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It's still too early to size up the 23rd Chicago International Film Festival in any general way--we'll try to do that next week. In the meantime, here are capsule reviews for most of the six dozen programs running this week. We've not been able to see everything in time to meet our deadline, so in some cases we've had to settle for brief descriptions, usually derived from information supplied by the festival.

Screenings are at the Biograph, 2433 N. Lincoln, and the Music Box, 3733 N. Southport. Tickets can be purchased at the theater box offices on the day of the screening; at the Film Festival stores at 1551 N. Wells and 1157 N. State; and by phone at 644-3400 (credit cards only). General admission to each program is $6.50, $5 for Cinema/Chicago members, with these exceptions: (1) All weekday 5 PM screenings are $4 general admission, $3 for Cinema/Chicago members. (2) The TV Commercials programs on October 26 and 28 are $10 general admission, $9 for Cinema/Chicago members.

For further information, call 644-3400 (questions) or 644-5454 (24-hour update/hotline). WBBM (78 AM), WNUA (95.5 FM), and WMAQ TV (Channel Five) will carry updates and coverage. Don't see too many movies! --Jonathan Rosenbaum

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 23

Blood and Sand

Rudolph Valentino set hearts ablaze in 1922 as a bullfighter torn between Lila Lee and vampish Nita Naldi. Though laughable in spots, the film holds up rather well under Fred Niblo's expert direction. Niblo guided Greta Garbo through some of her best American silents--and here he gains in the action scenes what he loses in the love scenes. (DD) (Music Box, 5:00)

Lily in Love

Maggie Smith plays Lily, a stage actress in Budapest; Christopher Plummer plays her husband, who is trying to win back her love. The director of this Hungarian comedy, Karoly Makk, who is a member of this year's feature-film jury, will be present at the screening. (Biograph, 6:00)

Whooping Cough

It is October 1956, and the Hungarian revolt has just begun. Somewhat predictably, these historical events are viewed through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy who understands only slightly less than his elders about what's going on. Nevertheless, Peter Gardos's Whooping Cough works quite well--probably because the engaging lunacy of the protagonist's family under the strain of their shut-in uncertainty and general marginality in the political scheme of things only slowly becomes apparent. As they rush around playing out their fears and fantasies (the kid's mother turns out to have a lover living in a heavy fighting zone; his unassuming gray-haired father dreams of tap-dancing his way onto the American stage), they are far removed from the comforting authority figures one might expect and closer to the childhood spontaneity of the film's thoroughly confused prepubescent hero. If Whooping Cough confined itself to bittersweet recollection, it would still come across as a more than passable Eastern European political parable. But the anything-but-predictable presence of two female figures from a much older and a much younger generation--the scathing Cassandra-at-the-gates irony of a still-beautiful grandmother, survivor of a time that knows a lot more than it tells, and the extraordinary unbridled libido of a five-year-old sister, whose knowledge nothing and nobody can contain--raises Whooping Cough from the level of discovery into that of revelation. (RS) (Biograph, 6:00)

Quartiere

Silvano Agosti's Italian film concerns a street tramp, two sisters, a solitary man, and a passionate friendship. (Music Box, 7:00)

A Successful Man

You'll never see a more lavish tribute to decadence than in this period drama, set in corrupt prerevolutionary Cuba, by leading filmmaker Humberto Solas (Lucia, Amada). Solas is noted for his filmic sensuality, dreamy pace, and prizing of style over narrative. The plot of this drama of corruption and betrayal in an elite family abides by classical narrative conventions and somberly drives its moral home. However, the message is neatly subverted by its visual revel in the extravagant luxury--those dresses, those cars, those plush offices--of the ancient regime. (PA) (Biograph, 8:00)

Attention Bandits

Claude Lelouch's latest movie, about love and bandits. A high-class smuggler places his ten-year-old daughter in a Swiss boarding school before he goes to prison, and meets her when he gets out ten years later. (Biograph, 8:00)

Law of Desire

This film will not disappoint the aficionados who have discovered Pedro Almodovar's work through the delirious and brilliant What Have I Done to Deserve This? Because of its slickness, directorial mastery, and high production values, the film is likely to enjoy a comfortable commercial career. It would be a pity, though, if Almodovar's truly original talent and boundless imagination remained confined to the gay circuit. Indeed, Law of Desire is his gayest movie to date; the filmmaker's usual sympathy for the plight of women in contemporary Spain is lacking, since the only "woman" in the story, Tina, turns out to be a transsexual. Yet this fake woman is played by an actress, marvelous Carmen Saura, Almodovar's favorite star (she can play anything from dopey teenager to rebellious nun to exhausted cleaning lady), who has never been so glamorous--or so unhappy. The central plot, however, revolves around Tina's brother, Pablo, a successful filmmaker who, in the course of casual homosexual encounters, meets a poor little rich boy Antonio and unwittingly provokes the latter's possessive passion. The sex scenes between the two men are truly wonderful, as sensuous and exciting as their heterosexual counterparts in Almodovar's earlier Matador, and like them possessed by the strange contiguity between desire and death. While the two lovers in Matador find each other through their shared death wish, the "law of desire" that unites and opposes Pablo, Antonio, and (through a rather perverse narrative twist) Tina is that none of them want the same thing; their goals do not match and they can only hurt each other. Antonio, presented throughout the movie as an obnoxious and confused youth, blindly follows the pure logicality of his desire, wrecking the lives of at least three people, but eventually becomes, through murder, kidnapping, and death, a tragic hero, a sort of male Antigone asserting the rights of true love against the conventions of society. And how does Almodovar manage to keep Law of Desire hysterically funny, visually daring, unabashedly irreverent, with such a plot? It is the secret of the film, the secret of his genius. Find out for yourself. (BR) (Music Box, 9:30)

The Record

In order to finance a pirate radio station, Rico tries to set a world record for consecutive hours watching television. Helped by his friend Banana, who brings him food, coffee, whiskey, and occasionally movies (for variety), Rico forges on--eventually losing contact with the real world, as it's replaced by the flickering light of the monitor. It's a small idea, and probably could have been better served in a short film format; after about half an hour the movie seems desperate to find ways to keep it interesting. There's a nice, edge-city feeling to the players and the sets, and some fine gallows humor when Banana tries to bring his friend back to the land of the living. (RP) (Biograph, 10:00)

Demons

Carsten Brandt's psychological slugfest between two unhappily married couples has been described as a Swedish variation on Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (With a running time of 125 minutes, it's four minutes shorter.) (Biograph, 10:00)

