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Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017 12:07 am

SAA’s film series brings drama, variety

Mustang, directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven plays on Jan. 8 and 10.

Each winter for the past 25 years, the Springfield Art Association has offered an antidote to the common blockbuster with the Molly Schlich Independent and International Film Series. Over the course of several weeks (Sunday matinees and Tuesday evenings) at AMC’s Parkway 8, 3025 Lindbergh Blvd., the series offers local movie buffs the opportunity to see films from a wide variety of countries and cultures on the big screen. The 26th annual series’ films, handpicked by Art Association executive director Betsy Dollar, are widely varied even by the standards of previous years, encompassing quirky comedy, grim but humane wartime stories, a full-length anime and even the Fab Four.

Jan. 8 and 10
Mustang
Described by Dollar as her personal favorite of this year’s selections, Mustang, directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, follows the struggle of five orphaned sisters in an isolated Turkish village. “It’s not exactly a light film but it is very insightful. These five young girls are fighting with expectations being imposed upon them. The youngest girl is probably 10 or 11 and she’s probably the most creative and rebellious, a feisty little one – just a wonderful character.”

Jan. 15 and 17
A Man Called Ove
This domestic drama from Sweden, written and directed by Hannes Holm based on a novel by Fredrik Backman, tells the story of a bereaved man as he deals with the grief of his wife’s recent passing. Which isn’t to say it’s all darkness. “It’s funny in a quirky way,” says Dollar. “He has many interrupted suicide attempts, which wind up being very funny even though it seems like it would be morbid.”

Jan. 22 and 24
The Innocents
The first of two films in this year’s series to take the subject of nuns facing off against different sorts of adversity, The Innocents was directed by Anne Fontaine from an original idea by Philippe Maynial whose aunt was a French Red Cross doctor in Poland after World War II. The sisters in the film find their faith called into question as they care for atrocity victims. Critic Christy Lemire at rogerebert.com describes it as “a welcome change: a war movie by women, about women.”

Jan. 29 and 31
Radical Grace
The second film in the series to place nuns front and center is this documentary following three sisters as they work tirelessly for social justice – including advocacy for the Affordable Care Act in the face of opposition from U.S. bishops as well as doing pro-women’s rights work at the Vatican – all during the 2013 election of Pope Francis. The film is said to bring “humor and down-to-earth grit to an epic battle for justice, equality and the dignity of women,” according to a capsule review featured on the website of the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago.

Feb. 5 and 7
Ms. Hokusai
This biographical anime feature is based on a manga (Japanese comic book) series telling the story of artist Katsushika Ōi (1800-1866) who worked in the shadow of her father, famed woodcut artist Hokusai (1760-1849). “It’s anime but with a difference,” said Dollar. “Instead of being what people think of for the genre – mostly adventure and fantasy – this is a very sensitive, colorful rendering of an artist’s family life.”

Feb. 12 and 14
Dheepan
Characterized by Dollar as the darkest of this year’s selections, Dheepan follows a makeshift, pseudo-family of Tamil refugees from the civil war in Sri Lanka as they try to make a new life for themselves in France. As a story about outsiders settling in an unfamiliar place, the filmmakers reportedly used Sam Peckinpah’s extraordinarily violent 1971 film Straw Dogs, starring Dustin Hoffman, as a model. Despite the brutality of some of its subject matter, Dheepan is said to be redeemed by “a romantic streak and a populist soul,” according to critic A.O. Scott’s review for the New York Times.

Don’t Think Twice by standup comedian and blogger Mike Birbiglia plays on Feb. 19 and 21.

Feb. 19 and 21
Don’t Think Twice
Standup comedian and blogger Mike Birbiglia (“My Secret Public Journal”) wrote, directed and starred in this comedy-drama about a small community of ambitious improvisational comedians. Along with costars Keegan Michael Key (“Key and Peele”) and Gillian Jacobs (“Community” and Netflix’s “Love”), Birbiglia’s acclaimed film is a “charming comedy drama about the pressures of success and of having to be clever constantly,” according to Dollar.

Feb. 26 and 28
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years
Ron Howard’s documentary follows the brief era of the Beatles’ career when they were live performers, between1962 and1966. Filled with concert footage (“lots of screaming girls,” said Dollar) and candid footage, the film is full of fun little details for casual Beatles fans, although die-hard Beatlemaniacs will likely find little new here.

Contact Scott Faingold at sfaingold@illinoistimes.com.

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