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The 31st Chicago International Film Festival

The Movies: Week 1

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Friday, October 13

Children of Lumiere: When Eisenstein extolled the virtues of montage, it's for sure he didn't have The Children of Lumiere in mind. Admittedly, chronicling 100 years of French cinema in 109 minutes is basically a thankless--no, impossible--task. And Jacques Perrin's cinematic scrapbook is fairly "professional," whatever that means. Perhaps it would have taken the 100 monkeys with 10 Steenbecks the full 100 years to produce, but they probably would have come up with a few more surprises. Unavoidably, there's some great stuff here, even some rare stuff, as well as some good old blast-from-the-past clips with the likes of Louis Jouvet, Michel Simon, Jean Gabin, and Fernandel doing star turns (the film unwittingly underscores the preeminence of male stars in the iconography of French cinema). Perrin and his editing staff were careful not to step on anyone's lines, generally avoiding pure sound-bite collages in favor of somewhat longer clips. But unfortunately the film is structured thematically, with little dollops of history, dance, the Holocaust, food, etc. The facile editing between otherwise discrete topics smoothly sweeps all contradictions, contestations, and content under the same cornball cinematic rug. The Children of Lumiere is less a tribute to a century of cinema than a nostalgic romp through the cultural stock footage of a nation. (RS) (Fine Arts, 5:00)

Butterfly Kiss: If you're sick and tired of kinky killers and English rip-offs of American genre movies, this terminally bleak and violent road movie may irritate the hell out of you--unless you're as impressed as I was by Amanda Plummer's performance as an impulsive lesbian murderer searching for her ex-lover and pulling along Saskia Reeves on her impromptu adventures. Just when I was tempted to give up on this shocker as the worst kind of deja vu, it unexpectedly reminded me of the fury of Flannery O'Connor and some of her craziest and most alienated characters, which roped me back in. Michael Winterbottom (Family) directed, fairly adroitly, from a script by Frank Cottrell Boyce. (JR) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

*The Outpost: The latest work from Hungarian director Peter Gothar (Melodrama, Time, Time Stands Still) is an extraordinary little film, the kind that haunts you for weeks afterward. A civil engineer is suddenly hustled out of her office, her apartment, and civilization as she knows it (they tell her she's being "promoted"). Each stage of her journey is stranger and more humiliatingly inexplicable than the last. On one level it's a perfectly executed Kafkaesque parable. Objects and functions are slowly stripped away (all her personal items are exchanged for more "practical" ones, like cartons of cigarettes, although she doesn't smoke) as she proceeds first by train, then by railroad handcar, and finally on foot, plodding up a desolate mountain. En route, she passes a predecessor heading back down and falls to recognize this former colleague who mutely stares at nothing. Yet far from plunging into frustration or despair, she advances in wry wonderment. There's even a strange sort of joy that has nothing to do with "making the best of a bad situation" and everything to do with the liberation of having nothing left to lose. It's an extremely original concept, and Mari Nagy's intelligent performance suggests a wealth of options at precisely the point where all choices seem to disappear. (RS) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

*Postman: One of the most striking recent works from China's sixth generation filmmakers, He Jianjun's Postman recalls the films of Robert Bresson, Pickpocket especially, in both its subject and its gorgeously austere manner. Xiao Dou, the film's young protagonist, is chosen to replace a postman fired for reading the letters he handles and immediately begins repeating his predecessor's transgression. While at first it seems this behavior may simply be a way for the shy loner to share in other lives, the film carefully avoids endorsing that interpretation or any other, leaving us to puzzle over why this voyeuristic obsession becomes an end in itself, a duplicate existence that Xiao prefers to any authentic one. Painting modern Beijing as a jumble of flaking tenements and sterile high-rises, He portrays a society where the concern for "face" inevitably engenders its hidden opposite, one in which urban anomie and a thwarted will to power combine to produce pathological manipulators like Xiao. Not only is the political allegory endlessly resonant, but He achieves his ends with a spare, elusive style that finds as much meaning in empty streets as in evasive gazes. (GC) (Music Box, 7:00)

Blue in the Face: Easy to take but even easier to leave alone, this instant spin-off of Smoke was codirected by that film's director, Wayne Wang, and its writer, Paul Auster, in less than a week's time, shortly after the earlier film wrapped. A series of improvs set in and around the same Brooklyn cigar store that's the center of Smoke, it features a few of the same actors (chiefly Harvey Keitel, who also assumes the role of executive producer) and numerous guest stars. The major drawback here is the clubhouse atmosphere: it seems the actors are having more fun than the audience, though if you aren't expecting much you might be diverted. Madonna turns up to deliver a singing telegram, Jim Jarmusch ruminates on what he claims is going to be his last cigarette, Lily Tomlin impersonates a street person, Roseanne cusses out her boyfriend, Keith David plays the ghost of Jackie Robinson, Lou Reed chatters about his glasses, John Lurie jams with a couple of percussionists, Michael J. Fox does nothing much at all, and so on. Mean' while, several Brooklyn residents are interviewed about neighborhood statistics, and Brooklyn goes on being Brooklyn. (JR) (Fine Arts, 7:15)

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Marion Hansel's sixth feature has some impressive components, especially Bernard Lutic's immaculate 'Scope framing, Wim Mertens's melancholy score, and 11-year-old Ling Chu's astonishingly expressive performance. Unfortunately, the film's discordant linguistic and stylistic framework fatally disrupts the emotional rhythms the material requires to work dramatically. Hansel and cowriter Louis Grospierre have adapted the short story "Li," by Nikos Kavvadias. Set in a florid, stylized Hong Kong, the narrative examines the relationship between Nikos (an uninspired Stephen Rea), a Greek-Irish radio operator stationed on a dilapidated, bankrupt freighter, and Li (Ling), the mysterious, charming, and tough local girl he befriends. The film's first two-thirds unfolds in the ship's dank, claustrophobic interiors. Though there are some visually arresting moments afforded by the elemental contrasts of water, air, and space, the scenes lack any inner life or force of conviction. They're sodden and inchoate, hanging as if suspended in motion, with no urgency or concentration--especially the encounters between Nikos and the ship's captain (Adrian Brine). Without dramatic tension, the revelations that expose the mysteries of Nikos's behavior and Li's past seem curiously uninvolving. A Belgian/French/United Kingdom coproduction, the film is burdened by a lack of specificity, both culturally and geographically, and the conflicting impulses between the essentially European model Hansel works within and the amorphous English-language market the film seems pitched to. (PM) (Fine Arts, 7:15)

The Moor's Head: The Moor's Head, by Austrian filmmaker Paulus Manker, is one of a growing number of works using the theme of environmental degradation as a way to explore psychological collapse in the face of an increasingly alienating society. An engineer drives past the scene of a large chemical accident on his way home from work one evening and begins having ominous, violent hallucinations that portend the imminent collapse of civilization. His family is bewildered by his increasingly bizarre behavior at home. The script, by German filmmaker Michael Haneke (whose films, including Benny's Video and The Seventh Continent, were showcased at last year's festival), also explores a theme that recurs in Haneke's films--explosive violence as a reaction to a technological sterile society. But I found myself wondering if the subject of The Moor's Head was as challenging as Manker and Haneke think. The suggestions that a polluted society leads to mental instability and violence and that society as a whole might be sicker than its craziest people don't strike me as particularly novel. Todd Haynes's most recent film, Safe, has a similar set of themes. But where Haynes created a genuinely thought-provoking and unsettling film by emphasizing the highly ambiguous and even banal nature of his subject matter, Manker and Haneke seem obsessed with pushing the violent and more sensationalistic aspects of theirs, which ironically only dilutes the power of their message. (RP) (Fine Arts, 9:00)