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 24

This Is Our Home, It's Not for Sale

190 minutes of people standing on their front lawn talking about their neighborhood might seem a bit much even for the most civic minded. But despite its length and sprawling ambitions Jon Schwartz's oral epic exerts a fascination that is both amiable and eerie. The neighborhood in question is Houston's Riverside, a residential community that in its 60-year history has been a microcosm of urban change in America. Originally an attractive upper-middle-class area marked by an idyllic ethnic heterogeneity, it brushed against integration in the 50s, nearly succumbed to white flight in the 60s, and has since become the elegant home of Houston's richest and most prominent blacks. Though the complexion of the residents interviewed alters, the values of family and community remain the same. Ironically these values are the basis of the prejudice and rationalizing that each successive wave of Riverside dwellers has used to defend itself against the "encroachment" of outsiders. By the end of the film the anxieties murmured by current black residents about whites moving in chillingly echo those of the original white dwellers about the first blacks. Schwartz is an idealistic filmmaker: he believes that cinema is not meant to merely sway or entertain audiences but to discover the truth. In This Is Our Home his patience and persistence (and the viewer's) are rewarded. From the genial buzz of voices and faces, one recognizes with some astonishment a form emerging, not an imposed design, but the unfolding pattern of history itself. (PK) (Music Box, 2:00)

Peking Opera Blues

The smash-hit comedy of last year in Hong Kong, this film spectacularly displays the force of Hong Kong cinema's new wave. Director Tsui Hark draws on the pyrotechnics and physical action that have made Hong Kong cinema an imperial cultural presence in Asia; on the folk traditions of the Peking Opera; and on the intense anxiety of an audience facing the specter of 1997 (when Hong Kong's British mandate runs out). He mixes them expertly in a slapstick comedy set in 1914 China, in which three young girls from different social classes are thrown into warlord politics. The film plunges headlong from one piece of comedy business to the next, occasionally evoking Buster Keaton on acid. (The pace isn't entirely by choice; it reflects a last-minute 25-minute cut, ordered by Hong Kong exhibitors' desire to rotate audiences as quickly as possible.) But the jokes aren't just pratfall humor; they've got an allegorical, political bite. Peking Opera Blues should be one of the most interesting films of the festival, for its frank appeal to mass audiences, superlative control of physical comedy, and its allegorical use of (several levels of) popular culture. (PA) (Biograph, 3:00)

Valhalla

Peter Madsen's Danish animation feature, four years in the making, is reportedly done in the old Disney style. A fantasy adventure, it involves two Viking children, gods, giants, and sorcerers. (Biograph, 3:00)

Russkies

Three army brats in Key West encounter a stranded Russian sailor, and their childhood games and fantasies--as well as those of their parents--are put to the test. Rick Rosenthal's action comedy is positively dripping with good intentions, and although it has its moments of charm, the limitation of this hands-across-the-waters gesture is that it rarely gets beyond formula Disney material, and how far can you get with humanism when the humans are chiefly made out of cardboard? Made with lots of heart and very little head, the plot depends on such things as a flying machine and three little boys defeating a group of rednecks with karate. As nonsense, this is vastly preferable to the nonsense of Red Dawn; but don't expect anything very profound. (JR) (Biograph, 5:00)

Saturday Night at the Palace

Obviously well intentioned with its heart and human rights priorities in the right places, the film is nonetheless a demonstration that good intentions don't necessarily result in good movies. This one is about racism in South Africa in which a saintlike black is hounded by a malevolent white. All the correct points are made; it's simply unfortunate that the characters are so one-dimensional. The actors play what they are given, which makes the performances cardboard. Based on a West End hit, the film only now and again shows its stage origins. Almost in spite of its problems, from time to time it is emotionally moving but it won't enlighten you much. (DO) (Biograph, 5:00)

The Little Prosecutor

A West German satire about the criminal justice system, directed by Hark Bohm, shows the convolutions whereby a construction firm manager who suffers whiplash from a car accident winds up behind bars. (Music Box, 6:30)

The Family

A treat for the Jean de Florette set, The Family is a big, well-upholstered movie, shot in rich colors and reminiscent in many ways of the European "tradition of quality" of the 50s. In 1906, a family gathers together in its large Roman apartment on the occasion of the baptism of Carlo, its newest member; 80 years later, Carlo will think back on this and other such moments, remembering at times seemingly insignificant events that nevertheless left lasting impressions on him. Confined to the space of this same apartment throughout the film, The Family seeks to sketch a kind of history that is neither completely personal nor totally public; the actions seen and the memories illustrated are at times so fragmentary that one can't help but link them up to events going on outside the set's four walls. Director Ettore Scola has a good handle on material like this, and his obvious affection for these characters can be contagious, but after seeing The Family I felt strangely disappointed--the film seems curiously flat, bereft of either the scale or implications of his earlier films such as The Terrace or The Night at Varennes. It's as enjoyable and forgettable as a good novel for the beach. (RP) (Biograph, 7:00)

Final Take: The Golden Days of the Movies

A celebration of the Shochiku studio in particular and the 1930s Japanese film industry in general, recounting a familiar Star Is Born-type tale of the little candy-counter girl who could. Somewhere between parody of and hommage to those supposedly simpler times, Final Take (directed by Yoji Yamada, who did the first, immensely popular Tora-San movies) falls into cliched dramatics a lot more readily than did the films it apparently emulates. Final Take demonstrates a breezy familiarity with the work and styles of the Golden Age greats--Ozu bending down to anchor his navel-level camera or Mizoguchi agonizing over his feminine personae (these and other "name" directors easily recognizable behind the pseudonyms)--but it's the kind of familiarity that breeds, if not contempt, at least oversimplification. Yamada captures very well the what-the-hell, let's-try-it pioneering spirit of 30s moviemaking (avoiding, in the process, the "momentous moment of inspiration" shtick that generally plagues biopics), but passes much too cavalierly over the real tensions that made the Golden Age golden. One bit, where the heroine learns of her illegitimate birth from her mother in the nick of time, enabling her to play a climactic renunciation scene she's flubbed before, is as likable as it is flimsy. In a year that offers such profound "insider" film-on-film masterworks as Interview and Good Morning Babylon, Final Take is a lively, but lightweight, entry. (RS) (Biograph, 7:00)

Attention Bandits

See entry for Friday, October 23. (Music Box, 8:30)

Born of Fire

A highly stylized bore with stunning Turkish locations, brilliantly photographed. Lame dialogue is periodically parceled out to give us pieces of information, but it never lets us understand what the characters are experiencing. The movie continually exploits the cruel deformity of one of the actors as a convenient plot device. After he drags his battered little body over a hellish amount of terrain to do the hero a favor, the hero doesn't even notice; he just steps right over the tortured little body, into the next piece of business. The press kit doesn't even list his name, and unless you are privy to this material, you will not know what is supposed to be going on. What does go on--and on and on, before your very eyes--is the arrangement and rearrangement of a bunch of images, some of which have nothing to do with anything that happens either before or after they appear. The whole thing looks like a music video that got out of hand. The movie does have a measure of continuity, though: it begins and ends implausibly. (EM) (Biograph, 9:00)

Repentance

Even if this once-banned allegory of Stalinism by one of the Soviet Union's most important directors weren't very good, you'd want to see it for its political impact at home (where it packed houses when released last year) and abroad (where it won the Critics Prize at Cannes). But it will probably stand up after the political dust settles. Georgian director Tengiz Abuladze sneaked past Soviet censors in 1984, making this film for Georgian TV in a hurry. The plot was inflammatory enough: the town tyrant has finally died, and despite sycophantic funerary exercises, mysteriously refuses to stay buried; the confession of the woman who keeps unearthing him reveals the ugly story of his brutal regime. No one could miss the reference to the Stalin era. But Abuladze's style added fuel to the fire. The town tyrant's features make him look part Hitler, part Beria (head of secret police under Stalin), part Stalin, and part Mussolini. The martyred hero looks part Stakhanovite-stereotype, part Christ-image. Abuladze turns buried history into black comedy and then passion play. Repentance is a healthy antidote to the social-realist stereotype of Soviet cinema. If it occasionally seems overstated and, by the end, overlong, it's still an exceptional film that surfaced at an exceptional moment for Soviet cinema and society. (PA) (Biograph, 9:30)

Call Me Madame

In 1982, a retired high school teacher and former resistance member, who'd been married for 30 years to another teacher and was father of a teenage boy, paid a visit to the shopkeepers of his small Normandy town dressed as a middleaged matron and told them: "From now on, you're to call me Madame." Such is the striking beginning of Francoise Romand's appropriately titled new documentary. Romand belongs to a new generation of French directors who, because they work for television, have been practically ignored by Parisian critics (a notable exception being Noel Burch, who hailed Romand's first documentary, Mix-Up, as "the emergence of a new voice in French documentary cinema"). Undaunted, Romand took her films to New York, with spectacular results: Mix-Up was an immediate critical hit at the 1986 "New Directors New Films" Festival in New York, and Call Me Madame has already been invited to a number of international festivals, including Toronto and Rio. Categorically opposed to the cinema verite belief that the camera can capture reality, Romand offers a humorous and original mixture of document and fiction. Her talking heads are carefully coached, past scenes are playfully reconstructed, and the subjects of her inquiry allowed to lose themselves in their own fantasies. Romand asked the subject of Call Me Madame how she would make the film, then shot an entire sequence to translate the fantasy in cinematic terms: the woman, dressed in a long gauze gown and a veil, walks in slow motion on the beach reciting one of her own poems. Instead of making a film "about transsexuality," Romand manages to draw a portrait of a complex and ultimately rather aloof personality caught in a network of social and intimate relationships, but also to convey to the audience, with a real respect for the subject, a glimpse of her private world. For this alone, Call Me Madame shouldn't be missed. (BR) (Music Box, 11: 30, with My Life for Zarah Leander)

My Life for Zarah Leander

One of Hitler's favorite screen actresses and singers, the Swedish-born Zarah Leander, who died in 1981, reached the apogee of her career in occupied Europe during World War II and even starred in two of Douglas Sirk's cornier German productions (To New Shores and La Habanera, both 1937). Christian Blackwood's rather ho-hum 1985 documentary about this star, which uses interviews and archival footage of concerts, focuses much of its attention on Paul Seiller, an obsessive gay fan of the star who befriended her when she was alive and perpetuates her legacy today. The results are interesting and amusing in spots, but a bit overextended for a 90-minute feature. (JR) (Music Box, 11:30, with Call Me Madame)

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 25

Ten-Year Lunch

Aviva Slesin, whose previous film was Directed by William Wyler, takes up the celebrated Algonquin wits--Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber, Harold Ross, Robert Benchley, et al--in this new documentary, recently shown on PBS. Among the people interviewed are Helen Hayes, Ruth Gordon, and playwright Marc Connelly. To be shown on a double bill with Les Blank's Ziveli: Medicine for the Heart, a tribute to Serbian music and folklore, filmed in Chicago and northern California. (Music Box, 1:00)

The Lady of the Camellias

This West German ballet film, directed by choreographer John Neumeier, is derived from Alexandre Dumas' tragic love story, which also served as the basis for Camille. (Biograph, 2:00)

The Testament

The full original title of this French film directed by Frank Cassenti is The Testament of an Assassinated Jewish Poet. Based on Elie Wiesel's book about Jews in exile, it describes the boyhood and manhood of a Jew suffering from racism and fighting for his rights. (Biograph, 2:00)

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

A silent version of the children's classic starring Mary Pickford, directed by Marshall Neilan in 1917. Buddy Rogers, the ex-husband of Mary Pickford and the film's costar, has been invited to Chicago to introduce this film. (Music Box, 3:00)

Videos

A program of prizewinning entries from the festival's video categories, which will include experimental shorts, music videos, and student work. (Biograph, 4:00)

Zischke

This film makes a nicely intriguing beginning with the intimate bedtime teasing of an American GI and his German girlfriend on the sound track, while the camera roves the exterior of a West Berlin hotel in the dark. There's a hint of film noir in the black-and-white photography, yet the Berlin evoked is a grubby nighttime city that would seem to have no memory for anything earlier than the 60s. The story is actually that of Zischke (a diminutive for Christoph), the 15-year-old son of the woman whose voice opens the film, and how he fares alone in Berlin when she abruptly leaves him to accompany her lover back to the U.S. Through the various subplots engendered by the jams Zischke gets into the film develops considerable unevenness. Director Martin Theo Krieger falls into a pattern that claims a high proportion of first-time directors, so many of whom gravitate to the situations and action typical of a TV cop show. It's a good bet that Krieger's only experience of police corruption, illegal aliens, forged passports, and prostitution is from the television screen, and it shows in the lameness of Zischke's more far-fetched encounters. On the good side, the film lives up to its atmospheric opening at least half the time and on the whole makes you inclined to overlook its faults. (BS) (Biograph, 4:00)

Boy Soldier

Many soldier movies retail military life as a package deal for male adulthood. "Join the Army" evokes an image as familiar and accessible as "a pair of 501s." Fortunately films like this first feature from Karl Francis resist and challenge the cipher of infantry green. His boy soldier is Wil Thomas, a teenager who joined the British army because it promised the job and future his native Wales could not provide. Private Thomas's hopes of an honorable career are shaken when he is posted in occupied Belfast. Entering a world where anything--language, rank, gesture--may provoke hatred and violence, the young Welshman reels between abusive COs and taunting civilians. Brief furloughs with friends and an abruptly terminated romance with a Catholic girl only increase his bewilderment and anger. The plot is simple, even predictable. But documentarist-turned-dramatist Francis does the typical BBC "issues" feature-with-a-regional-twist one better. Manipulating a dense (and sometimes confusingly muddled) series of flashbacks, he achieves an effect akin to memory under trauma--a chaos of recollected images, mundane yet potent, crescendo in realization. These fragmented scenes are held together by the emotionally raw performance of Richard Lynch. A far cry from the suavely square-jawed Brat Pack prototype, Lynch plays Private Thomas as moody, awkward, insecure, tenacious--believable. Worlds away from the pyrotechnics of "epic" men, Boy Soldier feels honest and timely in its appraisal. (LT) (Music Box, 5:00)

