Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand/France)
A rare example of a truly independent film, Thai or otherwise, the fascinatingly aesthetic Blissfully Yours transpires one lazy, hazy summer afternoon in the jungle on the Thai-Myanmarese border. This bizarre, sun-dappled piece features a hunky, often silent illegal émigré with a mysterious skin disease interacting with two Thai women (one is his girlfriend, the other acts like his mother), and has a simple narrative and an adoration of nature that lists the film towards the experimental. Forget about just Thailand - directors aren't making Apichatpong Weerasethakul's kind of films anywhere. - M.P.
(Tues. Sept. 10, 6:30 p.m., Isabel Bader Theatre; Fri. Sept. 13, 3:30 p.m., Varsity 4 or 5.)
Park Ki-yong (South Korea)
Korean director Park Ki-yong's mostly improvised second film, Camel(s) - the oblique title refers to a poignant poem about exhaustion and survival, though few are sure what the (s) is all about - is this year's slow-and-Asian (a legitimate subgenre) standout. An intimate minimalist masterpiece shot in 12 days on black-and-white digital video, it is that rarest of works, a film of the present. Two middle-aged characters with dreams of escape meet, have dinner, go to a hotel, have sex, order some noodles, and do a lot of silent driving. For those impatient viewers hankering for talk, Park makes up for the lack of dialogue with precise, Bressonian sound: the tick-tock of a lane-changing signal bores a hole into one's soul. Even if you find it exasperating - and many will - you'll find the film unforgettable. - M.P.
(Wed. Sept. 11, 7:30 p.m., Varsity 3; Thurs. Sept. 12, 12:15 p.m., Varsity 1.)
Takeshi Kitano (Japan/France)
As plodding a film as the taciturn Takeshi Kitano has ever made, Dolls is also the director at his most emotional, heartrending and fragile. In this three-part story, Kitano has found one of the more evocative metaphors for eternal love in recent memory: the long red cord binding former lovers Matsumoto and Sawako together after her attempted suicide. Gorgeous to look at, Dolls threatens at times to devolve into a Yohji Yamamoto fashion show, but Kitano knows exactly what he's doing, and doesn't care if he alienates viewers looking for narrative over emotion. - M.P.
(Sat. Sept. 7, 3:30 p.m., Uptown 1; Fri. Sept. 12, noon, Varsity 8.)
Gus Van Sant (U.S.)
A hypnotic, exceedingly daring landmark in recent American independent cinema, Gerry finds Oscar nominee Gus Van Sant again engaged in the art of cinematic appropriation. Instead of Hitchcock, though, Van Sant borrows here from Bela Tarr, amongst others, and that means there's little plot and lots of walking. The film stars Matt Damon and Casey Affleck as two average middle-class joes named Gerry out for a scenic hike. And they get lost. And they walk. Precisely capturing the sensation and experience of taking a wrong turn and ending up horribly lost, the film also operates as an empty vessel that can be filled with many metaphors (the experience of an overwhelmed festivalgoer, perhaps?). Yet there is something uniquely American about Van Sant's beautiful and bleak film, in which the intense, craggy landscape has its last laugh. - M.P.
(Fri. Sept. 6, 9:15 p.m., Uptown 1; Sun. Sept. 8, noon, Varsity 8.)
Carlos Reygadas (Mexico/Spain)
A no-holds-barred mix of the epic and the intimate shot in Super 16 using only natural light, Carlos Reygadas's gorgeous canvas on salvation recalls the gloriously faded landscapes of Leone and the mise en scène of a Malick or Kiarostami. The film begins with a gimpy Man With No Name trudging into an isolated Mexican village to find peace before committing suicide. To say much more would be ruining the fun, as the film combines a deliberate, painstaking attention to documenting the unfolding of life in a specific place with some elements out of left field (including helicopter shots, copulating horses, and a healthy dose of Arvo Part music). Suffice to say, the visceral and hypnotic JapZn is unlike any other Mexican film ever made, and in my book that's a good thing. - M.P.
(Fri. Sept. 6, 8:45 p.m., Cumberland 3; Sun. Sept. 8, 3 p.m., IBT.)
Larry Clark, Ed Lachman (U.S./Netherlands/France)
Yes, there are many unmentionable exchanges of bodily fluids in Ken Park, but there is also rage, depression, moral death, idealism, and, above all else, a very raw truth in this remarkable and wholly unanticipated work. Bearing the imprint of Larry Clark, co-director/cinematographer Ed Lachman and now-estranged screenwriter Harmony Korine in equal measure, the film has its young main characters undergo dense, individually wrapped psychodramas in the jagged "comforts" of California domesticity. All are variants on a basic theme: the anarchy that results when boundaries between parents and children are violated. Raising the bar of taboo-breaking, Ken Park is a daring, extremist film about atrocious, confrontational parenting and the ability of kids to survive the worst of times. - M.P.
(Tues. Sept. 10, 9 p.m., Varsity 8; Sat. Sept. 14, 3:30 p.m., Uptown 1.)
The Man Without a Past
Aki Kaurismaki (Finland/Germany/France)
This gem from Finland's king of deadpan comedy tells a story of a man (Markku Peltola) who arrives by train in Helsinki where he is promptly assaulted by a gang and left for dead. Unexpectedly, he rises from his hospital gurney and goes out into the city, with no memory of who he is. He finds affection from a Salvation Army worker (Kati Outinen, who can convey more with one muscle twitch than most actresses can with a scream) and a world of hardship and abuse among the homeless that, at times, is worthy of The Grapes of Wrath. Kaurismaki's actors don't emote, but the carefully coloured sets - evoking classic Hollywood - provide the emotional textures. - L.L.
(Sat. Sept. 7, 6:30 p.m., Uptown 1; Wed. Sept. 11, 2:30 p.m., Varsity 8.)