LAURENT CANTET'S THE SANGUINAIRES concerns a group of friends who, sick of millennial hype and desperate to avoid the noise and crowds, pack up for a week of roughing it on a remote, electricity-free island. Of course the organizer goes over the top with his demands for avoiding all technology; naturally the local lightkeeper doesn't see the appeal of cutting yourself off from the benefits the late 20th century has to offer, and unavoidably the two get into a pissing contest. But the story is as well told as it is obvious, and the low-key menace of the opening shot carries right through to the end. Perhaps it's all a bit too low-key -- more urgency and a rougher payoff would have helped, but this is not a bad film by any means.

Only two subjects deserve the title Life on Earth: a multi-hour documentary examination of evolution, and a poetic study of a dirt-road intersection. Abderrahmane Sissako's wonderful film opts for the latter. On the eve of the millennium, a Parisian émigré returns to his home in Mali. He sits with his father, meets old friends and chats up new ones, and pursues a lovely lady on a bicycle. All this is captured with a sharp yet loving eye, and from barber to post office employee to corner boys hanging out, everyone feels marvelously right. There's a deservedly bitter undertone as the European radio announcer drones on about the marvels of the next century in a place that hasn't fully benefited from the last one, but the bitterness isn't overpowering; it merely adds the requisite focus to keep this portrait from dipping into banal sentiment. Sometimes low-key works perfectly; here it makes for one of the year's best films.

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