January 20, 2004

International film series resumes Jan. 25-26

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale's International Film Series continues its 2003-04 season with free screenings of the Oscar-nominated documentary "Winged Migration" Sunday and Monday, Jan. 25 and 26, in the Life Science III auditorium.

Other shows slated for spring semester include John Sayles' downbeat "City of Hope" (Feb. 8-9), the Broadway play-turned-screenplay "Taking Sides" (Feb. 29 - March 1), "Russian Ark" (March 21-22), an offbeat fantasy that defies classification, China's neo-realistic "Not One Less" (April 11-12), Sundance Festival screenwriting winner "Big Night" (April 18) and the quirky British comedy "Waking Ned Devine" (April 25-26). All films air at 7 p.m.

With footage shot from, among other vantage points, ultralight planes and hot-air balloons, "Winged Migration" follows birds and the lives they lead as they journey hundreds of miles across the skies. Using the barest of narratives, French director Jacques Perrin relies on the camera to sketch in details of the lives -- and deaths -- of those that continually pass above our heads.

Set in New Jersey, "City of Hope" casts a gloomy eye on big-city corruption and the complexities of good and evil. Awash in subplots -- the film has 50 speaking roles, including a small one for the filmmaker himself -- it focuses on a few men of conscience struggling against both the political machine and their own instincts. Actor Jon Farris, who has a small role in the film, will introduce the Monday showing.

Based on the real-life American military investigation right after World War II of one of Hitler's favorite orchestra conductors, "Taking Sides" resembles a cinematic debate between the demands of morality and the imperatives of art. Is art beyond politics? Should one person take the blame for evil done by all? No answers here -- just more questions, which an Honors Program panel will discuss after the Monday night show.

"Russian Ark," shot in St. Petersburg's Russian State Hermitage Museum in one 96-minute take, is told from the vantage point of a modern-day Russian who has somehow slipped the surly bonds of time and is now wandering through Russian history itself as he makes his way around the exhibits. Accompanied by a fellow traveler -- a 19th-century Frenchman who, in his own time, wrote dismissively about Russian culture -- the unseen narrator gets an unusual look at his country's past and the characters who people it.

"Not One Less" begins with a 13-year-old girl roped into serving as a substitute teacher when the village school's headmaster leaves to take care of his dying mother. She'll get a bonus if all the students -- and not one less -- are still in class when he returns. The plot revolves around her efforts to win that bonus. This is a feel-good film with enough laughter and tears to satisfy everyone who complains that movies aren't what they used to be.

"Big Night," set in small-town New Jersey in the 1950s, offers an American twist on the lovely Danish film "Babette's Feast" shown during SIUC's 2002 film season. Two brothers -- a practical businessman and an artistic chef -- scheme to save their failing Italian restaurant by putting on a fabulous feed for a popular bandleader in hopes that he will then promote the business. As with the screening of "Babette," Honors Program organizers plan to recreate this meal at the De Soto restaurant, Tom's Place, as a fundraiser.

When "Ned Devine" wins 7 million pounds in the lottery and drops dead from the shock, his fellow villagers conspire to fool the Lotto Man into thinking he's still alive so they can collect the check and split the prize. Eccentric villagers, impossible obstacles, a love story and a wild, nude motorcycle ride help this comedy of heirs take its place among such British classics as "The Full Monty" and "The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain."