Ms Piff turns 36 in 2017

It’s here.  Thank God and Goddesses, it’s spring! Two things mean spring in Minneapolis: The film festival and Mayday.
The 36th Annual Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival (Ms Piff to those of us who care), April 13-29, will be bringing us 350+ new films from more than 70 countries. What a cure for cabin fever! Finally, a good reason and a good time to go outside and see what the world is thinking.
All films will be shown at St. Anthony Main, unless otherwise noted.







Industrialized agriculture’s takeover of American farms has caused decades-long devastation for small farms, families and rural communities. While this concept isn’t new to most of us, “Look and See” gives a different perspective.
The film, full of profound cinematography and told through the lens of author Wendell Berry, follows small farmers in his hometown of Henry County, Ky. The farmers share their accounts of the debt, disappointment and injustice they have experienced through the transition from small to industrial farms.
Berry narrates through reading his poems, stories and thoughts.  Much of the film takes place on his longtime home and farm, which brings an intimate perspective on Berry’s life as an author, farmer and impactful agricultural activist.
Although the tone is entirely somber, “Look and See” is a refreshing divergence from the important but often one-sided food issue documentaries that have become popular in the last few years. The film leaves you with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the story and struggle behind the individuals that bring food to your plate.  (Raina Goldstein Bunnag)
80 minutes
Mon Apr 17 at 7:15 pm and Sat Apr 22 at 9:30 am

In 1988, in the sleepy Venezuelan town of El Amparo on the border with Colombia, a group of men get hired for the day to go fishing down the river.  They are singing, drinking and arguing with their wives. They aren’t thinking about the Colombian Army or the Venezuelan Army or about various guerrilla and paramilitary groups active in the area. Only two of the men return. They soon become aware of what the radio says happened to their friends and relatives, but they know the truth of their own experience.
There is turmoil in the village as people realize their powerlessness against the forces around them. What options do they have? The astonishing strength and heroism of the survivors and some of the other villagers is inspiring as they commit to the truth whatever the cost. To this day their struggle continues. The imbalance between the powerful and the powerless goes on. (Elaine Klaassen)
99 minutes
Wed Apr 19 at 9:30 pm and Fri Apr 28 at 9:45 pm

It’s hard to decide which is the best feature of “Paradise,”Andre Konchalovsky’s film set in France and an unspecified concentration camp. Is it the amazing performances of the three principal characters—Julia Vysotskaya as Russian emigree princess Olga, Christian Clauss as aristocratic Nazi officer Helmut, and Phillipe Duquesne as corrupt Vichy policeman Jules—who form what I guess you could call an unconsummated love triangle? Is it the fact that a film has actually found new angles to explore and new things to say and portray about the most relentlessly documented thing in the 20th century: the Nazi regime and the Holocaust? Is it the astonishingly beautiful cinematography of Aleksandr Simonov, an “ink and porcelain,” retro-monochrome vision that somehow looks almost futuristic, or perhaps outside of time altogether? “Paradise” has all these things, plus a complex tale that utterly sucks you in, and a marvelous plot twist about halfway through and then another one at the end. (Debra Keefer Ramage)
130 minutes
Wed Apr 19 at 2 pm (Uptown Theatre), Fri Apr 21 at 6:50 pm, and Thu Apr 27 at 4:15 pm

Saudi Arabia
An ordinary young guy, Barakah, who works for the city government enforcing nit-picking regulations, is swept off his feet by Bibi, a young woman in the grip of Western-style materialism. Each leads a quirky life. Barakah’s cook is a midwife involved in spells and incantations, his drunken uncle is the keeper of eternal wisdom, and, together with an eccentric friend, Barakah acts in all-male theatrical company. Bibi, whose real name suggests the two were destined for one another, is an Instagram star with endless cash, noble ideals and a domineering mother. The two young people are thwarted at every turn by the separation of genders that exists in modern Saudi Arabia.  In every breath of this sweet, funny and sad love story, the repressive regime is criticized. Toward the end of this visually delightful film, there’s a short historical reference to the events of 1979 that led to today’s clamp-down. It doesn’t seem possible that this film was allowed to leave Saudi Arabia, but it has been premiered—and lauded—in Europe, North America and South America. (Elaine Klaassen)
84 minutes
Thu Apr 20 at 9:35 pm, Sat Apr 22 at 5:15 pm, and Thu Apr 27 at 9:45 pm (Rochester Galaxy 14 Cine)