The Absolution: India's film industry can crank out cinematic turkeys with the best of them. K. Bikram Singh's costume fantasy The Absolution (aka Tarpan) is a cheesy piece of magical realism about a town that's cursed--none of its girls live past the age of seven. One young father is so fed up with the situation that he visits a local holy man, who informs him that the town's well must be purified before the curse can be removed. With the town leaders assembled (and doing something that resembles the ghoul dance in Michael Jackson's Thriller video) and smoke machines pumping furiously in the background, the holy man begins dredging muck from the bottom of the well. With each load comes some piece of evidence that points to a sin one of the town leaders has committed. At this point we're treated to flashbacks of each sin, after which the spirit of the deceased arises from the well to demand contrition from the sinner. All of this is framed as an attack on the caste system, as well as a plea for ending discrimination against women. However, the movie is so unintentionally campy, its message so heavy-handed, its dialogue so giggle-inducing ("You lower-caste slut, you've defiled our well!") that I'm almost tempted to refer to Singh as India's Edward D. Wood. But this would be more praise than the movie deserves. (RP) (Fine Arts, 9:00)

Neurosia: The German subtitle of Rosa Von Praunheim's satirical pseudodocumentary might be translated as "50 Years of Perversity." At the premiere of his new film Von Praunheim is shot dead, and a TV journalist (Desire Nick) sets out to make a documentary about the gay underground filmmaker, with unexpected results. Valentin Passoni is credited with the script. (Music Box, 9:00)

The Journey of August King: Under the direction of John Duigan (The Year My Voice Broke, Flirting, Sirens), John Ehle adapts his own novel, set in North Carolina, about the encounter between the title hero (Jason Patric), a white mountain man, and a young runaway slave woman (Thandie Newton) he decides to help; with Larry Drake and Sam Waterston. (Fine Arts, 9:15)

*Siao Yu: This poignant Taiwanese film about a young Chinese woman's quest for a green card through a paper marriage is definitely worth checking out. It's a tired concept, but director Sylvia Chang avoids most of the pitfalls, and the sensitive, surprisingly three-dimensional performances animate the story. Chang, a star in Hong Kong and Taiwan, has never been much of an auteur, but she does have a firm grasp of how people, especially women, act in real situations. There's no attempt to conjure up true love or a fairy-tale ending, and the emotions ring true when Siao Yu (Joyin Liu), a seamstress in an illegal sweatshop, and Mario (Daniel J. Travanti), an aging lefty journalist with gambling debts, struggle toward a compromise in their artificial relationship. This is Chang's best film to date, even though it's painfully politically correct. (BS) (Fine Arts, 9:15)

Saturday, October 14

*Siao Yu: See listing under Friday, October 13. (Fine Arts, 1:00)

Short Films 1: Subtitled "The Character of Characters," this program includes films from Australia, Ireland, the U.S., and the UK. (Fine Arts, 1:00)

War Stories: We're in the land of unapologetic, unadulterated talking heads: a group of white-haired New Zealand women face Gaylene Preston's camera one after the other to answer the telling question "What did you do in the war, mommy?" (World War II, that is, when New Zealand defended itself against a Japanese invasion by ambivalently hosting myriad GIs). War Stories is surprisingly moving and lyrical, thanks to the quality of the storytelling and to its subjects, women in their 60s and 70s who feel comfortable with this dying thing called language. (GP) (Music Box, 1:00)

Provocateur: For over 120 years, until 1918, Poland did not exist on the maps of the world, having been partitioned among Austria, Russia, and Prussia. During that time, it was sometimes difficult to tell what a given person's loyalties were. Set in 1909 and based loosely on real-life characters, Provocateur follows a Polish terrorist-turned-traitor (played forcefully by Poland's leading movie star, Boguslaw Linda) in an attempt to examine the fatal toll of harboring split political allegiances. This attempt falls far short of its promise, however. The film proves sketchy at best at presenting the psychological and political aspects of the story, and the few oblique historical references it does provide merely muddle the picture. Many of Provocateur's narrative problems begin about half an hour in, when the setting moves from Warsaw to the picturesque mountain town of Zakopane. At this point the film's focus inexplicably shifts away from politics, first to a brittle love triangle and then to mountain climbing. Any dramatic tension, however weak, is then eclipsed by the physical challenges and danger of scaling inaccessible summits. The mountains take over as the real stars of Provocateur, and at least on this level the film delivers: the images of sharp peaks and nearly vertical gorges in the sun are nothing short of exhilarating. But if anyone wants to fully understand the plot of this Polish-made drama, reading the synopsis--if there is one--in detail is a definite prerequisite. (ZB) (Fine Arts, 3: 00)

Roula: Martin Enlen's first film is pretty off-putting. Of course, child abuse--particularly incest--is a repellent subject. Yet Roula goes in a totally unexpected direction, playing off peripheral characters. At the center of the film are Roula and her father, who own and run an upscale mountain resort in Denmark. Through flashbacks, we learn that their unnatural relationship has already caused the suicides of Roula's mother and best friend. When a famous writer of children's books, seeking to overcome the trauma of his wife's death, visits the resort with his young daughter, his attraction to the mysterious Roula threatens not only her, but his own daughter as well. Roula's story proceeds with the primal clarity and horror of a fairy tale, and her whitehaired father represents a peculiar monster in a house gone exceedingly Grimm. The writer's secrets remain unwritten, and in its own weird way Roula is as manic a vision of writer's block as The Shining, minus, unfortunately, the humor. (RS) (Fine Arts, 3:00)

Two Crimes: Mexican director Roberto Sneider's first feature is a strange hybrid, as if each of the title's two crimes could yield its own discrete film. It starts as a sardonic urban political thriller in which the hero's innocent helpfulness makes him and his girlfriend the targets of a paranoid police force that sees terrorist conspiracies everywhere--even at a birthday gathering in his apartment. Once on the lam, the hero leads the film into a smalltown Volpone. He takes refuge with a rich uncle whose ill health has attracted a swarm of greedy relatives not at all happy to see a favorite nephew. In the ensuing tango of greed, sex, jealousy, betrayal, and murder, it's hard to distinguish the good guys from the bad. Everyone schemes and double-crosses--including the ironic but manipulative uncle and our erstwhile hero, who proves to be far less disinterested than probably even he imagined. Sneider manages to sustain a delicate balance between caricature and identification in a black comedy that, for the most part, successfully walks that peculiarly Latin American tightrope between soap-opera naturalism and slightly feverish myth. Even though this film is too long, collapsing under overloaded conceits, it's an interesting failure. (RS) (Fine Arts, 3:00)

The Absolution: See listing under Friday, October 13. (Music Box, 3:00)

Children of Lumiere: See listing under Friday, October 13. (Fine Arts, 3:15)

*Postmon: See listing under Friday, October 13. (Fine Arts, 5:00)

