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Surprise! Film fest offers well-known pleasures

Kim Tae-woo, left, Kim Seung-woo and Ko Hyun-joung star in "Woman on the Beach"
New Yorker Films
Kim Tae-woo, left, Kim Seung-woo and Ko Hyun-joung star in “Woman on the Beach.”

Sometimes the most exciting film-festival movie is the one that hits the screen with potential rather than a proven reputation — a movie that arrives wet from the lab, as they say, and may never have been reviewed or even seen before.

Familiarity greeted the start of this year’s Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival last Thursday, as fest director Al Milgrom banged the ceremonial gong to get the reels turning. But among unknown quantities, it remains to be seen whether “Mondo Bondo” — a documentary about the kinkier ties that bind — is as, uh, captivating as it sounds.

While some of us get a tingle out of not knowing what awaits, others prefer to choose more carefully among the M-SPIFF’s 130-odd selections.

My own trio of picks for this first of three M-SPIFF consumer guides (others will follow on Wednesday and Friday) hail from South Korea, Russia and Turkey, and strike me as being among the most accomplished and rewarding of the year’s international cinema.

But as much as I’m convinced and even enamored of my own taste, you don’t have to take my word alone — or Milgrom’s, either. Two of these three widely acclaimed dramas premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, and the other at Toronto.

As for “Mondo Bondo,” the collective blindfold comes off Wednesday night (7:30) at the St. Anthony Main multiplex — but I have a date. If you see it, drop me a line.

M-SPIFF picks for today (Monday) and tomorrow (Tuesday), all screening at St. Anthony Main:

“Woman on the Beach.” Expertly rendered and fabulously entertaining, this latest romantic comedy from South Korean writer-director Hong Sang-soo (“Woman Is the Future of Man”) follows a young film director (Kim Seung-woo) who’s distracted from work on his latest script by not one woman on the beach, but two (Song Sun-mi, Ko Hyun-joung). As in his other movies, Hong makes us laugh in recognition of life’s ordinary awkwardness — boredom included — rather than piling on the farce. (today at 7 p.m.)

“Alexandra.” Much-loved Russian director Alexander Sokurov (“Russian Ark”) has made another film whose formal challenges befit its story and increase its rewards. Here the subject is war in Chechnya, but the movie is as much about the desire for familial connection, as the aged title character (Galina Vishnevskaya) visits her grandson (Vasily Shevtsov), whom she hasn’t seen in seven years, on his army base. An old woman invited to walk freely among soldiers at war? This has to be even dreamier than Sokurov’s famously surreal “Mother and Son,” right? But if so, whose dream is it? Could it be ours? (Tuesday at 5:20 p.m.; also Tuesday, April 29, at 7:45 p.m.)

“The Edge of Heaven.” Set in contemporary Turkey, this lovely and patient drama finds filmmaker Fatih Akin moving in the opposite direction of his intensely immediate “Head-On,” juggling a half-dozen characters whose relationships only gradually become clear. There’s a young university professor (Baki Davrak) who searches for his half-sister, a randy old man (Tuncel Kurtiz) who shacks up with a prostitute (Nursel Kose), and a hotly pursued activist (Nurgül Yesilçay) who falls in love with the college student who keeps her in hiding (Patrycia Ziolkowska). Such is Akin’s careful command of tone that the film remains riveting even — or especially — when we’re not sure where it’s going. (Tuesday at 7:15 p.m.; also Friday, April 25, at 5 p.m.)

Other notable M-SPIFF screenings through Tuesday:

“Noise.” Fed up New Yorker (Tim Robbins) wages absurd war on noise pollution. (Monday at 9:30 p.m., Tuesday at 9:35 p.m.)

“Bamboo Shoots.” Chinese director Jian Yi will be present for both screenings of his comedy about a middle-aged villager’s potentially embarrassing mistake. (Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 5:15 p.m.)

“Under the Stars.” Spanish movie about a musician’s unexpected return to his small-town home. (Tuesday at 7:45 p.m., Thursday at 5 p.m.) 

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