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Monrovia, Indiana
by Marinell Haegelin

Frederick Wiseman | USA

In classic Frederick Wiseman style, the camera unobtrusively and non-judgmentally follows Monrovia’s 1,400 inhabitants’ daily lives. The pioneer of Direct Cinema (observational) forces audiences to decelerate, and match the rural Midwestern community’s rhythm and flow. Corn grows, is harvested and unloaded at silos; swine, fed and tagged, are trucked to head to market. At the Corner Café, three cronies talk about health issues, and a carrot-and-beer diet’s benefits. County/town meetings agenda topics range from a housing development’s fire hydrants and water lines, to business growth, zoning issues, and urbanites influx and adequate schooling availability. Are they always so amicable, one wonders? We drop-in Rob’s Barber Shop, Class Act beauty parlor, Red Barrel liquor store, Wagner’s Collision repair, and take a gander in the Bar & Grill’s dinning and kitchen areas, try to keep up with mixed-age townsfolk’s gym workout, and eavesdrop during a purchase at a gun store. Most surprising is attending a Masonic Lodge 654 ceremony, considering Freemasonry’s proclivity for privacy. We’re invited to a community center baby shower, a Monrovia Christian church wedding, and the eulogy during Shirley’s funeral. The locality is small enough that we recognize certain individuals at various events by the end of the film.

Wiseman illustrates rural Americana’s dilemma: how to survive in fast-paced, technology-driven economies? Nowadays private farming competes with corporate farming for bankable income; the price of a used combine at a farm-equipment auction costs more than average priced houses. Also, what to do about developers gobbling up farmland for housing estates without being held accountable for shenanigans, e.g. “decorative” hydrants?

In 2016, Wiseman received an Oscar® for decades of unadulterated observation filmmaking that ranged from buildings and people to studying lifestyle behaviors. It’s up to viewers to garner the nuggets, such as meandering through Monrovia’s festival one stand’s posters and signs had sayings as varied as, “Help Haiti” to “My daddy said, ‘Don’t trust anything that bleeds five days, and don’t die.’” Wiseman’s weeks-long amble here shows how ordinary lives are unpredictably fascinating.