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FRIDAY, OCTOBER 9

*Dream of Light

This Spanish film by Victor Erice will inevitably be compared to La belle noiseuse, Jacques Rivette's masterpiece in which Michel Piccoli impersonates a painter who exhaustively sketches Emmanuelle Beart as she tirelessly bends her nude body into evermore tortuous poses over four hours (two hours in the television version). Erice's film follows his friend the Spanish realist painter Antonio Lopez as he tortuously (under a canopy in rain, laying boards over the mud when the rain stops) paints a beloved quince tree in his backyard, discarding one painting, starting another, as he tries to capture the elusive quality of Spain's late-summer light (the original title translates to "Sun on the Quince Tree"). All the while he converses with artist friends, the builders next door, visiting collectors, and family about the work at hand. The art of the film gets inextricably mixed up with the painter's art, the delicious languorous rhythm of the cutting confounded with the painter's delicate brushwork. just as the inexplicable touches of white paint that Lopez carefully daubs day after day on the canvas eventually resolve into a coherent pattern of light and shadow, the film's vagrant bits of information magically add up in the end to a consideration of life and love and beauty. Quite a lot for two hours and 18 minutes--there's even a surprise in store, as the painter gets painted himself, and Erice moves us out into the velvet dusk of Madrid. It's an extraordinary film. (MB) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

Roy Rogers--King of the Cowboys

Dutch filmmaker Thys Ockersen previously made adulatory documentaries about American B-movie directors like Sam Fuller. On this trip to the USA he goes after aging six-gun hero Roy Rogers. But before he gets to the ailing cowpoke in California, the peripatetic director attends a creaky B-cowboy-movie convention in Ohio and then rambles about rural America seeking out Rogers lore. It's thin stuff, a fanzinelike road movie. The film's payoff is a genial encounter at last with the ever-regal King of the Cowboys, who, on his sickbed, proves a sharpshooter in answering the soft, soft questions put to him. That's all, folks: idolization of Hollywood without a trace of irony. (GP) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

The Lost Language of Cranes

Nigel Finch made this adaptation for British television, transposing David Leavitt's first novel from New York to London. The move works surprisingly well: lack of communication and sexual repression are right at home with the British couple Rose and Owen Benjamin (beautifully portrayed by Eileen Atkins--her lips were never thinner--and the tragically pale Brian Cox), whose tense, bloodless marriage might have gone on unexamined forever but for their son's announcement that he is gay. It seems that he has fallen in love with an expatriate American who was raised by a gay couple (John Schlesinger and Rene Auberjonois in delicious cameos) after his parents died in a car crash. Something akin to a car crash results in the Benjamin household, too. Screened on PBS in an altered version (some language was cut--the lost language of The Lost Language of Cranes--and new love scenes were shot with actors in underwear rather than nude), this small but solid movie deserves a wide audience and a life on the big screen. (MB) (Music Box, 7:00)

Happy Birthday!

This is German director Doris Dorrie's best film since her 1985 art-house hit Men, although she's made several films in the intervening years, including the unreleased American coproduction Him and Me, in which a man and his talking penis are the main characters. Cheekiness is typical of Dorrie's approach to comedy, and the viewer's perception of inappropriateness or borderline offensiveness of her subject matter is a necessary component of the black humor. This film, originally titled Happy Birthday, Turk!, is a very black comedy in which streetwise Kemal Kayankaya, a Turkish-German private eye who speaks not a word of Turkish, is hired by a mysterious and beautiful Turkish woman to investigate the death of her father and find her missing husband. Part detective story, the film also makes much satirically of Kemal's uphill struggle against second-class citizenship. Dorrie has always had a problem with endings, and hers are usually off-putting in a way that serves to nullify the comedy. In this way a shockingly savage beating near the end of Happy Birthday! abruptly changes the tone of the film, although Dorrie does succeed in bringing off a reasonably apt, if rather lame, ending. (Scharres) (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Mozart Quarter

Jean-Pierre Bekolo's comedy-fantasy from Cameroon follows a young girl named Chef de Quartier who is transformed into a man called Montype by a witch after betraying too much curiosity for her age. He/she promptly joins a boys' gang and starts romancing the daughter of a neighborhood cop. The plot carries a few coincidental echoes of George Axelrod's play Goodbye Charlie, but what's most notable about this first feature is how much it owes to the films of Spike Lee and other recent African American directors, a fact it briefly acknowledges in the dialogue. One can find the implications of this influence disquieting, but Bekolo's deft handling of his actors still makes this a charmer. (JR) (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Friends and Enemies

This first feature by Andrew Frank tells the story of four friends from a tightly knit Italian American community in New York whose friendship is put to the test when one of them kills a man in a drunken rage behind a neighborhood bar. The friends, who are also witnesses to the crime, help dispose of the evidence and create an alibi only to find their friendship turn to hatred when each one begins to suspect the others of cracking under police questioning. Any hope of rescuing the film from predictability is dashed by some painfully awkward acting; the attempt at genuine neighborhood banter between friends is executed with all the authenticity of a beer commercial. Perhaps the film's only redeeming performance comes from Roger Rignack, who, as one of the friends, serves as the film's moral center, although one has to wait until the last half hour of the film to see anything of substance from him. (Pendleton) (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

Luminous Moss

A Japanese author doing research for a new novel comes across the story of a strange incident that took place during the waning days of World War II. As seen in a flashback, a small Japanese naval ship on a routine supply mission runs aground during a winter storm. The four survivors are forced to take refuge in a small cave and wait out the brutal winter before they can venture out for help. When one of the four men dies of frostbite, the captain decides that the survivors must resort to cannibalism in order to stay alive. The film centers mainly on the ethical and moral dilemmas the remaining three men face as they struggle to live with--and possibly die by--the individual choices they make. Veteran director Kei Kumai does best when directly addressing the issues of guilt and what it means to retain one's humanity under such circumstances. However, the thematic link between the main story and that of the author ends up undermining the often eerie atmosphere and proves to be a distraction. The result is a rather flat rendering of what might have been a more consistently effective film. (Pendleton) (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

