FEST PICKS: Afghan Strongmen & The Matrix Redux



AFGHAN MUSCLES (2007, directed by Andreas Dalsgaard, 58 minutes, Denmark)

Usually when I’m talking to Festival goers right after the schedule is announced, they proclaim to be unimpressed. Sure they recognize a few titles to get excited about but who’s ever heard about the rest of these films anyway? But what was that song Bo Diddley sang about books and their covers? I certainly had no clue by looking at the blurb for Afghan Muscles that it would be one of the most memorable Festival films I’ve seen so far. I’m not sure what even drew me towards it, I’m not much of a sports fan and certainly not the sport of competition bodybuilding. The lesson that this concise 58- minute documentary shows is that even the most obscure subject can reveal surprising insights when explored by inquisitive and savvy filmmakers.

When we first meet bodybuilder Hamid in his rural Afghan village he doesn’t instantly win us over. He’s overbearing, full of that braggadocios competitive spirit and anxious to show us that he is a big man in his barren, desert village. His uncle is pressuring him to get married but he just wants to hang out with his best friend Noor and someday hopefully win big in the sport so he can buy his own gym. Occasionally he can scare up some illegal performanceFIlmFestogoheaderCROPPED.jpg enhancers on the black market, most of the time he’s just doing all he can just to procure his diet of fifteen eggs a day his protein-rich diet demands.

It isn’t until he heads to Kabul for the first time to appear in the Mr. Asia contest that Hamid’s story takes shape as the ageless story of a country boy in the city, wide-eyed and overwhelmed by modern city life (“It’s so bright in here!” he says in disbelief at the local mall). His trip humbles him in many ways, for starters his big city competitors aren’t scrounging for fifteen eggs, they’ve got briefcases of steroids which Hamid eyes longingly. When the contest ends and once again we see Hamid back in the comfort of his village we feel his love for his home and the boisterous life he has there. “I’m not a city person” he finally decides, and we find something surprisingly triumphant about seeing this musclehead in his moment of self-knowledge.

One Show Only!
Monday April 7, 5:00pm International House


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kk_downey_set_0044_1.jpgWHO IS K.K. DOWNEY? (2008, directed by Darren Curtis & Pat Kiely, 90 minutes, Canada)

A comic take on the J.T. Leroy scandal, Montreal comedy group Kidnapper Films tell the story of Theo (Matt Silver), a dorky suburban wannabee novelist. When editors balk at publishing his gritty tome titled “Truckstop Hustler” he gets his best friend and bandmate Terrance (bug-eyed Darren Curtis) to pose as the degenerate boy prostitute. The comedy will sporadically remind you of The Kids In The Hall yet the way the script strains to be constantly outrageous with its rat-a-tat delivery that finally becomes too exhausting. Yet even as you’re aware this too-shrill vehicle isn’t going to find its footing it occasionally hits a bullseye, usually at the expense of the artsy tight-jeaned hipsters, salivating like suckers at the details of K.K.’s sordid past. And there is some priceless mugging; this is one comedy that seems to have a cast that is funnier than its material. — D.B.

Monday April 7th, 9:30 Ritz East
Wednesday April 9th, 5:15pm Ritz East



storm_1.jpgSTORM (2005, directed by Mans Marlind & Bjorn Stein, 110 minutes, Sweden)

Realizing that it is arriving in the U.S. three years after it was made helps forgive Storm a little for being such a shameless Matrix rip-off. But just a little. Like the Russian fantasy hit Nightwatch, its always curious to see how the American-style of C.G.I.-heavy blockbusters has infected cinema worldwide. The part where our hero Donny (Eric Ericson) is being chased by a group of supernatural killer agents could be stolen from any half-assed U.S. comic book movie (although at least we wouldn’t have the stiff English dubbing we get here). Storm gets more interesting when it sends our hero back in time to find out how his sadistic teen behavior has thrown the future of the universe into peril. Here the film’s pedestrian action drops dead, wallowing in extended scenes of dark psychological turmoil which has more of a connection with Bergman than the Wachowski Brothers. Of course this rests none-too-comfortably next to freeze-frame kung-fu battles and slow-motion glass shattering but at least you go home knowing what makes a Swedish blockbuster uniquely Swedish: a good dollop of childhood trauma. — D.B.

Monday April 7th 9:45 Prince Music Theater
Sunday April 13th, 9:30 Ritz East



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