Utne Reader Film Reviews: May-June 2010

| May-June 2010

Lust and Luxury
I AM LOVE  (Magnolia Pictures; in theaters)
The most sumptuous critique of the upper classes since Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard, this Italian melodrama captures the conflict between stifling wealth and unrestricted passion. When a textile tycoon’s wife (Tilda Swinton) falls for a young chef, she risks losing family and fortune. A clichéd plot turn, perhaps—but the film is set in an art deco estate from the Fascist era amid the glossy milieu of the corporate elite, suggesting that behind all the fine cuisine, romantic interludes, and virtuoso camerawork, this is a love story about the oppressive ways of capitalism and affluence. —Anthony Kaufman

Films for Your Inner Kid
CELESTIAL NAVIGATIONS: The Short Films of Al Jarnow  (Numero; on DVD)
Anyone who has watched much Sesame Street has seen Al Jarnow’s films, quirky untitled shorts in which rocks do flips, animals’ skeletons become visible, and kids rap about picking up litter. This compilation collects Jarnow’s shorts for Sesame Street and other public TV programs alongside more personal works in which math, geometry, and science play key roles. In an accompanying short documentary, Jarnow says he was always “trying to make something come alive.”  He usually succeeds, and for many viewers something else will come alive as well: memories. —Keith Goetzman

The Not-So-Great Leader
KIMJONGILIA  (Kino Lorber; on DVD)
“You don’t care about your pet fish when you’re dying.” Such is a pearl of painful wisdom from this wrenching look at the humanitarian crisis and political atrocity that is the North Korean nation. The film gives voice to several refugees from the People’s Republic, who recount harrowing tales of hunger, torture, and eventual escape from their “Great Leader” Kim Jong-Il. Director N.C. Heikin intercuts their stories with brief experimental dance sequences, but she should have left well enough alone: The subjects’ heart-­rending words speak for themselves. —A.K.