Sweet Emma, Dear Bobe

After the histrionics of Mephisto and the tightlipped pageantry of Colonel Redl, Istvan Szabo's latest film is a curiously understated, almost contemplative, and never condescending little film about little people leading little lives. Two friends from the country, Emma and Bobe, teach Russian and share confidences, adventures, and a room in a drab teachers' dorm in Budapest. But the abrupt overthrow of communism leaves them awash in a sea of bureaucratic uncertainty, where changes in power can mean changes in language. When Russian is suddenly dropped from the required curriculum, the women, in a frantic game of catch-up, study English in the evening so they can teach what they've learned to their classes the next morning. No longer secure within the old system and ill-equipped to profit from the new, they moonlight at odd jobs and snatch at dead-end relationships, trying desperately to carve out a life, until even their friendship can't sustain them. (RS) (Music Box, 9:00)

Crystal Nights

If Tonia Marketaki's Crystal Nights never quite manages to make its obsessions ours, it at least convinces us that they belong to someone. This film is a dream or a nightmare of obsession--of obsessional love, obsessional denial, and obsessional displacement. A German matron living in 1940s Greece who's mystically, even satanically, linked to a darker Teutonic past, falls in love with a much younger Jew. Through time, betrayal, and death and reincarnation, she finds herself--or maybe it isn't her--reliving the impossibility of that love. While the imagery is strange, even distasteful at times, a real visual imagination is at work here. Yet despite the subtle shifts from black and white to color and the well-crafted slow-motion dawnings of desire, this movie's too long and too weird to make sense. The more the characters incant in German and stare at murky sacrificial murals, the more ancient Greek it all seems--ruled by the blood madness of a Phaedra or Medea but not, unfortunately, blessed with their clarity. (RS) (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

The Footstep Man

This New Zealand-produced feature by Leon Narbey is a competent anecdote about a sound-effects man (Steven Grives) who brings, along with his sack of shoes and miscellaneous noisemakers, a little mental instability to the job of laying in the sound effects for a spurious biopic of Toulouse-Lautrec. The wan script never gets too deeply into this sweaty man, but it's interesting to see a story about a craftsman, rather than the standard-issue "artist" (read writer or director) becoming haunted by his creation. Narbey and cowriter Martin Edmond's ideas outstrip the movie's achievement, but there's a fascinating notion burled in the sound man's growing obsession with a doomed prostitute in the lengthy film-within-the-film, as he produces a series of creaks, rustles, and footsteps that become the proof of the movie character's every on-screen motion. (Pride) (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

Vegas in Space

The title of Phillip R. Ford's American independent feature may sound like a Don Rickles routine, but actually it's a "sci-fi, musical drag queen extravaganza" with camp and kitsch trimmings. (Music Box, 11:00)

SATURDAY OCTOBER 10

Homework

This clever, gimmicky 1991 Mexican film unfolds in real time: in the opening shot, a 40ish student (Maria Rojo) hides a camera in her apartment (providing our point of view) as preparation for a date with a former lover (Jose Alonso), whom she intends to seduce on video for a school project. In the manner of Hitchcock's Rope, the movie pretends to have been shot in one long take; in reality there are several clever diversions--e.g., the lover accidentally drapes his jacket over the camera--to mask the reel changes. Writer/director Jaime Humberto Hermosillo is fond of this device: he used it a year earlier in Bathroom Mirror and has repeated it since in Forbidden Homework (both also on the festival schedule). The plot takes several turns, as the victim progresses from innocent to outraged to complicit . . . and beyond. The always sly, slick, and wicked Hermosillo is working in much shallower waters here than in his devastating 1984 Dona Herlinda and Her Son. But he rings enough delightful changes on his one-note theme to make it an enjoyable romp, and he wisely keeps it well under 90 minutes. (AK) (Pipers Alley, 1:00)

The Footstep Man

See listing under Friday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 1:00)

Roy Rogers--King of the Cowboys

See listing under Friday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 1:00)

The Lost Language of Cranes

See listing under Friday, October 9. (Music Box, 1: 00)

*The Seedling

Shyam Benegal, one of the festival jurors this year, made over 30 documentaries and 600 commercials before trying his first feature film in 1974. The first in a six-film series of Benegal works at the festival, The Seedling transcends the cinematic cliches of its day. Benegal displays a rewarding grasp of visual design and social dynamics that eclipses the last efforts of Satyajit Ray, the Indian director best known to American moviegoers. In The Seedling a powerful landowner forces his insolent son Surya, played by Anant Nag, to oversee the family farm instead of going to college. Surya spurns caste niceties in the countryside, but his iconoclasm proves opportunistic when his servant's pregnancy doesn't serve his domestic agenda. Benegal handles the cultural contradictions of family, gender, and power in modern India with precise moral insight and dramatic sophistication, and his camera movement and compositional style are highly refreshing compared to the dry, boxy look of Ray's films. (Stamets) (Pipers Alley, 1:30)

Happy Birthday!

See listing under Friday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 3:00)

Crystal Nights

See listing under Friday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 3:00)

Luminous Moss

See listing under Friday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 3:00)

Short Documentaries

From the U.S., John Keitel's An All American Story and Michael Moore's Pets or Meat: The Return to Flint (a mini-sequel to Roger & Me), Debbie Shuter's Beigels Already from the UK, Genevieve Mersch's The Red Bridge from Belgium, and Leonie Dickinson's Tram Ways from Australia. (Music Box, 3:00)

Friends and Enemies

See listing under Friday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

From Hollywood to Hanoi

Tiana Thi Thanh Nga's documentary has an identity crisis, but since identity is central to this partially autobiographical film it's not surprising that the Vietnamese American filmmaker has tried to cover a lot in 80 minutes. Most of the film is shot in Vietnam, where Nga goes against her family's wishes to look for lost relatives and to discover her own feelings about the country of her birth, which her family fled in 1966. She focuses on herself and her large family and their relationship to Vietnam, but she also deals with the plight of children fathered by American GIs and the cultural identity of Asian Americans in general. The My Lai massacre, Agent Orange, North Vietnam versus South Vietnam, and familial responsibility also receive serious screen time. Ultimately this complex mix works, exploring the divided loyalties and painful unresolved issues a Vietnamese American must live with. Nga balances the images of pain and joy in her trip effectively, though her monotonously cheerful, chirpy narration sometimes gets in the way of the images. (Scharres) (Music Box, 5:00)

