The return of a stellar local filmmaker, several Oscar nominees and a slew of documentaries highlight the 42nd annual Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.
Producer-turned-writer/director Bill Pohlad will attend Thursday's opening night screening of his "Dreamin' Wild," which had its world premiere at last year's Venice Film Festival. Like Pohlad's "Love & Mercy," it's a biographical drama with music, this time tracking the careers of didn't-quite-make-it musicians Donnie and Joe Emerson. It stars Oscar winner Casey Affleck and Zooey Deschanel.
Pohlad is not the only local tie in the fest, of course. Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Mankato native Jimmy Chin, who won an Oscar for "Free Solo," return with another outdoors documentary, "Wild Life." Frequent fest contributor Dawn Mikkelson skates in with "Minnesota Mean," a nonfiction portrait of the Minnesota Rollergirls roller derby team. St. Paul native Doua Moua stars in "The Harvest," based on his screenplay. "40 Below: The Toughest Race in the World" looks at the Arrowhead 135 event in International Falls.
The biggest name in the festival is "The Fabelmans" star Michelle Williams, who re-teams with writer/director Kelly Reichardt for quirky comedy/drama "Showing Up." But don't overlook France's Laure Calamy, who was in the 2021 MSPIFF hit "My Donkey, My Lover and I," and is now back in "The Origin of Evil." Or Belgian luminaries Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch, who made a splash with Oscar-nominated "The Broken Circle Breakdown" and return with "The Eight Mountains."
That movie about friendship fits into the loose category of "slow cinema," deliberately paced dramas that tend to be more about character detail than plot. Slow cinema is well represented in this year's fest, with "Joyland" and "Stonewalling" among other titles that take their own sweet time.
I've seen more than a dozen of the movies on offer this year, only about 10% of the dizzying array of titles, and I found something to like in each of them. Here's what I know but, as always, maybe the best way to enjoy MSPIFF is to take a chance on an intriguing title you know nothing about:
"Joyland": I'm a closing credits absolutist but I'll tell you right now there's no need to sit through them in this Pakistani family drama — they're five minutes long and there are no surprises there. The movie is strangely eventful, with several romances, identity issues and concerns that modernity means losing touch with traditional values, but the pacing undercuts its effectiveness. Still, it's sensitively acted by a stunning cast and the visuals, particularly of the titular amusement park, are knockouts. 4:20 p.m. April 13, 7 p.m. April 21.
"The Hamlet Syndrome": With a Guthrie Theater production of "Hamlet" opening this week and war raging in Ukraine, this shattering doc couldn't be better timed. Technically, it's about a group of young people rehearsing "Hamlet," but as they draw in their own experiences of war — especially in a raw scene in which two actors improvise about how they resemble Hamlet — it's really about the unexpected, sometimes painful ways art and life intersect. 1:30 p.m. April 14, 3 p.m. April 18.
"Showing Up": Michelle Williams and writer/director Kelly Reichardt continue the collaboration that paid off with the excellent "Meek's Cutoff," "Wendy and Lucy" and "Certain Women." It's an incisive, minimalist character portrait of a grumpy sculptor (Williams) who grapples with family, colleagues, an ailing pigeon and a faulty water heater in the days before a big gallery opening. In a supporting role, Hong Chau is a hoot. 7 p.m. April 14.
"The Harvest": Former Minnesotan Doua Moua, who debuted in Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino," tackles a lot in his Hmong American family drama, which begins as a story of a son (Moua) and his remote father but also incorporates identity issues, assimilation and racism. But director Caylee So's film is so visually assured and beautifully acted that it treads lightly over the plot points. 2 p.m. April 15, 7:15 p.m. April 16.
"Minnesota Mean": Local filmmaker Dawn Mikkelson follows the Minnesota Rollergirls on their way to the 2017 roller derby (technically, Women's Flat Track Derby) championships, ice baths and all. It's mostly talking heads but the women — some of whom will be at the screening, along with Mikkelson — are frank and funny. 4:45 p.m. April 15, 7 p.m. April 17, 5 p.m. April 23.
