Well, this is a great idea. As foreign films seem to have a harder time breaking through into theatrical distribution (some supposedly indie distributors such as Fox Searchlight just flat-out won’t touch foreign-language movies), the Wisconsin Union Directorate is christening its first annual Marquee International Film Festival this weekend.
It features 16 films running Thursday through Sunday in the Union South Marquee Theatre, 1208 W. Dayton St. All are free. Some are films that recently played Sundance Cinemas for a week or two, others are festival hits that wouldn’t have gotten a theatrical screening in Madison, and a couple are early peeks at films that we wouldn’t otherwise see until later in the year.
Here’s a breakdown of what’s coming. Visit wudfilm.com for more details on this and the rest of the semester’s offerings.
“Embrace of the Serpent” (7 p.m.) — My full review is here. This spellbinding Oscar-nominated Colombian film entwines beauty and horror in the tale of two Western scientists taking separate trips up the Amazon, guided by a native who believes himself to be the last of his kind. The stark message about man’s despoiling of nature feels very Herzog, but the film takes a spiritual turn at the end that suggests there’s still hope for our species yet.
“Mustang” (5 p.m.) — My full review is here. Five free-spirited sisters chafe under the strict fundamentalist rule of their family, who see them as little more than property to be married off for the right price, in this soulful Oscar-nominated drama.
“The Dark Horse” (7 p.m.) — The poster for this film has been up in the Sundance Cinemas lobby for a few weeks, so I imagine it’ll come back. But catch a sneak preview of this New Zealand film about a speed-chess champion (Cliff Curtis of “Fear the Walking Dead”) with bipolar disorder who agrees to teach the game to disadvantaged children.
“Mediterranea” (9:30 p.m.) — This French drama couldn’t be more timely as immigration is a hot topic in Europe and America, following African migrants risking death to seek a better life in Europe, and facing hostility and mistrust when they get there.
“Under the Shadow” (11:30 p.m.) — This 2016 Sundance Film Festival hit was picked up by Netflix and will premiere later this year, so this is your chance to get a sneak preview. Much like “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” this film puts a feminist genre spin on Iranian culture, in this case mixing the terror of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war with a claustrophobic ghost story.
“Stories of Our Lives” (3 p.m.) — This anthology of short films from Kenya was created by an anonymous Nairobi arts collective, who wanted to draw attention to the issues facing young LGBTQ people in the country without fear of reprisals.
“The Treasure” (4;30 p.m.) — The Romanian New Wave has been responsible for some of the freshest voices in world cinema of recent years. This deadpan comedy from Corneliu Porumboiu (“Police Adjective”) follows two men hoping to dig up buried treasure, instead finding remnants of the country’s painful past.
“Crocodile Gennadiy” (7 p.m.) — Much like UW grad Chad Gracia’s “The Russian Woodpecker,” this documentary uses an eccentric main character to view modern Ukraine life, in this case looking at a man who forcibly abducts drug-addicted youth off the streets to give them a better life.
“Liza the Fox Fairy” (9:30 p.m.) — In this offbeat comedy, a Hungarian nurse who has an imaginary pop star worries that she’s turning into a murderous creature from Japanese folklore.
“The Office” (11 p.m.) — In the latest film from legendary Hong Kong director Johnnie To, the CEO and chairman of a billion-dollar company clash in boardroom skullduggery. Did I mention it’s a musical?
“My Neighbor Totoro” (11:30 a.m.) — It’s the oldest film in the festival, but who can pass up a chance to see Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece, in which two sisters living in the countryside discover magical creatures all around them.
“Killa” (1 p.m.) — Another movie suitable for older kids is this Indian film about a boy who must move to a new town with his mother after his father dies.
“Aferim!” (3:50 p.m.) — This is another Romanian comedy about two men on a quest, in this case to capture a runaway gypsy slave in 1835 in this wry black-and-white spin on the Western genre.
“A Syrian Love Story” (6:05 p.m.) — Another timely documentary looks at a family in Syria over a five-year period, separate and tested but never torn apart by conditions there.
“About Elly” (8 p.m.) — My full review is here. Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s 2009 film, only released in the United States last year, looks at the fractures that erupt among a group of friends at a seaside villa when one of them goes missing.