Acting It Out

Sonke Wortmann's German feature, declared the best first feature at the Montreal film festival, is about three aspiring actors in their 20s preparing in Munich for an audition in Berlin. (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

Venice/Venice

Henry Jaglom has made a very personal series of films over the last 20 years. They are idiosyncratic, coming from Jaglom's own obsessions and his acute observations of everyday incidents and behavior. His first--and arguably his best--film, A Safe Place (1971), was a multileveled tale of modern city life, delightful, witty, with a sly performance by Orson Welles and a cunningly hilarious one by the magnificent Tuesday Weld. For a while he managed to push his own experiences into a seemingly more objective, fictional form that allowed him a safe space to operate in. With each film, however, we have been forced to look more and more directly into Jaglom's own navel, not always a pretty sight. With Venice/Venice the embarrassment quotient has risen above the level of acceptance. Here Jaglom the director allows Jaglom the person to drone on and on about the director's place in the American cinema (an important one insofar as he remains independent, original, and an often healthy antidote to mainstream cliche, but probably not as significant as Jaglom maintains). Then Jaglom the writer/director has a very attractive French woman fall madly, passionately, obsessively in love with Jaglom the person/actor. The seemingly improvised dialogue, the contrived situations, and the actions of the characters simply make one cringe and wish Jaglom had at least cast the film differently so that the gap between what his ego tells him is probable and what we see might not be so wide. (DO) (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

Mozart Quarter

See listing under Friday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 5:30)

Love in the Time of Hysteria

Alfonso Cuaron's Mexican safe-sex farce about a modern-day Don Juan; known in Mexico as Solo con tu pareja. (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

*Sofie

Liv Ullmann makes a formidable debut as coscreenwriter and director of this rich, passionate philosophical tale of a young Jewish woman (Karen-Lise Mynster) growing up in Copenhagen at the end of the 19th century. Will Sofie run away with the great love of her life, a Christian painter with a burning soul, or marry a likable dullard, who placates her religious family because he is an Orthodox Jew? Ullmann lets her tale unfold in a deliberate, leisurely, contemplative manner, over several decades of births and deaths, bar mitzvahs, and kosher meals. Erland Josephson, Ullmann's perennial costar in Ingmar Bergman films, steals the movie in a remarkable performance as Sofie's Orthodox father. This piece of deft story telling captured the jury prize at the 16th Montreal film festival in September. (GP) (Music Box, 7:00)

Equinox

Like his mentor Robert Altman, Alan Rudolph is an actor's director with a penchant for ensemble casts. In Equinox the cast is led by Matthew Modine, who plays twins separated at birth and representing the equal portions of good and evil suggested by the title. Modine's impressive performance, his best since Full Metal Jacket, rivals that of Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers. Unfortunately, Lara Flynn Boyle is no Genevieve Bujold. The story concerns the discovery of a blind trust fund established at birth for the unknowing twins, and a journalist's efforts to identify them as the beneficiaries. The narrative is unisatisfying both dramatically and spiritually but individual scenes can be savored as the work of a true virtuoso. (WL) (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Sweet Emma, Dear Bobe

See listing under Friday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 7:30)

Benny's Video

Although difficult to watch and even more difficult to like, Benny's Video commands respect for its intellectually refined and uncompromisingly bleak vision of a complacent consumer society numb to all feeling. Fourteen-year-old Benny comes from a family rich in material possessions, but emotionally impoverished and noncommunicative. His relation to the outside world is mediated entirely by technology: even the view from his shuttered bedroom window appears on a video monitor. Benny's alienation is so grave that he commits a heinous act, captured on videotape, just to "see what it's like." When his parents see the tape, their reaction is equally chilling. They express no shock, no outrage, no moral judgment; their only concern is to return to the status quo of their comfortable lives. Austrian director Michael Haneke (The Seventh Continent) considers the film part of "a report on the progressive emotional glaciation of my country." He lays out his thesis with objective camera work and low-key performances from the three central players, never indulging viewers in seductive techniques or telling them what to think. This cool treatment of an inherently hot topic should make it one of the most discussed films at the festival. (AS) (Pipers Alley, 7:30)

Warsaw: Year 5703

There must have been good reasons for bringing this small-scale wartime story of Jewish survival to the screen, but the resulting tepid drama makes one wonder what they were. Magnetic Julie Delpy and wooden Lambert Wilson star as a pair of escapees from the Warsaw ghetto who find shelter in an apartment belonging to a sympathetic Polish woman (Hanna Schygulla). Forced by circumstances into uncomfortable role-playing, the couple finds itself partaking in a love triangle that is as potentially destructive as the oppression raging outside the apartment's walls. Shot mainly in dark, somber tones, Warsaw: Year 5703 (the title refers to the Jewish numbering of the year 1943) turns the apartment into a microcosm that collapses under the weight of escalating intimate tensions. Yet the ensuing drama never quite catches fire: there is too much predictability and redundancy to engulf the viewer in emotion. What might have worked well on stage resonates here with a distant feeling of deja vu. The relative lack of chemistry among the principal players further dilutes what historically must have consisted of a series of agonizing choices. (ZB) (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

The Boys From St. Petri

Soren Kragh-Jacobsen's The Boys From St. Petri is an elaborately mounted but forgettable movie directed toward adolescents about the origins of the Danish resistance against Nazi occupation. Set in the summer of 1942, it follows a clique of high school seniors (almost all potential Calvin Klein models) who join a clever working-class boy in staging a series of pranks. Their success encourages them to bolder acts of sabotage, which eventually lead to the bombing of a train and their capture. While there's an attempt to portray how individual loyalties and motivations lead to political actions, most of the script consists of shorthand cliches instead of drama. Several devices fall flat, including a pretentious Last Supper tableau before their final act and a student production of Hamlet with the inevitable foregrounding of the line "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." The movie's lasting impression lies in its pretty faces, lovely glades, handsome interiors, and the honeyed light that drenches everything. (Pride) (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

