RECONSTRUCTION (Unrated, 90 minutes)
Danish director Christoffer Boe's remarkable debut, which won the Camera d'Or at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, is about the elusiveness of many things: identity, love and choices facing the artist. It manages to engage you on the literal -- the immediate story, that is -- and the abstract. When Alex (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) sets eyes on a striking Swedish woman named Aimee (Marie Bonnevie), he becomes infatuated. There are immediate complications. She's married to August (Krister Henriksson), a sullen, successful author (who's also the narrator), and he has a girlfriend, Simone (also played by Bonnevie). No sooner has Alex started up with Aimee, when his world becomes a "Twilight Zone" nightmare. He comes to his apartment to find it's missing. And people he knows, including his own girlfriend, no longer recognize him. The film, which suggests a Scandinavian combination of David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" and Luis Bunuel's "That Obscure Object of Desire," takes us deeper into Alex's surrealistic anxieties but never lets us forget we're watching a film. It is a fascinating dance between style and substance. And even though we know the whole thing is dramatic construction, the narrator tells us, "it hurts." He's right. Contains sexual scenes and obscenity. In Danish with subtitles. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.
-- Desson Thomson
TYING THE KNOT (Unrated, 87 minutes)
Like the many political documentaries that have been marching through theaters in recent months, "Tying the Knot" has an agenda (see Film Notes on Page 44). Rather than expressing it mainly through polemics, though, documentarian Jim de Seve's cogent pro-gay-marriage argument appeals equally to emotion and reason. Centering as much around people as ideas, it follows an Oklahoma farmer identified only as Sam and a Florida policewoman named Mickie Mashburn, both of whom have become embroiled in legal struggles to be recognized as spouses since their same-sex life partners died a few years ago. In Sam's case, his partner of 22 years, Earl, had willed Sam his ranch when Earl died in 2000, only to see Earl's relatives -- successfully so far -- contest the document on a technicality. In Mickie's case, the Tampa cop has been fighting the local police department's decision not to release her partner Lois Marrero's pension, ever since Lois was gunned down in the line of duty while responding to a 2001 bank robbery. In every way but on paper, as "Tying the Knot" makes clear, Sam and Earl and Mickie and Lois were married couples, and the legal roadblocks that have been set up to prevent them from enjoying the spousal benefits that straight widows and widowers would automatically get seem, to put it mildly, inhumane. Of course, filmmaker de Seve wants us to use our heads along with our hearts, and he presents lots of historical background -- courtesy mainly of "What Is Marriage For?" author E.J. Graff -- to buttress the view of an evolving (not to mention evolved) definition of the marriage institution. Ironically, it is populist talk-show host Larry King, who, while interviewing James Dobson of the anti-gay-marriage lobbying group Focus on the Family, most succinctly punctures the illogical argument that same-sex marriage somehow weakens heterosexual unions. Why, King asks, if gays want to destroy traditional marriage (whatever that means), would they want to be married in the first place? Contains some crude language and images of ugly anti-gay protests. At the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.
-- Michael O'Sullivan
UNCONSTITUTIONAL: THE WAR ON OUR CIVIL LIBERTIES (Unrated, 67 minutes)
UNPRECEDENTED: THE 2000 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION (Unrated, 57 minutes)
The ongoing film seminar in liberal politics continues apace with the theatrical release of a powerful documentary double feature from producer Robert Greenwald ("Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism" and "Uncovered: The War on Iraq"). The first film in the package, "Unconstitutional: The War on Our Civil Liberties," is a fresh -- and depressing -- look at the USA Patriot Act, which comes across not as a tool for fighting terrorism but a one-way ticket to a new and very scary police state. The second film is a new and improved version of the 2002 "Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election," now updated with dire warnings about the potential for even more voter fraud as jurisdictions across the country move increasingly toward touch-screen and other paperless voting machines. Sigh. This is heavy stuff, and well presented, but showing it in heavily Democratic Washington, where President Bush doesn't stand much of a chance of being reelected, seems almost pointless. Who knows, though? Progressives here may become so inflamed by the two film's arguments about Republican abuse of power that they might start a grassroots movement to take the two movies to swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania and project them, civil-disobedience-style, on the side of shopping malls. Even if it doesn't come to that, watching "Unconstitutional" and "Unprecedented" feels oddly therapeutic, in a perverse way. Yes, "Unconstitutional" is painful, and "Unprecedented" feels like ripping the scab off an old and almost-healed wound, but, heaven knows, Democrats do have that long-standing reputation as the party of self-flagellating masochists. Contains material guaranteed to induce everything from outrage to existential nausea in Kerry supporters. At the Avalon.
-- Michael O'Sullivan
WOMAN THOU ART LOOSED (R, 99 minutes)
This grim tale, adapted from a novel by Bishop T.D. Jakes, is about the troubled life of Michelle (Kimberly Elise), who was raped at age 12. The assailant is her mother's boyfriend, Reggie (Clifton Powell), who swears to Michelle's mother, Cassie (Loretta Devine), he never touched the girl. Cassie forces herself to believe Reggie because she doesn't want to lose a man; and Michelle grows up to become a crack addict and prostitute. She comes back home, an adult now, and finds herself facing an unrepentant Reggie. Her vengeance is inevitable and because it is so, we are forced to twiddle our thumbs through the story until it happens. It's refreshing to see an African American movie that goes for dramatic originality instead of drive-by gangsta fare or insufferable ensemble comedy. But Michael Schultz's movie hinges almost diagrammatically on that act of child abuse, like a made-for-TV melodrama. Despite some strong performances, particularly from Elise, and all manner of stylistic flourishes by Schultz and screenwriter Stan Foster, the movie feels stage-like and a little too self-conscious. It also spends a little too much gratuitous time with scenes of an actual revival meeting featuring Jakes. There are good scenes and less-assured moments, rich characters and cliched ones. Ultimately, the movie's too uneven to be totally satisfying. Contains obscenity, rape and other violence. Area theaters.
-- Desson Thomson
THE YES MEN (R, 83 minutes)
The first two people to appear on camera in "The Yes Men" are Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, two guys you probably never heard of, but whose anti-globalization-activist-cum-performance-art antics are chronicled in this pungent little documentary by Dan Ollman, Sarah Price and Chris Smith. The third person to appear on camera, in case you missed the memo clarifying the film's progressive/leftist stance, is filmmaker Michael Moore. Now that Ollman, Price and Smith have gotten the film's politics out of the way, it's simply a matter of establishing who exactly Bichlbaum and Bonanno -- part of a loose-knit coalition of agents provocateurs known collectively as the Yes Men -- are. In short order, we learn that the two merry pranksters, as a result of a Web site (gatt.org) set up to parody that of the World Trade Organization, have made a small sideline out of getting mistakenly invited to speak at international conferences, seminars and TV talk shows as representatives of the WTO. As bogus WTO spokesmen, Bichlbaum and Bonanno make a series of increasingly outlandish public proposals: The first has to do with vote selling, another with the advocacy of slave labor, a third calls for the recycling of human excrement into hamburgers for the Third World. But what's so funny -- and, at the same time, not so funny -- about their deadpan shtick is not the content of their "material" but their audiences' often uncritical reactions. Like Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal," it takes their most offensive plan yet (the re-processing of feces as food for the poor) to get a real rise out of people, in this case, a college (hence largely progressive) class. The political protesters profiled in this engaging portrait are as smart as they are smart-ass. Yes, "The Yes Men" is funny, but it's humor that hurts. Contains obscenity and the satirical use of excretory and phallic humor. At Landmark's E Street Cinema and Bethesda Row.
-- Michael O'Sullivan