At the movies: Hungry in America, adrift in South Korea and crimebusting in Britain
It may make break your heart or boil your blood, but either way, A Place at the Table (at the River Oaks 3) won't leave you unmoved.
By turns fascinating and appalling, and sometimes both at once, this illuminating documentary diligently cites the statistics and explanations for the enduringly shameful problem of hunger in America — a country where it's estimated that 50 million people, or roughly one in six, aren't entirely sure when they'll have their next meal.
But co-directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush don't stop there. What makes their movie so powerful are the first-hand testimonies of three individuals plagued by what experts dryly describe as "food insecurity."
Don't misunderstand: A Place at the Table isn't a strident piece of angry agitprop.
We hear from Rosie, a Colorado fifth-grader who's literally too hungry to fully concentrate during her glasses; Barbie, a Philadelphia single mother who's worried that her new job will disqualify her from the food stamps she desperately needs to feed her two children; and Tremonica, a malnourished 7-year-old Mississippi girl whose weight-related health issues underscore a cruel irony — she's gaining too much weight precisely because empty calories are easier to afford than healthy food.
As Raj Patel notes, "A lot of people think there is a yawning gap between hunger on the one hand and obesity on the other. In fact, they're neighbors. And the reason that they happen often in the same time — and often in the same family, and the same person — is because they are both signs of having insufficient funds to be able to command food that you need to stay healthy."
Don't misunderstand: A Place at the Table isn't a strident piece of angry agitprop. Indeed, its soft-spoken reasonableness as much as its appeal for compassion is what makes it so powerful.
"It's about patriotism, really," Jeff Bridges notes. "How do you envision your country? Do you envision it a country where one in four of the kids are hungry?"
Isabelle Huppert times three
French actress Isabelle Huppert isn't only the star of In Another Country (6 p.m. Saturday at 14 Pews), she's also the center of gravity for this playfully wispy yet oddly captivating doodle by South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo.
Huppert plays three different characters — each one a Frenchwoman named Anne — in three separate stories sequentially invented by a would-be screenwriter. The plot of each scenario is thin to the point of transparency — indeed, even the inventive screenwriter is more or less forgotten about as the movie progresses — but the versatile leading lady remains ineffably alluring as three strangers in a strange land.
Nothing much happens in the sense of traditional dramatic conflict or resolution.
The setting is a small Korean coastal resort town, very much out of season, where Huppert appears at first as a visiting filmmaker in search of locations, then as the illicit lover of a married filmmaker, and finally as a recent divorcee who's seeking spiritual enlightenment, but settles for reckless inebriation.
In each episode, the outsider interacts — sometimes cheerily, sometimes awkwardly — with the same set of locals, most notably an aggressively friendly but English-challenged lifeguard (Yu Junsang) who appears eager to court each new iteration of Anne.
Nothing much happens in the sense of traditional dramatic conflict or resolution. In Another Country simply accumulates character-defining details in a methodical, even leisurely fashion, occasionally dwelling on an embarrassing moment — such as when a drunken Anne impulsively gets a tad too friendly with a pregnant woman's husband — but more often simply drifting from incident to incident while nonjudgmentally noting that language isn't the only thing separating the various Annes from the people around her.
It's probably not a good idea to waste time on over-analyzing certain recurring elements — like the umbrella that is repeatedly misplaced — in search of deeper meaning. Rather, you'd do better to simply enjoy In Another Country as a lazy day at the beach in the company of amusing strangers.
Shades of love
Love is in the air and on the screen this weekend at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, as the museum film department continues with Shades of Love: Romance in Contemporary African Cinema, a series curated by Mahen Bonetti, founder and director of the New York African Film Festival. The lineup includes:
Ousmane Sembène's Faat Kiné (7 p.m. Friday), a 2001 Senegalese comedy about a feisty service station operator who copes with the paternalistic mindset of various men in her orbit.
Djibril Diop Mambety's Hyenas (7 p.m. Saturday), a 1992 adaptation of Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt's classic drama The Visit, about a fabulously wealthy woman who returns to her native village to settle the score with a man who long ago seduced and abandoned her.
Jann Turner's White Wedding (5 p.m. Sunday), a 2009 South African comedy about the eventful trek taken by a groom and his best man while en route to a wedding in Cape Town.
Other screens, other cinema
The Sweeney (at AMC Studio) is a spin-off of TV series you likely have never heard of before — unless, of course, you have a nostalgic fondness for British-produced cop dramas of the 1970s. Back in the day, millions of U.K. viewers were enthralled by the tough-guy tactics of an elite Metropolitan Police unit known as the Flying Squad. (The title derives from Cockney rhyming slang: "Flying Squad" is nicknamed Sweeney Todd.)
Flash forward nearly four decades and we now have a similarly badass constabulary fighting crime and busting heads in modern-day London. Ray Winstone (Sexy Beast) stars as Detective Inspector Jack Regan, a Flying Squad commander who never plays by the book, and seldom even acknowledges its existence.