*Luna Park

This electrifying second feature by Pavel Lounguine, director of Taxi Blues, charts a vertiginous roller coaster ride toward national identity quite different from the "liberation from communism" that's the West's only perception of Russia's fall from grace. And a wild ride it is. It opens with a scene of extraordinary, virtuoso violence--a bloody head-on, hand-to-hand collision of skinheads and police--and ends with a quiet train excursion through verdant countryside with no particular destination. Our hero, Andrei, is one of the leaders of a neo-Nazi group headquartered in an old amusement park and dedicated to purifying Mother Russia by ridding her of the taint of Jews, homosexuals, and other undesirables. But when Andrei's angry search for his hitherto unknown and unexpectedly Jewish father leads him into the heart of that darkness, it is only to discover an infuriatingly innocuous and quite likable bunch of eccentrics puttering around an apartment, good-naturedly nattering about prostate problems, or inviting him to impromptu music recitals and thrown-together meals. Of course it helps to be able to rush through those incredible rabbit-warren Moscow apartments, with their innumerable rooms, odd twists and turns, and always unexpected contents. But what is truly extraordinary in Luna Park is the sheer vitality of Lounguine's camera no matter what it's recording, a vitality capable of encompassing the most disparate human possibilities. (RS) (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

On Earth as in Heaven

The premise of Marion Hansel's film is simple: all the babies about to be born decide they don't want to be born. As in many SF films of the 50s, the press, the scientists, the doctors--even the expectant mothers deny the evidence, unable to accept the obvious. Yet the reasons for the revolt are as clear as the televised images of violence against innocent children that the fetuses, through the bodies of their mothers, witness each day. The future of the human race comes to rest upon one woman--a Spanish journalist living in France, whose encounter with a nice-but-married man has resulted in a child she's determined to keep. Her quest to understand the babies' choosing death over life and her search for an argument to persuade her child to choose life is at the center of a film that, perhaps honestly, asks eternal questions about bringing a child into a far-from-perfect world. But no film exists in a void, and in a time when abortion clinics are bombed, images of talking fetuses can't be construed as born-again innocence. (RS) (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

Amazing Grace

Amos Gutman's feature seems less a consideration of a homosexual relationship between two young Tel Aviv men than a particularly sad, cruel, and desperate portrait of alienation and loss. It's studded with provocative themes of intense gay longing, rejection, freedom, and desire, but it lacks the concentration, energy, and drive to fully sustain them. Gutman, production designer Shmuel Ma'oz, and cinematographer Amnon Zalayit do a wonderful job of expressing the entrapment and claustrophobic conditions of a gay underground that's been destroyed by AIDS, as captured in the tentative, doom-laden affair between the naive and innocent Jonathan (Gal Hoyberger) and the cynical, HIV-positive Thomas (Sharon Alexander). The central relationship lacks definition, and the film quickly devolves into a series of less interesting subplots, various family dynamics, and secondary characters rather than leading to any discoveries. Amazing Grace, with its bad-taste decor, revelry in kitsch, and sublime contempt for the heterosexual structure, is like a John Waters film without the jokes. For better or worse, it's very much a film about Jewish mothers, pitched between camp farce and the far more serious pain and injury produced by the sons' sexual identities (and inevitable lack of children). Gutman's direct, natural style serves his actors well, and there are isolated moments of terror and pain, though the film lacks the dramatic clarity to reach actual gravity or, for that matter, grace. (PZM) (Music Box, 10:00)

Vegas in Space

See listing under Friday, October 9. (Music Box, midnight)

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 11

Crystal Nights

See listing under Friday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 1:00)

Sweet Emma, Dear Bobe

See listing under Friday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 1:00)

Warsaw: Year 5703

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 1:00)

*Mussolini: The Last 600 Days

In this age of instant communication it doesn't happen often that new documentary footage surfaces suddenly, especially that dealing with a period as thoroughly researched as World War II. But miles of stock footage on the last two years of Mussolini's reign were recently discovered by the Italian Istituto Luce. Shot between October 1943 and May 1945 and never publicly shown, the material provides a fascinating look into the atmosphere of wartime Italy and the uneasiness that stemmed from the clash between the country's perceived historical purpose and the desire for peace. The film alternates briskly between the big picture of Mussolini's political dealings and their effects on the proud but confused Italian population, neither deifying nor condemning the man who single-handedly charted the course of his nation. Of particular historic interest is newsreel footage that sheds new light on the complex relationship between Italy and Germany. From a purely cinematic standpoint, there is nothing that necessitates watching Mussolini: The Last 600 Days on the big screen. The film could function just as well--if not better--within the more intimate format of television, but is there a station with enough programming inspiration to devote some of its precious airtime to a foreign documentary, even one as excellent as this? (ZB) (Pipers Alley, 1:00)

Deadly Currents

Back and forth, back and forth, Canadian documentarian Simcha Jacobovici moves his camera between impassioned, intractable Israelis and Palestinians to take one of the most thorough, and thoroughly depressing, looks to date at the debacle in the Middle East. Both sides are totally right and righteous. Both sides are totally wrong. Nobody gives an inch, and the ancient territorial fight goes on. Deadly Currents was handsomely shot in 35-millimeter, which helps the film go beyond the hobbled look of the usual well-intentioned 16-millimeter documentary. Also, Jacobovici, a Toronto Jew, manages to shoot things Jews rarely see, including secret meetings of veiled intifada leaders and a horrifying raid on an Arab marketplace in retaliation for the kidnapping and assassination of an alleged Israeli spy. "I wanted to show the legitimate concerns of both sides," Jacobovici has said of his genuinely important film. "And I wanted to tell those who weren't directly involved to cool it. Don't take sides too quickly. It's more complex than you think." (GP) (Music Box, 1:30)

Friends and Enemies

See listing under Friday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 3:00)

*Luna Park

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 3:00)

The Sergeant

Exhausted after fighting for eight years in the Iran-Iraq war, a man returns home to face a smaller war in his hometown. This time the enemy is a fellow citizen who will stop at nothing to take his land from him. At this critical juncture his Russian-born wife conveniently leaves him to go with her mother to join relatives in Soviet Azerbaijan. In his 14th commercial feature, director Masud Kimia'ie barely criticizes the corruption of the antirevolutionary factions within Iran, focusing instead on his usual themes of heroism, male bonding, and the separation of men and women. (As in his Snake Fang, shown at last year's festival, there are unexplained instances of paranoid behavior in the hero.) Made in postrevolutionary Iran, The Sergeant excludes sex but makes much of violence. It resorts to sentimental, extended dramatic pauses at emotional moments, and its stereotypical characters and unconvincing symbolism provide a shallow image of the conditions of Iran after the war. (MSV) (Pipers Alley, 3:15)

*Dream of Light

See listing under Friday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 3:30)

*Sofie

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (Music Box, 3:30)

Benny's Video

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Happy Birthday!

