WorldFest: Wild, Mild and Wicked

Moviegoers may find both their Sixth Happiness and Seventh Heaven in these 40 featured indie films

As the family works through various issues, the gentle mix of American and Taiwanese cultures also adds another layer to the film. Also notable is that, despite Henry's presence, this is a very female-oriented movie that honestly explores what are often some of the most strained of family relationships (mother/daughter, sister/sister). However, it's no "chick flick," in the pejorative sense. Instead it is a very special "human flick" with a real sense of freshness. (Jennifer Mathieu)

My American Vacation Sunday, April 11, at 3 p.m. and Tuesday, April 13, at 7 p.m.

Classy Fever
Fever is the most impressive of the Agnieszka Holland films on display. It follows a series of circa-1905 radicals and bomb-throwers on their difficult daily rounds in an unnamed Eastern European country. The specific politics of this Polish film might be a little murky for American viewers, but lines such as "It is so stirring to kill evil with a bomb" speak for themselves.

Unlike Europa Europa, this is not a tightly plotted film. It drifts from one knot of radicals to another. You're never quite sure when one little story is over and the next one is about to begin, which leaves the viewer feeling appropriately unsettled. The bombers are virtually nameless and are reduced to psychological states. "I bomb to give the masses a sense of power," says one. But Holland humanizes her characters by investing the film with a sly sense of humor.

Particularly touching is her story that follows Wojtech (the fact that he has a name makes him unique) as he comes to the city (we don't know which -- is it Warsaw?) in search of the revolution. Everyone tells him that, following a police crackdown, the revolution has gone so far underground that it might as well be buried. But Wojtech insists so loudly on becoming a radical that he gets himself needlessly hung. His execution is carried out in distancing, matter-of-fact detail and is unlike any cinematic hanging I've ever seen.

The film ends rather arbitrarily and isn't quite at the level of Europa Europa, but it's still an intriguing look at an era that now seems as distant as King Arthur's court. In both content and style, this is the most "foreign" of the films on view in WorldFest. (David Theis)

Fever Saturday, April 17, at 9 p.m.

Count on the Germans for efficiency, even with emotions. Writer/director Michael Bartlett has come through in grand style with the compelling tour of methodical madness in The Little Girl Who Fell from a Tree.

Bartlett opens with a woman systematically cleaning up after her massacre of a family at a chalet in a lush German forest. The scene shifts to an urban apartment house, where Ben, a gynecologist, and his bubbly wife, Jenny, befriend a quiet tenant, Lisa.

Watch out, an elderly woman warns Lisa about her new companion. Jenny has been to the psycho ward. She needs medication, slips in and out of sanity. In her obsession to have a child, she has even resorted at times to padding her tummy to fake pregnancy.

Jenny is neurotic, naturally, but she turns out to be vulnerable rather than villainous. Lisa emerges as the psychopath in grand style befitting 1987's Fatal Attraction and 1992's Single White Female. As Jenny innocently continues their relationship, Lisa seduces her weak-willed husband, dragging him ever deeper into her diabolical desires. She packs Jenny's suitcase with cockroaches and even fabricates a sinister baby-for-sale scheme.

Bartlett takes the film beyond a one-dimensional trek through terror. Flashbacks reveal the roots of Lisa's twisted psyche: a childhood of hiding in the safety of a huge tree until her drunken father takes her down in his own sexual depravity.

A quality cast -- Julia Jager, Floriane Daniel and Dominique Horwitz -- carries the plot without overreaching.

While the unmasking of Lisa is a bit abrupt, the film's pacing builds effective tension for the final jolting twist. It is believable and efficient -- Bartlett would have it no other way. (George Flynn)

The Little Girl Who Fell from a Tree Friday, April 16, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, April 17, at 9 p.m.

Restless Natives
Naturally Native is the first feature film to be funded by a Native American tribe, the Mashatucket Pequot of Connecticut. Given its frankly didactic purpose -- the film wants to make points about the way American Indian people are viewed and treated, by corporate America, by New Age America and by other Native Americans -- the film is surprisingly engaging.

Directed by Jennifer Farmer and Valerie Red-Horse, it tells the story of three sisters who were adopted out of their reservation when their mother died of alcoholism. Twenty years later, the three sisters are still coming to grips with their Indian-ness, which each feels to a different degree. One sister is a newly minted MBA, and another knows how to make herbal remedies and beauty products the Native American way. The third sister, badly in need of a new self-image, tags along as her siblings try to start a business marketing their beauty products.

There are moments of great sincerity and a welcome dose of humor (especially in their clash with an insensitive New Ager). The acting isn't terribly strong, but the film is certainly worth a look for its level of insight. (David Theis)

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