Late Summer Blues

A group of boys is finishing high school somewhere in Tel Aviv: parties, identity crises, hide-and-seek with cops, and fun on the beach occupy their time. Another teenage movie? Marile's natural rebelliousness increases when the handsome and confident Mossi seduces Naomi, the girl he fancies. Two school friends decide on a hasty marriage, and Margo, who wants to become a new Fellini, records the ceremony in Super-8. Yossi, a nice and lovable schmuck, is worried about not finding a girl to get laid. Another teenage movie, yes, but set in 1970, during the endless "attrition war." My Israeli friends tell me that on every street, a family still mourns a young man who never came back, and Renen Schorr's Late Summer Blues is part of the mourning. Yossi is killed in training three weeks after being drafted; Kobi and Shosh get married so they can live as adults before he goes to the army. Marile, the angry pacifist, shows up when it's his turn to be drafted so as not to be considered a coward; and Margo, the diabetic who can't make a soldier, frantically records on film the images of their "last summer." The film, divided into four chapters according to its four heroes and interspliced with the grainy Super-8 footage of Margo's amateurish shooting, has autobiographical overtones: the director and most of the production team were teenagers in 1970, and the narration has unmistakable accents of sincerity. Late Summer Blues does not, however, avoid the shortcomings of a genre worked to death, particularly in its elusive treatment of the female characters--if the filmmaker wanted to draw the portrait of a generation, how about the lives of these women who became widows at 19? Nevertheless, the film--which is immensely popular in Israel--has an endearing charm, and will draw more than a few tears from the audience. (BR) (Biograph, 6:30)

My General

This delightful satire about the upper echelon of Spanish armed forces--relics from the Franco era--comes with so simple a premise, it makes one wonder why nobody has used it before. The story goes one up on the standard boarding-school formula by adding an ingenious twist: this time the students comprise a group of 60-year-old brats--aging generals herded for an intensive course in modern warfare and forced to take instruction from junior officers half their age. Unaccustomed to being ordered around, the generals alternately whine and pull their rank, but the course organizers only tighten the discipline, imposing curfew and eliminating special privileges. Forced into submission like a group of unruly schoolchildren, the generals go through a process of rapid rejuvenation and retaliate with pranks of the kind normally associated with hyperactive 10-year-olds. The instructors, the cooks, even the priest--all become targets of their mischievous jokes. Despite the abundance of humor, the film never evolves into a thin comedy. Its carefully crafted structure contains several layers, each offering a number of poignant observations about authority, love, commitment, and aging. They may not be revealing anything new, but told with loving wit by veteran director Jaime de Arminan (The Nest) they give an impression of adding up to something truly meaningful. The fine cast includes Fernando Rey, Hector Alterio, and Fernando Fernan Gomez. (ZB) (Biograph, 6:30)

Blind Chance

One of Poland's leading contemporary directors, Krzystztof here describes three possible destinies for a young man, Witek, running to catch a train. In story one, he makes the train, becomes an ambitious Party member, and seems well on his way to a long, secure life as a hack. Story two has him miss the train, get into a fight with a station guard, and eventually join the anticommunist underground. Finally, in story three, he again misses the train, only this time he decides to return to his medical studies and settle down to a politically unengaged life. As a whole, this is a massive, highly detailed fresco of post-martial-law Poland, with interesting asides on the Church, Polish Jewry, etc. The performances, especially by Boguslaw Linda as Witek, are uniformly excellent. Yet somehow Blind Chance seems strangely hollow, almost a formal exercise; all of Witek's "journeys" through Polish society are remarkably familiar and frankly rather predictable. There's also a lack of an internal dynamic that might have created more tension between the individual stories. Part of the film's problem might be that even at a longish two hours it strains to say too much--it can't do much more than touch on a subject before it's on to its next point. (RP) (Music Box, 7:00)

Tarot

This is an innocuous film that unfortunately must be held to account for what it could have been. The director, Rudolf Thorne, made one of the most exciting German films in years with his previous feature Closed Circuit, so it's hard to explain the lackluster, made-for-TV feeling of this one. Tarot is his second contemporary adaptation of the Goethe novel Elective Affinities, in which a "perfect" marriage comes to grief through the pressures exerted when the husband's best friend and the wife's niece both come to live with the couple. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of all is that the casting of Rudiger Vogler and Hanns Zischler, stars of Wim Wenders's Kings of the Road, is of no consequence. Vogler walks through the role of the friend as if he were hypnotized. Zischler labors to add some nuance to the part of the husband, but the biggest problem is that the role doesn't seem to ask for much. This is a film in which the actors are given very little to do beyond rattling around in a big Bavarian house, each seeming troubled, isolated, and moody, so there's often very little to watch. The photography, by Thorne's customary cameraman Martin Schafer, is excellent and occasionally inventive, with a high point being one particularly exquisite dolly shot accomplished within the confines of a car. (BS) (Biograph, 8:45)

The Moro Affair

The 1978 kidnapping and subsequent murder of Italian Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro have been commonly viewed as simple acts of political terrorism committed by the Red Brigades. Director Giuseppe Ferrara offers a more complex analysis of the events, suggesting that the former prime minister's death ought to be equally blamed on the infighting among Italian political parties. The film caused an uproar upon its release in Italy last year, largely due to the fact that it brings a human dimension to the members of the Red Brigades while pointing accusatory fingers at virtually every important Italian politician of the 70s, whether dead or still in power. But as bold as these charges are, their full strength doesn't come across on screen due to the film's diffused focus. Ferrara prefers quantity to quality, following too many players throughout the story without being able to provide each with adequate attention. Furthermore, the massive dose of intercutting, employed to preserve chronology, results in a choppy narrative that neither conveys enough drama nor sufficiently unravels the intricacies of Italian politics. Gian Maria Volonte gives a stoic portrayal of Moro as the martyr without a cause, in what may well be the best role of his long career. (ZB) (Biograph, 8:45)

Ticket

There's a story behind each pretty face in Madam Min's Tea Shop, the little bistro where "take out" refers more to the waitresses than the comestibles. Take waiflike "Baby," for instance. Despite her airs of being from Seoul she really hails from a backwater hamlet and is saddled with supporting not only her wastrel dad and brother but her haughty college-bound boyfriend as well. Though her new trade repels her, soon she too swaps her sailor suit for fuchsia leotards and earns her wage being slapped by fishermen in public rest rooms. But the saddest tale is that of flinty Madam Min herself. Separated from her boyfriend for decades after he was jailed for writing seditious poetry, she is horrified to find he has married an industrialist's daughter. No wonder she charges the girls for extra coffees. Clearly South Korean director Im Kwon Taek has a way with cliches: he invests the most hackneyed material with such energy and earnestness that whenever he slips into something more original and poetic the effect is almost breathtaking. Ticket thus lurches with frenetic abandon from the sublime (a flashback to Madam Min bringing her imprisoned lover two eggs kept warm by her body) to the ridiculous (the same guy justifying his incarceration with such "poetic" insights as "life is like a bus--once you miss it, it never returns"). Taek appears to be a fan of Mikio Naruse's Flowing (1956), of which Ticket is very derivative. Unfortunately Taek does not approach the Japanese master's aching austerity and lacerating precision, nor does he share Naruse's feminist inclinations: a woman's alternatives to marriage, Ticket implies, are prostitution, homicide, and madness. (PK) (Music Box, 9:15)