See listing under Friday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

The Boys From St. Petri

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 5:30)

Love in the Time of Hysteria

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (Music Box, 6:30)

Rich in Love

Many of the people who brought you Driving Miss Daisy--director Bruce Beresford, screenwriter Alfred Uhry, and producers Richard and Lili Zanuck--have conspired on this light drama about Jill Clayburgh leaving her family (including Albert Finney) and striking out on her own. With Kyle MacLachlan, Piper Laurie, and Alfre Woodard. (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

Goldberg Variations

Ferenc Grunwalsky's Goldberg Variations is a grim, frantic nightmare of the emotional chaos experienced by a husband and wife the day after their teenage son's funeral. The visual style is unhinged from the start, with canted, grainy shots of their grimy apartment, unexpected dissolves within scenes, zooms from close-up to closer up, and many nearly abstract compositions. There's less a linear narrative than a series of painfully emotional vignettes. Blaming himself for his son's suicide and having no answers, the husband, too, wants to die; the wife, sharing his pain, has no compunctions about killing him. Grunwalsky's shifting visual grammar is a turbulent complement to the emotional disorder of the bereaved parents. As the film progresses, his images are rent by shards of harsh light, with elongated shadows torturing the battered apartment walls, and the camera itself blinded by lens flare. Light becomes a killing thing, a bleaching emblem of madness. The sound track adds to the chaos: Bach's Goldberg Variations (performed by Marta Kurtag) drop in at odd moments, paired with wails like a more hysterical version of Glenn Gould's keenings over his version of the Variations. This alternates with grubby, hyperventilating musique concrete of urban and industrial din, gossiping voices, the hum of wind, and the tearing of flesh. (Pride) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

The Churning

The founding of a farmers' cooperative in a remote Indian village, as dramatized by the leader of India's socially conscious cinema, Shyam Benegal. The 1976 film, which stars Smita Patil and Girish Karnad, was financed on the contributions of 500,000 Indian farmers. (Dave Kehr) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

*Dark of Noon

After an extended period of what appeared to be creative fatigue, Raul Ruiz is back with his most sumptuous and conceivably most accessible movie to date, filmed in Portugal on a budget of roughly $4 million--all of which shows on the screen. The dialogue is in French and English; the cast includes John Hurt, David Warner, Didier Bourdon, and Lorraine Evanoff. While I'd hate to stake my life on an accurate plot synopsis, the story, which periodically resembles a gothic novel, concerns a French doctor (Bourdon) who "has two passions--miracles and foreign languages." Arriving in a Portuguese village to claim a family fortune, he finds a profusion of dogs, crutches planted everywhere like gateposts, a mysterious marquis (Hurt), an artificial limb manufacturer (Hurt again), a painter fond of burying people alive (Warner), and a little boy who constantly performs miracles, to the consternation of the local priest. The special effects are gorgeous, and the director's usual metaphysical quirkiness and irreverent humor lead to many of his best formal shock tactics--for example, suddenly turning the camera sideways when the mood suits him. As usual, Ruiz goes well beyond surrealism and magical realism into a realm of philosophical play more conducive to spectacle than to story, though this feature has a much cleaner narrative than most of his other works. How the New York film festival could have passed over this film after opting to show one of Ruiz's very worst--The Golden Boat, apparently for the sole reason that it was made in New York--is one of those questions of cosmic injustice that defy explanation. (JR) (Pipers Alley, 7:30)

Venice/Venice

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (Music Box, 8:30)

Equinox

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

Acting It Out

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

Homework

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

Amazing Grace

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

MONDAY, OCTOBER 12

Deadly Currents

See listing under Sunday, October 11. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

*Mussolini: The Last 600 Days

See listing under Sunday, October 11. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Homework

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Student Program I

Shorts by film students from the Massachusetts College of Art, New York University, the University of Iowa, the American Film Institute, the Art Institute of Chicago, AFTRS-Australia, the Munich Film & TV School, and the University of Southern California. (Music Box, 5:00)

Mozart Quarter

See listing under Friday, October 9. (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

The Boon

A condemnation of village superstition by "new wave" Indian filmmaker Shyam Benegal. A young Brahmin leaves his wife to go on a religious quest; he encounters a holy man, who gives him a magic root, and returns to his village to take up the position of spiritual leader. All goes well until a goddess appears in his dreams and commands him to rid his village of the spiritually impure (1977). (Dave Kehr) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

The Art of Animation

Animated shorts by Tim Webb, Peter Lord, Geoff Dunbar, Daniel Greaves, Richard Goleszowski, and Paul Berry from the UK; Jerzy Kucia from Poland; Christopher Hinton and Craig Welch from Canada; and Howard E. Baker and Matt O'Callaghan from the U.S. (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

From Hollywood to Hanoi

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (Music Box, 7:00)

Back to the USSR

Aficionados of the truly strange may enjoy this bizarre black comedy from Finland, which appropriates vampire-film conventions to satirize the collapse of communism. All others should take warning. The drunken lout Reima, the last official of the defunct Finnish Communist Party and caretaker of the People's House, tries to commit suicide. He's stiff dangling from the rope that failed to break his neck when Vladimir, a Lenin look-alike, walks in seeking a room. Learning that Vladimir is a vampire, Reima plots revenge on his scornful neighbors, but the unfailingly polite Vladimir lacks a certain bite. An uneasy mixture of the grotesque and clever political commentary, Jari Halonen's Back to the USSR has enough spurting bodily fluids to alienate serious-minded viewers, though it would require a faster pace and some flying body parts to satisfy the midnight-movie crowd. (AS) (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

