ALMOST PEACEFUL (UN MONDE PRESQUE PAISIBLE) (Unrated, 90 minutes)
There's something rather lovely about the mood and intentions of Michel Deville's French movie, set in Paris in August 1946. Albert (Simon Abkarian) and his wife, Lea (Zabou Breitman), are proprietors of a ladies' garment workshop. Their employees are Jews who have survived the Nazi death camps. This commonplace working situation is already a triumph. They are alive and free. While they work and banter, a collective history of shared misery emerges. Charles (Denis Podalydes), for instance, waits eternally for word of his wife and children, who were captured. But although the characters are warm and engaging, the dramatic situation cools its heels outside, never quite achieving the climax one expects. The most powerful moment occurs when a young man walks into a police station and sits down before the very inspector who, during the war, arrested his parents and dispatched them to the death camps. The man, 14 at the time, escaped. He will, he assures the cop, write about this incident. And he reminds the inspector that he has survived. It's the kind of confrontation you can't help wanting to see more of. Contains emotional thematic material and sexual situations. In French with subtitles. At the Avalon.
-- Desson Thomson
IN THE FACE OF EVIL: REAGAN'S WAR IN WORD AND DEED (PG-13, 110 minutes)
Based on Peter Schweizer's book "Reagan's War," the movie (which Schweizer exec-produced) traces a line of causality that goes from the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914 to the Cold War. It goes something like this: A "beast" arose from "the fever swamp" of World War I and "played upon man's yearning for a utopian solution to its abject misery, a quasi-religious criminal taking the form of a political messiah." Basically, this beast represents all the evil 'isms of the 20th century: Bolshevism, communism, fascism and Nazism, all of which advocated state control and power as their goal. All metaphorical beasts need metaphorical heroes, like Ronald Reagan. This is the sort of film that will make its target audience, presumably religious, right-wing Christians, heartened and possibly misty-eyed. But it's likely to provoke hooting and hollering in less reverent circles. Being single-minded in purpose, "In the Face of Evil" takes a wide berth around issues and events inconvenient to its narrative propulsion. In its mythic retelling of Reagan's life, for instance, the members of the counterculture that Reagan fought as California governor are little more than kissing cousins of the beast. The movie's biggest selling point, that Reagan brought down the house of the USSR, has much merit, in that Reagan spearheaded a concerted effort to dismantle the Soviet machine. But the movie plays down the almost innumerable contributing factors, including the Soviet Union's internal economic collapse. (The USSR was an empire, journalist and international studies author Josef Joffe recently wrote in the National Interest, that "died in bed.") This is for the pre-converted, certainly not the left, or even those who consider themselves detached observers. Contains footage of historical atrocities. At National Amusements Reston and Cineplex Odeon Wisconsin Avenue.
-- Desson Thomson
SAW (R, 100 minutes)
This grotesque mystery-thriller, which took some minor snipping to avoid an NC-17 rating (ooooh! cool! Not) isn't a third as cool and clever as it would like you to think it is. The basics: A certain Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and Adam (Leigh Whannell, also the scriptwriter) find themselves ankle-chained to wall pipes in opposite corners of a dilapidated bathroom. They have no idea where they are or how they got there. Both find tapes in their pockets, composed by the mysterious "Jigsaw Man," which pose a life-and-death challenge. A series of clues leads them to the bottom line: They are given hacksaws to cut their way out of captivity. No, not by cutting the chains. Through their ankle bones. Some other complexities of this gruesome game: The doctor's wife and child are being held hostage; they'll die if the men don't play the game within six hours. Oh, and there's a man lying on the floor between them in a pool of blood, a gun in one hand, a tape recorder in the other. (They use that to play the tapes.) Lawrence and Adam slowly realize they must collaborate to get out. They also uncover incriminating secrets about each other, and Lawrence suddenly has a good idea who Jigsaw might be. The movie, directed by James Wan, has been a minor hit in England. But its ratio of nastiness to suspense writing is too high. This film's highest priority is the blood and the sawing of leg bones; as for teasing the viewer's brain, that's lower on the list. As a police detective who's involved in a subplot, Danny Glover gets a silly supporting role, especially in the movie's over-the-top (even for a flick like this) finale. The Internet film geeks are salivating over this one. But humans who live above ground, including horror fans, will find themselves only fitfully entertained and more consistently appalled. Contains very gruesome violence and carnage, bad acting and obscenity. Area theaters.
-- Desson Thomson
VOICES OF IRAQ (Unrated, 79 minutes)
This fairly fascinating little documentary, compiled almost exclusively from digital video footage shot man-in-the-street-style by real Iraqis using 150 free DV cameras distributed throughout the country by film producers, advertises itself as having been "filmed and directed by the people of Iraq." At least the "filmed" part is accurate. The description, of course, glosses over the fact that someone -- in this case American producers Eric Manes, Archie Drury and Martin Kunert -- shaped the finished product from what must have been a massive amount of raw footage. Despite a good amount of balance allowing for the expression of some anti-American sentiment, "Voices of Iraq" comes down squarely on the side supporting the war in Iraq. At the very least, the cumulative impression it leaves after all the myriad voices have had their say, is that life in a post-Saddam world, with all its hardships and heartaches, is still better than the alternative. As we listen to young people and old, to men and women, the well-off and the poor express their hopes, dreams and fears, one set of voices seems curiously absent from the conversation. They are the so-called insurgents, most of whom are dismissed out of hand by the film's subjects as not being Iraqis. But if they're not, then who are they, and why are they still killing coalition soldiers and Iraqis (especially those who are being trained as soldiers and police)? Are they really, as many in the film speculate, outside agitators paid by despotic foreign regimes that are nervous about the spread of democracy if real representative government takes root in Iraq? Or could they actually be Iraqis who, for whatever reason, don't like things the way they're going? Whoever they are, and however inarticulate their rage, we never get a chance to meet them or hear their voices. Contains brief obscenity, dead bodies, scenes of torture, killing, mutilation and the aftermath of car bombings. In Arabic, Kurdish and English with subtitles. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.
-- Michael O'Sullivan