MONDAY, OCTOBER 26

Trouble in Paradise

It's possible to prefer other Lubitsch films for their more serene stylings and more plangent emotions, but this 1932 production is probably the most perfectly representative of his works--the most Lubitschian Lubitsch. Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins are a pair of professional thieves who fall in love while plundering the Riviera, but when Marshall falls under the spell of a wealthy Parisienne he intends to fleece (Kay Francis), their perfect relationship falters. The bons mots fly and an elegant immorality abounds, while beneath the surface the most serious kinds of emotional transactions are being made. With Edward Everett Horton, Charles Ruggles, and C. Aubrey Smith; the screenplay is by Samson Raphaelson and Grover Jones. (DK) (Music Box, 5:00)

Personal Foul

Ted Lichtenheld's new American feature concerns two buddies--Adam Arkin and David Morse--whose friendship is challenged by their mutual interest in the same woman. (Biograph, 6:00)

Bad Blood

The distinctive and unusual talents of French filmmaker Leos Carax have relatively little to do with story telling, and it would be a mistake to approach this, his second feature, with expectations of a "dazzling film noir thriller," which is what the press material promises. Dazzling it certainly is in spots, but the film noir, thriller, and SF trappings--a vaguely paranoid plot about a couple of thieves (Michel Piccoli, Hans Meyer) hiring the son (Denis Lavant) of a recently deceased partner to help steal a cure to an AIDS-like virus--are so feeble and perfunctory that they function at best only as a literal framing device, an artificial means for Carax to tighten his canvas. The real meat of this movie is his total absorption in his two wonderful lead actors, Lavant and Juliette Binoche (who plays Piccoli's moll), which comes to fruition during a lengthy attempted seduction of the latter by the former, an extended nocturnal encounter that the various genre elements serve only to hold in place. Despite Carax's autobiographical uses of Lavant (here and in the previous Boy Meets Girl), his marathon sexual duel a la Breathless or Contempt, and Binoche's resemblance to Anna Karina, the true sources of his style are neither Truffaut nor Godard, but the silent cinema--its poetics of close-ups, gestures, and the mysteries of personality, its melancholy, its silence, and its innocence. (Carax's major influence and predecessor in this special realm is Philippe Garrel, a French independent whose haunting, contemplative works have regrettably received almost no exposure in the U.S.) After the morbidly beautiful black and white of Boy Meets Girl, Bad Blood uses color with a similar sense of discovery, and the rawness of naked emotion and romantic feeling is comparably intense. The tendency of critics to link Carax with the much older Beineix (Diva) and much callower Besson (Subway) seems misguided, not only because he is immensely more talented and original than either, but also because, as Carax himself points out, "Mauvais Sang is a film which loves the cinema, but which doesn't love the cinema of today." The operative word here is "cinema": a pretentious word perhaps, but something that is still quite distinct from "filmmaking"; it carries particular significance in a country that has treated film as an art since the teens, and where every director is entitled by law to a final cut. From the standpoint of filmmaking a la Beineix or Besson, Bad Blood is jerry-built and self-indulgent; from the standpoint of cinema, it blows them both out of the park, and its poetry and passion make it one of the key events of the year. (JR) (Biograph, 6:00)

Anita: Dances of Vice

An enormously fat woman who appears to be in her mid-seventies starts to disrobe in front of a crowd on a busy street in a German city ("Do you want to see the best ass in Berlin?"), and is quickly hauled away by the police to a mental clinic, where she tells them that she is Anita, the greatest nude dancer in the world, and that they're interrupting her triumphant career. Scenes of her haranguing monologues in the hospital are intercut with exotic sequences set in the 20s showing the "real" Anita, a celebrated cabaret artist famous not only for her dancing but also her dissolute, bisexual, drug-soaked existence. The contemporary scenes are acted and shot naturalistically (around the bizarre presence of an actress whose high forehead, arching eyebrows, and bulk are reminiscent of the actor Divine), while the "flashbacks," complete with period-looking intertitles, are expressionistically staged and shot on sets like those of German silents of the 20s. There's a strange tension between the vivid presence of the shouting, fat old woman, the "fake" Anita, and the opaque presence of the slender, sinuous, pale beauty who "impersonates" the "real" Anita. The old woman's delusion (for Anita died decades ago) is never explained. Rosa von Praunheim's style is flat and claustrophobic (it's impossible to imagine anyone from outside the frame walking into one of his compositions), but compelling. More is at stake here than in his previous films, comedies that, though politically aware, are dependent for much of their appeal on their camp sensibility. Watching Anita, you're alternately rapt and restless. (MB) (Music Box, 7:00)

Pretty Girls

A documentary by Andras Der and Laszio Hartai dissects a "Miss Hungary," contest and all that it entails. (Biograph, 8:00)

TV Commercials

One of the festival's most popular attractions, this compilation of best television ads will be presented on state-of-the-art video projection equipment. (Biograph, 8:00)

Anna

Like an All About Eve Eastern European-style, Anna tells the story of an aging exiled Czech film star reduced to bit parts in New York (Anna), and a newly arrived Czechspeaking admirer/disciple/protegee (Christina) who soon steals the show. Anna's script is a collaboration between established filmmaker Agnieszka Holland and first-time-out director Yurek Bogayevicz. There were some auteurist mutterings, at the New York Film Festival, to the effect that Bogayevicz's wry humanism and sense of absurdity had softened an otherwise satisfyingly bleak Holland script. Certainly Anna's improv tryout for an "experimental" off-Broadway play is a triumph of absurdity. A dumpy redhead auditioner's impassioned evocation of her unrequited lust for a lifeguard drives her off the deep end--and into the orchestra pit, while Anna's insistence on a written text leaves her hopping on one foot, angrily shouting--then tenderly crooning--Humpty Dumpty. Humanism, hope, and despair probably abound in equal doses in this generation-gap confrontation between a long-suffering woman who, having experienced too much, finds cashing in on her experience too difficult, and a radiant go-with-the-flow young woman who, having experienced too little, finds cashing in on someone else's experience too easy. Anna's deliberately overmelodramatic ending seems a fitting, if incongruous, epilogue to the lives of two women who love not wisely but too well. (RS) (Music Box, 9:30)

Playgirl

Mel Chionglo, one of the most important directors in the prolific Philippine film industry, is virtually unknown here. The 1985 Playgirl is his only subtitled film so far, and it's an excellent demonstration of quality filmmaking in a quantity industry. What could have been rotgut melodrama--it's the story of a mother-daughter family of prostitutes--becomes a tense character study framed by the horrific conditions of the Manila poor. (Chionglo says his commercial producer was appalled when the film began to win critical acclaim for its depth of social insight, and told him not to try it again--advice he's unlikely to take.) Celebrated actress Charito Solis brings surpassing dignity to the mother trapped by circumstance; sexy, brassy Gina Alajar plays the daughter who thinks she can beat the system with her body. It's not just their relations hip that holds you, but also scenes evoking the female world of the working girls and the sketching of their desperate relations with men. Working within conventions of exploitative melodrama, the film grants autonomy to its characters and locates their choices within harsh limits. (PA) (Biograph, 10:00)