On Earth as In Heaven

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Being at Home With Claude

This is a film that is promoted with adjectives like "brutal," "shocking," "harrowing," and "soul-stripping," which are conveniently repeated in the press kit. It is, however, one of those earnestly conceived adaptations, all stupendous performance and self-important suspense with little lasting emotional resonance. Directed by Canadian Jean Beaudin, adapted from an original play by Rene-Daniel Dubois, and starring Quebec's hottest young actor, Roy Dupuis, the action consists almost entirely of a police inspector interrogating a male prostitute who has savagely murdered a client. The film uses flashbacks to cinematically, open up what is essentially a one-set, one-act monologue. The suspense centers around discovering why the sensitive but world-weary Yves has killed the bookish, bisexual university student who adored him. Dupuis' performance is the kind of tour de force that is fascinating to watch under any circumstances, and yet its escalating passion seems too precisely calculated to be moving. Sad to say, the dark-wood decor of the interrogation room leaves a more indelible impression. (Scharres) (Music Box, 9:00)

Amazing Grace

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

*Dark of Noon

See listing under Sunday, October 11. (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

Il Capitano

The title sounds Italian, but this is a Swedish-Danish-Finnish coproduction by the much-praised Swedish director Jan Troell (The Emigrants, The New Land). Based on a true story about two loners who commit three gratuitous murders, it was voted the best Swedish film of last year by the Swedish Association of Film Critics. (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

The Sergeant

See listing under Sunday, October 11. (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 13

My Dear Tom Mix

is an unrelentingly gentle tale of two elderly dreamers whose paths cross in a small town in Mexico in the 30s. Joaquina, played by Ana Ofelia Murguia, is a lifelong fan of silent movie star and save-the-day cowboy character Tom Mix. She cherishes every one of his heroic episodes, sending him letters laced with tactical tips for catching the bad guys. But Joaquina's devotion slips into delusion when Domingo (Federico Luppi), a handsome white-haired stranger in a white hat, comes to town on a white horse and finds work as the projectionist at the local cinema. Hiding out in the projection booth while bandits shoot up the town, the star-crossed couple find their matching fantasies come true in an adventure suitable for a matinee, topped off with a ride-into-the-sunset finale. Unlike Buster Keaton's 1924 film Sherlock, Jr., in which there's a surreal edge to a sentimental adventure about a projectionist who gets mixed up in the on-screen action, director Carlos Garcia Agraz plays it straight and sweet in My Dear Tom Mix, with just a touch of quixotic camp. (Stamets) (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

The Sergeant

See listing under Sunday, October 11. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

The Role

The Indian film industry of the 30s and 40s is the setting for Shyam Benegal's 1977 melodrama about a poor girl's rise to stardom and her problems with a weak husband and a possessive lover. The film is based on the biography of Hansa Wadkar, the "Joan Crawford of India." With Smita Patil and Anant Nag. (Dave Kehr) (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

*Dark of Noon

See listing under Sunday, October 11. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Short Documentaries

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (Music Box, 5:00)

Il Capitano

See listing under Monday, October 12. (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

*Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography

Just when you thought there was nothing left for talking heads to say about movies, here's a first-rate visit with many of the best cinematographers in the business--John Bailey, Vilmos Zsigmond, Laszlo Kovacs, Conrad Hall, the late Nestor Almendros, Gordon Willis, Haskell Wexler, Vittorio Storaro, and Sven Nykvist, among others--talking with rare insight and perception about their craft (and discussing some of their predecessors, such as Billy Bitzer and Gregg Toland). The filmmakers, Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy, and Stuart Samuels, are smart enough not only to listen to what these artists have to say, but also to come up with the best clips from the best prints available to illustrate their comments. It's a pity that they've basically restricted their inquiry to the U.S. industry--but not surprising considering that the American Film Institute, which coproduced this movie, differs from its counterparts elsewhere in the world by limiting most of its effort to preserving and promoting local mogul interests, foreign work be damned. (Typically, the many non-American cinematographers here are highlighted almost exclusively for their American work.) But the uncommon virtue of this documentary is that it teaches us a great deal about things we think we already know. Why, for instance, was the lighting so low in the Godfather films? You might be surprised. (JR) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

*Immaculate Conception

Written, directed, and produced by Pakistani expatriate Jamil Dehlavi, Immaculate Conception offers one of the most perceptive glimpses ever into the clashing values of Western and Eastern cultures. Set in Karachi in 1988 amid historical events that included the death of Pakistan's president General Zia, the subsequent election of Benazir Bhutto, and the controversy generated by the publication of The Satanic Verses, the film follows a stunning array of characters: fundamentalists, a group of eunuchs, a Yale-educated local woman, and numerous Westerners who call Pakistan home. At the center of the story stand an English environmentalist and his Jewish American wife, whose inability to conceive a child draws both closer to the mystical fringes of the Muslim faith. An accomplished, if controversial, filmmaker, Oxford-educated Dehlavi knows enough about both the East and the West to craft believable layers of cultural conflict without taking sides. So while the Westerners--as expected--appear to be somewhat arrogant and exploitative, it is quite surprising to see many of the Pakistanis depicted as cunning, opportunistic, and down-deep hypocritically materialistic. And yet the inherent moral complexity and ambiguity written into the roles make the characters more convincing. Apart from his educational prowess, Dehlavi proves to be a master storyteller, skillfully interweaving the plot's several interdependent threads. His fourth feature to date is a real eyeopener, to say the least. (ZB) (Music Box, 7:00)

*Dust of Angels

This first feature by Hsu Hsiao-ming was produced by the great Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien, whose influence is evident in the visual style, primarily in the long takes. But Hsu, who shows considerable talent, has also been influenced by the violent gangster genre, and he joins young Hong Kong directors Wong Kar-wai and Lawrence Ah Mon in working toward a stylized romantic realism. Dust of Angels beautifully evokes the profound visual contrasts of the Taiwanese landscape, simultaneously not-of-this-century rural and grimly industrial, which become an offhand metaphor for deep economic and generational divisions. And the gun-toting teenagers of the story strike a chilling note as they casually deal drugs, weapons, and death. But Hsu seems unable to decide whether he wants to film action and high drama or follow his mentor's exquisitely observational mode--two mutually exclusive ways of seeing the world. The film has been reedited since its Western debut at Cannes last May and is far more cohesive. Well worth seeing. (Scharres) (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Goldberg Variations

