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Ebertfest in Exile II

APRIL 25, 2008 -- Every year I keep meaning to include "Joe vs. the Volcano" in Ebertfest, and every year something else squeezes it out, some film more urgently requiring our immediate attention, you see. The 1990 John Patrick Shanley film, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, was about a wage slave in a factory where dark clouds lower o'er the sky; he is told he has a Brain Cloud, with only five months to live. How this leaves him to become a candidate for human sacrifice in the South Seas follows a long and winding road, in a film that was a failure in every possible way except that I loved it.

It's the kind of film that offends the Movie Police, a shadowy group that lurks about proclaiming, "They can't do that that in a movie--can they?" In this year's Ebertfest, there are two particular candidates for the category; Sally Potter's "Yes" and John Turturro's "Romance and Cigarettes." Both break any number of rules I will not list here, and both are delightful while doing so. They are above all delightful in the way they assume what we have been taught (by the study of movie cliches) is impossible in the movies.

In no particular area, and combining the two movies, these violations involve dust motes, iambic pentameter, deliberately audacious set design, domestic class warfare, smoking, Cuba under Castro, and sex in restaurants. What I appreciate about them is that they don't do what we expect them do do. They break the rules. By this I don't mean they "surprise" us, but they they show us what by all rights should not be showable. They are, in other words, alive.

I predict that both screenings will produce sizable groups of viewers who leave vaguely restless because the movies have pulled the generic rug out from under their feet. Even among critics, who are always complaining about "formula films," there will be resentment that the movies behaved as if formulas did not exist. For myself, I kept thinking, They can't make Tom Hanks a human sacrifice...can they?

A movie opening April 25 that will call out the Movie Police SWAT team: "The Life Before Her Eyes."

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