*The Outpost: See listing under Friday, October 13. (Fine Arts, 5:30)

The Garden of Eden: There's always something subtly seductive in a film by Maria Novaro--and always something slightly amiss, like a whisper in a church during high mass. Within the cathedral of Mexican culture she casts a sidelong gaze: her "labyrinths of solitude" are populated with strong-willed women gone astray because there's no other place for them to go. In The Garden of Eden she chooses the border town of Tijuana--a place that's neither here nor there--as a metaphor. Serena wants a new life there with her children, Elizabeth is looking for her Mexican roots, and Jane, an American, starts out looking for her brother and ends up with a Mexican lover in the trunk of her car. Felipe sees the grass as greener on the other side of the frontier, and Jane good-naturedly agrees to be "used" by him to cross to the other side. Yet their story never turns ugly: they discover, if not love, at least mutual respect. Novaro has a fine playful touch, seen in her almost nonchalant way of handling the narrative, her love and respect for the characters, her semiverite approach to the mise-en-scene. Like Lola and Danzon, The Garden of Eden is a small, precious, almost fragile cinematic miracle. (BR) (Fine Arts, 5:00)

Short Films 4: Subtitled "The Anatomy of Relationships," this program includes work from Canada, the U.S., Australia, Iceland, and New Zealand. (Fine Arts, 5:30)

Suite 16: The throwaway pun in the English title of Dominique Deruddere's Flemish film hardly applies to its two main characters, who are neither sweet nor 16, but a thoroughly perverted, amoral, nasty pair. Deruddere's first feature, Crazy Love, flirted with necrophilia and assorted adolescent oddities, but with a desperate energy and drive that's completely missing here. Instead we have a creepy film in an emotional vacuum, a color-saturated but coldly analytic exercise in voyeurism played out within the claustrophobic confines of a hotel suite. A sardonic rich man in a wheelchair (Pete Postlethwaite), who cannot eat, drink, or fornicate, forces a young gigolo and thief (Antonie Kamerling) to eat, drink, and fornicate for him. While the eating and drinking are peripheral, most of the energy goes into the variety of escalating sexual encounters Postlethwalte orchestrates and videotapes--which in turn are mere foreplay to some ultimate master plan. The spider-and-fly relationship between the two men rarely transcends the variations and reversals of the usual master-slave dialectic. The film does rise to a catharsis; there's at least a flicker of pity and rage, and the final twist in this film is quite unexpected and devilishly done. But it's too little too late. After all the world-weary cynicism, the unexpected is merely a blip in the predictable continuum. (RS) (Music Box, 5:30)

Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August: Lina Wertmuller's simpleminded sexual-political allegory about a working-class slob and a rich bitch stranded together on a deserted island in the Mediterranean. The "messages" are not only painfully obvious but, on the sexual level, extremely dubious as well. Directed in a sub-Fellini style of goggling close-ups and overstylized long shots, the film is overblown and overlong. With Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato (1975). (DK) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

Eggs: A Norwegian feature written and directed by Bent Hamer about two aging brothers who share a house and discover one of them has an adult son who's coming to live with them. (Fine Arts, 7:00)

*Gazon maudit: A cheating husband gets his comeuppance when his bored wife (Victoria Abril) enthusiastically throws herself into an affair with a very butch lesbian whose van has broken down in front of their house. But rather than stop there, this snappy French farce, directed by Josiane Balasko, repeatedly turns the tables on all the parties involved. Perhaps the most refreshing thing about the movie is that it manages to be pointed and bitingly funny without stooping to the kind of mean-spiritedness and condescension one finds in the work of Pedro Almodovar or the bitterness one finds in Bertrand Blier. Balasko directs a terrific ensemble cast with grace and warmth. The film has already been picked up by Miramax, so you can wait for it to show up in commercial release. But it's probably more enjoyable than most of this year's fare. (RP) (Fine Arts, 7:30)

Madagascar Skin: Chris Newby, the director of Anchoress, wrote and directed this feature about an awkward and isolated gay man (John Hannah) who runs off to the sea and encounters on the beach an injured thief (Bernard Hill) whom he eventually becomes involved with. (Fine Arts, 7:30)

Two Deaths: The backdrop may be the civil war in Romania, but the foreground is director Nicolas Roeg's forte: sexual obsession and humiliation. Dr. Daniel Pavenic has invited a number of men to dinner; three manage to arrive, despite the roadblocks, curfews, and random outbursts of violence. They savor a disturbingly lavish dinner (the best food to be found in the movies since Eat Drink Man Woman) accompanied by Pavenic's telling the strange tale of his relationship with his beautiful housekeeper (Sonia Braga). His friends have secrets of their own to share, but none so bizarre, macabre, and compelling as his. Eventually the violence within the house mirrors the violence outside. A dark film, especially pleasing for the film buff with a literary sensibility. (MB) (Music Box, 7:30)

No Return Address: An elderly postal employee's sleep is interrupted by the late parties of a young girl who lives in the apartment above him, so he knocks and complains and threatens to call the police. The girl, in retaliation, writes him anonymous love letters, setting events in motion that will disrupt his life profoundly. It becomes obvious that this mail carrier has rarely read any letters. And reading, as Don Quixote can attest, is pretty heady stuff. In many ways Carlos Carrera's No Return Address is a modern Mexican version of Don Quixote, with the thin, aging petty functionary pursuing his unknown Dulcinea. On the word of a sleazy private eye, he accepts an obvious prostitute with no interest in him as his ideal love. Meanwhile a fat, expansive coworker, who worries over him like an old mother hen, serves as a magnificent scene-stealing Sancho Panza. The story unfolds with appropriate irony, but it's the unspoken connection between the two neighbors--despite their differences in age, sex, and attitude--that gives the film its peculiar resonance and odd sense of intimacy. (RS) (Fine Arts, 9:00)

Roula: See previous listing today, Saturday October 14. (Fine Arts, 9:30)

*Blush The only female member of China's celebrated fifth, generation of filmmakers, the underrated Li Shao-hong (Red Dawn, Family Portrait), directed this adaptation of a novel by Su Tong, author of the source material for Raise the Red Lantern, and it's one of the most remarkable and interesting retrospective looks at the 1949 communist revolution that I've seen. Its subject is the effect of that revolution on the lives of two former Shanghai prostitutes, who are close friends, and one of their favorite former clients. It follows all three characters and their shifting fortunes over many years, and its conclusions about their separate strengths, weaknesses, and destinies are never simple or obvious. The beautiful cinematography (by Li's husband Zeng Nianping) frames much of the action from an appreciable distance, in a manner that recalls both Chinese painting and 30s Mizoguchi, while remaining unusually sensitive to architecture (the film wonderfully reveals the communal interactions between one couple and their downstairs neighbors, for instance, with many shots framed from the courtyard). This is the best mainland Chinese feature I've seen all year, and one that I expect will still be regarded as important a decade from now. (JR) (Fine Arts, 9:30)

For God and Country: The erotic fantasies of a soldier patrolling the border between Austria and Hungary in 1980 form the core of this Austrian feature written and directed by Wolfgang Murnberger. (Fine Arts, 9:30)