See listing under Sunday, October 11. (Pipers Alley, 8:00)

Forbidden Homework

Jaime Humberto Hermosillo's riff on the familiar themes of voyeurism, incest, and the omnipresence of video seems shallow and jejune only two years removed from his virtually identical Homework. Santiago (Esteban Soberanes), a bright, enthusiastic film student, enlists the help of Virginia (Maria Rojo), a radiant middle-aged actress, to complete his senior project. His assignment is to make a film composed in a single, uninterrupted take. While the two discuss the form and shape of the proposed narrative, Santiago surreptitiously records their discussions with the intention of passing off this footage as the finished work. The conversation inevitably moves to their shared past, where key details emerge, principally Santiago's raging obsession for Virginia set off by their brief, intense liaison two years earlier. Hermosillo's initial withholding of crucial exposition produces a series of genuine revelations and discoveries, but he can't bring these shards and vignettes to a satisfying resolution. Almost the entire story unfolds on a cramped apartment roof, and the confinement and alienation produce all the wrong effects, oppression and stasis rather than liberation or freedom. Technically the film is dull, especially Alex Phillips's flat cinematography. On the other hand the luminous Maria Rojo (Danzon) is an astonishing actress whose intricate and deft line readings and body language are breathtaking. She belongs in a better movie. (PZM) (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

Being at Home With Claude

See listing under Monday, October 12. (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

Back to the USSR

See listing under Monday, October 12. (Music Box, 9:15)

Candyman

Bernard Rose's American debut is adapted from executive producer Clive Barker's short story The Forbidden, transposing the narrative from Liverpool to Chicago. Virginia Madsen plays a UIC doctoral candidate obsessed with the unsolved murder of a Cabrini-Green woman, considered the handiwork of "Candyman," a mythological 19th-century black serial killer. When Madsen unleashes his spirit, he commits a series of sadistic murders and frames Madsen for the crimes, including the kidnapping of a young child. It's a stylistically impressive film, with some dazzling uses of color, framing, decor, and striking overhead shots to convey discord and tension. But Rose is far less expressive in shaping the narrative: the pacing is off, and he's unable to create terror through characters or situations, relying instead on repulsive forms of violence and mutilation. Rose, who also wrote the script, demonizes Cabrini-Green in a particularly brutal, ugly way without any effort at actually getting inside the heads of any nonwhite characters. The housing project is used metaphorically to represent white society's greatest fears. Though the film falls because the conceptualization of Candyman (played by the gifted Tony Todd) is so thin and psychologically bereft of ideas, the real subtext seems to be the threat posed to repressed, orderly (i.e., white) society by an outsize, feverish black sexuality--ideas one wishes we'd gotten rid of with D.W. Griffith. The interesting Philip Glass score is used to dubious ends. (PZM) (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 14

Il Capitano

See listing under Monday, October 12. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Possessed

Indian superstar Shashi Kapoor as a Muslim nobleman who falls in love with the daughter of a British soldier during the first years of English rule in India. While his friends plan revolt, Kapoor retreats into a world of passive sentimentality. Shyam Benegal directed (1978). (Dave Kehr) (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Back to the USSR

See listing under Monday, October 12. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Being at Home With Claude

See listing under Monday, October 12. (Music Box, 5:00)

Hugh Hefner: Once Upon a Time

The world premiere of this feature-length documentary produced by David Lynch and Mark Frost, who had done a half-hour feature on Hefner for their short-lived series American Chronicles. Robert Heath directed; this screening will be preceded by a champagne reception, and Hefner himself will be present. (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

Short Program III

If you're wondering what happened to Short Program II, not to worry; it'll be showing next week, along with Short Program IV. This selection consists of two short films from Canada (Salome Breziner's Blue and Anna Bourque's Lovely Boys), one from Australia (Stavros Efthymiou's Road to Alice), and six from the U.S. (Bill Morrison's Footprints, John Ebbert's New Valley, Charles Merzbacher's Subway Map, Douglas Kunin's Twist of Fate, Huck Botko's Until There Are None, and Kelly Baker's You'll Change). (Music Box, 7:00)

*Immaculate Conception

See listing under Tuesday, October 13. (Pipers Alley, 7:30)

My Dear Tom Mix

See listing under Tuesday, October 13. (Pipers Alley, 7:30)

*Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography

See listing under Tuesday, October 13. (Pipers Alley, 8:00)

Bathroom Mirror

The first feature of Mexican filmmaker Jaime Humberto Hermosillo to use a single camera setup for the duration of the entire film. In this case, the camera is placed behind the mirror in a middle-class family's bathroom. (Music Box, 9:00)

Benny's Video

See listing under Saturday, October 10. (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

*Dust of Angels

See listing under Tuesday, October 13. (Pipers Alley, 9:45)

The Border

This Slavic Romeo and Juliet story shows the complexity of the inter-ethnic hatreds long extant in Yugoslavia. In the Vojvodina territory on the Yugoslav-Hungarian border, the period between 1945 and 1948 saw a shifting of nationalities and allegiances as the government brought in Serbian "freedom fighters" to claim the property of repatriated minorities. When the Topics, a family of Bosnian Serbs, move into a primarily Croatian village, a forbidden romance grows between the oldest son and his beautiful but war-scarred neighbor. As the winds of change follow the winds of war, blowing hardship on Serb and Croat alike, the families of the young lovers finally accept their common humanity, but only after irreversible tragedy. The themes of Zoran Masirevic's debut film, made in 1990, seem particularly poignant in light of current events. Sadly, the lesson that it offers has gone unheeded. (AS) (Pipers Alley, 9:45)

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 15

*Immaculate Conception

See listing under Tuesday, October 13. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

The Machine Age

Shyam Benegal's Indian film is an update of the Mahabhatata, transposing the story of two warring families to the newly industrialized India of the 1950s. The Puranchads and the Khubchands are the owners of opposing industrial empires, linked by blood and divided by competition for the same markets. With Shashi Kapoor (1981). (Dave Kehr) (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