"The Origin of Evil": The French thriller makes excellent use of Laure Calamy, who plays the most sympathetic character on Netflix's "Call My Agent." Her genial quality makes her seem like an innocent in the midst of vipers in "Evil," where she connects with the wealthy father she never knew. His all-female family is not thrilled to meet her ("Never come back" is their advice) in the stylish drama, with shades of Agatha Christie. It drags in the middle but has a crackerjack beginning and ending. 9:40 p.m. April 15, 4:15 p.m. April 19.
"Judy Blume Forever": Between this talking-head doc and "Being Mary Tyler Moore," one festival theme seems to be "famous midcentury women who were racier than their prim images hint." Speaking effortlessly to the camera, Blume fills fans in on her life and inspirations, with help from childhood friends, her kids and workers at her Key West bookstore. The biggest insight is that she is astonishingly close to some of her readers. 4:40 p.m. April 16, 7:10 p.m. April 17.
"Chevalier": Kelvin Harrison Jr. definitely has a type. "Chevalier," in which he plays the title role, is a music-based romantic drama set in France against murmurs of war — just as last year's "Cyrano," in which he starred, was. One difference is that "Chevalier" is based on a true story, about a Black, 18th-century musician who was befriended by, then cruelly dumped by, Marie Antoinette. Colonialism, racism, slavery and betrayal all factor into the handsome, slightly overstuffed pageantry. 7:30 p.m. April 16.
"Stonewalling": The pacing mirrors the uneventful life of Lynn. Over the course of a year in Changhsha, China, she tries to learn English, disagrees with her boyfriend, tries to sell her eggs to a creepy agency, gets pregnant, decides to bear the child and intercedes in arguments between her parents. In Mandarin and English, it is a subtle movie, largely concerned with accruing the details of everyday life that force us to confront how little some young women are valued in modern China. 4 p.m. April 17, 1:10 p.m. April 19.
"Everybody Wants to Be Loved": There are shades of Norway's "The Worst Person in the World" in this German comedy/drama, and it is almost as good. Anne Ratte-Polle is outstanding as a therapist who's adept at helping everyone but herself. The comedy comes from how obtuse her lover, daughter and mother are as they imagine themselves at the center of the world while she gradually loses her grip — until a sweet ending finds someone caring for her, for once. 1:05 p.m. April 18, 4:40 p.m. April 24, 1 p.m. April 26.
"The Eight Mountains": Every time anyone moves in "Mountains," they do it in front of a breathtaking vista. Children Pietro and Bruno live in the Italian Alps, where they swim and, with Pietro's gruff dad (an incredible Filipo Timi), climb mountains. The meditative, moving film meets them at the moment when society nudges them to harden up. When they become men, we see how that phenomenon creates each new generation of toxicity. 6:45 p.m. April 21, 1:20 p.m. April 27.
"Being Mary Tyler Moore": The darkness behind the comedy legend's facade was often hinted at — Robert Redford said that's why he cast her in a brittle role in "Ordinary People" — but it's explored here in interviews with colleagues. Opening with an awkward 1960s TV appearance in which she defends working women by citing Betty Friedan, Moore emerges as pricklier, funnier and more complicated than her guarded persona. Especially in home movies that feature her with animals and, startlingly, at a bridal shower during which she appears to nod off, we see new sides of the woman whose Minneapolis-set sitcom "turned the world on with her smile." 6:45 p.m. April 22, 1:50 p.m. April 23.
"Food and Country": "Top Chef" fans will recognize lots of players in this love letter to food producers, beginning with protagonist Ruth Reichl, a former judge and Gourmet magazine editor, who states the film's premise: "We take food and the people behind it completely for granted." The Zoom interviews feel dated but director and Minnesota native Laura Gabbert, who will be at the April 26 screening, crafts visually compelling interstitial material to convey the message that the U.S. food supply has been a mess for about 80 years. 7 p.m. April 26, 1:15 p.m. April 27.
Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival
When: April 13-27.
Where: The Main Cinema, 115 SE. Main St., Mpls.
Tickets: $15, passes available, mspfilm.org.