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'The Greatest Thing'

Based on Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson's 19th-century novel The Fisherman's Daughter, The Greatest Thing is a lovely Norwegian film set in the 1860s that bristles with innocence and the wonder of self-discovery. Petra is a sweet-faced, charming girl living in a rough coastal village whose beguiling, childlike charm offsets her perpetual distance from reality. After the town discovers she has been engaged to three men at once, she flees to the mountains, where a strict yet progressive priest and his striking daughter, Singe, take her in as a member of the family. Singe and Petra develop a deep relationship, which becomes threatened by Petra's unsavory past and the outlandish lies she tells to cover it up.

When Petra's adoptive family takes her to the theater, Petra--whose entire life is more or less a stage--is rapt and from then on becomes determined to make acting her vocation. The contrast between the Calvinistic reserve of Petra's adopted family and her own whimsical vitality is touching, and the lush green expanses of the Norwegian countryside are spellbinding in their own right. A poignant tale with touches of wry humor and quiet melodrama, The Greatest Thing is a visually stunning film that's lively and pure in spirit. Sunday, Aug. 11, 9pm (Closing Night Film.) Jack London State Park, Glen Ellen. $12.50.

'The Rough South of Larry Brown'

This gratifyingly slow-paced documentary is a portrait of a man and the sweaty, beer-stained, weed-and-dirt Mississippi south that spawns his tersely effective writing. Larry Brown, a jack-of-all-trades kind of guy who spent years as a fireman, took up writing out of the blue one day with a dedication as thick as the humidity hanging over a field of okra. The list of story submissions that scrolls over the screen seems endless, and the lines crossing out the majority of the titles shows just how many rejections Brown got over the years. But his patience led, very slowly, to success.

The Rough South of Larry Brown not only tells us of the makings of his stories, it tells us three of the stories themselves through overlapping stills, acting, and narration. It is here that we can see the ungilded honesty in Brown's language and its power (though the film's treatment of these shorts tends to stifle it).

The movie also recounts Brown's 24-year marriage to his supportive and quietly long-suffering wife, who is simultaneously proud of and at odds with Brown's writing and the way it has shaped his habits: Brown stays up late, beginning his day once his family is calling an end to theirs, and types and smokes and types early into the morning. "Larry wasn't a writer when I married him," she says, repressing a sigh. Meanwhile, Brown has a practical view of his craft, claiming that anyone can master it if they practice enough.

Avid readers, writers, and lovers of a good story alike will find this a valuable and lingering take on what it means to feel the drive to write and how the yielding to that drive shapes the lives of those around you. Thursday, Aug. 8, 7pm. Jack London State Park, Glen Ellen. $10.

'Global Heresy'

Imagine if Third Eye Blind were the biggest, hottest band in the world and Alicia Silverstone were in Third Eye Blind, only Third Eye Blind were called Global Heresy instead, and Global Heresy rented out a fancy estate in England from a stuffy lord and lady who were strapped for pounds (as in cash). Oh, and the lord and lady had to pose as the servants because they couldn't afford to pay real servants, and the lord and lady (Foxley, for what it's worth) are played by Peter O'Toole and Joan Plowright.

This scenario as it's played out is not as offbeat as it may sound, which is actually a bummer, because with a setup like that you could wind up with a searing cross between Fawlty Towers and This Is Spinal Tap. What we get instead is a vapid teen comedy with a lot of bad words, played more for sentimentality than parody. There are lots of close-ups on Alicia Silverstone's hands while she plays bass, as if to impress upon us that--wow!--she really can. Global Heresy, as a band, are totally unconvincing, although the target audience of this movie probably won't care.

Plowright and O'Toole ham it up like good sports--particularly O'Toole, who we get to see take Ecstasy. It's fun to see Lawrence of Arabia and Mrs. Merchant-Ivory personified tackle brainless comedy, although more than a few times I found myself wondering what the hell Peter O'Toole and Joan Plowright were doing in this movie. Global Heresy is harmless and goofy and ridden with clichés, but fans of Adam Sandler movies and Third Eye Blind (don't fret, there are lots) should like it just fine. Thursday, Aug. 1, 9pm (Opening Night, Sonoma Valley Section). Jack London State Park, Glen Ellen. $10.

'Moosh'

A touching short from Israel, Moosh is a sweet vignette whose sincerity and compactness elevate it above the cliché of its setup. Moosh is a 32-year-old policeman who's on duty but feeling low because his wife, Leah, just left him. After making a call on a pay phone to try and get through to her, Moosh finds a baby abandoned in a dumpster and gets stuck having to take care of the child for the night.

Erez Tadmor, who wrote, directed, and produced Moosh, avoids the cheesiness that would be so easy to fall into with the old man-gets-stuck-with-baby-and-changes-for-the-better story by eschewing cuteness for real-life sentimentality. The result is more touching than any full-length treatment of a similar scenario. Saturday, July 27, 1:30pm. Domaine Chandon's Barrel Room Theater, Domaine Chandon, Yountville. $8. (Plays in a short-films program.)

'Tango: The Obsession'

Those who tango are truly obsessed. I used to work with one such tango lover who would, on her lunch breaks, go down to the basement and practice her dance steps. That's the way tango is: it seeps deep into you and becomes a vital, breathing part of who you are.

Tango: The Obsession sets out to prove this point through interviews and archival footage, as well as scenes of present-day dancers doing their thing. Though Adam Boucher's documentary may be rough around the edges and clumsily edited--it smacks of educational programming--the passion for the subject pours from the screen. We see how the personality of tango has evolved with the history of Argentina to mirror the country's immigrant population and multicultural influences, forming what is now a dance of national identity. Poets, musicians, historians, and (of course) dancers--one, a lively 91-year-old with the legs of a teenager--all offer their own perspectives on this cultural phenomenon. Saturday, Aug. 3, 6pm. Jack London State Park, Glen Ellen. $15. Includes the tribute to Eliseo Subiela and 'Dark Side of the Heart 2.'

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From the July 25-31, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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