Wonder, innocence warm `Lovers of Arctic Circle'

Films in brief

June 18, 1999|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

"Lovers of the Arctic Circle" is an exceedingly graceful and absorbing iteration on a theme that has been all the rage recently: the element of chance and fate in bringing potential lovers together.

This has been explored with perky inventiveness in movies like "Sliding Doors" and "Next Stop Wonderland" and with New Age earnestness in tear-jerkers like "City of Angels," but director Julio Medem takes a more sophisticated tack. He infuses "Lovers of the Arctic Circle" with fable-like wonder, romantic innocence and subtle eroticism.

"Lovers of the Arctic Circle" opens with a death, and then a flashback, when Otto, as a young schoolboy in Spain, meets Ana in a park. The chance meeting results in Ana becoming the love of Otto's life; what he doesn't know is their lives will intertwine in an even more intense way in a few years.

A series of episodes told from each character's point of view, "Lovers of the Arctic Circle" unfolds as a string of elegant tableaux, each carefully constructed to convey a surprising amount of information and emotion. Otto sends a flotilla of paper airplanes into his school courtyard; Ana stuffs a note into his hand just before they are photographed together; Otto enters an apartment and notices a fly on the wall, then a rotting bunch of lettuce leaves. Each image makes an indelible impact, and they accrue into a story all the more powerful for its delicacy of feeling.

Medem has enlisted an excellent ensemble of young actors to portray the protagonists as they mature through the years. Fele Martinez and Najwa Nimri, who play Otto and Ana as adults, carry the bulk of the movie with great intelligence and alertness. Filmed in Spanish, "Lovers of the Arctic Circle" is "Notting Hill" for people who don't mind reading, whether it's subtitles or between the lines.

"Lovers of the Arctic Circle." Starring Fele Martinez, Najwa Nimri, Nancho Novo. Directed by Julio Medem. Released by Fine Line Features. Rated R (sexuality and brief language). Running time: 112 minutes. Sun score: ***

`Get Real'

For all its therapeutic and sociological value, "Get Real" still falls flat as a movie. Ben Silverstone is appealing as British high school student Steven Carter, a good student whose life would be complete if only he had a boyfriend. And Brad Gorton, as BMOC John Dixon, makes an equally attractive foil for Steven's amorous advances. But no real chemistry ever charges "Get Real," which remains a tepid if well-meaning alternative to mindless high school romance movies.

Adapted from a Patrick Wilde play by Simon Shore, "Get Real" may shock some filmgoers by its frank portrayal of Steven cruising the men's room of a public park for dates, but compared with the libidinous high jinks of flicks like "She's All That" and "10 Things I Hate About You," this is mild stuff.

"Get Real" will strike a chord of recognition in teen-agers -- and adults, for that matter -- who have grappled with sexuality, identity and acceptance. And there is no doubt that the chord needs to be struck, again and again. If only the movie were as entertaining as it is useful.

"Get Real." Starring Ben Silverstone, Brad Gorton. Directed by Simon Shore. Released by Paramount Classics. Rated R (language and sexual content). Running time: 110 minutes. Sun score: **

`Instrument'

"Instrument," Jem Cohen's mesmerizing documentary about the legendary Washington, D.C., punk band Fugazi, will no doubt bring the band's cult-load of fans into the Charles Theatre during its six-day run there. But this two-hour film also provides an excellent introduction to the group for the uninitiated.

Formed in 1987 by former Minor Threat member Ian MacKaye and guitarist Guy Picciotto, Fugazi (the name derives from a Vietnam-era soldiers' acronym) has for over a decade hewed to the same ethic: play hard-core, uncompromising music for their legions of dedicated fans, without succumbing to record companies, MTV, media hype and other predations of commodified culture. Charging a populist $5 for their shows ($8 for records), Fugazi has never veered from its credo, playing tiny political benefits and prisons with as much commitment and energy as most bands play huge stadiums.

Cohen, best known for his videos and films for R.E.M., spent a decade with Fugazi while its members toured, recorded (once at a band member's grandparents' house) and talked about their career. Using Super-8 and 16-millimeter film, as well as videotape, Cohen does an extraordinary job of capturing the whipped-up abandon of their concerts.

He also shows Fugazi's ethic in action -- two priceless instances are an interview with a middle-school television show and MacKaye dressing down a violent concertgoer (the band is famous for stopping shows if the audience is misbehaving).

Visually arresting, intellectually engaging and thoroughly inspiring, "Instrument" has obvious appeal for the converted. But anyone in doubt that artistic integrity still exists in the era of rampant commercialization should see Cohen's film, if only to sleep a little better at night.

"Instrument" will be shown through Wednesday at 10 p.m. at the Charles Theatre.

"Instrument." Starring Fugazi. Directed by Jem Cohen and Fugazi. Released by Dischord Records. Unrated (some language). Running time: 158 minutes.

Sun score: ***

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