The Happiness of the Katakuris

dir. Takashi Miike

Fri-Thurs Jan 17-23 at the Varsity.Rampant silliness is almost always a quality to be applauded, especially in cinema. The problem is that in the absence of a real point, inspired nonsense can all too easily devolve into boring quirkiness. This, alas, seems to be the case with this truly bizarre horror-comedy-musical-soap opera by Takashi Miike (Audition, City of Lost Souls), an auteur who clearly wanted to depart not only from his oeuvre, but from all trace of his good senses. He succeeds magnificently in places (the film's blend of Claymation and live action recalls the genius of Pee-wee's Playhouse unloosed from the censors' reins) but ultimately loses the plot so completely that the picture becomes--like almost all musicals--a stultifying endurance test.

A synopsis would be futile, but the story involves a hapless family that buys a remote bed and breakfast that gets no customers. Then it gets one and he dies, horribly. They hide the body. Another guest, another grisly death, another hidden body. Then, all hell really breaks loose, and so do the musical numbers, as well as a camp sensibility that seems to want to mock movie conventions that haven't actually been conventional for 30 years or more. The goal would seem to be cinematic anarchy. The reality, however, is more closely akin to a Japanese Kentucky Fried Movie, with a few moments of brilliance. Drag. SEAN NELSON

Grin Without a Cat

dir. Chris Marker

Fri-Sun Jan 17-19, Tues-Thurs Jan 21-23 at the Grand Illusion.A documentary like this separates the big dogs from the pups. Just about anyone can hang around and talk shit about socialism, social protest, and the culture of political resistance with their friends. It takes a real commitment, however, to watch a three-hour-long film of people talking shit (often in French) about socialism, social protest, and the culture of political resistance. (It's a commitment I myself couldn't make, lasting just over two hours before stumbling out of the Grand Illusion in search of a ray of light. And I loved the film.)

Grin Without a Cat is a magnum opus that attempts to tie together the many strains of activism and antagonism that defined the sweep of the '60s. Director Marker enlists Regis Debray, the Black Panthers, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, les soixante-huitards, Chairman Mao, and the Vietnam War to illustrate the short and complex life of the radicalized "New Left." Since we seem to be talking more and more about the death of the Left as a progressive force, the film--begun in 1978 and finished in 1993--couldn't be better timed. But the tragedy within its inquiry doesn't bode well. Combining newsreel footage and interviews, Marker captures the sense of overwhelming desire felt by workers and students around the world to be part of something revolutionary, and also the way that impulse became overwhelmed by factionalism (and fashionability). "We must revolutionize the revolutionaries," wrote Debray. But a schism was caused by fighting against something awful (class inequity, labor abuses, unjust wars, imperialism) in favor of something even less workable (socialism). In plumbing that schism, Marker has made a film of extraordinary intellectual depth, which recognizes and honors "the daily courage of sacrificing identity to be useful," while never shrinking from revealing the paradoxes and seductions of resistance. SEAN NELSON

Rabbit-Proof Fence

dir. Phillip NoyceSincerest apologies are in order for the tardiness of this review, though if Seattle audiences' embrace of the film is any indication, it certainly didn't do any harm. Rabbit-Proof Fence is a simple story of three little girls on the run from their abductors, making their way across the wilds of Western Australia on foot, trying to find their way home. The film is powerful because of the unemotional straightforwardness of the girls' quest: They get kidnapped, escape, elude capture, and finally prevail. The unknown actresses who play the girls are riveting in the way only little kids can be on-screen, and Kenneth Branagh, as their bureaucrat antagonist, is exactly perfect. What elevates the film to an entirely different plane, however, is the historical and political context of their journey. It's the 1930s. The girls are half-breed aborigines, and hence subject to legal removal from their families and placement into Christian encampments, where they will be trained for lives as indentured servants or brides, in an ultimate attempt to crossbreed them right out of existence. Director Phillip Noyce makes all the right decisions in telling what could have (justifiably) been a big slab of moist, liberal liver and onions; a tale of indomitable metaphor and sackcloth villainy. Instead it is a measured tale of a secret history, and of basic human desires asserting themselves in the most inspirational of ways. SEAN NELSON