Reviews of the Cinematheque's weekend films

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The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque is showing several great movies this weekend. Here are reviews of just a few of them.

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The Man from London (France/Germany/Hungary, 2007) What might have been a conventional film noir is transformed into a typically gorgeous, wildly opaque objet d’art by Magyar auteur Béla Tarr (Satantango, Werckmeister Harmonies). Based on a little-known novel by Georges Simenon, Tarr’s movie is less about plot (something involving a missing satchel filled with money, the unsuspecting railway worker who finds it and mysterious men attempting to retrieve its contents) than it is about how cool shadows look reflected on water and Tarr’s zen-like mastery of really long panning shots. The fact that most of the cast is dubbed into French only adds an extra layer of obfuscation (a Tarr specialty). In another movie that might have been fatal, but the vocal dislocation only heightens the existential dread. Oscar winner Tilda Swinton plays the railway worker’s understandably crabby wife, and it’s her real voice — speaking perfectly enunciated French — that we hear on the soundtrack. At 7:15 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20 and 8:25 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21. *** (Milan Paurich)

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Unmade Beds (Britain, 2009) In the opening scene of Unmade Beds, 20-year-old bisexual Axl (Fernando Tielve) wakes up next to a girl he doesn’t recognize, wondering if he slept with her the night before. It’s a typical morning for the kid from Madrid who’s trying to find himself in London. That’s half of the movie’s story. The other part belongs to Vera (Déborah François), a French transplant who works in a bookstore but tells boys she meets that she’s a flight attendant. While their paths rarely cross (until the end of the film, of course), Axl and Vera share a warehouse with other young European hipsters who are hanging on to their adolescence. Unmade Beds often plays like a series of vignettes featuring the pair going through their daily lives. Scenes switch back and forth between them: She works and flirts with a guy she meets at a club; he trails a real-estate agent who may be his long-lost father.
The boys and girl on the brink of adulthood here aren’t as wayward as most of their indie-film contemporaries. Many of them have jobs, even if they do spend most of their free time hanging out in clubs, drinking and looking for love (or at least sex). Director Alexis Dos Santos lingers on his characters, but he doesn’t quite know what to do with them. They talk, they smoke, they drink and they make love, but there isn’t much conflict — unless young twentysomethings enjoying their last grab at responsibility-free living counts. (These kids aren’t all that fucked up, and Axl’s daddy issues really don’t amount to much.) It doesn’t help that Axl is needy and annoying (he tends to forget people’s names, especially the ones he’s in bed with), and Vera is boring and aloof (her face is perpetually blank, whether she’s having sex or stocking books). Whatever resolution Unmade Beds offers takes place in the bedroom; characters hang out there, fuck there and make art there. They’ll also put you to sleep there. At 6:45 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 18, and 9:45 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19. ** 1/2 (Michael Gallucci)

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Until the Light Takes Us (U.S., 2008) Penelope Spheeris apparently stopped releasing her aberrant rock-music documentaries after one flopped at Sundance. Here, as a substitute (rockumentary methodone, practically), is Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell’s choppy, low-budget oral history of Norwegian satanic black metal that, in early 1990s Scandinavia, inspired serial church-burnings, homicides and band/musician names like Dead, Hellhammer and Darkthrone. Interviewed out of their face paint, the rockers, now in their 30s, speak of black metal as a heroic, melodious style (deliberately utilizing the worst mics and amps they could scrounge) that came hand-in-chainmail glove with an embrace of ancient Norse-pagan tradition and rejection of corporate consumerism (mainstream heavy metal included), NATO, MacDonalds and a Judeo-Christian tradition they claim to still consider alien and invasive after 10 centuries. Convicted murderer Varg Vikernes, resembling a healthy backpacker and cheerfully calling prison his “monastery,” is lucid and interesting, until his spiel segues effortlessly into anti-Semitism and homophobia. No women are seen, though Saturday Night Live’s Rachel Dratch is an uncanny look-alike for tattooed, black-metal elder statesman Gylve “Fenriz” Nagell, now a firebreathing multimedia performance artist. A lack of concert footage is a drawback ... or maybe not. At 9:50 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21. ** 1/2 (Charles Cassady Jr.)

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