Plus reviews of "The Dead," "The City Dark" and "My Afternoons with Margueritte."
This beguiling Norwegian trifle brings together two married couples, a Greek chorus of bluegrass singers, and a couple of kids for a comedy of clashing cultures. Eternal optimist Kaja (radiant Agnes Kittelsen) and her dour, repressed husband Eirik (Joachim Rafaelsen) are back-country folk with a towheaded little bulldozer of a boy. When their worldly new Danish neighbors Elisabeth (Maibritt Saerens) and Sigve (Henrik Rafaelsen) settle in on the adjoining property with their adopted Ethiopian son, it's only a matter of time until sociable board games give way to spouse-swapping and bed-hopping. The children, playing on their own, find a book about enslaved Africans and begin to play master and slave. Their queasy fantasy is a reflection of their parents' relationships. Both the rubes and the sophisticates are up to their ears in marital problems; each evolves through infidelity into self-discovery. The trysts and twists are handled with a Coenesque sense of ironic melancholy. Debut director Anne Sewitsky's hugely enjoyable film won the world cinema jury prize at Sundance earlier this year. --COLIN COVERT
SARAH PALIN: YOU BETCHA!
Nick Broomfield is a genial British pop-cultural muckraker whose previous films include "Kurt and Courtney" and "Biggie and Tupac." He makes much of his efforts to track down Sarah Palin at a book signing in Texas and in her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, where he has some friendly encounters with her parents, and spends a lot of time with Palin's local critics."Sarah Palin: You Betcha!" might serve as a reminder for citizens who have forgotten about the Alaska trooper inquiry, or her fumbling interviews with Katie Couric and Charles Gibson. But it offers little in the way of novel insights into Wasilla, Palin or American politics. Broomfield's film does not uncover new information or even report fresh rumors. It feels warmed over, devoid of urgency and, in spite of Broomfield's on-camera displays of doggedness, lacking in curiosity. --A.O. SCOTT, NEW YORK TIMES
THE CITY DARK
The sky most of us look at tonight is nothing like the one that so fascinated the ancients. Bright lights in cities and towns leave two-thirds of Earth dwellers to live, at night, under "an illuminated tent" with few or no stars visible. In his laid-back documentary, Ian Cheney, a Maine native living in New York City, ponders what we lose when we are cut off from a starry sky. He visits a lightbulb store, chronicles how electric lights have grown ever brighter, reports on the use of lighting to deter crime in urban areas, tags along on a camping trip where city kids gasp when they see how many stars are up there, and travels to Arizona and Hawaii to talk with astrophotographers drawn to places where it's still very dark at night. "The Milky Way rising looks like a thunderstorm," one of them says, "but it's not -- it's the edge of our galaxy coming up." Cheney also investigates the effects of light pollution on sea turtles, breast cancer rates and migrating birds. It's a fetching, personal investigation that raises interesting questions and looks at changes in lighting design and public perception that may, slowly, bring a return to darker nights, starrier skies. --CLAUDE PECK
MY AFTERNOONS WITH MARGUERITTE
It takes special skill to make a film feel as soft and light as a summer breeze, and yet that is what French director Jean Becker does with "My Afternoons With Margueritte." This gem is about the nature of chance encounters and how they can change us in unexpected ways. On a park bench in a French village, a bird-thin woman named Margueritte (Gisèle Casadesus) meets a giant lump of a workingman, Germain (Gerard Depardieu). The erudite Margueritte is portrayed with simple grace by Casadesus, who was 95 when the film was shot. Depardieu is the coarse and little-educated Germain, who must hint at a stirring intellect inside that lumbering bulk. Solace comes from sharing ideas and emotions. Margueritte's life unravels just as Germain's is coming together, with a few surprises along the way. --BETSY SHARKEY, LOS ANGELES TIMES