Vera

A fiction by Brazilian Sergio Toledo, a man, about a severely disturbed lesbian woman. It's a film that elaborates on every prejudice and misconception a straight audience is likely to harbor about lesbian psychology. Vera alternates between the present life of an 18-year-old orphan beginning her first job and flashbacks of her past in a harsh, prisonlike institution where brutality, domination, and lesbian relationships were the norm. Vera, who rejects her feminine name in favor of her last name, Bauer, also rejects her female body. She cuts her hair short, binds her breasts, wears men's suits, courts an attractive single mother, and even passes as a man when visiting her girlfriend's family. The more Bauer's agonized declarations that she wants to be a man pile upon each other the more it all rings phony, especially in scenes like the one in which she refuses to abandon her male underwear even while making love. It comes to the standard cop out ending for this kind of film, with a surreal dream sequence that has Bauer walking through a warehouse as she "looks into her inner recesses." (BS) (Biograph, 10:00)

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 27

Mississippi

A musical about a showboat singer (Bing Crosby) with a questionable reputation, with comic interludes offered by W.C. Fields (including a famous poker game). Based on a Booth Tarkington story and directed by Edward A. Sutherland, with a score by Rodgers and Hart. Among the other actors are Joan Bennett, Queenie Smith, and there's a quick glimpse of Ann Sheridan (1935). (JR) (Music Box, 5:00)

Angelus Novus

A poetic evocation of the life and grim death of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italian author and filmmaker, by Pasquale Misuraca, in black and white. (Biograph, 6:00)

The Photograph

One of the surprise hits at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and certainly one of the best offerings here at Chicago, The Photograph is a strikingly original, haunting work. A young furrier, tired of the Greek generals' repression and looking for new opportunity, relocates to Paris, taking with him a publicity photograph of a young woman, which he had found in the street. He moves in with a distant cousin, who one day spots the photograph and asks who it is; on a whim, the furrier claims it's a photo of his sister. The cousin grows increasingly interested in this "sister," finally announcing his intentions to try and marry her, setting off more lies and misunderstandings. A provocative illustration of Susan Sontag's contention that photographs no longer refer to anyone or to anything, but are merely objects in and of themselves, The Photograph presents a complex meditation on photographic reality in decidedly human terms; the photo changes from souvenir to family portrait to a kind of symbol that these characters will finally struggle to possess. Although he has made few films, director Papatakis has been around a long time, and it shows; in everything from the pacing of the story to his handling of actors, The Photograph demonstrates a powerful intelligence and sure-handed control. (RP) (Biograph, 6:00)

Gold Spectacles

Giuliano Montaldo's Italian feature is set in 1938, when an older man (Philippe Noiret) develops a dangerous passion for a young Jew (Rupert Everett). (Music Box, 7:00)

Wolf's Hole

By now one expects more of Vera Chytilova, the wittily iconoclastic director best known for Daisies, than a merely manipulative SF/psychological thriller that looks like it was made for the winter vacation teen market in Czechoslovakia, if there is such a thing. A group of adolescents have been selected for an endurance-type ski holiday at a remote mountain chalet. None of them seem to know how they were selected or who the three people running this expedition are. They are immediately told by the tough father-figure leader that they are too many and that one person is an impostor who must be discovered and ejected from the group. From then on Wolf's Hole goes off in a dozen directions, one after another. It's about group dynamics; it's about kids; it's about ghosts; it's about madness; it's about creatures from another planet. Chytilova lurches in each new direction with conviction and a cunning knowledge of how to elicit gut response from an audience. Wolf's Hole is like an extended sample reel of how to be scary and atmospheric. There's no clear logic that ties it together and this is what makes it a lightweight film. It's quite sparkly and colorful to watch (lots of snow and icicles) and could be enjoyable as long as you don't expect much beyond some immediate sensations. (BS) (Biograph, 8:00)

The Poet's Silence

Agonizingly murky and flaky, Peter Lilienthal's The Poet's Silence is divided between the stagnant world of a lumbering, self-absorbed, lonely bard and the goofy attempts of his abnormal son to light a fire under him. Who they are and what they do are our only entrances into this film, giving Lilienthal a chance to trade niceties like coherence for the internal experiences of these characters, which are liberally interpreted and committed to film. The idea that this "gifted" innocent can meet his father's suppressed inspiration at some halfway point of enchantment and mutual respect is all very commendable, but in realization one can't help but sink in one's seat under the weight of Lilienthal's conceit. (TK) (Biograph, 8:00)

Animation

A wide-ranging selection of shorts from Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Great Britain, Hungary, Sweden, the U.S., and the U.S.S.R. (Music Box, 9:30)

The Perfect Match

Some Festival selections defy every effort to determine what possible mental processes led to their inclusion. In the case of this bland, undistinguished commercial youth picture directed by Mark Deimel, one can't lay all the blame on Festival director Michael Kutza. The blurb claims that this nonentity was "a hit at the Montreal and Telluride Film Festivals"; whether this is true or not, the very fact that this movie was even shown at these festivals makes one wonder if any extracinematic machinations were involved. For the record, the plot concerns an ineffectual jock (Marc McClure) and an intellectual wallflower (Jennifer Edwards) meeting through a classified ad in the LA Reader, and, against all the odds--including their mutual fibs and impostures about their backgrounds--becoming a couple. From the thumping Muzak score to the sitcom acting (mainly from McClure) and synthetic characters to the dull slapstick to the obligatory reference to It's a Wonderful Life to the final freeze-frame, this is as phony, as conventional, and as conventionally phony as anything to come up the pike. (JR) (Biograph, 10:00)

Night Zoo

Sullen young Canadian Jean-Claude Lauzon's Night Zoo knocked them out at Cannes. As the tough-guy antihero (greased hair, tight jeans) played by Gilles Maheu fights off prison rape, cruises down the mean streets of Montreal on his glistening machine of a motorbike, rapes his whore girlfriend, and faces down the cop/drug dealers he's betrayed, you might be visiting an MTV nightmare. That is, until you meet his dad (Roger Le Bel), a working stiff deserted by his wife and fighting off heart disease. Night Zoo is a clever mix of two tired film genres--one a cops-and-robbers drama, the other a tender father-son story. It works partly on its improbable mix of cliches; partly on its unrelieved cynicism (the audience is ruthlessly brutalized in opening scenes, then raked over sentimental coals); and partly on its trendy high visual gloss. The most compelling aspect of the film is writer-director Lauzon's patent hatred of women--or is it just general misanthropy? (PA) (Biograph, 10:00)

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 28

Double Indemnity

James M. Cain's pulp classic, as adapted by Raymond Chandler and directed by Billy Wilder. Barbara Stanwyck is perfectly cast as a Los Angeles dragon lady burdened with too much time, too much money, and a dull husband. Fred MacMurray (less effectively) is the fly-by-night insurance salesman who hopes to relieve her of all three. Wilder trades Cain's sun-rot imagery for conventional film noir stylings, but the atmosphere of sexual entrapment survives. With Edward G. Robinson (1944). (DK) (Music Box, 5:00)

