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AFI FEST 2009: Final Weekend

To Die Like A Man

To Die Like A Man

*CRITIC’S PICK*  POLICE, ADJECTIVE (Romania) A similar spirit of literal-mindedness guides Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu’s Police, Adjective, easily the best film in Cannes not screening in the main competition. (Instead, it was inexplicably relegated to a single 11 a.m. screening in the festival’s Un Certain Regard sidebar.) Set, like Porumboiu’s previous 12:08 East of Bucharest, in the filmmaker’s hometown of Vaslui, Police, Adjective depicts an absurdly protracted sting operation designed to catch a lone high school student in the act of selling marijuana. Cristi, the cop assigned to the case, realizes the futility of his mission, though his attempts to convince his bureaucratic superiors of the same are met with contempt, derision and the reminder that it is not his place to question the letter of the law. But it is nothing less than letters and laws — of both the legal and grammatical variety — that are the keys to Porumboiu’s wonderfully pliable, allegorical theme. For much of the running time, Porumboiu gives us a series of long, nearly wordless scenes of the cop pursuing his suspect, which turn out to be the carefully laid groundwork for a showstopping final act of Stoppardian verbosity, as the cop and his superior engage in a verbal tennis match about conscience, personal morality and the true meanings of words. (Monica 4-Plex, Fri., Nov. 6, 3 p.m.) (Scott Foundas)

GO  SWEETGRASS (USA) In Sweetgrass, artists and ethnologists Ilisa Barbas and Lucien Castaing-Taylor follow Norwegian-American sheep herders around Big Timber, Montana — the last ones in the country to take the herds up-mountain in the summer to graze on public land. The film is compelling in many ways, only marred by a video picture quality not quite matching the stunning countryside. But pastoral or idyllic it is not: Sheep can even make a grown man cry to his mother on his cell phone. It’s a deserving companion piece to Brokeback Mountain, and the only “cocksuckers” in Sweetgrass are the epithets you hear the herders use (often) on their walkie-talkies. (Monica 4-Plex; Sat., Nov. 7, 1 p.m.) (Philippe Garnier)

*CRITIC’S PICK*  TO DIE LIKE A MAN (Portugal/France) In his first three features, Portugal’s João Pedro Rodrigues has proven himself to be this decade’s greatest queer auteur: The Feuillade-inspired O Fantasma (2000) tracks the nocturnal prowlings of a homo garbage collector — the original trash humper? — rutting with canine ferocity; in Two Drifters (2005), a roller-skating supermarket price checker becomes convinced she’s carrying the child of a dead gay man, then assumes his body. Rodrigues’ latest — his richest, most ambitious work yet — subverts the trappings of melodrama and the musical in recounting the tragedies of Tonia (Fernando Santos), Lisbon’s reigning drag superstar, who’s slowly being poisoned by the silicone leaking from her breast implants. The middle-aged trannie, a devout Catholic, must also endure the trials of a junk-addicted boyfriend, a trigger-happy son and a backstabbing, statuesque rival. Expect no garish Priscilla- or Hedwig-like gender-illusion sing-alongs: Rodrigues keeps the drag-club action strictly backstage, saving the film’s most transcendent scene for a magical moment in the woods, a subtly rapturous fantasia set to Baby Dee’s “Calvary.” Don’t expect a giddy, GLAAD-approved celebration of gender reassignment, either. “He spoke of the sex change as if he were filleting a steak,” Tonia recalls with horror about the doctor who uses an origami prop to demonstrate how one goes from M to F. Her body rebelling against her, Tonia fights back, toggling between the gender she chose and the one she was born with. The deliberate ambiguity of the film’s title reflects its hybrid nature, its protagonist living — sometimes mourning — in the space between. (Monica 4-Plex, Fri., Nov. 6, 5 p.m.) (Melissa Anderson)

GO  A TOWN CALLED PANIC (Belgium/France/Luxembourg) A cowboy, an Indian and a horse walk into a bar, and the horse says ... okay, so that isn’t exactly the setup for Belgian filmmakers Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar’s frequently hilarious, sometimes tedious (even at 75 minutes) feature-length expansion of their globally syndicated animation series (seen in the U.S. on Nicktoons). But the horse does speak (in this case, French), and the cowboy and Indian do live together in the titular village, where the gentle pace of life is disturbed when Horse’s birthday party goes awry, and some strange sea monsters show up and abscond with the walls to Cowboy’s house. The dada shenanigans continue in similar fashion (including a journey to the center of the earth), all rendered in an intentionally crude stop-motion style that makes ’60s fetish object Rankin/Bass look like Pixar. (Monica 4-Plex, Sat., Nov. 7, 11 a.m.) (SF)