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British Farce Spoofs Transatlantic Role in Iraq War

The witty British political farce “In the Loop” was one of the most anticipated selections at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. It had garnered major buzz after an enthusiastic response from audiences and critics alike at the Sundance Film Festival. The absurdist comedy has been compared to the likes of “Dr. Strangelove,” “Monty Python,” “Wag the Dog,” “Thank You for Smoking” and “The Office.”

From the crew behind the award-laden BBC comedy series “I’m Alan Partridge,” Scottish co-writer-director Armando Iannucci’s directorial debut — more or less an extension of his hit television series “The Thick of It” — is filled with acerbic one-liners and hilariously quotable language.

The film spoofs the path to the war in Iraq as paved by the Anglo-American alliance. A verbal gaffe by the ambitious but inept British minister of international development, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) — calling war with a certain unnamed Middle Eastern country “unforeseeable” while being interviewed on TV — sets off a chain reaction of bumbling transatlantic power politics. A team of British diplomats travels to Washington to defuse the situation with the U.S. State Department. Every character looks after their own interests while devising Machiavellian schemes — while an apparently inconsequential war is being planned in the meantime.

Fine performances abound from Hollander and the rest of the first-rate ensemble cast. Peter Capaldi steals the show as Malcolm Tucker, the frequently vulgar and always bombastic communications director usually at odds with Foster. James Gandolfini shines as a pacifist American general whose former flame is the U.S. assistant secretary for diplomacy (Mimi Kennedy). She’s typically accompanied by her young, power-seeking assistant (Anna Chlumsky), whose college pal and sometimes lover (Chris Addison) is Foster’s political advisor. David Rasche plays the U.S. State Department official who starts a not-so-secret committee planning the war, while back on the British front, Steve Coogan mopes around as a persistently unhappy constituent. It all makes for fine transatlantic teamwork that may hit a little too close to home for some Beltway and British insiders.

In the Loop (English; 104 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema 4 out of 5 stars

‘Soul Power’: Festival Before Fight American director Jeffrey Levy-Hinte’s documentary “Soul Power,” a directorial debut that had its premiere at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival, recounts “Zaire ’74,” the three-night concert held in Kinshasa, Zaire, in 1974. The music festival was planned to accompany “The Rumble in the Jungle,” the legendary boxing match between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali, but an injury to Foreman postponed the fight by six weeks. This outstanding African American musical event of the 20th century went on as planned by creators Hugh Masekela and Stewart Levine, but without the additional publicity it might have otherwise earned in the backdrop of the big fight.

The movie’s tagline is: “The greatest music festival that you have never seen.” Unfortunately, I just wasn’t all that moved by the music, which admittedly might be simply a matter of personal taste, even though I do appreciate the genre. Furthermore, it felt like the energy level captured on screen pales to other legendary films about music festivals — such as “Woodstock,” the most famous one of all. And “Soul Power” also suffers when another obvious comparison is made: It’s clearly outshined by its older sister documentary about the 1974 boxing match, the memorably powerful “When We Were Kings.”

Still, “Soul Power” captures the peak performances of luminous R&B artists including B.B. King, Celia Cruz, Bill Withers and James Brown. Moved to revisit their African roots, these and other great talents were previously documented only briefly by the Academy Award-winning “When We Were Kings,” which focused on the fight. Levy-Hinte, who did Avid editing on that documentary, could not allow such a wealth of material to return to the vault. Interspersed with the ebullient reception of the local audience in Kinshasa, a musical city in its own right, “Soul Power” is a historic if not particularly distinctive cinema verité documentary.

Soul Power (English and French with subtitles; 93 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema Opens Fri, Aug. 7 3 out of 5 stars

Sisterly Support in ‘Treeless Mountain’

South Korean-born writer-director So Yong Kim, now based in Brooklyn, characterizes “Treeless Mountain” as a semi-autobiographical tale. Her film — which premiered at the 2009 edition of New Directors/New Films at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art in New York — is a stunningly memorable story told through the perspective of childhood.

In “Treeless Mountain,” 6-year-old Jin (Hee Yeon Kim) and 4-year-old sister Bin (Song Hee Kim) live with their loving but stressed mother in a tiny apartment in Seoul. One day, their mother decides to go looking for their long-lost father, so she casts Jin and Bin into the care of their uncaring Big Aunt (Mi Hyang Kim), a negligent alcoholic. Fortunately, Jin looks after Bin, and the two are more or less able to fend for themselves. Their mother promised to return when their piggy bank is full, so the duo become young entrepreneurs catching and toasting crickets for sale. But their certainty about their mother’s impending return diminishes over time. After Big Aunt has had enough of them, she takes them to the country to foist them on their grandparents. Their grandmother is shown to have a streak of kindness lacking in Big Aunt, but there’s no great revelation in store.

One of director Kim’s admitted influences is Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Nobody Knows,” another story in which young children are abandoned by their mother and must more or less learn to fend for themselves. The strength of “Treeless Mountain” is based on the amazingly naturalistic performances from the two young nonprofessionals. Both youngsters leave lasting impressions of emotions ranging from joy to tears. Hee Yeon Kim is particularly notable playing Jin, who is unwillingly and quickly forced to become a grownup while still in a child’s body.

Treeless Mountain (Korean with subtitles; 89 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema 4.5 out of 5 stars

Repertory Notes

Please see International FilmClips for detailed listings available at press time.

American Film Institute Silver Theatre “The Films of François Truffaut, PART 1” (through Sept. 3) surveys the work of the French auteur, a leader of the French New Wave. Like every summer, David Lean’s sweeping epic “Lawrence of Arabia” in 70mm plays Sundays at 7:30 p.m. (301) 495-6700, www.afi.com/silver

Freer Gallery of Art Highlights in the “Asia Trash!” series include Bong Joon-ho’s “The Host” (Aug. 6) and Wisit Sasanatieng’s “Tears of the Black Tiger.” The popular Made in Hong Kong Film Festival continues through Aug. 23. Notable directors’ work includes Tsui Hark’s “All About Women” (Aug. 2) and Derek Yee’s “One Night in Mongkok” (Aug. 7 and 9). (202) 357-2700, www.asia.si.edu/events/films.asp

National Gallery of Art “Carl Theodor Dreyer: The Late Works” (Aug. 2-22) marks the 120th anniversary of the Danish director’s birth (1889-1968) with four rare sound films and one short from the Danish Film Institute. “From Vault to Screen” (through Aug. 30) presents restored treasures from international archives. (202) 842-6799, www.nga.gov/programs/film

Goethe-Institut “Sound Movie Classics” (Aug. 10-31) features German cinema from the 1930s and early 1940s that, according to the Goethe-Institut “was marked by three largely parallel developments: the triumphant arrival of sound, the growing domination of the German film industry by one company … and the rule of the Nazi regime from 1933 onwards.” (202) 289-1200, www.goethe.de/ins/us/was/kue/flm/enindex.htm

About the Author

Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on July 7, 2014