazil, Hungary to Argentina, and Thailand to the United States are among the festival's sweetest pleasures. Political consciousness will be raised in the series "The Big Picture: Theater of Truth," not so much by intent as by happy accident: "You just look around and see which films address the big issues of our time," says Guillemet. "Last year we had films about women and violence. This year we have a film about Tibet (What Remains of Us), about a country's freedom. A film about Baghdad and about the U.N. Then I was surprised by how many films there were about children and war. I did not have this agenda. It just happened."

Much else has been happening with the festival. By Guillemet's design, there are a number of second-time directors represented, a big boost to developing filmmakers at a crucial time. "We show a lot of films that don't have distributors attached," she says, "and in that way festivals are playing a big role in developing that distribution." In that way, too, MIFF is letting South Florida in on the act of discovery, well ahead of the pack.

"And we can only grow," says Guillemet. "It's all for the audience, you know. For the filmmakers too. But most of all for the people of Miami."

Modigliani (Feb. 4 at Gusman, followed by a glitzy opening night bash): The big event, Mick Davis's over-the-top, chutzpah-fueled biopic starring Miami's own Andy Garcia as the soulful, tortured Modernist icon. The art direction alone would make this picture a must-see, and Garcia's intense and disarmingly exposed performance as Modigliani is already cooking up both controversy and a healthy buzz about the underrated Cuban actor.

Liv Ullmann: The Norwegian goddess is honored not just once but three times at the MIFF. Sure to be the most touching is a

(Feb. 8 at Gusman) where the actress, director, and human rights champion will be on hand in person for an evening of clips and chat about her brilliant career so far. As a bonus, the festival is scheduling a special tribute screening of Ingmar Berman's 2003 Saraband, which will give local film buffs a rare chance to experience this devastating sequel to the epic Scenes from a Marriage reuniting Ullmann and Erland Josephson (Feb. 8 at Gusman, following the tribute). There also is a special screening of Faithless, a Bergman-esque essay of relationships and show business directed by Ullmann. Starring Lena Endre, Thomas Hanzon, and Kirster Henrikson (Feb. 7 at Cosford).

Ladies in Lavender (Feb. 10 at Gusman) and The Edukators (Feb. 8 and 12 at the Regal South Beach, Feb. 10 at the Intracoastal): These two pictures from two different countries have little in common except for this: They both star Daniel Brühl, the breakout German dynamo who charmed audiences at last year's festival with Goodbye Lenin and is now well on the way to international stardom. An entry in the World Cinema Competition, Hans Weintgartner's The Edukators is not quite the postmod Jules et Jim it desperately wants to be, but is nevertheless a fascinating glimpse at alienated youth in today's Berlin, observed with almost cruel clarity and boasting beautifully calibrated performances. In the tender Ladies in Lavender, a little jewel of a film, the beloved British actor Charles Dance changes hats and directs his first feature, with Brühl as a young Jewish violinist fleeing the Nazis and finding shelter in the Cornwall seaside in 1936. Did I mention who takes him in? The formidable Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith play the ladies in the title, their lives upset, their sexual desires rekindled, and their political consciousness (almost) raised by the handsome intruder in their midst.

Red Dust (Feb. 6 at the Intracoastal; Feb. 10 and 12 at the Regal South Beach): Hilary Swank hangs up her boxing gloves and dons a basic black dress to play a lawyer in Tom Hooper's feature debut, based on Gillian Slovo's murder thriller set against the unsettling backdrop of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission Tribunal. The picture, in the festival's World Cinema Competition, suggests that the wounds of apartheid may well be healing, but there is still a lot of pain in the process.

Day and Night (Feb. 6, 9, and 11 at the Regal South Beach): This one sounds crazy, and it probably is. For anyone out there who might think the Dogme movement isn't austere enough, here is Simon Staho's Nordic take on Abbas Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry, produced by no less than Lars Von Trier himself, filmed entirely inside an automobile and depicting a day in the life of a man seriously considering suicide. Mikael Persbrandt stars, upclose and personal, in this one-day, one-car, one-man experiment that looks like a strong entry in the World Cinema Competition.

Ibero-American Cinema Competition: An embarrassment of promises, and perhaps the most daring feature of the MIFF, with a chance to discover a baker's dozen of first and second features by directors from Latin America, Spain, and Portugal. Live-In Maid (Feb. 9 at the Regal South Beach; Feb. 10 at the Intracoastal; Feb. 12 at Cosford), with Jorge Gaggero at the helm, brings together Norma Aleandro and Norma Argentina in a heartfelt tale of nostalgia, class confusion, and love in a brutally changing Buenos Aires climate. There are two saucy fantasies from Spain, Alicia's Names (Feb. 7, 10, and 11 at the Regal South Beach), about an even more peculiar live-in maid, this one in a Spanish coastal town; and Body Confusion (Feb. 5 at Tower Theatre; Feb. 7 and 10 at the Regal South Beach), a post-Almodóvar bit of madness that pays tribute to Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo while taking apart the pretensions of films and filmmakers. From Helena Solberg, who gave us the impossibly adorable Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business, comes the new Diary of a Provincial Girl (Feb. 6 and 10 at the Regal South Beach; Feb. 9 at the Intracoastal), her adaptation of a classic Brazilian novel that looks likeliest to find an international audience.

Five Easy Pieces (Feb. 10 at the Regal South Beach): This may well be the big surprise among the festival's Classic Films Series, which also includes the Western Bad Day at Black Rock by John Sturges (Feb. 12 at Cosford) and Anthony Mann's Man of the West (Feb. 13 at Cosford), both in Cinemascope. Can it really be 35 years since the world first saw a hot Jack Nicholson and a mad Karen Black in Bob Rafelson's unlikely American masterpiece?


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