Top pic picks - Page 4

SFIFF: Short takes on festival flicks

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14-18: The Noise and the Fury

Russian Lessons (Olga Konskaya and Andrei Nekrasov, Russia/Norway/Georgia, 2010) I remember watching the news two summers ago and feeling confused by the details of the Russia-Georgia War, the culmination of a dispute over the territory of South Ossetia. There seemed to be a haziness about who started what. Russian Lessons offers Olga Konskaya and Andrei Nekrasov's version of what happened that summer and indicts Russian and mainstream international news organizations for exactly that failure to present a satisfactory chronology. Konskaya, a theater director and documentary producer, filmed events as they unfolded on the Northern end of the conflict while Nekrasov, a veteran documentarian, filmed in the South. The result is a collection of interviews with residents of recently bombed Georgian towns, confrontations with Russian soldiers, and investigations of still-smoldering battle sites. The filmmakers spend an equal amount of time scrutinizing source footage from the war and its antecedents, exposing how it was used to mislead the international community. It's a disturbing and persuasive rebuttal to the Putin administration's official side of the story. April 28, 3:15 p.m., Kabuki; April 29, 12:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 1, 6:15 p.m., Kabuki. (Shamai)

Restrepo (Tim Hetherington and Sabastian Junger, USA, 2010) Starting mid-'07, journalists-filmmakers Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger spent some 15 months off and on embedded with a U.S. Army platoon in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, a Taliban stronghold with steep, mountainous terrain that could hardly be more advantageous for snipers. Particularly once a second, even more isolated outpost is built, the soldiers' days are fraught with tension, whether they're ordered out into the open on a mission or staying put under frequent fire. Strictly vérité, with no political commentary overt or otherwise, the documentary could be (and has been) faulted for not having enough of a "narrative arc" — as if life often does, particularly under such extreme circumstances. But it's harrowingly immediate (the filmmakers themselves often have to dive for cover) and revelatory as a glimpse not just of active warfare, but of the near-impossible challenges particular to foreign armed forces trying to make any kind of "progress" in Afghanistan. April 30, 3:45 p.m., Kabuki; May 2, 4:15 p.m., PFA; May 4, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki. (Harvey)

Animal Heart (Séverine Cornamusaz, France/Switzerland, 2009) This first feature by Séverine Cornamusaz has a story that would have fit just as well into the cinema of 1920 — or the literature of Thomas Hardy or George Eliot 50 years earlier. Paul (Olivier Rabourdin) is the gruff owner of family lands in the Swiss Alps, raising livestock whom he treats better than wife Rosine (Camille Japy). When he's forced to hire a seasonal hired hand in the form of Eusebio (Antonio Bull), the easygoing Spaniard's concern for ailing Rosine incites not Paul's compassion but his brute jealousy. This elemental triangle set amid the severe elements of its spectacularly shot setting has a suitably blunt (but not crude) power; it leads not where you might expect but to a hard-won fadeout of audacious intimacy. April 30, 4 p.m., Clay; May 2, 9:15 p.m., Clay; May 3, 6 p.m., Kabuki. (Harvey)