Don't Die Without Telling Me Where You're Going: The newest film from Eliseo Subiela, director of the art-house hit Man Facing Southeast, is a hokey meditation on love, death, memory, and the nature of cinema. The somewhat convoluted story centers on a movie projectionist and amateur inventor who builds a contraption that allows dreams to be recorded on video. During his experimental trials he falls in love with the image of a woman he dreams about, who soon materializes before him and explains that she's the spirit of his wife from a previous life. It seems that the projectionist was formerly the inventor from whom Edison stole the idea for the movie camera, and she's now here to encourage him to develop his new invention, which will revolutionize the cinema (though how is never convincingly explained). He becomes so enamored of her that he's tempted to dump his present wife and join his ex in the afterlife. Woven around this soap opera are philosophical ruminations about reincarnation, the meaning of love, and other such weighty metaphysical issues, few of them integrated smoothly into the story. The result is rather silly and dull. And the resolution, which is supposed to be whimsical, is rife with intimations (surely unintentional) of incest and even child molestation. Frankly, it gave me the creeps. (RP) (Music. Box, 9:30)

Sunday, October 15

The Moor's Head: See listing under Friday, October 13. (Music Box, 11:00 am)

Closer to Home: An effective low-key film about a lonely New York cabbie who wants to settle down and resorts to purchasing a Filipino mail-order bride. The young woman agrees to the marriage as a way of getting a job in the U.S. to raise money for her sister's heart operation. The first half of the film shuttles between the girl's struggle to pay the extorting marriage broker and the cabdriver's difficulties making final arrangements of his own. The second half deals with their meeting and the disappointment that ensues after the inevitable cultural clash and dashed expectations. No major surprises in this Phillippine/U.S. coproduction, but director Joseph Nobile covers a good deal of ground, both cultural and emotional, with deftness and confidence. The film is also boosted by strong performances from the cast, especially John Michael Bolger as the forlorn cabdriver. (RP) (Fine Arts, 12:30)

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: See listing under Friday, October 13. (Fine Arts, 1:00)

The Lizards: Lina Wertmuller's first feature (1963), about a group of smalltown slackers dreaming of escape, has often been compared thematically to Fellini's I vitelloni, made one decade earlier. Ennio Morricone composed the score. (Fine Arts, 1:00).

*Up Down Fragile: For the first of its three hours, Haut bas fragile seems not so much a Jacques Rivette film as a carbonated drink called Rivette Lite--an anthology of glancing echoes of Out 1, Celine and Julie Go Boating, Duelle, and Gang of Four. But when it becomes a critical appreciation (albeit somewhat abstract) of MGM's Arthur Freed-unit musicals--with mise en scene and decor taking the place of a decent score or physical agility on the part of most of the actors--a genuine sense of charm and pleasure takes over. The film's "musical" essence stems less from the numbers themselves than from everything leading up to and away from them, and like a happy virus, it gradually overtakes the movie as a whole. For the first time in Rivette's cinema, one finds a film virtually free of anxiety and anguish. Though the three crisscrossing heroines--played by Nathalie Richard (the only real dancer), Marianne Denicourt, and Laurence Cote (all of whom helped write their own characters and dialogue)--are uneasily attempting to come to terms with their pasts, their efforts are motored by a giddy happiness that floats free of the plot. One wishes that better use were made of Anna Karina, who makes a long overdue comeback as a cabaret singer, though Andre Marcon, in what amounts to the Gene Kelly part, shows a surprising amount of aplomb and grace. (JR) (Music Box, 1:30)

No Return Address: See listing under Saturday, October 14. (Fine Arts, 3:00)

A Kiss to This Land: A well-made documentary about the Eastern European and Russian Jews who emigrated to Mexico during the 1920s, after the United States and other countries had imposed strict quotas, as recalled by seven immigrants. Though not without its share of stereotypical assumptions about Jews, Mexican society emerges in these accounts as remarkably tolerant and less anti-Semitic than the U.S. Arriving in the wake of the Mexican Revolution, the immigrants filled a vacuum in the workforce, taking jobs primarily as salespeople and tradesmen, and Mexico reciprocated by fostering the kind of openness that allowed a wide range of Jewish social institutions and religious traditions to flourish--a fascinating aspect of this story that I wish the movie had spent more time examining. The interviewees often speak from written memoirs, but they're still engaging. A Kiss to This Land isn't comprehensive as a history, but it's still an insightful and at times poetic account of this chapter of Jewish history. (RP) (Fine Arts, 3:00)

*Siao Yu: See listing under Friday, October 13. (Fine Arts, 3:00)

*Gazon maudit: See listing under Saturday, October 14. (Fine Arts, 5:00)

Short Films 2: "Buck the Establishment" is the thematic subtitle of this program featuring work from Australia, Canada, the U.S., and the UK. (Fine Arts, 5:00)

Pretty Baby: Sonke Wortmann's tale of love and lust between gays and straights suffers a bit from that relentless, somewhat manic Teutonic cheeriness that affects much German comedy. A young hunk is caught by his girlfriend screwing another woman in the john of a restaurant where they work, and suddenly finds himself without a job, apartment, and fiancee. Hitting on a series of ex-girlfriends for a place to crash only serves to inventory his history of screwed-up relationships and his signal lack of tact (sensitivity is not his strong point). He has better luck with a group of gays who are drawn to his perfect physique. In a film filled with cheap shots, the gays in their defiant self-parody definitely come off better than the stralghts, whose aggressive lack of personality is mitigated only by their bewilderment at a world far more complicated than advertised. In a "men's group" discussion of clitoral versus vaginal orgasms, for instance, a gay guest is the only one to realize he doesn't have a clue. Ultimately, this obvious bedroom farce is saved from sheer oompah-pah vulgarity by the charm of Joachim Krol's Norbert, an unassuming gay man with a wry acceptance of human imperfection and a controllable yen for our hero's body. Unfortunately one performance, as good as this one is, does not a movie make. (RS) (Fine Arts, 5:00)

*The Wondrous Journey of Kornel Esti: A remarkably adroit first effort by Hungarian director Jozsef Pacskovszky, this finely textured tale follows two train rides taken by the same man some 30 years apart. The first journey carries the teenage Kornel from Budapest to Italy around the turn of the century, an eye-opening experience for a young man with a curious mind and literary aspirations. The second trip is a melancholy voyage for the middle-aged Kornel, who looks back at his superficially successful life--his fame as a poet and his amorous conquests--and wrestles with disillusionment and guilt. To examine fully the nuances of the shifts in Kornel's attitudes, Pacskovszky designs a rigorously symmetrical narrative structure and makes silky-smooth transitions between the two time frames. Some of the people Kornel encountered on his first trip reappear during the second, as if summoned by the protagonist's subconscious need to revisit his past experiences in chronological order. Only then is he able to start facing his demons. The range of cinematic devices Pacskovszky uses to create visual and conceptual fluidity is astounding: from color to black and white to rear-screen projection to filter-controlled expressionism. Restrained acting by the two male leads, Gabor Mate and Matyas Erdely, nicely complements Pacskovszky's quiet hues. The Wondrous Voyage of Kornel Esti resembles Ildiko Enyedi's My Twentieth Century, a festival hit several years ago. It was a question then whether Enyedi's accomplished feature would prove a singular phenomenon, and it's heartening to discover that the legacy of her stylistic experiments continues--and without any traces of plagarism--in the work of another promising Hungarian director. (ZB) (Fine Arts, 5:15)

