In this intense study of a few days in the life of a Bolivian illegal immigrant trying to make it as a grill cook in Argentina, director Adri‡n Israel Caet‡no's style is reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch in the film 'Down by Law,' all harsh chiaroscuro and timely silences. Protagonist Freddy keeps his head down as he serves the underemployed taxi drivers who sit around watching TV and quietly grumbling about foreigners taking all the jobs. He scrambles to pay his rent at a cheap hotel and gets an advance on his pay to call home to his wife and kids. Things aren't so black and white, though, as our underdog is soon playing tonsil hockey with the attractive Paraguayan waitress Rosa and blowing his wages in a nightclub. (6:30 p.m. Feb. 24, Guild; 4:30 p.m. Feb. 26, Broadway) (Joseph Gallivan)
'Doing Time' (Japan)
This wonderful Japanese prison movie stars Yamazaki Tsutomu from the foodie classic 'Tampopo,' and it also shares that movie's love of Japanese style, design and ritual. Five supposedly hardened criminals share a cell and spend their time sweeping, folding blankets and perfectly aligning all straight edges. Based on a manga cartoon, this is an odd but perfect complement to last year's 'Spirited Away.' Although it starts confusingly, with what appears to be an amateur gun club getting busted, you soon settle into the daily prison rhythm of inspections, meals and shop (making wooden covers for tissue boxes). Korean-Japanese director Sai Yoichi shows superb control, managing to be amusing without trivializing the experience. To Western eyes, the discipline is unbelievably strict, and compliance is high. The hero spends some time in solitary and ends up folding the paper bags for a pharmacy with monkish dedication. Anyone with an Office Depot fetish will love this film. (4:30 p.m. Feb. 15 and 7 p.m.
Feb. 18, Guild) (JG)
'Grill Point' (Germany)
This is one of the reasons you may tend to instinctively dismiss movies shot on video. Director Andreas Dresen, a Mike Leigh wannabe, employs a forced intimacy that simply annoys rather than encourages identification with his four main characters. The lives of two married couples are forever altered when a blithely self-absorbed husband takes up with his best friend's unhappy wife, but the misery is mostly ours. Dresen's 'hey, this is real!' style forces us so close to the characters that we never really see them, and we barely see anything anyway thanks to the skim-milky look of the video. You don't necessarily get to know people just because you feel like you're sharing their underwear. (7:15 p.m. Feb. 14 and 8:45 p.m. Feb. 19, Broadway) (Pat Holmes)
Ah, the idyllic village life! A gnomish old man sits in front of his house, hiccuping. A nice old lady picks flowers. A shepherd girl sits back against a tree and listens to music as she watches her flock. Pigs mate as their owners look on approvingly. So what's wrong with this bucolic picture? Maybe the number of people who end up dead. How? Watch closely. Director Gyšrgy P‡lfi's short (75 minutes) and sneaky series of sunny vignettes adds up to something funny and darkly sinister, all without the aid of dialogue. But the sounds are carefully and cleverly orchestrated in what could well be the festival's sleeper hit. (6:30 p.m. Feb. 20 and 6:15 p.m. Feb. 23, Broadway) (PH)
'Laurel Canyon' (United States)
An almost-married pair of Harvard grads (Christian Bale and Kate Beckinsale) pursue their futures in Los Angeles and find out what a tricky state 'almost' can be. The easy, sun-dappled atmosphere of the title neighborhood is neatly captured by director Lisa Cholodenko, who tinges the laid-back romance of the locale with a subtle edge of humor and emotional tension. Frances McDormand is great as Bale's record-producer mom, who promises not to embarrass her son with her presence, then makes herself omnipresent with some surprising results. The performance is impressive enough by itself, but it makes for a lively contrast with the concerned mother McDormand played so memorably in 'Almost Famous.' (7 p.m. Feb. 14,
Whitsell; 7 p.m. Feb. 20, Guild) (PH)
'Lilja 4-Ever' (Sweden)
Lilja is a 16-year-old girl whose mother abandons her and flees to the United States, away from the crumbling apartment towers in a Russian no man's land. Left alone in squalor, Lilja becomes a prostitute. She befriends neighborhood orphan Volodya until she's tricked into a new life in Sweden and abandons him. God gets even in a heavy-handed manner, and even some magic realism can't help. 'Lilja' is winsome and charming, but at times the movie is like watching somebody jump out of a plane without a parachute. 100 minutes long, seems like more.
