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Diane Carson

Put one imaginative French director--Michel Gondry--and an esoteric MIT philosopher and linguist--Noam Chomsky--together for a casual, wide-ranging conversation. The result is Gondry's clever "Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?" It includes only scattered inserts of Professor Chomsky, shot on a 16-mm Bolex camera, since Gondry favors presenting the topics discussed in vividly colorful, rapid-fire animation.

For Washington University's 9th African Film Festival the theme "coming of age" defines the fest itself and its superb selections. In four programs, shorts and feature length, animated and live action films showcase the Ivory Coast and Nigeria, South Africa and the Sudan, and more. Technical quality and subject diversity distinguish the films available for preview.

In "Enemy's" opening minutes," Canadian director Denis Villeneuve signals that his film will pose a conundrum more than a story. Text on screen announces, "Chaos is order yet undeciphered." After a subsequent scene of some vague sexual display, the plot becomes more straightforward while remaining tantalizingly elusive. "Enemy" remains a film for viewers who like intriguing, but puzzling experiences.

A couple years ago, East Indian writer/director Ritesh Batra began making a documentary about Mumbai's famous Dabbawallahs. Five thousand strong, these deliverymen take the dabbas, lunchboxes, containing hot meals, from housewives or restaurants to office workers. For over a century, using a system of codes, colors, and symbols, the Dabbawallahs make perhaps one mistake in a million deliveries.

Danish director Lars von Trier courts conflict: in the content of his films, his Dogma 95 Manifesto, and in appearances. He proved that in 2011 at the Cannes Festival when, at a press conference I attended on "Melancholia," he asserted his understanding of the Nazis. Now von Trier's "Nymphomaniac: Volume I" will encourage further, possibly fruitful, debate.
 

John Hubley distinguished himself as a Disney animator contributing to Snow White, Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Fantasia. He created Mr. Magoo in 1949 and founded Storyboard Studios in 1953 after being blacklisted for refusing to cooperate with the House Committee on Un-American Activities. After moving his studio to New York in 1955, he created animated films with his wife Faith Elliott.

Director Yuval Adler set and shot his film "Bethlehem" on location in that divided city where the central character, Sanfur, gets caught between the Palestinian resistance and his Israeli Secret Service handler Ravi. A quick-tempered Palestinian teenager, Sanfur embodies the fractured identity and impossible conditions of his troubled environment. He literally and figuratively makes himself a target.

In August 2010, aboard the 11.5 meter, two-masted ketch Guppy, 14-year-old Laura Dekker set off from her home Dutch port, hoping to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world. No support boat would bail her out in the event of serious trouble. January 2012, after 519 days and 27,000 nautical miles, 16-year-old Laura succeeded.

Eleven years ago, Teller, of the celebrated team of Penn and Teller, read David Hockney's book "Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters." He became curious about 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. As Teller describes it, Vermeer's "inhumanly good" work "pops out at you from across the room," so extraordinary is the light and color depicted.

"The Trials of Muhammad Ali" begins with a jolt from 1968--a verbal denouncement of Ali by David Susskind speaking from London to Ali via live television satellite. Producer/director Bill Siegel immediately cuts to President George W. Bush bestowing the Medal of Freedom on Ali in 2005, juxtaposing jarring counterpoints of attitude as well as of Ali's physical presence.

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