Under the Domim Tree: The Great Israeli Film has proved to be even more elusive than the Great American Novel, with far fewer aspirants to the title. Eli Cohen's Under the Domim Tree can't claim the prize, but it comes off as a quite watchable and sometimes even fascinating reflection on death and remembrance. Set in Israel in the early 50s at a state boarding school, it begins with the death of a small child who's found drowned in a pond and goes on to trace the lives of a group of children whose parents are either dead or absent. One girl's father seemingly comes back from the dead only to die again before she can be reunited with him. Another girl's mother is in an insane asylum, driven by survivor's guilt to imagine herself a witness of horrors she never saw. Still another girl must battle her amnesia to free herself from two strangers who claim to be her parents. The film is less than subtle in its constant reminders that beneath the calm regularity of the kibbutz lie the unspoken and unspeakable traumas of the Holocaust. It's not above some sentimental tulips-in-the-desert historical self-justification, and none of the interlocking stories or performances are particularly compelling. But the collective energy here is almost as strong as the kids' ferocious drive toward autonomy, their quest to forge an alternate family and an alternate society. (RS) (Music Box, 5:15)

Fiesta: Despite its upbeat title, this psychological inquiry into the nature of war and fascism is decisively somber. Set against the backdrop of the Spanish civil war, the simple, linear plot follows the journey of a Spanish teenager (Gregoire Colin) yanked from a Catholic school in France by an emissary of his father, a colonel in Franco's army, and taken back to Spain to "do his military duty." The boy's introduction to war resembles shock therapy; he's assigned by his eccentric commandant (Jean-Louis Trintignant) to a firing squad that executes men, women, and children with impunity. Initially the youngster complies silently, but he rebels when asked to participate in the killing of a girl his age who's committed no crime. The contrast between the young man's growing sense of morality and the commandant's cynical devotion to gun-based omnipotence gives the film its intellectual premise, but the director, Frenchman Pierre Boutron, seems to stay on the sidelines of this conflict, conveying the story in a sassy, overpowering visual style that hides the horrors of war under a glossy veneer. Real human tragedy thus becomes a grand theatrical spectacle of dispassionate formality; the soldiers mechanically fulfill their roles in the name of God and misguided patriotism. Thanks to the consistent application of a full palette of cold, almost eerie colors, there's precious little room here for emotion. Actors Colin and Trintignant slug it out, but since Colin hides behind a silent facade, Trintignant, with his flowery orations and eyecatching fetishes, wins hands down. (ZB) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

The Journey of August King See listing under Friday, October 13. (Fine Arts, 7:00)

*Not Yet a Time for Sorrow: A land surveyor named Methodius arrives at a small Russian village, ostensibly to begin work on a road that is finally, after years of rumors, about to be paved. It's soon apparent that Methodius is no ordinary land surveyor. He talks about the concept of dharma and waxes eloquently about the mutually transformative powers of art and magic. And in one particularly delightful scene, he uses a large distilling jug as a surrogate woman to explain the Kama-sutra to a group of men, causing pigs to moan, cats to grunt, and wooden weather vanes to fly off their poles and into the air. Methodius's arrival seems to bring about a self-reflecting influence on the villagers, and a respite from their usual internecine squabblings. Inspired by Methodius, they decide to try things they never thought of doing before. This rich parable is another fascinating look at Russia coming to terms with its past while looking ahead to its future, dealing with its ethnic diversity, its ongoing dialectic between logic and emotion, and its perpetual need to turn its leaders into larger-than-life mythical figures. It's also a poetically stunning meditation on illusion versus reality and a fine example of emerging Russian cinema. (JK) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

Butterfly Kiss: See listing under Friday, October 13. (Music Box, 7:00)

Provocateur: See listing under Saturday, October 14. (Fine Arts, 7-15)

*Habit: Written, directed, edited, and starring Larry Fessenden, this tour de force low-budget indie makes intelligent use of vampirism as an allegory for myriad compulsive tendencies: self-mutilation, alcoholism, sexual obsession, alienation, and the madness of living in New York. There's been a run of recent films dealing with modern vampires in the Big Apple--including Michael Almereyda's Nadja and Abet Ferrara's The Addiction--but what makes Fessenden's effort stand out is its complete lack of camp. Set in Soho, it tells the story of Sam, an alcoholic restaurant manager whose girlfriend has decided to move out on him. Just barely keepIng things together, a drunken Sam is smitten by the mysterious Anna at a friend's Halloween party. They begin an intense affair, and Sam quickly realizes there are a couple of strange things about Anna: she never seems to eat, has a propensity for biting Sam while they're making out, and refuses to tell him what she does for a living. To Fessenden's credit, the line is blurred between what is really happening and what may represent Sam's descent into madness. A thought-provoking modern-day fable of life in the big city. (JK) (Fine Arts, 9:00)

The Garden of Eden: See listing under Saturday, October 14. (Fine Arts, 9:00)

Neurosia: See listing under Friday, October 13. (Music Box, 9:00)

Two Deaths: See listing under Saturday, October 14. (Fine Arts, 9:15)

War Stories: See listing under Saturday, October 14. (Fine Arts, 9:15)

Monday, October 16

Sunset Boulevard: Billy Wilder's searing, funny, morbid look at the real tinsel beneath the phony tinsel (1950). An aging silent-movies vamp (Gloria Swanson) takes up with a two-bit screenwriter on the make (William Holden) and holds him a virtual captive in her Hollywood gothic mansion. Erich von Stroheim, once her director, now her butler, is the only other figure in this menage-a-weird. A tour de force for Swanson, and one of Wilder's better efforts. (DD) (Fine Arts, 2:00)

Madagascar Skin: See listing under Saturday, October 14. (Fine Arts, 5:00)

For God and Country: See listing under Saturday, October 14. (Fine Arts, 5:00)

Don't Die Without Telling Me Where You're Going: See listing under Saturday, October 14. (Fine Arts, 5:00)

Fiesta: See listing under Sunday, October 15. (Music Box, 5:00)

Let's Talk About Men: If Lina Wertmuller can be characterized as sub-Fellini in general, this early film (1965) is sub-sub-Fellini. I have trouble enough with the real thing; this nearly put me out. It consists of four sketches, which together manage to cover most of the cliches of Italian cinema, from white telephones to whimsy to neorealism, without betraying a hint of style, originality, or intelligence. A bore of cosmic dimensions. (DK) (Fine Arts, 5.15)

Cross My Heart and Hope to Die: The troubling relationship between a little boy and a man is the focus of this Norwegian feature directed by Marius Holst. (Fine Arts, 7:00)

Under the Domim Tree: See listing under Sunday, October 15. (Fine Arts, 7:00)

Roula: See listing under Saturday, October 14. (Fine Arts, 7:15)

A Kiss to This Land: See listing under Sunday, October 15. (Fine Arts, 7:15)