(6 p.m. Feb. 15 and 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 16, Whitsell) (Paul Duchene)
'The Man on the Train' (France)
Another gem from director Patrice Leconte ('Monsieur Hire,' 'Ridicule,' 'Girl on the Bridge'), this unclassifiable tale moves effortlessly through a range of moods and feelings that some directors won't approach in their entire careers, let alone 90 nearly perfect minutes. A bank robber (French rock star and sometime actor Johnny Hallyday) arrives in a provincial city for a caper, can't find a vacant room, and is put up by a retired teacher (the great Jean Rochefort), who quickly guesses that his roomer is no tourist. As a surprising friendship develops, each man discovers a bittersweet longing for the life chosen by the other. The beautifully matched actors inhabit those lives and intertwine them with a grace matched by the richness and subtlety of Leconte's style. The festival aside; this is so surprising and captivating, with such an astonishingly moving climax, you'll be lucky to see a better movie this year.
(7 p.m. Feb. 15, Guild; 7 p.m. Feb. 18, Broadway) (PH)
'The Man Without a Past' (Finland)
A man gets off a train in Helsinki, gets beaten up by thugs, is pronounced dead, rises from his hospital bed and starts a new life with a waterfront community of misfits. Aki KaurismŠki, deadpan wrangler of the 'Leningrad Cowboys,' rustles up plenty of eccentric fun as his amnesiac hero (Markku Peltola, the perfect embodiment of KaurismŠki's sly technique) trusts to strangers and fate, and finds them oddly accommodating. Nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language film. (7:15 p.m. Feb.14, and 2:45 p.m. Feb. 16, Guild) (PH)
'New Suit' (United States)
Charming Hollywood insider fable about an aspiring screenwriter who invents a hot script that his colleagues can't admit they haven't read. The young leads are charming unknowns, and veteran Dan Hedaya ruthlessly parodies hard-partying megaproducer Don Simpson. Starts with great energy and some good jokes but wears thin toward the end when the story fails to come up with an essential final twist. But the setup is fun, and anybody who knows the business will recognize some of the same gags that made 'The Player' so much fun. Or you could simply rent that one. (8 p.m. Feb. 21, Broadway) (PD)
'Russian Ark' (Russia)
This is one of the reasons you shouldn't instinctively dismiss movies shot on video. In one spectacular 90-minute take, director Alexander Sokurov sweeps us through the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, displaying not only centuries of art but the history it represents. An unseen narrator and a European diplomat are our guides through what proves to be a timeless cultural repository, populated by ghosts of the past and eternal treasures. A breathtaking accomplishment, in which even those not well-versed in history can become immersed. (7:30 p.m. Feb. 23, Whitsell) (PH)
'Safe Conduct' (France)
The recent films of director Bertrand Tavernier haven't been imported with the regularity of his earlier stuff ('Coup de Torchon,' 'Round Midnight,' 'A Sunday in the Country'), so you should take what has become a rare opportunity here. This is an intimately scaled epic, based on fact, of filmmakers in occupied France during World War II, specifically a director who works with the resistance and a Jewish writer who works for a Nazi-controlled studio. As always, Tavernier manages to craft an expansive, compassionate story with depth of character to match the breadth of scope. (7 p.m. Feb. 25, Guild; 7 p.m. Feb. 26, Broadway) (PH)
'Wild Bees' (Czech Republic)
A movie about small-town Czechs suffering under capitalism is always going to be funnier than one about the same people suffering under communism. But only just. Director Bohdan Sl‡ma shows the gritty side of Czech life, which at times feels like Chaucer in its bawdiness. The only thing that has changed about this world of slums and sluts is the appearance of dirt bikes and a Michael Jackson fanatic. There's not much of a plot, but the social details stick in the mind. (JG)
(3:45 p.m. Feb. 15 and 7 p.m. Feb. 22, Whitsell)