Sweet Lord in heaven what a movie! This tough, tragic documentary by filmmaker Jesse Moss is one of the year’s best, and it should probably be required watching for anyone in the Midwest. The Overnighters is about a small town in North Dakota that’s struggling to deal with the influx of transient workers following the explosion of the state’s oil fracking industry. While many in the small community look at these workers with suspicion, or even derision, one Lutheran pastor devotes countless hours to helping these men, many of which hop off the bus and are instantly homeless. He is an exceptional man of God. His name is Jay Reinke.
The film gets its title from Reinke’s program where he lets dozens of these men stay in the church, or its parking lot, overnight. This act of kindness, which, in the pastor’s mind, is “just offering floorspace,” is a real concern to the church’s neighbors, the city government, the local newspaper, and even its congregation. The issue is, chiefly, that some of these guys are convicts, or even sex offenders. While Reinke does have standards these men have to meet, he still ends up — knowingly — lending a hand to some sex offenders, going so far as to shelter them in his home, away from the public eye. It gets one wondering: Is this crazy, or is it Christ-like?
Throughout the film, Reinke questions why the community doesn’t try to help these people — who are not going anywhere. Instead, the film shows, it’s him against the world. Reinke interprets this as the community giving into fear, failing to love their new neighbors. Then again, there’s something to be said for the people who’ve lived in this town all their lives. One woman grieves the loss of her prairie, that her church is full of strangers, and everything is just so expensive now. The newspaper editor adds that if sex offenders move into his neighborhood, he’s got the right to know. He’s a father of four, after all, and his family is his priority. Tough to argue with that.
Reinke has a family, too, but it’s not clear if it’s his top priority. The pastor struggles in the film to carve out time for his wife and children. The end of the movie is when this really comes to the fore. A secret is exposed that changes everything, and the emotional explosion that the film captures is almost unbelievable. I’m not kidding. The moments documented in the second half are so full of sorrow that you question whether or not Moss set this up somehow, or new this twist was coming. The weight of it all hits your heart like a cue ball shot from a cannon, leaving you with a bunch of questions — about this community, humanity, religion, morality and justice. Not many movies do that.
Overnighters is playing at the St. Anthony Main Theatre.
Li’l Quinquin is sort of like Twin Peaks, but not nearly as compelling. The four-part TV miniseries, which is playing as one, massive 3-and-a-half-hour film at the Walker Art Center, is weird enough to remind one of David Lynch, but its dilly-dallying serial killer story goes down like a dose of visual Lunesta. No movie in recent memory was as difficult to remain conscious through as this one, even though it involved gnarly stuff like chopped up body parts crammed inside a cow’s backside.
Problem is: The story just doesn’t have claws. Think of Li’l Quinquin like an anti-binge movie. When an episode ends, there’s no suspense, so the natural response is to stand up, stretch out — not bunker down to see what happens next. Then again, perhaps the film, by French auteur Bruno Dumont, is better served when watched over four consecutive nights, rather than in one big binge session. It’s also possible that Dumont could be challenging viewers in today’s Netflix/HBO age to savor his episodes rather than burn through them just for the sake of narrative movement. Although, if that’s the case, there’s not much point in watching his work this weekend, since the runtime is on par with The Return of the King.
But let’s get back to the story, which is a continuous stream of oddities surrounding the life of a boy in rural France. The fingers and feet of corpses are turning up in dead cattle, and two bumbling cops are on the case. Theirs is a goofy, meandering adventure wrapped around a portrait of childhood. Laughs arrive in just how strange the characters are — especially the cops. One has a face that constantly moves in expressive ticks, and just watching it is exhausting. His face isn’t the only one that impresses. The boy’s mug and several of the farmers’ faces are amazing — beautifully flawed, rugged, scarred, unforgettable. If the story’s slow pace does make you nod off, it’s not too bad to wake up to faces so human, yet distinct. In that sense, Li’l Quinquin is, at its best, like a weird daydream.
Li’l Quinquin is playing at the Walker Art Center.