Nashville Film Festival 2013: Friday's Picks

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Today marks the first full day of programming at the 2013 Nashville Film Festival, after last night's opening gala and the local premiere of Jeff Nichols' Mud, with Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon. We also heard good things about the frisky pseudo-doc The Go Doc Project (screening again tonight at 9:45 p.m.) and the Tennessee First Shorts 2 program (screening again Wednesday).

These are a few of the films we're most excited about today that weren't screened before press time, followed by a list of our previewed picks.

LAURENCE ANYWAYS (3 p.m.; also 5:15 p.m. Sunday, April 21) The NaFF introduces local cinephiles to the work of acclaimed Quebecois phenom Xavier Dolan, starting with his epic account of the 10-year relationship of a male-to-female transsexual (Melvil Poupaud).

FOLK (6 p.m.; also 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 23) Sara Terry's documentary follows three modern-day troubadours — Raina Rose, the Flyin' A's' Hilary Claire Adamson and Dirk Hamilton — at various stages of their careers as they navigate the contemporary folk scene from living-room concerts to festivals.

THE SPECTACULAR NOW (7 p.m.; also 12:30 p.m. Saturday, April 20) Sundance audiences fell in love with James Ponsoldt's bittersweet teen romance about a high-schooler with a drinking problem (Rabbit Hole's Miles Teller) and his unexpected new hope (The Descendants' Shailene Woodley).

ICEBERG SLIM: PORTRAIT OF A PIMP (9:30 p.m.; also 10 p.m. Tuesday, April 23) How a straight-A student from Chicago grew up to be the man who literally wrote the book on pimping, in this Ice T-backed documentary portrait of the cult-hero author of Pimp and Trick Baby.

HERE COMES THE DEVIL (10 p.m.) Adrián García Bogliano's Spanish-language shocker scared the hell out of Austin's Fantastic Fest last fall, with Francisco Barreiro as a father whose children return from a sudden disappearance not quite right.

POST TENEBRAS LUX (1 p.m.; also 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 24) You'd think it'd be hard for certified Mexican oddball Carlos Reygadas to go much further off the deep end after films like Battle in Heaven or even the relatively placid but otherworldly Silent Light. But here he is again, dancing on the edge of coherence like a Surrealist hermano to Terrence Malick. This is a film (sort of) about domestic anxiety, and it begins with the filmmaker's children at sunrise, in a kind of nod to the birth of the universe. Almost immediately after, a CGI red devil invades the home of an upper-middle-class family as they sleep. It's a highly original, allegorical, sensual and heretical film; you might not like Lux, but I guarantee you won't soon forget it. In subtitled Spanish. MICHAEL SICINSKI

MEKONG HOTEL (3 p.m.; 4:15 p.m. Sunday, April 21) Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) cut together rehearsals for an unfinished project to make a strange and beguiling enigma. Phon and Tong are young, and they're falling in love at a hotel that overlooks the Mekong River. Phon's mother is a Pob — a ghost — and then Phon is a ghost, too, after her mother devours her entrails. A man plays guitar peacefully, hypnotically. And then Tong is not really Tong, but a projected double made possible by some kind of soul-body splitting device. The river glides by serenely. It's not easy to describe this dream state of a filmic experiment, but it's hard not to get absorbed by it. STEVE HARUCH

DETROIT UNLEADED (5:45 p.m.; also 5 p.m. Monday, April 22) Rola Nashef's strong feature-length debut follows the exploits of Sami (EJ Assi), a young Lebanese-American man with big dreams who gets stuck tending the family gas station after his father is murdered. But when the lovely Naj (Nada Shouhayib) drops by to deliver long-distance phone cards from her brother's cellphone store, Sami's dreary existence suddenly brightens up, and a romance blooms. Both leads exude a low-key charm, and as Sami's high-strung cousin Mike, comedian-actor Mike Batayeh is terrific, kind of an Arab-American Joe Pesci. The film's funniest moments center around Sami and Mike's interactions with the predominantly African-American customers of their station, and display a blend of humor and insight that recalls Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing. JACK SILVERMAN

A LETTER TO MOMO (4 p.m.; also 1 p.m. Saturday, April 20) Creepy yet comical, heartwarming and bittersweet, Hiroyoki Okiura's feature is a tender morsel of a film. Brooding over an unfinished letter from her recently deceased father, young Momo leaves Tokyo with her mother for the remote, summer-soaked island of Shio. There she becomes the hapless companion of guardian spirits Iwa, Kawa and Mame, mischievous and kleptomaniacal bumblers with penchants for binge eating, sacred booty-dancing and aggressive flatulence. Burgeoning with tangible textures and psychedelic visuals, this gorgeously animated tale of love, loss and new beginnings begs to be sampled by film lovers of all ages. Itadakemasu! SARAH BROWN