Nobody Loves Me: The latest offering from German writer-director Doris Dorrie is an offbeat love story with some unexpected twists. Fanny Fink, 30, white, and single, is obsessed with two things: finding a nice boyfriend and imagining her own death. In the ramshackle apartment building where she lives, she meets Orfeo, a gay, black clairvoyant who instructs her on how to get the man of her dreams. That he materializes as Lothar, the shallow, sleazy new building manager, doesn't faze Fanny. She immediately goes to work, following Orfeo's wooing instructions. Lothar winds up hurting her, and Fanny tearfully returns to Orfeo, blaming him for the way things have turned out. But Orfeo is sick, possibly dying. It's at this point that the film's true love story emerges, between the lovelorn Fanny and the ailing Orfeo. In the hands of most contemporary Hollywood directors, this material would quickly turn into maudlin goo, but Dorrie's characters have such strong and sincere conviction that things are never less than inspired. There's also plenty here about what it means to be outside mainstream culture, as a gay, black, or just plain eccentric. To Dorrie's credit this never becomes didactic or injected with the utterly false us-against-the-world optimism that's so pervasive in Hollywood films on so-called difficult subjects as this. Featuring strong performances by Maria Schrader as Fanny and Pierre Sanoussi-Bliss as Orfeo, and the appropriately bittersweet refrain of Edith Piaf's "Non je ne regrette rien," Dorrie's film, like her earlier efforts, is a compelling look at both contemporary German society and human nature at large. (JK) (Music Box, 7:15)

Full Body Massage: Director Nicolas Roeg has had a long streak of uneven films that start off promising but end up succumbing to incoherence (e.g., Cold Heaven, Track 29, Insignificance). This time out, he's settled on a simple story of a successful art dealer (Mimi Rogers) who gets an exceptional massage from Fitch (Bryan Brown), an intense, spiritual masseur with a hidden, tragic past. This talky film would probably work much better as a staged play. Many of the film's conceits are specious: Western culture is bad, except for the Hopis; Eastern culture is good; we're spiritually bankrupt; modern art is bereft of ideas and originality. Roeg employs Fitch as an erudite, critical mouthpiece to recite a continuous litany of society's transgressions. This could have been interesting if it built to some sort of dramatic resolution, but ultimately there's not much going on here except for the waste of two fine performances by Rogers and Brown. Ironically, coming from a former cinematographer, the film is also a visual bore. (JK) (Fine Arts, 9:00)

Two Crimes: See listing under Saturday, October 14. (Fine Arts, 9:15)

*Not Yet a Time for Sorrow: See listing under Sunday, October 15. (Fine Arts, 9:15)

Parallel Sons: John G. Young's debut feature subverts the outlaw-couple-on-the-run form by reconfiguring its sexual and racial dynamics. The film isn't great or exciting, but it has passion and intensity. Twenty-year-old Seth (Gabriel Mick) leads a restrictive, deadend life in rural upstate New York. His dream of attending a Manhattan art school is furiously denounced by his vindictive, cruel father. Seth's only refuge is his obsession with B-boy and gangsta-rap culture (he wears dreads and has encyclopedic knowledge of house music and hip-hop). Seth's life is irrevocably altered by the appearance of Knowledge (Laurence Mason), a black convict who has escaped from a local correctional facility. Shot and seriously wounded while fleeing, Knowledge passes out while trying to rob the cafe Seth works in. Seth provides aid, comfort, and sanctuary to Knowledge, hiding him in a remote cabin his family owns. Seth's fascination becomes sexual as their relationship moves from wariness and confusion to love and desire. When Seth's family and the cops discover their liaison, the two flee. Young, good with place and time, uses the landscape and dank, cramped contours of the town to reinforce Seth's entrapment and desperation. The central relationship is certainly believable, but unfortunately the other significant characters are so crudely conceived and hysterically performed that the film's balance, tone, and pace become too schizophrenic to register emotionally. But Young shows promise. (PM) (Fine Arts, 9:30)

The Poet's Princess: A writer of cheap thrillers who's just completed a serious novel encounters a woman who reminds him of his heroine, in a comic fantasy from Austria produced, directed, and cowritten by Niki List. (Music Box, 9:30)

Tuesday, October 17

Stalag 17: Billy Wilder's 1953 tale of men in a World War II POW camp (under the command of Otto Preminger). It's chock-full of typical Wilder cynicism and the offhand transvestite humor that would reach its apotheosis In Some Like It Hot, but its wit falters as the melodramatic tension builds. The resulting letdown is terrific, but along the way there is some of the funniest men-at-loose-ends interplay that Wilder has ever put on film. With William Holden, Robert Strauss, and Peter Graves. (DD) (Fine Arts, 2:00)

*The Wondrous Journey of Kornel Esti: See listing under Sunday, October 15. (Fine Arts, 5:00)

Eggs: See listing under Saturday, October 14. (Fine Arts, 5:00)

Cross My Heart and Hope to Die: See listing under Monday, October 16. (Music Box, 5:00)

The Seduction of Mimi: Italian director Lina Wertmuller was a flash in the pan in the middle 70s, but this 1974 film was probably her brightest flash, a comedy about a working-class bumbler (Giancarlo Giannini) whose love life runs afoul of politics. The film never moves far from the conventions of Italian sex farces--that is, it's a comedy of embarrassment and frustration--but the flip Marxism adds a little flavor. Wertmuller approaches the wrenching tastelessness of Billy Wilder without following through to Wilder's redemptive purgation. With Mariangela Melato; remade as the Richard Pryor comedy Which Way Is Up? (DK) (Fine Arts, 5:15)

The Young Poisoner's Handbook: This film would barely deserve to be written about if It didn't keep turning up at all sorts of film festivals, hailed as the hippest new British film around. Some have gone so far as to compare it to a truly brilliant work such as Heavenly Creatures. But Benjamin Ross hasn't delved into the complex mind of his gifted/deviant young subject. He's simply drawn a shallow portrait of an uninteresting murderous nerd and his uninteresting family and colleagues. Ross never really gives his characters a chance to exist: Graham is cute, obsessed, and brilliant, and all of his victims are ugly, stupid, and pathetic. A potentially harrowing moment--when a sick, paralyzed woman realizes that her stepson is poisoning her--is played for laughs. The victim is constructed like a cartoon--bald, ridiculous, and ugly--and the audience is denied any glimpse of her humanity. Maybe Ross misunderstood Hitchcock when he said a film is as good as its villain. But Graham is no villain. He's a sort of MTV dream turned sour: young, cute, cool, and smart (though not as smart as he thinks), he's convinced that family life sucks and that everybody over 30 deserves to die. (BR) (Fine Arts, 6:45)

Fresh Bait Though it's remarkably well crafted, Bertrand Tavernier's recreation of the real-life exploits of three young Parisians (two guys and a girl) who cold-bloodedly murdered two men for their money in December 1993--the female serving as sexual bait, the males carrying out the killings--left me with a sour aftertaste. Tavernier seems to hate his youthful and remorseless characters too much to understand what makes them tick. There's certainly plenty of intelligence here, and the avoidance of psychology has its benefits, but the script (by Tavernier and his ex-wife and frequent collaborator Colo Tavernier O'Hagen, working from a nonfiction book by Morgan Sportes) never transcends or even builds on its givens. Are we supposed to conclude that the trio's enthusiasm for De Palma's Scarface is somehow connected to their lack of soul? This painstakingly detailed docudrama, which won the grand prize at the Berlin film festival, commands some attention and respect; I just can't go along with its antihumanistic attack on antihumanism. (JR) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

