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Review: When the Sea Rises

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By all accounts, Belgium is a perfectly normal place, but for some reason, movies from Belgium always feel like they’re taking place on another planet. Consider Yolande Moreau’s bizarre little relationship comedy, which features copious footage of an actress named Irene (Moreau herself) performing a one-woman stand-up routine in which she appears as a demented clown with a long carroty nose. The things she says, some of which relate criminal misdeeds, rarely make any sense. But the Belgians seem to eat it up; we get numerous shots of Irene’s audiences guffawing away at her inscrutable little monologues. Then she picks a volunteer. Somehow, this is even funnier.
    And it’s not just the audience. The free-form plot of When the Sea Rises focuses on the relationship between Irene and Dries, a seemingly average suitor who follows her around, determined always to be her volunteer, or “chicken.” (Don’t ask.) There’s precious little dialogue or even drama between our two leads; there is, however, a lot of grinning and giggling. At one point, they have dinner with a large group of people. Somebody sings. Everybody (of course) laughs. Indeed, the further the film goes, the more its characters’ behavior takes on a slightly sinister quality, one at odds with the washed-out, bright cinematography and the film’s sunny, mundane exteriors. Is this a romantic comedy, or a kind of bizarre surreal mystery? In fact, by the time the last act rolls around, it becomes clear that the relationship we’re watching is meant to be inscrutable to us: When the Sea Rises is a great big in-joke about the ultimate in-joke — the love between two people. It’s an intriguing concept, but Moreau only partly pulls it off. If she had been more careful about casting us adrift in this strange world, her fascinating gambit might have worked. — Bilge Ebiri

Review: That Man: Peter Berlin
Those unfamiliar with 1970s gay culture may not immediately recognize porn star Peter Berlin, but a viewing of the amazing documentary will likely affix him in the mind forever. Every bit as absurdly sensual as Owen Wilson portrayed him in Zoolander, Berlin wandered the streets of San Francisco like the wiry, angel-faced star of a wet dream, turning heads on every block. Though he immortalized himself in thousands of remarkable photographs and two unusually artsy porn films, he seems most likely to endure as “that man,” the personification of sexual mystique. Many wondered who he was behind his cartoonishly stylized image, and few ever found out.
    Berlin was well aware of the power of mystery; in one telling (and hilarious) vintage clip, he slowly strips off one layer of underwear after another, delaying the inevitable reveal, and prolonging the delicious anticipation, for as long as possible. Modern interview footage is just as compelling, particularly Berlin’s account of his longtime lover’s death from AIDS. The scene adds a startling poignancy to Berlin’s over-the-top public persona; as a result, That Man is as moving as it is fascinating. — Peter Smith
Date DVD: Hustle & Flow
If, like Elliot Spitzer, corporate corruption turns you on, then by all means rent the new Criterion edition of Kurosawa’s dystopic industry nightmare The Bad Sleep Well, or check out Fernando Meirelles’s Big-Pharma conspiracy romance The Constant Gardener. If, on the other hand, rolling around on piles of cash with a sassy whore is more your speed, check out Craig Brewer’s hysterical Hustle & Flow.
    It’s a slutty, trashy romp that you can watch with or without irony. You either admire Terrence Howard’s gritty turn as a desperate middle-aged Memphis pimp who dreams of becoming a rap star or you giggle at the timely comedy of Howard’s not-so-ludicrously misogynist rap lyrics (“Smack that ho!”), reading them as a smart send-up of how crass the biz has become. Of course, it’s all about the love — of money, anyway — as jailbait prostitute Taryn Manning becomes Howard’s savvy business manager, selling his bad rep to radio stations all throughout the Dirrrty South. It’s one of the few movies you’ll see that presents drugs, prostitutes, gangsta rap and worse with a complete lack of moralization, which should reassure you if you happen to be on a date with someone less than classy. And if your date happens to be flat-out skanky? Well, this week, there’s no other date DVD for you. — Logan Hill

   

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