Warm films from a chilly climate

Times Staff Writer

SONS miss their mothers, mothers miss their children and the idea of home is redefined in this year's Scandinavian Film Festival L.A. Three films, each an Academy Awards submission, crisscross borders to dramatize the mutable nature of love and the inexorable pull of maternal bonds.

Finnish director Klaus Haro sets the heart-wrenching drama "Mother of Mine" during early World War II, when 70,000 Finnish children were separated from their parents and sent to the relative safety of Sweden. A 64-year-old man named Eero (Esko Salminen) recounts in detail to his elderly mother something that has gone unspoken for nearly half a century.

Haro uses silvery black-and-white to depict the present and warm color for the past as Eero recalls the irreparable emotional harm that was done when he was sent away. Eight-year-old Eero (Topi Majaniemi) goes to live with a childless couple named Signe (Maria Lundqvist) and Hjalmar (Michael Nyqvist) on their small farm in southern Sweden. Eero and Hjalmar bond quickly, but Signe is brusque and distant for reasons that are gradually revealed. Lundqvist is marvelous as a woman suffering unspeakable pain and guilt.

Annika Hallin also plays a tortured woman in Norway's "Kissed by Winter." Her Victoria is an ambitious Stockholm physician when her son, Sune, falls ill and dies while playing hockey. The tragedy drives her to rural Norway, where she becomes consumed in the work of a country doctor. Several months after she arrives, a teenage boy from a nearby refugee center is found dead in a snowbank after an apparent accident. Victoria senses something amiss, however, and the film takes on the veneer of a whodunit with suspicion falling on one of her patients, Kai (Kristoffer Joner).

Director Sara Johnsen deftly moves between the present mystery and Victoria's memories of the events leading to Sune's death. It is a poetic film that charts the nearly impossible path to forgiveness. Like Lundqvist, Hallin delivers a performance of such depth and simplicity that it is impossible to forget.

Arabic is not the first language that comes to mind when viewing Nordic films, but the first half of Sweden's "Zozo" takes place in civil war-torn Beirut in 1987. Lebanese Swedish filmmaker Josef Fares, previously known for his comedies, shifts to drama with a bittersweet story of a young, sensitive boy named Zozo (Imad Creidi) forced by tragedy to make a daunting journey alone.

Zozo and his family are awaiting passports and tickets to immigrate to Sweden, where his grandparents have already moved, when he finds a baby chick and immediately begins to imagine that it speaks to him in a kind, masculine voice. Soon, a bomb blasts through the family's apartment, killing Zozo's parents and sister. His older brother disappears, and Zozo is left to make his way to the airport and eventually to Sweden on his own. The second half deals with Zozo adjusting to his new home and a new language, simultaneously haunted and comforted by memories of his mother. The festival continues Jan. 20 and 21.

From Iran

The UCLA Film & Television Archive's 16th annual Celebration of Iranian Cinema opens with Mohammad Rasoulof's "Iron Island." Unavailable for preview, the drama focuses on a community of poor families living on an abandoned ship moored in the Persian Gulf.

The series' second feature is director Bijan Mirbagheri's "We Are All Fine," but everything is not fine for the middle-class family at the heart of this ambitious drama. The oldest son, Jamshid, has been gone for six years trying to earn a living in Europe, leaving behind a dysfunctional extended band of relatives. After being in contact via the occasional letter or phone call, followed by a two-year lapse, Jamshid requests that the family produce a video to send him. Organized by the younger brother with a rented camera, the family begins recording their greetings. Mirbagheri adroitly mixes film with the video confessionals as the family quickly adopts the medium as a forum for airing their grievances and sorting through their feelings about Jamshid's abandonment of them.

Slacker's delight

The American Cinematheque's Alternative Screen presents Laura Colella's evocative meta-film "Stay Until Tomorrow." Eleanor Hutchins is alternately sexy, funny and bemusing as Nina, a former teenage soap opera star who quit to attend college and then gave up on college to travel the world. After years of drifting, she lands abruptly at the Providence apartment of her childhood friend Jim (Barney Cheng), a cautiously stoic librarian she hasn't seen in seven years.

The proudly tangential film follows Nina's gently hedonistic idle as it stretches from a few days to what seems like months. Her days are spent in the library, absorbing books, learning Italian for her next destination, and having brisk casual sex on its secluded rooftop with an assortment of willing strangers.

Colella surreally punctuates the relaxed story with wry commentary by Cheng as the actor playing Jim, questioning the choices made by the film-within-the-film's director, Claudia. Equally in love with words and images, Colella displays great fondness for things that delight the senses, including, but not limited to, food, wine, sex, music and art.

With Paul Marashlian's darkly reflective short, "A Life in the Day." Discussion with the filmmakers follows.

Cartoon pioneers

LACMA looks at early animation with this weekend's "The Birth of the American Cartoon." Friday night's program, "Pioneers of Animation," features Jim Healy of the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y., presenting work by Walt Disney, Walter Lantz, Paul Terry and Max and Dave Fleischer.

On Saturday, scholar and animator John Canemaker lectures on the groundbreaking animation of Winsor McCay and screens McCay's seminal films, highlighted by "Little Nemo" (1911).

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Screenings

Scandinavian Film Festival L.A.

* "Mother of Mine": 2 p.m. Sunday

* "Kissed by Winter": 4:55 p.m. Sunday

* "Zozo": 8:15 p.m. Sunday

Where: Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills

Info: (323) 661-4273 or www.asfla.org

Celebration of Iranian Cinema

* "Iron Island": 7:30 p.m. Friday

* "We Are All Fine": 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: James Bridges Theater, Melnitz Hall, UCLA campus

Info: (310) 206-FILM or www.cinema.ucla.edu

The Birth of the American Cartoon

* Pioneers of Animation: 7:30 p.m. Friday

* "John Canemaker on Winsor McCay": 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Bing Theater, LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.

Info: (323) 857-6010 or www.lacma.org

Alternative Screen

* "Stay Until Tomorrow": 7:30 tonight

Where: Lloyd E. Rigler Theatre at the Egyptian, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

Info: (323) 466-FILM or www.egyptiantheatre.com

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