*Maborosi: Hirokazu Kore-eda's stunning debut, Maborosi, is a subtle, moving, elegant exploration of the relationship between the visible and the invisible. Carefully constructed plans and static shots reveal quiet domestic interiors, breathtaking landscapes by the sea, a young woman going about her everyday chores, children playing, a couple having sex on a hot, lazy afternoon. Yet these tableaux hide unspoken emotional turmoil. At the beginning of the film Yumiko lives a happy, uneventful life with her charming husband, Ikuo, and their infant son. One day, without warning, Ikuo walks in front of a train. Years later Yumiko accepts a matchmaker's invitation to marry a kind widower in a village by the sea. The man has a daughter, and their two children become best friends. The couple seems happy, and Yumiko is warmly welcomed by the village community. But Ikuo's suicide still haunts her, slowly engulfing her. It is her husband, a simple but generous man, who finds an analogy for her predicament: one night they stand by the sea and he tells her of the maborosi, a strange light coming from the ocean that inexplicably captivates fishermen. There's no catharsis, no resolution in Maborosi. Obviously influenced by Ozu and Hou Hsiao-hsien, Kore-eda uses visual stillness and empty frames to suggest an uncanny absence in the life of the heroine. His film is close to a masterpiece. (BR) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision: The 1995 Academy Award winner for best documentary, this feature by Freida Lee Mock is about the architect of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Music Box, 7:00)

Suite 16: See listing under Saturday, October 14. (Fine Arts, 7:15)

Closer to Home: See listing under Sunday, October 15. (Fine Arts, 9:00)

Madagascar Skin: See listing under Saturday, October 14. (Music Box, 9:00)

Over My Dead Body: A selfish and adulterous husband murdered by his wife is offered a second chance by Death en route to hell if he can bring love to three unhappy women in three days. A German feature directed by Rainer Matsutani. (Fine Arts, 9:15)

Fallout: A melodrama about four executives trapped in an abandoned fallout shelter after an explosion in their company office and the racial and sexual tensions between them. This American independent feature was directed and cowritten by Robert Palumbo. (Fine Arts, 9:15)

Branwen: This film begins as a potentially compelling story of loyalties divided between family and friends, country and politics. Kevin, a sensitive young man from an Irish Republican family, is living in Wales, where he meets Branwen, a Welsh nationalist who ardently believes in the Irish cause. They become involved, and she becomes pregnant. Once they decide to marry, Branwen prevails upon a reluctant Kevin to move to Belfast. They set up house with their infant son, but things soon go awry when Branwen gets more involved in the Republican cause than the ambivalent Kevin. The film does a good job of demonstrating how easily the political becomes personal, and the notion of marrying political allegory to family melodrama is an intriguing one--director Ceri Sherlock seems to be striving for something along the lines of Greek tragedy. Unfortunately, the film gets bogged down in its melodrama; Sherlock isn't content to let one or two plot lines develop and ends up biting off more than he can chew. What could have been a fairly straightforward account of a family being torn apart becomes a trick bag overloaded with too many plot devices. (JK) (Fine Arts, 9:15)

Wednesday, October 18

Witness for the Prosecution: Billy Wilder's 1958 adaptation of Agatha Christie's famous stage thriller. The artificial plotting is all Christie's, but the film eventually becomes Wilder's thanks to a trick ending that dovetails nicely with a characteristic revelation of compassion behind cruelty. His theatrical mise-en-scene--his proscenium framing--serves the material well, as does Charles Laughton's bombastic portrayal of the defense attorney. With Tyrone Power (nicely feckless), Marlene Dietrich, and Elsa Lanchester. (DK) (Fine Arts, 2:00)

*Habit: See listing under Sunday, October 15. (Fine Arts, 5:00)

The Best of Intercom '95: Prizewinning documentaries, animated shorts, music videos, and short narrative works as selected by the International Communication Film and Video Competition. (Music Box, 5:00)

Love and Anarchy: Passion, in its various forms, does not mix with politics; and nowhere is this clearer than in Lina Wertmuller's marvelous study of a simple peasant (Giancarlo Giannini) with a mission to assassinate Mussolini, and of the two ladies of Rome's most decadent and sumptuous brothel who innocently (yet destructively) manipulate his anarchist ardor--and ultimately set up his destruction. A giddy, Felliniesque portrait of human feelings building to a fever pitch. With Mariangela Melato, Eros Pagni, and Lina Polito. (DD) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

The Wormkillers' Last Spring: Male bonding and discord on a softball team of amiable yuppies about to hit middle age. This American independent directed by Thomas Dempsey takes place on the first night of "spring training," a ritualistic event for a group of longtime friends who realize that increasing family and professional obligations might mean this will be their last season together. The guys chase fly balls between jokes and arguments as their wives sit in the bleachers swapping stories of their own. While fairly routine and predictable--there's no dearth of stories about white, middle-aged male angst these days--the script is at times amusing, and the humor is self-deprecating enough to keep the story from becoming maudlin. The characters are enjoyable, though some seem more like caricatures dropped in, unsuccessfully, for comedic effect. Still, if you're not expecting much, you might be entertained. There's also a swell sound track by guitarist Roy Bookbinder. (RP) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

Mannekin Pis: This delightfully offbeat romantic comedy from Belgium arrives with a host of festival awards. The first feature film by its 30-year-old director, Frank Van Passel, Mannekin Pis (referring to a famous Brussels statue of a little boy urinating) both relies on and transcends the conventions of its genre. The principal characters are homely, even downright ugly (Harry, the young boy who grows up to become the romantic lead, sports a shaved head), but they're all the more endearing--and convincing--for that. The dialogue is often grossly hilarious, as when Harry lands a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant you wouldn't want to eat in; and Van Passel has a real talent for creating scenes and situations that are at once surreal and completely believable. (PB) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

Television Commercials: A collection of award-winning TV ads. (Music Box, 7:00)

*Stonewall: The drag-queen-led riots that erupted outside the Stonewall Inn during the summer of 1969 marked the turnmig point in the struggle for gay rights. That pivotal moment provides the climax of this exuberant fictional account of a group of gay New Yorkers in the days leading up to the riots. The story unfolds as the reminiscences of LaMiranda, a young transvestite streetwalker who meets Matty Dean, an idealistic midwesterner newly arrived in the city to help organize the era's first gay-rights demonstrations, when they're both arrested during a raid on the club (laws that prohibited the sale of alcohol to gays and required those being served to wear gender-appropriate clothing made drag clubs tempting targets for the police). Mixing the personal and the political, the film offers two love stories. The first involves LaMiranda and Matty, while the second brings together Bostonia, the Stonewall's most imperious queen, and Skinny Vinnie, the bar's mafioso manager. Hilarious commentary on the progression of these relationships comes via narrative-stopping production numbers, in which LaMiranda and Bostonia lead trios of transvestites who lip-synch to 60s songs. Although made for a mere $2 million (financed in full by the BBC), the film is art-directed to the max: the detailed costumes and sets capture the look of that "summer of love" and do justice to the fabulousness the drag queens aspire to. Stonewall may not tell the whole story of the legendary event it celebrates, but it's fun of warmth, humor, and compassion. Director Nigel Finch (The Lost Language of Cranes) died of AIDS shortly after guiding the film to a fine cut. (AS) (Fine Arts, 7:15)

