Here are my five movies to look for during the Atlanta Film Festival:
LA VIE EN ROSE (PG-13) 5 stars – French chanteuse Edith Piaf had a life you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy: an alcoholic mother, repeated abandonment, poverty, sickness and exposure to the most mercenary forms of human relationships among prostitutes and circus folk. A willful pixie equal parts moxie and sadness, Piaf (as played by the magnificent young actress Marion Cotillard) cut a vibrant swath through life, transforming sadness into the sublime with her sweetly warbling voice. That rarest of biographies, Olivier Dahan's emotionally devastating film does justice to the complexities and pain of its subject's life without drowning in the maudlin. In French with English subtitles. Thurs., April 26, 7 p.m.
GREAT WORLD OF SOUND (NR) 4 stars – Despite its shaky start, uneven acting and spare sets, former Atlantan Craig Zobel's film soon settles into a pleasing, mellow rhythm with no great revelations but a lot of heart. Self-deprecating white slacker Martin (Pat Healy) and vivacious, black middle-aged family man Clarence (Kene Holliday) meet during job training for traveling-sales jobs as record producers. This certifiably odd couple finds itself on the road and stuck in a succession of hotel rooms trying to convince small-time singers to front some money for a record deal that may never materialize. Zobel deftly captures the fraudulence of promising dreams for profit and the desperate American money-grab, perfectly attuned to the subtle politics of race and the different expectations its characters have for success. Sun., April 22, 4:30 p.m.; and Tues., April 24, 4:30 p.m.
SOLDIERS OF CONSCIENCE (NR) 4 stars – This illuminating documentary by Gary Weimberg and Catherine Ryan about conscientious objectors to the Iraq War shows the moral sacrifice we demand when we ask our fighting men and women to kill in our name. Despite the historical fact that large numbers of soldiers never fire their weapons during war, choosing at a decisive moment not to take another life, America suffers from the mass delusion that it is easy or justified to kill. Weimberg and Ryan focus on the soldiers: both recent recruits and gung-ho career military men who have a change of heart and endure the shaming, difficult process of speaking their minds. Sun., April 22, noon; and Wed., April 25, 4:30 p.m.
KILLER OF SHEEP (NR) 5 stars – Since its release in 1977, director Charles Burnett's heartbreakingly somber portrait of the emotional divide between a depressed slaughterhouse worker (Henry G. Sanders) and his beautiful wife (Kaycee Moore) in Los Angeles' inner-city neighborhood of Watts still has the ability to seduce with its poetic beauty. An intimate snapshot of little boys playing in the city's vacant lots and the joking, warm intimacy between neighbors, Killer of Sheep is reminiscent of the observational storytelling of the Italian neorealists. Few films have treated everyday African-American life with such lyricism and tenderness. Burnett made the film when he was a film student at UCLA; a mini-Burnett retrospective at the Atlanta Film Festival will also highlight his 1983 feature, My Brother's Wedding, and several short films from 1969-1995. Sun., April 22, 3:30 p.m.
CRAZY LOVE (NR) 4 stars – Talk about amour fou. Mix one beautiful New York babe, one fast-talking Bronx ambulance chaser and sprinkle with mental illness and you've got this too-tabloid-to-believe documentary from Dan Klores and Fisher Stevens. Scorned by Linda Riss in 1959, megacreep Burt Pugach retaliated by hiring thugs to throw lye in her face. A horrific crime, a New York media frenzy, jail time and blindness ensued, but the denouement of this freaky case was even freakier. Let's just say Burt got his wish and eventually made Linda crazy for him. A film about the warped dependency that can accompany domestic violence, Crazy Love begins with a Jacques Lacan quote about obsession but quickly devolves into the more gutter-crawling layman observations of Sally Jessy Raphael and Geraldo Rivera on the talk-show circuit. Fri., April 27, 9:30 p.m.
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