*Dust of Angels

See listing under Tuesday, October 13. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Bathroom Mirror

See listing under Wednesday, October 14. (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

Especially on Sunday

Four episodes make up this Italian composite film, all penned by Antonioni's ace screenwriter Tonino Guerra (L'avventura, La notte), but only three survived the cut for the American release. None of these decidedly lightweight short films comes off as significant. The wry first episode, uniting Cinema Paradiso director Giuseppe Tornatore and star Philippe Noiret, is certainly the most crowd-pleasing, though Roger Corman and Vincent Price could have done the same Poe-like comedy in their sleep: a grouchy cobbler is followed about by a mongrel dog with a blue spot on its head. The cobbler disowns it, denies it, even shoots it, and the dog keeps coming back for more, even from beyond the grave. The second episode, directed by Giuseppe Bertolucci, is dull and decadent, with Bruno Ganz stopped on the road and cloyingly played with by a tiresome incestuous brother-sister team. The sister is pouty Ornella Muti of Swann's Way fame. The third episode, directed by Marco Tullio Giordaria, is the most psychologically compelling: an old woman confesses to her priest that she obsessively watches her son and daughter-in-law make love night after night. (GP) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

The Land Behind the Rainbow

An autobiographical first feature by German filmmaker Herwig Kipping, set in a village in East Germany in the 5Os and focusing in part on a dash of social views between himself as a child and his father and grandfather. (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

The Magical World of Chuck Jones

After a celebration of ace Warners animation director Chuck Jones's 80th birthday, complete with cake, the world premiere of a feature-length tribute to Jones directed by TV veteran George Daugherty will be shown. This tribute includes dips from many of Jones's masterworks (including What's Opera, Doc? and Duck Dodgers in the 24th and a Half Century) and comments from George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Fritz Frelong, Ray Bradbury, Whoopi Goldberg, Leonard Maltin, Ron Howard, and Matt Groening, among others. (Music Box, 7:00)

*Hyenas

Since his extraordinary first feature Touki Bouki (1973)--the first and perhaps only experimental feature in African cinema--Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambety has survived mainly as a stage and film actor, and expectations about his second feature have naturally run high. My first response to Hyenas was that it's a safer film than its predecessor, but on further reflection I find it in many ways a more considered and mature one, with ironies that may turn out to be even deadlier. This is an African adaptation of Friedrich Durrenmatt's famous German play The Visit (also filmed, rather unsatisfactorily, by Bernhard Wicki with Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn in the mid-60s): A wealthy, aging woman returns to the impoverished village she left many years before and offers a fortune to the people there if they will murder a local shopkeeper who seduced, impregnated, and abandoned her when she was 16. At first the villagers disdainfully reject her offer, but then they decide they're at least entitled to purchase the shopkeeper's goods on credit, and then their taste for luxuries starts to grow--clearly a comic allegory about contemporary colonialism, consumerism, and what they have to do with each other. Mambety shows an able hand in managing his talented cast and cuts quite a commanding figure himself when he appears in a pivotal small role. (JR) (Pipers Alley, 7:30)

*Actress (also known as Center Stage.)

A masterpiece by Stanley Kwan, the greatest Hong Kong film I've seen. The story of silent film actress Ruan Ling Yu (1910-1935), known as the Garbo of Chinese cinema, it combines documentary with period re-creation, biopic glamor with profound curiosity, and ravishing historical clips with color simulations of the same sequences being shot--all to explore a past that seems more complex, mysterious, and sexy than the present. Maggie Cheung won a well-deserved best actress prize at Berlin for her classy performance in the title role, and a large part of what Kwan does as a director is to create a kind of nimbus around her poise and grace. (If I had to pick a Hollywood equivalent, I'd opt for George Cukor.) Kwan also creates a labyrinth of questions around who Ruan was and why she committed suicide--a labyrinth both physical (with beautifully ambiguous uses of black-and-white movie sets) and metaphysical--and keeps these questions perpetually open. You should be prepared for a picture that lasts 146 minutes and invites you to relish every one of them--not only the stylish beauty of an imagined Shanghai film world of the 30s, but also the flat abrasiveness of Kwan chatting with Cheung on video about what all this means and coming up with damn little. Any historical movie worth its salt historicizes the present along with the past, and this movie is partly and implicitly about our inadequacy next to those potent clips of Ruan Ling Yu herself (JR) (Pipers Alley, 8:00)

The Border

See listing under Wednesday, October 14. (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

*Gas Food Lodging

Nora (Brooke Adams) is a hard-luck waitress at the Pull-Off Plaza Truck Stop in Laramie, New Mexico, with two teenage daughters to reckon with: dreamy Shade (Fairuza Balk), who spends her days at the Bijou enraptured by Mexican melodramas, and devil-may-care Trudi (Ione Skye), who squanders her nights with men in the backseats of trucks and automobiles. All three pine for good relationships and the good life. Allison Anders's first feature is warm, poignant, and sensitively directed--a "women's film" in the best sense, with intelligence and heart. Fairuza Balk is a find as the teenage ingenue, and glamorous Brooke Adams settles into a mature "mom" role with grace. This screening is a first peek at what could prove to be this year's best-loved American independent film. (GP) (Music Box, 9:15)

Gun Crazy

Tamra Davis's film is not really a remake of the 1949 Joseph H. Lewis cult classic, but there are parallels and connections. Both are youth exploitation films about misfits with guns moving through a sinister and dark America. The first half of the new film works wonderfully well. Living in a trailer with her lecherous stepfather (the marvelously low-life Joe Dallesandro), Anita, the 17-year-old town slut (played by the exploitation queen of the 90s, Drew Barrymore, who gives little in the way of performance but a good deal in the way of sleazy presence), brings her ex-con pen pal Howard to town. He gets a job by claiming to be reborn. The town religious cult master may or may not be a phony, and Howard's conversion may or may not be cynical. This portrait of backwoods America is hilarious and trenchant. When Anita has to shoot her stepfather, the two lovers are forced to run. At this point the film should explode as violence meets violence on the road in the States. Alas, the two settle into a house in the suburbs and the film deflates. (DO) (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

Forbidden Homework

See listing under Tuesday, October 13. (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

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