First Comes Love
Tell enough guys the premise of auteur-of-the-self Nina Davenport's HBO doc First Comes Love, and at least a couple will confirm through their reactions just why First Comes Love matters. The inevitable carping: "Two hours about this unmarried woman's decision to have a baby? How narcissistic!" In the film — which is wise, warm, funny, open and interested in life as it's actually lived — that sort of "Why bother?" is trumped by her own father. "Send for the abortionist!" he cries after Davenport tells him she's pregnant. A couple of seconds later, it becomes clear he's not joking. No more narcissistic than Proust and concerned with nothing less than why the drive to mother surges with such power even in women who have built lives fully removed from what earlier generations would have dubbed proper, First Comes Love is, before anything else, a portrait of a longing so deep that even the commandingly articulate Davenport struggles to put it into words. "I have this biological compulsion to have a kid, and I don't know why," she says. Still, as we watch her become a mother, it's clear she's made the right decision. We hear her pee on a pregnancy test, see her body swell up, even witness the baby plop right out of her, followed by a splash of rich fluid. That image of live birth, so often glossed over by a media that presumes it horrific, here is quick and revelatory. Through this mother's tears and pain, a new self comes squalling out, another regular person whose story, if captured by a journalist/artist/whatever as certain as Davenport, might one day mean the world to us.— Alan Scherstuhl
Screens Sunday, November 17, at 3:30 p.m. at Plaza Frontenac.

The Trials of Muhammad Ali
The Trials of Muhammad Ali opens with two contrasting bits of archival footage: a 1968 television appearance by the eponymous boxer in which David Susskind calls him "[in]tolerable," and a later clip of the Parkinsons-riddled legend about to receive the Presidential Citizens Medal from George W. Bush. With its subject now canonized and rendered safe for white America, Bill Siegel's breezy doc takes us back to the days when the media — and much of the country — didn't know what to do with the outspoken champion. Evincing little interest in Ali's in-the-ring feats, the film focuses instead on his involvement with the Nation of Islam, his political activism and his legal troubles, reminding us that athletes once stood for something larger than their ability to overcome personal adversity. With his inspired use of archival footage, Siegel not only bolsters his case with vintage clips of Ali's famous pronouncements and his detractors' counterclaims, but mixes in some surprises as well (the champ acting in a Broadway musical about the Middle Passage). Still, the film never lingers too long on any one thing, instead functioning as a survey in which several fascinating cultural moments are vividly evoked, but then left insufficiently probed.— Andrew Schenker
Screens Monday, November 18, at 7 p.m. at the Tivoli.

Chasing Ice
If you recently had a close encounter with the howling demon known as Hurricane Sandy, you might have a renewed belief in global warming. If not, consider yourself lucky, then see Chasing Ice, director Jeff Orlowski's beautiful yet sobering documentary about the world's rapidly melting ice caps. His guide is James Balog, a renowned nature photographer who has become obsessed with documenting the staggering speed with which the icebergs of Greenland, Iceland and Alaska are crumbling into the sea. Orlowski films as Balog and a small team of young scientists go on a mad mission to embed dozens of time-lapse cameras into the rock walls above various ice fields. Those cameras take one image every hour, and when Balog and his team, known as the Extreme Ice Survey, assemble the footage, they discover that glacier fields the size of Lower Manhattan are receding at an astonishing rate. Still and live-action footage captures the ice sliding into the sea with exquisite grace, which makes it all the more wrenching. Are such images enough to convince the naysayers that something unnatural is occurring? Doubtful. After all, when the weatherman says a hurricane is coming, aren't there always those who refuse to leave their cozy dens?— Chuck Wilson
Screens Wednesday, November 20, at 4 p.m. at Plaza Frontenac.

The Broken Circle Breakdown
Blending cliché-prone genres — disease-of-the-week tearjerker, marital melodrama, musical — into an unwieldy but distinctive hybrid, Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen's The Broken Circle Breakdown holds you even as it flies off the tracks. The Flemish-language film revolves around banjo player Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) and tattoo artist Elise (Veerle Baetens), who fall in love, make music together (the actors do their own singing, delivering soulful performances of bluegrass classics and original compositions) and lead a happy life with their daughter — until tragedy strikes. As in his previous feature, The Misfortunates, the story darts around in time, and the jumbled chronology works; the contrast between the couple's initial exuberance and the sorrow that follows is devastating, while the leads convey careening emotions with rawness and nuance. The director pulls you in close to the physical and psychological spaces these people inhabit — sometimes too close. In one sequence, as a character drifts in and out of consciousness, we get a breakneck montage of flashbacks shot through colored filters, leading me to wonder if Danny Boyle had momentarily grabbed the camera. Van Groeningen has not yet mastered the adage of less is more. That's especially evident in the film's second half, when tasteless narrative motifs involving George W. Bush, stem-cell research, and a symbolic bird make repeat appearances, and a stirring concert scene is punctuated by a tirade so unnecessary I literally smacked my forehead. Still, buried beneath the movie's excesses is a deeply lived-in portrait of passion (artistic, romantic, parental) and grief. The Broken Circle Breakdown crashes as frequently as it soars, but the ache at its center feels real. — Jon Frosch
Screens Wednesday, November 20, at 6:45 p.m. at the Tivoli.

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