MILL VALLEY, CALIF.
The far-flung network of international film festivals is a favorite launching pad for non-American movies hoping for success in US theaters.
"The Inheritors" and "The Celebration" have come to commercial screens after a busy tryout period on that circuit, including a last-minute stop at the eclectic filmfest in Mill Valley, a northern California town.
The Inheritors, by Austrian filmmaker Stefan Ruzowitsky, tells a sardonic rural tale. The heroes are seven peasants who inherit a farm from the sour old man who owned it, then astonish their community by deciding to run the place themselves instead of selling it for an influx of easy money.
Although the movie roots for these unlikely landowners, it doesn't romanticize them by suggesting they have a natural talent for the activities they now have to manage.
Instead it weaves a complicated story of high ideals, hard realities, and escalating intrigues, some of them unexpectedly dark and violent. This isn't a particularly original or startling film, but it has enough twists to make it a strong candidate for box-office prosperity.
The Celebration comes from Thomas Vinterberg, a Danish filmmaker who joined "Breaking the Waves" director Lars von Trier in signing the so-called "Dogma 95" statement, pledging to avoid artificiality and manipulation in a no-nonsense search for cinematic truth.
The results of this manifesto have been very mixed so far: Von Trier's most recent movie, "Idiots," is a disaster as both art and entertainment, but the most pungent moments of "The Celebration" indicate that it may pay some dividends in the long run.
The story centers on a party organized by a rich family man to celebrate his 60th birthday. The festivities get off to a shaky start when his grown son abruptly accuses him of child abuse in bygone years, and emotional tensions continue to grow as resentments and rivalries emerge in a scathing series of revelations.
As bitter as many of its characters are, the movie's ultimate message is not entirely cynical, suggesting that honesty may be the best policy even if it causes great discomfort when it first appears. The acting is crisp and lifelike, establishing Vinterberg as a major new player on the world movie scene.
* The movies are unrated, but both contain moments of sex and violence.