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The Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul will be presenting the 38th annual MSPIFF April 4 – 20. Every year, MSPIFF showcases more than 250 film works of various forms coming from as many as 70 countries.

On their ‘About’ page, the MSP Society states:

“We promote the art of film as a medium that fosters cross-cultural understanding, education, entertainment, and exploration.”

The more I watch films from international film festivals, the more I appreciate this  statement. It’s unfortunate that nowadays the term ‘foreign’ carries an unfavorable stigma. This I’ve found from watching foreign films: listening to languages I don’t know means I need to adapt to reading subtitles, which in itself is a conscious act of trying to understand. Just that simple act of attempting to listen is of value. Of course, many works are from English-speaking countries, so it’s not all strenuous workout all the time. I can’t think of a better way to be transported to another place and time by a story, as my empathy is honed (subliminally) while I sit back and munch on popcorn.

Back to MSPIFF. Here are a few selections from the various programs with my succinct, capsule review:

The Accountant of Auschwitz by Matthew Shoychet (World Cinema Program)

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‘The Accountant of Auschwitz’ Photo courtesy of MSPIFF

Canadian director Shoychet sets up an informative background leading to the trial and sentencing of German SS Officer Oskar Gröning, the man who tallied all the properties confiscated from the prisoners as they entered the Auschwitz death camp. Holocaust survivors recall their experiences, seeking justice and closure. However, bringing those responsible to account for the atrocity remains an elusive task. Only 49 Third Reich officials out of 6,500 had been brought to trial. Many got away with just 3 years in prison during the post-war period. Currently, time is running out for the victims. Major obstacles for the prosecution: the old age of those accused, continued evasion, and proof of complicity. Shoychet’s documentary is a poignant reminder that a tragic chapter in human history still remains unresolved.

 

An Elephant Sitting Still by Hu Bo (Asian Frontiers Program)

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‘An Elephant Sitting Still’ Cast. Photo courtesy of MSPIFF

The 230-minute feature is an incisive depiction of the human desolation in an unnamed, northern Chinese city. Director Hu Bo’s cinematic capture of the inner void of his characters is intense and nuanced. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” is alluded to, that piece of cracked soil deep in the human soul. Hu’s tracking shots place viewers in the midst of relational conflicts, from bored high school students to aimless adults to the despondent elderly. Random strangers somehow connected casually in Hu’s astute screenplay. And the elephant among their midst remains invisible, sitting as a metaphor for the resignation of life as well as a fantasy of hope. This debut feature sadly speaks as a last testament of a lost talent: Hu took his own life during post-production of the film. He was 29.

The Third Wife by Ash Mayfair (Women & Film Program)

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‘The Third Wife’ Photo courtesy of MSPIFF

Inspired by true events in 19th century Vietnam, 14 year-old May is married into a rich landowner family. She is the third wife of the patriarch’s son. Her sole purpose is to produce a male descendent for him, as the first two wives have only daughters. A film with minimal dialogues, The Third Wife is a visual story. Its aesthetics and sensual, dream-like sequences wrap a harsh reality: the plight of women in a patriarchal society. Mayfair was born and raised in Vietnam, an Oxford and NYU Tisch School of the Arts graduate. This her debut feature is a quiet and potent voice in the #MeToo awakening.

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For the full program of the 38th MSPIFF, CLICK HERE to their website.