Film Capsule Reviews

Friday, April 16, 10 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 19, 3 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Investigation Into the Invisible World(France, 2002)

Neither sufficiently convincing to pass as a serious film nor sufficiently amusing to qualify as a mockumentary, this strikingly shot oddity belongs to the "ersatz documentary" genre. Apparently, many of Iceland's 283,000 iconoclastic denizens commune with elves, ghosts, and the like, and there is no social stigma associated with such practices and beliefs. (If this movie were in English, it would play for months in Marin County.) Despite the sober testimony of numerous ordinary folks, mediums, and even a "fractal cosmology researcher" (if only my incompetent high school guidance counselor had alerted me to such a career!), we're left outside the circle of adherents -- unenlightened and unmoved. French filmmaker Jean-Michel Roux treats us to breathtaking aerial photography of the dramatic island but fails to surmount the fundamental obstacle: How do you evoke -- let alone show -- the invisible? (Michael Fox)

Friday, April 16, 9:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Saturday, April 17, 4:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki

The Miracle of Bern(Germany, 2003)

The crowd-pleasing German director Sonke Wortmann has made the best Hollywood-style movie in years, blending stellar production values, heartwarming payoffs, and a soupçon of social consciousness into a feel-good drama. It's 1954, and 12-year-old soccer nut Matthias -- along with his siblings and mother -- has trouble adjusting to his haunted father's return after 11 years in Soviet labor camps. This painful, confused chapter in Matthias' adolescence is woven into Germany's improbable run to the World Cup, which culminated in an upset of the invincible Hungarian team in the title match that ignited the country's confidence after a decade of depression and defeat. The movie boasts sharp writing, terrifically economical storytelling, and an endearing performance by the pre-pubescent Louis Klamroth as Matthias, and its rendering of the family's stumble-steps to reunification is genuinely touching. So it's especially unfortunate that late in the game, in the thralls of the hoariest conventions of both coming-of-age and sports-underdog stories, Miracle dives headlong into sentimentality. (Michael Fox)

Sunday, April 18, 5:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Tuesday, April 20, 1 p.m., AMC Kabuki

The Missing(Taiwan, 2003)

In The Missing, the lead actor of Tsai Ming-liang's Goodbye, Dragon Inn, Lee Kang-sheng, goes behind the camera as director and screenwriter, taking us on a cinéma vérité chase -- two chases, as it turns out -- through a Taipei that seems under constant reconstruction. An increasingly frantic grandmother runs up and down dirt mounds and hijacks scooters to find her 3-year-old grandson, and a young man emerges from a marathon gaming jag to search for his dead grandfather, in a world plagued by Alzheimer's, SARS, and the Coalition of the Willing. The occasional stranger is helpful, but the city itself is a series of walls, stairwells, and long hallways ending in the wrong child, the locked window, the dead end. Lee seems to have projected the loss of his own grandfather (to whom this film is dedicated) onto the loss of something elusive yet vital in Taiwanese life. (Frako Loden)

Sunday, April 18, 6:45 p.m., Pacific Film Archive; Tuesday, April 20, 7 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Saturday, April 24, 4:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Suite Habana(Cuba/Spain, 2003)

A near-wordless portrait of Havana over a 24-hour period, Fernando Pérez's film follows a dozen people, the majority of them working-class, through their daily lives. Operating mostly in alternating long shots and extreme close-ups, Pérez gets a great deal of mileage from an intricately planned soundtrack of music and street noise. It's an outstanding entry in the venerable "city symphony" genre, lacking the triumphant bombast of such variations as Walter Ruttmann's 1927 Berlin and Godfrey Reggio's 1983 Koyaanisqatsi. More modestly, it's a "suite," beginning and ending at night. The revolution is continuously evoked -- a 97-year-old woman seems to spend all day watching movies of rallies on TV -- but just as visible are rags, peeling paint, and rain-damaged portraits of the pope. The people of Havana are evidently poor yet resilient, but it's distressing that a retired professor of Marxism must work to get by, that an old woman "dreams no more" as she sells peanuts to live, and that the picture's one child protagonist has Down syndrome. (Gregg Rickman)

Friday, April 16, 9:25 p.m., Pacific Film Archive; Sunday, April 18, 5 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Tuesday, April 20, 1 p.m., Castro

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