Stand-up comedy special “Hannah Gadsby: Nanette” screens at the Equality Community Center’s Saturday Afternoon at the Movies. Netflix

Hey indie film fans and lovers of cool things, here are a couple undeniably cool indie films screening in Portland this week. Sure, the city might desperately still need a single-screen arthouse movie theater, but here’s to those people who are doing the piecemeal work to keep Maine film fanatics happy. 

First up are the fine folks over at the Equality Community Center (511 Congress St.), whose Saturday Afternoon at the Movies film series is bringing in one of the most talked-about stand-up comedy specials in years, “Hannah Gadsby: Nanette.” Addressing those who might call a comedy special outside of the indie film jurisdiction, I point you in the direction of films like “Richard Pryor: Live On The Sunset Strip,” Maria Bamford’s “Old Baby” or, more recently, Hassan Minhaj’s “Homecoming King,” for movie experiences whose mix of laughter, truth-speaking and masterful storytelling will leave you as awed and moved as any prestige costume drama. Plus – funny. 

Gadsby, with her owl-eyed glasses and clipped, friendly Australian accent, made 2018’s “Nanette” after a successful career of cheeky Aussie observational stand-up that I was only vaguely aware of. She was good – she has a way of getting on a roll with a subject that’s a nimble-tongued hoot – but nobody I’d put in my top 20 stand-ups. (Yes, I update it regularly.) As an out lesbian who’s struggled with depression and other issues in her life, Gadsby made her career like most comics do – by lightly touching on serious, personal topics, and then deflating the tension with a clever punchline. “Nanette” starts off that way, too. And then it turns into something else. 

Throughout, the comic deconstructs the mechanics of the joke, the alternating play of tension and release that powers comedy and reliably defuses any topic before it gets too heavy for the average club audience. So smoothly that you never see the turn coming, Gadsby gradually turns that deconstructionist approach on herself, her material and her profession, including some suitably defused anecdotes of bigotry and abuse she’s experienced until, in a final stretch that vaults her into the stand-up elite, she destroys it in a fusillade of righteous, anguished brilliance. If a movie is something that entertains you, challenges you, and leaves you unsettled, thoughtful and changed, then I’ll put “Nanette” up against nearly every best picture Oscar winner of late. Yes, it’s that good. 

A double feature at The Apohadion benefits the family of Rustic Overtones trumpet player Dave Noyes, who died a year ago. Photo by Andrew Thompson

For a more whimsical but equally strange and beautiful movie experience, plan your moviegoing week to head next to The Apohadion Theater on Monday, March 9, for a double feature tribute to the late and beloved Portland musician Dave Noyes (Rustic Overtones, Seekonk, Kenya Hall Band), who died unexpectedly almost exactly a year ago. OK, “Zoolander” is up first, which is a reliably goofy laugh, and, presumably, one of the notoriously kind and funny Noyes’ favorites. Not gonna blow any minds, indie film-wise, but the double-bill is a benefit for Noyes’ family, so just enjoy. 

The second film is Jim Jarmusch’s 1986 indie classic, “Down By Law,” and seeing this magical, deadpan masterpiece on the big screen of a bar venue co-founded by Noyes sounds like exactly the sort of tribute any Portland fan of film, drinks and great music should flock to. The story of three marginal sort-of criminals whose interminable existence as New Orleans cellmates is unexpectedly and miraculously changed by a combination of losers’ luck and the elfish optimism of Roberto Benigni’s oddball Italian crook, this is a film buff’s comedy. (This was long before everyone got sort of tired of Benigni’s antics in his own films.) Photographed in glorious black-and-white by Jarmusch’s acclaimed cinematographer Robby Müller (“Ghost Dog,” “Dead Man”), the film is a spell, lulling and amusing you with enigmatic slyness until the final developments feel not so much improbable as magical. Like a spell. Starring Benigni alongside musician-actors John Lurie and Tom Waits, the film is also wall-to-wall music by the latter two, the perfect soundtrack to raise a glass to a great guy and a great movie. 

“Hannah Gadsby: Nanette” screens at the Equality Community Center on Saturday at 2 p.m. Admission’s free and snacks are provided. 

The “Zoolander”/“Down By Law” double feature in memory of Dave Noyes shows at The Apohadion Theater on Monday, March 9, starting at 8 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are accepted to benefit the Noyes family. 

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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