IF YOU DIE, I WILL KILL YOU (6:30 p.m.; also 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, April 23) Two Parisians — sad-sack ex-con Philippe (Jonathan Zaccaï) and his roommate Avdal (Billey Demirtas), a Kurd pursuing an Iraqi war criminal — have lives stuck in neutral. Their accidental friendship energizes them, until Avdal is betrayed by a bad ticker. The tragedy brings in members of Paris' Kurdish community, along with Avdal's fiancée (Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani) and his glowering fundamentalist father. The film's tone veers from Jarmuschian humor to Gallic ooh-la-la (look for cameos by three lovely actresses of a certain age) and female empowerment story. Odd, yes, but expatriate Kurdish director Hiner Saleem knows these worlds and assembles a diverting ride. Part of the Celebration of Kurdish Film, starting today. DANA KOPP FRANKLIN

LUNARCY! (7:30 p.m.; also noon Sunday, April 21) Something of a Trekkies for the moon-obsessive set, Simon Ennis' clever doc follows a handful of lunartics: among them astronaut-turned-lunar-landscape-painter Alan Bean, lunar real estate salesman Dennis Hope, and endearingly awkward but wildly passionate Luna Project founder Christopher Carson. Lunarcy!'s tone is playful and knowing rather than mocking, following this gaggle of guys who are more idealist wonks than outright crackpots. After all, each moon fanatic profiled comes off as exceptionally intelligent, if a bit gawky, and they have a very good point: Why in the hell aren't we colonizing the moon by now? D. PATRICK RODGERS

APE (7:45 p.m.; also 5 p.m. Saturday, April 20) Joel Potrykus' bizarre offering may look like (and contain some acting reminiscent of) a high school project and play out like a low-rent Black Swan, but it's definitely worth a look. Friendless, jobless, talentless and clueless, comedian Trevor Newandayke seems to be the butt of some unfathomable universal joke. In a hundred menial ways, he allows the whole world to use him as its doormat, until the seething resentment boils over in bursts of misguided vigilante heroics, vandalism, brutal violence and compulsive arson. Oh yeah, and he's being followed by a man in a gorilla suit. When he sells one of his stinkers to the devil for an apple, that's when things get really weird. SARAH BROWN

PIT STOP (8 p.m.; also 11 a.m. Monday, April 22) One of the NaFF's best finds of recent years was the gay romance Weekend; similar territory yields strong results in this convincing, warmly observed slice-of-life drama from director Yen Tan and co-screenwriter David Lowery (an indie utility man who edited Shane Carruth's Upstream Color and directed the much-anticipated feature Ain't Them Bodies Saints). Broken family man Gabe (Bill Heck) and recovering romantic Ernesto (Marcus DeAnda) inhabit different worlds within the same small Texas town. Under Tan's close, unemphatic direction, how they come together seems less like plot schematics than the natural course of guarded lives. If you wished Brokeback Mountain had ended happier, here's your movie. JIM RIDLEY

WE ALWAYS LIE TO STRANGERS (8:30 p.m.; also 10:30 a.m. April 20) Over the course of five years, documentarians AJ Schnack (Kurt Cobain: About a Son) and David Wilson chronicled life in Branson, Mo. — the shining rhinestone of family-friendly kitsch nestled in the crook of the Ozarks. As easy as it may have been to focus in on the weird patriotic hyperreality that is Branson's bread and butter, We Always Lie to Strangers manages to paint Branson as a complex tourist town struggling against a flailing economy. Or, if nothing else, a little bit more than just "Las Vegas if run by Ned Flanders." LANCE CONZETT

THE HISTORY OF FUTURE FOLK (9:15 p.m.; also 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, 1:30 p.m.) When a comet threatens to destroy planet Hondo, Hondonian Gen. Trius (Nils d'Aulaire) is sent to Earth to destroy the human race and prepare the planet for resettlement. But after landing in Brooklyn, he falls in love with music, changes his name to Bill and starts a family. When fellow Hondonian Kevin (Jay Klaitz) is sent to investigate, he too abandons his mission, and the two space aliens form an acoustic duo: Future Folk, natch. John Mitchell and Jeremy Kipp Walker's endearing low-budget sci-fi comedy leans more toward sweet than ironic, and Future Folk's music shtick — kind of a cross between Flight of the Conchords and Tenacious D — is pretty hilarious. Bonus points for a Dee Snider cameo. Definitely worth a look. JACK SILVERMAN

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