Fresh Bait: See listing under Tuesday, October 17. (Fine Arts, 9:00)

*Maborosi: See listing under Tuesday, October 17. (Fine Arts, 9:15)

Nobody Loves Me: See listing under Monday, October 16. (Fine Arts, 9:15)

The Young Poisoner's Handbook: See listing under Tuesday, October 17. (Music Box, 9:15)

*Blush: See listing under Saturday October 14. (Fine Arts, 9:30)

Thursday, October 19

Some Like It Hot: In many ways, the ultimate Billy Wilder film (1959), replete with breathless pacing, transvestite humor, and unflinching cynicism. Most of it is hilarious, but there is something disquieting in the way Wilder dances around his sexual theme--the film never really says what it's about, which might be just as well. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis are the two musicians who disguise themselves as members of an all-girl orchestra in order to escape from gangster George Raft; Marilyn Monroe is the band's star, um, vocalist. With Pat O'Brien, Nehemiah Persoff, and Joe E. Brown, who gets the punch line. (DK) (Fine Arts, 2:00)

Over My Dead Body: See listing under Tuesday, October 17. (Fine Arts, 5:00)

All Screwed Up: Tiresome Lina Wertmuller comedy with farm boys in the big city learning about the Contradictions of Capitalism. Wertmuller's formula--sniggering sex, knee-jerk radicalism, and the obligatory "funny" rape scene--seems even more obvious than usual. Don't bother. (DK) (Fine Arts, 5:00)

Parallel Sons: See listing under Monday, October 16. (Fine Arts, 5:15)

*Red Rose White Rose: Stanley Kwan's cinema is haunted by another time and another place: Shanghai in the 1930s, the treaty port where East met West and a new type of modernity was being coined. His award-winning Actress (1991) was an homage to the golden era of the Shanghai studios, and the sensual Red Rose White Rose explores the redefining of romantic relationships within the cosmopolitan Shanghai bourgeoisie. The film is a faithful adaptation of a book by a famous Shanghai novelist of the time, Eileen Chang, to the point of quoting whole sentences as "intertitles" on the screen. While the intertitles have been criticized by some as "anticinematic," they act as subtle reminders of Chang's irony and concerns: the discrepancies between what the characters feel and what they do, the vagaries of the heart and the emotional entanglements that result. Red Rose White Rose unfolds the sentimental education of Zhen-bao, a "perfect Chinese man of his time." Enthralled, then frightened by a passionate romance with a friend's wife (Joan Chen, in her best performance to date), he marries a young "white rose," sweet but dull. His emotional stillness sharply contrasts with the two women's wide range of feelings. Sumptuously shot and directed with a light, precise touch, Red Rose White Rose confirms Kwan's talent as Hong Kong's George Cukor: a superb director of actresses, he's a master at re-creating the interior space of a domestic drama and displays a sharp ear for the subtlety of romantic dialogues. (BR) (Fine Arts, 6:30)

Branwen: See listing under Tuesday, October 17. (Fine Arts, 7:00)

Tribute to Siskel and Ebert: Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert celebrate the 20th anniversary of their collaboration by showing clips from their TV show and answering audience questions. A similar gala was offered in Toronto last month. (Music Box, 7:00)

My Mother's Courage: The talented German writer-director Michael Verhoeven returns to the subject of the Holocaust, the history of which he explored to powerful effect in The White Rose and The Nasty Girl. Unfortunately My Mother's Courage lacks their emotional impact. It's the story of Elsa Tabori, who, through a quirk of fate, survives the deportation of Budapest's Jews. Years later her son George recounts her experience in a novel, the inspiration for this film. George, now a charismatic 80-year-old, acts as the film's narrator. As he tells it, the Taboris lived quite comfortably in Budapest, where his intellectual father was a newspaper editor. Elsa was an optimist whose faith in God and people's essential goodness persisted even after her husband was imprisoned in 1944. When she was arrested on the street by two elderly neighbors she refused to panic or make a scene. When she had a chance to escape she let it pass. Soon she was crammed into a cattle car. The courage of the title does not involve organizing a collective act of resistance or helping others escape, but something that seems insignificant in the context of the Holocaust, though it may have been monumental in terms of Elsa's personal code of etiquette. Ultimately her story is too slight to carry the film, and Verhoeven's attempt to explore the irony of her survival seems grotesque, mixing uneasily with his re-creation of the terrifying journey to the death camps. (AS) (Fine Arts, 7:15)

Pretty Baby: See listing under Sunday, October 15. (Fine Arts, 7:15)

Korea: An Irish feature following immigrants to the U.S. in 1952, during the Korean war; directed by Cathal Black. (Fine Arts, 9:00)

*Vacant Possession: Set in the exurbs of Sydney, this story chronicles a woman's painful return home after her mother's death. Having fled at 16, pregnant by an aboriginal neighbor, Tessa now desires to come to terms with her turbulent past. The film begins with a dream montage that contains vivid close-ups of assorted night images and is accompanied by Tessa's literate, intelligently rendered voiceover narration. This is a film of deeply lyrical imagery and subtle personal discovery. Writer-director Margot Nash proves to be another strong female voice from the film community down under, which includes fellow Australian Gillian Armstrong and New Zealander Jane Campion. The narrative's strength lies in its unflinching look at a family torn apart by poorly defined personal boundaries, willful reactive behavior, and mental illness. But it also shows the resiliency and regenerative possibilities of the surviving family members: Tessa, her older sister, and her deeply troubled father. Nash deftly intersperses scenes from Tessa's past--memories of her troubled childhood and adolescence--with the present. She also plangently dramatizes the persistence of memory by showing Tessa interacting with younger visions of herself as well as reaching out to her deceased mother. At one point Tessa holds and comforts a crying vision of herself at 16 in a poignant image of self-preservation. This is a haunting, highly accomplished film by a talent to watch. (JK) (Fine Arts, 9:15)

Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August: See listing under Saturday, October 14. (Fine Arts, 9:15) (F e 9:15)

The Poet's Princess: See listing, under Monday, October 16. (Fine Arts, 9:15)

Menmaniacs: The Legacy of Leather: Jochen Hick's German documentary travels from Chicago to New York to San Francisco to chronicle two major events on the International leather circuit--the International Mr. Leather and Mr. Drummer contests. Beneath all the leather, handcuffs, tattoos, swastikas, nipple rings, and police regalia, the film discovers exactly what it's looking for: a community. Through interviews in hotel rooms and hand-held filming on the contest floor, we meet people as earnest and enthusiastic as any group of aficionados at a convention, though it's doubtful that stamp collecting would yield as many striking images as the fantasies enacted onstage at the Mr. Drummer runoffs. The film does have its darker moments, traveling down endless corridors with pioneer S and M film actor and producer Thomas Karasch (a former International Mr. Leather) as he discusses his struggle with AIDS. (Karasch and another of the movie's major subjects, Hans-Gerd Mehrtens, died shortly before the film was released.) The quality of the 16-millimeter image leaves a lot to be desired, but the openness and spontaneity of the participants gives the proceedings an appropriately funky "home movie" intimacy. Thus the duties of a slave are enumerated with chirping zeal by a chained-up devotee in full faith that his interlocutor will understand. (RS) (Music Box, 9:30)

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