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Are We Not Cats?
Director: Xander Robin
Where and when: 3/8 at O Cinema Miami Beach, 9 p.m.

“A sort of giddy, slacker spin on Cat People,” the online summary avers, and I hope the writers had the Val Lewton original in mind, not the deluxe, sodden 1981 remake. Too short to wear out its welcome, Are We Not Cats? wears its irony as loosely as a scarf as it tells the story of Eli (Michael Patrick Nicholson), a scruffy New Yorker who over several winter days reveals how deeply his trichotillomania runs. Trichotillomaniacs pull out their hair on compulsion, as opposed to festival audiences who might do so after sitting through the last twenty of Robin’s eighty-minute feature.

For a while, though, Are We Not Cats?, based on Robin’s short film, is amusing. Homeless after his Russian parents’ abrupt move to Arizona, Eli holes up in his van, sullen – what on earth is a white boy to do? On a delivery job he meets Kyle (Michael Godere) and Kyle’s girlfriend Anya (Chelsea LJ Lopez), a girl whose air of kooky merriment bears a suspicious resemblance to the Kate Winslet of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind if Winslet’s character weren’t suffering from trichophagia. Their courtship in a fetid basement is a battle royale: clump by clump he tears off his hair while Anya eats hers. Had Robin scored this moment to Solomon Burke’s “Cry to Me” it couldn’t have been funnier. Not funny: Robin’s halfhearted stab at Cronenbergian fascination with punsihing the human body. Matt Clegg’s talent for lighting disgusting interior spaces and the dirtier parts of deep winter is a plus.

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El Amparo
Director: Roberto Calzadilla
Where and When: 3/9 at Coral Gables Art Cinema, 6:45 p.m.

In 1988, twelve fishermen from the eponymous village in Venezuela, thought to be guerrillas, were murdered by the military. Roberto Calzadilla’s film wisely doesn’t show the massacre itself – instead, prefatory events reveal these men as the usual scruffy bunch of local drunks and amiable ne’er-do-wells who talk shit over aguardiente and sass the women. How survivors Chumba and Pinilla tell their story to skeptics and wrestle with the moral complications of false confessions and bribery forms the crux of El Amparo, a solid drama best when showing the collision of bureaucracy at its most brutal faces off against country wiles (often I thought it should have been sneakier). After an opening sequence set in a bar shot with the severity of a Tsai film, El Amparo settles for the usual handheld realism, which works fine in a confrontation between a honest local police chief and a colonel who wants to jail the survivors for slandering the armed forces. As the scene builds it’s impossible to predict what will come next.