The Tale of Ruby Rose

Robert Scholes's Australian film shows a woman's dangerous journey across the scenic central Australian highlands in the 30s. (Biograph, 6:00)

Jenatsch

After his delightful documentary on retired opera singers, Tosca's Kiss, Swiss filmmaker Daniel Schmid returns to the same mystical musings that dominated his earlier fiction Hecate. Assigned the task of interviewing a somewhat eccentric archaeologist exploring the circumstances surrounding the death of Jenatsch, a 16th-century folk hero, a reporter becomes obsessed with the story to the point of imagining that he actually witnessed the events that comprise the legend. Somewhat understandably, his life is soon a mess, with his girlfriend walking out and his employers thinking they'll have to find a replacement. The shifts from past to present, from reality to fantasy, offer Schmid an ideal opportunity to indulge in his penchant for sumptuous art direction, yet the transitions soon become tiresome and not especially engaging. There's very little detail available to cover the broad outlines of the story; the present and past seem equally distant and uninviting, with the result that little fascination for the central character's moves between them is generated. (RP) (Biograph, 6:00)

Dudes

Penelope Spheeris (The Decline of Western Civilization, Suburbia) has made a reputation as a raffish independent filmmaker, an affectionate, sympathetic chronicler of American punkdom. Dudes is what she describes as an attempt to make a mainstream comedy, and it's a disaster. In this episodic, arch gloss on the western film genre and its demise, two New York punkers head for California and encounter death and adventure when they run into malevolent bikers and a saintly, horsey girl gas-station owner. There's wit and anger buried somewhere in this film, but what ought to be campy and outrageous just looks strained and silly. (PA) (Music Box, 7:00)

Brief Encounters

One problem with Chicago's film festival is that as it continues to grow larger, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate truly special events--such as this and its companion piece The Long Farewell--from the run-of-the-mill festival dreck; 20-word calendar descriptions hardly help either. In any case, this is truly one of the season's not to be missed film events; the return to filmmaking--after having been dismissed from the Soviet Filmmakers' Union in the 70s--of its director (and star) Kira Muratova has been one of the happiest developments yet of glasnost. The story of a two-career marriage on the verge of collapse, Brief Encounters has an immediacy, a freshness, that seems unique in the Soviet cinema even today. No other Soviet film I've ever seen gives one a stronger impression of what it might be like to actually live and work there. A possible stylistic comparison might be made with the films of the Czech New Wave, but Muratova is less interested in satire than in simply, quietly observing her friends and neighbors. Brief Encounters also presents a sharply edged portrait of Soviet class differences, seen especially in the relationship between the protagonist played by Muratova and her live-in "maid." (RP) (Biograph, 8:00)

TV Commercials

See entry for Monday, October 26. (Biograph, 8:00)

The Year of Awakening

Talk about sophomoric drivel, Fernando Trueba's The Year of Awakening is it. When this film was screened at the Berlin Film Festival, where they take their politics seriously, the audience groaned at the hitching of a prurient coming-of-age comedy to the Spanish Revolution. It starts out with portentous gravity and period detail as two boys, Pepe and Manolo, are escorted by their military officer father on a journey to a school in the mountains where they will be safe from the fighting. The true nature of the film is soon revealed in a particularly offensive scene in which Manolo observes a man masturbating a woman with his big toe in their crowded stagecoach. Manolo, in his early teens, is considerably older than the other children at the institution to which they're taken, so he turns his attention to sexual fantasies involving the women who run the place. His antics, which are supposed to be endearingly funny, include spying on women undressing, recording his orgasms with X's on a calendar, and tricking two young women into looking at his sperm under a microscope. The director doesn't want you to think this is just an exploitation film, so every now and then he throws in a dollop of violence or some news from the front, but don't be fooled, (BS) (Music Box, 9:30)

Around the World in 80 Ways

Director Stephen Maclean's style is easygoing to the point of barely existing, yet watching his movie is akin to listening to a slightly inebriated fellow in a bar tell a very long, and pretty funny, story. Two ne'er-do-well young men decide to rescue their prematurely aging father from a rest home and pretend that they're taking him around the world in pursuit of their youthful mother, while in fact they never leave their Australian home. You might think Australian filmmakers would turn out these pleasantly vulgar entertainments with ease, rather than concentrating on the overserious, overdone dramas they seem to prefer. This film, for example, with its bawdy humor and lack of affectation, is finally more human and humane than many a social problem drama. At times you wish Maclean and his cowriter Paul Leadon had made their humor a little more off-the-wall, but they have still fashioned a safe, low comedy for affectionately low taste. (HS) (Biograph, 10:00)

The Suicide Club

If Brett Easton Ellis updated The Story of O, he might come up with something as preposterous and trendily shallow as The Suicide Club. Mariel Hemingway plays Sasha, a poor little rich girl heiress burdened by the suicide of her brother. Was it her fault? Her young lover, a good kid, tries to keep her amused and distracted, but Sasha is suicidal herself, and sadomasochistic to boot. So she keeps being lured by a black dude--in lieu of a white rabbit--to a non-stop night-of-the-walking-dead costume ball in a Poe-esque castle. Each somnambulent evening concludes with a Russian-roulette version of blackjack. What else to do if you are young, rich, bored, jaded, and there's no TV? James Bruce, who edited Louis Malle's last several films, makes his debut here as a director. The Suicide Club is genuinely lovely to look at, a moody and melancholy green world comes through in Frank Prizzi's cinematography, and Bruce's mise en scene stumbles through even when his movie gets really stupid. Which is often. The surprise is that Mariel Hemingway gives her most affecting performance since being Woody's nymphet in Manhattan. It's time for her to go for it all: The Life and Times of Patty Hearst. (GP) (Biograph, 10:00)

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 29

Funny Face

Writer Leonard Gershe, director Stanley Donen, and producer Roger Edens take on French existentialism in this colorful and sumptuous 1957 musical, set largely in Paris and starring Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn, with a dreamy Gershwin score. Although the antiintellectualism gets a bit thick in spots, the visuals are consistently stylish: Astaire is a fashion photographer, and Richard Avedon supervised his photo sessions; Hepburn is a Greenwich Village bookworm transformed into a model (clothes by Givenchy), and Kay Thompson plays their fashion editor. The film's sophistication is compromised by the rather dumb plot, but some of the numbers--especially "Think Pink" and "Bonjour Paris"--are standouts. (JR) (Music Box, 5:00)

Laputa

West German director Helma Sanders-Brahms is fond of metaphors. One of her previous films, Germany, Pale Mother, dealt with the history of modern Germany through the marriage and motherhood of one woman. Laputa, based on a Jonathan Swift concept, is about West Berlin as an imaginary island, a more or less desert island containing a man and a woman, for the purposes of this film. The story is to become the final chapter in the drawn-out affair of a couple who meet regularly in Berlin--a Polish photographer and a married writer who lives in Paris. Laputa is set almost exclusively in a large photographer's studio where the two argue over their future, if they have one, as the allotted time for the woman's visit to the West runs out. The island of Berlin is as small and desolate as the floor of a loft. The film hinges on its performances and they are both quite good, especially Sami Frey as the man. The one pitfall in Laputa's makeup is that it's a film based on dialogue and there's a lack of things for the actors to do while they deliver long scenes of dialogue. Sanders-Brahms was never at a loss in staging the drama realistically, but sometimes you become awfully aware of the preeminence of words over image. (BS) (Biograph, 6:00)

