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Film Openings

Week of October 5, 2006

49 Up. (Not Rated) Moving and ambitious, Michael Apted's Up documentaries began in 1964 as a BBC news program exploring an old Jesuit maxim: "Give me the child until he is seven, and I will show you the man." Using interviews with 14 randomly selected schoolchildren, Seven Up! sought to probe English society "when the shop steward and the executive of 2000 are seven years old." Forty-two years and six films later, we've come to know less about the English class struggle than we do about the thrashings of time, the melancholy of aging, and the beauty of workaday human resilience and intimacy. Try to think of another movie project that endeavors to capture in some fashion the entirety of a life's experience. Unfussy in its visuals, 49 Up is a film in a continuum, riveting for its place in the arc of the series. By itself it can sometimes feel like grilling your ordinary neighbors about their history, when they'd rather be washing the car. But context is everything, and few media experiences can touch the poignancy of the Up films' real-time historical reach. (Michael Atkinson) TV

The Departed. (R) Reviewed in this issue.(J. Hoberman)

Jesus Camp. (PG-13) God is in the details no matter what you believe, but this red state-baiting doc is content to introduce its appalled exposé of evangelical Christian youth culture with shots of a fast food- and flag-lined highway and the words "Missouri, USA." Welcome to hell, kids. Art-house horror has rarely been scarier than it is in the hands of filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, for whom a drive-thru car wash illustrates the evils of American cleansing. Missouri — yikes! — is also the home of Pentecostal minister Becky Fischer, a super-size general in the army of the Lord who commands young attendees of her Kids on Fire camp to worship a cardboard Dubya, clutch tiny fetus dolls, and sing along to spiritual hip-hop ("kickin' it for Christ," y'all). The doc these kids would make with flea-market camcorders couldn't possibly be as ugly as this absurdly hypocritical critique of the far right's role in escalating the culture war. The classier indoctrination to which Gap-shopping urban Democrats subject their kids might look damn spooky, too, but it probably wouldn't sell. (Rob Nelson) PF