Utne Reader Film Reviews


| Mar.-Apr. 2008



Broken Homeland

The Visitor
(Overture Films; in theaters April 11)
Political without being preachy and tender without being sentimental, The Visitor reveals the frustrations of an average American who wants to stop his country from destroying itself and its ideals. Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) is a white-bread, widowed Connecticut college professor who has lost his passion for life. One night, when he returns to his unused New York apartment, he discovers an illegal immigrant couple—Tarek, a charming man from Syria, and his Senegalese girlfriend—who have been living there by mistake. What could be a sitcom-like set-up evolves into a brilliant gem of a movie about friendship and post-9/11 politics.

Actor-turned-director Tom McCarthy tells his story with the same compassion, humor, and sensitivity that he brought to his debut, The Station Agent, in which another unlikely group of characters—including a dwarf, a Hispanic hot dog vendor, and an 11-year-old African American girl—come together to convey a larger story about loneliness and companionship.

The Visitor wins you over with a disarmingly sweet beginning that shows Walter bonding with Tarek over the West African djembe drum and then breaks your heart when this newfound friend is whisked away to a detention center. Ultimately, The Visitor conveys the sorrowful realization that no matter how much we want to change the system, sometimes we can’t.
—Anthony Kaufman

 

Helvetica
(Plexifilm; on DVD)
What do tax forms, Do Not Enter signs, the Postal Service, and Target have in common? They all use Helvetica, the sans serif typeface that has become the acme type of the modern world since its introduction 50 years ago. Clean, simple, and remarkably well-balanced, Helvetica, this documentary reveals, is not just a font but the catalyst for a “global visual culture” that dominates our landscape and has inspired legions of imitators—even a backlash. Watch as the world’s top graphic and type designers discuss its merits, often in German accents that invite parody, in a film that will have you doing a second take every time you really look at type. While it may be best appreciated by designers, Helvetica will appeal to anyone who is interested in the power of visual communication. —Keith Goetzman