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Small is Beautiful

Four smart alternatives to the summer blockbuster.


Thrilling in its brightly hued despair, The World (July 1) is Chinese director Jia Zhangke’s capacious look at twentysomethings working at a Beijing amusement park featuring small-scale replicas of everything from the Eiffel Tower to the Pyramids. Hard-nosed and bighearted, the film gives us characters who use cell phones like weapons (they text-message pessimism, and switch their gear off to avoid unwanted advances) and seek escapes from their sunnily oppressive place of employment.

In The Beat That My Heart Skipped (July 1), a French thug (Romain Duris) thumps poor zhlubs who owe his criminal dad money and brushes up on his classical-piano technique; he’s a conflicted punk with powder-keg emotions. Duris, who looks like a young Martin Amis and moves with feral swiftness, is transfixing; directed by Jacques Audiard, Beat reworks James Toback’s 1978 Fingers with a lot less pop music and no Jim Brown, and is therefore not as fascinating. But Beat exerts its own jolting intensity.

Director Sally Potter is getting lots of grief for having Joan Allen, Sam Neill, and others declaim the dialogue of Yes (out now)—all marital betrayal and passion—in iambic pentameter. But Allen’s cutting portrayal of a woman who knowingly embarks on a disastrous affair with a Lebanese chef (Simon Abkarian) is such a tumultuous grabber you quickly forget the device. Not a stunt, Yes uses meter to heighten the intensity of the talk.

Tropical Malady (June 29) also plays formal tricks. The Thai film splits in two: The first half delineates a romance between two young men; in the second, a fable, a “tiger ghost” haunts a soldier. Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul seems to be comparing the delirium of obsession and attraction, shifting gears neatly from deadpan-languid to ferociously surreal.


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