These 'angels' point the way - out of town

Two worthwhile indie films take place in different parts of the world - one in the Great Plains, the other in France

It's a strong week for indies and imports, and the best ones are easy to spot.

Northfork comes from brothers Mark and Michael Polish who made a striking debut with "Twin Falls, Idaho." Their new movie is equally rich and strange. The story takes place in the Great Plains region. A new hydroelectric dam is about to put an entire town underwater, which means residents must pick up stakes and move their lives, families, and futures to some other place. And some of them don't want to.

Enter the Evacuation Committee, a team of government agents sent to make sure no household gets left behind. They see themselves as earthbound angels, which helps explain why they offer a boxed set of alleged "angel wings" to everyone who cooperates with them.

And they aren't the only angels in the tale. An ill, abandoned boy named Irwin spends the whole movie lying in his bed - he's too weak to leave - and having an elaborate fever dream about a group of heavenly emissaries as weak, peculiar, and profoundly good-hearted as he is. "Northfork" oscillates between the story's two sets of ambiguous angels, and visits families who represent a wide range of attitudes about leaving their ancestral land.

Directed by Michael Polish from a screenplay he wrote with Mark Polish, the movie elegantly mingles drama, comedy, and low-key spiritual resonance.

It also has a splendid cast, including James Woods, Daryl Hannah, Kyle MacLachlan, and Nick Nolte, whose final soliloquy gives the story a crowning touch that's nothing short of exquisite.

The Housekeeper was written and directed by Claude Berri, who's been a driving force in French filmmaking for decades. His special touch is clearly present in this film, which focuses on what the French call an amour fou, or "mad love."

The hero is a middle-aged professional who hires a young housekeeper, lets her sleep on his sofa when she runs into money trouble, and slowly falls in love with her. They're many kilometers apart in age, class, and background, and while he's determined not to let this bother him, it's hard to imagine how their relationship could prosper.

Mr. Berri realizes this subject has been treated by many other films, and he knows better than to rely on shock or surprise to keep us interested. Instead he lets the story develop in a leisurely and organic way, capping it with a last scene that's subtle and satisfying. Jean-Pierre Bacri is just right as the man and Emilie Dequenne is perfect as the maid.

'Northfork,' rated PG-13, contains brief sexuality. 'The Housekeeper,' not rated, contains sex.

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