CINEMA: Our Daily Film Fest Picks

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KASSIM THE DREAM (2008, directed by Kief Davidson, 87 minutes, U.S.)

Forrest Whitttaker produced this documentary about the unlikely journey of Ugandan born Junior Middleweight Champ Kassim “The Dream” Ouma.  Kidnapped from his school at the age of six and forced to become a lethal soldier in the Ugandan army, Kassim eventually defected to the U.S. while on a military boxing tour.  Kassim ended up wandering into a Virginia gym where his boxing talents gave him a recipe for The American Dream.  Kassim gives us a triumphant tale yet peppers the success with the reality that a childhood this profoundly traumatic may be overcome but that may not necessarily mean it is escaped. Kassim is haunted by the boys he killed as a child and being unable to return to Uganda keeps this pain unsettled.  Also interesting isKassim’s reaction to his manager’s satiric paintings of George W. Bush.  When Kassim sees the paintings unveiled for the first time he looks frightened.  He explains that such disrespect would lead to one’s imprisonment in Uganda (“You’d just disappear” he tells his manager) andKassim can’t be any more comfortable around this political artwork than he would be hanging around a crime scene.  Of course there is some exciting fight footage before Kassim The Dream‘s story builds to the boxer’s return to Uganda, which Kassim anticipates with a mix of hope and dread.   Despite being churned by the choppy seas of politics and personal tragedy, Kassim remains an extremely genial presence at the center of this invaluable portrait, where a troubled corner of modern Africa can help illuminate what it means to be an American.

Thursday April 2, 9:30, I-House
Friday April 3, 4:45, The Prince

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ZIFT (2008, directed by Javor Gardev, 92 minutes, Bulgaria)

The surreal meets the hyper-real in this smartly flashy black and white film noir that places its doomed anti-hero in 1960’s Bulgaria.  Vladislov Baharov adapted his philosophical crime novel which tells the story of Moth, an unflappable ex-con (played by the chrome-domed Zachary Baharov) released from prison after twenty years and into a communist nightmare where his only hope is to find his old girlfriend Sofia (the dark and dreamy TanyaIlieva ) and the stashed gem from an old botched heist.  Moth’s cellmate (who possesses the worst glass eye ever) warns him to stay away from Sofia, explaining that men are like sea coral, one touch from a woman will make them wither and die.  The film noir genre has been celebrated and spoofed so often you might wonder how much mileage can be squeezed from tough guys, femme fatales and heists gone wrong; turns out Bulgaria’s bleak locations and even bleaker Eastern Block outlook fits the genre like a glove.  Like The Coen Brothers at their best, first-time director Javor Gardev mixes the comic and the grotesque (there is a sea of gnarled old faces on display) with acrobatic camerawork and unpredictable action for a real cinematic wild ride to Hell.

Thursday April 2, 9:30, Ritz East 2
Saturday April 4, 5:30, The Bridge

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THE KING OF PING PONG (2008, directed by Jens Jonsson, 107 minutes, Sweden)

This Swedish coming-of-age story starts off like Napoleon Dynamite without the irony.  Rille is a red-headed  chubby young teen outcast, trying to impress kids with factoids about nuclear fuel and his outstanding ping-pong skills; he reinforces his self worth by obsessing over the fact that he has his own key to the ping pong cabinet in the town’s community center.  On the other hand,Rille is a kid who spends a lot of time having his face pushed in to the snow, his younger brother Eric is smoother with the girls andRille suspects his ne’er-do-well dad might like Eric more too.  The opening half of the film is spent finding quirky deadpan characters among the snow-swept small Swedish town, but it is the second half has seemed to lose many critics with its more serious turn.  This tone shift feels true though, the dismissed outsider is always in danger of stumbling off the deep end in adolescence.  The King of Ping Pong adds depth to its goofier side by letting its audience peer down into the teenage abyss without hurling us over the edge.

Thursday April 2, 2:15 Ritz East 2
Friday April 3, 7:15, Ritz East 2

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