Gianni (played by writer and director Gianni Di Gregorio) is having a rough go of it. A middle-aged man living with his loving if demanding mother (Valeria De Franciscis) in an airy condominium complex in Rome, Gianni is a bit under-employed — well, unemployed to be exact. He hasn't paid the electric bill in years. The local wine merchant maintains a running tally of what Gianni owes him, and the condo administrator has the unfortunate duty of informing Gianni that the other residents want to take legal action against him for not paying his fees. Di Gregorio was one of the co-writers of Matteo Garrone's mundanely brutal Gomorra; Mid-August Lunch is nearly the exact opposite of that crime flick. Confined almost entirely to the sunny rooms of Gianni's flat and taking place over a little more than two days and nights, Lunch is as bubbly as a glass of prosecco and just as dryly and fruitily unfussy. The film takes place during Ferragosto, an Italian holiday where people often leave the city, and one of the movie's visual joys is a ride through Rome's streets with Gianni on the back of a moped searching for an open fishmonger. It's a subtle twist on one of Italian cinema's oldest clichés — stylish young men on mopeds tooling around crowded Roman streets — indicative of the movie's entire approach. Textbook art-house fare, refreshingly shorn of corny sentimentality, and inoffensively slight. Cedar Lee Theatre. ****(Bret McCabe)
Harrod Blank has been making movies about lavishly customized "art cars" since he was in college. Automorphosis is a fascinating look at the people behind some of these cars. There's Uri "Spoon Man" Geller, who covers his car with utensils, and a German guy who drives around in a hamburger-shaped three-wheeler. "It's difficult to go against the grain," admits Blank, whose Volkswagen Beetle is painted brightly and covered inside and out with knick-knacks. It also makes chicken noises and has slogans plastered on it ("Stop Apartheid," "Safe Sex"). "I grew up a little bit different from the other kids," admits the director, and his odd sensibilities come through loud and clear in this fine film. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Friday, June 4. ***(Jeff Niesel)
Sylvie Testud stars in this French film about a paraplegic who takes a pilgrimage to Lourdes in her wheelchair. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9:30 p.m. Friday, June 4, and 7:05 p.m. Saturday, June 5.
Mother and Child
Although structured like one of executive producer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's jigsaw puzzle mosaic-movies (Babel, Amores Perros), the latest work by writer-director Rodrigo Garcia never feels the slightest bit gimmicky or overly determined. In present-day Los Angeles, three women anguish over the concept of motherhood in their own unique fashion. Karen (Annette Bening) still punishes herself for giving up a baby for adoption when she was a teenager; steely career woman Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) does everything within her power to avoid intimacy (including having a child); and Lucy (Kerry Washington) aches to become a first-time mom, despite seemingly insoluble fertility issues. Garcia imbues all of his story threads with painstaking delicacy and a keen, probing intelligence, ultimately achieving a kind of perfect narrative symmetry. The performances — including a wonderful supporting turn by the great Cherry Jones (24) as a compassionate Roman Catholic sister who runs an adoption agency — are nothing short of sensational. Cedar Lee Theatre. **** (Milan Paurich)
Eleven disfigured people pose naked for a calendar in this award-winning German documentary about the ill effects of the drug thalidomide. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 5:30 p.m. Friday, June 4, and 5:30 p.m. Saturday, June 5.
As the newest inmate at a French prison, Malik (Tahar Rahim) is in a predicament: He must either kill a fellow Arab inmate or be killed by the prison's Corsican ringleader Cesar (Niels Arestrup). Malik tries to report his problem to the warden, but Cesar controls the prison guards and thwarts his efforts. Malik eventually kills the Arab and becomes Cesar's "eyes and ears." When Cesar's crew gets transfered, Malik becomes the kingpin's new right-hand man and moves into the cell next door. Cesar accelerates Malik's parole hearing, which leads to his release and job as Cesar's courier outside the pen, where Malik begins running a profitable business, thanks in part to his ability to navigate between the Corsican and Muslim communities. A Prophet is an epic film with a serious time commitment (it runs two and a half hours), but Jacques Audiard's graphically violent masterpiece is a spiritual journey propelled by Rahim's mesmerizing performance. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 6:45 p.m. Monday, June 7. **** (Niesel)
Recollections of the Yellow House
This strange film about a lonely man living in a Lisbon boarding house kicks off "Perverse Poet," a four-film series devoted to
João César Monteiro's films. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:05 p.m. Friday, June 4, and 9:05 p.m. Saturday, June 5.