“The Nest” is a tense, honest drama set in a small Italian mountain village called Bucco. A young woman named Cora returns from college to work for her family’s small tourism company, catering to pilgrims who come to see where the Virgin Mary appeared. But just as Cora arrives, so does a stranger named Saverio, who also grew up in Bucco, but who brings a dark secret home with him. Cora is determined to find out what it is, but as she starts to uncover the truth, she finds that its roots lead back to her own family, and her own notion of her past begins to unravel. The film is wound tight with the tensions of small-town life, where the past is buried just under the shallow soil of the present, and it’s a welcome reflection on the stories we tell ourselves about the places from which we come. (Frank Bures)
80 minutes
Thu Apr 20 at 5 pm and Fri Apr 28 at 2:30 pm

New Zealand
In this poignant artist-coming-of-age film, a young man named Stanley enrolls in an acting school in Auckland, New Zealand, where he finds himself under the spell of the school’s charismatic leader, Hannah, who runs things with an iron fist. (In some ways “The Rehearsal” feels like a mash-up of the TV series “Glee” and the 2014 movie “Whiplash.”) As Stanley’s group decides on a controversial year-end project, he is put in the awkward position of trying to collect the details of the scandal involving his girlfriend’s sister. This sends him into a moral minefield as he weighs his varying loyalties and tries to decide who to betray. “The Rehearsal” is Alison Maclean’s first film since “Jesus’ Son” in 1999, and it is a worthy comeback. Some of the narrative strands could have been woven together more tightly at the end, but the film will likely be satisfying to anyone interested in questions emerging from the intersection of art and life. (Frank Bures)
102 minutes
Thu Apr 20 at 7:15 pm and Sat Apr 29 at 9:50 pm

This is the true story of Olli Mäki, the famous Finnish boxer who fought the American Davey Moore for the World Featherweight title in 1962. It’s the first championship match ever held in Finland and it puts amazing pressure on Olli to make his country proud. It is beautifully shot in black and white and the acting is terrific. Olli, known as “The Baker of Kokkola,” has to go to great extremes to try and make the proper weight, and realizes that he’s madly in love with his girlfriend, Raya, while she is becoming increasingly fed up with the pomp and circumstance surrounding this boxing match.  Not just for sports lovers, this film will be enjoyed by all. (David Goldstein)
92 minutes
Fri Apr 21 at 7 pm (Rochester Galaxy 14 Cinema)

Somewhere in the countryside of Kenya is a resort that is not a resort. The place is called Kati Kati, which is Swahili for “in between.” It is where a young woman named Kaleche finds herself with no memory of how she got there, in this brilliant, unexpected film. She is there, the others tell her, because she is dead.  After she comes to accept this, she tries to adapt to the strange rhythms of life—if that’s what it is—in Kati Kati, under the direction of Thoma who seems to be a kind of leader. At the same time, she knows she must try to remember her former life if she has any hope of continuing on her journey from the place where she is to wherever it is that she will be. (Frank Bures)
75 minutes
Sat Apr 22 at 11am and Wed Apr 26 at 9:45 pm

This is the true story of a 12-year-old who led her two younger sisters and a half dozen other children out of Nazi-occupied France and Italy to safety in Switzerland. It is a harrowing adventure story.
The point of understanding history is to not repeat it. Unfortunately, Donald Trump and his supporters will probably not see this film, and his immigration policies will tragically repeat the horrors of the past. The hatred of Jews by the Nazis is now directed at Latinos. Trump called them “rapists” and justified criminalizing all Latin Americans. (Ed Felien)
“Fanny’s Journey” brings back the horror of the “Nazi Solution” as seen through the eyes of French children whose crime was to have been born Jewish. They are made to see the terror of persecution, the worst of humanity and suffer the constant fear of capture when they should be enjoying adolescence. They had to assume non-Jewish names, fabricate a new identity and seek shelter and safety with various organizations that hid them from the Germans until someone inevitably informed the Gestapo and they had to escape once more.
While Trump’s immigration policy is horrendous, hideous and needs to be stopped, it cannot be compared to the rounding up and killing of millions of men, women and children that Adolph Hitler unleashed on the world. We have to make sure the world never forgets and that it never comes to that again for any race, creed, nationality or color. (David Goldstein)
94 minutes
Sun Apr 23 at 1:45 pm

