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Review: A John Lennon bio and more upcoming films

Russian musical 'Hipsters' among those screened in Nashville

April 20, 2010

As I mentioned yesterday, I spent a long (but too short) weekend at the Nashville Film Festival. The Fest, run by former Indianapolis International Film Fest artistic director Brian Owens, offers a wide range of selections, many of which I'm hopeful will find their way into theaters near you (or, at least, to the Keystone Art Cinema).

Most of my work as a member of the New Directors jury was completed before I made the trek south, which freed up time for elective screenings. Without realizing it, I found myself gravitating toward films that revolved around the arts and artists.

Among them:

"Nowhere Boy": The opening night film looked at John Lennon's teen years and what could have been a fairly conventional band-on-the-rise saga turned into a fascinating character study of the two dominant women in the early life of the yet-to-be-Beatle. Kristin Scott Thomas ("The English Patient") is strong as Lennon's caretaking aunt, but the revelatory performance is offered by Anne-Marie Duff ("The Last Station") as the woman who birthed him but can't get a handle on motherhood. The weight comes from his complex relationship with these two. The fun comes from seeing the early connections with Paul and George. A U.S. release is scheduled for October when, I hope, Duff will be talked about for a Best Supporting Actress nomination.

"Applause."--Speaking of the Oscars, it's about time that a foreign-language performance was strongly considered in the Best Actor/Actress categories and here's one that could break the barrier. Paprika Steen gives not just a harrowing performance as Thea Barfoed, an actress just out of rehab, but she does it in near-constant, uncompromising close-up. On top of that, her character is starring in a production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and the scenes of the play-within-a film made me want to see the whole Steen-as-Barfoed-as-Martha performance. Given the uncompromising nature of the film, I'm not optomistic about a major release.

"The Concert."-- Sometimes, plot holes can sink a film. Other times, the pleasures are so great that improbabilities and narrative conveniences are easy to overlook. Such is the cast with this delightful, very funny shaggy dog tale about the former conductor of a Soviet orchestra who secretly pulls the old team back together for a concert in Paris. The first half has a "Dirty Dozen" zeal to it. The second half soars even higher thanks to true love of the music (with the Budapest Symphony doing the honors). Melanie Laurent ("Inglorious Basterds") is radient as a violinist fronting the band. A limited release is scheduled for July.

"Hipsters." -- It's being called a Russian "Footloose," but the "wow" style is more in line with the lesser-known "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." A group of American-influenced teens in 1950s Russian buck the system by singing, dancing, and wearing really big pompadours in this crazily designed, smile-inducing, can-you-top-this lark. No word on a release date but, come on, this has cult hit written all over it.

"The Bass Player: A Song for Dad."-- I'm not naive enough to think that a tender, honest documentary about a father-son relationship is going to be seen by many people, but one of the pleasures of film festivals is the chance (and the excuse) to attend movies you otherwise might not find time for. In this gem, director Niall Mckay gently takes us into the world of his family, creating a deeply human portrait of his father, a musician who survived both the suicide of his first wife and the early death of his second. Here's hoping this one ends up at either the Indianapolis International Film Festival or the Heartland Film Festival. It would comfortably fit into either.

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