May 16, 2013

Indie Film: Ambiguous, or maddening? Your call

'Like Someone in Love' is fascinatingly opaque; 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' is thuddingly prosaic.

By DENNIS PERKINS

If you're looking for some film fare that doesn't involve a guy in a metal suit or a pointy-eared Vulcan this weekend, I've got a double feature for you.

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Rin Takanashi in “Like Someone in Love,” showing at the Portland Museum of Art this weekend.

IFC Films

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Kate Hudson and Riz Ahmed in “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” opening at the Nickelodeon in Portland.

IFC Films

COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS

SPACE GALLERY, Portland

(space.538.org)

Friday: "Leviathan." Groundbreaking, excitingly filmed documentary about the past, present and future of the commercial fishing industry, centered on the crew of a working fishing boat in the legendary fishing community of New Bedford, Mass. Preceded by the short film "Magnetic Reconnection," about the manmade waste surrounding a fishing village in Manitoba contrasted with the eternal beauty of the northern lights. 

FRONTIER, Brunswick

(explorefrontier.com)

Tuesday: "When the Iron Bird Flies." Documentary about the continued influence of Tibetan Buddhism on Western culture. Are the teachings of this ancient religion relevant in the 21st century? Man, I hope so -- I'm pretty stressed out ...

First up is "Like Someone in Love," the new film by Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami ("Certified Copy," "Taste Of Cherry") beginning Friday at the Portland Museum of Art (portlandmuseum.org).

A young Japanese call girl (Rin Takanashi) is engaged by an elderly widowed professor (Tadashi Okuno, looking like a much friendlier human version of the Muppet Waldorf).

When she arrives at his tiny, book-lined apartment and finds he's more interested in making her soup and talking than sex, she, already exhausted from her college exams, falls asleep.

Accepting a ride back to Tokyo in the morning, she and the professor find themselves coping with Takanashi's hot-headed, jealous boyfriend (Ryo Kase), mistaken identity and car trouble, leading to the typical Kiarostami ending: ambiguous, haunting and, to those less charitable, maddening.

That ending -- and most of the rest of this fascinatingly opaque film -- worked just fine for me, as I remain a sucker for quiet, character-driven movies where again, the unsympathetic might say, "nothing really happens." (See the films of Ming-liang Tsai, such as "Goodbye, Dragon Inn" and "What Time Is It There?" for more mesmerizing examples of the power of "nothing.")

I'd compare "Like Someone in Love" to the films of American auteur Jim Jarmusch as well, with its long, contemplative driving scenes (at least half of the film takes place inside the old man's immaculate Volvo), welcome lack of exposition (we're left to pick up on the characters' situations as the story unfolds) and the driest of deadpan humor.

It's a delicate, minutely observed and quietly enthralling character study for people who, you know, are into that sort of thing.

Unfortunately, such compelling ambiguity is sorely lacking in director Mira Nair's new film, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," opening Friday at the Nickelodeon in Portland (patriotcinemas.com).

A thuddingly prosaic tale of how a young Pakistani man (Riz Ahmed) goes from a thoroughly Americanized Wall Street up-and-comer to a radical educator and a suspect in the abduction of an American colleague at a Pakistan university, the film is an interminable illustration of the dramatic impotence of good intentions.

From the hoariest and least-promising narrative framework of all (with Ahmed telling his story to American journalist Liev Schreiber) and its unimaginative depiction of its protagonist's post-9/11 travails with racial profiling and prejudice, to a terminally bloated love story with an American artist (Kate Hudson), "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" fails.

An inherently intriguing character study is transformed into a soporific, thematically inert, politically simple-minded tract about how we all should just get along.

It's too bad, as Nair has proven adept at tracing culture clash into fruitful character portraits ("The Namesake," "Mississippi Masala") in the past, and the presence of talented actors such as Schreiber and old pros Haluk Bilginer and Om Puri liven things up from time to time.

This time out, however, the obviousness of the message, and of the filmmaking, flatten the movie into an utterly forgettable slog to some pat conclusions. 

Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.

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