The Long Farewell

Made in 1971, this film is only now being shown in the U.S. due to the relaxation of Soviet censorship. Kira Muratova describes the psychological tensions of a closely knit family--a boy who lives with his mother and wants to join his father on a far-off archaeological expedition--and this lightly satirical drama largely focuses on the relationship between mother and son. (Biograph, 6:00)

The Last Straw

This is Canadian Giles Walker's sequel to his low-key comedy 90 Days, which received a U.S. release last year. 90 Days followed the misadventures of two friends, one of whom, Alex, was being pursued as a sperm donor by a very persistent woman lawyer. The Last Straw is a funnier and more aggressive film and stands entirely on its own. You won't miss anything if you haven't seen 90 Days but it adds a bit to the fun if you have. In this film Alex returns, and is found to have sperm with the highest motility rate ever tested. He's the most potent man on earth at a time when women are flocking to fertility clinics for artificial insemination. Walker makes the most of Alex's plight as the captive prize stud in a clinic where pushy salesmen in loud ties peddle donors to infertile couples with the help of a glossy catalog of portraits. Alex is so much in demand that he gets kidnapped by nationalistic Australians who don't realize that all the stress has given him a little problem with, uh . . . production. While there are animal husbandry jokes galore and constant lampooning of the penis and conceits of maleness that derive from it, the humor seems somehow genteel. How genteel can a crotch shot of a pudgy man in his underwear be? Well, it's a Canadian film, which should give you some clue. Walker creates some distance from the flesh with lots of deadpan acting and very high and low camera angles for comic effect. This is not to say that The Last Straw is not hilarious, but that it's not an all-out gross-out, which is fine with me. (BS) (Music Box, 7:00)

City and the Dogs

Veteran Peruvian filmmaker Francisco Lombardi drew not only from Mario Vargas Llosa's tale of a military boys' school and the roots of macho militarism, but from his own boyhood experiences. The film packed theaters in Peru, partly because of its topicality in a period of political turbulence. Its central character is caught in an ethical dilemma that transcends national boundaries. The film is grimly compelling and sometimes lugubrious, with excellent performances by young actors. Filmed in dark grays, blues, and greens evoking the cool brutality of the school, the film follows the novel closely--perhaps too closely, in a narrative that slows to a crawl by the end. (PA) (Biograph, 8:00)

The Belly of an Architect

On the face of it, Peter Greenaway's newest film seems a far cry from The Draughtsman's Contract, but his Belly of an Architect is also an intricate piece of work, a film in which the schemes and deceits of the characters are more complex than even Greenaway's settings. A somewhat celebrated American architect from Chicago journeys with his much younger wife to curate a major retrospective of his inspiration, the obscure 18th-century French architect Boullee. Kracklite (Brian Dennehy) loses track of everything other than the escalating demands of the exhibition and a gnawing stomach ailment. Through his obsession and pain, Kracklite manages to see the secret siphoning of funds from the extensive tribute to Boullee going instead to restore Mussolini's tomb--a project for which it is difficult, apparently, to raise funds. His wife, successfully pursued by a much younger and more aggressive Italian associate, leaves Kracklite just prior to both the exhibition's opening and the impending birth of their child. At times woefully weighed down with overt metaphor, Belly is stylized and fascinating and Dennehy impressive as the doomed American. Chloe Webb as his bored wife fares well while making do with a lot less. OK, so the ending makes The Graduate seem tame by comparison. There is still plenty in Belly to satisfy. (NR) (Biograph, 8:00)

A Taxing Woman

Another audacious comedy by the director of The Funeral and Tampopo, about the adventures of a dedicated lady tax inspector (Nobuku Miyamoto) and a crazy-legged czar of state-of-the-art "adult" hotels (Tsutomu Yamazaki), her chosen target. The two stars of Tampopo are in top form here--Miyamoto's snub-nosed, freckle-faced innocence gives a peculiar tilt to her calm knowledge of every conceivable tax dodge, while Yamazaki's sardonic charm makes his manic cripple/cook well-nigh irresistible. Yet what is amazing in A Taxing Woman, as in all Juzo Itami's films, is the boundless energy of all his characters--major and minor. Whether it's a dessicated old man's fevered sucking of his young nurse's tits, the attempted intimidation of the entire tax bureau by a self-important gangster with attendant minions, or the theatrical, tearful ravings of a caught-out pachinko parlor owner, each character throws himself into whatever he's doing with a zest that's nothing short of inspirational. Morality, of course, barely enters into it. No dour Eliot Ness-type raids on iniquity here--the inspectors dig up gardens, discover loot-filled strong rooms behind bookcases, and take apart lipsticks to find corporate seals with the zealous glee of children on a Faberge Easter-egg hunt. And the crooks seem equally dependent on their conspiratorial whisperings, paper-shredding orgies, money-laundering machinations, and secret hiding places for amusement. In this symbiotic cops-and-robbers relationship, each respects and even admires the other for the stick-to-itiveness and ingenuity that push them to further effort, as if at any minute they might switch sides and start the game anew. The IRS was never like this. (RS) (Music Box, 9:30)

Five Corners

It's a pity that producer and onetime actor (Come Blow Your Horn) Tony Bill doesn't have a better sense of history in his direction of this nostalgic piece of exploitation about a lower-middle-class Bronx neighborhood in 1964, although screenwriter John Patrick Shanley is also largely responsible. An Irish working-class kid, the son of a recent ly deceased cop, believes in the nonviolent principles of Martin Luther King until some disillusioning brushes with the black world and some violent skirmishes with an old pal just out of prison show him the error of his ways; Jodie Foster plays a young woman terrorized by the latter. For all I know, some of the local and period details about the Bronx may be deadly accurate, but the exploitative cynicism of the plot and the complacencies about race relations smack more of contemporary Mythology, particularly as it's strained through TV sitcom misreadings of the 60s and more bad thrillers than you can shake a stick at. Cinematographer Fred Murphy does his usual fine work, and some of the cute domestic details make this intermittently watchable, but the ideological platitudes are repulsive and false, and the plot manipulations for the sake of "effects" are no less tacky. (JR) (Biograph, 10:00)

Meier

This pre-glasnost farce has been favorably compared to Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three--and for good reason. Lively and funny, Meier presents the West as a large shopping center and the East as a land of opportunity for those inventive enough to play the system, i.e., accommodating (on the qt) those who can help you. Meier, foreman of a wallpapering crew in East Berlin, purchases a fake passport and considers living in the West forever. But his raw initiative is better suited to manipulating the East than the free world's giant shopping center, so he uses his dual citizenship to secretly shuttle contraband wallpaper from the West, becoming a working-class hero. The witty and tautly structured script and direction are by Peter Timm, originally from the German Democratic Republic himself. (TK) (Biograph, 10:30)

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