-The Taqwacores, from a novel by Michael Muhammad Knight, is a movie about two dispossessed outsider cultures with stringent purity requirements: punk and Islam. The film, structured as a young Muslim man's coming-of-age in a semi-squat Buffalo house, is pretty awkward as it talks through its variations on personal and doctrinal belief, but you can see the catharsis in the ideas it articulates. (Apparently a Muslim punk subculture did spring up following the book; this is the subject of a documentary, Taqwacore, I hope to catch today.)
-In The Red Chapel, a self-mockingly pompous Danish documentarian and two Korean-Danish comics, one of them disabled, travel to North Korea to perform a terrible comedy routine and tour the country; it's essentially the Borating of an entire nation, a dubious if occasionally revealing experiment, with self-doubt coming through as the director parallels his own cruel stagecraft with the false-fronted country ruled and manipulated by noted cinephile Kim Jong-il.
-No One Knows About Persian Cats, from the Kurdish director Bahman Ghobadi, is about "indie rock" in a very true sense: it concerns a young couple who have to stay below the Islamic Republic's radar to rehearse and perform their slightly precious Pitchfork-ready pop songs. (In one scene, a woman eagerly whispers that she loves "indie rock," like 50 Cent and Madonna, which gets a laugh but also makes a point about what independence actually means.) The film, a fictionalized depiction of Tehran's music underground, has a getting-a-band-together structure (their manager is a skilled black-market vendor, as the two professions naturally require similar deal-cutting and cultural networking aptitude), and so visits with many of the metal, blues, Britpop, hip-hop and traditional scrapping together rehearsal spaces in the stringent city; the soundtrack kicks fucking ass. (The film opens in New York next month.)
-The Living Room of the Nation is a Finnish documentary comprised of fixed, square framings of drab interiors populated by gray people; the not unprecedented dryly inflected Scandinavian style leads to moments of, yes, deadpan humor, but mostly spiritual exhaustion, as the film observes the often grim life changes of the average folk whose homes it's set up shop in. (An elderly, lumbering former pastor moves to a smaller place; a fastidious man waits for his wife to come back from rehab; a young directionless drunk gets his girlfriend pregnant.) Imagine Roy Andersson directing the last vignette of Night on Earth and you're more or less on track.
Today and tonight, a couple more movies and a couple more shows are planned, although my plans have this week been pretty consistently overambitious. I'll be back on Monday to wrap up.