Kids on the loose! In Germany! Running amok! Norbert Lechner has directed a colorful and buoyant narrative film that submerges viewers into youthful immaturity, poor judgment, courage, creativity, and eventually, good fortune. Living in Germany, Vietnamese sisters Ling, 11, and her sister, Tien, age 9, are forced to team up with 11-year-old Pauline, a German girl rejected and bullied by her own peer group. When their mother is forced to return to Vietnam to care for a parent, the sisters’ efforts to remain under the radar screen to avoid deportation are sabotaged in a series of mishaps. All ends well, and in the process, consciousness is raised about the relative ease and privilege of dominant culture versus the minefield of immigrant terrain—surely a timely and relevant global theme. This comic film sugarcoats the reality of these challenges in the real world—Germany has its own shades of Hollywood. (Nancy Ruppenthal)
96 minutes
Sun Apr 23 at 9:15 am

“Divine Divas” is about a group of retired trans women and drag queen entertainers in Brazil. This amazing film follows the careers of these entertainers and their huge success performing in the ’50s. The volume of their success is surprising, considering the incredible amount of transphobia in the world following World War II. The women in this film open up about their lives, coming out and becoming performers. Their huge success in drag shows and performances took them all over the world, to places like New York and Paris. These women lived in luxury, traveling the world with full support from their audience and fans. In some cases, after coming out, their families would pay for their flights or surgeries. This is not the usual story for trans women in the ’50s, or even a familiar story for most trans women today. In any case, the stories of these women are worth hearing, and make for a wonderful film.  (Cooper)
110 minutes
Sun Apr 23 at 9:40 pm

The first feature film by young female Arab-Israeli filmmaker Maysaloum Hamoud is probably a little bit autobiographical, or at least focuses on a community she knows well, and is all the better for that. Billed as a comedy, it is bittersweet in its humor, but clearly pure sweetness in its affection for the three main characters, a more likeable “Sex in the City” trio than the American originals. There is a clear bad guy in the hypocritical fiance of dutiful Muslim grad student Nour (Shaden Kanbourah); a more nuanced antagonist in the admirable but flawed love interest of attorney and party girl Layla (Mouna Hawa); a terrifying patriarch in the father of Christian lesbian Salma (Sama Jammalieh); and finally a minor but shining hero in the father of Nour: He comforts and affirms his daughter when she breaks off the “perfect” betrothal he had so carefully arranged for her, and she can’t even tell him why. The Arabic title literally means “Land / Sea” and has the connotation of “neither here nor there.” The director and the three female leads all received death threats for this complex representation of women at the crossroads of two cultures and trying to self-actualize under the patriarchy, not easy even in the relatively permissive “West.” (Debra Keefer Ramage)
96 minutes
Mon Apr 24 at 9:40 pm and Thu Apr 27 at 9:45 pm

Tairo is a lion tamer with a small circus that travels the Italian countryside, both in real life and in this touching film, which blends fact and fiction in a way that Rainer Frimmel and Tizza Covi have used in their previous films exploring the lives of circus people. In their films, the performers act out scripted versions of their real lives. In “Mister Universo” things start to go wrong for Tairo when his lucky piece of iron is stolen, and he sets out to find the man who gave it to him years ago: circus strongman Arthur Robin (the real-life 1957 Mr. Universe). It’s a quiet film, almost dogmatic in sensibility, and it relies heavily on the interactions between characters, while also giving viewers a fascinating view of the fringes of Italian society, as well as reflecting on the charms we all count on to help us steer our fate in the right direction. (Frank Bures)
90 minutes
Tue Apr 25 at 4:30 pm and Thu Apr 27 at 9:50 pm

Natasha is a very depressed Russian woman in her 50s who lives with her mother and has a miserable job with petty, abusive co-workers. Her drab existence is compounded by dizziness and lower back pain that lead her to a series of awful doctors’ offices. Oh, and did I mention that she grew a tail? While being X-rayed she develops an uplifting romance with Peter, the radiologist. Natasha has a renewed zest for life, gets her hair dyed and styled and buys sexy clothes as she enjoys her new relationship. Still, things are not all peachy. She gets demoted at work and is eventually forced to resign. Her romance is beginning to show signs of waning and her depression returns rapidly.
This is a little gem of a film that lays bare sad reminders of life in Russia. Particularly if you are gay, not the “right” religion, an outspoken artist or just not like everybody else. (David Goldstein)
87 minutes
Wed Apr 26 at 9:50 pm and Sat Apr 29 at 9:40 pm

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